A Stab in the Dark
By Tomatoes and Constanze
This thread serves as an archive of the story as it was before it disappeared off the face of the internet.
After the original Beast’s lair went down this story was “lost”, and since the authors have yet to repost any part of it, also inaccessible. Luckily I had made a backup.
Section dividers signify the end/beginning of post(s) as they appeared originally, and a switch between characters and the two authors.
Warning: the story is incomplete and ends rather abruptly.
- Part One (Current Post)
- Part Two
- Part Three
- Part Four
- Part Five
- Part Six
- Part Seven
- Part Eight
- Part Nine
- Part Ten
- Part Eleven
- Part Twelve (Current final part of the incomplete story.)
The park was empty. Just as she liked it.
No, it wasn't one of those parks that had a foreboding history about it that kept people away, or that it had dark, gnarled, earthy protrusions clawing at the skies for trees. It was a regular park, one with cobblestone pathways, neatly-trimmed lawns, fenced-in flower-bearing shrubbery, benches to sit on. It even had its own lake of sorts, where a flock of swans often watched her from, and where she usually ended up looking into whenever she had finished reading the book she'd brought with her.
It was empty merely for the fact that not a lot of people knew it existed. Even the young woman herself was oblivious to the fact that her part of the city had such a well-maintained park, until a furious night-time chase led her to it. And the lake was the very first thing she saw, the way the moonlight glittered on the almost mirror-like surface catching her eye. Calming her. Soothing her.
It almost felt like the park had been waiting for her, and when she did stumble upon it, greeted her with opened arms and a whispered "Welcome home."
And so she made it a practice - well, a habit - to visit everyday, and spend quite a healthy chunk of her schedule in the park. With a book randomly chosen from her employer's expansive library, a thermos of tea (miso soup if she felt a bit peckish) and a cellphone in case she needed to be contacted - she would make her way to the park on the dot, at exactly nine o' clock in the morning, and sit at her usual bench. The one that offered the best view of the lake, and the one that she had first collapsed into after one of her nightly escapades had left her with a rather nasty injury.
And here is where things start to get just a little bit ironic. Much as I was...inconvenienced then, and how I cursed at myself for letting my guard down enough for it to actually happen - I feel that it was meant to be, somehow. I was meant to find this park.
I was meant to find her.
A small smile briefly turning up the corners of her lips, Ryogi Shiki took off her signature red bomber jacket - revealing a stark white kimono underneath - and draped it across her lap as she sat down on the bench. Delicately opening her book to the foreword, the girl resisted the temptation to scratch the medicinal gauze eyepatch currently strapped over her right eye, and instead poured herself a cup of piping-hot green tea from her thermos.
She took a sip, nodded to herself, and then began reading.
It wasn't long before the young woman set foot in the familiar park.
Stepping through the grass, slightly overdue for trimming, and moving between well-spaced trees, she cut along until she reached the path by the water front. Her white tennis shoes sounded lightly along the pavement, as she walked, unhurried.
Before too much longer, her target was in sight.
She paused in her step a moment, her gaze falling upon the bench, and the person sitting there. She smiled lightly as her steps resumed, crossing the distance between herself and the other young woman's seat.
The mysterious, boot-wearing kimono girl was reading, as she had come to expect. While not really unusual as an act, it did remind her of one of the things that was hard not to notice about her, that bandage over her right eye.
Don't stare, she reminded herself. She couldn't see it yet, approaching from the left and with the young woman's dark hair blocking the view, but she reminded herself to not let her curiosity get the best of her as usual.
She gave her usual brighter smile of greeting, nodding as the sitting woman looked up, as she herself took her place on the other side of the bench. There was a slight crinkling noise as she set down the brown paper bag she carried at her side.
Brushing her reddish hair back behind the shoulder it's length easily fell beneath, she relaxed into her seat, taking a good breath of the pleasing morning air. They had never spoken to one another, and there were no words as they sat here, either.
Not yet, anyways…
She smoothed her skirt and folded her ankles beneath her seat as she sat, gazing out towards the water, humming a little bit to herself.
The birds were already a bit active this morning, and she drew a bit of delight from seeing the young ones moving about, splashing here and there. It was somewhat nostalgic-feeling to watch them play like that…
Her amber eyes shifted after a while to the woman sitting next to her, again. Looking at the book, curiously, then the ever-present cup, the thermos, the folded jacket, and back up at that face… That somewhat rough face, cool in expression. What little of it she could see beyond the hair from this angle, in any case.
Kohaku tilted her head a little, then averted her gaze, not wanting to be caught seeming overly curious. She looked back out over the lake, remaining content in the moment, and resumed her humming.
The book was titled Mort, written by an author by the name of Terry Pratchett. One in a loosely-connected series of novels about a certain realm called Discworld; it told the story of the anthropomorphic manifestation of Death - predictably depicted as a cloaked skeleton with a scythe - and how the force of nature hired an unassuming young lad as his apprentice. And along the way, the roles of master and apprentice seemed to switch - with the young man taking up the duty of heralding souls to the next world, and the personification finding purpose in the more mundane yet obviously-more satisfying world of food service. Unfortunately, at the end, Death was once again relegated to his eternal duty, the brief touch of happiness now a mere memory inside a grinning skull.
Ryogi shook her head slightly. Even when the sorcereress obviously had enough on her plate to worry about, Touko still managed to find time to poke fun at her. And what ground her gears - enough to have once tried to actually invite the woman's sister to dinner - was that Touko's punchlines invariably ended up as being funny to only her, and just a bit too painful for the intended target. Oh, she never really meant any harm about it, it was all in good fun, but it was always the Aozaki who had the last laugh. The only laugh, at that.
Her delicately-cut lips curling into a small frown, Ryogi closed the book with a snap - and only then acknowledged the presence of the girl sitting beside her.
Rude wasn't the word for it. Ryogi had been called many things in her lifetime, but she made sure that she would never be known for having a blatant disregard for etiquette. It was simply her way - if she deemed someone worthy of her attention, she would give it. A peculiar way of handling things, and almost always the cause of many a brawl in which she had the dubious pleasure of partaking in - but it was her own, and one would be hard-pressed to change it. If Ryogi Shiki gave a damn about you, she would show it - otherwise, you could be naked and dancing wildly in front of her and she wouldn't even give you a second look.
Thus, Ryogi was more than pleased - happy would be pushing it - that the girl beside her understood her, and considered her. It certainly wasn't the first time they had met in the park, the nod and smile of greeting attested to that - in fact, they had spent quite a many mornings just sitting beside each other, enjoying the quiet, enjoying the park for the solace it offered. And they would leave on their separate ways without even saying a word to each other.
And they liked it that way.
Taking another sip of her cup - now cradling the crockery with both hands, the book now tucked in one of the jacket's pockets - Ryogi breathed in, slowly, her one good eye slowly closing. To a casual observer, it would look like the young woman was simply relaxing, enjoying her tea. They were wrong. She hated tea.
In truth, Ryogi was (although she would never admit it to anyone) enjoying the girl beside her.
It was a trick she had always used in combat. Attuning each and every sense except sight to scope out certain things about a certain target. Heart rate. Scent. Mood. Body heat. Breathing rate. State of mind. Nuggets of information that would almost always spell the difference between life and death, if you ever caught yourself in a dark alley with someone clearly motivated to rip your throat out. She never thought she'd be using it here, on such a person, and yet...
It was always the first thing that popped into her head, the first thought that would come to mind whenever she pulled this particular trick off. The girl smelled of tangerines, a subtly-sweet scent that was at the same time sharp and mischievous. As much as she tried, Ryogi couldn't pin it down to something you could buy from a store, be it a certain brand of shampoo, soap, perfume, or even laundry detergent. Even real tangerines didn't smell the same way. The scent from the girl seemed almost...more real, more vivid. More tangerine-y.
Ryogi also noted how the girl's heart rate seemed to jump whenever their gazes met. She verified this, of course, by pretending not to notice her stares. She would wait until the girl leveled her gaze at her a second time - the first would be just a cautionary peek - before turning to face her, Ryogi's one good eye blinking back as if in surprise. That resulted in quite the peak in heart rate, and she was sure she spied the girl's cheeks turning an absolute crimson.
Today, there was something different about the young woman. She still carried with her the scent of tangerines, of course, but with it came an edge of anticipation. It was as if the girl was waiting for something, or waiting for something to happen, Ryogi wasn't particularly sure which. But it was there, an unspoken question between them, both seemingly afraid to start lest something change in an arrangement that was already working out so great already. To enjoy each other's company in silence, taking nothing, accepting nothing. Expecting nothing in return, for there was nothing received.
And then she felt the girl staring at her again, much like a cat would curiously consider something new to it.
How many days had it been, anyway? How many meetings have ended with them only enjoying each other's company in silence, a silence only to be broken by either of them walking out of earshot? A little mystery never hurt anyone, of course, but there are times where the same amount of contact would do good.
Ryogi opened her eye - her one good eye - and for did the staring for a change. She took it all in - the girl's modestly-long crimson hair, her light cream-like complexion, the blouse-and-skirt outfit, the white tennis shoes - but most of all, she drank in the girl's deep, amber eyes. Eyes the color of darkened honey, eyes that were expressive as they were bright, eyes that had seen more than they should have...
She turned back to her book, and smiled again.
"Shiki." She said, softly, finally breaking the silence, the raven-haired woman keeping her gaze on a duck that waddled out of the lake and had begun herding its wayward young back into the water. "My name is Ryogi Shiki."
Kohaku was a bit surprised by the gaze.
Before she had known it, the woman was looking at her in return this time. Looking her over, it seemed, that single eye, black in color. She hadn't really noticed it as much before, given how infrequently and briefly the mysterious woman looked directly at her, as well as with the distracting bandage. The unobscured eye that met her own gaze now was a dark, deep color, almost to the point of making her uncomfortable.
Perhaps it wasn't really the color, however, but something else… That look. The woman's expression didn't betray any ill intent, but somehow the searching from that eye made her feel… A little vulnerable? Maybe it was just the fact that she had been caught staring at the woman first, and was now having the curious eyeballing returned.
Nonetheless, Kohaku's small smile remained, despite her blinking and visible mild embarrassment. Eventually the young woman's head turned away, smiling lightly now herself. Kohaku felt a bit of relief that she hadn't messed things up yet, or somehow annoyed the woman, and turned her own gaze back to the water.
As she heard the voice, her eyes flitted back to the woman, and she almost did a double take as the first spoken word sunk in. It seemed the past moment had merely been a warm-up to prepare her for the surprise of hearing the woman speak, and of a familiar name at that.
She looked at the woman, her heart skipping slightly as the vision of a young man sprung to mind. Her expression dropped into surprise after all. She's giving her name. she realized, looking more embarrassed, and working to regain her previous expression.
She found the woman's voice wasn't quite what she expected… It was smooth and low, subdued, but not as quiet or maybe rough as she would have guessed. She smiled again, feeling some vague sense of victory at finally getting to hear the woman speak. It seemed she hadn't needed to make the first move after all.
She took a breath, preparing to reply, a bit triumphant in the back of her mind. She returned her gaze to the water, once more watching the waterfowl she adored.
"I'm pleased to meet you… Shiki-san. My name is Kohaku." she said, cheery, but not overbearingly so.
She quickly began to second guess if she shouldn't have said Ryogi-san instead, but decided to push that thought aside for the moment. After so many days, the routine had changed. Where there was previously comfortable silence, there now were words.
Maybe it was a gamble to change things. But the mysterious woman - Ryogi Shiki - had taken initiative. Kohaku had followed, and now that was that. As to what all this meant now, though, she didn't really know.
She continued to smile.
It was now Ryogi's turn to blink. She was not really the most social of person, Ryogi Shiki-san was, and while she was more than familiar about Touko's sense of humor, the Aozaki sorceress never missed a beat in rubbing it into the woman's face. Oh, that Ryogi, she's as hospitable as a coffin. An open coffin without a pillow in it, at that. She's not one for conversation, either, and you'd probably have more of an reaction talking to the undead - present company excluded of course. Why, if she stood in a corner, she'd probably get mistaken for a coat rack. Imagine!
The thing was, she scared most people off. This was peaches and cream to her - she preferred to be alone, if for the mere reason that she liked the quiet - but on the rare occasion that she needed company, when she wanted to be listened to rather than be forced to listen, she would almost always drive them away when she made the first move.
The girl not only stayed, she gave Ryogi her name as well.
Needless to say, Ryogi was ecstatic. A mood that translated into a slight widening of the eye, a miniscule widening of her smile, but no more. The young woman may be gifted in a lot of things, but the display of emotion department desperately needed some buffing up.
Never mind that there was no last name forthcoming from the girl, or that she had set the tone for a first-name basis even though they had just introduced themselves to each other. What mattered was that for the first time in a long while, Ryogi Shiki didn't have the hospitality of a coffin without its furnishings, or the raw animal magnetism of a newly-blossomed bouquet of corpse flowers. She had her name, and she would fight to death if anyone dared to try and take it away from her.
Kohaku. It was a simple name, quite a literal one if you took notice of the color of her eyes. But Ryogi liked simple names herself - they didn't need to have all sorts of wordings or complex suffixes or even titles. Call her boring, mabe even spartan, but Ryogi held it as a rule that whenever someone introduced themselves to her with a name that required a certain linguistic finesse that also gave one the ability to double-knot two cherry stalks with their tongue, she would forget that name and give them one herself. Something terse, short, perhaps even rude - but it would be better than simply referring to them as 'meatbags', as Touko had recounted other Chokushi no Magan adepts had done in the past.
Kohaku. Simple. Sweet. Tangerines and honey and a smile worth all the strawberry ice cream in the world. For a moment, Ryogi felt a strange, almost alien warmth blossoming from between her shoulders, up the nape of her neck, and then back down her spine. Excitement? Elation? Perhaps that warm and fuzzy feeling Touko had often described whenever her soap operas reached the crescendo of lovers reuniting, with the evil and scheming mistress' plans foiled?
Whatever it was, she liked it. And she wanted more.
The tea had already gone cold in her grasp, but she took no notice of it.
"Kohaku." Ryogi finally repeated, enunciating it with the careful air of a child wanting to make sure she got it right the first time. "Likewise, I'm sure."
She wanted to say many things. How at first she thought that her introduction would have failed miserably, that she was sure Murphy's Law had a corollary specifically written for her when it came to human interaction. She wanted to say that while people may think that she didn't particularly care about anything at all, the truth was that she did, she just cared for a smaller, more select group of people and knick-knacks (most of the latter she kept in a locked box). She wanted to say that while she met quite a lot of people in her career of cutting people into pieces, she wanted to meet someone who didn't scream her name combined with language colorful enough to make a sailor blush, as well has have a life expectancy of more than three seconds.
She wanted to tell Kohaku how grateful she was.
Instead, her cellphone rang.
Placing her teacup on the bench beside her, Ryogi fumbled inside her kimono's sleeve for the ringing, vibrating device. She remembered setting the phone's volume to minimum, but in the oppressive quiet of the park, she might as well have jacked it all the way up to an obnoxious 11. Quickly thumbing the device open - Touko called it one of them clamshell models - Ryogi held the receiver up to her ear and fervently hoped that Kohaku would still be there when she hung up.
"Ryogi here. What--"
It was Touko.
"Ah, Ryogi-kun. Be a dear and come into the office as soon as you're able, please? There's a client in need of your services, and from what I'm hearing, it's smack dab in your area of expertise. I know I'm intruding, yes, we made a deal that you would always have mornings off, but it's just this once, and then it's back to the usual schedule. You're headed here right now, aren't you? Aren't you?"
"That's a good girl. The knocking code is three times fast, two times slow. Oh, and be sure to look proper."
Touko had hung up even before Ryogi could acknowledge, prompting the girl to stare at the quietly-beeping device as if it had offended her. And it had, for the most part. To be called in at such a time, when things were finally going her way.
Just as things were looking up, even.
Shoving the phone back into her sleeve, Ryogi sighed the sigh of the massively-bereaved, before turning back to Kohaku and frowning the most depressed-looking frown she could ever frown. As depressing as a slight curling down of the corners of the lips could be.
"I apologize, but it seems that I'm urgently needed. I have to go." Ryogi murmured, hoping that her almost monotone delivery of the apology would come off sincere and...well, apologetic. "I would have very much liked it to have spent the entire day..."--she didn't say with you, because she didn't want to appear too forward--"...enjoying the park with you, but it will have to wait for another time. I hope we meet again...Kohaku."
Grabbing her things - the book, her thermos, her jacket - Ryogi broke into a dead run, boots clomping loudly on the tiled pathway as she left Kohaku on the bench. Within moments, she had completely disappeared from view.
Her teacup resting on the bench seemed to be the only thing that proved she had been there in the first place.
I'll post the rest within the next few days, just a little bit too tired to do more at the moment after spending half the day travelling.
Oh, and I'm relatively new here too, so please be nice, yes?