Saturday, March 11, 2017

Akuma No Imouto Chapter Three

Your name is Nagito Masaomi, and you’re settling into your new life.  Sharing an apartment with your sister and working in the bar that she owns is something which seemed like a pain at first, but after only five days you’re getting used to it.  Lots of demons come by to drink, socialize, and eat the chef’s amazing food, which is normal to you because you are a Gashadokuro.

Today is a weekday, which means that the bar is slow.  Very, very, slow.  Almost nobody is coming in, and it’s boring.  You don’t have hobbies, so you’re used to just diving into work.  Even the graveyard shift at a gas station sees more traffic than Akuma Spirits on a Wednesday afternoon, and it’s excruciating.  You just can’t handle this degree of boredom.  You’re almost hoping that somebody with a secret comes by again, just because having another panic attack would at least be more interesting than this.

“Ryo…” You mumble, leaning against the bar counter while seated in one of the stools.  Everything’s been cleaned and there are no customers whatsoever.  There’s nothing for you to do, “Is it always this slow on Wednesdays?  It was slow yesterday and on Monday too, but today is a new low… I’m bored out of my mind.”

“That’s implying you had a mind to be bored out of in the first place, Nagi, and I seriously doubt that’s true,” She gripes back at you while cleaning out a glass, “It’s a nice break, don’t you think?  We can just sit and relax.  Besides, I’m sure I mentioned that Arthur’s planning to visit today at least once, though if you forgot it that’s just more proof that you’re totally brainless.”

“Right, Arthur…” You mutter back.  That’s the wizard whose magic runs on secrets; that’s not very common in the demon world these days.  Most wizards choose a more reliable fuel, though secret magic tends to be stronger.  Most humans and demons alike only have one secret, unlike dreams or blood which are renewable resources.  It’s not efficient at all to make a contract with a human to give any service in exchange for a secret, that’s just elementary.  There isn’t anything that only a demon could give which is an equal exchange for the one powerful secret.  In fact, the cocktail that Ryo gives for free in order to collect the secret is about as much as a secret would be worth.

The only time that one could make a contract for a secret would be if it was a long term contract to collect it multiple times, which went out of style a long time ago; Each wizard can only use a secret once, so multiple copies are only worthwhile when there are a good number of secret-using wizards about.  It’s easier to get them in the human world, it seems, since there’s no need to fulfill a wish to get ahold of them.  You’re looking forward to meeting this Arthur, though you won’t admit it.  A secrets wizard… You figure that he’s probably quite old and wise.

“I expect you to be polite to him, Onii-chan!” Ryo taps your head with the outside of the glass she’s wiping out, “It’s only thanks to him that I’ve been able to find success here in the human world.  Him and Koren, I’m really grateful, so you had better not jeopardize my professional relationship!”

“Do you seriously think I’d make that huge a social misstep?” You question, rubbing your head where she hit you with the glass.  It didn’t hurt, but you’ll be damned if you don’t throw melodrama into every aspect of your life, like a small sprinkle of pepper onto food.  You never ate much human food when you were working at the gas station, but Koren’s cooking is great, and you’re discovering that though you still need bones to actually be fed, human food can make it easier to uphold a disguise.  If you’d known that sooner, you definitely would have taken advantage of the fact you could get free snacks at the gas station.

“I never know what to expect from you, Nagi, so I just take the safe route and always assume the worst,” She notes, then puts the glass on the shelf and grabs another, “Though, maybe I should revise my opinion a bit.  You are a good employee, after all.  Better than Neptune was… Then again, that’s one thing you do right in a sea of absolute disasters.”

“Wow, rude,” You roll your eyes, but chuckle, “A sea of disasters?  I thought it’d be at least a whole ocean.  Guess you are getting soft on me.”

Arthur  Snell
“Huh, maybe I am,” Ryo shrugs, then looks up as the door opens.  You turn around too, to see who’s walked in.  He’s short, wearing a sweater vest, and has very nice hair.  You don’t figure that this is Arthur, until Ryo speaks again, “Oh, hey Arthur!  I’ve got something good for you this week!”

“Something good, huh?” He questions as he approaches the bar, holding his hands close to his chest, “Well, I wonder!  What sort of person did you take this one from, hm?” He pauses, then turns to look at you, “Well, hello!  Nice to meet you, sir?  You look like Ryoji-sama.  Are you related in some way?”

“...Yeah, I’m her older brother, Nagito,” Your answer is slow as you point to yourself, “And you’re… Arthur?  Somehow I was expecting that you’d look different than this.”

“Really?” He questions, tilting his head to the side with a sweet smile, “Well, I’m sorry if I didn’t live up to your expectations!  Anyway,” He looks to Ryo again, “Let’s see that secret you say you’ve got for me, hm?”

“Of course!” Ryo nods, then pulls the book out from under the bar and sets it on the counter, then holds her arms out to her sides, “I got this secret from an Earthly demon!  Of course, I don’t remember anything about the secret, but I know it’s a strong one.  Since Earthly demons are created when humans die in darkness, well, these must be the most valuable ones, right?”

“Generally, yes,” Arthur nodded, then took the book from her and squinted at the title, “Hm… Yes, it looks like you’re right this time, Ryoji-sama.  This is a very potent secret.  Interesting, interesting indeed… Hm… Well, I think this will be powerful enough to let me cast a charm that I’ve been meaning to for quite some time now.”

“Oh, there’s a certain charm you wanted to use?” Ryo questions, leaning over the counter to watch Arthur, wide-eyed, “I thought that our next charm on this place was going to be a small space charm on the bathrooms, to make them bigger on the inside.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t take a ton of magic to do, and if I can cast this one then it will make everything easier in the long run,” Arthur explains, slipping the book into a shoulderbag which doesn’t seem to change in size with an item inside of it.  You assume this bag is how he converts the secrets into magical energy, “With this much power, I can put a popularity charm on this place.  More customers means more secrets that can be collected, after all!  That’s also why a popularity charm is such high magic cost, since it can really give an advantage to magic collection.”

“I see…” Ryo nods, then gives you a grin, “Hey, Onii-chan, are you ready to actually have work to do?  If we get a popularity charm, then I bet even the tables will start filling up more often!”

“Yes.  Absolutely,” You deadpan, “Being extra busy is a million times better than just being bored, so by all means, please cast away.”

“In that case, I most certainly will,” Arthur nods back at you, then pulls a staff from his back and holds it out, making an incantation that you can’t understand.  Spells tended not to be capable of translation in most cases, so you’re sure that whatever he’s saying is meaningless aside from the magic the words hold.  Within moments the words disappear from the air, and Arthur turns back to grin at you and Ryo, holding his staff close to his chest, “Wow!  I’ve never cast something so strong before!”

“Really?” You question, leaning forward.  You’re not tall by any means, but he’s still shorter than you.  Arthur is… A tiny wizard, “You know, the way Ryo talked about you made me think you were like… Some ancient, super-powered user of secret magicks.”

“Ryoji-sama!” Arthur whirls around to give your sister an indignant glare, puffing out his cheeks, “Come on, I’m not old!  I’m young!  Super young!” He points to his own face, “No wrinkles or anything, and I’m still learning to do magic!”

“Oh, you’re selling yourself short,” Ryo waves a hand in the air, then pats the top of Arthur’s head, “Way short.  I’ll admit your youth, but you’re a master!”

“I’m nowhere near a master!” Arthur insists, waving his staff, “I’m self-taught since nobody even knows secrets magic anymore!  That popularity charm is stronger than anything I’ve done before, and it’s still just a charm!  I can’t get to anything better, it’s a concrete ceiling…”

“If this is the first thing of such a high degree of power that you’ve done…” You mumble, “Then how can we be sure that it won’t backfire horribly?”

“Well, we can’t be sure, but if something goes wrong I can uncast it…” Arthur notes, “And then cast it again once I improve some more!  Collecting secrets, it isn’t a one-off thing, you know!  Every time I collect a secret, I choose what spell to channel its power into, then I can use that spell whenever I like.  That’s the benefit secrets has over other casting forms, it’s permanent magic power!” Arthur seems excited as he explains his chosen form of magic, “The disadvantage is just that I’m absolutely awful at collecting secrets, low power and high power alike…”

“If the charm really is the strongest thing you’ve cast yet… Why bother doing it?  Why not use that power for something more useful to you?” You question, having completely forgotten that he already explained his reasoning, albeit in a somewhat unclear way.

“This charm is the most useful thing I could do right now!” Arthur explains, then glances at Ryo again, “First off, Nagi-sama, your sister has been so kind in helping me to improve my magic, and in return I do whatever I can to help… Since improving this place benefits me as well, it’s kind of selfish!  I was just thinking that if you have more customers, you could collect more secrets, and in turn, give those to me, uh… Assuming it’s okay, of course!  I’m open to ending the contract anytime if you think we ought to, though.”

“No, of course not!” Ryo waves her hands, then steps out from behind the counter and puts one on her hip as she smirks at Arthur, “You can be bashful all you like, kid, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without you and Koren.”

“Well that’s a rotten assessment.  What about me?” Oddly enough, the person who makes this bitter statement isn’t you.  You have no idea who it is, but you turn to the door and see who’s just walked in.  She’s obviously not Japanese, just looking at her, though she’s not even bothering to anchor her speech to any sort of human language right now, speaking directly in demon, “Have you already forgotten, Ryo~?”

Neptune McLaren
“I haven’t forgotten anything,” Ryo narrows her eyes as she looks across the restaurant at this approaching girl, “Neptune.”

“Please don’t be so harsh…” Apparently Neptune steps up to the bar and takes a seat, kicking her feet up onto the counter, “I’m here as a customer, Ryo!  You know what I like.”

“Don’t call me that anymore,” Ryo hisses as she goes back behind the counter, pulling out a cocktail tumbler, “If you must use my first name, it’s Ryoji.  Ry-o-ji, understand?”

“You’re acting like I did you some great wrong,” Neptune closes her eyes and groans, “If I wronged anybody, it’s Arthur…” She turns and opens her eyes again as she looks at him, “Are you still mad at me for that?”

“No,” Arthur presses a finger against his lips, “Not really, though I still wish you’d let us collect your secret if it made you have a breakdown like that…”

“Neptune,” Ryo places her drink down firmly, “You were a below-average employee for your entire run here, and your behavior the day I fired you put the reputation of this place on the line.  It was a huge step backwards.  That cancels out anything you contributed to the success of my business.”

“I mean, yeah,” She brings her feet down from the bar and takes her drink, a coca cola with cherry vodka, “I’ll give you that, then.  My help and partnership are overruled by my consistent failures and single gigantic one, but… You know, Ryo… Ryoji.  I miss you.  Did those mistakes have to cancel out our friendship too?” She kicks her feet a bit as she sips her drink, staring into it.

“Uh,” You tactlessly step into the conversation, “What’s going on here?”

Ryo ignores your interruption and slams her hand down on the counter, “It does.  I won’t forgive you as my friend unless you let me see what’s in your mind, Neptune!  It wasn’t the breakdown, it was that I don’t know what caused it!  Your replacement, my big brother?  He gets breakdowns too, but at least I know what’s in his past, and that’s what makes me trust him,” She’s awfully intense, “I’d even hire you back if you’d just let me see!  You don’t even need to say it.  We were close enough back then that I’d remember just from secret collection.”

“Sorry,” Neptune mutters, now clutching her drink with both hands, “I just don’t want you to know it when I can’t remember.  If I recall, then I’ll gladly let you.”

“Can somebody please tell me what’s going on?” You interrupt again, looking at Neptune with scrutiny, “I’d really like to stop being lost here, since everyone but me seems to know what you’re talking about.”

“Good idea, Nagi,” Ryo gestures to you, “Neptune, why don’t you move to a table, and Nagi will help you for the remainder of your time here?”

“Oh, I wanted to get to know him a bit more…” Arthur pouts, “Can I come by again soon?”

“Whatever you want,” Ryo waves him off, and Neptune takes her suggestion and moves to a table, where you approach.

“So… What happened between you and my sister?” You question and pull out the seat across from her, since there isn’t anyone else here yet to consider it an unprofessional thing to do, “She seems really bitter.”

“Yeah…” Neptune sighs, then drops her head to the table, “I wasn’t a great employee, then I messed something up big time, and then she got upset because I wouldn’t tell her why I ended up making such a big mistake, fired me, and kicked me out.  I really don’t blame her, I was mostly working for tips rather than trying to do my job well.  The number of foreigners who came by without knowing that it’s rude to tip in Japan, it was totally worth it~

“So what was the mistake you made?” You question, adjusting your sunglasses, “Something about a breakdown?”

“Yeah,” She looks away then frowns, “I couldn’t tell you why, since I can’t remember how I died and became a demon… I can’t recall anything at all about anytime before I was invited out of the place where I died.”

“Hm…” You tap your own cheek, “Sorry, Neptune-san, but I don’t think I’m familiar with that concept.  What type are you?”

“I’m a sluagh,” Neptune answers, “That’s an Irish spirit, we’re only ever Earthly demons so I don’t blame you if you haven’t heard of us.  It’s the same criteria for creation as any other Earthly one… Die an awful death.  The difference is that a sluagh is the result if that happens in Ireland, with a west-facing window uncovered.  Then, once we’re created, we can’t leave that building until we’re invited out.  When the sluagh was a huge tribe of spirits wreaking havoc on the country, it was easy to invite the new ones out, but in the modern age, and with demon hunters around, the army of sluagh has disbanded and scattered… Some people have learned this and started murdering victims of kidnapping by west-facing windows so that it’s impossible for them to escape.”

“Jeeze…” You groan and roll your eyes, “Humans find out about anything occult and immediately start to figure out how they can use it to fulfill their twisted desires.”

“I know, right?” Neptune waves a hand in the air, “I don’t even remember being a human, and I’m halfway glad about that.  It’d just be nice if I could recall how I died… Then I could go back and kill whoever it was that murdered me, after all!” She winks as she says this, awfully enthusiastic about the prospect of murder.  Well, revenge, which wasn’t quite as intimidating.

“I’d never want to be a human,” You grumble, glancing back at the bar, “Being the way I am, it’s nice.  I’m not so fragile that I feel the need to overcompensate by being violent…” You turn back to Neptune, “At least, that’s the only explanation I can think of for the collective bloodlust that humanity has.  They know they’re weak, so they try to prove their strength by going beyond rational thought?”

“Ehh,” Neptune gives you an over exaggerated shrug, “I’ve stopped trying to even begin to wrap my head around how humans think.  Sometimes, it seems a lot like us, and other times it just seems so far out of whack…  There are plenty of humans who act just like demons, right?  Or even more morally sound than us, but then there’s also humans who are ridiculously lustful, or violent… It’s impossible to wrap my head around, so I’ve given up!”

“Yeah…” You nod in agreement, “Even succubi and incubi would probably kinkshame humanity.”

“Anyway, let’s talk about something nicer, since you haven’t got any other customers right now!” Neptune presses her hands together and gives you a sweet smile, “You’re Ryo’s big brother, right?  I heard that correctly?”

“Yeah, that’s right.  We just hung out occasionally since coming to the human world, since I lived and worked in deadsville outside of the city until I lost my job, living quarters, and boyfriend all at once…” You scratch your neck, then realize something, “Say, Neptune, did you and Ryo ever date?”

“No, well, not really anyway.  You know how she is with commitment!  We were pretty much just friends,” Neptune explains, “So no, I didn’t lose my job, living quarters, and girlfriend all at once.  Just the first two.”

“Are you… Doing okay?” Your stomach sinks.  You understand that trusting somebody who’s unwilling to reveal their past is hard to do… but you’re worried for her anyway, regardless of your sister’s opinion.  You’ll respect the opinion, of course, and you won’t hold it against her, but you also won’t just agree on default.

“Oh yeah, I’m fine, don’t worry!” She discards your concerns, “I found work at another bar, actually!  The new one’s a lot weirder, but I’m improving!  Waitressing seems to be the only gainful employment I can get anywhere, so at least I’m getting better at it.  This new bar is a foreigners’ bar; They employ people from other countries because a lot of Japanese millennials think it’s a cute look.”

“Yeah, I heard of those,” You nod, “I think my ex used to be the manager of one of those, before he switched to gas stations…”

“Your ex… So, you’re telling me that you were dating your manager?  From a gas station?” Neptune questions, and you just nod without meeting her eyes.  She breaks out into a raucous laugh, “Wow, that’s really scraping the barrel!  Working at a convenience store, sure, but dating the manager there?  That’s like, wow, I got no standards.”

“My only standard is men,” You sigh, closing your eyes, “I can’t afford to have standards!  Being a gay guy, and one that a lot of people would take issue with too?”

“Good grief, just date a demon,” Neptune pouts, “You were just complaining about humans, so why not just stop dating humans?  You can do that, right?”

“When it comes to other demons, there’s not exactly a lot of fish in the sea,” You cross your arms, “Not in the mortal world, anyway.  If I want a boyfriend, I’m stuck with somewhat awful older men, and that’s just how things are.”

“So you and Ryo are the same…” She notes, kicking the table leg a bit, “Neither of you can get into Ura Town, or any of the other gateways?”

“Right,” You nod again, “Though I guess maybe I’ll have a few more opportunities working at a bar like this, to meet some better men than I have.”

“I bet that you will!” Neptune assures you with another sickly sweet smile.  You can see how she would have been popular with customers even if her abilities were lacking; She’s quite the charmer, even on a platonic level, “Thanks for humoring me, even if your sister hates me right now… I’ll come back again sometime, to talk to you again!”

“Huh?  Are you leaving already?” You question, glancing at her drink which is still half-full.                        

“No, I’m not, but,” She points at the door and you turn to see, “You’ve got a customer.  I’d bet my left arm that guy’s going to sit at a table.”

“How can you possibly tell just from looking at...” You question, but trail off as he does indeed sit down at one of the tables and oddly enough, opens up the food menu first.  You stand up and start to walk towards him, remembering that Ryo told you Arthur had enchanted the menus to be read in whatever language the one reading it understood best.  Speaking of Arthur, you throw a sweeping look over the room, and find he’s already left.  Ryo’s hard at work since the bar seating is about two thirds full.  That much on a Wednesday afternoon… The charm must be working already.  You step up to the man who just arrived, “Hello, and welcome to Akuma Spirits.  Can I help you?”

Marv Hamilton
“Um…” The man shuts the menu on his hand and looks up to you, nervous.  He’s got sweat running down his forehead… “Uh, I think… What beers do you have?”

“Well, right now we’ve got-” You start to list the taps, but he cuts you off.

“Sorry, not what’s on draft!  I uh…” He looks away from you, trembling, “I really… Could you bring me an unopened bottle, maybe?  Please…?  I brought my own,” He fumbles in his pocket, then puts a piece of metal on the table, “Bottle opener…”

“Yeah, I can do that for you,” You mumble, then try to examine him.  Aside from nervous jitters that would make a chihuahua blush, he doesn’t seem to be in any sort of pain or danger.  Just a very anxious guy, you guess.  He doesn’t seem dangerous at all, “Sir, are you okay?”

“Yes!  Quite fine,” He waves you off, “I’m just waiting for somebody who I’m hoping not to make a fool of myself in front of, and I can’t take the risk of getting even just a little bit poisoned.  I heard sometimes bartenders put in laxatives just for laughs…”

“I assure you, we wouldn’t dream of such a thing here, but I can of course bring you an unopened beer if that’s what would help you.  We don’t have much in terms of bottles though,” You stop to think for a minute, “There’s some Asahi, an IPA I forget the name of, and a sour that I also can’t remember.  People don’t usually ask about what’s bottled, since we have a pretty extensive draft rotation.”

“I like sours…” He mutters, fidgeting with his hands, “So one of those, please…”

“Okay, sir.  And does the same apply to your meal?” You question, keeping your voice soft to try and make it seem like you care about his sensitivities.

“Oh no, thank you.  I know that people put poison in food too, but I’m only concerned about liquid,” He answers, then opens the menu again, “And can I please get the Age Dash?” He butchers the pronunciation completely.

“You mean the agedashi?” You ask, and he nods sheepishly.  You figure, just to be safe, “You know what that is, right?  Fried tofu in broth with soy sauce and scallions?”

“Yeah,” He answers, “Sorry.  I’ve been living in Japan for a few years now and I still can’t speak it very well… I just, the lease on my house isn’t up, so I’m stuck till then!  Not that Japan isn’t a great country!  I just… Keep inconveniencing people.”

“I don’t think that’s a reason to move away, if you want to be here,” You mention, “At least you’re trying,” There were plenty of people who just didn’t make any attempt, “But don’t take my advice.  Anyway, I’ll get that order in for you, sir.”

“Thanks,” He thanks you, and you walk off back across the bar, where Ryo stops you before you can even give the food order to Koren.

“Nagi!” She grabs your arm, “That guy you were serving, doesn’t he seem like he’d have a high-value secret?”

“Is that all you think about?” You question with a frown, “Besides, there’s no way he’d accept the cocktail.  He made a big deal out of getting an unopened bottle of beer so he could be sure it wasn’t poisoned.  Speaking of, I need one of the… Whatever the sour is, for him.”

“Whatever the sour is?  Come on, we don’t even rotate the bottles, shouldn’t you have them memorized already?” Ryo asks as she pulls one out and hands it to you, “As for the cocktail issue, well, you’re holding a food order ticket, yeah?  We’ll pour it in his food and it’ll just taste better.”

“That’s really shady.  What if we foster in him a fear of having his food poisoned too?” You question as you hand the order ticket over to Koren.

“It’s not like he’ll know it’s there, I’ve done this before,” Koren notes as she takes the paper.

“You too!?” You question, whipping your head around to give her an incredulous look, “Look, I just think that we shouldn’t do something so sketchy, the dude’s scared of everything.  I don’t want to contribute to that.”

“The fact that he’s so scared is why we need to get his secret!  You don’t have to be involved, you know.  I’ll go in without you,” Ryo points out, “If you have such a moral objection, then you don’t have to take part in any way.  I can bring the food over.”

“No, if you’re going to do it anyway, then I’m going with you,” You’re not sure why you’re offering this, given your terrible response last time, but you’re sure that if you’re prepared for whatever’s in that guy’s mind you’ll be fine.  Besides, you don’t have any fear of poisoning.

“Are you sure that you’ll be okay?” Ryo questions as she discreetly passes a bottle of the potion back to Koren through the window, “I mean, last time you came with me you had some… issues.  What with your disguise melting and all, I think the spell might make you sick.  You’re allergic or something.”

“No, I think I’ll be okay this time,” You still don’t want to tell her that you remembered what happened inside, even with the newfound knowledge you overheard that it’s actually possible to remember if you know the person whose secret it is… Though you’re certain you’d never even met Gwyn before yesterday, and you’ve never been the friends at first sight type of person, “If it does go badly again, well, maybe ask Neptune to cover for me?”

“Yeah, not about to do that,” Ryo frowns and crosses her arms, “But I guess you can come along, if you think it’ll be fine this time,” She sets down the glass she was holding as Koren sets the food out on the window, having made it quite fast.  Ryo takes the food to the table as you carry the bottled beer, and the two of you set both items down simultaneously.

“Wow, that’s fast service…” The man uses his bottle opener as he speaks, takes a sip, then grabs the spoon for his food and takes a bite.  He’s barely even swallowed when his head falls to the table, and though you couldn’t have noticed this last time with Gwyn being the only customer, everyone else in the bar freezes.  This definitely seems like something which would be more powerful than a popularity charm, but it does seem somewhat… necessary.  You’ll have to ask him about it next time he’s here.

Time is completely stopped until you collect this man’s secret.  Though, this brings up another question, “Why did I see when Gwyn collapsed…?  If everyone’s getting frozen-”

“It’s because of how close you’re standing,” Ryo explains, then takes a step closer and grabs your wrist with one hand before touching this man’s scalp with the other.

You are in his mind.  It’s dark, and awful, a basement.  It smells terrible, awful, like there’s been mildew growing in the walls for years.  It’s empty, devoid of anything being stored.  Very strange; most basements are full to bursting with various junk that has nowhere else to go.  In the corner there’s a boy leaning against the wall, hugging his knees to his chest.  He seems young; fourteen, maybe.  Upon closer examination, this is the man whose memory you’re watching, but as a child.  So he was poisoned as a kid?

“Hm… Looks like we’ll need to go upstairs,” Ryo notes, and you look in the same direction to see the light at the top of the staircase, “There isn’t anything to investigate down here…  Come on,” She waves for you to follow her as she climbs up, out of the basement, and opens the door.  You both step out, and find yourselves in a large house.  It’s western-styled, and obviously belongs to somebody with a lot of money.  There are tiles along the floor which shine, and seem heavy.  The wallpaper and moulding give off a similar vibe.  You peer through an archway and see the living room, where two adults sit and watch a television which seems a few generations old.  Makes sense… If this guy is a child now, and seemed to be in his thirties back in the real world, this time would be somewhere around the late 90s or early two-thousands.

“That’s his parents,” Ryo observes, “I’m sure of it.  Anyway, that newspaper on the coffee table in there might be worth something.  We should take a look,” She strides into the room without even waiting for a response from you in any way.  Well, she’s probably been doing this alone for a little while, even if she did take Neptune with her in the past, so you know she could handle the investigation herself and she’s pretty much just humoring you.

You follow, then pick up the newspaper and read the headline; It’s talking about some sort of big donation made by the ‘Hamilton’ family to the city of Boston.  So they’re American… And their last name is Hamilton.  You somehow feel like you’d be a little more versed in this family’s existence if you lived in the area, but since nothing is in this memories that is meaningless, you suppose these people must be them, “You think these are the Hamiltons?”

“Definitely,” Ryo agrees with you, investigating a lamp, “I don’t think these parents are the reason for the secret, though.  There’s no detail on them… Like he can’t even remember them very well,” She pokes one of the immobile humans, “Some part of the mind will always remember the deepest secret, even in the case of amnesia… So they’re not it.”

“Think we could figure out what his first name is?” You ask, and she just gives you an odd look.

“We can, but I don’t see why you’d want to bother with something like that,” She huffs, but then approaches the wall and tears off a hunk of wallpaper to reveal a safe, “Just as I thought.  A rich family definitely has a safe behind the conspicuous bulge in the wallpaper.”

“Okay…” You mutter, then approach the wall, “Are you also a safecracker!?”

“Of course!  I’ve got an intense interest in illicit activities like this!” Ryo explains as she starts to crack the safe, “For this very purpose, of course.  My first secret-collecting excursion was a disaster because I didn’t know how to pick a lock.  It’s not a crime if it’s in a mind!”

“Yeah, whatever you say,” You roll your eyes, and she gets the safe open then tosses a piece of paper at you.  You catch it, but don’t look at it yet, “What’d you do that for?”

“You wanted to know our guy’s first name, didn’t you?” She questions, and you actually look at what she threw.  It’s a family tree, and it seems that the child of the right age was named Marv.  Marv Hamilton… Two older siblings, too.  Samuel and Alexandra, in that order.  Samuel’s five years older than Marv, but then Alexandra is only two years older than Samuel.  The names seem… Well, for the most part, fitting to a family who lives in a house like this, but Marv?  Maybe you don’t know a ton about names in other cultures, but who names a kid Marv?

Though, thinking about him, it does seem a fitting name.

“Let’s go upstairs…” Ryo mumbles, looking over at another staircase up to the second floor of the house.  Investigating this place seems more difficult compared to the tiny apartment of Gwyn’s memory, but Ryo somehow has a grip on where she’s going, “That’s where the bedrooms would be, and I think we ought to investigate that Samuel guy.  The brother.”

“You really don’t need me here…” You mumble as you follow after her again.

“Obviously I don’t.  I’ve grabbed plenty of little ones from bar patrons too, that you didn’t even know about, since you’ve been living with me.  I handed them off to Arthur after you went to talk to Neptune…” Ryo informs you, “But I mean, I guess I like the company?  Sort of.”

“Right,” You roll your eyes, then freeze as the both of you walk into a room and see another moving humanoid, “What the-”

“Oh, sometimes the secret takes on the form of a person from the past.  After we talk to him long enough he’ll convert back to the secret item.  That makes it easy,” She approaches him and waves a hand, “Hello, Samuel.”

“Who are you?” He questions, then crosses his arms.  You find him a bit… frightening, so you hide behind the door like some sort of pathetic coward.

“Who I am doesn’t matter.  You’re just a memory anyway.  What I want to know is… What did you do to your brother, huh?” She tilts her head to the side and puts both hands on her hips, taking a stance of intimidation against this guy, “Eighteen years old, he’s thirteen… And given he’s miserable in the basement, I don’t think I’m out of line in my assumptions.”

“He is miserable because this is the first time he’s gotten consequences instead of praise for something he was told to do,” The fake Samuel speaks in vague terms, but doesn’t lie; Ryo must need to deduce enough from his statements to find out the truth.  You actually find it kind of interesting how it’s not always the same method.  Kind of like minigames, but freakier.

“Well, what was he told to do?” She continues drilling him, and you just shrink behind the door even more.

“He was told to kill his pet mouse.”

“By who?”

“By me.”

“Why did he listen to you?”

“Because when he listens to me, I’m nice to him,” The fake Samuel responds again.

“Of course, but…” Ryo finally puts it together, “The praise this time wasn’t worth killing his pet, was it?  And that’s why this is his deepest secret, instead of the reason he’s afraid of poison or anything.  It hurt him because the payoff wasn’t worth the expense…”

“Well, that’s bullshit…” You mutter, “He’s so scared of being poisoned!  How in the world is his deepest secret not related to that?”

“Well, obviously, this is the incident that he most wants people to not know about.  If you became his friend, he would probably tell you why he’s scared of being poisoned more readily than he’d tell you about the time his brother made him kill his pet mouse,” She explains, then steps even closer to the fake, reaches out, and slaps him in the face.  The fake Samuel dissipates into the air, leaving behind a pink mouse cat toy on the ground where he’d stood.

You pick up the toy from the ground, then straighten up and look to your sister, and frown, “You know, Ryo.  I’d never do something like that, telling you to harm or destroy something which is important to you…”

“Come on, Nagi-nii,” She puts a hand on your shoulder, “That’s fucking obvious.  Anyway, why say that to me here?  It’s not like I’ll remember what you say anyhow.”

Right.  Well, you’ll have to find some way to assure her another time that you’re not a terrible older brother, casually in a conversation that doesn’t have a thing to do with anything, “Oh yeah… Well, I guess we should go ahead and wake up, right?”

“Of course,” She nods, and within moments you’re back in the bar, holding a cat toy in your left hand as your sister walks away from Marv’s table.  You do as well, and when time resumes he continues eating as if nothing happened; the potion seems to only have an effect upon the first ingestion.  Eventually, a dark-haired man in a red suit, with purple eyes, joins him.  This man orders a cocktail of wine and gin, as well as takoyaki, which he eats with far too much flair.  He doesn’t seem interesting in making small talk with you, and neither does Marv once he’s there.

But strangely enough, the man in the red suit does leave his number on the receipt.

Next Chapter ----->

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