The door opened with the sharp click of the key turning in the lock, and with assumed grace, she bowed her head, and followed after the other woman, shuffling out of her shoes and into a pair of guest slippers waiting in the vestibule.
Inside, the other woman's apartment was small, yet crowded with the familiar bric-a-brac she had witnessed humans fill their domestic spaces with. As it turned out, even Carantula, alien as he had been, had not been spared the acquisition of this decidedly human proclivity, turning in the end towards the aesthetic values of the objects he had fashioned over the purpose they were intended to perform, the reason for their making.
Passing into the living room, she noted an aged cat curled up in an armchair, dreaming quietly of distant days perhaps. Her lips twitched in a scowl, recalling Carantula's final, failed scheme.
"Oh, don't mind him," Sudo Mei said, turning with a warm smile. "He's not mine, he's my friend, Ayane's. I'm just looking after him until she gets back from her business trip."
She took a step backwards, laughing, almost as if she was delighted to relate the story.
"Can you guess what his name is?" She did not wait for a reply, answering as soon as she had asked the question. "It's Starfish Hitler. Creepy, right?"
She turned again, marching into the kitchen, still talking, providing very little room for answers.
"So, Frīja, would you like tea or coffee?"
It took her a moment to realise this was a question being addressed to her, that Frīja was the name she had given when she had once again assumed a human disguise in order to ascertain the names of those who would compete with the Emperor in the gathering of dark energy.
"Tea," she answered, not out of preference, but simply because it was the first on the list. Recalling that humans valued niceties, she added, "Thank you."
The other woman appeared in the doorway, elbows resting against ever side of the frame, smiling still.
"What kind of tea?" she asked. "Oolong? Milk tea? Jasmine?"
"Oolong," Yodonna answered, again, opting for the first option.
"Good choice," Mei beamed, and vanished back into the kitchen.
She turned her attention back to the sleeping cat once more, and remembered the failure of Carantula's ugly Maneki-neko Jamen, its efforts unfit to be considered worthy of the Emperor's grand goal. She watched as its chest rose and fell, the twitch of its paws, the flutter of its ears. She could not recall Carantula's death, she thought, with some consternation. She knew that he had been desperate, she knew that she herself had confronted him, and she knew that he was dead. Yet she had no understanding of how she knew this, or what had happened in the last moments of his life.
She reached up to her face once more, again touching her restored right eye, again harbouring the awful fear that someone else was looking out through it.
After Carantula's death, she had gone hunting once more, guided by the senses of her ravens to the confrontation between swordsmen and whatever equivalent Marrskmen it was that this other faction fashioned.
Once more, she had seen the dragon-thing, that shaper responsible for transforming the human into the yeti she had witnessed in the warehouse—and then across the way, with a thrill of recognition, she had seen that old wolf, ugly and grotesque, freed from his bonds once more, and she felt a thrill of recognition, of understanding, a flash of inspiration from the past that had remained so elusive ever since her inauguration into the Emperor's service.
"I'm sorry if I seemed standoffish when you first came to work with us," Mei said, her words cutting through Yodonna's thoughts as she returned from the kitchen carrying a tray.
The younger woman placed the tray down on the table, gesturing for Yodonna to take a seat, to which she hesitantly acquiesced, folding her legs up beneath her and sitting opposite Mei as she busied herself pouring tea into two clay cups and dividing a lemon cake into slices.
"To be honest, I found you difficult to talk to when you first started," she said happily, cutting through the icing with a knife, "that's why I was so happy to see you out today, just being, well, normal, I guess."
Normal, Yodonna thought, and suppressed a cruel smile. Her day had hardly been normal. The Imajin and his broken sword, the aide who followed in his wake demanding answers as to her intentions following the flight of the wolf. She had taken her cue from that ancient foe, and turned her back on them, hastening into her mortal disguise, where, abruptly, she had bumped into Sudo Mei.
"It seemed like a nice day for a walk," Yodonna said, her tone still flat.
Mei laughed, pushing a plate with a slice of cake in her direction, looking up cheerfully at her.
"I wish I could say the same," she said, a hint of ruefulness in her voice, "sometimes I think Sunday is the busiest day of the week for me."
Yodonna looked back at her, uncertain as to what to say. She should not have allowed herself to be dragged into this situation; sitting here with this woman did nothing to restore her missing memories, to discover the truth of those creatures that also hankered after dark energy, or to pave the way for the Emperor's intents.
"I'm sorry," she said, trying to appear sympathetic.
Mei laughed cheerfully.
"You don't have to apologise, it's not your fault!"
"Nonetheless," Yodonna continued.
Mei waved her protests away.
"Think nothing of it. We each have our trials and tribulations, right?"
Reluctantly, Yodonna nodded.
If she could somehow find out what it was that this woman knew about these creatures that kept cropping up in the city, suppressed by these strange knights, then perhaps Yodonna would be in a better position to understand the big picture, the reason as to why Earth had taken so long to fall before the might of Yodonheim. Yet the longer that she acted the part of her human guise, the more she felt reluctant to compromise it, as the acting of such a role represented an understanding of herself outside of her duty as the Emperor's aide.
She paled slightly. Hadn't that also been what Carantula was seeking to justify?
Oblivious to Yodonn'a inner conflict, Mei lifted her cup, gesturing for the other woman to do the same. When she did, she brought the clay mug close, the soft clink of the two vessels meeting in the air.
"Here's to new friends," Mei said merrily, "long may our friendship last."