Ogre in the Playground
Re: Light of Amber - Series One
Makoto will probably be speaking in Delicious Candy Red Text
. I've grown less than fond of the forum colored text though, and might just end up using black for maximum aesthetics and minimum headache induction.
Anyway, Makoto defies your musical themes! She has Perform [Video Games]. Digital foes would do well to fear the grace of the two-hundred hit Nen Combo, or the twelve-pronged DDR whirlwind maniastep. Turns out that if you loiter around arcades long enough, you learn where you need to kick them to pay out free games.
Anyway, backstory thus far:
 - Golden
 - Pleased to Meet You
So often, gold is equated with goodness. The golden light of Amber is the subject of endless prose. It is guarded by the golden pentacle. In many places across the cosmos, gold is itself a symbol of worth and value, prized far beyond what its relative uselessness might indicate. When people talk about 'golden' days, the expression is usually figurative - but not today.
No, today was golden in a very literal sense, with the sun shining bright overhead and the first breath of autumn painting the trees in fiery warmth. Even the white concrete sidewalks seemed to reflect the daylight, caught and captured by the city of glass as if sun's radiance was a simple firefly to be caught in a jar. The streets were packed with people, many of them students taking advantage of the weekend to work in some vital free time.
Makoto wasn't really paying attention to the sunlight though, as she sulked along the edge of the street. Privately owned cars didn't run it anymore - something true even in a city as rich as this one - but Makoto didn't like how exposed the center of the road felt. Besides, the sidewalk offered a better view of the storefronts. That sparked a thought that sent Makoto's foot scuffing futilely at the concrete once more.
"Stupid clerk!" She'd been pushing her luck, to be fair, but it was still irritating. Almost ten minutes of innocent idling, and the damn clerk hadn't let his eyes stray off of her for a moment. Maybe he'd realized that the convenience store's stock tended to vanish when the redhead took her leave. Maybe he was just getting paranoid, with street crime at these levels. All Makoto cared about was that the moron had gotten between her and the box of artificially-sweetened junk food she'd been planning to live off for the next few days.
"Tch." She was hungry, and annoyed. But mostly hungry, and it was making Makoto think of options she probably wouldn't consider on a full stomach. Normally she stuck to shoplifting, but if an opportunity presented itself...
"Ah, who the hell am I kidding? It isn't like some supermarket is going to go..." Makoto's inner monolog trailed off in disbelief as, at the very moment, her field of vision was intruded upon by a bag of groceries, along with the blunette who happened to be carrying them. Thoughts were firing on full auto inside Makoto's skull at the sight. A student - a rich student, judging by the Ilia School Systems emblem on her uniform - probably wouldn't give a crap about a bag of groceries. Not enough of one to cause problems.
"...walking in front of me. Damn." Makoto shifted her path a little, putting her on an intercept course with the other girl. Did she dare? Did she seriously dare just outright grabbing a bag of food in the middle of the street? In broad daylight? In a crowd this thick? Sure, once she ducked into an alley she'd be scot-free, but that was a solid twenty meter dash no matter how you cut it.
The rational part of Makoto's brain gave a firm 'hell no'. It was a pretty sensible suggestion, coming from the part of her psyche that had kept her alive on the streets for the past seven years. But it was ultimately overturned by the one voice she paid even more attention to - the surly grumbling of her own stomach. That was it then. She picked up her pace, counting down under her breath.
"Three..." Her target didn't even see her yet, which was good. Makoto worked her fingers through a gripping motion, warming them up. "Two..." A little bit faster, more or less power-walking at this point. She set her shoulders, raised her hands up slightly to grab the bag. "One..." Makoto dropped the pretense of stealth, lunging forward. Her left arm nimbly snagged the bag of groceries while her right shoved away the shocked girl who had been carrying them. Makoto broke into a full-on sprint, grinning widely at the adrenaline rush - and at the heft of her prize, though she wasn't stupid enough to open it just yet. She did, however, toss a gloating "Mine!" over her shoulder as she darted into the shadowy alley she had been eyeballing.
Just to be sure, she kept up her sprint for a good three minutes, flitting through the dejected crannies of Ilia's grand architecture. Once you got off the streets, the city was a festering maze of glass and concrete - the wealth of its more prominent citizens didn't change that one bit. Makoto let herself double over and catch her breath, bracing against a pipe for support. But not for long. She quickly dropped to a seat on a conveniently placed crate, tugging the plastic drawstrings on her prize.
"Please be food, oh please oh please be delicious, wonderful food. Please oh... oooh." It was, sure enough, food. No, better - it was junk food. The life-sustaining cocktail of sugar and energy enhancers that comprised the better part of her diet whenever she could get hold of it. Figuring that this was at least as good a spot to chow down as the derelict apartment building she'd been squatting in, Makoto had a bag of chips and a can of fizzy chemicals open in a matter of seconds. All was well with the world.
Or at least it was until an accusing voice rang out from back the way Makoto had come.
"Stop right there, criminal scum! Surrender your stolen goods at once!" Makoto's first thought was that hell, this is the most irritatingly self-righteous cop she'd ever met. Her second was wait, that's a really short police officer. Her third?
"Hey, wait a sec... I just mugged you, didn't I?" Makoto swiveled around, rising back to her feet. She realized there was still a potato chip sticking out of her mouth like some lolling tongue of salty deliciousness, so she started chewing on that. The crunching punctuated a long and rather awkward silence.
"Are you going to give the food back?" Makoto seriously could not believe her ears at that - who was that stupid? Nobody gave back food. And yet this girl seemed cautiously optimistic, perhaps emboldened by her non-success in immobilizing a seated target.
"I'm gonna go with... hell no. This stuff is mine, so back off." She swallowed, mustering a genuine glower. "And you know what, free advice - next time, how about you don't go chasing 'scum' like me down dark alleys in your fancy-pants school duds. What are you even getting at? You seriously care about this crap that much?"
"Well, no, I uh..." The blunette falters, before rallying with the aid of an accusatory finger. "I came to bring you to justice, scum!" Makoto just snorted at the gesture, grabbing the bag of food and very deliberately turning her back on the other girl.
"Get out of here, idiot. Go cry 'til you get something to replace this sugary junk, 'cause I ain't giving it up no matter how loudly yo-oof!" Makoto found herself abruptly staggering forward, reeling from a closed-fist blow to her back. "What the hell!" She drops the bag and wheels just in time to backpedal away from another swing.
"I'm not scared of a bully like you!" Yet another punch. Makoto was prepared this time, lifting up an arm to deflect the blow, but it still stung. Shifting momentum, she lunged forward.
"Well, maybe you should be!" Makoto grimaced as her own punch went wide. "Did your mother," she brought her elbow down, feeling a satisfying thud as it impacted her opponent's shoulder, "never tell you," she grabbed the other girl, getting a grip on her upper arm, "not to mess with other peoples' business!" Makoto shoved, hard, sending the bluenette reeling, her fist full of red...
She barely had time to register before she got yanked along painfully by her crimson tresses, sending the both of them tumbling down in a tangled heap. What followed could be described as a fight only in the very loosest sense of the word. It was a scraping, clawing, biting, gut-punching hair-yanking mess of cursing (from Makoto) and general indignation (from what she could only assume was someone who had spent entirely too much time watching the televised antics of the mahou shoujo) that went on for some time. It likely would have continued some time more, had they not been interrupted by a dull, sarcastically slow clapping from the end of the alley.
"Oh, ladies! Do go on, don't mind me!" Makoto's heart crashed at the sound. She knew that voice. She rolled off of her previous adversary, taking care to not make any sudden movements.
"Hey, Oda. What the hell are you doing here? Get tired of stalking that shopping center or something?" Looking up, she confirmed her fears. Oda Ryuji, twenty something petty criminal and sometime gangster, was standing over her stolen food supplies with a lewd grin plastered all over his unshaven mug. Catching her eye, Oda's smirk only widens, a brief waggle of his wrist drawing attention to the loaded handgun at his side.
"Oh, this and that, little Mako. Nice to see you're still scraping the bottom, but damn, mugging a schoolgirl? That's gotta be some new lows for you. I can't let that stand now, can I? Gotta take some... compensation." Oda reached down, wrapping a grimy hand around the half-drunk soda Makoto had left lying on the ground. Swallowing the rest in one gulp, he lets loose an exaggerated sigh of refreshment. "Ahhhh! Not booze, but you do have good taste in drinks, little Mako. Now, who's your friend here?"
"Hotaru Tsu-..." She cut herself off, maybe realizing how serious the situation had just become. Makoto had to give this girl credit - she'd taken the worse of their brawl by far, and she was dragging herself up to stare down an adult man with a loaded gun. Credit for being the goddamn stupidest person she had ever met. "My name is Hotaru!"
"Well, miss Hotaru, I think we've got a bit of a problem. You see, I really don't like that tone of yours. It's hurtful. It really is. I think you're gonna have to comfort me a little, you know?" Oda took a few steps closer, looming ominously over the two of them. Hotaru - as Makoto now knew to think of the blue-haired wanna-be vigilante - was shaking now, starting to really grasp what was happening. "Little Mako, you can go, you've gone and put me in a good mood with that fizz o' yours. Or stay and watch, if that's your thing. Heh."
Makoto took a step backwards. She closed her eyes for a good, long second. There was no way this made sense. No way she ought to be doing what she was about to do. But... she couldn't let this naive idiot have her whole life shattered to pieces becomes of some freak of a thug. She reached into her jacket.
"Drop it, Oda." Trying to hide her lack of proficiency, Makoto pulled back the hammer on the hand-cannon she'd just leveled at the thug. It made a very threatening *click*. "Drop your gun right this second, or I swear I will shoot you."
Oda's leering grin vanished instantly, replaced by a steely glower. But he did as he was told, slowly loosing his grip on his weapon until it clattered to the asphalt. Hotaru's gaze flicked between the two of them, confusion evident. Makoto tried to catch her eye, starting to back away slowly.
"Right, so Hotaru and I are just going to... walk away, all right? All right?" She kept backpedaling, noting with relief that the other girl was doing the same. "Nice and easy. Just forget this ever happened. Forget it..." She ducked around a corner, letting out a tense breath as Hotaru followed her. But she didn't stop walking. She sped up.
"What did you..." The blunette kept pace, despite a rather nasty limp. She seemed to be recovering from the mental shock quickly enough at least.
"Nothing, keep moving." Swallowing in disgust, the redhead tossed aside the pistol. "It's trash. No bullets, jammed slide. Fished it out of a gutter. Come on, move faster! That punk wouldn't go anywhere without a gang of cronies at his beck and call."
As if to punctuate Makoto's words, shouts rang out, echoing from a few turns back. Shouts of, 'They went this way!', and 'Boss wants 'em alive!'. That was all it took - injuries or no, the two girls were flat-out sprinting, injuries overridden by adrenaline and raw fear. Makoto counted the turns in her head. Three to go. Two. Just one more turn, and...
The two of them burst back into the golden glory of the city's main street, eyes dazzled by the sunlight after the twilit maze behind them. It stung, but it meant they were safe. Glancing over her shoulder, Makoto saw the coattails of a goon disappearing back into the labyrinth. It had been much too close, and she definitely wasn't coming back to this part of town for a good long time.
"...sorry." Makoto glanced up, catching the blue eyes of her opposite. Hotaru cleared her throat, trying a second time - and louder. "I am sorry I called you scum. I misjudged you. So... yeah." Blue eyes narrow slightly, then lock on the ground. "You did steal from me, but we're even now, I guess."
"Even?" As they lost contact with the blue ones, red eyes blinked in disbelief. "Even? Like hell we're even! I didn't even get anything out of this - your stupid little fistfight cost me my food! No, wait, your stupid little fistfight almost cost us both our lives!" Makoto stomped her foot to the ground for emphasis, talking loud enough to draw odd looks from passers-by. "Apology not accepted! Do better!"
"I... okay, fine." Hotaru pushed her short, azure hair out of her eyes, wincing with every movement. Makoto almost winced with her - she hadn't intended to hit quite that hard. "You can crash at my place. You don't have a house, do you? My mom's away on business pretty much year-round, nobody should even know you're there." The blunette glanced up, finding a stony response. She tried one more time.
"And... I'll cook dinner."
"...dinner, you say?" Makoto nodded, almost involentarily. "Actually, yeah, sure. Let's do that. Where do you live, anyway?"
"Not far, we can get most of the way by bus. Just..." Hotaru took a step, wobbling precariously on an injured ankle. "Could I... would it be okay if I leaned on you? Just a little?"
"I don't think I can make it on my own."
Suddenly, there was light.
"Gwwwaaahhh..." Makoto's mouth worked futilely to form some sort of coherent protest to the luminescent onslaught, but she proved unable to make any sound beyond a bleary mumble. Makoto tried to move an arm up to simply block out the offensive sunshine instead, but found those too to be immobilized beneath a heap of linens. She considered trying to turn around and drift back to sleep anyway, but a sharp rebuke quickly put an end to that train of thought.
"Oh, come on and wake up already!" And there was the culprit, of course. Hotaru was glowering over the back of the spare bed the two of them had pulled from the couch the night before. "I'm not making more of this if you let it get cold! And you're definitely not getting breakfast in bed while you're in my house!"
"S'not like it's that late..." Makoto reached up though, trying to rub the sleep from her eyes. The mention of food was a powerful motivator indeed. The 'dinner' Hotaru had promised on the walk back from the... events... of the previous day had turned out to be little more than a microwave dinner and a split box of sutherland leftovers. Neither of them had really had the energy for anything else. Once the adrenaline had worn off, the pair had felt their injuries drop like a pile of bricks on top of them. Although as Makoto worked her arm, it hit her...
"Hey... what the hell, why don't I feel like roadkill?" Makoto pulled herself out of the bed with some reluctance, stretching her various muscles experimentally to confirm the prognosis.
"Nanites or... something. Pills, anyway. We took them with dinner, remember?" Makoto didn't remember, to be honest, even with Hotaru's comment. The time between stumbling into the small but obviously expensive house and waking up to the sudden betrayal of the sun-blocking curtains was something of a blur.
"Well... hell, they work I guess." Makoto ran a hand back through her hair. Or at least, for the first few inches of it, when she hit a rather large knot. Stupid fight.
"They should." Hotaru seemed rather irritated by that, somehow, and Makoto's questioning look perhaps led her to elaborate. "They're from my mom's company. They're always sending me free products and stuff. I... uh, mostly just throw them away..." She seemed to be hit with a small surge of shame at the admission. Or maybe it was hunger. Makoto knew that for her, it was hunger, so she pretty much shrugged and ignored Hotaru, meandering towards where she remembered the kitchen being.
"Cool story. So, what's the smell?" Makoto sniffed the air experimentally. "More microwave pockets or something? Man, I'd expect someone as rick as you to have more groceries around or something."
"Well maybe I'd have more groceries if you hadn't stolen them." The blunette sounded more smug about her lack of foodstuffs than Makoto thought anyone had any right to be, but she kept her mouth shut. For the sake of food, of course. "But still, I had a few things lying around. There's egg toast and uh, fresh fruit and... that's all I had." The kitchen was within sight of the living room Makoto had crashed in, and she couldn't help but not again how small everything was. Two two places set at the table filled it almost completely. Obviously the redhead wasn't the only one who found the whole white knight act insufferable - this girl apparently got very little in the way of company.
But it was the contents of the plates themselves that took Makoto aback. She gingerly reached down, picking up a slice of crisp and sweet-smelling fruit.
"Crap... no, there's no way you just have this lying around." With a vicious chomp, Makoto bit off a sizable chunk, chewing in disbelief. "Uhm, can you... introduce yourself again?"
"Hotaru Tsuandi. I don't think we really had a proper introduction, did we?" Hotaru extended a hand, almost hesitantly.
"Makoto Hoshi. It's a pleasure to meet you, and if you can get apples with as little effort as it looks like you can, I think I may have to ask you to marry me." She grabbed Hotaru's hand, kissing her fingertips melodramatically before dropping into her chair and beginning to eat in earnest. Hotaru jumped slightly at the contact, but quickly followed Makoto's example and began to eat (albeit, somewhat more politely).
The meal passed in relative silence, save for the occasional clink of a butter-knife or sigh of contentment from Makoto. The fresh, simple food wasn't really to her usual tastes, but it wasn't every day you got to eat a meal this luxurious and she intended to enjoy every bite to its fullest. Plate cleared, the redhead slouched backwards, let out a long breath, and closed her eyes for a moment as Hotaru finished the last few morsels of her own meal. Neither of them really wanted to be the one to break the calm, but Makoto ultimately took the plunge after a few low-flying seconds nearly clipped the top of her head.
"So... what the hell is up with all this? You live alone. Your fridge has a higher net worth than some small neighborhoods, and it's half empty right now." Makoto opened her eye slightly, keeping them narrowed across the table. "This isn't normal. So fess up."
"I... it's Mother's money. She's in corporate. Nothing more to it." It occurred to Makoto that Hotaru was a terrible liar. Her eyes were flitting around, her breath was shallow, and she was practically stumbling over her own words. Typical - she was scared out of her wits by the street thug across from her, in all likelihood. But...
"Wait... wait a second. Tsuandi. I knew it! I knew you looked familiar!" Makoto smirked at the realization. "Your mom is on that one show, isn't she? Miyuki Justice Force?" Smirk widening, she threw a finger up in the air, speaking in a whiny falsetto. "The Light of Justice will prevail! Surrender, evildoer! No wonder you're so annoying! Pfffftttthahahaha!" Makoto finally gave in, doubling over and howling with laughter, completely missing the increasingly dark glower on Hotaru's face.
"That's it. Get out. Get out of my house, now." The blunette shoved her chair back so swiftly it nearly fell over, holding an arm out to indicate the exit. "We're even now. So get out." But Makoto waved a hand through the air for a few seconds, still grinning as she wiped tears of laughter from her eyes.
"Fine, fine. I'll call it even. Food, sleep, and a wanna-be mahou shoujo heiress. Been an interesting diversion, but eh, nothing lasts." Makoto rose herself, starting to stroll towards the door at a leisurely pace. "I'm always good to go. Hold onto your groceries a little tighter next time." She began to reach for the doorknob. Time seemed to slow down. She wasn't sure what was stopping her from just pushing down and walking on...
"...Wait!" Makoto yanked back her hand from the knob as if it were some toxic snake the moment she heard Hotone speak that word. Of course. This was why she couldn't just leave. "If you leave, you'll just commit more crimes, won't you?" The way Hotaru said it was less a question than a stated assumption.
"Yeah, definitely. Gotta eat, and I'm going to starve before I let myself get beaten to death in one of the public handout centers. Sorry, princess, that's just how it works." Makoto started to wonder if she was wrong about this.
"Then..." Swallowing hard, Hotaru carried on. "Then you can stay here! I can't let you go out and break more laws! You'll have food, and a bed, and..."
"And what? You're planning to adopt me like a stray cat or something? Seriously?" The moment of indignation was quickly fizzled though, as Makoto began to nod slowly. "You know what, sure. I'll give your fancy-pants living a chance. Food, shelter, all work-free and secure. Can't say no to that."
"Well," Hotaru began to smile slightly herself, with a look that was starting to unnerve Makoto. "Not entirely work free."
"Oh, come on, you can't be serious. I just agreed and..."
"C'mon! Let's all get some shoes on - we've got lots to buy over there if we're going to be cooking for two."
Lovely Rita Mordio avatar by Zefir! Thank you!