“What did Yamato mean by that?” Kiyashi wondered aloud as she and Sendo waved to the barkeep and stepped out of The Hand.
After asking Kiyashi to draw the katana and to show him the blade, all the while murmuring words of awe and excitement, Yamato had given them each a bread, refused Sendo’s protests and payment of pebbles, and told them to make themselves at home. As if on cue, the front door of the tavern opened and several people dressed in similar clothes as Kiyashi and Sendo wore, strolled in. Yamato then turned to his new customers and Sendo had motioned at Kiyashi with his eyes: let’s go.
As the doorway to warmth and strange nostalgia closed behind them, Kiyashi stretched and turned to Kiyashi.
“Uh, so, I don’t mean this to sound weird but, want to stay at my place, since you don’t have a place to go?”
Kiyashi blinked and looked at Sendo. He was awkwardly scratching his cheek and he had a sheepish expression on his face. Kiyashi’s silence prompted him to wave his hands in front of him.
“Like, it’s nightfall and we can’t stay in the tavern all night since Yamato has to close shop and I don’t have any ill intentions, I just- You just got here and-“
Seeing his desperate and innocent embarrassment, Kiyashi could not help but laugh. As a chuckle slipped from her lips, Sendo stopped stammering and gave a small laugh as well. Which only prompted Kiyashi to laugh more. It felt refreshing to laugh.
“Sendo, no offence, but I can tell you have no ill intentions. You seem, hmm, you seem a lot younger than me. If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?”
The young man, feeling less embarrassed, made the motion of wiping his forehead. “Uh, thank you, I guess? I- I’m 17.”
Kiyashi had to withhold an “aww” from escaping her mouth. “Well, you are quite mature for your age. I remember 17-year-old boys and they were just… they were an immature mess.”
“I will take that as a compliment,” chuckled Sendo. “So, I take your reply as a yes?”
“Yes, I accept. I shall be in your care then,” said Kiyashi, adding a little bow and a flourish.
The two of them burst into laughter again. The tense air that had been floating between them and around them, was dispelled, even for a little a while. While laughing, both could forget the hellscape that they were actually surrounded by. In the warm light of the tavern lanterns, safety truly felt real.
“So, the Hunters’ apartments are always situated around a tavern and are considered part of the safe zone as well,” Sendo began explaining as they began climbing up a wide stairwell, leading away from the tavern but still bathed in its light.
“There’s more than one tavern?”
“Yeah, there are six other taverns here in the Hollow, or so Yamato has said. He’s in coordination with the other barkeeps but I’ve only been to two other taverns.”
At the top of the stairs, there were three wooden structures. Each building looked to be about 4- or 5-stories tall. But when Sendo opened the door of the structure that had been directly in their path from the stairs, there was only a single door with a panel on a stand next to it.
Before Kiyashi could voice her confusion, Sendo strode up to the panel, removed his right glove and held his hand up to the panel. There was a beep and the panel glowed green, and a square field of green scanned his hand, and concluded in a beep. Then, there was a click from the door as if it had been unlocked. The sound of a handle and Sendo beckoned to Kiyashi.
Kiyashi nodded and walked through the doorway.
And was greeted by a small robotic dog, whirling and clunking about, wagging its metallic tail and panting with its chainmail tongue. An electronic woof came from its little metal mouth.
“Oh? Who is this?” Kiyashi reached down and tried to pat the metal creature but it kept running about her feet and evading her hand as if it were a game of tag.
“Tetsu! Calm down,” called out Sendo. At the sound of Sendo’s voice, the little metallic dog immediately abandoned Kiyashi and jumped up into Sendo’s arms.
“His name is Tetsu?”
“Yup. Found him a while ago while out. I guess he’d be left for the broken by the Residents. But he still managed a woof when I walked by him. So, I brought him home and fixed him up.”
“Oh yeah, the Residents. We didn’t see any today since it was evening and no Residents are out when night falls. Everyone is wary of the darkness. They are the non-human beings of the Hollow. They use robots in their daily lives. That’s about all I know about them. I- I don’t know how to describe what they look like; you just have to see for yourself.”
“Oh, got it.” Kiyashi felt a wave of uncertainty wash over her. There were Residents of this world. Where did they come from and why were they here? She shook her head to clear away her thoughts.
“Kiyashi, sorry for the bland and simple space, but at least I have a spare futon.” Sendo called out to her from the first room closest to the door and she hurried in.
The walls were a cloudy grey blue colour and had a single window with a curtain over it. The floor was wooden and creaked in some places. There was a sliding door closet on one wall, where the futon and blankets were stored. A single lantern hung from the middle of the ceiling. Sendo had laid out the futon on either side of a low table that marked the center of the room. On the table, Sendo had placed his satchel and quiver, with his bow laid on top of that.
“It’s not bland at all. It’s quite… nice. Homely, even.”
“I’m glad you think that,” Sendo smiled, then clapped. “Okay, so, the shower’s down the hall on the left and towels are in the cabinet in the hallway. Then it’s time for some sleep. It’s gonna be a long day tomorrow for you so you should try to rest as much as you can.”
“A long day?”
“Yeah. Newbies get their first list the second day they’re here in the Hollow. And that also means your first assignment.”
First list… first assignment, tomorrow. Kiyashi gripped her katana and felt her knuckles turn white.