2.4: Omens of the Future
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ATUHOR'S NOSE: Fun fact, these last three chapters were just one chapter in the outline. Thus the themed titles — they were originally all one title.

With Araceli's help, Pandora had determined the following facts:

  • Neither Clauton nor Ebraria had compulsory education for children, nor could Araceli confirm that any other nation did, though she muttered something about a nation named "Peflein" which "probably" had it in a tone that suggested she disapproved of either the nation or the practice, if not both.
  • Homes in Clauton generally contained more than three people, one way or another. An apartment with adequate space could be had for an amount of money that struck Pandora as approximately proportionate compared to the price of an inn room, but was definitely far more than she had on hand.
  • Mortgages as Pandora understood them were not a thing, but there was a "usual arrangement", which didn't seem to be explicitly named here 1"WHY THOUGH" "Why would we need to name it, everyone knows what it means!" "I didn't!" "Everyone except people from a literal nother existence, then!", in which one made recurring payments that gradually decreased over time, and got almost-free reign of the space for the duration in exchange. 2"It is still an apartment," Araceli said, "you've got the whole rest of the building to consider, so you'll have to consult whoever operates it on some stuff. The owner or the board or whoever."
  • The cost of the "usual agreement" for an appropriately-sized apartment was definitely within the amount of money Pandora could make as a freelance guard for merchant caravans. 3"Reasonably-priced housing and a job that fits my skills? Now I know I'm in a fantasy world."
  • ... and the twins had remained quiet on this whole discussion, never offering their own opinions even when they were clearly listening to the adults and not studying their letters.

Pandora frowned loudly at this last realization. "You two good with this arrangement, at least for now? I know you're used to living with people who don't give a damn about your opinions, but I do actually care about your preferences in this matter."

Eiri considered this with no small amount of trepidation. She would have been entirely content staying with Pandora, but Yui, it seemed, still wanted to find their parents — the ones who had put them in that lab. 

She didn't actually remember any of this, of course, but they'd got there somehow, and she was sure their parents had been complicit. She certainly didn't share Yui's faith that their parents were out there desperately searching for their lost twins. (She had asked him once, and he admitted he hadn't seen them — without their names, their appearances, or at least a general idea of where they were, his power couldn't seek them out, though he was always hopeful of stumbling across them by chance.)

... But whatever his opinion was, he didn't seem interested in voicing it in front of the adults. And while Eiri could normally read Yui's face with a reasonable degree of accuracy, right now he looked completely inscrutable.

Araceli's ears twitched suddenly. "Hey, Pandora, I need to explain you an obscure point in relevant tax law, you mind heading a few shelves over with me?"

"...?" Pandora looked nonplussed for a very short moment, before her face lit up with realization. "Oh, yeah, sure, of course. I'll let the kids look after themselves a moment."

Eiri stared blankly as the two left. "... Well, that was as subtle as a brick."

Yui snrk'd. "Yeah, I don't think they were trying very hard there..." He tilted his head in thought. "They really are looking at tax law, though. Not taking it seriously at all, but they are looking."

Eiri gave a small sigh. "... You still want to look for our parents, don't you, Yui?"

"And you don't," he responded bluntly. "... I never realized before that you felt that way about them, you never said anything before..."

"I didn't think it mattered before!" Eiri exclaimed. "I figured we'd be stuck in that lab until we died, so if you wanted to fantasize about finding our parents I didn't need to tell you they probably - never - wanted us..." Tears streamed down Eiri's face as she choked out those last few words.

Yui scooched his chair over and hugged his sister as she sobbed. "... Well, uh... I mean, I don't actually have any leads on how to find them. So it's not like we can go looking for them right now anyway. We'll have to figure out what to do in the meantime either way."

Eiri wiped her eyes with her sleeve and nodded. "Y- yeah... I wanna stay with Pandora. You said she's trustworthy."

"She is," Yui confirmed, nodding back. "And a lot more of what I saw about her makes sense now that we know she's from another world."

"Gosh," Eiri mumbled, "she is from another world, isn't she? She doesn't know any more about the outside than we do... less, even, since you could still see stuff."

"She knows some things about the world," Yui pointed out. "Our world is a lot like hers, apparently... alike enough that the differences surprised her."

"I wonder if it's a better world than this one..." Eiri took a moment to imagine the kind of world Pandora might've lived in before. Maybe it didn't have people who would make rotten places like the whatever institute... or maybe it had way more of them. She scowled at the thought.

"So, we're staying with Pandora for now?" Yui said.

Eiri nodded. "Yeah." ... After a moment, she tilted her head and frowned. "Do we... go and tell her that, then?"

"Maybe," Yui said. "Or maybe we let her keep talking about tax law with Araceli."

The smirk on Yui's face gave Eiri the impression she was missing something, and she fixed him with a distinctly unamused stare. "... Fine! Let's study some more letters until she wanders back on her own, then."

("... Er, Pandora, do the kids know we can hear every word they say even from here?"

"Maybe, maybe not. We're still gonna humor 'em, though.")

The adults returned a bit later, carrying armfuls of boring-looking forms that were apparently necessary to establish Pandora's existence on a level official enough to start paying for housing. It took a bit longer to occur to anyone that the twins were likely in the same scenario, whereupon Araceli returned to the shelves to grab more boring forms.

Pandora glanced out the window at the darkening sky. "... you think we should get back to the inn soon?" she asked. "Like, at what point does this whole 'umbra' thing start to actually matter?"

Araceli's ears drooped. "Shoot, I got so caught up in this I forgot about tonight's forecast. Um, hm... yeah, you should be fine if you get going soon. And I'll head back to my place and... Yeah, we'll be fine, I'm sure," she said with a wave of her hand. "We'll be fine."

Araceli helped the three quickly gather up their stuff (sorting out what was to be returned, borrowed, or taken), said a polite goodbye, and made a polite exit.

Pandora, for her part, was on the lookout. "If I know one thing about dramatic timing..." she muttered darkly. "Stay close, kiddos." Eiri noted Yui's state of high alert and stayed firmly by Pandora's side as the three hurried back to the inn.

The last vestiges of daylight were on the verge of fading, and there was hardly anyone out, contrasting eerily with the bustle of the place earlier in the day. But Araceli's promise held true and the coats kept their ears warm even with the hoods down.

They were about halfway to the inn when Pandora suddenly stopped.

"Something's wrong." She looked around, scowling. "I haven't worked out why yet, but my gut is screaming that something's wrong."

Eiri's gut wasn't quite screaming, but she realized she had been distinctly unsettled for a few moments even before Pandora had pointed it out.

"... we're being watched," Pandora said. "Though I'm not sure where from —"

CRACK! (ping!)

Pandora hissed loudly as she ducked. "Who is shooting at us‽"

But before she could try figuring that out, a snarling canine beast leapt out from some foliage.

In a blink, Pandora swung her hammer into the beast, flipping and smashing it into the ground —

another one leapt out from another direction, and she smoothly dodged it, but it managed to avoid her counterattack —

"Look out!"

Yui's call managed to grab Pandora's attention just a moment before a third beast fell upon her — literally fell, as though dropped from the very sky itself — Pandora staggered back, just barely holding the beast off —

Another CRACK! and Pandora threw the beast aside and leaped back to her feet. "Can you quit that‽"

Eiri gazed upon the thing that had landed next to her. The hole in its head was leaking some foul-smelling purple substance (That's not what blood looks like...) and, worryingly, closing quickly. 

Eiri glanced quickly in Pandora's direction. She was holding her own against the other beast — just one now, the other one's head smashed in and seemingly dissolving into the air — but if this one rejoined the fight, things could turn around very quickly. Glancing back at the wounded beast, Eiri wondered whether Pandora knew how soon it was going to get back up.

The thing twitched and let out a growl, startling Eiri and sending her scrambling a few steps back before she caught herself. I can't... I can't just be scared. But I can't do any —

CRACK! "Shit!" Pandora staggered again, clutching her shoulder. "That one winged me... Kids, if this goes bad, I'm gonna need you to run. Leave me behind if you gotta. I'd recommend you take the most expedient method if you can," she said, giving Eiri a significant look.

The rifts! But... if we leave her...

"She's got part of a good idea," Yui said. "I think you can work out the part she missed."

The injured (yet rapidly healing) beast started struggling to its feet, eyeing Eiri with malicious intent.

Yui swiftly moved behind Eiri. "You've got this." He put two fingers in his mouth and let out an ear-splitting whistle. Eiri winced at the noise—

saw the other beast turn its attentions on the two of them —

And it suddenly clicked. 

Eiri held out a hand and focused, channeling her fear and fury —

A rift opened around the fallen beast, catching the other one mid-leap, and they both vanished with a howl.

Eiri dropped her focus, and the rift collapsed into a puff of sparks.

"Good thinking, kiddos," Pandora said, clutching her injured shoulder. "Now let's get out of here before that sniper reloads." She picked up Eiri and hoisted her onto her uninjured shoulder. "You good to run on your own, Yui?" He nodded. "Let's go." And the group bolted.


"*chirp!* Confirmed. Target Outlaw is in possession of subject 02. Subject 01 identified with high probability. Both appear to be cooperating with Outlaw. Will continue under Procedure φ-ζ."

... probably shoulda checked beforehand whether Scribble supported monowidth fonts. (It does but only as "preformatted" text, which disables word wrap and that is not at all what we were going for.) Oh well you can imagine that last line as having a robotic inflection to it yourself.