- Inspection -
When Mina and Morrow returned, they were surprised to find their home in disarray. An unexpected arrival flipped everything upside-down. A crowd of patchwork dolls had already gathered inside the main lobby. They were whispering and exchanging worried looks amongst each other. What could be the cause of all this commotion?
"That's right! My name is Taro and I am a health inspector. For far too long, this establishment has gone unchecked. That's why I'm here to determine if this hotel and café is really up to code or not."
A health inspector? What was this man talking about? And who was he? How come none of the other patchwork met him before today? As far as they were aware, this was the only place in the forest where the patchwork lived.
"Just a minute, Mister!" A man from the crowd spoke aloud.
"If you say you're a health inspector, then who exactly do you work for? We've never seen a guy like you living in our community!"
"Yeah, that's right!" Another patchwork chimed in.
Taro was a patchwork doll just like the rest, but he was foreign to those who lived in the building.
"I work for a reputable company from a deeper part of the forest." Taro replied as he pushed up the rectangular glasses on his face.
"Shut down!??" Everyone gasped in shock.
"Hey, wait a minute! You can't just shut down this place! This is our home. You can't take that away from us!"
The patchwork was in an uproar, protesting against the inspection.
"Calm yourselves! Nothing will become of your home if you happen to fail the inspection. What I meant is that you won't be allowed to offer your services to any outsiders until violations are improved on. Does that make sense?"
"Hmph! Well, we're the only patchwork in this part of the forest. There haven't been any outsiders visiting our home. That is until you showed up, sir."
"Hey, what about that wandering couple that came here some years ago?" An older patchwork woman commented.
"They eventually decided to live here. Ah, but they're long gone now."
"Wasn't that like, a decade ago or something?"
"Enough chatter, everybody! Let's get this show on the road so this man can be on his way."
The conversation was getting a bit off topic. Some of the patchwork already didn't have a good impression of Taro, so they wanted him to hurry and finish what he came to do.The crowd moved alongside Taro, showing him what was what and where to go.Another lady stopped to speak when she noticed Mina in the lobby.
"Oh, R-right! Right away!"
Morrow and Mina looked at each other, then left the lobby in a sprint.The lady was right. Now was no time to dawdle. Everything had to be perfect! The fate of the patchwork hotel & café rested in the hands of that inspector.
Back in the forest, Ryuhei continued to flip through the spellbook that was given to him by the mysterious stranger. He couldn't believe it. The majority of the book was filled with curses he didn't dream of casting. Ryuhei wanted to put it down and forget he saw anything, but at this point his curiosity got the better of him. Ryuhei turned yet another page and stopped. This page in particular stood out from the others. It was much more tame and natural. An earthly disturbance.Assassin's dark shadow resurfaced, looming over Ryuhei's back.
"So, is this what you have chosen? How dull."
Ryuhei looked over his shoulder.
"Why are you here again? Are you just going to follow me around?"
"I'm just making sure my spellbook isn't being mishandled under your care." Assassin replied.
"Hmph. If you're so worried about someone mishandling your book, then you never should have lent it out to begin with. Besides, I get the funny feeling that this evil book doesn't really belong to you."
Assassin chuckled as if Ryuhei's statement was right on the nose.
Morrow and Mina waited for Taro to reach their families' café. Mina was filled with anticipation while Morrow's nerves and butterflies got the better of him. Both the fantasy cafe and the bakery were perfectly presentable with nothing to hide. Taro reached the fifth floor of the building, just blocks away from Mina's bakery. Mina saw him walk into a detective-themed café at the end of the hall. It wouldn't too be much longer now. Mina believed her family would pull through.
As Taro's inspection continued, Ryuhei remained concealed within the trees. No longer was he in the forest. He had traveled to the outskirts of the patchwork home. Ryuhei was done turning the pages of Assassin's sinister spellbook. He held the book in hands, like he was prepared to cast one of the spells from the pages.Ryuhei knew there was going to be some consequences for his actions, but he felt he had to go through with his decision since the power he needed just happened to be offered to him.
Mina kept a close eye on the café down the hall. As she continued to stare, she began to grow nervous just like Morrow. Suddenly, the building began to shake and Mina lost her footing.
"What is this!? An earthquake?" Mina's parents screamed and panicked.
Mina could sense that something was abnormal about this earthquake, if that's what it could be called. Mina darted out of her café. Her parents called out to her.
"Mina, where are you going?"
Running through the halls when the ground continued to surge beneath her proved to be difficult. It was a stop and go process. The patchwork strongly believed in magic, but Mina was one of the few that actually practiced it. Mina wanted to see if Morrow felt the same negative energy. Using the elevator wasn't a good idea in this situation, so Mina ran three floors up to Morrow's café. When Mina reached the fantasy café, she stood in front of the entrance while holding onto a wall for balance.
"Morrow, where are you!?" Mina screamed.
Mina caught Morrow hiding underneath a table. Morrow looked at his friend and noticed she was out of breath.
"Mina!? What are you doing here? Did you just run up three floors?" Morrow asked.
"Morrow, something's not right about this earthquake. Can't you feel it? It's magic!"
Morrow worried. He wanted to agree with Mina, but he was unsure of what was causing the earthquake.
"You could be right, Mina. But where is this magic coming from? Who's doing this?"
"I don't know. Whoever's doing this can't be far. Heck, maybe this isn't an earthquake we're dealing with. The ground keeps shaking too much. We'll just have to go outside to find out!"
When the rumbling came to another pause, Mina approached Morrow. She grabbed Morrow by the hand and pulled him out from underneath his hiding spot.
Mina kept her grip on Morrow's hand as she led him into the hallway.
"Wait, no! Don't drag me into this. It's too dangerous to move around like this. We could get hurt!"
"No stalling! There's no time to waste! Someone has to put a stop to this. At least we both know how to use magic, so maybe there's something we can do to help."
"Well, don't make me run down eight floors."
Morrow freed his hand from Mina's hold. Using his magic, Morrow opened a hole into the floors of the building, all the way down to the first level.
"I can make us levitate down so we can use this to get to the entrance." Morrow explained.
"Oh, yeah. That's much more convenient."
"Morrow, look outside! The ground looks messed up." She pointed out.
"Whoah... What is this? A chasm?"
Mina was taken aback by the deep rip in the earth. Morrow was just as shocked. He looked around to find if anyone responsible for the damage could be nearby.No one was in sight other than him and Mina.When he didn't see anyone on the ground, Morrow's instinct told him to look above him in case he missed something.Morrow raised his head to look to the skies and then the top of the trees. Just like earlier, Morrow spotted Ryuhei in the same place above the forest.
"What? That kid's up there in the trees again?"
Morrow wanted to friendly greet him like always, but he noticed the spellbook in Ryuhei's hands. He sensed a strange energy emanating from the book and possibly from Ryuhei as well.
"Ryuhei, what are you doing up there? The ground is shaking a lot because of this tear in the ground. You could fall down and hurt yourself."
Ryuhei didn't say a word. Morrow was concerned about Ryuhei, but he didn't want to think he was the cause of the calamity predicted by the sages.
"Ryuhei... You're not responsible for this, are you?"
Annoyed, Ryuhei yelled back at Morrow.
"Ugh, can't you see I'm venting?"
"Mina, don't hurt him! Ryuhei isn't acting like his usual self. Ryuhei would never do anything bad."
"I wouldn't put it past him if the calamity really is his fault. And how do you know what Ryuhei's usual self is like?"
"Well, I—" Morrow stammered.
"The kid hardly acknowledges you, Morrow. He's not your friend!"
"Ryuhei wants someone to talk to. I know he does." Morrow told himself.
Morrow was aware that Ryuhei didn't give him much thought. No, the two of them weren't friends, but Morrow was acquainted with Ryuhei well enough to think that the two of them could potentially have a friendship. Morrow paid attention to Ryuhei. He noticed things about him that others didn't bother to. Did Ryuhei study dark arts? Sure, but that didn't make him an evil kid. Ryuhei was a loner. He was pitied, judged, and unwelcome. But Ryuhei didn't resent or curse anyone for how they treated him. He just silently dealt with everything all alone. Ryuhei studied dark magic because it was what he was most gifted in, not because he wanted to perform misdeeds. Morrow knew that much about Ryuhei, so that's why he couldn't believe Ryuhei was capable of causing harm to those around him.
Something was up with Ryuhei, so Morrow decided to take another look at Ryuhei. Morrow studied him closely.
"What's with that intensity, Morrow?"
Morrow stared at Ryuhei from head to toe. At first glance, Ryuhei didn't appear out of the ordinary. He looked like his usual self. He didn't seem to be under an evil spell, but his attitude didn't sit well with Morrow.
"Ryuhei said he was "venting," but Ryuhei doesn't rip through the earth to vent."
Morrow perceived Ryuhei as an individual who desired peace, someone who wanted to stay calm. Perhaps that was the reason why he hid himself in nature. Out in the woods, Ryuhei could practice magic with his spellbook while not having to worry about the other patchwork.
Morrow shifted his eyes to the thick book in Ryuhei's hands.
It wasn't Ryuhei's spellbook. A dead giveaway was the color of the book on both covers. This book was completely pitch black. The color of Ryuhei's book was a deep blue color. That's not all. Ryuhei's spellbook was much thinner, like a journal or a diary, and it was embedded with a snap lock. This black book was bare. No lock. Nothing.
The longer Morrow stared at the black spellbook, he began to realize that the source of the negative energy was emanating from the spellbook entirely. Ryuhei still held his senses, but Morrow thought the evil energy was slightly clouding his judgement. Morrow had to stop Ryuhei from using the book again.
"Stop being so mean, Ryuhei!"
Morrow picked up a big rock and threw it up at Ryuhei. His own pitch wasn't enough to reach Ryuhei atop of the trees. Morrow used his magic on the rock so it could travel the distance. Instead, the rock knocked the spellbook out of Ryuhei's grip, rather than hitting Ryuhei. This is what Morrow was actually aiming for.
"Ah! It's going to fall into the..."
The book was falling straight for the open hole in the ground. Ryuhei wanted to let out all of his anger, but deep down he knew he shouldn't have used that spellbook. It was far too chaotic and corrupted for ordinary patchwork. If the book was going to disappear into an abyss, then Ryuhei wouldn't oppose it.The residents of the patchwork hotel and café were beginning to gather outside now that the rumbling had come to a halt. They noticed the ripped ground and grew curious. Soon, the spellbook would never see the light of day again. It was time to put a lid on this chapter.Just when the black spellbook had almost fallen into the hole, a shadow suddenly swiped the book in an effort to rescue it. A shadowed man landed just a few feet away from Mina and Morrow. He held the book securely in his arms, as if it were his most cherished possession.
"Carelessness. Just utterly careless."
The shadow turned to Ryuhei, revealing himself as the Assassin.
"You!" Ryuhei screamed.
"I kindly entrusted you with my wicked spellbook, and what do you do? You drop it into this gorge you tore into the earth. And what were you going to do about it? Absolutely nothing! You were just going to let it happen."
"I was wrong to be nice to a brat like you. At the end of the day, you're just another goody-two-shoes."
Assassin dropped his arms away from his chest and observed his surroundings. He saw the patchwork in awe of the sight of the crack in the earth and he turned to his right to find Mina and Morrow giving him cautious looks. He looked back up at Ryuhei and grinned.
Assassin raised his left arm and snapped his fingers.The ground began to rumble once again, causing everyone to scream.
"Oh no, the building! It's falling apart!
The patchwork building began to collapse. The whole patchwork community had already evacuated from the building, but they were still in danger. Everyone ran deep into the forest, in directions that weren't cut off by the chasm. As much as it would have amused him, Assassin didn't stick around to see everyone run for their lives. Ryuhei watched him disappear before making his own escape. Within a matter of minutes, the structure completely collapsed. When everything quieted down, the patchwork reemerged from their hiding spots once it was safe to come out. They all crowded around a pile of rubble that was once their home. The patchwork building was now nothing more than a broken dollhouse.
"There's a huge gap in the earth and now our home has fallen apart. Not even we can fix this. We'll have to get the help of the sages for this one." Mina said.
Everyone helplessly stared down at the remains of the hotel and café until they began to notice a sudden movement. Then, they started to hear grunting noises.
"Hey! Someone's stuck under there!"
A group of five people tossed aside a pile of debris and pulled out a person wearing a tattered suit.
"It's Mr. Taro!"
"Goodness, he was still in there?"
Taro pulled the rest of his body out of the rubble and brushed himself off.
"Are you alright, Mr. Taro? You're not injured at all?"
"Thank you. Just some scratches, nothing more. Although, my glasses were crushed." Taro replied.
"Well, this is unfortunate. There's nothing else I can do here. I have no choice but to postpone the inspection. I'm sorry I can't help you in this situation. I have to return to my agency and give a report, but I will come back to check on you. Goodbye for now."
Taro walked around the debris and traveled into the opposite end of the forest.
Later that evening, Morrow and Mina were on their way back to the temple to ask the sages to restore their home. Morrow's magic wasn't powerful enough to fix the damage done to the earth and the time it would take to rebuild the hotel and café was uncertain. Getting the sages' help would be much quicker. As the two sorcerers walked on the path to the temple, Morrow couldn't help but look above at the treetops the whole time.
"Ryuhei, really made a mess of things today." Morrow said.
Whenever it came down to Ryuhei, Mina didn't hold her tongue.
"If only he didn't keep to himself all the time, maybe this wouldn't have happened. And we don't even know who that mystery man is. He's the one who gave Ryuhei that evil spellbook and now he could be anywhere. He could be plotting a new scheme or searching for someone else to trick."
"Restoring our home is more important than worrying about either of them right now."
The entrance to the forest temple was in sight. However, someone was blocking their way. A patchwork stood still in front of the entrance, as if they were hesitant to go in. They were completely dressed in black and appeared to be no older than Morrow.
Morrow gasped. He couldn't believe his eyes.
For the first time in three months, Ryuhei stood on solid ground.