Parable of the Renegades
Hi! Jio Kurenai here!
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"Okay, everything is ready. Please help yourself to what you like," Rio said as she laid down pieces of pottery filled with food on a wooden table.
Presented to Lucas was a plethora of dishes all belonging to the cuisine of Nihan. Placed on the very center of the table were bowls or plates of different sizes, color, and shape. To Lucas, it almost felt like looking into a kaleidoscope.
There were plates of boneless fried chicken of a crispy golden brown called "karaage", 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. Contained in the second bowl was a combination of salted vegetables like pickles and green beans along with tiny fish, grilled to the point that 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 filled 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, partially submerged.
And the utensils to help him eat were... a pair of wooden sticks resting on the edge of a small block made of jade.
They were chopsticks.
Lucas never learned 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, Lucas 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 decided to find out for himself later because, at that 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.
However, in Nihan, it looked like there was some sort of strict etiquette that had to be followed. Lucas tapped 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 now if he displayed any bad manners on the table. Maybe the nail tapping 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！」 (Thanks for the food!)
"What was that?" Lucas asked.
"Just something we say before we start eating."
"So, it's like saying grace. A lot shorter too," Lucas said, seeing the resemblance. "Can you teach me how to say it?"
Rio flashed him a half-smile. "You want to learn at least some of the customs here?"
The pleasure of teaching him a thing or two about her nation was something she couldn't pass up. It was like showing off her national pride. Her mood became brighter.
"Okay. First, place your hands together like this," Rio demonstrated her earlier prayer-like gesture. "Next, say 'itadakimasu!'"
Imitating the prayer gesture was a no-brainer, but Lucas struggled when he tried to speak the foreign word because Rio said it too quickly.
Rio shook her head in disapproval. "No, it is 'itadakimasu.' Try again."
"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 slowly this time.
"I... Ta... Da... Ki... Ma... Su!" she spoke slowly.
"I... Ta... Da... ... Ki... Ma... Su!" Lucas followed.
"Mm-hmm. Good," Rio crossed her arms, eye closed and nodded in approval. "Now say it quickly this time and put your hands together."
As his hands clasped together, Lucas felt like he could get it right this time.
But just as he was about to finish, he was interrupted by the sudden sound of the front door hitting the wall as it was slid open.
「ただいま！」 (I'm home!)
A cheerful voice made itself be heard and Lucas along with Rio turned to the direction of its source.
「お帰りなさい！」 (Welcome home!)
Rio called out to the person who just arrived.
The one who stepped into the dining room wore a red tracksuit and slung over their shoulder and 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 could fit both ways. In short, this person looked androgynous to him.
The tracksuit-clad person greeted Rio with a smile that showed how happy they were to see her again, but then their attention turned to someone they did not recognize. That boy with wavy-chocolate brown hair, whose eyes were for some reason, hidden behind his hair bangs.
Eyes fixated on Rio while pointing a mildly shivering hand at Lucas, they blurted something that caught Rio off-guard.
「お姉ちゃん。。。その人は。。。お姉ちゃんの彼氏？」 (Onee-chan... this person... is he your boyfriend?)
Naturally, Lucas did not understand what that person was saying and remained indifferent, but Rio on the other hand, burst out of her chair and wasted no time in dragging the other person by their sleeve-covered arm to another room and out of Lucas's sight.
He could hear them arguing about something, but not to his surprise, they were conversing in their own language.
「 違う！全部違う ！」 (No! He's definitely not!)
Rio shook the other person by the shoulders in desperation as she claimed what they thought was false. The response, however, was a suspicious glare as Rio displayed the signs of becoming as red as a tomato.
「ほんとうのほんとうのほんとうにい？」 (Really, Really, Really?)
「ウン、ほんとうに ！」 (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.
When Rio finally calmed down, the two of them returned to the dining room.
Lucas was still in his seat, waiting and until now, he still had not laid a hand on the food, which could be cooling down by now.
"Thorne-san..." Rio called for his attention.
"Just call me 'Lucas', please," he requested, not liking the sound of being addressed by his last name with an honorific.
Hey...! Lucas pursed his lips.
Rio directed him to the person next to her. "This is Yakumo. She is my little sister."
Lucas made a quick study of the person he was meeting. For being referred to as 'little sister', Yakumo was actually few inches taller than Rio, who was close to being just as tall as Lucas if not exactly the same height.
So, it's a girl.
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. He also thought, in his opinion that Yakumo's face looks like it could be passed off as looking pretty or handsome too.
「そして八雲，こちらは Lucas Thorne-san。 サアカンサから来た。ニハンゴが全然わからない。英語だけだ。」 (And Yakumo, this is Lucas Thorne-san. He came here from Sarkansas. He doesn't understand Nihango at all. Only English.)
「そうか。。。」 (I see...) Yakumo bowed her head down and tried to introduce herself the best she could in front of her guest.
"Um, N-nai tsu... mitchu... Mai nemu iz... Yakumo Kiyodera... A-Ai houp... ui ken... bee f-furendtsu..."
Even though her stuttering due to uncertainty and pronunciation due to her accent needed work, Lucas nonetheless got the message and decided 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 to let her know she did fine, at least for him.
Yakumo lifted her head and her nervousness showed the signs of dying down, relieved that her guest appeared to be a nice person. Rio, who was by no means expecting this, couldn't help but beam in appreciation and whisper under her breath.
「ホッ。。。すばらしい。。。」 (Hoh... How nice...)
With the introductions now finished, the three of them sat down 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 tie it to the part when Rio and Yakumo spoke it.
He didn't really escape though. Both 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 now another one stood in his way.
The 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 away from each other. 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 would just barely manage to pick up a cube of wagyu beef off a plate, it would fall back down to the plate before he could bring it within inches to his mouth.
Meanwhile, Rio and Yakumo were easily snatching everything else, like they were grabbing it with their hands. All the pieces of food in the center of the table was disappearing one by one without warning.
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 great too. He felt like he could actually drink the meat!
Rio often paused in the middle of enjoying her meal. She kept her eye glued to Lucas, who was trying to feed himself. She taunted his lack of proficiency in silence with a mocking smile.
Watching him struggle to eat with chopsticks was already satiating her hunger.