❀ Past - January ❀
“Well, we arrived…” I say to the dog when I got home, seeing they had followed me all the way. “I can’t keep you but, I hope you manage to find your owner soon!”
Whining, but in a fret, the dog ran away.
Sigh, I feel bad for them but I can’t afford to look after a pet if I can’t even look out for myself.
Slowly opening the entrance door, I take my shoes off and change into slippers. Throwing my school bag onto the sofa, I don’t even bother to turn on the lights after I close the door.
My everyday mini ritual was about to begin.
Me, curling up against the door and crying around the huge mess my personal life is.
Wait a second… Where is Nobuyuki to all of this?
With a bit of willpower, I turned on the light switch to have the surprise of my life: my house was clean.
Clean without a single speck of dust.
No ramen cups lying around.
No garbage bags filled with rubbish forming a small Bermuda triangle in the corner of the living room anymore.
Even the clothes that were spread on the floor were nowhere to be found.
That concerns me a little, but… I can overlook it after all of this!
“This is… amazing…” I whispered, placing both hands in my chest. “I… didn’t remember my living room being so spacious…”
Making my way around the breakfast table, sofas and lamps, I reached a cabinet that used to be filled with dust to no avail. On top of it, two picture frames were placed backwards. The silver frames were shining brightly, meaning he had cleaned them as well.
I’m… so sorry…
I crouched, small tears forming in my eyes.
I couldn’t even manage to clean the only pictures I have of my parents.
But a complete stranger was capable of doing so.
“Hey-o! I’m back from doing some grocery shopping! … Yui? You here? The lights are on. Well, you might be taking a shower. For Celestia’s sake, everything in the fridge was either rotten or just…. Ew, I’d better not remember the battle I had against all of that. Now I can cook some proper meals for you, and you’re going to be all healthy while doing your Veneficae job, or so to say! Ah yes, I hope you ate the lunch I made from the breakfast I didn’t eat. Ah, my beloved Yui…”
He abruptly stopped talking to himself, dropping the paper bags from a store and rushing right next to me when I raised my head, a single tear falling from my eyes.
“Are you okay?! Did something bad happened at school!? Were you ambushed!? Attacked!? Bullied!?”
“Huh…?” he blinked, not understanding what was going on.
“Thank you… so much…” I sobbed my eyes, doing my best not to cry even if some tears had already escaped.
“Aw, you’re happy I cleaned everything for you!”
“Y-You c-could say that…” I lied, trying to breathe for a bit while I sat down on the sofa. “I… want to change, Nobuyuki. I want to stop being… this mess…”
“You are not a mess, young lady!” he scolded me. “And wanting change is perfectly normal, all species undergo a metamorphosis stage!”
“I suppose… but I’m not a bug to…”
He pressed his index finger towards my lips, shutting me down completely.
“Even the weakest and ugliest creature can strive to become a strong and beautiful butterfly.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better…? You’re a strange guy…”
“That all depends on how you take it, my dear Yui. You can become the most gorgeous of butterflies if you wish for it. You can become anyone you wish to be in this world. That’s why you have to stand up, and keep on walking.”
I nodded, incapable of expressing my true feelings.
“And without further ado, it seems we won’t be needing this lesson anymore since you could communicate with me by your own will!” he laughed, taking his finger off me.
“You’re right,” I tried to go with the flow, doing my best to feel better.
“Now, let me cook you up a very nice supper. I bought ingredients to make something I saw on a TV cooking show after you left… hm, how was it called… sukiyaki!”
“You bought meat!?” I ran to the bags, astounded by all the things he had bought. “Oh my Lord is this, wagyū meat? AND ALL OF THEM ARE FROM THE SANDAI WAGYŪ?!”
“I couldn’t make up my mind so I ended up buying Kobe, Matsusaka and Yonezawa beef. They seemed delicious. As they say, when something is expensive it must be good!”
“Where did you get the money to…? And that logic is flawed!”
“As I told you, don’t sweat the small details, my beloved!”
I don’t consider myself a good cook, but I’m neither a disaster. Even if I tried to help, Nobuyuki just begged for me to sit down and wait patiently. As long as something decent came out, that was enough for me. I was deeply worried, however, that he coming from another world would have no idea how the appliances worked but somehow he managed to pull through.
Well, he did cook breakfast in the morning so why am I worrying about it now.
Trying to ignore those sounds coming from the kitchen, I left the job experience project paper on the table and opened my textbooks to start my homework. Surprisingly, it wasn’t that tough at all. Even if I don’t like to admit it, mathematical subjects are fun and easy for me. I had no idea why the physics class seemed so confusing during the morning. What was on the worksheet was fairly easy once I checked Koharu’s notes.
Out of mere curiosity, I looked sideways towards the dark blue-haired boy.
He grouped the ingredients he bought and started pulling out a large pot. Combining a cup of sake (that I don’t know how he bought having the appearance of an underaged kid), a cup of mirin, a quarter cup of sugar and a cup of soy sauce inside the pot, it started to boil, and he stirred it occasionally until it boiled, carefully. Once that happened, he removed it from the fire.
Afterwards, he took out the udon and left it in a bowl. Taking a small sharp knife, he sliced the cabbage. Then followed the shungiku and the negi. He cleaned the shitake mushrooms and decorated them like small roses, and I looked at the one stuck on my chest.
I suppose that after we eat we’ll start the “ABC’s” of being a Veneficae.
He took the tofu out of the fridge and cut it into long, small pieces; the carrots in rounds. He took out a flower-shaped mould and they took on that charismatic form. Nobuyuki smiled. He rinsed the noodles and placed all the dry ingredients in a large saucer to take to the centre of the table in the room I was in. The yellow scarfed boy returned to the kitchen for a portable burner and a clay pot. He lit it and placed the meat and veggies on the table as well.
“Here you go!” Nobuyuki said, sitting down in front of me.
When the boy poured some of the oil in the pan, I took notice of what was happening.
"If you don't hurry, I’m going to eat all the meat," he said, bringing his face closer. “Oh, but I saw on TV that if you dip the cooked meat in egg white and then eat it, it tastes better! I wonder if it’s true…”
The minutes passed and the scene became more and more warm, the warmth of a cosy home wrapping us in a delicate veil of illusions and dreams.
Just like a family portrait without an actual family.
I grabbed a piece of meat after it cooked, savouring its taste.
“It’s delicious…” I whispered, amazed. “You’re an amazing cook, Nobuyuki.”
“Made especially for you!” Nobuyuki winked. “All I did was to follow the instructions and please, call me Nobu!”
“Alright…” I sighed, doing my best to get used to all this lukewarm insanity.
“So…” the blue-haired boy said while he munched some carrots, “I was thinking about the lessons and…”
“Yeah, when do we start?”
“Wait, are you…?” Nobuyuki blinked, genuinely surprised.
“I’ve decided to assume my responsibilities… even if this isn’t mine in the first place and it was all fruit of a mistake of me picking up a strange object.” I objected. “But… yeah, in the end, I’m responsible for my own acts.”
“Then there’s no time to lose!” he stood up, almost tumbling the portable stove with all the meat on top of my job experience project paper. “Oopsie-daisy.”
“Be careful! This paper is important, it needs to be all clean and properly signed for tomorrow…”
But the paper wasn’t in my hands anymore.
“This is it! This is where we are going!” he pointed to the ceiling excitedly, his bed head wagging like a dog’s tail. “This is perfect! What does it say here… job experience project, huh? Well, you'll experience your job of being a Veneficae in the field, this is all going according to plan!”
“That’s not even a plan!” I panicked. “You can’t… decide things like this… that’s just... Selfish! And I’m going there to do some actual normal work!”
“Why is it selfish, though? I’m doing this for you!” he tilted his head to the right, clearly unable to understand my point.
“I worry about your lack of delicacy….”
“Anyways, it’s all settled! In two weeks we’re going to this place and train!” he laughed as if it were a secured victory. “Our target has been acquired!”
“That’s not even a real target!”
I’m in deep, deep trouble.
"Now leaving this thingy aside..." Nonchalantly, he tossed the important trip paper, me making impossible acrobatics to grab it before it fell on top of the sukiyaki on the centre of the table. "Let's go to the temple you told me about yesterday!"
"Huh!?" Recomposing myself and storing the paper inside one of my school notebooks in order for it to be safe from a stranger's evil plot, I was flabbergasted. "As in, right now?"
"Indeedy-dee~deey!" Excited, he munched his food that was cold at this point. "Although sukiyaki must be eaten hot, cold is still the best!"
"It's night-time and around minus six Celsius outside, are you mental?" Losing a little bit of my patience, I confronted him by pulling up his yellow scarf.
"Then that means we should gear up for the trip!" Ignoring my lame threat, he smiled and with a single triple clap, a winter hat appeared on my head as well as a very thick pink comforter for my neck alongside gloves in my hands. "The cold doesn't bother me at all so I'm making sure you stay warm!"
Seeing my reflection on the powered-off telly, I could clearly make out that the apparel I was wearing was indeed from my closet.
"You can do these kinds of things?" I gasped in bewilderment. "If you can do this... does it mean you can just transport any object anywhere you want? I fear for my personal things!"
"No worries, I have no interest in ladies underwear. I'm a gentleman."
That remark annoyed me even more, for unknown reasons.
"Now, now, let's go!!" Excited, he grabbed my covered hands and dragged me towards the outside.
It was ridiculously cold.
"This won't be enough!!" hugging myself in front of my house's door, I shivered due to my school uniform not being suitable. "Ah, I wanna go back inside..."
"Want me to pop up some more clothes for you, m' lady?" He snickered.
"Stop making fun of me, and no I don't want you magically rummaging through my closet, let's get this over with, please..."
"Alrighty! So, where is that temple you mentioned last night?"
"It's actually a shrine, just a couple of minutes of this main road..."
I pointed out to the neverending darkness on my left, the streetlights barely making any light at all. However, the stars illuminate the sky like snowflakes in the night. My eyes catch the scattered night-time drops of dew as they are illustrated by the pale light of the moon. They shine, like a million eyes staring back at me from the darkness.
Above a faded zebra crossing, a traffic light frantically changed colours, indicating I should start moving.
Nobu starts walking, his footsteps slowly echoing in the desolate area, leaving me behind.
Gathering up all of my courage against the cold breeze, I moved forward, following him when it should've been me guiding him instead.
The moon hides behind a patch of greyish, navy clouds. Its light breaks through the wispy clouds, penetrating their dark cover. The sky is freckled with brilliant, glowing luminaries. Their intensity contrasts against the sombre blue of the night sky, and warmth begins to fill me again as I take in this magnificent sight.
I keep on walking, my feet crunching the almost imperceptible leaves that lay on the moist ground. The brilliant reds, oranges, yellows and browns I saw this morning have changed into sombre blues and dark greens.
Agape, I was clenching both of my hands tightly towards his borrowed coat.
I had managed to catch up to Nobuyuki, not letting go from one of my father's pieces of clothing. For some reason, it made me feel secure of any dangers that might happen. Even if this lonely, illusionary night was just the flickering of small candlelight just being lit, it felt like a huge big step towards what was approaching.
The less than five minutes walk had finally finished when he stopped, pointing towards his right side.
"Is this the place?" He asked.
"Y-Yes..." I stuttered.
Yesterday night during my little personal escapade, the place did not look as menacing and scary-looking as it does right now. The Shirakawa Hachiman Shrine stood mightly and proudly, it's pebble made route towards the mountains inviting to a neverending waltz of nightmares.
Making our way through it, I could hear the cricket's replacing the daytime winter cicadas shrill, making my anxiety skyrocket to new unknown levels. Even still, I was not alone. Someone was right in front of me, guiding me towards a place I'd been millions of times before but now appeared as a hideous monster about to eat me up.
The thin layers of ice on the pathway crackle under the rubber soles of my shoes. In the distance, a lamppost glows amber. It incessantly crashes into the bulb with a faint clack each time. A gentle breeze hits me from behind, setting me on my way again. The wind continues, whistling in my ears and causing nearby trees and bushes to sway idyllically. Night-time is a period of nothingness, in which nature went to sleep. The thing I should be doing as well.
"Okay, here we are, I think."
Stopping right into the middle of the shrine, I could see the torii gate, inviting us towards the small shrine itself with a faded donation box. Nobu placed his hands on his waist after his announcement, looking at me expectantly.
"I didn't bring any money," I whisper.
Although we were not right in front of it, still in the middle of the place itself, I could see his eyes glued on said box.
"For what?" He wondered.
"I see you're looking at the donation box." I pointed it out.
"Oh, nonsense. I just felt some kind of energy in that place, that's all." Nobuyuki smiled. "Why would you even donate in a sanctuary like this?"
"Sanctuary? It's just another old shrine." I said. "There are millions all over the country, and donating is just a thing we all do."
"But for what purpose? Wouldn't prayer and respect be enough? Why are your Gods and Goddesses asking for money?" With flat eyebrows, he stared at the donation box as if it were something disgusting.
"Don't ask me, it's something we all do and I don't question it. Think of it as a way the shrine gets proper maintenance costs." I sighed. "So, are we here for something in particular or not? I'm cold."
"I just thought that coming here would ease my thoughts and make me see things in a different light but... this place is just ordinary. Another place where you can release your prayers and pay respects to the divine, superior beings. There is nothing that could make this a special place or something for the Rosa Crystallum to suddenly be here all alone after being robbed. I was expecting something like, I don't know... something that had to do with magical energy but instead I'm greeted with spiritual power."
"Hey... Nobuyuki... Now that I hear you talk that way... are you... perhaps... a very religious person?" I mumbled, not knowing if that question would activate a full-blown discourse.
"Hm, I really do not know myself to be quite honest..." His amber eyes brimmed with melancholy. "Even in my world, we follow certain rules about all that. I don't grasp very well what you mean with religious but I can deduce that you mean believing in a superior being."
"Kinda." Hugging myself, I fidgeted with my feet.
"All I can tell you is that we worship the superior goddesses of creation with prayers and offerings. Even being a Veneficae is equated to being a goddesses' messenger of some sort. However, it's still too soon to explain all this to you, for the time being, my dearest."
An unusual, gut-wrenching smile shook my entire core.
Nobuyuki's aura wasn't one of melancholy, nor sadness.
It was emptiness.
An empty smile that left me with no rebuttal.
There was nothing else to be said. There was nothing else to be done.
We stood there, basking our souls under the quiet moonlight.
❀ Present Time - June 27th ❀
“Ah yes, the door’s finally open!” Nobu said excitedly in the hallway.
I had apparently lost myself, remembering the past.
However, when we opened the door, there was an unexpected guest.
A shadowy person basked in the moonlight.
I took a step back in fear but, to my surprise and what I considered a life-threatening act, Nobu stepped forward, scratching his head.
“Huh, so it makes sense the room was locked. How come you didn’t tell me you were here? I almost blasted it away if Yui hadn’t stopped me, ehehe.”
Does Nobu know this… person?
“Hey, why aren’t you saying anything? Are you still mad at me for doing what I did? You know, we could settle this like normal people if we sit down and…”
Nobu couldn’t finish talking.
Suddenly, coloured sparks flew towards him, heavily impacting his body mid-air and plunging him across the hallway. Crashing against the concrete wall, my partner was caught off guard, leaving me exposed.
What am I supposed to do…?
Nobu’s desperate scream shook my very core, just to lead us to a devastating confession I was avoiding to reveal.
The last thing I heard was windows crashing, Nobu’s pleas, and my own consciousness fading away while everything was enveloped in white.
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