Chapter 8:

Volume 1, Chapter 7: Treading Lightly on the Dinner Table

Parable of the Renegades


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AUTHOR'S NOTE:
Hi! Jio Kurenai here!

Feel free to leave a comment below whether you got a random question, or if you have any constructive criticism to help me improve! A "Like" would definitely be appreciated too!
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"Okay, everything is ready. Please help yourself to what you like," Rio said as she laid down pieces of pottery on a wooden table.

A plethora of dishes from the Nihanese cuisine was placed in bowls or plates of different sizes, color, and shapes. Lucas almost felt like looking into a kaleidoscope when all dishes were present.

There was a plate of "karaage;” boneless chicken that was fried to a crispy golden brown, cubes of beef called "wagyu", and small cylinders of rice with finely cut slabs of raw salmon and tuna on top called "nigiri."

Closest to him was an empty, rectangular plate and a trio of small bowls placed side by side behind it. The bowl on the left contained steaming rice shaped like a neat hill with a flat top. The second bowl contained a combination of salted vegetables like pickles and green beans along with tiny fish that were grilled until the entire morsel looked like it could be chewed and swallowed without having to worry about choking on the fish's bones. The third bowl, placed on the right, was half-full with some sort of cloudy yellow soup. Lucas saw a few tiny white cubes peaking just above the soup's surface along with some leafy vegetables that were partially submerged.

And the utensils to help him eat were... a pair of wooden sticks resting on the edge of a small jade block.

They were chopsticks.

Lucas had ignored every chance to learn how to eat with them, and now he carried a bit of regret. In times he would eat in restaurants that used them by default, he would always ask for silverware instead because he felt chopsticks were inefficient in bringing suitable amounts of food into his mouth.

Now they had come back to haunt him.

The same formation of dishes was laid in front of Rio, who sat across him, and to his curiosity, there was a set meant for a third person meant to be seated on the left side of the table.

Who could this third person be? Lucas conceded to finding out for himself later. At the moment, he was somewhat worried about how he was going to eat.

The arrangement of the food on the table was completely different compared to what Lucas was used to. Unlike the multitude of plates he was facing, back home he and Rea would eat with just one plate each on the table. They would have a set meal on that one plate and dig in, plain and simple.

In Nihan, however, it looked like there was some sort of strict etiquette that had to be followed. Lucas drummed his nails to a beat on the table to make himself appear occupied as he wondered if Rio would just finish him off right here and then if he displayed any bad manners on the table. Maybe the nail drumming needed to stop too.

Clasping her hands together in a manner to look like she was praying, Rio spoke something in her native tongue.

「いただきます!」
「Itadakimasu! 」
(Thanks for the food!)

"What was that?" Lucas asked.

"Just something we say before we start eating," Rio replied, separating her hands and reaching for her plastic chopsticks, which was ebony in appearance.

"So, it's like saying grace. A lot shorter too," Lucas said, seeing the resemblance. "Can you teach me how to say it?"

Surprised but pleasantly so, Rio flashed him half a smile. "You want to learn at least a few of the customs here?"

The pleasure of teaching her unwilling guest a thing or two about her nation was something she couldn't pass up. It was like showing off her national pride. Her mood brightened.

"Okay. First, place your hands together like this," Rio demonstrated her earlier prayer-like gesture with her hands. "Next, say 'itadakimasu!'"

Imitating the prayer gesture was simple, but Lucas struggled when he tried to speak the foreign phrase.

"I-i-ka-ga-ki..."

Rio shook her head in disapproval. "No, it is 'itadakimasu.' Try again."

"I-I-da-da-ki..."

"That is far from correct!" Rio pointed out.

"It's because you're pronouncing it too fast!" Lucas claimed.

Her eye rolled as she heard his complaint. Rio started over with her demonstration but spoke the phrase slowly, this time.

"I... Ta... Da... Ki... Ma... Su!" she began.

"I... Ta... Da... Ki... Ma... Su!" Lucas followed.

"Mm-hmm. Good," Rio crossed her arms, closed her eye, and nodded in approval. "Now say it quickly this time and put your hands together."

As his hands clasped against each other, Lucas felt like he could get it right this time.

"Itadaki-"

But just as he was about to finish, he was interrupted by the sudden bang of the front door hitting the wall as it was slid open.

「ただいま!」
「Tadaima!」
(I'm home!)

A cheerful voice let itself be heard. Lucas and Rio turned to the direction it came from.

「お帰りなさい!」
「Okaerinasai! 」
(Welcome home!)

Rio called out to the person who arrived.

They stepped into the dining room wearing a red tracksuit and slung over their shoulder while resting at their side was a cylindrical sports bag. Medium-length side bangs accentuated their rough, but natural permed short hair.

Is this person a boy or a girl?

Lucas asked himself that question because, in his opinion, that person's hairstyle was a nice fit for both genders. In short, this person looked androgynous to him.

The tracksuit person greeted Rio with a casual smile that showed how happy they were to see her again. Then their attention turned to someone they did not recognize. That boy with wavy-chocolate brown hair, whose bangs were hiding his eyes for some reason.

Fixating their eyes on Rio while pointing a mildly shivering hand at Lucas, they blurted something that caught Rio off-guard but should’ve expected.

「お姉ちゃん。。。その人は。。。お姉ちゃんの彼氏?」
「Onee-chan… sono hito wa… Onee-chan no kareshi?」
(Big sis... that person... is he your boyfriend?)

Naturally, Lucas did not understand what that person was saying which was why he remained indifferent.

Rio on the other hand, burst out of her chair and wasted no time in dragging the other person by their arm to another room and out of Lucas's sight.

He heard them arguing about something, but not to his surprise, they were conversing in their own language.

「 違う!全然違うよ!」
「Chìgáú! Zenzen chìgáú yo!」
(No! He's definitely not!)

Rio shook the other person by their shoulders as she insisted what they thought was false. Their response, however, was a suspicious glare that made Rio flush in pink.

「ほんとうのほんとうのほんとうにい?」
「Hontou no hontou no hontou nii?」
(Really, really, really?)

「ウン、ほんとうに !」
「Un, hontou ni!」
(Yes, really!)

After a few seconds of watching Rio quiver in embarrassment, they decided to just go along with her plea and give her time to regain her composure. Dinner had to start soon, after all.

The two of them returned to the dining room when Rio finally calmed down.

Lucas was still waiting in his seat and until now had yet to lay a hand on the food, with some of them on the verge of cooling down.

"Thorne-san..." Rio addressed him in a way he did not appreciate.

"Just call me 'Lucas', please," he requested, not liking the sound of being addressed by his last name with an honorific.

"...Lucas-san..."

Hey...! Lucas pursed his lips.

Rio directed him to the person next to her. "This is Yakumo, my little sister."

For someone who was referred to as 'little sister', Yakumo was actually taller than Rio, who in turn almost shared her height with Lucas, albeit he was slightly taller.

So, it's a girl, Lucas thought.

With that tracksuit she was wearing, he almost couldn't tell what kind of a body she had. Make her wear men or women's clothes and she could probably pass off as either gender. In his opinion, the words “pretty” or “handsome” would be an accurate description of Yakumo's face, too.

「そして八雲,こちらは ルーカス・ソーンーさん。彼は西から来た。また、ニハンゴが話せないよ。英語だけだ。」
「Soshite Yakumo, kochira wa Rūkasu Sōn-san. Kare wa nishi kara kita. Mata, Nihango ga hanasenai yo. Eigo dake da.」 
(And Yakumo, this is Lucas Thorne-san. He came here from the West. Also, he can’t speak Nihanese. Only English.)

「そうか。。。」
「Sou ka…」
(I see...)

With a few droplets of sweat trailing down her temple, Yakumo bowed her head and tried to introduce herself in front of her guest. She did the best she could.

“Ano…” she paused for a second. “N-naisu... mīto yū... Mai nēmu izu... Yakumo Kiyodera... A-ai hōpu... uī kyan... bī f-furenzu...”

Despite her stuttering due to uncertainty and her unpolished pronunciation due to her accent, Lucas got the message nonetheless and figured it was best to reward her graciously for her effort.

"Sure. Nice to meet you, too." He flashed her the friendliest smile he could make and that told her she did fine, at least for him.

Yakumo lifted her head and her nervousness showed signs of dying down, relieved that her guest appeared to be a friendly person. Rio, who was by no means expecting this, couldn't help but whisper under her breath.

「ホッ。。。すばらしい。」
「Hoh... Subarashii.」
(Oh... How nice.)

With the introductions now finished, Yakumo and Rio joined Lucas and took their seats at the dinner table.

"Itadakimasu!" They said in unison, each of them clasping their palms together, but one of them shivered out of embarrassment.

Lucas was almost certain he didn't pronounce the word right as he tried to say it at the same time Rio and Yakumo said it.

He didn't really escape, though. Both the looks on each of the sister's faces indicated that they were giggling at his mistake; Yakumo was trying to keep her lips from twitching while Rio was almost not trying.

Regardless of that, Lucas passed over one hurdle. But then another one, a familiar one, stood in his way.

His twin wooden chopsticks were joined together by a thin layer of wood in the center that allowed them to split apart when each of the sticks was pulled apart. Apparently, Lucas didn't separate them properly because while on one hand, he held half of a stick, the other half was still attached to the stick on the opposite hand.

And if just separating them was a problem, using them to eat was worse. Every time Lucas barely managed to pick up a cube of wagyu beef, it would fall back to its serving plate before he could bring it within inches of his mouth.

Meanwhile, Rio and Yakumo were easily snatching everything else like they were grabbing it with their hands. All the food on the table were disappearing one by one off their plates without warning thanks to a pair of plastic chopsticks, one ebony and the other ivory in color.

It wasn't long before all the karaage and nigiri disappeared from their respective plates.

After many attempts that he lost count of, Lucas snagged one piece of wagyu. When the meat finally went down his throat, Lucas tasted its divine flavor like it was a gift from the gods. It wasn't just the taste that was amazing, the texture was otherworldly too. It was as if he drank the meat!

Rio often paused in the middle of enjoying her meal. She kept her eye glued to Lucas, who was trying and often failing to feed himself. She taunted his lack of proficiency in silence with a mocking smile she made sure to beam whenever he looked her way.

Watching him struggle to eat with chopsticks was already satiating her hunger.unger.

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