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Ran and Chen?
I turned from the counter to look and, sure enough, two people were walking through the doorway. They looked rather ordinary until you noticed the tails, and they didn't have one tail each either. The more childish looking one had two tails and the taller one had eight. At least I think it was eight. I didn't really count since I knew how many she was supposed to have. Aside from the tails, another trait that told anyone who looked that these two weren't human were their ears. A pair of cat ears poked out from beneath the child's green hat while another hat hid the pointy fox ears of the other youkai. Both wore rather plain dresses - one red, one white and blue.
As per my usual routine, I greeted them as a waiter normally would and seated them. However, in my mind, I was trying to think of an excuse to talk to them for a good period of time. Their relationship with Yukari might've been my ticket to seeing someone who could finally send me home. Or kill me. But that didn't weigh too heavily in my mind since my chances of survival were low enough already.
"We'll take two orders of... 'lamprey'."
Ran, the kitsune, winked at me as she stressed the name of the dish. I stared blankly back, the meaning of her emphasis flying right over my head.
"Uhh, what do you mean by... 'lamprey'?"
Chen, the nekomata, tugged on her master's sleeve.
"I think Waiter-san is new here. The singing birdy usually takes our orders, doesn't she?"
"Hmmmm... that's true. Hey, you can just tell Mystia that Ran and Chen are here. I think she'll know what that means."
I walked off and approached the stage, ignoring whatever the heck Mystia was singing now. Sort of. Knowing that she would ignore me until she finished her song, I just waited at the base of the stage until I saw her take a bow (I was plugging my ears and playing some more music in my head again). When I saw my chance, I walked up to her, tapped her shoulder, and said quietly to her, "Ran and Chen are here."
The one word response was, "Okay," and she went into the kitchen. A few seconds later, she was back and before going back on stage, she told me to take the order when it was ready. I looked around. Most of the customers had cleared out already except for four tables including the two shikigamis of Yukari. Sighing lightly, I continued working. If there were no more tables to serve, it was time to clean up. The tables that were recently cleared of customers had to have the dishes picked up and the tables wiped down. Any spilled food had to be mopped up off the floor. The dishes had to be washed as well.
Man, how did Mystia manage this place before I came? All she does is sing...
I had just started wiping down the second table when Rumia rang the bell in the kitchen that signaled that she had finished a dish. I went in, told her that that was the last dish, received the expected, "Is that so~?" and made my way back to the last customers of the day. When I looked at the dish, I recognized what was different from the rest of the dishes that night. In other words, what Ran had meant when she emphasized the word lamprey. It was the same dish that I had when I had first come here. It was fish, not lamprey.
How stupid. Why doesn't she just put fish on the menu? Or make a menu in the first place? It's ridiculous for a restaurant to only have one dish.
As I got within earshot of their conversation, I heard Ran and Chen talking about something that, yet again, perked my interest.
"What was Yukari-sama looking for?"
"I don't know, but I heard that another human from the outer world fell through a border again when she searched his bedroom. She has a bad habit of leaving them open."
Huh? That sounds suspiciously similar to what happened to me... Well, I thought it was Yukari who brought me here to begin with anyway.
I decided to attempt to get some confirmation on my suspicions.
Ran looked up from her seat and saw the tray of food in my hands. The conversation stopped as Chen's face lit up at the sight, already picking up her chopsticks in anticipation, and as Ran thanked me. It took me a few seconds to realize that I should actually put the dishes down on their table; I was still trying to come up with a well-worded way to ask about Yukari. So I bent down to place them down and at the same time, whispered in Ran's ear, "I need to talk to you. It's not so important that I can't wait for you to eat first, though."
I caught a glimpse of her looking at me quizzically as I turned around and headed back to the kitchen. Along the way, Mystia told me to "Wash the dishes!" and I gave her the usual "Yes, yes, I know". Rumia was gone already, having cooked the last meal of the night. Apparently, Mystia thought that grilling lamprey (and fish) wasn't too hard for the darkness youkai but didn't want to risk breaking dishes on her dishwashing. I, on the other hand, preferred not to cook. I can't cook. And I'd probably burn myself.
Tonight was a slow night so the dishes weren't piled up like usual. I spent half an hour washing two thirds of them and wondered if Mystia was handling the remaining customers or was waiting for me to finish so that she wouldn't have to do any work. My question was answered when I walked out of the kitchen, the dishes washed and drying. All the tables were empty. There was no sight of anyone except for Mystia wiping down the tables and humming to herself. Ran and Chen were gone along with my hopes of finding a way back home.
I didn't have anything else to do for the night besides wiping the tables, but Mystia was doing it already so I went back into the kitchen where I slept. But it was too early to sleep. I went out the back way of the kitchen for some fresh air and walked around. Mystia's darkness spell was still affecting me so there was no way to escape from paying my debt. I walked around a bit, always keeping the light from the kitchen in my view so I could find my way back. Everything else was pitch black. It was a good way to avoid outside distractions and just think for a while... except that tonight, something did distract me. From somewhere in the darkness, someone said, "Good, you came outside."
I jumped. The voice seemed to be right next to me. I backed off from it hurriedly and stumbled over something. The voice laughed.
"Quite bird-eyed, aren't you?"
The voice laughed again and a figure blocked the light from the kitchen. I could just make out a silouhette that had pointed ears and many tails. It was Ran.
"Oh, it's you."
"It's me. So what's so important that you would resort to speaking with a youkai like me?"
I made my way around the dark blob blocking out the light back towards the kitchen where I could see more clearly. Ran patiently waited as I continued to stumble across random objects strewn across ground to sit down in front of the doorway. With the light at my back shining towards where I was looking now, I could see that the fox looked the complete opposite of how I felt. While I felt tired and nervous, she looked at ease in the night. Not quite how I wanted the situation to be when I tried to enlist her help, but I would have to deal with it. Hopefully looking pathetic would get me some sympathy points.
"Oh, right. Sorry. First of all, the reason I need your help is not because you are a youkai or that you have a great deal of power but because you know people."
"What are you getting at? Just make your point!"
"I don't belong here."
"What does that have to do with me?"
I sighed. There was no way to circumvent asking directly. I opened my mouth and... heard a rustling noise straight ahead, behind Ran. Naturally, I couldn't see a thing except a few feet in front of me. Luckily, I could see Ran who turned around quickly and tense up in anticipation of an attack or something. However, she quickly relaxed and walked out of my tiny sphere of sight. Some more rustling and a surprised yelp later, she returned holding the hand of a with a sorry-looking Chen.
"I thought I told you to go on home."
"Awwww, but I was curious."
Forgetting for a moment that I was supposed to be trying to persuade Ran to let me see Yukari, I smiled at this scene. Ran scolded Chen lightly as Chen looked down at the floor. After a bit, Ran told her again to go home, and again Chen protested. It was getting late and I needed an answer before I felt too sleepy so I attempted to form some sort of compromise.
"Just let her stay and listen. It won't take much longer."
"...Alright. So what were you going to say?"
Again, I sighed and looked at both youkai before declaring, "I need to see your master?"
There was an awkward silence as the cat and the fox both regarded me intently as if they were trying to find some sign that I was joking or something. Somehow, Chen found such a sign and started laughing, but Ran knew I was serious.
"You're either the most foolish human I've ever met or you have some sort of hidden power that I cannot detect. Either way, there is no way I can allow you to see Yukari-sama. Don't waste my time. Come on, we're going."
Ran grabbed Chen by the arm, who was rather surprised, and together they flew off. I couldn't see them anymore, but I stood up and ran up to where they were a moment ago. Frantically waving my arms wildly in random directions, I shouted into the darkness, "Wait! Come back!"
There was no response.
"Ran! Ran Yakumo! Come back!"
The silence was deafening. I collapsed onto my knees as another chance of going home escaped from my grasp. The wind was blowing and it was extremely cold tonight, but I didn't care. I sat there as the kitchen lights went out behind me, as Mystia closed down the restaurant and inn for the rest of the night.
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