Tokiko merely nodded quietly, once again leaving you to lead this conversation.
“Uh...” What to say? What to ask? What to... ah! “You know,” you say at last, “For a 'boyfriend' and a 'girlfriend', we really don't know all that much about each other.”
“I guess not.” Replies the girl opposite you. She frowns, then looks at you curiously. “I haven't even heard your name.” she states at last, “That seems odd... but now I think of it, I've only heard people use your family name.”
You wince. “There's... a very good reason for that.” You mutter. “My mom's naming sense is... not exactly... normal.”
“Hm?” Tokiko blinks, then leans forward slightly. “Really? It can't be that bad, can it?”
You take a deep breath, “When I was born, my mom wanted a daughter - a girl. My being born a guy... didn't really do much to change her mind on what she was going to call me.” You shudder, “If it hadn't been for dad... I suspect she might have tried to raise me as a girl too.”
Tokiko merely nibbled on a cookie. “So?” She asked after a while. “What is it?”
“What is what?” you respond, taking a cookie for yourself.
She frowns slightly, sensing your obvious evasion. “Your name, what is it?”
You wince once more. “Shiori.” you hiss through your reluctant mouth. “Shiori Shirosawa.”
“Oh.” It's to her credit that she doesn't laugh. “That's... not so bad I guess, I know - knew - someone named Wriggle before, I think that name is sillier really.”
“Wriggle?” She was right, it was sillier - though perhaps no more embarrassing - than your own. You frowned, “Is... is this 'Wriggle' a person in this... contest... too?”
Tokiko's eyes widened, then slid to one side as she nodded guiltily. “Everyone I know should be in it.” She replied, “and a lot of people I've only heard of... as well as people I don't even know about.”
She seems distressed at that concept, so you move quickly to divert the conversation. “Really?” You ask, “So you must have all come from the same place?” She looks up at you and nods. “Well, what is it like where you come from then?”
She blinks, then glances up at your ceiling. “Empty.” She says at last, her gaze swinging back down to rest on you. “At least... at least compared to here. There's more humans in your school than i've ever seen in all of Gensokyo.”
“Gensokyo?” you interject. Tokiko just nods.
“Yes, Gensokyo is the place I come from. It's sort of... um... seperate from everywhere else? I... I don't really understand it, but I know there's everywhere 'inside' Gensokyo and there's everywhere 'outside' it, like this place.” She frowns slightly, “I don't know where it is in relation to here though...”
“Ah,” You nod sagely, not really understanding what she said. “Go on.”
“Well, Gensokyo is a lot... greener?” Tokiko frowns, “I mean, here is not too much off the human village, but that other place - where those shops are - was much, much more... um... gray? All buildings and not many trees I mean.”
You frown deeply. “That's the second time.” You state, which makes Tokiko pause and look at you strangely.
“Second time?” She asks.
“That you've used the word 'humans' when talking about people.” You smile, “Isn't that a bit of a silly way to talk about everyone around you?” The girl reacts, you think, a little too violently to that casual remark - flinching away even as her cheeks turn red with... embarrassment? You're not sure, but you are sure that there was something important she wasn't telling you. Thinking of the game... the book... and the attacks both she and Lily had shown... “You, uh, you are human - aren't you?” You ask at last, slightly worried about the answer you're now feeling eerily certain of.
“No.” Tokiko's answer was short and direct. “I'm not.”
“I... I see.” Despite not really being a surprise, the confirmation of this fact still surprised you a little. “So, um, if you don't mind me asking...”
“What am I?” Cuts in the silver-haired girl. “Does it really matter?”
You pause. That was true, wasn't it? Human or not, it didn't really change anything about your relationship - she was still a stranger who had dropped into your life and bought with her some kind of life-or-death game. Did being non-human really rate as being important when you considered that? “Probably not,” you say after a while, “But... I guess I would like to know...”
You lean back, almost to the point of lying down on the floor. Your feet, previously crossed beneath you, swing out and lightly bump into Tokiko's legs. At the moment of contact she makes a surprised little squeak which sounds almost sickeningly cute - were all girls this... this... girly? It was hard to picture the Tokiko of now as being the same Tokiko who had rushed in to save you after you had been caught by Lily and her partner.
“Ibis.” She states, snapping you out of your reverie, then her brow furrows in thought and she continues in a more questionable tone. “At least I was a few years ago, but I think things are a little different now.”
“Never seen an Ibis that looks that good in a dress before.” you joke - smiling inside when Tokiko blushes in response. “Seriously though, I haven't.”
She shrugs. “Well I don't know how it happened really.” She looks up at the ceiling again, lost in thought. “Ibis memories aren't very good you know. All I really know is that one day I went to sleep then when I woke up I looked like this and was able to remember more than a week in the past.” Looking back down she shrugs once again, “Supposedly I'm a Youkai now, but I still haven't really managed to work out exactly what that means for me yet.”
“Youkai huh?” You think about that for a moment. “Like oni and ghosts and stuff?” You think about it a little more, “Cool. I think... a Youkai girlfriend. Huh. Reminds me of those tv shows I used to watch as a kid, where some guy always seemed to end up with and alien or a demon or something amazing like that.”
“Except this is real.” Tokiko stated. “Not one of those, um, colored plays on the 'Television' box.”
“I suppose so.” you reply. You yawn. Odd. You glance at your clock, then blink in surprise. “Wow,” you murmur, “When did it get so late?”
* * * * * * * *
You were preparing for bed. Somewhere along the line a set of loose sleepwear had been pulled out of some drawer where you'd stashed them as you did with most birthday gifts of unwanted clothing. Sleeping in boxers was preferable to you but with Tokiko now living in the house... well, not having a repeat of your first meeting with her would be appreciated you thought. The light shirt and trousers combo was perhaps a little silly to you but at least it meant that you couldn't be called a pervert if you got caught going after a midnight snack or something by your new girlfriend.
As much as your mother would have loved to have the two of you sleeping together, Tokiko was in fact sleeping in the spare room opposite your own. Last night had been unplanned, a result of too much stress and exhaustion catching up, tonight... well, neither of your really felt comfortable knowingly sharing a bed right now. It was hard to put into words - you wanted to sleep beside her, but you felt somewhere inside that you wanted to know her inside and out, figuratively, before you did.
You were broken out of your musing by the sound of your cellphone, blaring away with some tinny-sounding tune. You grabbed it, flipped it open and all but yelled into the speaker. “What!?”
“Shirosawa.” The voice was familiar, who was it? You couldn't quite place it. “This is Ryotsu.” Ryotsu? Who was that? The name didn't seem to ring any... wait, wait!
“Officer Kankichi?” You hazarded, feeling pretty certain you'd placed the caller now.
“Jus' Ryotsu.” The man replied, “This is an unofficial call. 's about...” He trailed off, leaving the line silent for several long moments. “... this fight,” he continued at last. “Me - Me and me partner... We...” The tone of his voice, his hesitant speech, it was obvious to you why he was calling now.
“You got into a fight, didn't you?” You ask. So he and his partner had been forced to kill someone and, from the sound of it, he was taking it almost as hard as you had.
“... yeah.” His voice was quiet. “She... she looked like some kind of kid.” You nodded. Lily had looked barely older than a child herself. “It... wasn't... wasn't pretty.” he finishes.
“Are you okay?” You ask, not really sure of what to say.
“Yeah, yeah, we're fine.” He replies. “'s just something of a shock, a fight like that. It's... supernatural, y'know?” you nodded to yourself, it was that kind of thing after all. “But, listen,” continues Ryotsu, “This isn't why I called - I need you ta look in the back of your grimoire book thing.”
“Why?” Even as you ask you raised your hand, the book already held open. You honestly tried hard not to think about how the thing seemed to simply disappear and reappear almost with a mind of it's own. The chain around your wrist seemed permanent, but the book and the section of chain connecting it would vanish whenever you didn't seem to need it out. With one thumb you clumsily flicked to the back of the book - then paused and frowned at the page on display. “What the...”
It was Lily.
A large picture of Lily dominated the page and, in one corner, was a small block of text. The first line was obviously her name - Lily White. Beneath that was a comment 'Defeated by - TOKIKO'. Was this, perhaps, a listing of everyone who had been knocked out of the game? You glanced at the third and final line - 'Something Precious' it read. What it meant you had no idea, but you figured it must have some importance if it was included here for whatever reason.
“You see it?” officer Kankichi's voice brought you back into the moment. “Seems a list of people who got beat - but here's the thing. In my book it says your partner, Tokiko, beat this girl Lily - right? But it doesn't say who beat anyone else.” You flick the page. This one shows some blond girl dressed in black, her name apparently being Lunasa. Looking below you see that the name of whoever defeated her is... you frown. The name is written in that strange script you had seen earlier in the book when you first opened it - looking closely it seems to shift beneath your gaze, rendering it entirely unreadable. The third line, however, is readable - 'Something Special'. Again it seems meaningless despite the fact it can be read. “I figure it only tells you who beat 'em if you've actually met the person who beat them - since your partner is the only one I've met aside from the one I fought, and her name is the only one on the list.”
“Yeah,” you mutter into the phone, “I see it.” You flip the page again, this time displaying some rather manly looking woman with yellow and black, almost tiger-striped, hair. Curious. Your eyes skip past her name, Shou something? And settle on the name of her defeater. “Oh, hey, here we go - Yuuka Kazami.”
There's silence on the phone.
“Uh, Sir? You there?” You ask, wondering why the officer had gone silent.
“That's not my partner.” You blink as you hear the man's voice. “I thought you hadn't met anyone else.”
“I haven't,” you respond, “The only person in the game I met was Lily - and we defeated her.”
“That...” The man trails off for a few moments, then picks up again. “That raises a nasty thought. Maybe it ain't about meeting 'em, maybe it's about getting close enough to 'em or something.”
You wince and swear silently to yourself. “We must have walked past another player and not noticed,” you hiss. “How the hell did we get away with that?”
“Luck, seems like.” Ryotsu states. “Or you passed them by someplace they couldn't risk a fight, if you did it in town... you coulda lost them in the crowds maybe - that or their partner couldn't hang around for a fight, like they had an appointment or something, 'cuz if I was one of these players I don't think I'd be wanting to fight someone who can shoot me when I can't shoot back, yeah?”
You not to yourself. It was plausible... though hardly reassuring as it meant there was at least one other player within a fairly short distance of where you were living. “Can they track us down?” You ask, “Or do we just keep running into each other by accident?”
You hear a girls voice, faintly, chattering away. Occasionally Ryotsu would grunt or say something in reply - finally he turns his attention back to the phone. “Koishi, that's me partner, tells me that it shouldn't be possible to track players down like that normally - but she says some might have abilities which'll let them do it, or their partners could have the contacts needed for a search.”
“I'll keep my guard up then.” You mutter, “That's all I can do really, isn't it?”
“Same here.” Ryotsu replies. “Keep sharp and be aware.” There's silence for a few moments, “An' good luck, I guess.”
* * * * * * * *
You had waited by the school gate for a little while before Tokiko has emerged from... wherever it was she had been spending that short time after classes. Another girl, from her class you assume, was chatting animatedly to her before breaking off and, with a wave, started heading in the opposite direction to Tokiko as she approached where you were.
“Having fun?” You ask, “I see you made a friend here.”
Tokiko ducks her head. “It's not like that,” she says, “She was just trying to get me to join the reading club.”
“What?” Tokiko looks at you in confusion.
You sigh lightly, “Are you going to join?”
Your so-called 'girlfriend' looks up at you, her eyes widening in shock. “You don't mind?”
“Why should I?” you respond, “It's your life and your choice after all.”
“But you'd have to wait for me so we can walk home.” You sigh, here was Tokiko's previous almost fatalistic pessimism rising again.
“I can go study in the library or something - that's where the reading club meets, I think, so I'll know when you're done.” You shrug, “Or you could just fetch me after, it's not a problem you know.”
“But won't m...” Tokiko pauses, then flushes and takes a deep breath, “... mother...” she forces out, still uncomfortable with referring to your mom in such a way, “Won't she be worried if we're late back?”
“Mom?” You shrug, “I doubt it, she's been pressuring me to join a club for ages now.” You shudder. “Probably wouldn't be so bad if it was a decent club she wanted me in. At least this way I can get her to stop I guess.”
There was silence from your partner for some time. “So,” she said at last, “We don't have to be home right away?”
“Not really,” You glance down at her, she looks oddly eager for some reason. “You got someplace you want to go?”
“Setsuna,” Tokiko pauses, “Ah, that's the girl who invited me to the reading club, she was telling be about the 'big' library.” The silver haired girl looks away from you, “I.. I want to go visit, if that's okay?”
You frown. “I don't know,” You mutter, “It's a bit far to walk from-” You cut yourself off as Tokiko's head drops in disappointment. For some reason you feel a slight twinge in your chest at the sight. “Well... I guess we could,” You say, looking up and away from the girl, “But we wouldn't be able to stay long...” Out of the corner of your eye you see Tokiko light up and you just can't help but notice how loud your heart is at the sight of her seeming so excited. “uh, we head down this way then,” you say, gesturing in the direction of the town library - opposite from the direction home.
The two of you walked the path to the library, past a few smaller shops which were preparing to close for the day. The atmosphere was pleasant though every now and then you'd glance over at Tokiko and feel a slight tenseness - she really was rather pretty when she smiled and you honestly didn't know how to react to it. Did you keep quiet? Or were you supposed to come out and say that her smile was pretty? Wouldn't that be a little weird if it came out of no-where though? But if you were going to compliment her, wasn't it best to do it while it was applicable instead of sometime later or something?
The blast lifted you clear off your feet.
Your mind was in a whirl, an overdrive of panic and adrenalin. What the hell had just happened? What the hell had just happened!? One minute you'd been grappling with your emotions, the next you'd been tumbling ass over head thanks to the pressure wave of an explosion! Your ears were ringing but despite that you could make out Tokiko asking if you were okay - she had been perhaps a step behind you and so had fortunately avoided the brunt of the blast as the two of you had, pretty much, turned around a corner and right into it.
With a little help you pulled yourself up into a low crouch and scuttled quickly behind the nearest piece of cover - a parked, and now thoroughly banged up, car. You could hear people screaming in the background as they ran away from the explosion... which now that you thought about it seemed awfully tame for such an event. Sure you'd been knocked off your feet, and everything had been quite badly banged up but... if it had been a bomb, wouldn't you have died? Surely a bomb would have totally devastated the area rather than just smash it up - right?
So not a bomb then or at least it didn't seem likely that it was a bomb... which meant that it was probably...
“Players.” Hissed Tokiko quietly as she peered around the trunk of the car, “Two of them - I... I don't know either of them.”
Feeling brave you lifted your head, looking through one side window and out the other. With the dust settling you could just about make out two sets of figures - Tokiko's eyesight must be much better than your own since you could only make out the barest of details. There were... two women? Yes, two women - both of a similar build and height, hell even their hair looked similar at this distance - all you could make out were two blobs of blue-violet where their heads were. Although it wasn't proven, the two women were obviously facing off against one another and one, possibly both, had caused the explosion which had sent you flying. One stood slightly more to the left of your current position and the other slightly more to the right. Though you did your best you couldn't locate their partners amongst the debris as they, like you, were probably ducked down behind cover someplace.
As the air cleared a few more details became visible. The woman on the left seemed to be wearing a light colored top and darker trousers of some kind. What's more was that she had what looked like a long scarf trailing loosely about her neck. Even now you could see the two ends fluttering, almost dramatically, in the breeze.
The woman on the right, however, had no such ornaments but instead seemed to stand with greater presence and confidence than the other. Her outfit was a simple red sweater or shirt and what must have easily been a calf-length black skirt. As you watched she seemed to say something to the other, thought from here you couldn't tell what it was.
“She's saying that it's a shame they met so early.” You blink and turn to face her as Tokiko speaks up.
“You can hear her? From all the way over here?” You shake your head, “My ears are still kind of ringing from that blast.”
Your partner shrugs, “My ears are better than yours, I think.” She states, “But she's talking too quietly for me to hear everything.” She frowns, “I'm not sure...”
“Not sure about what?” you ask, peering back through the windows.
“I think that one of them, and I'm not really sure, but I think one of them might be Lady Kanako of the Violent Skies.”
You look back down at Tokiko. “Violent skies?”
“It's her title.” She replies, “Lady Kanako is the patron of the Moriya shrine in Gensokyo, I heard she was a stern purple haired woman... I've never been to see the shrine myself, but both of these people match the description of her.”
“Is she strong?” You find yourself asking, once again watching the two opponents.
Tokiko nods. “Very. I heard she moved to Gensokyo, shrine and priestess, all in one go. Anyone who could move an entire shrine in one piece must be very strong.” There was a pause. “Plus she's a goddess.”
You think that over.
Then you throw yourself back to the ground, huddling with your back to the car door. “Tokiko.” You say in an all-too-calm voice. “Being a goddess... that's usually something one should mention right at the start when they answer question such as 'are they strong?' or 'are they going to be able to maim us both horribly?'.”
“Sorry,” Tokiko murmurs, her face red.
“It's okay,” you reply, reaching out to place one hand on her head. “So what do we do now? Do we have a chance at beating either of them?”
Tokiko blushes at your hand's presence, but holds her own hand up and flexes her fingers experimentally. “I... I don't know.” She says at last. “Lily should have been able to beat me without trying, she's very strong compared to me...”
“But we won against her.” You point out.
“Yes.” She responds. “I think, maybe, everyone was... equalized. Balanced out, to make it a fair contest. If that's so then... then maybe...”
“Maybe they're both weakened too.” You frown and cup your chin with your free hand. “Still,” you say, “I don't think I like the idea of a two on one fight.” You bite your lower lip as you weigh up the odds, the pros and cons of what you could do from here.
Lets gang up with the woman on the left.
Let us see if we can aid the woman on the right.
We could wait and see what happens.
Be brave and try and take them both on at once.
Maybe discretion is the best part of valor here.
Red, Orange, Green, Blue