The wait for an answer to knocking on the door felt like years to the satori, though that could have had something with the anxiety she felt. It was unbearable, she just wished that someone would answer the door already, yet at the same time she wished that they'd take as much time as possible doing so…Meiling wasn't in such a mood though, and gave the door another few knocks. This only made Koishi more nervous than she was a moment ago.
"Yeah, yeah, hold your horses! I'll be there in a sec." a feminine voice yelled from the other side of the door in response. Meiling extra knocks must have done the trick. A few moments later, the large ordinate doors of Chireiden slowly began to open. At the entrance of the palace stood a young red-headed woman in a green dress, she wore a tired expression. Her pair of feline ears that poked out from her hair fidgeted in apparent irritation, "Yeah, so welcome to Chireiden and whatnot, what do you want? I'm a little busy here…"
"U-Um, hey there Orin…Is Sis home?" Koishi greeted meekly.
"Eh!? K-Koishi! Is that you!?" the woman named Orin asked in disbelief as she leaned in for a closer look, "Ah! It is you! Where have you been!? It's been months! The boss is worried sick about you!"
"She…She has?" the satori's fear was swiftly replaced with guilt within a single sentence.
"Of course! You're her little sister after all. She'll be so happy to see you!" Orin said happily, before taking note of Koishi's two companions, "Ooh…Who're your friends there Koishi…?" the kasha asked as she looked at the two with interest, particularly Meiling,
"I am Hong Meiling, it's a pleasure." The gatekeeper said as she extended her hand to the kasha.
Rather than shaking it, the kasha did something a little…bolder. Orin took hold of her wrist and planted a kiss on her hand, "No, no, the pleasure is all mine…" The twin-tailed cat purred. Meiling blushed as she retracted her arm, taken aback by the kasha's behavior.
Flandre seemed just as surprised as Meiling, catching herself staring before remembering to introduce herself "O-Oh um…and I'm Flandre Scarlet, how do you do?" the vampire curtsied awkwardly.
This time the underworld-cat decided on a less risqué greeting and instead returned the curtsy, "Ooh well aren't you just the cutest thing! It's a pleasure to meet you as well little Flanny-wanny! Ooh I could just eat you up!" Orin cooed as she pinched the vampire's cheeks not unlike a grandmother would her grandchild.
"Th…Thanks…" Flandre murmured as she massaged her cheek from Orin's painful pinching.
The kasha then stood a little straighter and cleared her throat, "Anyways, I'm sure Koishi was in better hands in your company, so on behalf of the Palace of Earth Spirits, thanks for looking out for her you two. She's so air-headed she usually ends up getting into trouble y'know? So it's a huge weight off our shoulders knowing someone's watching over her."
"You don't need to thank us, Koishi's our friend and that's what friends do for one another, right China?" Flandre turned to Meiling, who murmured in agreement, still a little shaken up by Orin's earlier directness.
The Kasha's mouth quickly formed a smirk, "I see, well that's good to hear. It's nice to see Koishi bringing home friends for once rather than the usual junk she picks up from only gods knows where."
"Hey, they're not junk, they're treasure!" Koishi defended.
"Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight…" the kasha replied, "Well unlike the rest of your 'treasure', your friend here is actually worth something. You only find a catch like this once in a lifetime, I'd reel her in good if I were you!"
"Huh? Flandre isn't a fish! Why would I reel her in?" Koishi asked, confused. Orin's phrasing had successfully flown right over the heads of Koishi and Flandre. On the other hand, the blush on Meiling's face intensified; it was times like these that she was thankful the pair retained a state of innocence...
The kasha snickered deviously, "It's just a play on words, you should ask your sister about it later, she'll explain everything in vivid detail...Oop, speaking of the boss, I'd better tell her that you're finally home! Come in, come in! Ooh, this is so exciting; Lady Satori will be so pleased to see you!"
The three were then ushered in by the kasha, whose smile only seemed to get bigger and bigger as time passed. Flandre and Meiling's eyes widened as they entered the building. The interior of the palace was just as incredible as its exterior. The lobby was ginormous, its size easily eclipsing the one of the Scarlet Devil Mansion. Even the pair of downward spiraling stairs was arguably more impressive than anything the Scarlet Devil Mansion had to offer in terms of architecture. While the lighting of the room was minimal, the light coming through from the colorful stain-glass windows provided more than enough lighting, not to mention it added to the atmosphere. The red and black checkered floors were spotless; it looked as if Sakuya had come down and scrubbed them herself. The three could literally see their own reflection, with the exception of Flandre, who could see only her clothes floating in midair.
"Okay, so I'm gonna go fetch the boss real quick. You all stay put til then! I'll be back in a flash!" Orin said with a devious smirk on her face before running up the stairs with a spring in her step. Meiling had seen that look on enough fairy maids to know that she was up to something.
Koishi didn't seem to be paying attention to the kasha, her attention was instead preoccupied by the staring contest she was having with her reflection on the floor. It didn't take a genius to figure out what was going through the satori's head for once.
"Koi-Koi, don't worry. You heard what the cat-lady said; your big sis misses you! She's gonna be really happy to see you, I just know it." Flandre assured.
"That's right, you've nothing to worry about, put your mind at ease Koishi." Meiling added.
Koishi only gave a half-hearted nod in response. Her friends' words held much less weight when she was just mere moments away from seeing her sister for the first time in a very long period of time. Her anxiety wasn't so easily shrugged off, no matter how many reassuring words reached her ears. If anything, the very words that were meant to comfort her made her feel worse than she did already. Her friends' reassurances were beginning to feel like lies fabricated just to make her feel better and that her sister would be anything but happy to see her, that…
"K…Koishi is that…Is it…Is that really you?" a young voice asked, causing the satori to timidly raise her head from the floor.
Standing at the top of the room's balcony along with Orin was a girl of young appearance with a head of slightly-curly pink hair. She wore a long light-blue gown with long baggy sleeves along with a pink skirt. Like Koishi, she had a third eye that rested above her heart, but unlike Koishi's it was a crimson red-color and was wide open. Unlike Koishi, the girl didn't look like she got out much, as her complexion was comparable to that of a ghost.
"H…Hello, sis…It's…It's been a while…" Koishi stuttered, forcing herself to look up into her elder sister's eyes. The white-haired girl was thankful for the distance between her and her sister, this way she couldn't see how much she was trembling in fear of her.
The pink haired girl didn't say another word, as she began to run down the stairs, holding her skirt up as to not trip over it. With every step she took, the more the pit of Koishi's stomach rose, she was beginning to feel like she was about to throw up the contents of her stomach from anxiety. The closer her sister came, the more it felt like a struggle to breathe. The more distance closed between them, the more it felt like her legs would buckle underneath the weight of her fear.
Then suddenly and without warning, two loving arms wrapped around the satori's body, causing her to forget her fears in an instant. It was a comforting sensation, it felt reminiscent to the times Flandre would embrace her to make her feel better. Yet it was…different. Flandre didn't smell of roses or radiate warmth like this. The vampire also didn't stroke her hands through her curly mane of hair like the pair of arms wrapped around her was. It felt…nice, nostalgic even. Strangely enough though, her shoulder was beginning to feel wet, as if warm drops of rain were showering her.
"K…Koishi…It's really you…I…I'm so happy…You're finally back…Finally…" Satori cried as she pulled her younger sister deeper into their embrace. Tears were trickling down the older satori's face; she cried so much that Koishi's shoulder was beginning to become damp with her tears.
Meanwhile Koishi stood with a look of shock on her face, it took her nearly a minute to register what was happening and hug her elder sister back. "I'm…I'm sorry for not coming to visit sis…I-I'm a bad sister…Pl-Please forgive me sis…"
It was at this the older satori loosened their embrace and looked her younger sister in the eye, "Don't be ridiculous Koishi, you're everything to me. You're anything but a bad sister…I'll love you until the end of my days and never think otherwise…"
"S…Sis…" Koishi's eyes began to shower with tears before she squeezed her sister in the tightest hug she had ever given her. The elder sister simply wore a warm smile and stroked her sister's back in an attempt to comfort her younger sister.
In reality, the elder satori didn't want this moment to end. She wished she could hold her sister until Former Hell froze over. She finally had her sister back, by all definition of the word. Yet the three bystanders in the room were beginning to become painfully obvious to her, Orin in particular seemed to be enjoying the sight a little too much. Satori blushed in embarrassment at the realization that they had an audience for such an intimate moment she had with her sister…
The two sisters finally released one another from their embrace and faced their guests with rosy cheeks, "Ahem, sorry…I, er…that is… Forgive me; I seem to be having a difficult time forming a coherent sentence at the moment…" Satori said sheepishly, "I welcome you to my home, the Palace of the Earth Spirits, you have my thanks for keeping my sister company. Thank you, Flandre, Meiling, for all you've done for my sister."
"It was no trouble…well, most of the time anyways." Meiling laughed, "I think we're better from her company though."
"That is a relief to hear, especially since you seem to have received the brunt of my sister's behavior…" The satori said knowingly, "Orin, go prepare the finest meal we can offer. These two are famished and I'd like to share a meal with them." Flandre was surprised how spot on Koishi's sister was, she felt like she would collapse any minute now…
The kasha gave the satori a salute, "You got it boss! I'll get on top of it ASAP!" Orin then turned to their two guests, more specifically Meiling, "Well I guess I'd better go and get things ready then, gotta make a meal fit for kings and whatnot! I'll catch you guys later! Bye Meiling…" with that the kasha scampered off, leaving a very embarrassed gatekeeper behind.
"G…Goodbye…?" Meiling replied, unsure of what to make of the kasha.
"Well, shall we retire to the dining room and converse for a bit before dinner?" Satori suggested, "I'd very much so like to get to know my sister's companions better."
"Excellent, let's be off then." Satori interrupted before walking to the door to her right, with her sister trailing after her silently. Flandre and a slightly irritated Meiling took that as their cue to follow, as they left the lobby behind them.
Chireiden's dining room was much more subtle than the lobby, which radiated an air of magnificence, but that wasn't to say it was mundane. The room was circular and much less spacious than the lobby, leaving fewer distractions from the room's detailed features. A small ordinate table sat in the center of the room, which featured a design of a satori's third-eye across its surface. The room was lit by a chandelier that hung above the table, retaining the same gloomy lighting the lobby had featured. Peculiarly enough, Meiling noticed there was a bookcase filled to the brim with tomes of all sizes in the room, perhaps Satori didn't receive company very often?
"Yes, I don't dine with others very often, but reading provides a nice alternative to company… Don't fret though; I'll be sure to pay attention to every word you say." Satori said, answering the unasked question. "Now please, have a seat, I'd love to hear a first-hand recount of your journeys."
Meiling was beginning to become perturbed with the Satori constantly interrupting her or answering her thoughts aloud, but happily accepted her invitation. Her legs were dead tired from all the walking they've done today. Flandre meekly took a seat next to her, while Koishi plopped down beside her sister on the other side of the circular table.
Strangely enough, everyone at the table remained absolutely silent, with no one having anything to offer in way of conversation. It was becoming especially unnerving as Satori gazed at the Chinese youkai across from her unflinchingly with all three of her eyes. Meiling began to fidget in her seat uncomfortably under her gaze, she didn't know what to say…Though given past interruptions, and it wouldn't be a surprise if the satori was well aware of her discomfort.
After a few more awkward moments of silence, Satori finally blinked, only to turn her eerie gaze to the young vampire of the room. It didn't take long for Flandre to grow antsy under the scrutiny of the satori's eyes, with her own eyes beginning to dart across the room nervously. The young-mistress' eyes kept coming back to Koishi however, who didn't seem to think the situation at had strange in the least as she smiled happily at her. It had a calming effect, but didn't make her feel less irritated from the satori's unnerving stare.
Unlike Meiling however, Flandre eventually built up the courage to speak up, "U-Ummm…Miss Koishi's big-sister? Is there…Is there something on my face o-or…?"
Finally, Satori's eyes closed, "…No pardon me, there's nothing on your face, Flandre." The mind-reading youkai answered. "You're a strong person Flandre, I can't say that many people would be able to endure what you have and keep their mind in the process."
"You're confused. I apologize; I overlooked that you would know little of the world outside the walls of the mansion…I am what's known as a Satori, a youkai that can read the hearts and thoughts of others." Satori explained.
Chills crept down the vampire's spine, "Does…Does that mean you've been-"
"Reading your thoughts, correct." The satori answered, "Every thought that crosses your mind, every memory you've collected…I am privy to all of them, thanks to my third-eye."
"Then you…um…you know…?" Flandre murmured as her eyes drifted down towards her shoes.
Satori didn't need her third-eye to see the distress Flandre was feeling at her revelation, "Please calm yourself, I assure you, everything I hear will not reach anyone else's ears. You have no need to worry."
Flandre didn't feel any comfort from Satori's words but gave her a shaky nod in response, "O…Okay" she managed before meekly looking down at her lap.
Meiling who had remained silent for the duration of the conversation let out a sigh, "So the staring then…That was you reading our memories?" the gatekeeper asked in an even tone.
"Yes, very perceptive of you, Meiling. While reading the thoughts that run through your mind at the given moment is an ability that I cannot control and takes no effort on my part, reading memories requires focus. When I said I wanted a first-hand recount, I was being quite literal."
The gatekeeper's brow twitched at that, "So instead of just asking about it…you decided to invade our privacy and scrounging through our minds, reading our memories like it was some sort of novel?"
"I think a more appropriate analogy would be a library, but yes. Though when you put it like that, you make it sound quite vile." Satori replied, "I only read back as far as when your journey first began and only that. I find this form of communication to be much quicker and much more efficient for both parties."
"I couldn't care less about how quick and efficient it is for you!" Meiling yelled, causing Flandre to jump in her seat. "These are our memories you're rifling through! Personal, intimate memories, memories we might not want others to know! How could you just…Just do that?"
Satori didn't look phased at all by Meiling's outburst, a nice contrast to the expression her sister wore as she squirmed in her seat awkwardly, trying to think of something to say to change subjects to something a bit more pleasant. "…I'm sorry, but I'm not certain I see the dilemma. I simply looked through your mind to better acquaint myself with the people my sister has befriended and that is all. I didn't search for any memories you'd rather have left forgotten, only memories detailing your journey with Flandre, it just so happened to lead to my discovery of some more…unpleasant memories…Details I'd have heard from your mouth, or thoughts, whether I had wanted to or not regardless."
"That's…That's completely different! We're sharing those thoughts with consent, but you…You just invaded our minds without even having the decency to ask first!" Meiling growled, "It's an invasion of our privacy, you…"
Satori raised her hand, cutting the enraged Meiling off mid-sentence, something that didn't help improve her mood any. "Orin, you can bring the food in now." The mind-reader said calmly.
Some clanging could be heard from outside the door along with some muttering before the door swung open, revealing a sheepish Orin, along with a small dining cart. "S-Sorry for the wait everybody! It takes a lot longer to make enough to feed four mouths rather than just the usual one! Nyehehehe…" the kasha laughed nervously as pushed the food-cart in, wheels creaking all the while. Orin quickly set the table with dishes, trying to avoid eye-contact with her master. "W-Well, bon appetit and whatnot! Just give me a holler if you need anything!"
"That'll be all for now Orin, thank you." Satori dismissed.
"W-Well alright then! I'll just…Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah…" the kasha replied as she slowly made her way to the door. Orin closed left the room quickly, not even bothering to make one of her comments or even specifically address Meiling like she had during their earlier meeting. Not that the gatekeeper missed that small detail one bit…
The meal was shared in an awkward silence, with the only form of interaction the four had were them stealing awkward glances at one another. As she was given time to calm down, Meiling felt both embarrassed and ashamed at her earlier outburst towards Satori. She didn't regret addressing it, but she did regret how she handled the situation…it was rather childish…
It was disrespectful of her to have said such things to their host, the one who was generous enough to give them housing, the one who was kind enough to feed them, the one who was patient enough not to throw them out after having insulted her…Guilt gnawed at the gatekeeper's heart, yet she couldn't find the words to show that she was sorry. Words were never her strong suit…It was times like these that she wished she had Patchouli's ways with words…Perhaps she could offer a gift in apology? Or perhaps treat her to a meal? Or maybe-
"There's no need to apologize." Satori said abruptly, not looking away from her plate.
"Wha…Come again…?" Meiling replied, surprised at the silence being broken so suddenly.
All eyes were focused on Satori as she finished her last bite of food, "I'm not so easily offended as to warrant an apology, I've received much worse reactions in the past. Yours was one of the more receptive ones I've had to be frank." The mind-reader explained, "Besides, the fact that you even put as much thought as you did into an apology is more than enough for me. I'd just as soon put it behind us."
The gatekeeper was speechless, "…Thank you."
The satori simply nodded, her expression remaining neutral. "Well if you'll excuse me, I think I'll be retiring for the evening. Today was much more eventful than I am used to." The mind-reader said before turning to the door, "Orin since you apparently aren't busy, would you show our guests to their rooms?"
A surprised yelp along with frantic fumbling could be heard from behind the door. The Kasha slowly cracked the door open and popped her head into the room, a light blush decorating her face. "R-Right! I'll get on that right now! Now, let's get going now you t-"
"Don't be in such a rush Orin…I'd like to have a quick word with you." Satori said, motioning the kasha over with her index finger.
Orin swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat and hesitantly made her way to Satori's side. The kasha wore a confused expression as the mind-reader whispered into her ear and handed her a small book. Despite any confusion Orin might have had about whatever her master told her, she nodded and put the book into her dress pocket before turning her attention back to Flandre and Meiling. "Well, follow me you two. I'll get you to your rooms quicker than you can say 'Former Hell'!" the Kasha said, gesturing for the two to follow.
"Okay, let's go! Afterwards we can go into town and pull some pranks! Maybe go watch some bar-fights if there's enough time too…" Koishi said as she sprung from her seat to follow, only to be stopped by the simple motion of her sister's hand latching itself onto her shoulder.
"I think it'd be best to put those plans on hold until tomorrow Koishi. You should give your friends a rest; you're going to run them ragged at this rate." Satori suggested much to Koishi's disappointment.
"Yeah Koishi, I'm really tired…We can do whatever you want tomorrow though…" Flandre agreed.
"Boo…Fine…party-poopers…" the white-haired girl murmured.
"Well, um…Goodnight, Koishi and Miss Satori." Flandre said as formally as she could, throwing in a small curtsy for good measure.
"Yes, goodnight, and thank you for your hospitality." Meiling said as she bowed in a sign of respect.
Satori nodded, "Yes…And a goodnight to the two of you as well. Pleasant dreams. Come along Koishi, it's off to bed with you too." The younger satori muttered under her breath in response, but didn't do anything else in way of protest as she let her sister take her hand and walk her out of the room.
Once Satori and Koishi had left the room, Orin cleared her throat, bringing the pair's eyes back to her. "Alright, now that you got your goodnights and all that other jazz over with let's shake a leg and get you settled into your rooms. Don't dawdle now, I've got a date with a corpse and I intend to keep it! Er…b-but my schedule is pretty open the rest of the week, Meiling! So if you ever want to…you know, hang out…be sure to tell me, my schedule is alwaysopen for you…"
"I um…I'll think about it…" Meiling blushed, "But uh…H-How about those rooms, eh…?"
"Oh th-that's right! Sorry, I got a little…distracted…Just follow me and we'll be there quicker than you can say 'Former Hell'!" the Kasha said as she motioned for the two to follow.
The halls of Chireiden were just as spectacular as the rest of the building. The corridors' size made it difficult to feel claustrophobic yet wasn't quite large enough to be too overwhelming. Chireiden's Halls were peculiarly desolate for its size though Meiling noted. One would have thought there would have been a host of servants in the palace busy at work keeping things running smoothly, yet the only servant they had seen so far was Orin…She couldn't possibly keep things running all by herself…could she?
Meiling was snapped out of her musings as Orin stopped abruptly next to two adjacent doors, both ordinated with an emblem that looked similar to a satori's third-eye, piercing gaze and all. "Well, here are your rooms. They might still be a little messy…We really don't have guests all that often, so I had to rush with the clean-up job, y'know? Nyahaha…"
Anxious to take a look at her room, or more specifically acquaint herself with the bed inside, Flandre opened the door. Her jaw dropped as soon as she peered inside. The room was absolutely enormous, it was easily three times the size of the room that was waiting for Flandre back at the Mansion. The bed was what took the cake for her though; it was a Queen sized-bed with freshly laundered sheets. After having to sleep in a cramped tent for the last few weeks, the vampire was almost moved to tears to finally have her own bed again.
Meiling was just as impressed as Flandre was with the room and decided to take a look at her own across the hall. She wasn't at all disappointed with what she saw. The size of her room was just as large as Flandre's, as well as the bed. But best of all, the room came equipped with its very own bathroom. Even being one of the heads of the Scarlet Devil Mansion, Meiling was never privileged enough to have her very own bathroom…It was all so overwhelming.
"…This is too much...We couldn't possibly accept such nice rooms, especially after…"
"Don't get all modest on me now, I'm just doing what the Boss told me to do and show you to the best rooms we have. If you got a problem with it, take it up with her." Orin said, "Oop! Speaking of Lady Satori, I nearly forgot that she wanted me to give you this!" the kasha dug out a small pink book that had a rusted padlock on its front cover, along with a small golden key and handed both to Meiling. The gatekeeper examined the two items, obviously the key was for the book, but what exactly was the book for? "It's the Boss' diary." The kasha said, answering the unasked question.
"Her diary…? Why would you…? I couldn't read this, this is…"
"Hey, it wasn't my idea. I'm just doing as I'm told." Orin shrugged, "In the end it's up to what to do with it, read it, don't read it…whatever. I did what I was told, so I'll be taking off if you don't need anything else."
"…Yes, we should be fine from here on out, thank you…" Meiling replied, her gaze not leaving the small pink book that she held.
"Alright then! G'night you two! Sweet dreams and all that, I'll see you in morning!" with that, Orin scampered back down the hall, leaving the two to themselves.
Flandre let out a yawn, "I'm gonna…go to bed…Night China…" the vampire said as she stifled another yawn.
"Yes…Goodnight Flandre…" the gatekeeper replied absentmindedly before heading into her own room, with her thoughts completely fixated with the small pink book in her hands…
A/N: Well, after a couple of weeks filled with rewrites and procrastination, the first update of the summer is here…Phew, well I can't say this has been the funnest chapter for me to write, I am happy to say it's finally done, even if it didn't quite reach my own expectations. But it's still a little embarrassing how long it took to write, but hopefully it'll take less time in the future… (How many times have I said that in an Author's Note now? Someone should start counting.)
But hey, exciting news in my personal life, I got Mario Kart 8! Oh yeeeeeeeeeah! Oh, and I graduated from High-School or something. So I'll admit…that may have had something to do with how long it took to get this out…Well, that along with me being unsatisfied with my writing. I try to keep the quality as high as I can for everyone who enjoys this story. (Which could admittedly be better in my own opinion.)
So anyways, I hope you all enjoyed this chapter despite the long wait. (again.) I apologize in advanced for any future suffering through long waits for the next damn chapter! Until next time!