hishighnesshiko‘s prompt (“Hiko/kiln”):
Kenshin did not have the temper for true resentment, but had accepted his punishment of an extra thousand repetitions of the move he was supposed to be learning with as little grace as possible. He didn’t think he deserved this, disagreed with Hiko completely on the point that a twelve-year-old wasn’t qualified to criticize a grown man’s fashion sense even if that man was not his kenjutsu instructor (let alone if he was), wasn’t even entirely sure why such annoyance had been occasioned by his remark about Hiko’s cloak, and still thought the thing was very ugly. So he waved his shinai in the prescribed movement with more vehemence than correctness, actually almost hoping to annoy his master further with his carelessness.
Instead, it seemed his behavior had instigated a circumstance that it had also at certain times in the past: Hiko, looking extremely irritated, heading for his kiln and the seat in front of it to do something that would inevitably clear up the invisible thundercloud of distemper that seemed to hover about him when Kenshin had stepped out of line.
What exactly this cheering activity was Kenshin really had no concept. Hiko only did it when he was annoyed with Kenshin, and as such Kenshin was, whenever Hiko did it, relegated to the corner of the yard where punishments were traditionally carried out — from which spot he had no view past the bulk of the kiln. Hiko wasn’t firing anything, for he carried no clay; and he wasn’t drinking, for he carried no jug. As to what else he could possibly be doing there, Kenshin could not guess.
Despite his high level of curiosity, he couldn’t ask… Neither when Hiko was busy doing whatever it was and still in a bad mood nor when he was finished and had somehow put himself into a better seemed a judicious moment — one because it would undoubtedly worsen the situation, the other because it threatened a return of the anger that had for the moment been so relievingly averted.
But Kenshin’s hearing was getting better, especially as far as he was able to use his growing ki-reading ability to augment it, and he hoped this time to be able to discern something more than he had last time — something, perhaps, to give him some kind of clue as to what was going on over there.
His master seemed to be speaking — he usually did while at this pursuit — but, strain his ears as he might, Kenshin could not make out the words. Some seemed to have a good deal of breath in them, others a good deal of vowel, but none were distinguishable. His remaining senses were equally useless; though he stood on tiptoe and craned his neck, he simply could not see the other side of the kiln, and wasn’t good enough yet at getting more than a generalized impression of what someone was about through their ki. So, though his curiosity did serve, in large part, to distract him from own annoyance, yet it went unsatisfied.
Eventually Hiko became visible again, appearing a good deal more cheerful, moving around the kiln and walking toward Kenshin. The latter resolutely did not look at him, and (having abandoned along with his pique any desire to irritate his master further) simply concentrated on doing his practice properly in the hopes that Hiko might let him off the remaining five hundred repetitions.
No such luck, but the man did say in a perfectly equable tone, “Well, you might as well finish after supper. Come inside.” He didn’t smile — he rarely did when he wasn’t talking about himself — but was quite clearly now in a much more amiable mood: the whatever-it-was had had its usual effect. Kenshin was pleased at the prospect of eating before he continued his punishment, but still more than a little curious what activity could wreak such a profound change on his master’s temper.
Well, maybe next time he would throw caution to the wind and just walk over there and see.
Next is fe‘s prompt (“more Yae”):
A relatively decent frame of mind was depressed somewhat when, turning a corner, Yae came upon a corpse immediately in his path. The blood from the gunshot wounds was clotted, and everything anyone could possibly use had already been stripped away, but he got the feeling nonetheless that it hadn’t been there long: the rats hadn’t found it yet. It did smell rather terrible, though; he might have anticipated its presence if he’d been paying attention to that particular sense.
Frowning down at it and reflecting on the rudeness (if it could be called such) of leaving one’s victim entirely choking up one side of the street, he tried to recall what he had done with the last dead body he had occasioned. Well, that body had still had stuff on it for people to take; really it should be the responsibility of the last plunderer to move the thing. And as for this one… well, he was here now; he might as well do it.
He wasn’t about to touch it with his hands; Downside was not exactly clean in general, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t get more than an earful if Cai ever found out he’d been voluntarily pushing dead people around. After another moment’s thought, he started nudging it with his boot. Once there was room between the body and the wall for him to stand, he braced himself against the latter and put both his feet against the mottled flesh of the corpse. His back sliding slowly down the slimy stone behind him, he caused the body also to slide, leaving a dark, shining fluid trail across the brickwork as it moved. Eventually it toppled over the edge of the walkway into the thick, variegated water with no discernible splash. Standing straight, he watched the viscous liquid swallow it up entirely.
“Why would you do that?” asked a somewhat tremulous voice from the opposite walkway.
Wondering who would ask such a stupid question, Yae looked up and across. His incredulity didn’t last, however, as it was evident at a glance that she was very new. There was an Exit in this sector, he was fairly sure; she might even have made the transition within the last few hours. So he merely shrugged and replied, “No reason to feed the rats.”
Even from across the channel he could see her shudder. She was flattened against the wall, looking bright, clean, and vulnerable. At the moment she didn’t seem even remotely capable of the kind of thing they supposedly sent people Down here for — though he’d long since stopped trying to understand the logic of their system — and would probably be dead by the end of the day, if Yae was any judge. But she was obviously trying to sound brave and disinterested as she said, “I guess it’s a nice thing to do, then… the only funeral anyone ever gets around here.”
Yae nodded, and turned to walk away.
“Wait!” she cried in an almost pleading tone. When he looked back at her, he saw she’d stepped forward nearly to the edge, her fists clenched. “You haven’t tried to kill me,” she said all at once, evidently trying to make it seem light-hearted. “Can you help me?”
The poor stupid things always asked for help when they hadn’t seen him fight yet (if they had seen him fight, they usually just ran). “Could still try to kill you,” he pointed out.
“Well…” Again she was attempting to speak cheerfully, with very little success. “That’s better than having it come out of nowhere when I turn a corner. Please can you help me?”
The next difficulty was, “How?”
Now she looked almost on the verge of tears at being forced to try to think of a way a complete stranger could help her in this miserable place that was beyond help. After a desperate moment she finally said, “Can I walk with you for a while? I’ll… I’ll give you… anything I have…”
He knew that, for the moment at least, she meant it to the fullest extent of the term, though she probably didn’t understand to what unfortunate point he could take advantage of the promise if he were so inclined. He wasn’t so inclined, but neither was he eager to let her walk with him. He always felt bad for them, of course — especially the Fallen, which she rather seemed to be — but he didn’t need Upsiders (or the closest thing thereto) trailing around cluelessly after him.
Unfortunately, he could never bring himself to say no.
He shrugged again. “For a while,” he acceded.
For some reason her expression of intense relief made him feel a little guilty, as if there were something more he could be doing for people like this — people that didn’t have a clean, safe home with a food synthesizer and working showers and lights to go to — and he wasn’t doing it. He knew there wasn’t anything more. They’d tried to do more, once upon a time, and it had just gotten everyone killed.
She was already making her way down the street to a bridge and coming across to join him, noisy and pitiful and grateful. Yae knew she’d be like all the rest: she’d find a protector she preferred to him and leave, she’d get herself killed sometime when he was otherwise occupied and couldn’t prevent it, or he would leave her when he decided he felt like going home.
“And will you…” Which of the three options she considered most likely was evinced by her next request. He thought her continued tone of forced bravado was very badly-done, but preferred it to anything that might inspire him to one of his clumsy attempts at comfort. “Will you push my body into the… water… when I get shot?”
He grunted his assent. That he would definitely promise her; it was what he’d do for anyone.