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Tsukiko found herself drawn to the strange woman Haruka had introduced to her. She didn't know why, but she felt drawn to the stranger. She seeked answers to questions she hadn't thought up yet.

Tsuki stood on the top step, staring at the front door, as if she was about to enter some deep, dark cave. She didn't feel afraid, but she did hesitate at first, but only for a second.

"Hey, it's me!" Tsuki pounded on the door.

There was no response, only silence, at first. Eventually, she heard rapid footsteps and the sound of someone fiddling with the lock.

"Why're you here?" Shizuka peered through a crack in the door.

"Just to hang out," Tsuki shrugged

"…Hang out?" Shizuka closed the door again and opened the rest of the locks before swinging it open.

Tsukiko looked into the open doorway, but there was no one in sight. Shizuka had already reached her regular room at the end of the hallway.

Tsuki ran down the hallway and reached Shizuka’s room, "How'd you get here so fast?"

"Sit down, and maybe I'll tell you," Shizuka had her back turned to her.

Tsuki sat down behind Shizuka who was idly typing away at her keyboard.

"So, how'd you do it?" Tsuki asked.

"I'm just that good," Shizuka shrugged.

"Practice?" Tsuki suggested.

"Ehh, probably? I don't really believe it myself," Shizuka looked behind her. "What did you wanna talk about?"

"Uhh… I wouldn't know where to start," Tsuki admitted.

"Nothing?" Shizuka looked back at the PC monitor.

"I just wanted to give you some company, like I'd promised," Tsuki scratched her head.

"Thanks, Tsuki," Shizuka lowered her head.

"Huh?"

"Thanks for remembering a loser like me," Shizuka grinned.

"I don't think you're a loser, Shizuka," Tsuki shook her head.

"Look around, kid," Shizuka raised an arm up.

Tsukiko looked around the room. The rest of the house was hidden, but the room they shared gave her an idea of what the rest of the place looked like.

There were dirty clothes and empty bottles littering the carpeted floor. A bin was filled to the absolute top with crushed chip bags and food cartons. Dusty cardboard boxes were stacked up in one corner.

"Eventually, this place'll look great. For now, let's just hang out," Tsuki nodded.

Shizuka pulled a half empty bottle of whisky from next to her PC tower. She took a swig out of the bottle before handing it to Tsukiko.

"Yep, that's good stuff," Shizuka groaned.

"Runs in the family, don't it?" Tsukiko drank.

"Pretty girls like you shouldn't drink too much," Shizuka muttered.

She still stared at her computer screen. Her eyes would occasionally glance over, but she wouldn't move.

"Not gonna look me in the eye?" Tsuki slid herself across the floor to sit next to her aunt.

"What're you doing?"

"If you're not gonna look at me, I might as well sit with you, shouldn't I?" Tsuki smiled.

Shizuka's strange eyes shook a little as she turned to look at Tsuki, "Fine… just don't do anything weird."

"Like what?" Tsuki asked.

"You know what weird means, don’t you?" Shizuka chuckled a bit.

The First Knight scrolled up and down a specific page on a message board. She's stop to read, typing up response after response to the usual talk.

"This site looks a little familiar," Tsuki yawned.

"It shouldn't," Shizuka's mechanical keyboard clacked.

"Why not?"

"Pretty girls like you shouldn't be on weird sites," Shizuka spoke in monotone.

"Just cuz I look nice, I can't be like you?" Tsuki sighed.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Shizuka didn't bother to turn to look at her niece.

Tsukiko sighed, "I know what it's like to be alone like this."

"You mentioned it before," Shizuka kept typing.

"I used to visit this site a lot back in the day. Loneliness makes you do weird shit," Tsukiko muttered.

Shizuka leaned back, laying down on the floor, "Yeah, yeah."

"Well, can I help you with anything?"

"I haven't eaten," Shizuka spoke bluntly.

"Got a kitchen?"

"First door on the left," Shizuka held her hand out to point.

Tsukiko grabbed her arm, "C'mon, get up."

"Fine," Shizuka slowly got to her feet.

"You're still wearing the jacket?" Tsuki looked her up and down.

"Yeah. Always stays fresh, too. Aurelia’s a miracle worker," Shizuka held up her arm to smell herself.

Shizuka led Tsukiko to the kitchen. It was somewhat empty, save for the tightly sealed garbage bags and cardboard boxes.

Like the main room, this room was rather dimly lit. The little blue screen of a microwave’s timer emitted just enough light to get a rough idea of the room’s shape.

"I'm not as good of a chef as Fumi is," Tsuki approached the countertop.

"I'll eat anything you put in front of me, really," Shizuka slouched

She looked as if she suddenly noticed the strange thing she'd just said.

"Stay with me, alright? Don't go wandering back to that room."

Shizuka seemed disturbed, "You sure?"

"Yeah, you can help," Tsuki turned back to her.

"Usually, Haruka wants to do everything herself…"

"That won't help, you'll be all lonely," Tsukiko smiled.

"I hope I don’t get in the way," Shizuka frowned.

"What do you wanna eat?" Tsuki asked rather suddenly.

"Huh?"

Tsukiko nudged her, "Do you even know what's in your fridge?"

"Oh uhh…" Shizuka opened up her fridge and kneeled down. "Beer… and uhh…"

"Any meat? Vegetables? Anything fresh?"

"Nope," Shizuka shook her head.

"Is there anything other than beer?"

"There’s some left overs, maybe," Shizuka spoke shyly.

Tsukiko groaned, "Lemme call Fumiko."

"No, I don't wanna be a burden… I don't have to eat, I'm not even that hungry," Shizuka hid her eyes.

"When was the last time you ate?" Tsuki stared her down.

Shizuka looked away, "It doesn’t matter."

Tsukiko got closer, "Tell me."

Shizuka mumbled, "…three days ago?"

"Three days?" Tsukiko’s eyes widened.

"It's not that big a deal," Shizuka tried to brush the fact aside.

"I'm gonna call Fumi and she can bring something over and--"

"No!" Shizuka shouted. "I don't wanna be a burden!"

Tsukiko snapped at her, "You're not a fucking burden, Shizuka!"

"W-What?"

Tsukiko calmed down and spoke to her, "Fine, we’ll walk to a store right now. It’s not even that far."

"But I--"

"No buts," Tsukiko dragged her out of the kitchen and into the hallway. "Where are the rest of your clothes?"

--

After a few minutes, Tsuki managed to shove the First Knight into the rest of her uniform. Tsukiko got a good look at Shizuka's shoes. They resembled work boots, but they were more stylish. They were shiny black with golden yellow stitching holding them together.

Like Haruka, her uniform had a grey and black pleated skirt. Tsuki wondered why she had a different uniform. She had no real complaints, just a slight curiosity.

"Nice boots," Tsuki remarked.

"Yeah, they've been with me for a long long time. Always fit, never worn down. Just a bit dusty," Shizuka wiped off some dust.

"Aurelia gave me these," Tsuki pointed to her black high heeled boots.

"High heeled boots? Niiiiiiice. I'm jealous," Shizuka looked Tsuki up and down.

"Yeah, Fumiko loves ‘em," Tsuki smiled.

"You must be… stompy," Shizuka laughed.

"Huh?"

"I dunno, I just imagine a girl with shoes like those to kick the shit out of people. Not like Haruka with her weird swingy kicks. You seem more the type to knock a few ribs out."

Tsukiko chuckled awkwardly, "Y-yeah, a couple times."

"So… where're we going?" Shizuka tried to sound tough.

"I mean, I thought there was a shop a couple blocks away. I’m not that sure," Tsuki put her hand under her chin as she tried to remember.

"I wouldn’t know," the First Knight looked embarrassed.

"I'll just check on my phone, I guess," Tsukiko pulled out her phone and started tapping around.

"Oh uhmm, gimme a sec," Shizuka kneeled down.

She started looking around, checking underneath a few piles of clothes. Her search was slow at first, then frantic.

"Found one… What're you doing?" Tsuki looked up from her smartphone.

"Looking for my wallet," Shizuka admitted.

Tsukiko sighed, "Is it in your coat?"

Shizuka checked her pockets, "Oh… yeah, you're right."

"C'mon, let's go," Tsuki started walking down the hallway.

--

Tsukiko and Shizuka both walked out the door. The summer had been kind to them, as the rain hadn't arrived yet. Up above, the usually white clouds had started to become slightly grey on their bottoms.

There had been a few rainy days earlier that summer, but they came more often during the later months of the season. For now, the weather was perfectly fine for a walk outside.

"Yo, why're you staring at the sky so much?" Shizuka walked rather close to Tsuki.

"It’s a habit. I’ve always liked to look at the sky. It’s so blue and pretty," Tsuki looked back down to the earth.

"I would’ve expected red to be your favorite color."

"Red is my favorite color. It's just... sometimes you have to appreciate those deep blues," Tsuki started looking up again.

"You sound like a painter," Shizuka chuckled, nudging Tsuki.

There was a bit of silence.

"Heheheheh," Shizuka laughed to herself.

"What's up?"

"What? Oh, uhh, nothing," Shizuka looked around.

"Okay..." Tsuki brushed it off.

Shizuka started mumbling under her breath, "Yeah, reliable my ass!"

"Uhh," Tsukiko looked a bit worried.

"Oh uhh, sorry," Shizuka put her hand on her hat. "I talk to myself a lot."

"What were you even talking about?"

"…I saw a billboard," Shizuka shyly admitted.

"A billboard for what?"

"An electronics place. I bought a rotary fan from 'em back in the spring and it broke down the first day of summer! Cheap bastards." Shizuka complained rather loudly.

"That does sound pretty terrible," Tsukiko agreed.

"I could fix it myself but then I'd have to order the parts and…" Shizuka paused before letting out an annoyed grunt. "Ugh, too much hassle."

Tsukiko turned to Shizuka as she walked, "My place is cool, you can stop by."

Shizuka shook her head, "I wouldn't dare face your Mom and Dad again."

"Mom moved out and Dad doesn't come home anymore. I haven't seen him in weeks. Money just kinda shows up on the kitchen table every couple months," Tsuki shrugged.

"Oh… Must be lonely," Shizuka looked forward onto the street.

Tsuki chuckled, "That really what you're worried about?"

Shizuka spoke quickly, "Your mom’s a bitch and you dad’s a drunk. A house like that could spoil a girl like you, loneliness is even worse."

"Ehh?" Tsuki struggled to keep up with Shizuka’s fast talking.

"Sorry, I just have a lot of opinions about your parents," Shizuka’s voice finally returned to normal.

"Nah, I feel the same," Tsuki smiled.

"Haruka used to get mad at me when I bad mouthed your parents, so I had to stop."

"Yeah, she got kinda defensive of Mom for some reason."

"It was after I retired… She never really got past that," Shizuka sighed.

"Why?"

"She said she felt like she was losing people," Shizuka shrugged.

"I still don't get it myself," Tsukiko frowned.

Shizuka stopped her, "Right before the thing with your parents happened, I retired. She went with your Mom, so she lost you and Fumi. I guess she didn't feel like being a Knight without me around, so she retired too. She started stopping by here last summer, for some reason."

"She wouldn't have lost Fumi and me if she'd just stayed behind and--"

"You two butt heads a lot. She might look tough on the outside, but she was genuinely afraid that you hated her. She loves you more than anything else, you know."

Tsukiko had a guilty look on her face, "I didn’t hate her. She was one of my best friends growing up. I didn’t start to hate her until she left."

"Make it up to her then," Shizuka demanded.

"I plan to. I did a lot of shitty things, and I have to make up for them, somehow," Tsuki started walking again.

"You don’t have to do much," Shizuka stopped her.

"Huh?" Tsukiko cocked her head to the side.

Shizuka approached and stared her down, "Just give her some support, man."

"Support?" Tsuki asked.

Shizuka leaned forward, "Stay by her side, Tsukiko."

The older woman's crimson eyes tore into her very soul. There was an thick dread in the air between them.

Tsuki nearly fell down trying to back away, "Y-yeah, I got it!"

Shizuka started walking again and Tsuki followed.

"You're fun to talk to," Shizuka blurted out.

"You too," Tsuki spoke without thinking.

Shizuka spoke to herself, "…that was weird of me to say, wasn’t it?"

"What?" Tsuki struggled to make sense of Shizuka’s strange shifts in tone.

"Sorry. What I just said sounded a bit weird when I played it back in my head," Shizuka adjusted her hat.

"Not really," Tsuki shook her head.

"Why not?" Shizuka turned to Tsukiko.

"It’s just a compliment," Tsuki kicked a can as she walked.

"Maybe you're the weird one," Shizuka spoke under her breath.

"Would you say I’m weirder than Aurelia?" Tsuki joked.

"You can’t question things around Aurelia. She isn’t weird, she’s just Aurelia," Shizuka spoke rather mysteriously.

"How'd you meet her?"

Shizuka stared off into the distance, "I first met her as Madame Jeanne just over a decade ago. Her shop’s been there since the war."

"The war? No way," Tsuki chuckled.

"Yeah, she had to rebuild the shop. Wait, no, that would mean it was there before the war," Shizuka muttered to herself again.

Tsuki stopped again, "How long has she been around?"

"Does it even matter?" Shizuka joked.

"I guess not," Tsukiko lowered her head in disappointment.

"Did she show you the town?" Shizuka asked.

"What town?"

"The town with the fountain," Shizuka straightened out.

"Yeah."

"Infinite doors, but so few locations… Why?" Shizuka spoke to no one in particular.

"Didn’t you say you can’t question things around Aurelia?"

"I'm not questioning the things around her, I’m questioning Aurelia herself. Why does she choose the places she does?"

Tsukiko shrugged, "Well, why keep going to new places when you can stick around in the places you already like?"

Shizuka stopped for a moment to think before starting again, "That's a good point."

"She's only human, after all," Tsuki tried her best to avoid asking too many questions herself.

"Talking about Aurelia's kinda weird. She's like something you'd read about on a paranormal board online. Reminds me of that story about the girl with the mask. You know, the one with her mouth cut open from ear to ear?"

"Yeah, but this stuff's real," Tsukiko nervously laughed it off.

"Those stories are pretty real, y’know. I of all people should know," Shizuka's voice was deeper.

"What?" Tsuki looked back and forth.

"What, afraid of ghosts?" Shizuka chuckled.

"No, it's…"

"What?"

"Y'know… I'm scared you might be right… I mean, I've seen some crazy shit lately…"

"Don’t worry about it," Shizuka spoke in a false comforting tone.

"Stop it!" Tsuki shoved her.

"Heheheheh, I still got it," Shizuka laughed.

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About the author

MarikoRawralton

  • United States

Bio: I've been writing non-stop for the past few years. My word count might be somewhere in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. I'm not the best writer, but it's a hobby of mine that I enjoy more than anything else.

I'm starting to make more of an effort toward sharing my work with the world. I started sharing my first story on Wattpad, and now I'm on Royal Road too. I've always been afraid of sharing my work before it feels ready for show time. It's been tough, but rewarding.

Most of my work connects together. I like to have everything connected and comfortable for me and my readers. If I ever get around to posting my work, you'll see some familiar faces between projects.

-----

Currently working on: The Knights Himura (and a couple super secret projects.)

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