Bloody Roar Fanfiction: Unity Painted In Snow - 8. Haunting
Disclaimer: See Chapter 1.
A/N: Been nearly a year surprisingly! But finally, I managed to complete this chapter! Enjoy!
Chapter 8: Haunting
The power that sugar could have over people could be pretty surprising to see in action. From the moment Alice announced that everyone could tuck into her selection of treats, the swarm that amassed into the kitchen was almost terrifying. Yugo and Uriko stampeded towards the countertop, while the rest followed with respectable restraint, though they all had a shared a look of delight in their eyes to finally get to tuck into what had been ‘forbidden fruit’.
Alice had made sure to put a few pieces aside for Xion and take them through to his room, collecting his empty food plates from lunch. He thanked her and remained in his room to enjoy his dessert. As much as she didn’t want to leave him alone, he seemed quite content with his situation and let him be.
Mana had been served one of everything there was to offer and was close to overloading on the sugary goodness. There was something wrong on some level about plying a ten-year-old with so much sugar, but it was a rare treat, and everyone was happy to pamper her, knowing full well she was probably the least of their troubles when they came to a sugar high. A certain cat-girl was the one to watch, though maybe even Yugo as well with the way he wolfed his desserts down – a pun Shina was more than happy to throw his way.
Uriko downed jelly and cake as if it was going out of fashion. Her expression was pure ecstasy the whole time. “Alice, your food is always the best!” She complimented with abject joy. “You should have become a baker!”
“I’m not that good!” Alice brushed off modestly, a tint of blush creeping across her cheeks. “But if there are some things I like to get right, it’s cake and cookies!”
“Your cookies sure are cute,” Nagi said holding up a rabbit shaped one. “I feel guilty almost eating them.” Yugo was about to bite into a rabbit one then stopped, looking at it with a sudden feeling of guilt, like it might be sacrilege for him to consume a rabbit. He decided to pick up a dog shaped one instead. He could deal with a bit of – more or less – cannibalism.
Despite everyone happily indulging in the sweet treats on offer, there still seemed to be quite a lot left. “I wonder if Madame Momoyama might like to have some cake, too?” Alice wondered as she glanced over the remains.
Gado smirked, sipping some freshly brewed coffee to wash down the last of his big slice of lemon drizzle cake. “She wouldn’t say no to cake. I think she’d even appreciate it actually.”
“I’ll take the cake to her,” Uriko offered, bouncing up at breakneck speed. “It means I get to see Shimo!”
“Shimo?” Mana asked curiously.
“He’s a cute little cat Shina rescued the other day,” Uriko told her excitedly. “The poor little guy was stuck up a tree and would have had a nasty accident if she hadn’t have gone up to save him.”
“My heroic deed for the vacation,” Shina said with a triumphant flick of the head.
“I would like to meet Shimo, too,” Mana said. “I hope he will not mind a fox too much?”
“He seems to like everyone, especially when they have food!” Uriko said assuredly. “I know I do!”
“You can take some left-over fish from the refrigerator for him,” Alice said, starting to pack some cakes into a container for Uriko to take for Momoyama. Popping the top on, she handed it to her sister, who quickly rummaged in the fridge to retrieve the fish to put into a little food bag.
“Would you like me to come with you?” Ryoho asked Mana.
She shook her head, smiling. “No, thank you. I will be fine with Uriko.”
“Not many people say that with confidence,” Yugo said, earning a raspberry blown his way by the cat-girl.
“Give Shimo a chin scratch from me,” Shina called over to the girls as they headed to the door to put on their shoes.
Uriko saluted. “Will do! See you in a while!” Shortly after, the two departed.
“You are very protective of your little companion,” Jenny noted as she glanced at Ryoho.
“We look out for each other. She does much to protect me, and I return the kindness. She is like a daughter to me,” the monk said honestly, which earned a gushing ‘aww’ from Alice.
“While your young charge is temporarily in the care of Uriko, do not hesitate to take a moment to relax,” Long said. “Are there any more games that you would like to partake in?”
Ryoho mulled over it. “Well… I do carry a Shogi board around with me. I find it a relaxing game. Mana makes quite the opponent.”
“Well, well,” Jenny cooed with admiration. “The extent of Mana’s talents is never-ending.”
“Shogi is like chess, right?” Shina asked Long.
“Yes, that is right,” he confirmed, before turning back to Ryoho. “How about taking on a new opponent? I have to admit, it had been a while since I played, but I would not mind shaking off the rust to challenge for a game.”
“Challenge accepted,” Ryoho said with a chuckle.
“I think I’ll just eat more cake,” Yugo said, wandering back over to the kitchen to see what was left over.
Uriko and Mana walked at a modest pace towards Momoyama’s reception cabin, all the way the former babbling on in an abridged recollection of how things had been going on at home and school over the last six months. Uriko could make the simplest of things sound exciting, as if it was straight out of an adventure book – even if the story was only about her escapades in the cafeteria. Mana was amused by her companion’s observations of everyday things. Uriko was an excitable ball of youthful whimsy, something that was appreciated by those who surrounded her. (Well, maybe not ShenLong…)
They eventually reached the cabin, where Momoyama was stood, intercepting a delivery of groceries. The delivery man, a middle-aged guy, handed a clipboard over for the older woman to sign, rubbing his gloved hands together to keep them warm. He glanced over as the two girls approached.
“I think you have company,” he said to Momoyama, who grunted lowly and looked up at the newcomers, eying young Mana for a second longer. Neither could tell if she was being judgemental or merely inquisitive.
“Is there anything you want?” She asked flatly albeit not unkindly.
“We brought you cake!” Uriko exclaimed, showing her the container of sweet treats. “And some fish for Shimo!”
“Shimo?” The driver asked, seemingly amused. “You have a gentleman friend now?”
“She is talking about the cat,” Momoyama responded, not playing up to his question.
“And here you had me thinking your heart had thawed,” he jested.
“Goichi, you’ll be having problems with your heart if you don’t mind your tongue.”
The delivery man – Goichi – just laughed off her threat. “Never change, Madame. Never change.” He accepted the clipboard back and watched her take away her groceries, always resistant to help; he’d stopped offering long ago, just to avoid to aggro of a venomous lecture. He turned to Uriko and Mana, offering a wry smile. “You girls on vacation?”
“Uh huh! Well, I guess Mana technically isn’t,” Uriko said, glancing at her young companion.
“It is more like a pilgrimage,” Mana said. “But you could say that we are also on a sort of vacation as well.”
“You’re so eloquent for someone so young,” Goichi remarked of Mana.
“Mana’s super smart!” Uriko boasted, much to Mana’s embarrassment.
“I don’t doubt it!” Goichi said, reaching into his jacket pocket to retrieve a packet of cigarettes. He pulled one out from an already open pack as he patted his pocket to locate his lighter. He paused thoughtfully as he glanced at the two, who were waiting for Momoyama to return. “Say, are you girls interested in folklore and legends?”
“What kind of legends?” Uriko asked curiously.
“Well, like legends of ghosts. This area is pretty well known for some pretty spooky stories.”
Uriko’s hairs stood on end, and she gulped back some trepidation – a reaction Goichi relished – though Mana remained impassive though curious.
“Are there really ghost stories about this place?” Uriko dared to question, not sure if she wanted to know the answer. If there was one thing she didn’t like, it was horror stories.
“Well, there is one particular one that explains why this area is haunted.” He found the lighter in his back pocket and lit his cigarette.
“Haunted!” Uriko balked, clearly alarmed at the thought.
“Uh huh,” he confirmed with a slight grin, then took a drag of his cigarette, something he’d been waiting for since before the morning run.
“What’s the story about?” Mana asked unperturbed.
Goichi blew out a cloud of smoke, which danced in the cold air before fluttering away forgotten. “Well, the story goes that during the feudal period hundreds of years ago, there was this family whose father was an esteemed warlord and owned the region. One of his sons was a handsome and intelligent young man – artistic, bookish; a respected scholar even at such a young age. Well, this son fell in love with one of the serving girls who tended to his sisters. He came upon her when he noticed her listening to him play his koto. It was something she regularly liked to do when she wasn’t undertaking her duties. She was a pretty girl in her own right, who just happened to come from a poor background, and she went into service for the warlord’s family to support her own. They would meet regularly in secret, and the young man became determined to marry her. Of course, like most of these forbidden romances, eventually word got out and his father was none too pleased about it. Because she came from such a low standing, his father didn’t support their love. If he wanted her, she could be a concubine, not a principle wife.”
“Well that’s not fair!” Uriko scoffed, cheeks puffing out with indignation.
“That’s just how things were, I’m afraid,” Goichi said with a shrug. “But anyway, the lovers decided they would get married in secret and flee to a far-off land to start a new life. This guy sure was dedicated to his love to throw away his position and inheritance just for her. Honestly, she should have just accepted her lot, even if it wasn’t a position she preferred.”
“Some people are not beholden to material possessions or position,” Mana said thoughtfully. “Love is sometimes all that people desire.”
Goichi’s cigarette hung on his lips with surprise at her observation. She sure wasn’t like any little girl he’d ever met. Well, maybe the traditional garb was also a giveaway she wasn’t just your everyday kid clamouring for the latest tech and eating an excess of greasy junk food. He exhaled a plume of smoke as he removed the cigarette from his mouth. “Yes, well, anyway… The lovers made arrangements to meet up in this wooded area where the cabins stand now. But someone else intercepted their plans. You see, the young man had an older brother, who was envious of how much their father favoured the younger brother. He was probably more concerned about consolidating his position as heir to the clan. It would have probably suited him well for his younger brother to run away with his lover, but he was a ruthless kind of guy, and he much preferred to see his brother out of the way and cause as much pain and misery as possible.”
Uriko frowned. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you can see where this is going.” He flicked some ash away idly, crossing his arms. “After a bit of digging, he found out when and where they were supposed to meet, and knowing the girl had headed off ahead, the brother sent an assassin to kill her, right here in these woods! He slit the poor girl’s throat from ear to ear!”
“That’s awful!” Uriko exclaimed, instinctively put a hand to her throat.
“When the young man learned that she had been killed, he was filled with heart-wrenching grief. Not knowing that his brother had been behind the demise of his lover, he confided his misery to him. Not one to miss a chance, the brother deviously used twisted words in the guise of support to imply that the only way he could be happy was to join his lover in the afterlife. So, the distraught young man, driven by love, commit suicide, hoping they were be reunited in death.” He took another drag of his cigarette before speaking again. “Word is, the ghost of that young woman wanders around here, lost, searching for her lover, sobbing mournfully. Some say even the young man’s ghost can be found wandering where his father’s old castle stood, searching for her as well, having returned after discovering her spirit had not crossed to the afterlife. Though, you don’t want to come across her… I’ve heard anyone who encounters her as been scared to death by the drowning sorrow in her empty eyes…”
“What a load of cr-,” came a grunting reply, which cut off knowing she was in the presence of young girls. Momoyama approached, hands free of groceries, seemingly unimpressed by what she’d happened to hear on stepping out again. “So, where did you hear this story, hmm?”
Goichi shrugged nonchalantly. “Around. Like all stories, people just tell them to me and I just pass them along.”
Momoyama narrowed her eyes behind her thick spectacles, stepping up to Goichi like a murderous gnome. “Don’t think I don’t know your game. You should be ashamed of yourself, trying to scare these kids with your drivel.” She completely ignored Uriko trying to point out that she wasn’t a kid behind her. “I’m sure your mother regrets letting you out in daylight hours.”
He huffed, pretending to be offended. He waved a hand, brushing off her jibes. “Madame, you don’t seem to have the capacity for mythology,” he said in a faux-haughty manner.
“Haven’t you got work to do rather than filling people’s heads with such twaddle?” Momoyama stiffly asked. She had stronger words to use, but she was biting her tongue in present company.
“You were my last delivery,” Goichi said, tipping his hat to her with a cheeky smile, going back to his smoke. “Besides,” he said through a fog of smoke billowing from his lips, “I’m sure these girls appreciate a good old folktale to educate their eager minds.” Uriko’s drained expression probably said quite the opposite, though Mana just stared at him blankly, unreadable.
“You don’t have enough brain cells to share any sort of education. If you had, you wouldn’t be delivering my groceries.”
Goichi clutched his chest, mock offended. “You know how to dig the knife in deep!”
“I can give you a physical demonstration if you so wish,” Momoyama threatened with a huff, her patience wearing thin.
Taking this as his cue to leave, Goichi tipped his hat again. “Always a pleasure, Madame. Take care now, girls.” With a musical whistle, Goichi headed back down the driveway to his awaiting van.
“So, that story…” Uriko began, turning to look at Momoyama.
She scoffed loudly. “You shouldn’t pay much attention to the likes of him. He just likes to get a reaction through his stupidity.”
“So, this area is not patrolled by a restless spirit?” Mana questioned, having been dubious the whole time.
“There are all sorts of strange tales about this whole area, not that I can recall hearing that particular story he regaled you with. I couldn’t tell you one offhand, though. I’m not really interested in those sorts of things.” Momoyama cleared her throat. “Anyway, forget him. You mentioned cake before?”
Uriko’s expression perked up, tossing aside her nervousness for the moment. “Oh yes! My sister made lots of dessert and she wanted you to have some!” She gave the container to the older woman, who nodded her appreciation even though her face remained stiff.
“I’ll indulge latter and return the container to you in the morning.”
“Okay!” Just then, their attention was drawn to a newcomer. Little Shimo, who mewled his arrival as he stepped away from the reception hut, strode at a dignified pace as he approached the gathering. “Shimo!” Uriko greeted excitedly, earning curious eyes for a brief moment, before his gaze snapped upon the container Momoyama was holding.
“Greedy wretch,” Momoyama said, the words coming out not quite as harshly as she would usually impart. “Just like a man, always guided by his stomach. Well, this is my treat, not yours.”
“So, this is Shimo,” Mana said, happy – even for a Fox – to see the little cat. “He is very handsome.”
Shimo gazed at Mana with a silent intrigue. He was cautious, as was to be expected, but Mana didn’t offer a threatening posture or scent, so he didn’t back away. Indeed, with Uriko’s clear comfort in the young girl’s presence – even throwing her arms around the young oracle – was enough for Shimo to want to meet her as well. He trusted a fellow feline after all. When Mana offered her hand, Shimo went to rub his cheek into the palm. Her gentle fingers tickled his fur, and he purred with satisfaction.
“Some fellows are easy to please,” Momoyama said with a gruff laugh. “But he has a keen nose for a good person, so I trust his judge of character.” Mana blushed softly at the compliment, bowing her head respectfully as she continued to make a gentle fuss of a grateful Shimo, who was having his back attended to with strokes from Uriko. He loved all the attention.
“We brought Shimo some snacks, too,” Uriko said, retrieving her food bag with leftover fish. Shimo instantly turned his full attention to her as she presented the morsels to him. Needless to say, they were chomped down in seconds.
“If you’ll excuse me, I have work to do,” Momoyama said, taking her leave. Though, she hadn’t gotten too far before turning back to them. “Give your sister my thanks for the cake.”
“I will!” Uriko responded, and Momoyama left. The cat-girl turned to Mana. “I wonder what the others would think of that story. I don’t really like the idea of meeting a ghost though.”
“Who knows how true his story was,” Mana pondered. “You hear so many tales about such things, but many are nothing more than stories to pass the time with. There is really nothing to worry about.”
Uriko didn’t seem so sure, but she psyched herself up, despite her uncertainty. “We can take on any ghost, right Shimo?” She asked the small cat, enthusiasm masking her nervousness.
Shimo didn’t have much time or consideration for ghosts. Such things interfered with his eating and sleeping. He just licked his lips as the two girls continued to pet him, clearly without a care in the world.
Much of the afternoon was enjoyed in simple leisure. Long and Ryoho played an extensive game of Shogi with Kenji as a keen spectator, watching their moves in silence. Xion continued to stay out of the way, with Alice popping in on him every so often to check he was okay and offer him tea. Yugo and Gado were glancing through some motorcycle magazines the former had brought with him, with the two discussing dream purchases and Gado having a trip down memory lane over his first experience with a motorcycle – which had actually ended up with him in hospital, as he was trying to impress a pretty girl with some dangerous stunts. But he recalled it was a broken arm worth having, especially as he earned himself a kiss from said girl.
Nagi and ShenLong decided to head back to the cabin to have some alone time, which meant one of many things that they neither confirmed nor denied. Jenny had a few magazines of her own to show off, in this case, beauty magazines. She was earnest in sharing her opinions on the latest fashions and make up with Alice between serving drinks and checking on Xion. Alice certainly liked keeping tabs on trends, but she didn’t have the same expensive tastes Jenny had, so merely nodded agreeably at times where she felt she couldn’t admit her dislike for some of the more eccentric fashion styles. It was amid these conversations that the salacious Bat made a sly comment insinuating Shina was scared of a little make up and needed a better moisturising regime. There was back and forth between the women, Jenny mostly making jibes in jest while Shina spat back an array of insults until the latter got fed up and stormed out in a huff. Poor Cronos, abandoned by his temporary bodyguard, didn’t know what to do, and seemed determined to go after her, but Alice warned him off, advising him to leave her to blow off some steam for the time being. The rabbit decided to step in as his ‘caretaker’ and asked the young Prince if he would like to play cards again. Having enjoyed the previous games, he was more than happy to indulge.
Sometime later, Uriko and Mana returned, after deciding to take a longer walk around the grounds after leaving Shimo to lazily sleep off his treat. Uriko bounded in, breaking the peace with a loud greeting as she kicked off her shoes, rushing over to plonk herself next to Alice to recount to her the ghost story she had been told earlier. Mana, with much more decorum, went over to greet Ryoho, who had just finished his game, having defeated Long in a close contest; the tiger Zoanthrope was humble over the loss, satisfied with how the game had played out.
Alice was taken aback by what Uriko had relayed, touched by the sad outcome. “How terrible! Those poor lovers…”
“But it’s scary, right?” Uriko said, clutching her sister’s arm. “That there are ghosts around here that can scare people to death!”
“And you say, this story was told to you by some delivery driver?” Yugo asked sceptically, having overheard her retell the story. In fact, everyone had heard her as she’d been so obnoxiously loud.
“Yeah, so?” Uriko scowled at him. “You don’t believe in ghosts?”
Yugo blew out a thoughtful breath and shrugged. “Well, I’ve seen all sorts of weird things in my life, so I wouldn’t rule them out, but, y’know… can’t say I trust some random guy’s story.”
“That’s rude!” Uriko huffed.
“He did seem like his main intention was to draw a reaction from us,” Mana said, settling to sit with Ryoho, helping him pack away his Shogi board. “In regards to the truth of the story? I would not like to speculate. Maybe he did hear it from a reliable source. Who knows, after all? Besides, there are many types of otherworldly spirits that exist in this realm and beyond, for whatever reason they chose to exist here.”
“To think, that you’d be so sad that you couldn’t leave until you found your love,” Uriko pondered, the thought making her heart heavy. “And that you can kill people if they see your face.”
“Maybe it’s unintentional,” Alice considered. “I mean, does it have to really be her doing? Maybe the people she’d scared had weak hearts?”
“You’re not buying into it, are you?” Yugo asked Alice, clearly sceptical. “I think that guy was stringing Uriko along for a laugh.”
“You heard what Mana said!” Uriko defended adamantly. “Spirits can visit the living for whatever reason.”
“Yeah, I’m not disputing that, I just don’t believe these exact ghosts actually exists!” Yugo turned to Mana. “Was Momoyama there with you? What did she think?”
“From what I could tell, she seemed to think he was making it up,” Mana said.
“See!” Yugo said with some satisfaction that his scepticism was well founded. “She’s as straight-laced as they come; if she doesn’t believe him, then it mustn’t be true.”
Uriko pouted. “But it seemed so real.”
Alice laid a hand on her sister’s shoulder. “It does sound like it could be. I’ve heard many similar stories before.”
“I must admit, the subject is wondrous,” Cronos commented with intrigue. “To think, that the dead manifest in such a way to return to our realm. What drives their purpose? Are they merely lost? Or do they have wicked intentions? Ghosts are always perceived as manifestations of evil in many myths. That cannot always be the case, can it?”
“No, it is not,” Ryoho assured, clearing his throat. “Not all ghosts seek to cause misery. Sometimes it is merely the by-product of fearful humans who cannot comprehend such beings existing.”
“Have you seen a ghost?” Alice directed to both Ryoho and Mana.
“Not as such,” Mana answered. “The things we have encountered were somewhat of the same ilk, but they had never been alive to begin with.” Alice was a little taken back by the response, her eyes widening. Mana merely smiled softly. “It is hard to explain. They were benign spirit-like beings that served as envoys between the different planes of existence. They help us to try and prevent other beings like the Unborn from returning to this planet.”
“I see…” Alice trailed off, not sure if she wanted to pursue this conversation, thinking of Xion. Also, she wasn’t quite sure she would understand if it was explained to her.
“If I were to meet a harmless ghost,” Cronos cut in, clearly intrigued by the essence of the conversation, “I would hope it was one who may have been a friend or family member in life, so I could tell them the things I wish I could have said when they were alive.”
“I think we all would like that,” Alice agreed, nodding.
“I guess…” Yugo said, scratching the back of his head. He shared a look with Gado. He guessed they had the same thought. They’d probably both want to speak to his father, Yuji, again. There had been so much left unsaid from both men. As interesting a thought as it was, Gado in particular wasn’t going to pay too much thought on such an unrealistic situation.
“I am not certain I would want to have such an encounter,” Long input after a thoughtful silence. “Some things might be too painful to experience. That the sadness that surrounded those that departed would be too much to bear in this life.”
“Yes, that certainly is a thought,” Cronos said, somewhat deflated.
“All this talk of ghosts is rather miserable,” Jenny cut in with a delicate sigh. “Rather, we should not chase the shadows of things that have been and gone, and instead, appreciate the living. Worry about death when it happens, and you can face whatever awaits you. In the meantime, I for one will be indulging in all the luxuries and pleasures of the living realm. And with that thought in mind, I’m going to pour myself another glass of wine.”
“We can truly honour the dead by living well and bringing joy to those around us,” Gado said, hoping to bring an end to such a morbid conversation. “Anyway, returning to the here and now, I was thinking that maybe later, that instead of Alice slaving over a hot stove, we could order takeout for everyone, so we can all enjoy a relaxed dinner.”
“I don’t mind cooking, honestly!” Alice said earnestly, not wanting anyone to be put out.
“I don’t doubt that you do, but this is my treat,” Gado assured her.
“We would not like to impose ourselves on you for too long and take advantage of your good will,” Ryoho said. “We would not like to try and venture towards town again too late, as the weather has been unpredictable. We know of a ryokan with vacancies that is close to the train station. It would be suitably convenient for our travel tomorrow so we can begin our journey home.”
“You know, you are more than welcome to stay here,” Gado said. “I can drop you off at the station tomorrow morning. It will save you money and we can have the pleasure of your company further. That is, if you don’t have anything else planned?”
“Oh, no, please!” Mana waved her little hands. “We wouldn’t want to impose on you like that!”
“You wouldn’t be imposing at all,” Gado insisted, standing. “It would be my honour to host you. Kinoshita offered his good will to us, and we wish to share it. Please, consider the offer.”
“Where will they sleep?” Yugo asked. “And will Momoyama be okay with that?”
“We don’t want to cause any trouble,” Ryoho responded uncertainly.
“Nonsense,” Gado alleviated, and then he turned to Yugo. “We can find some futons, I’m sure.”
“Well, it would be nice,” Mana finally said, this time with a little more assurance. “This is a rare treat after all.”
“Yes, it is,” Ryoho agreed with a nod. “If you are happy for us to stay, as is Madame Momoyama, then we would graciously accept your offer.”
“That’s settled then,” Gado said, lightly planting a fist against the palm of his other hand, a sort of affirming gesture. “Now, about that take out, I better check with Momoyama to see who delivers out this far.”
Nagi lounged across ShenLong’s lap as they watched a motocross race on the television, which had descended into a chaotic shamble, much to the latter’s amusement. They had taken advantage of the empty cabin, just so they didn’t have to concern over how loud they were in bed together – not that ShenLong would have cared if anyone else heard or not.
After a passionate tussle under the sheets, they’d foraged for food – inevitably making sandwiches with what supplies they found – and reclined in front of television, ShenLong’s clear favourite vacation pastime. With sandwiches consumed, they just languished alone together with nothing but the sound of the bikes and emboldened commentary to fill the room.
In truth, as much as it was nice to see Ryoho and Mana again in such an informal way, Nagi was glad to get out of the other cabin. Being anywhere near Xion, even with a door closed between them, caused her to feel stifled and on edge. That and she didn’t feel particularly comfortable in the cramped room with a group of people who she felt sometimes like an outsider to. She didn’t think they’d mind all that much if they slipped away, particularly ShenLong, who was not everyone’s favourite person. She could get riled up all she wanted about Xion and the troubles he caused, but she was sure someone would mention ShenLong’s chequered past in a heartbeat just to shoot her down.
She was thankful she and ShenLong left, just so he could help her blow off some steam. It was a great chance to just let go all her inhibitions and cares. No words needed, no thinking, no consideration of external factors. It was just them intensely focused on one and other, surrounding themselves with tantalising desire.
Having indulged in much needed wanton passion, she was now laid out relaxed, physically spent. Every now and then he stroked her hair, showing idle affection. She said nothing, instead, just smiled to herself as she watched the TV.
Unfortunately for them, their alone time didn’t last for much longer after that, as with the next on-screen rider tumbling off his bike like a ragdoll, the door to the cabin was thrown open and Shina stomped in, clearly in a foul mood. They could almost feel the anger seeping off her in waves. Nagi cast ShenLong a serious look, telling him not to agitate her in any way, as she wasn’t paying for the damages to the cabin if things kicked off.
“Fucking sick of that dirty bitch talking down to me,” Shina snarled out loud, kicking the door closed behind her. “I swear to God I’ll rip her fucking breasts off one of these days and shove them down her throat until she chokes!”
“Woah…” Nagi muttered, eyes widening at the intensity of her threat. “A little bit extreme, maybe?”
“I take it you’re talking about Jenny?” ShenLong asked, seeing the other woman’s burning glare turn on him at the mere mention of the woman’s name. He nodded to himself, assured. “In fairness, I would pay to see you do that, just to see the silicone plop out of those babies.”
Nagi snorted out a laugh. “You really think they’re fake?”
He shrugged. “God knows, but her personality is pretty plastic, so I wouldn’t be surprised if her breasts were as well.”
Shina’s temper was somewhat smouldered by the humorous jibes aimed at her rival, which she was more than happy to latch onto. “She’s Chinese sweatshop fake. Nothing more than a bargain bucket broad, imagining herself as a socialite when she’s nothing more than a tramp.” She cracked her knuckles, still itching to get her hands on her. “You’re both welcome to front row seats when I annihilate that slut.”
ShenLong smirked. “I’ll hold you to it.”
“Where’s Cronos?” Nagi asked, having just noticed the young man wasn’t with her like he usually was. “Aren’t you supposed to be his bodyguard?”
Shina huffed out a sigh, dumping herself in one of the chairs. She had to hold her hands up on that one. It was a bit of an oversight on her part when she stormed off that she’d left him behind; not that it mattered too much, as he was in good company that both of them trusted. “He’s in safe hands,” she finally said. “I just need five minutes to take a breather or I’ll fucking do something I regret.” She glanced over at her languishing companions, sinking lower into her seat tiredly. “Sorry to gate-crash your alone time, by the way. Not easy to get peace and quiet out here with so many of us around. Though, I hope you’ve already done the sex part because I really don’t need to hear that on top of everything else.”
“With fuck all to do around here, I’m surprised you didn’t indulge on the audio porn we had on offer,” ShenLong joked luridly. Nagi elbowed him lightly in the ribs. He merely laughed in response. “Really, it was fucking golden… almost in the literal sense.”
Shina buried her face in her hand. ShenLong was just so damned annoying, but it was a strangely nice distraction from being abjectly pissed off over Jenny, so she didn’t mind it so much, and allowed herself to simmer down over his disgusting conversation. Nagi was quietly scolding him aside, partly embarrassed by his candour over such stuff.
Shina still couldn’t believe that these two of all people seemed to get on like a house on fire. But if they were happy with relationship, who was she to question it?
“I’m just going to pretend we’re not having this conversation, and just enjoy the bikes,” Shina said, watching as more riders went flying all over the place. “What the fuck is even going on?”
“That’s the beauty of it. Nobody knows!” ShenLong said, amused by the action on-screen. “A load of amateurs testing out how gravity can fuck you over painfully instead of actually attempting to ride their bikes.”
“I can guarantee you that the one who wins is probably going to be crawling over the finish line, clutching one of their wheels and some other broken limb,” Nagi added in with morbid humour.
“Well, I think it’s worth it to watch and see how much they suck for the rest of the race,” Shina said, tossing her legs over the arm of the chair as she got comfortable to watch the television.
“You’re more than welcome to stick it out with us,” Nagi offered.
“Thanks, I think I will.” She glanced at the other woman, glad to at least be in a more chilled out environment, which was a surprise with ShenLong around. She was quickly put at ease. “You know,” she said, clearly aiming her words at Nagi, “if you do need to vent about you-know-who at any point…”
ShenLong scowled at the leopard Zoanthrope. “Hey-“
“I meant Xion, you prick!” Shina glanced back at Nagi, who clearly stiffened up on the mention of his name. “Just if you ever need someone to lend an ear, or maybe just someone to spar with, just ask. I’m more than happy to help.”
Nagi gave a nod. She didn’t know Shina’s true thoughts about Xion, and didn’t really want to strike up that particular conversation, but she appreciated a little support in whatever way it was offered. “Thanks.”
ShenLong rolled his eyes. “You girls and your bonding shit…” Nagi elbowed him again; this time, harder – the force enough to have him grunting with disapproval.
“Don’t be a dick, ShenLong,” Shina said tiredly, eyes turning back to the TV screen.
Uriko had only a limited attention span when it came to subjects of particular depth. She was an action girl, not a thinker. Certainly, she had opinions on subjects that were in her peripheral focus, things that particularly mattered to her and her family, but when it started garnering onto things that were a little outside her social remit, she tended to shut down and go into a happier place, whether it was because she didn’t quite understand the core subject matter, or it touched on things she was particularly sensitive of. As such, when Kenji and Mana had drifted off their casual conversation about current events in Japan into more philosophical topics about social conformity and education, Uriko mentally and verbally ejected herself from the discussion and put on her headphones to listen to some tunes, filling her brain with sugary sweet pop music that sang about love and ambition in droves.
Aside, she was sick of thinking about ghosts, which had kept coming back into her brain, so it was a nice distraction to listen to someone sing heartily about their dream boy from an imaginary windowpane.
Between the pauses of each track, she could still catch snippets of conversation, with Kenji relating to Mana the many school projects and responsibilities he was undertaking. When the next track ended, she heard an exchange which pricked her ears.
“You take a lot on your shoulders,” Mana said.
“As I’m sure you do as well,” Kenji countered with a smile.
She shook her head. “Mine are expected duties. Yours… you take on a lot more than someone of your age.”
“Funny to hear that come from someone younger than me,” Kenji said with a slight laugh, before his face settled to something slightly more serious, his tone lowering, so not to let anyone else hear. “It helps me forgot sometimes… of things that have happened…”
Uriko discreetly pressed pause on her music player, keeping up the pretence of listening to music, all the while curious to Kenji’s admission.
“I understand if you choose not to say,” Mana said, clearly not wanting to cause any upset.
“Don’t worry,” he assured. “I’ve about come to terms with what I’ve lost, but no matter what I do, sometimes the nightmares come. I suppose a weaker person would have crumbled, not able to function because of having their mind tampered with. But I keep going, filling my life with meaning so I don’t get sucked into the void of what might have been. I just don’t want my mind to go back to those places, to Tyron, to ZLF… It’s why I fight so hard for W.O.C. So nobody else has to go through what I had to.”
Uriko quietly swallowed and turned her music back on. As aloof and cheery as she could be, even she was still haunted by what Tyron did, about her kidnap and isolation; such things would creep into her own nightmares sometimes. Despite what they did to her, she had not gone through as much as Kenji. She had been able to recover quickly from her ordeal for the most part, despite the changes that she would eventually discover had occurred to her beast form. She was able to go back to a regular life with routine and love. Kenji’s brainwashing had left him like a robot, barely functional. He’d had to rebuild his own personality from the ground up, acclimatise into a society he’d never really experienced, create a new family with Yugo. And to go through the experience of brainwashing again, forced to do things so terrible that he almost wanted to take his own life. She couldn’t believe he could candidly talk about such things after everything. But this was Mana after all he was talking to, someone who would never judge him. It just showed how far he had come in so few years.
She closed her eyes, listened to the hum of the music, letting her brain refocus on the nicer things. She decided later she would give Kenji a big hug. She wouldn’t tell him the reason; she’d just smile and say he deserved one.
A short time later, Gado returned.
Alice stood from putting away some clean dishes in the lower cupboards, turning to him. “What did Madame Momoyama say?”
He smiled at her. “We won’t be requiring futons.” He turned to Ryoho, showing him a set of keys. “She’s offered you a cabin to stay for free.”
Ryoho was taken aback. “This is unexpected. What have we done to be given such a gift?”
“She seems to be in a good mood today. Possibly because of cake.” Laughter reverberated around the room, with Yugo shouting out ‘Nice one, Alice!’ to the abashed Rabbit Zoanthrope. “Though, I think she may have had a slight ulterior motive.”
“Oh?” Ryoho quizzed.
“I’m not sure what you’ll think,” Gado began to explain, “but Momoyama has a koi pond that she’s not having much luck with. She’d usually not the superstitious type, but by her words, she thinks there is ‘bad ju-ju’ around it. She would appreciate at some point you might ‘bless’ her pond.”
Uriko had caught the ‘bad ju-ju’ part and pulled off her headphones. “Like ghosts?!”
“Don’t start on that again!” Yugo warned.
“I doubt it is ghosts, Uriko,” Mana assured, not that Uriko looked all that convinced.
Ryoho laughed. “I suppose that is a fair exchange for her hospitality.”
“Is Kinoshita going to be alright with that?” Yugo questioned.
“I doubt he’d care for one night with a few of the cabins going unbooked, especially when Ryoho and Mana are friends of ours. But Momoyama is going to keep it under her hat, just in case, not that she thinks they’ll suddenly be inundated with people, not at this time of year anyway.”
Mana moved to bow to Gado appreciatively. “Thank you so much. We are indebted to your kindness.”
“Please don’t thank me! It’s all down to Momoyama. Anyway, let’s go take your things to your cabin. You’re in twelve. Oh, but before I forget,” he said, reaching into his pocket to retrieve two duplicate menus, handing them to Alice. “That restaurant we ate at the other night delivers out this far.”
“Oh, wonderful!” Alice exclaimed as she took the menus into her care. “We should let Shina and the others know.”
“I’ll go!” Uriko said, hopping up. “I can find more of my games at the same time.”
“I will go over as well,” Cronos said, standing also.
Gado, Ryoho and Mana left almost immediately to take their things to cabin twelve, shortly after which Uriko and Cronos, now having clad themselves in their boots and coats, made their way over to the other cabin. Before they left, Alice had handed one of the menus to Uriko to show the others, and to let her know what they had decided to order so they could sort it out in one go.
“Worried about Shina?” Uriko asked Cronos as they closed in on the other cabin.
“She was quite riled earlier. I just wanted to check she was alright.”
Uriko smiled. It was almost strange to see them apart since the vacation began. And certainly, Cronos didn’t seem to like being without her close by. She wasn’t going to say, but something was definitely brewing when it came to the Prince and his supposed bodyguard.
Something caught the cat-girl’s eye, a flutter of something in the trees just across the way. A skirt, long tendrils of hair… It seemed like a figure, but it was gone in a blink of an eye. Uriko paused mid-motion, feeling a cold chill run through her like icy water. There was just something off about what she’d seen – or what she thought she’d seen. That the way the light glanced off the figure was almost unnatural.
“Is something wrong, Uriko?” Cronos softly asked, having stopped also when he noticed her pull up abruptly, seemingly distracted.
“Oh, uh, it’s nothing,” she said, brushing it off, even though something didn’t sit right with her. She quickly forced a smile on her face. “Come on, let’s go in!” With one last look back, she led the way towards the door, vying to push aside any ridiculous notion that entered her head.
They entered the cabin to a surprisingly jovial atmosphere. Shina, Nagi and ShenLong seemed to be in good humour conversing about sports, glancing back every so often to the television, which seemed to be showing the end of a race – neither Uriko or Cronos could tell what it was. They were on bikes, that’s all they could recognise.
They didn’t initially break the stride of their conversation until Uriko came bounding over to softly bop Shina on the head in greeting.
“What’s up, kitty-cat?” Shina asked before finding herself presented with a menu. “What have we got here?”
“We’re going to order from that restaurant we went to the other night. They deliver out here!” She told her.
“Ah, okay! Well, I’m good for anything, really,” Shina said, glancing over her options. “As long as I don’t have to go back over there to eat, I’m all good.”
“Same,” Nagi input, sharing her sentiment.
“It would be very crowded to have us all over there eating again,” Cronos said, moving across the room to sit in the only available seat. “We would be much more comfortable eating in our own cabins.”
“Good point,” Shina agreed.
“Just order me a truck load of beer,” ShenLong half joked. He was usually the type to enjoy just snacks with a large accompaniment of alcohol.
“Make that two,” Shina laughed. “I think I’ll need it.” She clucked her tongue, glancing at the selection. “Maybe we should just get one of the big platters or something to share. They’ve got ones that aren’t just solely fish.”
“I don’t mind. Saves money as well,” Nagi said with a satisfied nod.
“I would be willing to do that,” Cronos said, to Shina’s nod of acknowledgement.
“You think you and Kenji would be alright with that if we eat together as cabin buddies?” Nagi asked Uriko.
“I think so,” she said ponderously. “I’ll ask when I go back.”
After pondering over the menu between them for a little while longer, they decided on the platter they wanted, plus some extra nibbles, and a lot of beer! Uriko made a scribble of a note of what they wanted, then went to grab her games before heading back over to the other cabin. Cronos decided to remain behind, to take a breather from socialising.
Nagi decided to go run herself a quick bath, while ShenLong chose to head out and stretch his legs for a while, noting there wasn’t much good on the TV until the evening. Shina languidly went over to the kitchenette to boil water for the teapot, deciding a cup of tea sounded about right for the time being. She would indulge in copious amounts of beer later.
Cronos wandered over to where she was leaning on the counter, patiently awaiting the water to reach temperature.
“How are you feeling?” He asked, somewhat tentatively, not sure if her anger would flare up again.
Thankfully, she seemed to have calmed down significantly, and her response was even and considered. “I’m better. Definitely needed a different head space to chill out in. Nagi and ShenLong made for a good distraction, too. That and motocross mishaps were pretty entertaining.”
He would take her word for that. “I would have come before now, but I was advised to give you some space. In truth, I would have probably not offered you the correct form of solace. I do sometimes struggle to offer the right words. But, so you know, I was strongly considering coming over before now. I do not like to see you upset.”
“Cronos, seriously, don’t worry,” she assured. “I wasn’t so much upset, just annoyed. Anyway, you were never a part of the issue, so I wasn’t going to blame you for not rushing to my side. And, you were better off steering clear of me for a while. I wouldn’t want to accidentally take anything out on you.”
“As long as you are alright, that’s all that matters,” he said softly.
“I’ll live to verbally abuse her another day. This’s just how things are between me and her.” The water began to boil and she straightened up. “But let’s forget that. You want to join me in a cup of tea?”
“That would be splendid.” And they said no more on the matter.
Both cabins eventually sorted out what they wanted collectively from the menus and ordered their food. Ryoho and Mana eventually re-joined Gado’s entourage, ready participate in the meal once it arrived. Daylight began to fade into twilight outside, and with it came a light flurry of snow, the breeze also beginning to pick up.
Alice stared out the window, watching the flakes dance about on the invisible gusts in manic swirls. She was worried they may end up stuck in the heart of another blizzard.
“The weather didn’t say it was going to be too bad,” Yugo said as he approached behind her, almost reading her mind. “Just breezy.”
“We’ll probably feel it more being so high up,” Alice said, bringing her arms around herself. “It’ll be a cold night, that’s for sure.”
Yugo’s arms carefully entwined themselves around her waist. “Well, you don’t have to worry. I’ll be here to keep you warm.”
“Well that I can be glad for,” She said softly, glancing at him lovingly, nestling her cheek in against his neck.
“It should be a clear day tomorrow,” he said, enjoying the feel of her body relaxing against his. “Have you thought about what you’d like to do?”
“Oh, not really,” she said thoughtfully. “I was just more worried that today would go well.”
“Well, I think you can be satisfied on that front.” He said, stroking her arm assuredly. “But I was thinking; how about we take a long drive out and stop by Asahiyama Zoo?”
“That does sound like a good plan. We could see if Uriko and Kenji want to join us?”
“Anything to keep his head out of his books! And your sister is bound to keep him distracted dragging him around to look at all her favourite animals.”
“Did someone say my name?” Uriko asked, practically bounding over to them, making the pair jump.
“Jeez, don’t do that!” Yugo shot at her, bemused. “What you doing skulking around listening in to people’s conversations?”
Uriko stuck her tongue out at him. “My food senses were tingling, so I came over!”
Yugo was about to retort something when his ears pricked up at the sound of an approaching vehicle. He turned just in time to see an off-roader crawl to a stop on the road across from the cabin. The man who got out was clearly the proprietor of the restaurant. “Colour me impressed. Your senses are right on the money!”
“Yay! I’ll go tell the others!” Uriko said, grabbing her shoes to go alert the other cabin to the arrival of food.
Yugo and Alice followed after her as she scampered off, grabbing their own shoes, before going to wait on the porch as Taro started unloading large food boxes from his car.
“Greetings again!” Taro hollered to the awaiting pair as he carried over the first heavy box, handing it over to Yugo. “I bring you precious sustenance!”
“We’re looking forward to your food again,” Alice said, watching him scamper back to collect another box.
“Then I hope we live up to your expectations for a second time!” When he brought around the second box, Long had stepped out, offering his assistance. Taro handed it over to him and went to retrieve the next.
Alice was surprised at how much they’d ordered in the end, but she supposed with many hungry mouths to feed, they weren’t going to scrimp. Yugo returned in time for the third box, his stomach growling as he took in the aroma of delicious food waiting to be consumed. He grinned at Alice, who had also heard his stomach’s vocal demand for food. Sher merely shook her head with a smile.
Taro’s next trip back to his car was not to receive a box of food this time, but a large crate of beer bottles, which he struggled with a bit more than the food.
“Who wants this one?” Taro asked.
“I’ll take care of that!” Came a voice approaching from the other cabin, which to no surprise belonged to ShenLong. He happily took the weight off of Taro’s hands, carrying it away with a lot less of a struggle.
Shina and Uriko came wandering over, the former grinning at Taro. “Escaping the wife again, are we?”
“I wouldn’t like to incriminate myself. You never know whose listening!” Taro said with a laugh, pretending to look nervously around him. “But I will say, I’d rather risk the icy roads than deal with another one of her fiery lectures.”
“We won’t say a word,” Shina said with a wink.
Taro’s last trip back to the car was collect a few bottles of wine, sake and iced tea, which Alice took from him to take inside, at which time Gado stepped out, money in hand.
“I’ve put in a little extra for your troubles,” the Lion Zoanthrope said, handing over the notes.
“That’s kind of you, thank you,” Taro said, tucking away the money into his front pocket. He glanced about as the trees began to shake more wildly with the wind, a whistling sound cutting through the air. “Hmm, might be an unpredictable night. You folks better hunker down before it gets much worse.”
“Our only plans are to enjoy your delicious food,” Gado informed him.
“Sounds like a perfect evening.” Taro said proudly, before his joy quickly faded into a sigh. “I better get back, in case I’m needed for more deliveries. Not that we don’t have more drivers for that, but any excuse to get away when we’re busy, busy, busy! She’s especially prickly if I’m not pandering to her every whim on these types of nights. So, I might take a slow drive back… you know, because of that wind and that…”
Gado smirked. “Yes, the wind… But in all seriousness, please take care getting back.”
“I can take a bit of wind, it’s just women who scare me…” He drifted back to his car, half laughing in humour and half in honest nervousness. He took his sweet time leaving, quite happy to leisurely make his return than worry about the weather.
Alice was already sorting out the food for each cabin, switching and changing the parcels between the boxes efficiently. Shina hung back outside the door, not particularly wanting to go inside while Jenny was floating about looking all smug, eying up the wine predatorially.
In quick time the food was sorted and Alice closed up the other cabins box and pushed it towards Uriko. “There you go. Everything should be there.”
“Okay!” Uriko lifted it up, straining a little at the weight as turned towards the door.
“Here, I’ll do it,” Shina said, quickly popping in to take the box from the girl and getting out before anything else could be said.
“I guess I’ll just bring the drinks,” Uriko said with a shrug, grabbing the bottles that were waiting for her on the counter before following out after the Leopard Zoanthrope. Gado closed the door behind them after stepping back inside.
Everyone amassed in a thankfully orderly manner to serve themselves what they wanted from the food covering both the island and side counters which Alice – with a little help – had set out around the kitchenette. Ryoho and Mana seemed a little tentative about taking too much, but Yugo had urged them to ‘gorge to their hearts content’, seeing as there was plenty and more for everyone to enjoy.
Alice prepared Xion’s plate of food while she was doing her own, quickly heading over to his room to deliver his dinner. Even though she felt he’d spent enough time hiding out in his room, only making a brief appearance earlier to use the bathroom, he declined her offer of joining them. She was determined she would do something to make up for having to spend a day in isolation.
A cork popping made most of the group jump as Jenny prepared to pour herself a large class of red. She smiled at the others. “Now, my meal is perfect.”
In the second cabin, everyone had set up to eat around the island counter, their platter of food and extras consolidated in the middle for everyone to pick at. ShenLong cracked open a few beers, passing one each to Shina and Nagi. Cronos expectantly declined the offer of beer and joined Kenji and Uriko in partaking in iced tea.
Much of the meal was enjoyed in idle chit-chat about food, discussing their favourite dishes, and particularly considering what local cuisine they were hoping to enjoy while they were there. Uriko was curious to try her first squid ink ice cream, much to Shina’s revulsion at the thought. Kenji mentioned his interest in Jingisukan, a mutton-based dish also known as ‘Genghis Khan’, which seemed to be more to everyone’s liking. Amid their discussion, they enjoyed the bounty of sashimi, gyoza, rice and tempura before them. Though, ShenLong had spent more of the meal enjoying beer after beer, with the platter as a secondary option.
“I don’t know how you can glug down so much beer and stay in shape,” Shina remarked, having noticed the empty bottles building up beside him.
ShenLong snorted. “I’m not scared to go at it hard to keep this prime physique. And it’s good to have someone else who likes to go at it hard with you.” His eyes slide over to glance at Nagi, the insinuation in his voice plain to hear, hammered home as he slipped a hand onto her thigh, giving it a firm squeeze.
“Is he always this classy with you over dinner?” Shina asked Nagi, who was tucking into a piece of salmon sashimi.
She swallowed, her expression deadpan. “He’s at least let me eat this time before beginning the foreplay.” She cast a brief glance at her beau before looking back at the food ahead of her. “We’re not allowed back to at least three restaurants in our neighbourhood because of some of his choice interactions.”
Kenji said nothing, not wanting to get involved in the conversation. Uriko made a face of disgust at ShenLong, which he clearly ignored. Cronos simply frowned, not sure what to make of it all. He couldn’t quite tell if they were serious or joking. Shina just rolled her eyes, hardly surprised as she helped herself to another beer.
“What about you, your highness?” ShenLong smirked at Cronos. “How do you like to keep fit? You got any sparring partners you don’t mind getting rough with?”
“Don’t answer that. It’s a leading question,” Shina said stiffly, glaring at ShenLong.
Cronos just smiled politely at ShenLong. “Now that would be giving away my secrets, would it not?”
ShenLong leaned back, slightly impressed. “Though I’m sure you would enjoy a little one on one with Miss Gado over here. And I can tell you from experience, she certainly plays rough.”
A blush fluttered into Cronos’s cheeks, and though he briefly glanced at his food to compose himself, he eventually returned a firm glance to the other man. “I will not say anything to denigrate my dearest friend by falling prey to your crude insinuations. You may like to drag the one you care about down with muddied conversation, but I will not do the same.”
ShenLong scowled. “You be careful what you say…”
“Says you,” Shina cut in. “You asked the question, he answered.”
ShenLong would have protested, but Nagi called his attention and quickly shoved food into his mouth.
“Save the dirty talk for later,” his beau said simply, going back to take more sashimi for herself.
“Nagi, I hope you did not think I was implying anything inappropriate about you?” Cronos said guiltily, thinking over what he had said previously.
“I wouldn’t worry about it if you did. I stopped paying attention a while ago.”
“Maybe we should tone it down in front of the kids,” Shina advised, nodding towards the teenagers.
Uriko was somewhat affronted. “Hey, I’m no kid!” How many more times today was she going to be called a kid?
“You could have fooled us,” ShenLong said, finally swallowing his food.
The sound of something clattering against the window made the group jump, turning to acknowledge that the wind was now howling with conviction, shaking the trees close by down to the core.
“Glad I’m not out in that,” Nagi remarked.
“Yeah, same,” Shina agreed.
Uriko especially seemed unnerved, the sound had really put her on edge. “I hope it doesn’t get worse.”
“I’ll close the shutters, just for some reassurance,” Kenji offered, getting up from his seat.
He’d barely done so when the lights suddenly cut out, plunging the room into darkness, all bar the glow of light coming from the log fire crackling away in the lounge. It took them a moment to adjust to the sudden darkness, the sun having set just a short time ago.
Uriko leapt off her stool, clearly freaked out. “What happened?!” She squeaked.
“Probably just a power cut,” Shina said, hardly phased. “Hopefully a backup generator should kick in shortly.”
Uriko wasn’t a fan of the dark. She clenched her fists tightly, her nails digging into her palms, waiting with a tensed spine for the light to return, almost willing it in whispers to do so. She turned in time to see something slide by the window, a shadow of some sort. It was like a figure, hair whipping in the fierce gusts, silently moving within the howls of the wind.
She shrieked, jolting back, her sock-clad feet slipping on the smooth tiles, sending her falling backwards unceremoniously to the floor.
“Are you alright, Uriko?” Cronos asked, carefully sliding out his seat to offer her a hand, which she grabbed onto, shaking.
“A ghost! By the window!” She stammered, rubbing her sore back with one hand and stabbing the finger of her other towards the glass.
“Ghosts again… for fucks sake…” ShenLong sighed, almost face-palming.
Shina moved to look out of the window, moonlight lighting up the veranda clear enough to show that nobody was there. “You must be seeing things.”
“I swear, there was someone there!”
“Calm down, Uriko,” Kenji soothed, putting a hand on her shoulder. “It may have just been some stray branches blown by.”
“I hope so,” she quivered, thankful that Cronos offered her a gentle supportive hug.
“Why hasn’t the backup generator come on?” Shina said impatiently, not liking how the situation was panning out.
“I hope they have one,” Nagi muttered, though it would be silly for them not being this far out in the middle of nowhere.
But the minutes passed, and still, no light returned.