“Thank you, everyone!”
I was currently struggling to hold back tears after Claire led me into the living area of our home. What greeted me was a sight of everyone I’d been spending time with since I arrived in this world. It was only a little over a week, but the sheer culture shock and change of position in life was so great that even little things managed to distract me or ease the stress.
Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry…
The tears managed to break free weakly, as I could feel the excess liquid glazing my sight over before Hatsumi welcomed me and directed me to a chair in between herself and Callum. I wiped my eyes as I made my way over to the seat they had made for me, and as my sight cleared, I got a better look at what was on the table.
Dear God, what am I seeing?
The glimpse of the table I was able to receive as I passed each person waiting around the table was almost strange. I saw food items that were nearly forgotten before my death. While most day-to-day foods survived the war, they were changed at their core thanks to the shift in the earth's environment and fauna. Most of the meals I’ve had up until this point in this world were already completed, shielding me from any idea of raw fruit, vegetable, or meat. Enoki was almost indistinguishable; chicken was untouched, standard grilled or boiled vegetables seemed rather close to normal. All of the meals managed to look so natural, prepared, and ready for consumption. But on the table, there was a boar, something that was endangered on earth after the war.
Every small thing…earth was so far gone…did I really not remember what a boar or pig looked like before?
This truly was a feast, with every fathomable food that could be reasonably gathered. The boar was fire-roasted, its body cleaned, each of its major portions already carved for those dining to take from it freely. Surrounding it was a vast array of either fresh, roasted, or grilled vegetables, with bread surrounding them. There were occasional plates scattered on the table, lined with what looked like wild grapes and a few apples. What looked like freshly split cheese wheels were staggered between every other person, a steaming porcelain bowl filled with what must have been at least half a melted wheel alone. And lastly, were a few plates of steaming, grilled steak. Cooked to perfection with herbs and butter to their sides or on them. And aside from all this, already present were four bottles of what was clearly wine, flanked by a few pitchers of water to match.
All of this managed to keep my attention until I made my way next to Hatsumi, who raised an already filled wine glass when I finally made my way over.
“To the suns’ passed, and the many suns’ to come. Kiyomi, we’re all rooting for you!”
After finishing her opener, Hatsumi looked down to me and smiled as everyone else in the room followed her lead but with only one part.
“To many years to come!”
After this, I wasn’t sure what to do at all. I found myself waiting for a prompt on what to do before Callum spoke.
“Well, kid? What in the hell are you waiting for? Dig in!”
With a nudge to my shoulder and Callum’s encouragement, I moved into my seat, which I was immediately standing in as I used a meat fork to grab one of the steaks.
Ahhhh, beef! Sweet, untouched, normal beef!
I rather unceremoniously plopped back into my seat after I felt Hatsumi grab my tail by its tip.
“This is a celebration, don’t turn it into another bathhouse trip like earlier this week.”
Hatsumi leaned in and teased.
Realizing what she was implying, I looked myself over.
Oh, thank god, no stains anywhere. I almost ruined Claire’s work.
While I wasn’t keen on the clothing I was wearing entirely, I also was not fond of ruining the work of others or something so expensive that Hatsumi must have forked over so much gold or silver for.
“Could I have help? With my plates?”
I asked Hatsumi after shifting around some. My eyes moving to and from the fresh pile of steaks that I was so close to grabbing.
“Sure thing, point out anything you want as you go. Callum and I are seated next to you for that.”
And with that, Hatsumi smiled and helped in making my plate as everyone began helping themselves.
With the plate made, I carefully grabbed the silverware on either side of the plate and began cutting at the steak.
Whoever cooked this knows what they’re doing. Ahhhh, perfect steak, red in the center.
“Thank you for the meal! Aaaaah-omph”
This is good; this is heaven! This beef tastes so pure! No mutated cow or MRE’s! Just ‘grade A’ pasture-raised beef!
With the feast started, everyone was socializing. As opposed to the prior night, my energy wasn’t waning as I ate nor as we all talked or joked. While I did not feel myself contributing to the conversation much other than answering occasional questions on how my learning was going or how it felt having my strength ‘back,’ it was still a breath of fresh air. No talk about earth from anyone; all the fears and stresses of that world were gone. I could replace them with the ones inherent in this world. Which, strangely enough, were much easier to swallow. Everything was going smoothly, the meal was settling well, and I even found myself reaching for a bottle of wine to fill a cup.
Don’t mind if I dooo- Ah, Fuck!
The one who flicked my hand just now was Hatsumi, who looked at me with a smirk whilst squinting at me.
“Kiyomi, that’s for your sixteenth sun, not yet.”
Wow, my first ‘no.’ Also, FUCK, an eight-year dry spell!
I pouted for a moment before asking for a refill of water. I couldn’t blame Hatsumi, knowing my place right now as an adolescent, let alone her kid. It would have been irresponsible to let me drink.
Maybe I should say something to her tonight?
I thought after my mind had trailed over the recognition that I was fully considered her child at this point.
This…I’m sure I either would be dead, or my mind would have broken had I not had them…her to support me…everything that’s happened, this is all unfathomable. How long have I been mulling over this thought? All week? I need to finally show my thanks somehow.
“Hmm? What is it, Callum?”
Callum grabbed Hatsumi’s attention just as she placed down the pitcher of water.
“Hey, it’s been about an hour or so. Weren’t you gonna go do that thing?”
Callum asked Hatsumi a rather vague question, causing her to tilt both her head and ears in confusion before a look of mild shock momentarily overcame her.
“I forgot! I was so nervous! Oh crap! Kiyomi, keep enjoying your food. I'll be right back!”
Hatsumi walked briskly to some point in the room behind me. I was about to turn and look before I heard a slight clunk of wood on the table from my cup. Which was strangely no longer filled with water but instead a liquid that I was supposedly barred from partaking in.
“Hey, be quick about it!”
To my left, I heard Callum whisper from his seat as he grinned and drank from his own cup.
So you’d be one of those kinds of dads, huh?... Thank you!
Taking the hint, I took the cup and drank down its contents in a hurry. Stopping only when the cup was empty and bringing it back down to the table with the sound of wood contacting wood.
“Uw-aaaah, so good.”
It was bitter on the front end, but you could taste the fruitiness and smokiness in the wine surprisingly.
I may end up paying for this, but what the heck? It’ll be eight more years.
Callum stifled a laugh with the abrupt slamming of my cup. He likely wasn’t anticipating me actually downing the whole cup in a single go.
Don’t mess with me, big guy! I’ve outdrank other soldiers enough to be able to down gasoline if I needed to.
My own internalized exaggeration was immediately hit with the warm feeling of alcohol now sitting within my stomach.
Or maybe not; I’m not the me I once was.
Not a few seconds after slamming my cup down, Hatsumi reappeared beside me. This time her tail raised high and quivering slightly.
Oh no, does she know?! She knows! Game over man!
“Ah, I know we aren’t too close still, and it may take time to think of us all as such. But I have something here, that we give in some form or another to the children that we all raise at some point or another.”
She doesn’t know? Whe- wait, is it this? This is what Claire told me about, right?
Hatsumi pulled up a strangely wrapped cloth parcel that she had hidden behind her.
This is the thing! Acting skills! Acting skills!
I let go of the cup that I was holding onto and turned to Hatsumi after she pulled her own chair closer before taking a seat herself. I had not been paying attention as much, but as she began unwrapping the cloth, a sudden silence came over the room. It was hard to remember from how lax it was, but this was still a ceremony for them. While all that was expected of me was to just be myself, they adhered to a tradition older than any of them except for Lorn. Only the fire and the sound of the parcel being opened were prevalent now. As Hatsumi pulled away the final fold, the object was now revealed.
Claire…you didn’t say it would look this…pretty? Cool? Pretty cool?
What was now sitting in Hatsumi’s hands looked like some form of iron crown or circlet. It was difficult to tell, as it was merged in the back yet open along the front. The opening seemed to curve upwards and ended in a pointed cap on each end. Its design seemed rather rushed, but aesthetically pleasing. As if it were just enough detail to know it wasn’t made by some master craftsmen, but someone who still cared for the result of his work.
Did they really get one made for me specifically? I was wondering; I hadn’t seen many others in this town with horns. And even then, I don’t specifically recall seeing any other demons. This had to be made; what shop would carry this?
“Kiyomi, with this. We genuinely want the best for your welfare. With this, we mark the day where we set you on your first steps toward adulthood. We will all be eagerly watching to see what kind of person you become.”
With that, Hatsumi smiled and took the ‘crown’ and raised it over my head before squeezing it slightly. When she let go, I could feel it pop into place between my horn. I could not see it, but I could vaguely feel it, thanks to slight pressure from the metal.
That much hope…don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.
Almost as soon as it was settled on my head, and Hatsumi had righted her posture. Avery made her presence overwhelm the quiet setting.
“Eight more suns to go ‘Kiki’! Let's drink!”
To which the conversation made its way back to life, and I was now stifling the tears that had suddenly sprung out with Hatsumi’s help. After a few minutes, I could feel the effects of alcohol setting in, and during some light prodding back and forth between her and myself, I suddenly felt myself lifted from behind and over someone’s head.
“Callum, careful! You two just ate!”
“Pfff, she’ll be fine. The little juggernaut can take a bit of jostling. She owes me a rematch after last night. What do you say, Kiyomi?”
“She said she’s good, Hatsumi!”
Callum started walking away from the table with me over his shoulders, with me holding onto clumps of his hair to keep my balance.
“C’mon, kid, let go. Time for that rematch.”
Bringing me back over and placing me on the ground, I felt my legs give out slightly, and I waited for myself to regain my balance.
I wasn’t prepared! This alcohol hits harder than on earth! Help!
“Hey, c’mon, or are you just gonna play with Hatsumi like you did today? Becoming more than some kit got you acting soft on me?”
Callum teased, getting to his knees and taking a similar posture when we jokingly ‘fought’ the previous night.
Ignore his prods. They’re weak and ill-structured… Just like my alcohol tolerance…
“Ah, that’s okay, it’ll just remain with me the winner just like last night anyway. All that strength, but you’re just still some little girl.”
Callum said with a sarcastic tone, shrugging as he did so.
“Callum, enough. She looks like she has an upset stomach, look.”
Hatsumi spat, her tail flicking against the ground behind her.
“Hatsumi, you can’t baby her. She’s a little imp. She’ll be fi-“
The next moment Callum was on the ground after I had tackled him.
“I’ll show you an ‘imp’! And ‘little girl’? Okay, ‘Old man’! I’m kicking your friggin butt!”
I found myself letting out my impulse suddenly. The alcohol was beginning to wane my sense of judgment and priority, so I entertained Callum’s invite to ‘fight.’ I knew this was how he played; there wasn’t much else in way of entertainment inside, other than chasing each other around. I was so absorbed in trying to slap Callum and pulling his hair to realize that he was more preoccupied with laughing than actually ‘fighting.’
“Ooooh, she’s got fight in her! Money on Kiyomi!”
Avery interjected herself yet again.
“I’ll put some on Callum, can never let his pride go. Even for a child.”
Wait, Stanis?! You were supposed to be the responsible one!
“Unless you all want gambling charges or waste of stock for hosting a ‘chicken fight’ in front of the guild master? Id refrain…I have 5 copper pieces on Kiyomi…”
Hatsumi asked, surprised.
Callum and I both sounded off in confusion, which Callum took advantage of and used to take the upper hand and plant me to the ground.
“And now for the killing blow!”
Callum hunched over me.
“Wait, no! I don’t wanna die so young!”
In response to my protest, he brought down the hammer of god-
“Stop! Ahh! Ahahah! Stahp, please! I can’t! Not there!”
-in the form of tickling.
I hate this. I hate this. I hate this. I hate this. The minute I’m big enough, your ass is grass, you old fart!
“She’s taken to you both so far, and it’s only a matter of time before she opens up to the others.”
Lorn had taken a seat with Hatsumi on one of the couches, watching as Kiyomi and Callum were playing a few meters away for what must have been nearly an hour or so.
“He’s taken to her, just like he did Yui…”
Hatsumi whispered to Lorn, looking on with a content smile.
“You never told him, did you? That she was his?”
Lorn asked, maintaining her initial mood to avoid attention.
“Mnnmn, I can never tell if it would make it worse or not… It hurt him too…but I'm not sure what kind of pain, knowing he lost more than a ‘niece’.”
Hatsumi replied, shaking her head.
“We may have needed Kiyomi more than we initially thought. We may have saved her, but it looks like we’ll owe her too.”
Hatsumi ended the conversation by taking a sip of wine and continuing to enjoy the show in front of her.
After probably an hour or so of fighting, I could feel myself grinding to a halt. Mine and Callums play fight ended after I'd managed to actually give him a black eye, and he had thoroughly destroyed the clean hair that Claire so painstakingly worked on. This was the second night that Hatsumi had to carry me back to the room, only this time it was due to alcohol and not actually being tired out. I was woozy and wanted fresh air, which thankfully for mine and Callum’s sake was chalked up to eating too much.
“C’mon girl, let's get you down.”
Hatsumi grunted, lowering me from her back as we made our way through the door to the balcony of our room.
“Wah, fresh air. Thank god!”
I was breathing open-mouthed, taking in the air.
The Alps, this reminds me of the alps for some reason.
The crisp air flowed into my lungs, assuaging my stomach slightly.
“God? You mean god’s, Kiyomi?”
Hatsumi asked, ears tilted as she leaned against the railing.
“Hmm? Wait, there are multiple gods?”
Well, I figure that’s a given. Strange how I’ve managed to skip out on that…Then again, I can still barely read right now and only know the bare bones of the world at the moment.
“We’ll keep that for another time, hm? Maybe Lorn could teach you.”
Hatsumi responded, paying no mind to the question for the moment. A few moments of silence passed by, and I found myself inching closely to Hatsumi.
“You know…When I woke up…I was scared.”
Let’s open up. As Claire said…I should talk with someone. Hatsumi’s the best for this.
Hatsumi asked, seemingly surprised at my sudden course of conversation.
“I was in this strange place, completely different than anything I could remember.”
At this point, I grabbed onto her robe and leaned onto the railing with her. Overlooking the city, now alight with amber sparkles from lamps or other light sources against the darkness of the sky.
“Everything was different, everything was hard, I was scared, angry, unsure of what would come next.”
I could feel her tail hooking around my legs, my own wrapping around it.
“When I came over that hill…and I saw all of you…when I collapsed, for what felt like not the first time in my life…I told myself ‘This is it, sorry me. We didn’t do good enough.' And I gave up...But you all saved me… And you gave me something to anchor on to.”
I looked up at her and smiled.
“Thank you for being that anchor…for saving me.”
Please, let these be the right words.
Hatsumi did her best to keep herself from smiling, yet some hint of pain could be seen in her eyes that were similar to what I saw in Claire’s.
Hatsumi let out a sigh before looking back out over the railing and taking a moment to parse words together.
“I had a little girl…just a few suns younger than you.”
Hatsumi began spilling forth something she had been holding back for some time.
“Myself, Callum, Stanis, Chessa, we were all born in Morus. We grew up there, and for the most part, things were okay. We all made it to adulthood fine, and we had all become adventurers together, things were great. At some point, I’d met someone and had my daughter, Yui.”
…Ah…so…that’s what it was…stupid…I’m fucking stupid… I had plenty of hints. The clothes I wore! The experience she seemed to have with kids! All of it
I continued to listen.
“After five years, the same church that was hunting you down, 'The church of Orion,' had gained a lot of political power thanks to a few select nobles.”
One of those situations…fuck.
“After some infighting, a war started with Va-ren, and suddenly the church began purging regions of the country of demi-humans. Which at first we thought was strange, because they were headed by demi-humans for a long time… It Turns out, since ‘Orion’ was the god of the Hunt…What better game than sentient’s that you could write off as inhuman compared to humans, elves, and dwarves. Tch.”
Hatsumi grimaced before catching her breath.
“One day, they turned their sights on the border…We were away from town, on a quest…Obviously, Yui couldn’t come with us…When we returned…That was when we all moved to Damus.”
Near the end of her recounting the events, I could see she was clearly beginning to carve lines in the wood with now bared claws.
I ended up releasing her coat and bringing my now free hand to the railing.
I’m not the only one that was in a crappy situation…she took me in…after all that…Is that why Chessa reacted so negatively?! Why Stanis simply remained silent?! God, I just fell into their laps like that after so much ad happened…They escaped an ethnic purge just for me to bring in one more thing for them to-
“Don’t for a moment think you’re a burden because of any of that.”
Hatsumi interrupted my thoughts as she pulled me closer with her tail, smiling down at me momentarily before looking to the sky.
“I told you all that because you’ve shown that you trusted me with your thoughts…and I should trust you. You’re a bigger help than you think, Kiyomi, and eventually, you would have found that all out.”
“I…can’t be a replacement for Yui…”
I could feel myself grimacing this time, the feeling of ‘this is wrong to say’ hit me. To which I felt Hatsumi’s left hand move around my shoulders and began caressing the one opposite of her.
“Never said you were.”
She simply replied.
“I’m sorry…about the stains.”
“They’ll washout, but more importantly. They made new memories.”
“I’m sorry I-“
“Kiyomi quit apologizing!”
Hatsumi kneeled, forcing me to face her.
“You don’t need to replace her. You aren’t her; you’re you. The little girl we saved from an arrow through her chest. You’re the girl that I’m teaching to become an adventurer like me, the first child Avery’s ever attached to, that Callum wants to train, and that Lorn actually bothers trying to teach. You are not my Yui; you are my Kiyomi. Another daughter, not THE daughter. Do you understand?”
This is feeling more abrupt than Claire…These are different tears…god damnit, what are these emotions?! I thought I had myself in better check than thi- The alcohol! Being a kid and Alcohol!
My mind was wavering as a surge of emotions sprung forth over the course of Hatsumi’s talk.
“Kiyomi? Shit, Kiyomi, I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t mean to yell at you like that; come here.”
Hatsumi pulled me into a hug and began rubbing my back as she held me close.
Why damnit?! Just thank her, fuck! Say your damn thoughts if you’re going this far as to cry! Ugh, my head. Why is my face…wet…I’m.
A strange flashback was hitting me… some woman… an Oni?
“It’s okay baby girl, mama’s here.”
She… looks like me? Sort of?
“I’m sorry for yelling, me and papa got in a fight.”
This is… is this Kiyomi’s memory?
By the time my mind had come back from its fog, I was wailing into Hatsumi’s robe.
…I…no, you don’t call your damn mother by her name all the time.
Hatsumi was shocked for a moment, pulling her head away so she could see my face.
I was trying to speak as I was reigning in my sobs.
“I-*hic*-I’m sorry I say sorry all the time.”
I stammered, stifling a small laugh with more broken sniffling.
“Kiyomi I- haha, apology accepted.”
Hatsumi brought herself back into the hug. Now seemingly doing so to hide her own face.
I never expected you to say that….
Hatsumi thought before getting a waft of a particular smell.
I could get used to that really fast.
Hatsumi thought, remembering to focus her irritation on the real assailant.
“Did Callum give you wine while I was looking away?”
Kiyomi responded through sniffles.
“Don’t worry, you've had enough of a scolding already. I’m just gonna beat up Callum; your hesitation told me all I needed.”
“I’m gonna kill that man!”
“Wait, mama! Don’t kill Callum!”
Hatsumi stomped off back through the door in search of Callum, daughter in tow.