Mystia wiped the tears from her eyes, letting out a few final laughs. "I could listen to your stories all night, Suika-chan. Really, I envy you! You live such a fun life!"
The oni leaned back in her chair with a complacent grin. "Yeah~, I know. My life's pretty damn great. But it does have its downs. Sometimes I can feel time slooowly ticking by. And that's awful! But there ain't a thing I can do about it! That's why I come to help out at the cart." Suika knocked on the countertop twice with her fist.
Mystia nodded while wiping down the table. "I'm glad to have you with us tonight."
"'Us' you say... but the celestial has up and vanished."
The night sparrow stopped wiping and looked around. "Aaah! You're right! She abandoned us, the traitor! It could get busy at any moment, yet she decided she'd just go and take a break without telling me!"
"Maybe she hasn't changed as much as you thought she had."
"No way! Impossible! I trust her one hundr – … ninety percent!"
Suika said nothing to this decrease. "So you think she has a good reason?"
"I don't know!" Mystia was quickly becoming more and more agitated. "But you need to find her! But do it quickly, I don't want to be flooded when I'm by myself."
"I could easily fill in for her, y'know. It'd just take a few more Mini-Suikas."
"That's … No, I want Tenshi-chan with us."
Suika smiled and said jokingly, "Why don't I feel you'd be this concerned if I disappeared?"
Mystia shrugged. "Easy. I'd have Tenshi-chan." She flashed Suika a sly smile.
"I see how it is. Fine! I'll go find your precious girlie, despite your tactless words!" Over the counter and away she went.
The celestial was wandering aimlessly, looking for something to take up her unofficial break time. "Damn oni. If she wants to do everything, I'm more than happy to let her! Still counts towards my hours!" Tenshi paused, realizing that she did not actually know how close she was to obtaining all the "volunteer" hours she needed. "Well, whatever! Might as well go see what food there is to be had. I was getting sick of the constant smell of lamprey; it has probably seeped into my clothes." The daughter of heaven ran up to the first stand she spotted and bought a stick of dango. "Now it feels more like a festival." She found a spot where she could sit and enjoy her snack.
With the light snack finished, Tenshi stood up to look for another place to go. "Maybe I will go play a game. Goldfish scooping, perhaps?"
Tenshi was then struck by the awareness that there was a person attending the festivities that she had never seen before. The girl wore a tall hat that sat atop her silver hair. She had various snacks in her arms and seemed to be inspecting them like one would an unknown mushroom. After looking the food over, she cautiously took a nibble and chewed thoughtfully. If the food passed whatever tests the girl had in mind, she stuffed in a bag she was carrying. If the food failed, she would toss it to the ground.
"Hey, what are you doing? You, girl with the bag!"
"'Sblood!" The girl jumped and looked at Tenshi with a slightly annoyed expression. "Ye make mine heart palpitate most fiercely with your shouting. Why have ye called out to me?"
"Wow... why are you talking like that?"
"I understand not the question."
"Well, your speech is a little... archaic."
"I will abandon not my mother tongue just because I dwell amongst ye people!"
It seemed the matter of the stranger's speech was a sensitive subject.
"Okay, okay. Never mind then. Who are you? I have never seen you before..."
The silver haired girl chuckled. Tenshi had no idea why. "Your words be true. I be Futo of the Mononobe clan, faithful servant of Crown Prince Shoutoko! Now, pray tell, where do ye hail from and what be your name?"
Tenshi suddenly felt tired from listening to this Futo person. "I am Tenshi Hinanawi, a celestial."
Futo's eyes widened. "Truly be ye one from heaven? Remarkable! Never before have I seen a celestial! Ye must forgive mine earlier disrespect! I was startled." Futo bowed to show her earnest repentance.
"Uh, no, that's okay... don't worry about it."
"Pray tell, heavenly one," the living anachronism straightened, "what be one such as yourself a-doing here?"
"Same reason you are here... I think. Are you here to enjoy the festival?"
"No. I be here for the food! Just now spake ye something more stranger than I have heard before. How could one delighteth in being amongst monsters?"
"All the youkai you will see here are good folk. But putting that aside, if you are here to be a glutton, it'd help to actually eat the food instead of tossing most of it to the ground," Tenshi said and pointed to the mess surrounding Futo.
"Yea, my purpose be more to see what be good to the palette, but these foods be wholly unfamiliar to me. Alack, methinks I will never adjust to this strange time I have awoken to."
"If it is good food you want, I bet I know the perfect place!" Tenshi began to point and said, "I have yet to meet anyone who does not like the lamprey eel my –" but then she cut off mid-sentence. "No, never mind."
"Lamprey eel? Verily, not my favorite food. But hunger be the best spice! If ye will shew me the way, I can go along merrily!" Futo was quite pleased at the prospect of eating something familiar to her. So much so, in fact, that she decided to drop the various sweets she still had not tried. The two stared at each other.
Tenshi waved a hand dismissively. "Forget it. I'm on break, I'm not supposed to be acting as advertisement."
"Thou speakest of a dish I can dine on only to refuse me even its location? Dost thou weenest I be a fool her for thine amusement?"
"I refuse to use my down time to work." Tenshi could not tell if the girl was genuinely irate.
"Work! Thou wilst but for a short while aid me! It be not as if we be a-faring to the welkin." Futo drew closer. "Know that thou beest the only soul I can trust on such matters. If need be, I will follow thee like unto a shadow! Bringest me to the place thou hast spaken of."
'What a frightening prospect. And her demand has become an actual bother to me now. I should not have been so difficult.' Tenshi agreed.
Futo grinned. "Truly your heart be kind, O heavenly one."
"Back to speaking respectfully, huh?"
The anachronism gave her a look of innocence.
"Well then, back to Mystia-chan's cart..."
"Yes, do let's!"
Tenshi could not help but feel a little apprehensive about returning. She was sure Mystia would not be pleased with her. 'Perhaps if I promised to work extra hard tonight she would forgive me. Well, first she would have to believe me... I wonder if I have racked up enough brownie points? I hope she does not tell Iku on me... That would be the absolute worst. Maybe this was not such a good idea after all...'
"Ye be concerned about something, heavenly one? There be a look of worry all across your face. Pray tell, what be it that ye be a-thinking?" The Shikaisen from Ancient Japan inquired out of curiosity rather than worry. She probably wanted to know what worries a celestial could have.
"I just have some troubles related to work on my mind. Concerns my boss. I do not think she will be too happy to see me." Tenshi laughed at herself.
"Ye be not on good terms with the one above you?"
"Well, I would not say that exactly. There is – " Futo cut her off.
"I be on most excellent terms with the Crown Prince! I do thus believe that I may be of assistance to you, heavenly one! Speak, why do ye not fare as good as ye would like with your superior?"
"What? It's nothing! I was just making small talk!" Tenshi did not want to give the details of her personal life to this stranger, who did not seem to want to accept she was no longer in the past.
"I merely want to be neighborly."
"I'm not your neighbor!"
"Prod me again," Tenshi raised a fist, "and I will give you a good thumping."
Futo backed down. "Marry, I mean ye only good. We be friends, yes? Have ye any fellow workers?"
It seemed the Futo girl insisted on having a conversation about Tenshi, who decided so long as the question was not about herself personally, she would answer. "Yes, I have one other today, though this is not usually the case."
"Oh, could this new arrival be the one a-causing ye strife?"
"You have asked enough questions! Now it's my turn! Do you have any coworkers?"
"Oh, yes. There be one other."
"Oh, could this new arrival be the one causing you strife?"
Futo shook her head. "Nay, that could never be. For she be the Crown Prince's wife. It be I who be the new arrival," Futo said. "Sometimes I even feel as if I be... how to say, a third wheel?" There was a trace of sadness in her voice. "One's fate can be a harsh one."
Tenshi momentarily fell silent at this sudden and somber shift in mood. "If you could go back so that you were the one that your prince asked to marry, would you?"
Futo nodded her head. "The marriage was originally for political reasons, so I feel not that I would be a-taking something from Tojiko-san. Again, I will say I simply appeared too late."
"...See? This is why I did not want to answer personal questions. It got weird pretty quickly, huh? You just revealed some personal stuff to a complete stranger."
But to Tenshi's surprise, Futo smiled. "It be because ye be a stranger, heavenly one, that I felt no need to restrain myself."
"...You're such a weirdo."
Futo laughed boisterously, the atmosphere of only a few seconds ago forgotten.
The two arrived at Mystia's cart to find it had no customers. Mystia intercepted them and pointed accusingly at Tenshi. The night sparrow did not seem to notice Futo yet.
"You! What on earth were you thinking!? Because I sent Suika-chan after you, I've had no help! And that means no customers! If only you were being paid! I'd deduct the damages outta your paycheck!"
Tenshi took Mysita's ire with a little amusement, but she felt the bird youkai would go on and on if she were not interrupted. "Peace, peace! I bring with me a peace offering, a hungry customer with a hankering for your lamprey!" Tenshi gestured grandly to Futo, who was staring at Mystia. More specifically, the feng shui master was staring at Mystia's wings.
"Oh..." Mystia began smoothing down her kerchief and laughing sheepishly. "I-I didn't see you there. I-I'm sorry! You'll have to forgive that display of anger you just saw!" She bowed then extended a hand. "I'm Mystia Lorelei, owner and chef of – "
But Futo batted the extended hand away and turned towards Tenshi. "Thou hast played me for a fool! Thinkest thou that I would ever eat from the hands of a monster!? I shall have none of it!" And like that the fuming Futo quickly left, leaving the two girls in a state of confusion
Mystia was the first to speak. "I-In any case, I have to go now!"
"I have to perform with Kyouko, stupid! I told you that already!" She ran into her cart and closed it to get changed. "And don't you dare think about leaving here! You are to guard my livelihood and wait to be punished for your treason!"
'Ugh, she's madder than I thought she'd be...'
After Mystia had rushed off – adjusting her stage outfit while running –, Tenshi grabbed a chair and sat thinking about the events of the day. Or rather, she was going to, until a certain oni decided to reappear.
"'Bout time you came back! Hahah, off having a good lark with that strangely dressed woman?" Suika took a swig from her gourd.
Tenshi turned to face her. "Oni... I was told you were out looking for me. I did not so much as catch a glimpse of you?"
Suika laughed. "I only did enough searching to say that's what I did! I knew you'd come back, so I screwed around and drank! Why should I be wastin' my time?" The little oni shrugged. "I don't know why you left. Frankly, I don't care. The important thing now is to make up for your blunder!"
The celestial crossed her arms. "You have something in mind?"
"Obviously. Come, we're gon' see Mystia perform. Or you are, because... never mind, you'll see for yourself."
"But I was told to stay here. Would not disobeying make her even more mad?"
"Pfft!" Suika threw a hand out dismissively. "You ought to know she's gon' ask you how you liked the show!"
Tenshi sat puzzled. "But that does not make any..."
"Not a lick! Now come!" Before Suika could march off, Tenshi stopped her again.
"Wait! Why are you helping me, eh?"
Suika turned, then smiled and said, "Helping you? No, no, I'm indirectly helping Myschi. You are merely a tool in my scheme~!"
"Was that sinister? Her carefree tone makes it hard to tell," Tenshi muttered to herself.
The two made their way to where Choujuu Gigaku would perform. Suika left the celestial in the moderately large crowd composed almost entirely of fairies and youkai. As the time for the performance drew nearer and nearer, more and more humans left.
"A bad omen? Is this a bad omen?" Tenshi wondered to herself. She was about to find out.
Kyouko leapt onto stage, swinging the microphone around like it was a toy. She was dressed in a leather jacket and sunglasses coupled with a dog collar.
The crowd cheered. There was banter. Then the dread cacophony of noise started up.
The crowd cleared up at last. Now the night was quiet, save for the indistinct voices and laughter of the sparse humans and non-humans that remained. There were people were closing shop and packing up to return home. Now that the concert was over, one could hear the chirping of crickets and the croaking of frogs. Fireflies danced and lit up the area with their pulsing glows. Everyone felt tired, but it was a good kind of fatigue, one that comes from doing a hard day's work. Past the climax of the festivities, the feelings of camaraderie were still at their height. Though warm food and excellent alcohol had been consumed all night, people were once again enjoying these things with friends; this time they were taking the time to have relaxed, peaceful conversations that were as warm as the food that filled their bellies. There was a full moon that shone brilliantly in the sky.
Tenshi was experiencing a kind of pain she had never experienced before. Hear hearing seemed shot and her insides were still reverberating from Mystia's guitar. The celestial dragged herself to a tree so she could sit down and massage the crowd's yelling out of her skull.
"What a dreadful thing a 'concert' is. Never again will I come to such torture. I stayed until the end hoping it would get better, praying to the gods above that it would get better. But all to no avail..."
Mystia was approaching now that she had said her goodbyes to her dog-eared friend. "Tenshi-chan!" Mystia shouted in surprise.
Tenshi closed her eyes as her headache worsened momentarily. "Please do not be so loud..."
"What are you doing here? I thought I told you to watch my cart," the guitarist said, this time in a lower voice.
"Suika took my place so I could come see your performance." The celestial did not know if Suika returned to the cart, but it was a convenient lie that kept her out of trouble.
"So? What'd you think of it? Of us!? We're great, huh? Largest crowd I've seen yet!"
"Do you want an honest answer to that question, or do you want an answer that will spare your feelings?"
"The latter," Mystia said unabashed.
Tenshi weakly smiled. "It was fantastic. Now help me up," she said and extended a hand.
"Hahah! I knew you'd like it!" The guitarist happily pulled her friend up.
"Your outfit, however," Tenshi said while dusting the dirt off her behind, "is ridiculous. I cannot believe you would willingly go around wearing that thing."
"I don't want to hear it!"
The celestial just happened to catch the sight of Futo out of the corner of her eye. She was running from someone. Tenshi was reminded of the story she too-willingly shared. "Well, might as well get something out of the time I spent with her," she muttered. Tenshi stared at the starry sky while steeling herself.
"Eh? Did you just insult me again!? You wanna go!?"
The celestial smiled and clapped her hands together. "I'm glad you asked. I would love to. Where will we go? What time? Ah, how about tomorrow at noon? I hate waiting. Let's make it a picnic date!" She then added, "And please, again... keep your voice down. For my sake."
Mystia stood in place, processing what was just said to her. "What!?"
"What's this about a date all of a sudden!?"
"For heaven's sake, calm down! My ears cannot take it."
"A date!? With you!? Why are you – are you screwing with me!? Is this a joke!?"
Tenshi had to grab the very flustered young girl and shake her before she would calm down. "Yes. Yes. No. No."
Mystia felt that her face was red and rather hot. To suddenly be asked out was too much. "I... I mean... why?"
Tenshi pondered before answering. She wanted to word her response carefully. Meanwhile, the symphony of the night went on playing to fill the silence; the moonlight shone only so that the two girls could see each other. "Well, it is not as if I just proposed to you. I am simply asking you out. A date is a chance to scope out the other, see how good of a match the two of you are. I have a lot of fun with you, so I feel my chances are good. I do not want a catch such as yourself to slip through my fingers. You're too cute. I think I have always thought that." She smiled shyly. "Is this really too sudden? Too weird?"
Mystia shook her head vigorously. "No, no! When you word it like that, I... Yes, I'd love to accept your offer." The night sparrow bowed awkwardly. She was not really sure what to do!
"Well then," Tenshi took Mystia's hand and walked with her back to the cart. "I'm thirsty. Surely you are, too. Let's go back and share some sake. I saw you laughing with the oni. That pissed me off. So let's talk! I want to make you laugh, too."
Mystia smiled shyly. "Sure. That sounds wonderful, Tenshi-chan."
The difference between "thou" and "ye/you" is the difference between "du" and "Sie" in German; that is, one is a familiar term of address, while the other is polite. "Thou" was the pronoun that got the -st conjugation. So when our Shakespearean (Early Modern English) Futo uses "thou", she is speaking rudely. "Welkin" is the true English word for "sky", which is Scandinavian. "Welkin" literally means "cloud" and is now only a poetic word. Compare to the German word "(die) Wolke", which also means "cloud".
It has been too long, but hopefully it was worth the wait. This was an important chapter, so I wanted to make sure I thought it out well. Did I? The next chapter will be a short special that lets us see what became of the feng shui master. After that will be the last chapter and maybe an epilogue.