Chapter 1: The Future
Loud, boisterous energy.
High school students pushing each other around, some in friendly excitement, other on accident in the general mood.
Above all the chant “Happy Graduation, Karasuno Seniors of 2015!”
Yachi Hitoka in a circle of her friends, all laughing loudly, trying to keep a head up in the tide, some getting an elbow here or there, others getting pulled along by the flood.
The circle of girls had their arms linked together to not lose each other, yelling loudly above the crowd about their future plans to make sure they would not lose each other.
“I really want to study Japanese literature, but my mom thinks it won’t get me a job, so she signed me up for accounting.”
“I don’t think university is for me at all, luckily I got a good job that my dad approves off, so I can just do that.”
“My mom just got really ill, so I have to stay close by, I really wanted to go Tokyo though.”
“What about you, Hitoka?”
Hitoka had just gotten rumpled from behind by a particularly massive person, so she had missed her cue.
“What are you doing now that we’re graduated?”
Yachi paused for a long time, still pulled along by people going in different directions around her. Then, “I don’t know really, there isn’t really something I want to do. My mom does design though, so I suppose I’ll do that.”
And then what? I realize that I don’t like the degree and change my major. I follow a friend into a different subject, or I meet a cute boy and want to impress him. I change majors and degrees until I eventually realize that university wasn’t for me at all. I have to break it off, but then I am in so much debt that no job can keep me above water. I’ll have to work as a prostitute to afford rent, but I don’t have boobs and won’t make any money and -
“Hitoka, are you okay? You are staring worried into empty space again.”
It had almost been a full year since Hitoka had last seen her grandma, so she was excited that she had been waiting at home to congratulate her. They go out champagne glasses to celebrate and Hitoka could even drink with the adults this time.
Cheers and celebrations and extra glasses of champagne eventually led to Hitoka looking around her living room and seeing something she hadn’t noticed at first but was quite the eye-catcher.
She asked her family about the massive birdcage with four tiny and... really, really ugly baby birds in it. They looked like they may be suffering from some sort of skin disease.
“They are my familiars.”
Hitoka was confused. “Your... what?”
Nanna Yachi laughed. “Well, not really mine, but I’m looking after them. They are the reason I am here.” Nanna Yachi and Madoka clinked their glasses together, Hitoka was confused.
She turned to her Nanna. “I‘m sorry, but what are familiars?“
Nanna Yachi looked at her granddaughter in astonishment. “Well, only a witch's best friend.“ Hitoka was even more confused. “You should really know this, it runs in the family after all.“
Mama and Nanna Yachi looked as confused as Hitoka herself, but they looked like Hitoka was the one who was crazy.
“I know you weren’t as connected to the witch side of your family as you were supposed to, but I didn’t know you were that unknowing.“ Nanna Yachi giggled about Madoka’s astonishment.
“Y-y-y-yo-y-yo-y-o-y-ou-y-y-yo“ Hitoka pointed at her granny, “you‘re… you’re a witch?“
“Why yes,“ Nanna Yachi seemed mildly confused but otherwise unfazed, “and so are you.“
Hitoka’s mind completely short-circuited at this.
Nanna Yachi pouted like she was a young child and not an old woman. „Do you not remember us making friendship cookies for the first day of school?“
Hitoka did remember. She remembered making cookies with her granny every time would join a group or school or the horse track by their old house. The act of baking had always been more of a mess than a success, especially in their early days where Hitoka could barely stand, but the resulting cookies were always sure to make her friends.
“I just thought kids couldbuy friendship with cookies…“ Hitoka said quietly.
“And it's not like we kept it a secret at all.“ Madoka chimed in, “I always referred to her as your witch granny.“
“I thought that was an insult because you didn’t like her.“
Both women laughed at that, cheering with their glasses again. “No I get along well with my mother, I just didn’t follow her footsteps.“
Hitoka’s entire brain had to do a reboot, to reevaluate everything she had done in the last 18 years.
“So, we haven’t seen you in eight months, what did you come here for?“ Madoka took a sip from her wine glass. “You said you had something for Hitoka.“
“Ah, yes.“ Nanna Yachi stalked over the cage with the sickly looking birds. “I have these.“
Hitoka was surprised, Madoka too, but less so.
“That is, if she wants them.“
Hitoka didn’t follow. “What?“
“I don’t know what you are planning with your future, but if you like you can follow your family’s heritage, you can have an apprenticeship with me, and “she laid her hand on the cage, “we can see if these boys are fit to be your familiars.“
Hitoka needed a bit of time to catch up, Madoka looked mildly displeased with the situation.
“I was hoping you would wait with that until after she finished university.”
Hitoka looked at her mom, her mother looked back. “Well, what do you want to do, Hitoka?“
Hitoka thought about all the publicly available college lessons and orientations she attended, and how none of them had stirred an interest in her. Then she thought about her Nanna’s words, about continuing on her heritage. It felt like a mission, like something she was meant to do. She made a decision.
“I‘ll do it.“ She stood proudly. Then bent as low as she could. “Please take me in as your apprentice!“
Nanna Yachi had said that the first step to becoming a good witch was to bond with the familiar. The crows.
Crows they were, only they were babies, which was why they looked so sickly and naked. Turned out baby crows were just really ugly.
Hitoka squatted down in front of the cage and opened it. One of the crows chirped at her.
Hitoka wrung her hands, she didn’t quite know how to bond with crows.
“Hello, my name is Hitoka.“ The first crow fluttered its wings a little, “Nanna says I am going to be looking after you from now on.” One of the crows sunk into itself, the one next to it stretched itself towards Hitoka.
“Nanna also said I should bond with you guys, but I don’t really know how...“ The exited crow flutter-jumped to the entry to get closer to Hitoka, the fourth crow yelled at it.
“Hello there.“ Hitoka offered her hand for inspection, the exited crow nuzzled it a bit, then jumped on it. The loud crow protested that and tried to attack the touchy crow, who fought right back.
“Hey, hey! No fighting here!“ Hitoka panicked, she didn’t know what had set those two off, and how to keep them from fighting, in her frantic looking for a solution she noticed that the sunken in crow made a sound that could have been… a giggle?
Hitoka held out another hand, keeping the cuddly crow safely out of reach of the cage. “Does anyone else want to say hello?“ The crow that had stretched itself, in the beginning, fluttered towards her, the sunken crow seemed to let out a quiet protest at that.
This crow also landed on the entryway, inspected Hitoka’s hand, and then straddled it. Hitoka giggled.
The loudest crow so far made slow steps towards Hitoka, inspecting her suspiciously, but eventually warming up as well. Though Hitoka kept the other crows away from it, as it had attacked its fellow crow before.
“And what about you?“ The last crow refused to warm up, soft chirping came from the crow in her second hand, but the fourth crow sunk further into itself. It looked like it was aggressively pretending to be asleep.
Chapter 2: The house
Whats it says on the tin
Hitoka was ready, she had the instructions to find her granny’s house, she had two bags with her stuff, and she had her crows, though they were out of the cage.
She took a deep breath, “Here we go.“
She stepped into the woods which she had only ever visited for class trips in primary school, and for a dare at a birthday party in high school.
It was still noon, the sun stood high, and Hitoka felt much less scared than she had expected going into the woods, towards a witches hut, alone.
She was about ten minutes deep, contemplating which direction of the way fork to use when she saw a man standing in front of her.
He had short black hair, a gentle smile and somewhat tired eyes. He had a very calming presence. The only weird thing about him was that he was wearing yukata, a golden brown one.
“Hello there, are you lost?“
The man's gentle smile helped her calm down, made her think clearly, so she decided to tell him that she was uncertain about which path to take, but she was interrupted by two excited guys popping out behind him.
The guy on the right was small, he wore a Yutaka as well, his hair was spiked up and he had a near manic grin on his face, the guy on the left was the same size as the gentle guy, he wore casual clothes, had his hair buzzed short and wore a grimace. A loud ‘Hey girl!’ drowned out Hitoka’s mumbled ‘sorry I know where to go now’, as she ran down the far left path, hoping it was the correct one.
She stopped running and turned around, the three guys were now mere pecks in the distance, the gentle guy seemed to scold the other two, and Hitoka seemed to be able to make out two more, but couldn’t quite see them.
“Say, were there three guys just then, or five?“ She got a crow call in response and a lower sound from a different crow in response to that.
Hitoka found that she was on the right path, as she saw a house that she recognized from pictures in the distance. As she stalked towards the house she saw a girl leaving it, must have been not much older than herself, shoulder length, black hair, and probably the most beautiful face in the world.
Hitoka was so stunned that she stopped walking to take a shaky breath.
The beautiful girl looked like the modern interpretation of a witch, leggings instead of tights, and a long knitted jacket instead of a robe. She still wore the classic witches hat though.
As Hitoka started walking again, the girl produced a broom, mounted it, attached a parcel to it, called for a grown raven to join her, and took off.
Hitoka was speechless as she entered the house.
The house was empty. The entry looked right onto a kitchenette, which hosted two more ravens. One of them made a call. Hitoka got back to her senses and called for her grandma.
“I’m coming darling, wait downstairs for me!”
Hitoka walked into the kitchen, one of her crows landing on the counter, her bags resting against it. She looked around. It was neat. And clean. It had a bit of a witchy flair, but much less so than Hitoka had expected. She turned around and made eye contact with one of the Ravens, she wasn’t sure if its the one that called out before or not, but she could see something in its eyes. It looked like mischief. The longer the eye contact lasted the clearer she could identify the cheeky side in the light brown eyes (were ravens supposed to have eyes that light brown?) and she had a feeling something was about to happen. Something shocking.
“I’m sorry I left you waiting, dear, the dresser was feeling rebellious.”
Hitoka yelped louder than strictly necessary, but her grandma just laughed.
“I’ll make us some tea, then we can discuss your apprenticeship, is that alright?” Hitoka nodded, a bit numb, she felt overwhelmed, and like she was missing something.
They sat on a low couch with a small coffee table.
“You don’t need to worry so much about learning the craft from me, I took in Kiyoko two years ago to keep on my legacy, I will just teach you things as they come up, and she can teach you a lot as well.”
Hitoka’s eyes lit up. “The beautiful girl from before, with the black hair!”
Nanna Yachi laughed. “Yes, exactly her.” Then she thought for a moment. “She went to your high school actually, graduated two years ago.”
Yachi was ecstatic, the beautiful girl was going to come here often, not only that, but she would also be tutoring her most likely.
“You are going to be living here with us, sheets and towels you’ll find in the laundry room, you can help yourself to anything in the fridge unless it has a name on it, you’re room is upstairs the first to the right. I want you to settle in first before we start challenging you.”
Hitoka’s head was spinning, she needed a while to catch up.
“Wait, ‘us’? Who else will live here?”
Nanna Yachi blinked. “Well, me, Kiyoko, and the familiars.”
Hitoka felt overwhelmed, the beautiful girl was not just a guest, but a permanent resident.
“Well, Kiyoko is going to be excited to have a girl her age around at least, since I haven’t been around much lately either.” Nanna Yachi laughed.
Hitoka decided that it was all too much to take in at once, and that dealing with the beautiful girl when the morning came sounded like a better idea.
“You can check out your room and have a general look around if you like. Just know that I have business to attend tomorrow, so you and Kiyoko will be alone.”
Chapter 3: Ravens
Hitoka goes jobbing and meets some black birds
“Good morning,” Hitoka said to no one in particular as she stumbled down the stairs not fully awake.
“Good morning.” A light voice said back, Hitoka yelped because she had not been expecting a response.
It was the beautiful girl from the day before, even more unearthly beautiful with the morning sun shining on her face. Hitoka silently wondered why she didn’t have people kissing her feet everywhere she went. “I made breakfast.”
So she had, Kiyoko stood at the stove and seemed to be flipping pancakes, a plate with a pile of them already next to her. Beautiful people like her shouldn’t be allowed to make breakfast like that, Hitoka thought as she watched Kiyoko put the two pancakes from the pan into the pile, and refill the pan with more batter. Hitoka wondered silently who was supposed to eat all of them, she assumed Kiyoko was the kind of person who cooked a lot at the beginning of the week to save it throughout. She seemed to be organized like that. With a start, Hitoka realized that she never actually introduced herself.
“YOU ARE KIYOKO RIGHT? I AM YACHI HITOKA!” Smooth.
Kiyoko laughed, the sort of pretty people laugh that made everything around her look more illuminated. “Yes, I am Kiyoko, it's nice to meet you.” She smiled at Hitoka now, Hitoka was awestruck and glad that she didn’t have to talk at the moment. “Chiyo said you are here for the crows?” Hitoka nodded, hoping she wouldn’t have to elaborate verbally as she was still too awestruck to talk properly. “I am glad, we have been searching for someone to look after them for a while.”
Hitoka was confused, how old were these crows if it had been ‘a while’ but they were still babies? And why did they have them? And why couldn’t they look after them if they could look perfectly fine after three fully grown raven? Hitoka decided to start with the most pressing question she had since yesterday.
“So what exactly are familiars? What do they do?”
“That's right, Chiyo had mentioned that you didn’t have a particularly Wicca rich upbringing. Pancake?” Hitoka nodded. “They are savory, I hope you don’t mind.” That explained the slightly green colour, she shook her head and accepted two pancakes gratefully. Kiyoko also put a pancake into each food station for the Ravens, who were eager to eat them.
Kiyoko put three pancakes onto her own plate and started to cut them into bite-sized pieces. There was still a large pile left on the pancake plate. Kiyoko started talking. “Familiars are powerful magical beings and are often used to amplify spells and potions.” Kiyoko ate a piece of her pancake. “Witches, in particular, are fond of familiars, as potions and spells made in unison of a witch and her familiar are among the most powerful.” Kiyoko ate some more, Hitoka thought about the words as she ate her own food, some things still irked her.
“But how can familiars help with potion making and spells?”
Kiyoko thought as she ate. “Their most common use on potions is adding a piece of themselves.” She pointed at the Ravens behind her. “Like a feather or something similar.” A Raven cawed at her, she put more pancakes into the feeders, then continued. “Their most common use with spells is chanting them or even making them up. It is said that a spell made by a familiar for his witch is more powerful than any spell a witch could make herself.” Hitoka was in awe, so familiars could talk, impressive. She ate her pancakes contemplatively. She also noticed that when they ate together and talked about witch stuff, Kiyoko seemed a lot less intimidating. Still strikingly beautiful, but less intimidating certainly.
“But familiars are also often used to cut ingredients and stir pots. I only do that for big or complicated recipes though.” Kiyoko said, laughing.
Hitoka had too many questions to really find out which ones to ask first. Kiyoko added more pancakes to the bird feeders, the birds made appreciative sounds. They sure could eat a lot for being birds.
“But they can do it, right? Even though they are ravens?” Kiyoko nodded and ate. “But how? Aren’t they birds?”
Kiyoko tried to say something, but was interrupted by a ‘poof’-sound, and a cloud of smoke. It quickly diluted though and showed a young man.
A young man wearing nothing but a smirk.
Yachi actually screamed now.
“Like this.” Said the man still grinning. Yachi covered her eyes.
“Suga, please, don’t scare Hitoka like that on her first day.”
“Alright, alright.” The man said laughing. What was previously covered by the kitchen counter was now in full view as he walked away. Yachi tried really hard not to look at his butt.
A loud caw was heard. “Oh, shut up.” The man said to the Raven still laughing. Hitoka wondered if these people could actually understand the Raven and she was the only one left out of the loop.
The man was gone and Hitoka came back to her senses. So familiars could turn into humans and help around the kitchen like that, made sense. She wondered if the crows in her room would also turn into humans some day.
“So what sort of spell turns an average bird into a human to make them into a familiar?”
Kiyoko ate more pancake. “Familiars don’t start out as animals.” She swallowed. “Familiars are lost children with no connection to their environment who get found by witches and turned into familiars by them.”
Kiyoko smiled fondly. “The point of witch/familiar relationships is mutual benefit.” Kiyoko gave two more pancakes into the occupied bird feeders, the last one she kept on the plate. “Witches are supposed to help the children reconnect with their families or other important people in their life, or at least give them a home to be welcome in. Familiars can return those favours by adding their magic.”
Hitoka thought as she ate the last of her pancake. She could tell that she wasn’t told the entire story yet, but she felt that she knew enough to have an idea what to expect.
“So where are the crows?” The man, Suga, came back, he was wearing casual clothes now. They were in light, pleasing colours, matching his silver hair and gentle brown eyes. Turned out that when he wasn’t smirking he had a really kind face. Overall he was quite pleasant to look at.
When she went to bed last night, Yachi had left their cage door open, in case they wanted to roam around or not sleep near each other, but the birds seemed to contend in their cage, two of them sleeping particularly close to each other. It almost seemed like they were cuddling, considered that new information, they may have been. Then she realized something, and she had never felt as ashamed in her life.
“Did I hit a nerve, you’re so red.” The pleasant looking man laughed at her expense.
Hitoka could feel heat radiating from her face. In a small voice, she shared “Last night I just undressed in front of them.” Yachi shook her head repeatedly. “I didn’t know they were actually boys. I didn’t know.”
Kiyoko and Suga both laughed now. “Don’t worry,” Kiyoko had that strikingly beautiful smile again, “they are good boys, the four of them.” Hitoka felt instantly better looking at that smile, she also remembered the crows squeezing their eyes shut or turning around when she changed. She felt better.
The three of them stayed at the breakfast bar a bit more, just chatting, Suga eating his last pancake. Overall it was a very pleasant morning.
Hitoka was excited for the day, Kiyoko had introduced her to the concept of ‘businesses’. Apparently, witches kept themselves above water by offering some sort of service, some build houses, others found lost things or people, and the Yachi household fixed things.
The Yachi’s fixed everything, whether it was small issues or big stuff. Usually, a witch is crafty enough to fix most stuff herself, so the Yachi’s specialize in fixing things that are considered broken beyond repair. Especially when their damage is of magical source. That day they would fix something that was broken by an accident.
“What’s most important when fixing things like this is to identify the speller, and also the spell. I can teach you to do that, just look closely.” Kyoko was mesmerizing as she looked upon a pile of broken glass and splintered wood, chanting in a language that Hitoka felt like she could almost understand, but not quite. The pieces didn’t look much different after the chant than they did before.
“The easy part here is that we already know the speller, as she came here personally to drop this off. The hard part is that she was experimenting when she used this tool and had no idea what spell was used to break it like this.” Kiyoko smiled at Hitoka, Hitoka felt weak in the knees. “But a spell is just a spell, so we were able to find out what happened, and reverse the spell.” Kiyoko looked back at the shattered pieces. “Now all we need to do is make things the way they were before.”
Kiyoko started chanting again, she looked incredibly powerful like that. The individual pieces started shaking and then moving from their place a little bit, but like they didn’t quite know which way to go. Kiyoko closed her eyes as she continued. The pieces were more purposeful now, some even flying straight in the air. Hitoka was amazed at the display, it was quite satisfying and beautiful to watch. The end product was… some sort of mostly glass made device, full of complicated and thin tubes, glass made bowls and bubbles attached to it. Hitoka was confused.
“What is it?”
“It’s a distiller.” Hitoka didn’t follow. “It’s what is used to make alcohol.” Now Hitoka understood, not necessarily how it worked, but certainly what it was.
“Why is it so small? It can’t make a lot of alcohol if it’s that size.”
Kiyoko laughed. “Well, the people that use it are quite small themselves.” Hitoka wondered just how small they had to be to be able to get any use out of this. “But be careful with their alcohol, there may not be much, but it is stronger than anything any human makes.”
Hitoka didn’t quite know what to make of that. Instead, she looked around. They were in a little garage, attached to the house but with no entry leading directly to the house. It was full of broken and bent things that needed fixing, Kiyoko had pointed out where the things on the queue were, and which corner was preserved for unfixable messes.
One item in the corner of the unfixable caught Hitoka’s interest, in particular, a broom, cleanly broken in half. She just saw Kyoko assimilate dozens of tiny pieces of glass into a proper, useful tool, this cleanly broken broom should be no issue at all. She asked Kiyoko about it.
“That’s because we aren’t sure what sort of magic was used to break it.” Hitoka was confused.
“So the people that broke the distiller are weak?”
“Yes- No- I mean…” Kiyoko put the distiller on a shelf that Hitoka assumed was for things that were to be picked up/dropped off.
“Its like I said, a spell is just a spell, and while the spell that broke the distiller was certainly powerful and complicated and presented a challenge to me, in the end, it was just a spell.” She turned to point at the broom. “That is a completely different story. We know next to nothing about what happened to it, we know that whoever broke it was incredibly powerful, and more importantly, that incredibly strong emotions were involved.” Kiyoko sounded incredibly wise to Hitoka’s ears right then. “The point of spells is that they are clean and manageable. Magic made by emotions is messy and complicated.”
Kiyoko went to leave the garage. “The only thing we know about the broom is that two powerful spells are tangled into each other there and that we will not be able to fix it until we find out who had the emotional turmoil, and resolve it.”
Hitoka was amazed as she followed Kiyoko’s gracefulness out the door.
“Now put on a jacket, we’re going on a walk.”
Hitoka was excited, she was on a tramp through the woods with the beautiful Kiyoko, to deliver the fixed distiller.
Kiyoko had one of her ravens on her shoulder, they both looked proud and graceful somehow, and presented quite a picture under Kiyoko’s witches hat. Hitoka herself had one of her crows with her, jumping up and down excitedly on her head, hurting her scalp doing so, but she was just excited that one of them had warmed up to her enough to come when she called for it. Come to think of it…
Kiyoko turned to her with a stunning smile and made an acknowledging sound. Hitoka needed a second to compose herself.
“Why is it so important that the crows warm up to me?” And then after a break. “And why me out of all people?”
Kiyoko looked unnecessarily beautiful while explaining.
“Well, when familiars are first transformed, they are lost children without a cause and without a future. A witches purpose is to help them develop into proper adults.” So somewhat like parenting… “It can’t be done by just any witch, however, it has to be a witch just for them. It can be the witch that transformed them, doesn’t have to be though.”
Kiyoko looked contemplative. “We have been doing some trial and error with them, but neither I nor Chiyo seem to be the right fit.” Kiyoko laughed. “And I had already hoped that I got some familiars for myself.”
Hitoka was confused. “So the birds aren’t yours?” She pointed between the bird on the girl's shoulder and the direction they came from.
“Not really, they just live with me. They were already fully grown when they moved in with me.” A caw came from the bird. “Well, they say they are happy with me though, so that is good.” Kiyoko was smiling so beautifully that Hitoka almost forgot to ask her question.
“So can you like, understand them or something?”
Kiyoko looked taken aback. “Can you- can you not?” The bird on her shoulder let out something that could be interpreted as a laugh.
“Well, I feel like I’m being laughed at.” Said Hitoka with a pout.
“Daichi, be nice to her.” A quiet grumble came from the bird. Daichi, huh? So not the bird from this morning. Hitoka could see it now, its eyes were also brown, but darker, and there was gentle kindness in them instead of mischief.
“Any witch can understand familiars, it comes naturally to us, you probably can’t do it because the craft is new to you. Don’t worry though, it will come with time.” Hitoka had to think about that for a bit, it seemed like there was a lot of things that she was missing out of right now that would ‘come with time’.
“So can you understand my familiar?” Hitoka pointed at her head, where her own bird what fluttering around excitedly, and making croaky crow noises.
“It’s hard for me, he’s still at the very early stages, its kinda like talking to a new born baby.” The bird let out a sound of protest. “Sorry, sorry. I can’t understand words, but I get the general meaning of what he wants to say.” Kiyoko looked ahead. “And I see concepts that I can associate with him if I concentrate.” She closed her eyes but continued walking, Hitoka was concerned about her stumbling. “I can see sunshine, a big heart and…” she twisted her head sideways, “… volleyball…?”
At this, the bird actually let out something like an excited scream, and tried to take off, not realizing that its wings weren’t developed enough to let him fly. Luckily, Hitoka caught him with her hands, the noise he let out at that sounded like a ‘thanks’.
“We are here.”
Here was… a tree. A tree that had seen something like a strong storm and had been unrooted perhaps, but still just a tree. Upon closer inspection though, Hitoka could see life at the roots of the tree.
Lots of life.
The roots were just one big pig party of tiny, sparkly, yellow looking things. Hitoka was amazed. That seemed to be a reoccurring theme.
“Kiyoko, you could make it!” A little woman, probably about the size of Hitoka’s hand, approached them from a branch reaching them. Her speech was a bit slurred.
A chorus of ‘Kiyoko!’, ‘The beautiful Kiyoko is here!’ And ‘Kiyoko, join us!’ could be heard from the creatures in the roots. All of which sentiments Hitoka could identify with, especially those that were more slurred sounds than words.
“Maybe another time, thanks.” Then she turned to the girl closest to them. “I fixed your distiller.”
The little woman’s eyes sparkled, more so than they would on a person. “Kiyoko you are a sweetheart, how could we ever repay you?”
“Well, you could fix the toilet you broke last time-“
“I know!” Said the woman with enthusiasm. “Take this!” She produced a tiny bottle of what looked like sake. Well, it was huge in her own hands, bit tiny once they entered Kiyoko’s.
Kiyoko had a pained smile, but accepted the sake gratefully. “Thanks Mizaki, Chiyo will love this.”
The small woman, Mizaki, clapped Kiyoko’s arm enthusiastically with her tiny hand and said, “Was lovely to see you again Kiyoko! You should come to our end of summer festival in two months, and bring your new friend over there!” The small woman nodded in Hitoka’s direction.
Kiyoko looked uncomfortable. She looked at Hitoka, and then at the woman again. “We’ll think about it.”
This was followed by a chorus of ‘Party with us, Kiyoko!’, ‘You are the best company, Kiyoko!’ and ‘Kiyoko, share your beauty with us!’ Also sentiments Hitoka wholeheartedly agreed with.
“You guys better leave the beautiful Kiyoko alone!” Said Mizaki, which was met with a lot of protest. “Oh shut it, you should be grateful you have been blessed with her presence!”
Kiyoko and Hitoka said their goodbye to the small, bright people and headed back home.
Kiyoko had told Hitoka to go ahead, going back to the garage herself with the raven, Daichi, if Hitoka remembered correctly.
Hitoka was grateful for the time alone, the last three days were a lot to process, and she really needed some alone time to deal with them all.
Only, she wasn’t alone. A man sat in their living room, wearing a thick dress-robe and reading a book, with the fire place alit behind him and the long hair falling into his face he looked threatening. Hitoka was shaking. Who was this man? A Yakuza boss? An enemy of Kiyoko’s? He certainly looked like a cartoon villain.
Hitoka was so nervous that she failed to suppress a shriek, the man startled at that and… shrieked as well? He threw away his book and a hot beverage in shock and looked about as anxious as her.
Hitoka could hear something like… cackling from beside her. It came from the kitchen.
Now that the man had noticed her she didn’t know what to do, if she was a bit tougher and a bit taller she would have fought for her own and Kiyoko’s innocence. In her distress she only knew one thing to do.
She threw herself on the ground “PLEASE DON’T KILL ME OR KIYOKO WE HAVE NEVER DONE ANYTHING WRONG IN OUR LIVES!” The cackling from the kitchen was louder this time.
“No I- I mean- I’m not here to hurt you.” Hitoka looked up from the position on the ground. “Your name is Hitoka, right? You’re Chiyo’s granddaughter. I am Asahi, I am Kiyoko’s Familiar.”
Now it made sense, Asahi must be the third raven. Hitoka felt incredibly foolish for assuming he was some sort of mafia boss based on appearances alone.
Hitoka threw herself back on the ground. “I’M SORRY I SCREAMED AT YOU BECAUSE I WAS SCARED OF YOU!” Hitoka bowed several times for emphasis.
“No, don’t worry, it happens a lot.”
“What happened here, did Asahi give you a fright?” Hitoka hadn’t heard the door open behind her, a man stood there, next to Kiyoko, he looked at Hitoka on the ground, and then at Asahi sitting uncomfortably on his chair. “Don’t worry, he’s more scared of you than you are of him.” Hitoka highly doubted that, as she could feel her heart in her throat, but when she looked at Asahi he seemed to be in a similar dilemma.
Hitoka got up. The man was smiling at her gently. There was something sure and trustworthy about him. She felt safe with him there. He also had kind eyes with a dark brown she recognised.
“You must be Daichi.” She bowed deeply. “It’s nice to meet you.” Then she turned around quickly because she realised that Daichi was the only one she had actually said formally hello to, so she bowed to Asahi, “and you as well.” He raised his hand at her in Acknowledgement.
Then she bowed towards the kitchen, “and you too, Suga.”
A loud caw came from the kitchen.
“That’s what you get for just poof-ing up on her like that.” Said Daichi with a laugh.
Kiyoko clapped her hands together. “Chiyo said she’d be here for dinner, so we should get started on cooking.”
Suga and Asahi did the actual cooking, Asahi out of apology to Hitoka, Suga because he was made to apologise.
Hitoka sat at the kitchen counter, where she had sat for breakfast, and watched the two men cook. It was quite a show.
Suga was wearing his light coloured clothing from the morning, Asahi seemed to prefer brown tones and other Autumn colours, matching his hair. When he didn’t look like a mafia boss and his sweet smile was more apparent on his face, he looked like a gentle giant, or even a teddy bear.
Hitoka was particularly enthralled by their cooking skills, it was evident that they had experience, but you could also see the passion they put into their work. They looked like master chefs, even though their dishes was quite simple. Which begged the question.
“So how old are you people? Are you immortal or something?”
Daichi laughed, but giggles could also be heard from other people.
“Its true that being familiars makes us healthier, and apparently lets us age slower, but all of us here are 20-21 years old.”
That was only two years older than herself. Hitoka didn’t quite know what she had expected from the first magic beings she got to see, so she let it rest. That reminded her though that she had no idea how old her own familiars were.
“I honestly don’t know about two of them, we rescued them eight months ago from another witch.” Said Kiyoko in regards to Hitoka’s questioning, “but the other two were created by Chiyo personally when they were…” Kiyoko thought, “about eleven years old. They should be 18 by now.” Same age as Hitoka then.
“That means, if you had had them when they were first turned, and actually managed to turn them into full blown familiars, they would have transformed into eleven year olds, but because they are currently 18, they will be 18 in their human form too.” Contributed Daichi helpfully. In front of them the two cooks bickered about food. Or rather Suga complained about Asahi, and Asahi tried to dilute the other’s anger. “So now they need to be given the opportunity to age, so they can catch up with their minds.”
Suga turned around to give them all a taste of their curry before he considered it done. His first spoon went to Daichi. “It must be maddening to them to be of the mind potential of 18 year olds but be trapped in the body and with the vocabulary of baby birds.” Suga looked much less serious saying this than he probably should have. “I get a feeling though that they are tough, and if we’re in good luck they are in capable hands now.” He looked at Hitoka at that.
Hitoka was going to be overwhelmed by this.
“I see we’re having a full house.”
Dinner was fun, Hitoka got to learn a bit more about everybody.
Apparently Suga had some motherly qualities, and a rather… violent sort of love. He was the smallest of the boys but it was hard to tell with the way he held himself, and with how he didn’t let himself be played with by anyone at the table.
Daichi was, what could be considered, the father figure of the table, he refused to acknowledge it, but the more he denied it the more the point manifested. They all got a good laugh out of Daichi’s dilemma.
Asahi was the tallest by a long shot, but he didn’t look it. He was easily frightened and carried himself like a scared boy in a haunted house, but whenever he went too down on himself he would be met by one of Suga’s loving jabs to the ribs before he could finish his sentence. Hitoka hoped very much that she would never get to experience that love.
Nanna Yachi had found them all on separate occasions, they already had witches, but needed to move on. Overall they seemed happy.
Kiyoko very much seemed like she was part of the boys, she was included in their quips and jokes like she was an old friend that had been there for them all. Maybe she actually had.
All throughout dinner Kiyoko would shoot smiles at Hitoka, see if she was okay, and if she had a good time. Hitoka was, she had the best night in a whole while.
Nanna Yachi had given Hitoka some tips on how to bond with her Familiars via exercises, so she planned to do that in the morning.
Chapter 4: Painting a picture
Nanna Yachi had recommended doing activities with the crows, particularly those which the crows would like.
To find out what the crows would like Hitoka got Kiyoko to help her out.
She took a look at the first crow. It was the one that liked to start fights with other crows, especially the enthusiastic one.
“I see…” Kiyoko said with her eyes closed, “…the night sky over a mountain…” this rung a bell with Hitoka, but she didn’t quite know why, “milk… and…volleyball.”
“Volleyball, again?” The enthusiastic crow started chirping and fluttering excitedly at that, the milk crow yelled at it. The enthusiastic crow didn’t seem fazed. Hitoka was excited, there was a theme already.
Kiyoko moved on to the next crow, it was the quietest of them all.
“I see… the moon,” another theme, maybe Hitoka could go with this one instead, “dinosaurs,” the quiet crow seemed like he wanted to protest, he seemed flustered somehow, the last crow chirped. “Lastly, sweets.” This got a similar reaction to the dinosaurs.
Kiyoko moved onto the last crow, it chirped like it was excited to have its turn.
“I see freckles.” The crow let its head fall at that, must have hit a nerve. “Also french fries,” the head came back up, this was good, “and…” Kyoko giggled, “this one is... feisty but shy. He seems like he wants to fight a lot, but is too scared to actually do it.” The shy bird seemed flustered at that too, Kiyoko smiled fondly.
Hitoka did a recap, the exited crow was associated with the sun somehow, his enemy was the night sky, the quiet crow with the moon, and the last crow…
“Freckles are often associated with the stars right?” Kiyoko looked confused, not having followed Hitoka’s train of thought, but that didn’t matter, she could work with this.
“My friend had freckles and her mom would say that ‘they are like stars but on your skin’. That means we have a lot of celestial bodies here, that’s wonderful, we can do something with that, like a planetary model or…” That didn’t seem to be quite the right thing.
“A picture.” Kiyoko smiled, having caught on with Hitoka, Hitoka was excited.
“Yes, like a painting, like,” she looked at the wall in her room that the crow cage was in front of, “like a wall painting!” Hitoka clapped her hands together, “and they’re all represented on it.” She let her hands fall, “but how do you represent the sun and the stars in the same picture?”
“With a sunrise.” Kyoko pointed at the bottom right corner, “this is where the sun will come up,” then at top left corner, “this is where the stars will still show.” Hitoka didn’t know whether she was more impressed with the idea or with Kiyoko. The crows seemed to be pleased by it too. Some more loudly than others.
“We’ll do it.”
Hitoka had stormed downstairs to tell her Nanna about her and Kiyoko’s plans, interrupting a late breakfast her Nanna shared with Asahi. Nanna Yachi seemed keen though, and promised to take the girls to get supplies.
Hitoka didn’t know whether she had expected a witch to have a car, or to live exclusively of magic and things from the woods, but she supposed that a rusty, old, baby blue four seater didn’t really break the illusion. Especially after she discovered that they actually just drove through the woods to another witch who sold them the supplies they needed.
They chose various warm yellow and red colours for the sunset, purples and blues to bleed into the night sky, a deep blue and black to represent the actual night sky, and white and cold yellows for the stars and the moon. The sky blue was their biggest container.
Hitoka, Kiyoko, and Nanna Yachi were equipped with their paint brushes and their least favourite clothes. Some old sheets covering the ground, taped to the wall to prevent unwanted colouring.
They put the foundation on first, let it dry, and coated the entire thing with the night sky blue. The following layer was the tip of a mountain, smack in the middle of the wall, all in black. After that Hitoka started to draw the moon in the left third of the wall, then did the first stars. Two of the crows sat on her shoulders as she worked, slowing down her work significantly, but also making her use more care. One of the crows was wearing a tiny paper hat against the paint, his friend had shaken his own off when they tried to put it on. She supposed they were the ‘moon’ and the ‘star’ crows.
Kyoko did the sunrise in the bottom right corner, starting with the colours that were supposed to bleed into the night sky, and slowly working her way in. On her shoulder an exited crow jumped around, threatening to lose his paper hat, Hitoka supposed that was the ‘sun’ crow.
The ‘night sky’ crow sat on Hitoka’s bed, looking mighty proud, in Hitoka’s eyes, wearing his paper hat almost as if it were a crown.
Nanna Yachi, having been the one to put on the foundation, and the base colour, had excused herself to make tea for the group.
Hitoka felt accomplished.
Hitoka and Kiyoko had looked at pictures and tutorials to get an idea of how to achieve what they want, and the project had taken them all day and the end product was… not how Hitoka had hoped.
It wasn’t necessarily bad, it was identifiable as a night sky with a moon and with a sunrise and all that but… it was very obviously amateur.
The birds seemed to like it though, now three of them very actually excited enough to flutter around, two of them chirped, the loud one yelled occasionally. The last, most reserved of them all didn’t talk or flutter, but his few feathers were fluffed, and his chest was out, so overall Hitoka felt they had success.
Chapter 5: Progress
Hitoka woke her crows with a yawn and a good morning.
One of them was already awake, as lively as ever, his loud friend was awake too, and complaining, but only quietly. The quiet one was still, but also awake. The last one was… snoring?
The excited awake bird jumped on her hand when she offered it, and as she went to get up his tired friend... Or fiend… asked to get up too. Hitoka showed a tired smile at being trusted like that.
She noticed that the birds looked… different. They looked darker somehow, like more of their skin was covered with…feathers.
This must be it, they must be growing, that means they must have bonded. She looked at the painting they made last night, as the morning sun shone on the slightly awkward art Hitoka beamed, proud of her process.
She quickly got up, one bird on each hand, and stormed downstairs.
Kiyoko was eating cereal, and in a quiet conversation with Daichi. They looked like they were advertising kitchenware, or maybe sleeping gowns.
She smiled tiredly at Hitoka and wished her a good morning, Daichi nodded at her.
Hitoka momentarily forgot why she had entered the room, but then she remembered.
She stretched her arms forward to show her birds. “Feathers!”
The two kitchen models didn’t follow. Hitoka recollected her thoughts.
“They have more feathers now than they had yesterday.” Excited crow chirped in agreement.
“That's amazing, Hitoka, and so fast.”
Hitoka beamed, then did a few excited little jumps before they went to the kitchen counter. She accepted cereal and milk from the two unfairly beautiful people in front of her and poured them into a bowl. Then she remembered that the aggressive crow to her right seemed to like milk.
“Do you want me to pour you some milk into a glass or something?” The crow flapped its wings a little, Hitoka took that as a yes.
Kiyoko recommended using espresso cups, for easy access for the baby bird, and minimum waste of excess milk.
The crow seemed particularly pleased as it drank.
“Just so you know, we’re having game night tomorrow night, so my friends will be coming round.”
Hitoka nodded with her mouth full, she was excited to meet Kiyoko’s friends. She tried to imagine a bunch of unearthly beautiful girls laughing and being friends. That sounded about right. Hitoka wasn’t sure if her weak little heart could take that.
She looked around. One of the Ravens was still sleeping in the kitchen, the other one was gone. Hitoka tried to identify which one of them was missing but failed.
“Wher’ish ‘e shird of you?” Hitoka said, forgetting that her mouth was full.
“Ashahi’sh outshide.” Daichi said, also with his mouth full, and pointing to his left. “Ish hish domain.”
Hitoka nodded, she didn’t even consider that the house may have a yard of some sort. She made the decision to see Asahi after breakfast and take the opportunity to ask some questions.
After having eaten, and put on outside clothes, she checked on her birds again. She couldn’t quite tell if the other two had more feathers or not, but progress was progress nonetheless.
This time the deep sleeper went on her hand, eager to follow her around. The two loud ones chased each other around the room, even though they barely got off the ground. The still one didn’t quite budge.
The garden of the house was beautiful, the fact that the late summer day was blindingly bright, and every plant was at maximum green helped with the picture.
Hitoka couldn’t quite identify every plant, but it was evident that the garden was divided into herbs, flowers, vegetables, and other smaller categories that Hitoka couldn’t quite identify.
In the middle of it all was Asahi, in human form. He looked like he belonged there. The straw hat, big jean overall, and dirty old shirt with sleeves rolled up to his elbows really suited him, as did his soft smile. Hitoka didn’t understand how she could mistake him for a mafia boss when she saw him for the first time.
She approached him from the side, she didn’t quite know how to start a conversation though. The bird on her shoulder seemed to be about as amazed by the garden as her though.
She decided to start with politeness. “Do you need any help?”
Asahi yelped loudly, evidently not having seen her approach. Maybe Daichi wasn’t kidding when he said that Asahi was as scared of her as she was of him.
“No, not- actually can you hold this?” He gave her a bowl with courgettes, which he seemed to be collecting currently.
“Say, Asahi?” Asahi hummed in acknowledgment, smiling softly again. “What did your first witch do to help you evolve?”
Asahi stopped picking courgettes. “My first witch, huh?” He looked contemplatively into the sky. Hitoka worried that she had opened a topic she maybe shouldn’t have.
“I, well,” he quickly looked back to the plants, picking courgettes much quicker than before. Hitoka felt bad. “I was just excited that there was someone there that wanted me in their life. That was interested in me, and talked to me.” Hitoka didn’t want to point out how sad that was, so she kept quiet. “She showed me something new every day, and made food just for me.” Asahi smiled fondly.
He got up and took his gardening gloves off. “She included me in her life and was just happy to have me there. I was so grateful that I tried hard to quickly grow up so I could repay her.”
Asahi looked at the sky again, hiding his face from her view. “I was really happy with her, she was the first person that felt like family to me.”
Hitoka wanted to ask why he wasn’t still with her then but was afraid to hit another nerve. Maybe she had died.
Asahi looked back down at her, smiling brightly. “It feels like family here too.”
Hitoka didn’t know what to say, and hadn’t been there long enough to have an opinion on the sentiment.
“Let's go inside.” Hitoka agreed and got up. She didn’t know whether the smile Asahi sent here was as wholehearted as it looked.
Since the wall painting was such a success she decided to go with the theme.
The theme of including things that the birds liked, not the celestial theme.
She bought a volleyball.
She didn’t quite know what to do with it, since she couldn’t really play with it by herself, and it was not like the birds could play with it either. She considered just hanging it in her room like some sort of art decor but didn’t know whether that was a good idea either, so she just stood in the kitchen, uncertain about what to do.
“You play volleyball?” Hitoka startled and looked up, Suga was smiling at her, pointing at the ball.
“What, no, ah.” She looked at her ball. “Apparently two of my familiars… birds… protectees.” Hitoka ran herself into a wall. “Apparently two of my familiars are interested in it.” She then looked up. “Do you play?”
Suga smiled proudly. “I was on my local team.” Then he looked bashful. “Well, until I was 12 and was turned into a familiar.” And then more quietly, “it wasn’t even like I was a starting player or anything.” Then he looked back up at Hitoka again. “Do you want me to teach you?” Hitoka nodded enthusiastically.
Suga had found them a nice big tree to train under, so the bright late morning sun wouldn’t shine directly into their eyes.
“So what do you know about volleyball?” Hitoka tried to remember volleyball from gym class, but she hadn’t played it since junior high. She knew there was two teams, she knew there was a net between them, she also remembered that you couldn’t hold the ball, and that move you did with your arms to receive the ball.
She shook her head. “Nothing really.”
Suga laughed, he also had this grace about him like he was just a bit too beautiful for his environment, the small shadows of individual leaves falling on him enhanced that.
“Alright, let's start with some theory stuff then.” Hitoka felt like she needed some pen and papers. “There is six players on the field at all times, and four possible positions to play. There is the libero, who specialises in receiving the ball, they are not allowed to do any offensive moves. Middle blockers specialize in blocking the ball from coming across the net, but they also do other offensive moves like spiking and receive the ball when necessary. Wing spikers specialise in spiking the ball across the net, but they also do defensive moves like blocking and receiving.”
Suga pointed at himself, looking proud. “We setters specialise in tossing the ball to the other players so they can do their job, but we can also do all offensive and defensive moves.”
Hitoka’s head was spinning, but she thought she may be catching on over time.
“With beginners, we teach what’s most important in volleyball.” He tossed the ball at her, she panicked, not expecting that action, tried to return the ball to him without holding it, but couldn’t decide what to do with her arms, and consequently just made the ball fly far away. She sighed.
“Receiving is the most important thing in volleyball because no point can be scored without the ball being received.” He went to retrieve the ball from the ground. “Let me show you how it’s done.”
They started their training out with Hitoka tossing the ball to Suga, him receiving it and making it spring back into Hitoka’s hands, who would catch it and toss it again. All the while Suga would narrate what is and isn’t important about receiving, how to stand, and the different kinds to receive.
“Now you try it.”
Predictably, when Suga tossed to Hitoka, the ball didn’t go at all where she wanted it to at all, Suga just told her to laugh it off and continue on.
They played well into the afternoon, and Hitoka actually showed some improvement which she was proud of. When they officially stopped training and discussed the progress and everything, Hitoka looked up to see that she could see her room from where she stood. One of the crows was in her window, she had hoped it would be one of the ones that was actually interested in the sport, but from how still it was it seemed to be the quiet one, that was associated with the moon and embarrassed about its interests. After they held eye contact for a few seconds and Hitoka had waved at it, it closed its eyes and turned away. Like some sort of drama queen from a movie , Hitoka thought.
When they got inside Daichi was making some sort of deep dish meal with the courgettes for dinner. Hitoka decided to make food for the other crows that were interested in snacks, but that would have to wait until tomorrow.
Chapter 6: And two makes a party
Friday morning started similarly to Thursday morning, though Hitoka saw no improvement in her crows, and Suga woke up at the same time as Hitoka to train for volleyball.
Hitoka had decided that it was still too early to invite the volleyball enthusiastic crows to watch them play, as a lot of what's happening was just Hitoka trying to receive a ball and it flying off to somewhere else.
“It’s easier to direct the course of the ball if you go into your knees and move your back, but keep your arms straight.” Hitoka tried, but her actions were stiff because she was still sore from the day before, and not used to the movements.
They finished and took a break for lunch. When Hitoka looked up into the window to her room she could see no crow watching her. Whether volleyball enthusiastic or otherwise.
This tied the deal for her, she would make something specifically for the quiet crow, so they could bond and it could evolve.
Sure in her step, Hitoka went inside, then went back to the kitchen to make herself (and Suga) a sandwich, because she was actually quite hungry.
After that though, she went upstairs to corner the quiet crow.
She pointed at it accusingly. “You!” She didn’t know how to actually address it, since they were all in the cage, and just pointing in general was not very specific. “… Moon crow…” the crow in question looked startled, but otherwise didn’t protest, Hitoka counted that as a success.
“I am going to make you shortcake, and you are going to tell me what flavour you want it to be!” The moon crow didn’t react in any way, but the crow next to it chirped excitedly. Hitoka assumed that the chirpy crow would be able to help her in some way, maybe those two had known each other before they got transformed and chirpy actually knew what sort of thing the quiet one liked.
She squatted down in front of the cage and held her hands in, inviting the birds to jump on them. The chirpy crow jumped immediately, the quiet one didn’t budge.
“We can do this the easy way, or I can make you a shortcake every day until I find the flavour that you like.” The crow seemed uncertain but eventually jumped on her hand. Hitoka smiled triumphantly.
She sat the quiet crow on the kitchen counter, the chirpy crow fluttered onto her shoulder and chirped happily.
Hitoka went around the kitchen and collected every ingredient she could find that would make a somewhat decent shortcake. She put them all in a line in front of the quiet crow to make him decide.
The crow didn’t budge.
The crow on her shoulder chirped loudly, but she couldn’t understand what they chirping was supposed to mean.
The crow still didn’t budge.
The crow on her shoulder was apparently done with that attitude and fluttered down on the table. It put itself on a can of candied strawberries and chirped loudly. Now Hitoka was 100% sure that those crows knew each other intimately, they must have been close friends before transforming.
Or maybe baby familiars can understand each other perfectly fine and they had just been familiars in the same place for a long time. Hitoka decided to ask Suga about that later.
Hitoka put herself to work, chirpy crow on her shoulder every step of the way (even stealing some batter off the spoon, which made Hitoka laugh. When she offered the spoon to the quiet crow still sitting in the counter it refused the offer. Chirpy crow chirped sadly).
Short cakes were actually one of the only things Hitoka could do that she was actually proud of, which is why she chose the recipe. She had never made them with candied strawberries before, but she was confident that she could pull it off, even if they would end up much sweeter than she would have liked.
When the cake was in the oven, Asahi came back in, she asked him about communicating with other familiars as babies, but he hadn’t actually had any other familiars around him when he was young, so he couldn’t answer her.
Hitoka felt like she should offer him some of the batter to taste, but he suddenly seemed much too tall, old, and intimidating to be offered batter like that, though it looked like he wanted to eat it. Hitoka felt really uncertain and uncomfortable.
The tension in the room was solved by Kiyoko, Suga, and Daichi coming in, Suga just went straight for the batter without asking for access and made a comment about Asahi needing to go for it before it was gone. Asahi actually went for it and looked as happy as a little boy.
“Can you help us unpack the groceries, I’ll tell you where everything goes.” When she smiled like that, Hitoka couldn’t deny a request from the beautiful Kiyoko.
They all had brown paper bags full of groceries with them, Daichi carried two. Hitoka wondered if they were all for tonight, and if so, how many people Kiyoko expected for her game night.
“They are our weekly groceries, but there are snacks and stuff for tonight,” Kiyoko said as she put ice pops in the freezer. “If you have requests of any sorts you can ask us, and we bring them, or you can even come with us if you like.”
Hitoka expressed concerns about paying for her stay and consumption but was denied her worries.
“Don’t mind, you are family.”
“Literally,” Suga said, eating batter instead of unpacking like everybody else.
The shortcake was done, Hitoka put it on a plate with some whipped cream and a single candied strawberry on top, and set it in front of the quiet crow.
The quiet crow moved… very hesitantly. Hitoka was suspecting that having five people and one fellow crow stare at it eating may not help its situation, but eating was eating.
He actually ate most of it, which Hitoka saw as a win, and made her wonder how familiar stomachs worked when the cake itself was about the size of the baby crow.
The evening arrived and Kyoko’s friends were… not what Hitoka had expected.
Or rather, who she had expected.
A nice man with dark hair and a brown yukata smiled at her. “Hello there.”
I know you! Said a voice inside Hitoka’s head, only it was a male voice. Last time she checked she didn’t have a male voice in her head. Maybe she was going crazy.
“Here.” Said Kiyoko, offering two servings of what may be tea to… not the man in the yukata.
Two men appeared next to the first man, they held the cups of tea Kiyoko had offered them.
“You are that girl that was lost a week ago.” Said the voice from inside Hitoka’s head, only this time it came out of the left guys’ mouth. He was a little taller than his permanently corporal companion, and he had spiky, light coloured hair. His companion on the far right was much taller than them, and his hair was dark and short cropped.
Hitoka realized she had just been starring, she bowed quickly as deep as she could and said, “IT’S NICE TO MEET YOU! MY NAME IS YACHI HITOKA!” She felt embarrassed about her outburst immediately. The men in front of her laughed.
“Kazuhito, nice to meet you.” Said the tallest of them, from the far right.
Hitoka couldn’t believe that she hadn’t seen them up until just then.
“Hisashi and Kazuhito are shadow people, that’s why you couldn’t see or hear them properly.” Said the pleasant-looking man from between them. He must have recognised Hitoka’s confusion. “I’m Chikara, I am a spirit.”
Hitoka nodded at them, stunned.
“Hitoka is Chiyo’s granddaughter.” Said Kiyoko, leading them to a set up with a big table and eight chairs. “She is here to pick up the craft and raise the crows.”
“So you haven’t been raised as a witch?” Hitoka shook her head. She didn’t quite know what to say.
“She already made some progress, two of them have developed feathers.” Kiyoko looked proud, Hitoka felt weak.
“Without training? That’s amazing.” Hitoka was flustered, she felt undeserving of the praise, especially from spirits and her seniors.
“Here are the snacks! Are we showing off Hitoka already?” Hitoka had a feeling that Suga could magically appear whenever Hitoka felt uncomfortable to defuse the situation.
It was only shortly after dinner, so they went light on the snacks, but heavy on the drinks. Most of them drank Soda’s, the spirits put their hands on some Sake though.
Hitoka had a good night, Kiyoko’s friends were fun and nice, though with the high percentage of males Hitoka could understand why her grandmother had mentioned Kiyoko’s desire for female friends in the beginning.
As the night went on Hitoka noticed something else about the lot of them, they were all… intimidating.
Not in the sense that she was scared of them, it was more that their aura had something senior and wise about them. Especially collectively.
Hitoka knew that the age gap between her and her roommates was only two years, but right then they felt like decades.
She felt insignificant in comparison.
“I hate that we keep losing everything to Suga.”
Hitoka swallowed, now was not the time to be depressed, it was a beautiful evening after all. She decided to ask a question that had been pressing her.
“So what happened to the other two?”
Chikara blinked, then found himself again. “Ryuu and Noya? They are outside, they stand guard.”
Hitoka was confused. Why would they have to stand guard, would their group be haunted by evil spirits if they didn’t? Did they hire those two guys to scare off evil spirits all the time?
“You say ‘stand guard’ like it’s their job, and not something they do because they are banned from going inside.” Suga really had no right to be giggling like that when he made such a statement. Why were they banned? Did Kiyoko ban them? Why were they here in the first place? Where they actually evil spirits themselves that the spirits at the table couldn’t get rid off?
“Now, now. There is no need to scare Hitoka like that.” Kiyoko turned to Hitoka. “Ryuunosuke and Nishinoya are good people. Just very…” Kiyoko made a grimace, “intense.”
Suga laughed. “The first time they met Kiyoko they proposed to her.” Hitoka could understand that, she almost did the same thing.
“And they always look for opportunities to hug her,” Daichi added. Kiyoko pulled a face.
“When she denied their advances they declared themselves her protectors.” Asahi said. Kiyoko pulled another face.
“They have their heart in the right place, they just don’t show it in a way that presents them in a good light.” Chikara must have a really fond picture of them to be smiling that softly. Hitoka turned to Kiyoko.
“I would trust them with my life, but I won’t let them into my house.” Kiyoko shuffled her cards. “They helped me out when I was new here. They are a bit of a nuisance, but I am very grateful for them.”
Hitoka had to think about that for a while. Kiyoko set out new cards. Then Hitoka realized something.
“I just ran away from them when I first met them!” She clasped her face in her hands in agony. “I was so rude because I was scared of them.”
Chikara laughed. “That happens a lot to them, I’m sure they didn’t take offense.” It happening a lot didn’t make Hitoka feel any better.
“I wanna apologize.” Then, more quietly. “I wanna give them something.”
“Take the ice pops in the freezer, they’ll love those.” Kiyoko’s beautiful smile almost made Hitoka forget about her mission.
She bowed, excused herself, and ran to the fridge, she took out two ice pops and struggled to shut the fridge again in her hurry.
When she opened the door with two ice pops in her hand she didn’t quite know what she wanted to say, she had just dashed off on instinct, but now she lacked the words.
To the left of the door stood the guy that looked like a punk. Now, that Hitoka didn’t dash away, she could see that he had grey eyes, he wore a loose tank top under a black leather jacket and dark jeans, none of them could hide that he was ripped. The grimace he pulled could distract from that though.
The small guy on the right of the door had an intense gaze. Hitoka noticed that there was something unsettling about his eyes, something about how big they were, how they seemed to look right into her soul. Hitoka swallowed. This guy wore a Yutaka as well, same as Chikara, only he wore a darker one, with vines and leaves in a lighter shade on them, and he had his sleeves pulled up and back with a string, showing his arms. She could tell that this guy was far more boney than the other, but certainly not weak.
Hitoka swallowed her fear. “I’m sorry that I got scared of you the other day and just ran off!” She bowed deeply. “Please accept this offering as a peacemaker!” She held out the ice pops to them.
The boys looked excited as if they were actual preschoolers, being shown ice cream as a reward for good behaviour. Hitoka briefly wondered how she was ever scared of them.
“Don’t worry, happens’ a lot. We shouldn’t’a scared ya like that.” Said the punk, accepting his ice pop gratefully.
“This is my favourite flavour.” Said the guy in the yukata, straight up just biting a piece off. “Kiyoko knows what's good.” He bowed too, after having finished his ice cream in three bites that is. “Sorry for scaring you.”
Hitoka shook her head, then she realized that she messed up her introductions again. “My name is Yachi Hitoka, I’m Yachi Chiyo’s granddaughter. I’m here to raise the crows.”
“That’s cool, I was hoping we would get a cute witch to look after those guys.” Hitoka blushed, the yukata guy pointed at himself. “I’m Nishinoya, but call me Noya. I am the guardian of this forest, I look after all the creatures in it.” Hitoka was impressed, he radiated a sort of importance that she would expect of a deity, she almost felt unworthy talking to him.
“Noya’s the reason we ran into ya. Noticed you were lost.” The punk guy said, still eating his ice pop. “I’m Tanaka Ryuunosuke, but I go by Ryuu. Nice to meet’cha.” He smiled widely.
Hitoka nodded happily, she wasn’t scared or intimidated anymore.
“So what is your role in this wood, Ryuu?”
Ryuu looked displeased with that statement, Hitoka must have hit a nerve gain. This also seemed to be a reoccurring theme these last few days.
“I’m just an average guy, was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.” He said unhappily.
“Ryuu here hit on the wrong witch and was cursed by her to be banned to these woods until a witch falls in love with him.” Noya enthusiastically clapped his friends back as he said that, he seemed to use the same brand of ‘aggressive love’ as Suga. Hitoka kinda hoped to never be on his good side.
Hitoka was scared to hit a nerve again, but had to ask. “So how long have you been banned to this forest yet?”
Ryuu thought for a moment. “Must be ‘bout a year now.”
If he was just a normal guy, and only had been cursed for a year, he can’t be much older than Hitoka.
“How old are you then?”
“I’m 19 now.” Ryuu laughed, he had finished the last of his ice pop now. “Was in my last year of high school when I went hiking with some friends here. Ran into that fine looking girl. Didn’t like my approach at all. cursed me to be here forever.” Ryuu laughed again. “Ain’t even got cool powers with my curse, just can’t leave my location.”
Hitoka felt bad for him, but overall she was excited, he was only a year older than her, that was pretty close. The feeling of unease and inadequacy she was feeling inside was instantly gone. She was happy that she had gone outside to meet them.
She was starting to freeze though.
“Aren’t you guys getting cold out here?”
Noya shook his head, Ryuu shrugged. “Nah, we’re tough, is alright.” Then he looked at Hitoka. “Are you okay though?” Hitoka nodded but was visibly shaking. “Here, take this.” He handed her his leather jacket, Hitoka accepted it gratefully. She also appreciated the view of his strong arms in the tank top.
“Nice going, Ryuu.” Noya said, in a voice that was probably supposed to be a whisper, but very audible to Hitoka. Ryuu winked at him.
“So if ya just moved to ya granny for the birds, ya must have graduated high school recently.”
Hitoka nodded, she was definitely less cold now. “I graduated from Karasuno High last week.”
Ryuu’s eyes sprung open. “Ya kiddin’, that’s the school I went to.”
“Yea, would have graduated last year if it weren’t for-” he pointed vaguely at himself and the situation in general, “-this.”
Hitoka nodded understandingly. She sat down on the stairs in front of the door, not wanting to stand any longer.
“So did you just plan to graduate and then move in with your granny?” Noya asked.
Hitoka shook her head. “I didn’t even know she was a witch until last week.” The boys were obviously confused by that but didn’t ask. “I didn’t have anything else to do though. I never felt passionate enough about anything to chase it.” She shrugged. “I didn’t really feel like I had a goal or a purpose in my life before my granny said that I could help the birds.” She smiled and looked up at them. “So that’s why I’m here now.”
The boys smiled understandingly.
Hitoka decided that it was getting too cold, even with the jacket. She gave it back to Ryuu with words of her gratefulness, even though she would miss the warm feel of it around her shoulders.
They bid their goodbyes and she went inside.
The rest of the night inside was about as pleasant, and Hitoka’s feeling of inadequacy had gone too.
Chapter 7: Fries
The next morning started beautifully, there was more feathers on the… star crow?
Seems like helping the moon crow actually helped the star crow instead. Whatever though, progress was progress. She had plans for the star crow anyway, but later.
Volleyball training with Suga was going lovely, Hitoka’s received balls actually kinda went where she wanted them to like 60% of the time now, for the rest Suga could do a good enough job chasing to return them to her. In their collective effort, they managed to pass them backwards and forwards two or even three times before it fell on the ground again.
Hitoka couldn’t see a crow in her window after practice.
The most important part though was that she had decided to make fries. Apparently Asahi loved deep frying, so he had offered his help.
When she stormed into her room announcing “I’m making fries, who wants some?!” She got an excited crow chirp, and hoped it was from the crow that liked fries. When she offered her hand to it the quiet moon crow came with.
They really must be friends.
Hitoka stood in the kitchen, one crow on each arm, carefully peeling potatoes with Asahi, but being considerably slower than him to not scare off the crows.
The crow on her left was completely still, the one on her right was jumping up and down excitedly and making a lot of noise. Asahi laughed at it.
Asahi himself was presenting a very wholesome picture, laughing gently, midday sun shining on his face, brown locks up in an updo, apron over light summer clothing. He looked like he was modelling for a cooking magazine, advertising to women that maybe they too could have a man like this, if they cooked this particular dish.
Asahi taught her the ins and outs of deep frying, Hitoka was amazed by how much oil they actually had to use, it made her kinda hesitant to eat anything.
They salted everything in the end, and Asahi added several different herb or garlic dips from the kitchen, Hitoka was excited, so was the star bird. They decided to let them cool though, and got themselves drinks instead.
They stood outside the door to the garden, looking at the beautiful greens, each wearing a sunhat, and drinking cold sodas.
“Do you guys get all your meals from the garden?”
Asahi was flustered. “Not really. I planted some base ingredients like potatoes, tomatoes, and things like that.” He took a sip, still looking nervous for some reason, though Hitoka could understand. “We get Dairy products, meat, and other supplies from the supermarket. Also junk food.” Asahi laughed awkwardly.
“Did you plant all this yourself though?”
Asahi scratched the back of his head, he looked very small and awkward then, especially for a guy his size.
“I had help from the others actually, everybody did a bit. Also Chiyo had started a garden already, albeit a small one.” He leaned down to her and said in a fake whisper tone, “I don’t like asking Kiyoko for help, she’s terrible with plants.”
They both giggled.
“Are those your fries inside?” Asahi and Hitoka both shrieked loudly. “I’m just saying because they look really good and we wouldn’t want Suga to find them before you guys had a go.” Kiyoko had a neutral voice on, so Hitoka had no idea whether she had overheard them.
Hitoka and Asahi walked back with their heads hung low.
“What are you guys looking so gloom about?”
“Nothing.” They said at the same time.
Their unnecessarily large pile of fries looked advertising, and with all their small piles of different dips added to it, it actually looked like an advertisement.
They dug in. Asahi, Kiyoko, and Hitoka ate like starving men, even the quiet crow helped itself to some fries and the star crow… just kinda jumped around the plate.
It certainly seemed excited about the fries, also keen to eat them, it just didn’t touch them.
Maybe Hitoka had misinterpreted it, maybe he was some sort of food enthusiast that preferred cooking over eating, or maybe he liked to take pictures of fries. Worst of all, maybe he was allergic to them, but loved them from a time ago when he wasn’t, and Hitoka had been insensitive enough to put them just within reach of him without considering dietary restrictions. Hitoka felt terrible.
She decided to put some in a bowl for him, in case he was just indecisive. He was excited enough about that to jump around in circles, but still wouldn’t eat even after everyone else was done. Hitoka was gonna get up and leave, so she asked if he wanted to come along, but he shook himself in refusal and ignored her hand, the quiet moon crow though jumped off her shoulder and joined his friend on the kitchen counter. Hitoka decided to just leave them to themselves.
“Is that fries I am smelling? Is there still some there?”
“Nanna! Do you need a hand with that?” Hitoka ran to her granny to help her carry a large amount of paper in packs.
“Don’t worry dear, I enchanted them so they wouldn’t be heavy.” Nanna Yachi smiled gently.
“That is a lot of paper.” Hitoka noticed.
“It’s for the printer.” Hitoka hadn’t even noticed that there was a printer in the house. “We have decided to expand our business to non-magic folks outside of the woods.” Hitoka wondered how non-magic people could benefit from a magical repair service, and if it was save for them to just announce that they were magic and where to find them.
“Don’t worry, we know a chant so that only people who actually require our services can see our adds.” Hitoka hadn’t heard Kiyoko approach from behind. “It will be good to get more customers though.”
“You can look at our designs later, dear. Your mother had a look, but was not impressed, maybe you can help us improve.” Hitoka nodded.
“Ow! Your bird pricked me.” They all turned to the kitchen, were Suga was making stinky eyes at one of the birds, holding one of his fingers. Evidently he tried to steal from the fries, but was attacked by one of them.
Hitoka may have been wrong, but it seemed to be the quiet one that did the guarding of the fries. They seem to be there for each other, Hitoka thought. She was already excited to see tomorrow's development.
Nanna Yachi and Kiyoko took her upstairs into something that was probably a study. It was a mostly empty room, with a desk, a chair, and some office supplies. The computer was certainly old by Hitoka’s standards, especially having a CEO from a design firm for a mother, but it was not as bad as she expected from a witch and also a grandma.
The designs they showed her were… interesting at best. She thought about how they could possibly be saved, and whether a website would be something they could do, and how that would work.
“I’ll look into the chant to see how it applies here.” Said Kiyoko in response to Hitoka’s idea. She felt like she had just been invited to do some great changes, and also like she wasn’t fit for that. They went back down.
It had been some time since they had made their fries, the sun was already low on the sky, the birds still stood in front of it, though they seemed to be dozing.
Hitoka picked up one of the fries. It was cold and gross and bendy in a way that fries shouldn’t be.
“It’s all floppy.” Said Hitoka in disgust. This however woke the star crow in an instant, and made it shoot towards its bowl of fries. With disbelieve in her eyes watched Hitoka as one of her familiars ate soggy old fries like they were a four course meal.
“You really like floppy fries?” The bird didn’t respond, only continued consuming, his friend seemed pleased. Hitoka considered that an affirmative.
The crow actually finished the entire bowl by itself, and in quite a speed too. Hitoka was impressed, even thought it was just a breakfast bowl.
When she went upstairs she could see the two other crows chasing another around. She couldn’t quite tell if their fighting was playful or serious, but nobody had gotten hurt so far, so at least they weren’t out for blood. That must be good.
Hitoka went back down to see if she could spend any time with Kiyoko.
Chapter 8: A glimpse of fate
Hitoka Jumped out of bed in excitement. Checking up on her crows development felt like christmas morning everyday.
Today she noticed that the star bird and the moon bird had both developed further. The sun and night bird had no differences in their appearance since that first attempt. I have been neglecting you lately, haven’t I? But not for much longer, then we will bond again .
Since the moon crow was the least developed so far, she decided to work on his interests, the volleyball crows had an interest in the making with Hitoka training every morning, she didn’t know yet how to expose them to the volleyball and make them excited, but she supposed that time would come.
Breakfast and training had to happen first anyway.
Hitoka and Suga ate together, as they did more so these days. Suga gave Hitoka tips on how to improve her receives.
The day was cloudy, helping Hitoka see, and probably supporting her improved receiving and aiming quota. Though not by much.
In the afternoon, when Nanna Yachi came back, Hitoka helped her and Kiyoko improve the advertisement poster. This resulted in Hitoka suggesting slight changes that totally, absolutely did not end in a completely different poster and may or may not have required a photoshop update on her granny’s computer.
They all were collectively so proud of their work that Hitoka decided to design them a webpage, which resulted in them delaying the spreading of the posters since they needed a URL first, but Hitoka wanted to wait with that until another day.
In the evening, Hitoka and Nanna Yachi felt so tired that they just slumped on the couch, watching TV. Daichi and Asahi were making dinner, Suga was eating grapes and occasionally throwing one at them. Kiyoko was upstairs in her room revising the spell for the web page. Two of the crows sat on Hitoka’s head and shoulder respectively.
The TV in the Yachi household would have been considered outdated in Madoka’s apartment, but was certainly not old. Hitoka thought it fit the overall atmosphere.
The bird on her shoulder and the one on her head were nagging at each other, though she had stopped worrying about them, as long as they weren’t louder than the TV she could live with their weird quarrels.
That reminded her though, “Nanna Yachi?”
Nanna Yachi hummed in acknowledgement. She looked half asleep. Hitoka felt bad for getting her attention.
“You found two of the familiars yourself, right?”
Nanna Yachi looked much more awake at that. She nodded. Hitoka hoped it was the two upstairs, so she could get insight into their previous life, see if they had known each other.
“It was those two.” Nanna Yachi pointed between the bird on her shoulder and the bird on her head. A bust then. “Want to know how I found them and why I chose them?” Hitoka nodded, but softened her nodding quickly to not shake the bird on her head off.
Nanna Yachi leaned back into the couch, looking up at the ceiling. “It was pure coincidence really, that I found them, or maybe it was fate.” Hitoka noticed her birds listening attentively. “I was on my way home from shopping, but was on a way from a friend, so I didn’t take my usual route. I passed behind a school, where I saw two boys sitting and sulking.” She turned to Hitoka to point at the birds. “Those two. One of them was textbook familiar material, no attachments, no fate, obviously lost. The other still had strong attachments, but what I saw there…” Nanna Yachi took a breath, Hitoka was enthralled, “… I’ve never seen a string of fate that strong.” Hitoka was lost.
“String of fate?” Hitoka squinted. “You can see fate?”
It took Nanna Yachi a moment to come back to reality. “Oh, that's right, you shouldn’t know this. We decide on who gets to be a familiar by the strengths of their strings of fate.” Hitoka still didn’t follow. “Every person has strings of fates to others, the more that person is supposed to have an impact on them, the stronger their string gets. Familiars are children that only have really weak strings, and a witches purpose is to strengthen or even create those strings.”
She pointed at the top of Hitoka’s head. “This guy has a lot of strong strings, he must be very sociable, affects a lot of people's lives. This guy-“ she pointed at her shoulder “- only had one strong string of fate, and it was to his friend.”
Nanna Yachi looked away again. “I am still taken by their string, I have never seen anything as strong.” Then she turned back to Hitoka. “So obviously the unattached guy had to come, but since strong strings need to be nurtured I had to take the other side too. I didn’t suppose that his other strings would suffer from that, they were all pretty strong.”
Hitoka’s head was spinning, she didn’t feel like she could catch up, but before she could form an opinion or ask for clarification they got called for dinner.
Chapter 9: Dino stuff
The next morning offered no progress with the crows, which was to be expected, as she hadn’t put any effort into them.
There was however noticeable progress with volleyball practice. Their receives actually went back and forth a few more times than usual before the ball flew too far away to be saved. Hitoka was proud, so was Suga.
“Your progress is fast, soon we can work on other aspects of volleyball.” Hitoka was excited.
“You guys play volleyball?” Daichi stood in the main doorway, evidently having seen them train.
“Two of my crows seem to like volleyball, so I wanted to learn it to bond with them.”
“Do you play, Daichi?”
Daichi laughed. “I played back before I was turned. Was on my junior highs volleyball team. Also played casually with my old witch, there was quite a few of us in her household, we could almost form two whole teams.”
Hitoka was excited, the number of volleyball players increased steadily, this could be helpful somehow, Suga seemed in good spirits as well.
“What position do you play?”
Daichi pointed at himself. “Wing spiker, on the right.” Hitoka remembered wing spiker to be one of the positions, but forgot what that entailed. She also hadn’t known that there was a left and a right side when having a position. “You seem to play too, Suga.”
“I am a setter, I was in my local team before I turned, didn’t have anyone to play with after though.”
Daichi scratched his chin. “I think Asahi said that he played too, maybe we can have a match against each other at one point.” Hitoka was shocked, that was just too convenient to be true. Her whole life she went about without ever having to interact with a volleyball, but when she suddenly needed players they came en masse, and they all live together. She did, however, remember her granny mentioning fate going beyond one’s connection to another person. At dinner last night she had said that a fate can also be tied to a place, a time, or a concept. Maybe it was fate that everybody she knew played volleyball, and to think that her high school didn’t even have a team…
Well, they had a girls team, but they weren’t particularly good if she remembered correctly.
“So how is your training going?”
“Hitoka only started playing a few days ago, so I only taught her receiving, but she’s catching up fast, so I wanted to teach her serving next.” Serving? She didn’t even remember that being mentioned in their little volleyball crash course a few days ago.
Daichi laughed. “Well, if you need spiking or blocking practice you can ask me for help, if you like.” Suga seemed keen on that, Hitoka was just excited to have more people help with volleyball.
If they could actually have a match soon, maybe she could get the crows to watch… would they like that?
That would be an issue for another time, because now she had shopping on her agenda.
She stormed into her room again. “I’m gonna get dinosaur stuff!”
She could tell the dino crow was excited, she could just tell, but he also seemed reluctant about being excited. His star friend however yelled at him, and the dino crow went with Hitoka, his head held low.
It didn’t take her much more than ten minutes out of the woods, and another ten with the bus into the city. There she was lost for a moment, just her, her outside clothes, her handbag, her baby crow, and her lack of idea as to where to get dinosaur related things.
She decided that her little quiet crow seemed smart, so he must like books, so she went to the nearest bookstore to ask for dinosaur related stuff. They didn’t even notice the crow sitting on her bag.
She went to their textbook section to see if they had something that spoke to her. Or rather, her crow.
She let her hands wander over the individual books, and asked the crow questions about it, the crow stayed quiet though. At a particularly big one, must have been college level academia, the crow made a sound, an excited one. Hitoka pulled it out and struggled to hold it, this was gonna be an expensive one, but it was not like she had any other out going costs currently, so she bought it.
Hitoka went to a craft store next, stocking up on glue and pens for posters and ideas, though on the way out she came past the little animal figurines these sort of stores tend to have, and as she did she could hear a little noise of longing from her side. It seemed her little crow wanted a figurine.
She decided to approach the figurines the same way as the books, just stand in front of them and let her hand over each one until she would get a reaction from the bird.
Her bird stood stock still, until she found three different dinosaur ones, Hitoka couldn’t name them, but it was evident that the bird really wanted them. In his subtle sort of way. So she got them all.
The shopping stuff was getting really heavy for her, especially the big book, so she decided to go home again, but not before stopping by the bakery. They didn’t actually have short cake, but they did have other strawberry cake, which she shared with the bird. He seemed appreciative.
She actually read a few pages into the book while on the bus, the bird sitting on her shoulder and seemingly reading with her. It was hard to understand, but she could follow.
The way home after the bus was harder, the book seemed heavier than before, and the entire way had a slight upwards slope. She felt like dying.
Once she arrived at the house she just let the shopping bags down, and went to her knees to breathe. Next time I’m taking a backpack, she thought.
“What happened to you, Hitoka? You look so worn.” Hitoka looked up to see the beautiful Kiyoko in front of her, she immediately felt blessed. Then she felt stressed, because she could smell the sweat on her skin, and according to Kiyoko herself she looked terrible. She was in agony, showed a thumbs up though to signify that she was okay.
“If you say so. Hey, I finished the spell we can put on your webpage, so you can do your work there.” Hitoka smiled at that. She must have looked tragic because the next thing Kiyoko said was, “you look like you need a slushy.” Hitoka nodded. She didn’t even know they had slushies. Or ways to make slushies. She wasn’t gonna question Kiyoko’s magic hands though. Well, actually magic, she was a witch after all.
“You go upstairs, I’ll bring you your slushy once its done.” Hitoka nodded at that too, and took herself, her bird, and her unnecessarily heavy bag upstairs.
Once there, she dropped everything again, and threw herself on her bed, only to be raised from the dead again by Kiyoko with her slushy.
After a few sips she actually felt significantly more alive (must have been some sort of magic, apparently her granny had done similar things with everything she cooked for her), she lied on her stomach on her bed and read the dinosaur textbook. The dino crow on her shoulder, reading along. The star crow in the cage, evidently having a snooze, the enemy crows fluttering around and occasionally yelling at each other.
Over all the day ended well.
Chapter 10: Secrets you hear at night
Hitoka jumped out of bed to see the progress. The progress was… more than she had expected.
Again, having helped the moon crow had for some reason also helped the star crow, they must be codependent or something . Hitoka was glad she hadn’t said that out loud, those crows must not appreciate being psycho analysed by someone that had met them a little over a week ago and has yet to have a conversation with either of them.
They started their morning with receiving as they did every morning. Receiving practice turned into serving practice, with Suga pulling up a washing line with some clothes on it to indicate a net. Suga explained that serving the ball across the net to the court of the other team is what starts each round, and needs to be done by every player in rotation.
Once Hitoka got the hang of the serves they weren’t actually that hard. Not necessarily accurate, but the landed vaguely in the general area of ‘the other court’, which was a plus.
They still spend their last hour of practice with receiving.
Hitoka spend her afternoon working on the webpage. She felt like some sort of high functioning geek from a movie, hunched over her computer, sitting in the dark, her eyes eventually burning with the stark contrast of light and lack thereof, her body hurting from not moving.
Kiyoko had emailed her files that she wanted Hitoka to use for the spell. Hitoka managed to include them all.
She was was satisfied with the final product, but still wanted her granny to look over it, though she was out for the night.
Hitoka got up and stretched. She had been sitting down unmoving for several hours, the first thing she did was go to the toilet, then check on her birds, then hunted for food.
She had been working until way past dinner time, also way past bedtime apparently, as she couldn’t see the ravens in the kitchen, and all the lights were off.
Since it was so late she had expected to look for bread and some spreads, however she found food waiting for her. In the moonlight falling into the kitchen she could see a covered plate with a piece of paper on it. An ‘ eat or die - Suga <3 ’ was crossed out and replaced by a ‘ here is some leftover lasagna, you can heat it up in the oven - Kiyoko ’. Hitoka’s stomach rumbled loudly, so she reheated the food.
As she ate her food in the dark she thought about what she knew about her crows.
She had her quiet crow, the one that refused to warm up, refused to participate, refused to show interest. She knew that he was associated with the moon for some reason, and that he identified with it enough to be flattered when he was depicted as such. She also knew that he was friends with the shy one that Kiyoko had called ‘secretly feisty’, and that he valued that one’s happiness higher than his own.
She knew the shy ‘feisty’ one was self-conscious about his looks, or at least thought so when he got touchy about freckles. She knew that he may not stand up for himself, but will defend his quiet friend to his dying breath. She also knew of his weird love for floppy fries.
She knew there was an aggressive crow, one that hadn’t been close with his peers when still human, and refused to get along with his fellow crows. Unless his constant fighting with that fourth crow was actually playful and not aggressive, but she couldn’t quite tell sometimes. She knew he carried himself with pride, and that he was a great milk and volleyball enthusiast.
She knew the exited crow was social, got close to people easily, and was very energetic. She also knew him to be a volleyball enthusiast, and she knew that he went to the same school as the aggressive crow, though it was uncertain whether they had gotten along then. With how sociable he was she also had a feeling that the ‘sun’ part of his character was in regards to his personality.
She continued eating in silence.
Until she heard a yelp from behind her, which shocked her.
A startled Asahi in pyjamas and a dressing gown was looking at her with wide eyes.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you, I just didn’t expect anyone to be awake.” He said, his hands raised in defence.
Hitoka shook her head because her mouth was still full and slapped on the seat beside her at the kitchen counter.
“I was just gonna make myself a tea, do you want one?” Hitoka shook her head again.
Asahi turned on an electric hot water kettle, which made an alarming amount of noise this late at night. Hitoka had already been concerned about turning the oven on, but Asahi must know that everybody here was a heavy sleeper.
“So why are you awake so late?”
Hitoka swallowed. “I was working on Nanna’s web page today, took longer than expected, I only just finished.” Asahi nodded understandingly. “Why are you awake?”
Asahi stood with his back to her, face looking out of the kitchen window into the night. She couldn’t make out his expression like this. “Couldn’t sleep.” He turned to her then. “I usually like to make myself some tea when I can’t sleep.”
Hitoka had a vague feeling that she would regret asking. “Why couldn’t you sleep?”
The kettle beeped and indicated the water to be done, Asahi made no move to do something about it. He just stared out of the window. “Sometimes, in nights like this, I still think of my old witch.” Hitoka kept quiet, Asahi stared out of the window a bit more, before he caught up with his own silence and reached for a mug and some leaves to make his tea.
“The relationship my last witch and me had was… it wasn’t good.” Asahi poured water into his cup. “I had noticed her change when it happened, but I excused her bad behaviour with her bad circumstances.” Asahi looked pained. “It was a bad situation to be in, but I always told myself that it was just temporary, that she would go back to her old self soon, that it wasn’t really her doing those things.” Hitoka had finished eating, and felt awkward without anything to do, she regretted already not having asked for tea. “I only got out of it because I ran into somebody who made me see how bad the situation really was, and that changing it depended on me.” Asahi smiled fondly now. “I left her, and it was only because of him, but I never got to thank him. Do you mind if I sit here?”
Hitoka shook her head and bid Asahi to sit down. She didn’t know what to say, she didn’t know what to do with that information.
She felt insignificant in comparison.
“Do you know…” She swallowed, Asahi looked at her attentively, which didn’t help her find her words. The overall silver-blue light of the moon illuminating the kitchen helped though. She looked ahead. “You know, everybody here had something happen to them. Some sort of tragic or significant thing and helps them grow, or makes them bigger than life somehow.” She looked up at the ceiling. “Most of Kiyoko’s friends are immortal spirits. All my familiars have unnaturally strong bonds and mysterious pasts. My mom just straight up left the witch life behind her and became the CEO of a design firm instead.” She looked down at her hands. “Me though, I have done nothing significant, I have experienced nothing significant. I feel like everybody around me is a main character in their own thrilling story, and I… I am just the chronic, forgettable side character without any plot. A face in the crowd.”
Asahi smiled at her gently as he listened to her words. There was something incredibly soothing about that smile. “If there was anyone that was a chronic side character, face blending in with the crowd sort of a type, wouldn’t that be Kazuhito and Hisashi?”
Hitoka laughed at that, whole heartedly laughed. It felt good to laugh about it, like she had been worrying about something insignificant and just realised that it didn’t even matter.
“I think,” Asahi started, “that if you help those boys develop into fully grown, human adults, you are already doing something significant.” Hitoka smiled a big smile. “To those four boys you are important, no matter if you are a background character or the story’s hero.” Hitoka nodded with enthusiasm, that was something she could work with.
They bid each other good night and went to bed.
In her room, Hitoka was greeted by her sleepy crows, she squatted in front of their cage to observe them. She was going to make them human, and then she is going to ask them about their lives, their goals, their desires. It was going to be great. Then she let go of a big yawn and went to bed.
Chapter 11: Just a city girl
There was no progress with the crows yet, but Hitoka had big hopes for them soon.
Suga was satisfied with Hitoka’s half baked receiving and serving abilities today, so he suggested some spiking practice. Hitoka was excited.
They asked Daichi to help them out.
First they did some demonstrative spikes. Hitoka could tell that Daichi’s spike was strong, and that she would have trouble receiving it. After him it was Hitoka’s turn to spike, Daichi stood on the other side of their ‘net’ to receive.
Not that he had anything to receive, Hitoka had a particularly hard time actually hitting the balls. Not even to mention that the ‘net’ was so high that she could only get a ball across (theoretically) when she stretched herself fully and jumped at full power. For every try.
Daichi’s and Suga’s collective efforts of teaching her how to spike properly, and jump high comfortably showed quick improvements in Hitoka’s efforts.
Towards the end her spikes had improved so much that Daichi actually had something to receive. Not that he had to put any efforts into receiving, but that wasn’t the matter of today.
For one of the last spikes Daichi had to go into a squat to receive it. One leg stretched out to the side, the folded one holding all his weight, confident smile on his face.
This made Hitoka realise that Daichi looked… strong. He wasn’t necessarily the same brand of beef cake that Ryuu was, but you could tell that he had meat on his thighs, and squatting like that made them look pretty edible.
Suga seemed to have similar thoughts, judging by the look on his face.
Hitoka could hear loud albeit muffled yelling from above her. Two of her crows were standing in her window, yelling loudly at the scene beneath them. One of them also jumped and fluttered around, bumping into the other one several times, and generally having a good time.
Hitoka was excited that they got to watch. Tomorrow she would take them to practice with her, maybe they would like it.
She also decided that if the enthusiastic crow could be that annoying in the aggressive ones face without him causing a scene then they must be friends. The day was only half over and it was already a success.
After lunch, her and Kiyoko and Asahi went into the city to hang up the posters. Hitoka was excited to be able to spend time with Kiyoko, but eventually disappointed when the group split up once they arrived, to cover more ground faster.
Hitoka felt embarrassed putting up posters that advertised supernatural services, but it had been quite cloudy and cold that day, so there wasn’t much going on in the city.
When they got back home, she discovered her spiking arm hurt like nothing ever had. Apparently she wasn’t used to those repeated movements and throwing her arm up like that with all she had, and now her arm had completely given up on her, being useless and hurting a lot.
She complained to Kiyoko about it who gave her some painkillers. She wasn’t looking forward to the pain she would have tomorrow.
Chapter 12: An audience
Progress the next day was… impressive.
She hadn’t done particularly much bonding with these crows, so they had been the least developed up until now, but since last night they had caught up with the others.
If the volleyball related process was that quick, she would have to involve them more, she decided to take them with her today.
Though not without complaining about sore muscles every time she took a step. She hadn’t even considered how straining all the jumping was for her legs.
Suga and Daichi were excited to hang out with the crows today, and fully supported her decision to take them with her. They also gave her pain killers for breakfast so she could continue training.
The boys were majorly excited about practice. Didn’t matter if it was serving, spiking, or receiving. They yelled and jumped around throughout the entire ordeal, Hitoka wondered where they got the stamina from because she always felt dead by the time lunch came around.
Hitoka went with her choosing system to make food for the boys, and they all ate lunch together. The night sky crow seemed particularly fond of Suga, Hitoka didn’t know why although she could understand. The sun crow stayed with her, but loudly tried to be included in conversation. None of them understood a word of what he said, but Daichi pretended to nod along and agree or disagree with whatever the bird said. This is why we think of you as the dad, Daichi .
Hitoka thanked all the gods she could think of that she was able to spend time with Kiyoko. The girl had taken the afternoon off, and Hitoka didn’t have any plans herself, which lead them to spend the weirdly cold afternoon inside.
Hitoka sat awkwardly on the couch, because Kiyoko stepped next to her, said ‘hello’ and ‘do you mind if I sit here?’ but otherwise hadn’t done anything except read a book. It looked to be a novel.
Hitoka herself sat stock still, but stretched and twitched her fingers, not knowing what to do, not intending to interrupt Kiyoko in her literature. She just looked so… intimidating, like Hitoka wasn’t worthy of asking Kiyoko what her book was about, or if she minded Hitoka watching TV. Kiyoko seemed to make a good picture though, but Hitoka didn’t dare look at her, in case that caught her attention.
“How are your familiars doing?” Hitoka shrieked, having spent a few too many minutes tensed up, and not being prepared to be talked to.
She turned to Kiyoko, who was looking up from her book to smile gently at Hitoka. Hitoka was stunned for a bit, but caught herself.
“They’re good, they… They are good.” She swallowed, talking to Kiyoko always made her so nervous. “Two of them have been evolving steadily, I just exposed them to their interests and saw how that went.” Hitoka took a deep and shaky breath, Kiyoko put her hand on Hitoka’s to calm her down, but achieved the opposite. “The other two have a shared interest, which I have been working on these last few days.” She swallowed again and squeezed her eyes shut so she would be able to finish. “They must be obsessed with it, because they caught up with the other two immediately.” She took a few deep breaths.
“There really is no need to be so tense, you know?” You don’t understand, Kiyoko . Kiyoko took her hand away again, which Hitoka both appreciated and hated. “I talked to the others about this,” she must be talking about the ravens, “they say the most important part is to feel included,” It should be illegal for Kiyoko to smile that beautifully, “talk to them, have them be included in your life, be included in theirs.” Kiyoko took Hitoka’s hand into both of hers again, Hitoka felt much calmer now. “If you pay attention to them and show them that you are interested you should be good.”
Hitoka breathed deeply and nodded. She felt better somehow, stronger.
She wanted to ask Kiyoko something, get to know her. “So how did you become Nanna’s apprentice?”
Kiyoko looked ahead. “Chiyo found me herself when she was looking for a student. She said she had used strings of fate.” She smiled fondly. “Apparently I was tied to Suga and Daichi. Asahi wasn’t there yet.” Kiyoko thought for a moment. “The string can’t have been strong, with them being familiars and all, but as a witch it is her job to strengthen them.” She looked ahead again.
Hitoka desperately tried to find more topics to talk about. “Nanna said you went to karasuno too.”
Kiyoko grinned. “Yea, I was on the track team.” An athlete then? Hitoka suddenly felt the strong need to see those strong thighs. Kiyoko turned solemn. “I quit track in third year to focus on exams though.” She turned less serious. “Chiyo found me after I graduated. I’m glad it turned out this way. I still run every now and again.” Strong, beautiful thighs .
The smile that followed that made Hitoka feel so weak that she excused herself to go to bed.
Once in bed with her pyjamas and brushed teeth she continued reading the dinosaur book, the dino crow looking over her shoulder. She often made comments about the book to the bird, pointing out when she had trouble understanding something, or found something impressive. The bird seemed pleased by that.
Overall it was a good way to end the night.
Chapter 13: Witch Blogs
Hitoka woke up the way she would have from a long nap. She felt disoriented, she was drooling, and she felt unnecessarily warm. She looked around with foggy eyes, the textbook she had been reading was closed shut, pushed a few centimetres away from her pillow, she vaguely remembered having closed it herself the night before. The dino crow was sleeping a few centimetres to her right, but still on the bed. Hitoka swore she could see improvement there, but wasn’t quite sure when she looked closer.
When she got up to check on the others crows she had to make a double take, two crows were in there that were significantly bigger than the third, and their entire body was covered in light grey fluff. Hitoka was amazed, and shocked.
Kiyoko and Suga were as shocked by these significant changes as she was, but were excited how well the volleyball went for them.
Practice was easier for Hitoka now, her entire body was tender, but it didn’t hinder her receiving, or the serving (much), and her spiking also showed improvement.
Half way through practice Suga announced that they should start on blocks. Hitoka didn’t feel that her spikes were good enough yet to justify learning a new volleyball technique, and Daichi seemed as skeptical as her, but didn’t say anything, the birds yelled loudly. At least they seemed appreciative.
Suga would toss to Hitoka, she would spike and Daichi would jump straight up in front of her and block her spikes from coming across.
Having him so close in front of her, jumping higher than her, and blocking her attacks like they were nothing (which they probably were) made Hitoka feel intimidated again. As they did these practices though the two of them told her what was and wasn’t important about blocking.
Then it was her turn to block, Suga changed sides and tossed to Daichi. Hitoka couldn’t help but feel intimidated all small and alone on her side of the net, and when Daichi actually went to spike she noticed that he just went through her half baked blocks as if they weren’t even there. It didn’t help her lack of self esteem.
She could hear crow yelling from the sidelines though, and couldn’t help but feel they were cheering for her. That helped.
“Poor Hitoka isn’t gonna learn what it’s like to block a spike if she can’t block any of yours.” Hitoka felt displeased, Suga surely was gonna tell Daichi to spike with less power, so that Hitoka could feel the fake feeling of accomplishment. She felt like a child playing with adults.
“Right I’ll get Asahi.” Daichi went off to get Asahi from the gardens, Hitoka didn’t know how he was going to help her, but didn’t complain. Suga used the time to tell her that putting her arms in front of her instead of straight up was important. Hitoka felt that she would lack significant height if her arms were in front of her, but didn’t want to say anything.
Turned out, having Asahi there worked wonders. He was the tallest of them all, and having him on the same side as her significantly helped Hitoka believe in herself.
“The most important part of blocking is timing, so just jump at the same time as me.” Hitoka nodded, but felt that their timing would be off, since being a different size would probably affect their blocking somehow.
They did it though, somehow, Asahi must have adjusted his block timing in a way that made Hitoka be at the top of her block when Daichi did his spike, and between her and Asahi he actually had a hard time getting any through. Not that it was impossible or anything.
Hitoka and Asahi high fived at the end, having had a pretty successful practice. Asahi’s high fives were surprisingly gentle for an excited guy of his size and build.
The second Hitoka let her arms hang though she noticed how sore they were, she went over to her exited crows to pick them up but couldn’t seem to lift her arms. She really wasn’t used to keeping them up like that for several hours.
Kiyoko, the precious angel that she was, had made lunch for everybody, Hitoka had never felt more blessed in her life, and when Kiyoko discovered that Hitoka couldn’t lift her hands to feed herself, she had offered to do it for her. Hitoka felt even more blessed.
There was too many of them now to fit around the kitchen counter, so they actually sat at the table, with the birds on it. Inspired by Kiyoko feeding pork cutlets to Hitoka, the birds went around and let themselves be fed by the other people. Well, the exited, social butterfly let himself by fed by whomever, his stoic friend refused to be fed by anyone other than Suga.
Suga lived for it, feeding the bird with his own fork, holding the other hand protectively under the food as if he was feeding an actual baby. A fleeting mom friend went through Hitoka’s head.
“Are your wood friends gonna come today?” Kiyoko looked confused by Hitoka’s question. “Those five spirit guys.” Hitoka squinted and corrected herself. “The four spirit guys and that one cursed guy.” Kiyoko smiled now.
“They usually come Fridays, but they can’t this week.” Hitoka nodded. “They’ll come next Friday though, if you miss them.” Giggling came from around the table, Hitoka didn’t know what to make of that. It was true that she had liked the guys and wanted to talk to them again, especially those two that had to stay outside, but she felt that she was the subject of a joke that she was missing out on.
“And just so you know, Nishinoya is closer to a god than to a spirit.” If Hitoka had had food in her mouth she would have spat it out then. It was so easy to forget that after talking to him.
Still unable to use her arms, and consequently unable to do anything, she wandered around aimlessly, until she asked Kiyoko what she was doing today and if she minded company.
“I was gonna use the spell and symbols we used on our webpage on my blog. You can come with if you like.”
Hitoka was amazed. “You have a blog?”
Kiyoko laughed in her beautiful sort of way. “I don’t produce any original content. I mainly use it to talk to other witches my age, have a chat, exchange spells and such.” Witches using social media? That sounded amazing! Hitoka should get a blog too. “Want to come?” Hitoka nodded enthusiastically.
She followed Kiyoko to her room like a lovesick puppy.
Kiyoko’s room was beautiful and sleek. One side hosted a single bed, as well as a desk with an assortment of pens and a laptop on it, as well a desk lamp. That same wall also seemed to host some wall tattoos of bird shapes flying towards the sky. Hitoka felt it suited Kiyoko. Kiyoko pulled up an ottoman for Hitoka to sit on, so they could be at the same desk together.
Kiyoko opened her laptop and opened a dark blue webpage, she clicked on the icon in the top right corner that said “My Blog” and then on “Edit”. She added some symbols that Hitoka recognised from her late night not that long ago, and fused them with the background. Then she folded her hands and stared at the screen, then she started chanting. Hitoka recognised the type of chant from a few weeks ago, it seemed to be in the same language at least, but this time she could understand it more, she seemed to hear “witch”, as well as “connection” and “friend”. Kiyoko came back to the real world, and seemed satisfied with her work.
“Did you… did you enchant your blog to only give access to people who will be your friends and witches?”
“Are you starting to understand the language?” Hitoka nodded, now Kiyoko looked proud. “How much did you understand?”
Hitoka thought. “The language feels like I should understand it, but I can only follow a few words. It’s like…” Hitoka lacked the words.
“Like you are listening to a language that is similar to yours, and through exposure some words seem to make sense?” Hitoka nodded again, how did she do that? “I had the same experience when I started out, though I was more exposed to it since Chiyo taught me a new spell everyday.” She turned back to the main page and scrolled down several posts. Most of them were of pretty girls in witch clothing, all varying degrees of modern, others were of baby animals, some more seemed to be memes in a language Hitoka didn’t quite understand. “I recognised the phenomenon because my aunt married a Korean guy when I started High school, I was often at her house, as was a lot of his family. They spoke Korean most of the time and as the months went by I picked up a few words and sentences.” Somehow every fact about Kiyoko made her more amazing, no matter what it was. Hitoka was always good at english when she had it in class,but she couldn’t say that she could understand american movies, or would survive if she had to live in an english speaking country.
She had a look at Kiyoko’s blog name.
They actually spent some time talking to one of Kiyoko’s online friends. A girl from Tokyo with two owl familiars. She was pretty funny, even though half her messages were memes that Hitoka didn’t understand. She hoped she would visit some time.
Hitoka eventually excused herself to go to her room. She used her bed to stretch her arms so she could use them again. ‘Using’ being Hitoka taking her own laptop from her own desk and transporting it to her bed.
“Did you know that Kiyoko has a blog?” She said to the crows, she got a response, it sounded interested, but she didn’t know what exactly it said. “She uses it to make witch friends everywhere.” With her laptop on her legs she squatted in front of the bird cage. “I should also make an account so I get in touch with some witches… I could check out Kiyoko’s blog while I’m at it…” She got a response to that, to her surprise, the most quiet crow, the dino one, asked to be taken with. Hitoka wasn’t gonna complain.
Her and the quiet crow went to her bed, she laid on her stomach, opened her laptop, typed in the URL of that webpage, and created an account. The quiet crow sitting right by her shoulder, looking at the screen with her. The webpages asked about her interests so it could suggest posts to her, she selected “Japanese fashion”, “cute animals”, and “flowers”. The bird reacted in no way.
She typed Kiyoko’s blog name into the search bar before she forgot its name.
She scrolled down the blog, read the asks, comments, tags. She looked at the posts, most of them were along the lines of kitten yawning, some self care and beauty tips, and occasionally pretty girls wearing pretty clothes. She also came across a selfie of a blog name she recognised, it was Kiyoko’s friend. She was in some fast food joint, stuffing her face with a burger, making a peace sign at the camera. Hitoka liked the photo, the girl looked cool, way cooler than Hitoka ever could. She hoped to see her in real life some day. Underneath that picture was a more… suggestive picture. It wasn’t sexual per se, but there was a girl at a beach, wearing a bikini and a white shirt over it, only it was see through because it was soaked, the girl also had a popsicle in her mouth and looked out onto the ocean.
“Does that mean I stand a chance?” Hitoka said, turning to the crow to her right. She got a subtle crow call in response, but didn’t quite know how to interpret it. She turned back to Kiyoko’s blog, but didn’t find anything interesting aside from a face mask she wanted to try.
She shut her laptop and went to eat dinner, she would have to go to bed early to read a dinosaur textbook after all.
Chapter 14: First words
This time Hitoka woke up between two crows, one nuzzled in between her shoulder and her neck, the other one a bit away, their textbook shut in front of them. Hitoka was 100% certain she could see progress there.
She got up to look at the other birds and had to do a double take, they were a good deal bigger now, there were a few more dark feathers, but mostly they were covered in grey fluff.
Hitoka! Hitoka! Hitoka! Look! Look!
Hitoka could swear she could hear a voice. An excited voice. A voice matching the excitement of the bird jumping up and down in the cage.
That voice was more mellow, and deeper.
It was them. It was the birds.
“I can hear you talk!”
Yes! Yes! Yes!
She turned around to the birds on her bed, seeing if they shared her excitement. She got some chirping and something that could have been a shrug in response. She turned back around. This was big, this was huge. She wanted to ask questions, but wasn’t sure where to start.
“Do you guys know who I am?”
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Hitoka nodded. “Can you tell me your names?”
Hitoka nodded again. “So you guys have been completely aware of what has been happening while you were familiars?”
Hitoka briefly flashed back to when she undressed in front of them on that first night, but continued.
“Did you guys know each other before you turned?”
Yes. The excited voice, Shoyou, didn’t sound excited about that at all, sounded angry even.
Yes. The other voice, Tobio, sounded as mellow and non committal as before.
“Were you friends?”
No! That came from both of them. Hitoka was surprised, she had the feeling they fights were quite playful, and with how they were always in each others space they seemed to like each others company as well.
“Are you friends now?”
Hitoka nodded, didn’t quite know what to make of that. “I’ll be your friend though, okay?”
“You guys wanna see the others?”
The others were as excited about the development as she was, they introduced themselves, full names and everything, which made Hitoka realise that she didn’t actually know everybody’s full name.
“Sugawara Koushi.” So Suga doesn’t go by his given name? Hitoka vaguely remembered somebody referring to him as ‘Sugawara’ though.
“Sawamura Daichi.” Daichi just went by his given name then, made sense, sounded like him.
“Azumane Asahi.” Asahi just went by his given name as well. Must be just Suga then.
“Shimizu Kiyoko.” Hitoka hadn’t really realised that she hadn’t known Kiyoko’s family name. Though she vaguely remembered people in her school talking about that beautiful third year ‘Shimizu-senpai’. The world sure was small. Or rather, Miyagi was. Hitoka wasn’t certain whether she was more amazed by fate eventually bringing them together, or by Kiyoko living up to the hype.
“Yachi Chiyo.” Hitoka didn’t remember when she had breakfast with her Nanna last, but she was glad that she was there for this development.
Hinata Shoyou . There it was, the sunshine, it may have been in his personality, but it was in his name as well. Hitoka wondered if his family was concerned about him.
Kageyama Tobio . And there was the night sky, also in the name. She wondered if the other crows also had their celestial bodies in their names.
“Kageyama? That rings a bell…”
“I know, with me as well, I feel like I heard that name before…”
“Yea, like when… Kageyama, say, what middle school did you go to?”
All the ravens made big faces at that, Hitoka felt like she was missing out again.
“Now I know, we played against your school once, you play setter!”
“You’re the prodigy!”
Now Hitoka understood, Tobio must have been a big name in his team, or even his area. That would explain why Volleyball was such a significant part of his personality.
Kitagawa Daiichi ! Said Shoyou aggressively, Hitoka didn’t know what to make of that.
“Do you not like that school?”
“Because they were a rival school?”
They both seem to be speaking of the same story.
“Did the team not let you in?”
“Why did they do that. Though, they were a powerhouse, so the entry regimen would be quite hard.”
“Well, I think they were a powerhouse school, so their team couldn’t have been too small… wait, are you small? Did they not let you in because you’re small?”
Hitoka could already tell that she would soon miss the time when they couldn’t talk.
“Now, now.” Suga waved his hand in dismissal. “It’s alright, I was also always too small for volleyball.”
Suga laughed. The situation was defused and Suga lived for the attention. Hitoka could already tell that she would have her hands full.
Volleyball training went fine, but Hitoka felt… observed.
Well, most the household was outside, either playing or watching. As Hitoka, Suga, Daichi, and Asahi trained for serving, receiving, spiking and blocking, the volleyball crows yelled from the side lines, and Kiyoko and Nanna Yachi sat in garden chairs with sun hats and sunglasses drinking cold drinks.
While Hitoka felt super self conscious being on display like that, it was nice getting support from the side lines.
It was at least nice to have this unconditional support from her familiars, the women on the sidelines were completely silent.
“You know, we’re doing pretty well, we should have a friendly match tomorrow.” It was like Suga to be suggesting something outrageous like that.
“Just the four of us?” It was also like Asahi to be as nervous as Hitoka.
“Come on, it will be a two-on-two, it will be fun.” Daichi had a Suga like love-aggression in his ‘supportive’ claps to Asahi’s back as he said that. Hitoka got the feeling that he wasn’t really as nice as he let on.
“If we’re gonna have a match we need a net. Kiyoko, do we have a net?” Kiyoko and Nanna Yachi both shook their heads at Suga. “All right then boys, we’re going shopping.”
Shopping felt like a mission. The four of them plus two super exited crows in the big city, looking for a sports stores.
“If you boys don’t be still we’re turning back right now and there will be no match.” The crows stopped moving at Suga’s threat, probably stopped breathing too. Another fleeting mom friend went through Hitoka’s head.
The sports gear shop was… bigger than expected. Daichi explained that sports, volleyball in particular, was a big deal in Miyagi. Hitoka supposed that a place as small as this one had to make a big deal out of something .
There was gear, utilities, and probably clothes that Hitoka had no idea what to do with, and so much of it too.
They found their section, found their stuff, and Daichi had to keep Suga from getting complete uniforms with matching knee pads and water bottles for every one.
When they got back to the bus, the four of them, plus two crows probably still holding their breath, Hitoka couldn’t help but feel that they went overboard going collectively, but everybody seemed to be in a good mood, so she didn’t complain.
When they were setting up the net the crows were so excited that they fluttered about around them. They had gotten so big that they could actually fly for a few meters before falling to the ground again. Soon they would be flying off and Hitoka may never see them again. Well, maybe she was exaggerating there.
The net was tied a bit higher and tighter than the washing line, which worried Hitoka, but at least she could see through it properly, which helped.
She couldn’t decide whether she itched to play or was worried about what tomorrow had to bring.
Chapter 15: A match
Hitoka could get used to waking up between two crows, and learning advanced dinosaur trivia probably didn’t hurt either.
Soft, grey fluff showed itself on her sleeping crows, and varying degrees of enthusiasm came from her talking crows when they said their good morning.
After breakfast they prepared for the match, they stretched, went through the rules again, and they had judges on the sidelines. Though Kiyoko and Nanna Yachi didn’t move from their garden chairs. The exited, fluffy grey, slightly feathered crows sitting on the backs of their chairs on the other hand gave their suave picture a comedic side.
Their first round had Suga and Hitoka on the same team, with Daichi and Asahi on the other side. Hitoka was intimidated with the two tallest and probably strongest players playing against her, but Suga had a sort of smug confidence in his smile, and a casualness in his stance that helped Hitoka relax. She breathed out, widened her stance, and lowered her weight.
“You weirdly lanky guys are gonna eat our dust!” Suga said.
“Is that really necessary Suga?”
“Bring it on you big wimp!”
“Try this on for size.” Said Daichi from the back of his court. He lightly threw the ball in the air and spiked it to their court. Hitoka panicked, and didn’t know how to receive it, it was so fast. She lowered her stance but didn’t raise her arms fast enough, and the ball jumped off her chest and hurt like hell.
The ball had jumped up in front of her, Suga ran under it. “Hitoka!” She realised she had to run where Suga was going to toss the ball, she ran and jumped up and only barely got the ball across the net. They only scored a point because Daichi went in for a block but the ball fell down between him and the net.
Her and Suga high fived, but Hitoka was’t certain if it was deserved.
Next it was Hitoka’s turn to serve, she got cheers from her crows. She threw the ball up and slapped it across the court. It bounced against the top part of the net but still went to the other side, Daichi received it without a problem and let it fly up, Asahi ran to where the ball was falling and called out for Daichi to spike it. Daichi was already on his feet again, he jumped up and spiked it across, Hitoka went to receive it but miscalculated, the point went to the other team.
Daichi and Asahi high fived, and Hitoka couldn’t help but feel that Volleyball wasn’t a lot of fun when you’re bad at it.
Asahi served next, his serve was stronger than Daichi’s, but Suga had no trouble receiving it seemingly. The ball went up high, giving Hitoka the time needed to adjust for it coming down, and going up for a spike. She spiked it with all she had, managing a force she was actually proud off, and surprising even Daichi with her efforts. Her birds were actually so proud that they yelled loudly managing to fly almost an entire lap around their court. Not that all of that mattered much, because even his half baked blocks didn’t budge against her best spike. The ball bounced against his hands, falling back into Hitoka’s court. Suga received the ball shouting “Got it!” but let it fly to far across the court, to the other side of the net, where Daichi received it with ease, and tossed it to Asahi.
Hitoka had had time to back up, and go into a proper receiving squatagain, she followed the ball with her eyes and noticed something curious. When Daichi tossed the ball to Asahi, something changed in the tall guy. For less than a second, Hitoka could see something like a predatorily gleam in his eyes, and Hitoka instantly felt like hunted prey.
She felt it even more when Asahi spiked it with more force than she had deemed possible, creating a big sound and higher speed than her eyes could comprehend, letting the ball land right next to her feet, exactly where her heart was right then.
There was a silence then, Asahi evidently as surprised as everyone else. Even the silent viewers had shown a reaction, the birds eventually let out a scream of excitement, all while Hitoka tried very hard not to pee herself.
The rest of the game was just Hitoka’s team being completely decimated by Daichi’s team, all while Suga would taunt them verbally, the crows would shout encouragements at Hitoka, and Asahi would occasionally produce a killer spike.
Then they played another round, with Daichi and Suga on the same team this time, and Hitoka sharing a team with Asahi.
Suga was the one that Hitoka had played with the most, so she liked playing with him, but she felt a closer connection to Asahi, probably something to do with both of them being cowards.
Hitoka had tried to toss to Asahi several times, but only managed to create the killer spike once the entire game, one that was received effortlessly by Daichi, who presented his beautiful thighs and proud grin again, making it very hard for Hitoka to not cheer for the other team.
Suga would try to taunt Asahi again, and was super effective in doing so, Daichi didn’t hold him back this time. Hitoka tried to quip back, but would stumble over her words, making her efforts fruitless.
Overall, having the scariest player on her team was a generally pleasant feeling, she was confident that she could receive both Daichi’s and Suga’s spikes, whether that be by effort or accident, and she was confident that her team mate could keep the opposing team on their toes.
Her team also had a much higher hit rate this time round, which resulted in more crows fluttering around the court. Overall the atmosphere was something she would like to create again.
After lunch the four players sat in the garden, wearing sun hats and drinking cold drinks.
Hitoka couldn’t help but remember the time she spent with Asahi in this garden, which made her remember that in this very garden was the first time Asahi mentioned his witch to her. Which made her wonder…
“Say,” she was met by three curious looks, “what were your guys’ witches like?” She squinted and added, “and why aren’t you with them anymore?”
Daichi and Suga looked at each other.
“I’ll go first.” Said Suga. Hitoka thought it would have been a good idea to bring snacks. “My witch, Aoi, was a good friend of mine. Well, I didn’t know her before she turned me, but afterwards we got along well and had a lot of chemistry.” Suga closed his eyes and laid his head sideways, reminiscing about his past. “Eventually we didn’t talk anymore though, our magic didn’t fit together, we wanted different things.” He opened his eyes again and looked ahead. “We weren’t on bad terms or anything, we just needed to move on. I don’t even really miss her.” He turned back to them and put a cheeky grin on. “Now I get to see the beautiful Kiyoko everyday, and get to appreciate Daichi’s amazing thighs.”
A pained “Suga…” came from Daichi. The others laughed.
“Well, I suppose it’s my turn.” Daichi lifted his mostly empty glass in cheers. “My witch had a real knack for finding familiars. Sakura would find a lost child every other day, and most of us she could develop into actually fully grown ones. She made something like a business out of it, so we would stay with her until we wanted to leave or were adopted by somebody.” Daichi turned to the group. “That’s why there was so many of us with my first witch, familiars and witches would come and go, there was a completely new mix every other week, it was quite fun and exciting.” He looked up into the sky. “Chiyo actually came by one day by chance, or maybe through fate, she had fixed Sakura’s coffee maker, and they had a talk where I overheard that’s Chiyo’s home life was quiet and small, which was something I really wanted at the time, so I asked her if she would take me with her.”
He smiled at the group again. “The rest is history.” Hitoka nodded understandingly, thinking about all that she learned just then. They all aggressively did not look at Asahi, who seemed happy about that.
Hitoka wondered what sort of story her own familiars would tell about her some day
Chapter 16: Hinata Shoyou
Life is a lot more exciting these days, I like it this way.
I wake up and Kageyama is snoring next to me. Well, he introduced himself as Tobio, maybe he wants me to call him Tobio now…
Eh, it’s not like I care what he wants.
I wait until Hitoka wakes up to say good morning, the other guys slowly rise with her. I don’t like the others guys, they have a crappy attitude. So does Kageyama, but at least with him I can understand it.
Hitoka goes down stairs with us to eat breakfast and play volleyball.
This is the best part of the day.
We see them do their stretches and practice their moves, it makes me want to play too. Maybe one day we can play together.
Watching is fun too. Hitoka sucks, but you can see the effort she puts in, she seems to have fun with the game too, which is the most important part.
Suga has the worst personality out of all of them, he seems to be out to get that tall guy the most.
That tall guy is my favourite, he has a killer spike, and spiking is the best. Kageyama disagrees with me, that’s why I don’t like Kageyama. That Asahi guy looks strong enough to be an Ace, looks intimidating enough too, I want to be an ace like him.
Daichi is a good player, has saved a lot of balls, not really flashy though. Nice person, makes up for flashy volleyball moves.
Hitoka gets a good spike in.
Nice move ! Nice Move !
Kageyama agrees with me. He seems to be cheering on Suga more though, probably because they are both setters. He’s biased like that.
Hitoka’s good spike bounces off Daichi’s block and out of bounds.
Nice spike !
One more .
Good job !
Kageyama and I jump off the backs of the seats that the girls sit on, and fly around the court to cheer Hitoka’s team on. Today we can fly for much longer than yesterday. I want to see how long I can fly.
The others switch their set up, Hitoka is on the same team as Daichi now, they haven’t done that before. Hitoka looks a little awkward next to Daichi, they probably don’t talk much.
They play well together though, having a setter as the only other team member when you suck is probably helpful, but having somebody who can receive pretty much anything seems to work even better.
They make a good team, Hitoka and Daichi, though she also plays well with the others, this might be the best set up for her.
Daichi receives a hard spike from Asahi, the ball goes up, and Daichi roles backwards with the impact, but enough to immediately roll back onto his feet. Maybe I was wrong about his receives not being flashy…
Hitoka seems confident, she runs to where the ball is going to fall, and without looking where she spikes, because she is sideways, she spikes it across. Suga slightly miscalculates where he is supposed to put his hands for the block and Hitoka scores the winning point.
Good game !
Nice spike .
Hitoka cool !
Kageyama and I fly around Hitoka as we cheer her on. It’s the first time out of four plays that her team wins, we are proud of her. Well, we are until Kageyama miscalculates how to fly and goes straight into Daichi’s shoulder and to the floor. I laugh at him and fly into the pole that holds the net up, but unlike him I keep flying, so I win. I laugh at that too, he calls me a dumbass.
I want to try flying today. I always wanted to fly, going up for a spike was the closest thing I found to flying, but now I am an actual bird that can fly.
Window ! Open ! Hitoka looks confused at me, she has a towel around herself and a bag of toiletries with her. She’s probably going to shower. She opens the window for me though, that’s all that matters.
Thank you !
Kageyama has an idea about what I am about to do and calls me an idiot for it. He always does that, that’s why I don’t like him, and generally don’t listen to him.
I jump off the window sill to fly off, at first I fall a bit, but I chose Hitoka’s window because it is high up, and soon there is wind under my wings.
Woohoo ! Today is the best day ever! Today I-
I fall and nothing is stopping me. It hurts when I land, but it’s okay.
I turn around and see that I am a good few meters away from the house. Great! I have no way to go back into the air though, and waddling back to the house as a bird is gonna take time.
Waddling is my only option though. I flap my wings as I waddle, and I actually get forwards and up a few centimetres, but never for long.
When I think about how fast I could run when I was a human… it was the only reason Kitagawa Daiichi actually let me try out for team when I applied, but apparently I didn’t have the skills they wanted. Stupid Kageyama had though, all he does is show off a little.
I see Suga in the doorway, apparently about to head out. I catch his attention.
Suga ! Suga ! Suga !
He sees me. “ Hello there, little crow. You must be Shoyou .”
Yes ! Yes !
“ What are you doing out here ?”
Window ! Fly ! Suga is confused, but looks up at Hitoka’s window which he stands under, and understands.
“ You jumped out of Hitoka’s window so you could fly ?”
Yes ! Yes ! I flap my wings. Up ! Up ! I want him to take me up to Hitoka’s window so I can fly again. It sucks that I can only say a bare minimum of what I want to say.
“ I have a better idea . Come here .” He puts his hands on the ground and I climb on them. “ He-yup !” He throws me into the sky, from right where he stands. He throws me gently though, and the wind and air have an easier time catching under my wings.
“ No problem !”
Now I can’t see him anymore.
Flying is amazing, now that I’ve got the hang of it. I’m gonna show this off to Kageyama later.
I see trees and birds and small animals and every now and again some people. I wonder how my family is doing, I wonder if they miss me. I hope I get to see them soon.
I fly over the trees and under them. It is so cool, flying is the best.
Every now and again I land on a branch, then I push myself off the way Suga has done, and I have no problem flying again.
After what must have been a few hours, since the sun is much lower now, I see something weird.
Lots of cats.
There must be at least two handful of them.
I fly down.
Hello ! I say to them, I wonder if they understand me.
Good evening . So they do understand me, this is great, I wonder if I can understand any animal now.
Who are you ?
The cat I am talking too looks at his group, then back at me. All of us or just me ?
I’m Kenma . We’re just a group of familiars without witches . We found each other through chance . We look for witches together .
Hello . Says a cat behind him. He is taller than Kenma, has something smug about him.
Hello . That’s from the other cats. I might be wrong, but I think there is a puppy among them.
And who are you ? Says the main cat, Kenma.
Shoyou ! Familiar ! Hitoka ! Damn, I didn’t think I would miss full sentences out of all things.
Is Hitoka your witch ?
Yes ! Yes ! Cool ! Volleyball ! Sweet ! Damn, full sentences. This is frustrating. The only one who really understands me like this is Kageyama, I don’t want him out of all people to be the only one I can have a conversation with.
…Is Hitoka interested in volleyball ?
Yes ! Yes ! For me !
…Is she interested in volleyball for you ?
Yes ! Yes ! Best !
Kenma smiles, in his cat-sort-of-a-way. She is the best for learning about volleyball for you .
Yes ! Best ! This is good, Kenma actually understands me effortlessly, I should keep him as a friend so we can talk all the time.
I stay with them for a little longer, some of the cats introduce themselves, Kuroo, the smug cat, has known Kenma for a very long time, they good friends. There is a really long cat, his name is Lev, he introduced himself right as another, really tiny cat, was talking, the tiny cat, Yaku, smacked him for it. They all seem very fun, the puppy and I chase each other for a bit, I have a vantage point because I can fly, at least a bit, but he can jump. His name is Inuoka.
We’re gonna have to go now, Shoyou, It’s getting dark . You should go home too .
Yes ! Yes ! Bye ! I make to fly off. Stay friends ?
Kenma puts his cat smile on again. I would like that .
I actually manage to flutter up, a big cat called Yamamoto gave me a supportive push up with his head. Drop by ! Yachi !
Is Yachi the witch you live with ?
Yes ! Yes !
We’ll look forward to it .
I say my last goodbyes and fly home.
It was a good day, I made a bunch of friends, can’t wait to see them again.
Chapter 17: Witchier Activities
Hitoka had no idea what Shoyou did the day before, but it must have been eventful. He could talk in full sentences now though, though only one at a time, and only small sentences.
The problem was really that he was too excited to be understandable, and that Tobio kept interrupting him.
Kenma is the leader cat !
“Is that so?”
They’re a buncha cats !
“You don’t say?”
They’re familiars !
With how excited he was, and how short and nonsensical his sentences were, Hitoka felt like she was entertaining a little kid.
Flying into the wood alone . Dangerous, you idiot !
Idiot yourself ! Kenma is friendly !
Not everyone is friendly though !
Hitoka couldn’t quite tell if Tobio told Shoyou off for the sake of yelling at him, or out of genuine concern. She left them be and payed attention to her other crows.
Moon crow and Star crow were having a quiet crow conversation on her bed. They were almost completely covered in grey fluff now. Hitoka was excited for them to grow up so she could learn their names and about their lives.
At breakfast Hitoka thought about the lives of Shoyou and Tobio, she wondered what they were like, how long they’ve known each other, what their families were like. What they look like as humans.
She decided to ask them all that when they were evolved enough to speak properly, so she wouldn’t have to piece together what they mean.
As she pondered about them she noticed something else, they had eye colours now, barely visible, but certainly noticeable upon further inspection. Shoyou’s eyes were light brown, very similar to Suga’s, Tobio had dark blue eyes. A shade of dark blue Hitoka recognised from somewhere, if only she could remember…
The night sky.
The night sky blue that they chose for the wall painting. Hitoka wondered if his eyes were always that exact shade of blue, or if appearances alter with their interactions with their witches.
“Sorry, I slept in!”
Morning Suga !
Suga had bed head and wrinkly, half put on clothes. “Daichi and Asahi have plans today, so we probably can’t do a match.” He turned to Hitoka and winked. “Unless you wanna play alone against me.”
Hitoka shook her head against that offer.
“You guys don’t have to watch today if there is no match.”
No, I wanna watch !
Volleyball is always interesting .
I hate it when Kageyama is right .
Hitoka was surprised at that, though it would make sense for them to be this invested in the sport, even just the training regime, seeing how effective it was in their development. Also Shoyou had called Tobio by his family name, so they can’t be particularly close. Maybe he wanted Hitoka to also call him by his family name, but no, he had introduced himself with his given name. This was so confusing. Doesn’t hurt to ask.
She turned to Tobio and opened her mouth to speak, but he sent a bone shaking death glare to her. Did he know what she was about to ask? Did he take offence? Did he think she should have addressed him by his family name from the beginning even though she didn’t know it then? Is that just his resting face? Was that directed at Shoyou?
God damnit, who in their right mind is scared of a pubescent crow that is half covered in grey fluff, and half in black feathers.
Hitoka took a sip of her orange juice.
“W-well then, l-l-l-lets go outside!” Suga grinned at her, simultaneously smug and confused by her stuttering.
Is something the matter ? Damn Tobio for catching on.
You scared her with your death glare !
What ? I didn’t death glare .
You death glare at everybody . You have no control over your face .
Did I really death glare ?
Hitoka was very confused about their relationship. Do they like each other? Do they understand each other? Do they have history? Do they not? What’s the matter with them?
Tobio turned to her. I didn’t mean to scare you .
“N-nah. I-it’s alright.” She threw him a thumbs up. “Come on, let's go outside!” Suga did a really bad attempt at hiding a giggle. Damn him too.
Hitoka felt more secure in her spikes, she hoped she wouldn’t lose that security once she actually faced Daichi as a blocker, she also hoped his decent receives wouldn’t be wasted on Asahi’s monster spikes.
She also had a better idea of what her crows were saying all the time.
Nice spike !
Pull your arm further back . More leverage .
Nice receive !
Lower your stance, better grounding .
Good job !
Raise your elbows, always prepared .
After this particular practice, Hitoka felt slightly less dead than she usually did, so she decided to make some lunch.
Suga felt more dead than usual, or rather more sweaty, so he excused himself to take a shower.
Hitoka decided to do something special today, mainly because she noticed that she was a witch living in a witch household but had yet to do any actual magic.
Today she was gonna make lunch, and it was gonna be the most refreshing lunch in the history of anything ever. It was a recipe her granny used to make back when Hitoka did gymnastics in primary school. It was what she ate after competitions.
She made a salad, she actually found lettuce, tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber and feta cheese, such as various other ingredients in the fridge, which she was pleasantly surprised by.
Now she just needed the special ingredient, the magic part of the potion, it was vividly in her memory from when her granny used to do it with her, it was…
Maybe that was the special ingredient, hopelessness, Hitoka could add heaps of that.
“What did that poor salad ever do to you?”
Hitoka shrieked back into reality, Kiyoko stood behind her, wet hair and rosy cheeks, towel around her neck. She must have come straight out of the shower. Hitoka felt weak. Then she remembered that she had been quiet for an awkwardly long time.
“ItriedtomakeamagicsaladlikehowIremembergrannydoingbutIdon’tactuallyrememberhowgrannydidit!” Smooth. Understandable too .
Kiyoko looked confused for a second, then managed to decipher what Hitoka was trying to say.
“I can help you with that if you want. What are you trying to achieve?”
“I wanted something against sore muscles and exhaustion.”
Kiyoko thought. “I would recommend a hot bath and some pain killers.”
“Kiyoko~” Hitoka said pained. “I can’t put that in a salad.” Kiyoko laughed. “Back when I did gymnastics, Nanna Yachi would always make me a salad with exactly these ingredients,” Hitoka pointed at her bowl, “after competitions. I remember her putting some sort of ‘magical good luck’ ingredient in to help with sore muscles and probably strained joints, and I remember her chanting at it.” Hitoka looked up at the ceiling, trying to remember the words her granny had used. She could vaguely remember what she had said, but she had a weird feeling about the words, something wasn’t quite straight about them.
“May this salad restore my muscle strength, stabilise my joints, and put the oxygen into my lungs. Blessed be the goddess for helping me today.”
Hitoka blinked, something felt weird on her tongue.
“I didn’t even know you knew the language already.” Kiyoko looked proud and impressed, Hitoka needed a while to catch up.
“That- that was in that witch language, wasn’t it?” Kiyoko nodded, still looking proud.
“For the muscles I would recommend something iron rich, like spinach, it actually goes well in salads when you don’t cook it. For the joints I would recommend kale or soy beans. Increased water intake helps with oxygen.”
“Kiyoko~ that’s not magic, that’s just biology~.”
Kiyoko grinned mischievously. “Who says biology and magic are mutually exclusive?” Hitoka raised a disapproving eyebrow at that comment. “I’m serious, people used to take poppy seeds against pain. Medicine has since extracted the painkiller from the seed and turned their morphine into painkillers, where the doses is far more manageable and the side effects are reduced.” Hitoka wasn’t sure she wanted to hear this. “A lot of first nation medicine and magic has been extracted and micromanaged by modern medicine, and given back to us basically the same way we took it originally.” Hitoka still wasn’t sure she wanted to hear this.
“When I,” Hitoka wasn’t actually sure how to say this, “when I decided to pick up the craft, I thought I could fly on a broom, make magic potions in cauldrons, maybe fight some demons, I don’t know.” Hitoka got quiet towards the end, lowered her gaze to the ground.
“You don’t think your witch training is particularly witchy?” Hitoka nodded. “You don’t think talking to crows is particularly magic?”
Very magic .
Hitoka felt stupid.
“Besides, I can teach you to fly no problem.”
Hitoka perked up at that. “Really?”
“Absolutely, you can understand your familiars fine, and you have no problem speaking the language.” Kiyoko smiled. “In a week’s time you’ll be running errands for me.”
“Whash’a matta ‘ere?” Suga entered the kitchen, a towel around his hips, another rubbing against his hair, a toothbrush in his mouth. Hitoka had already seen far more of his naked skin than she ever wanted in her life. Given, it wasn’t particularly bad skin to look at.
“Hitoka feels she doesn’t experience enough magic here.”
“O’eally?” A loud poof, two towels and a toothbrush falling out of cloud of colourful smoke. A raven landed on Kiyoko’s shoulder. Don’t recon your experience here is particularly magic ? Kiyoko had no right to look this smug, even if she tried to hide it. Barely.
“People who make anymore smart ass comments are not getting any lunch.”
I always believed in you, Hitoka !
“You don’t need to defend yourself, Shoyou.”
The smug comments stopped though, and Hitoka found some spinach leaves in the fridge, as well as a jar of white beans in a cupboard. She also gave everyone a glass of water.
A collective “Thank you for the meal!” came from all around, and everybody dug in.
“First you need to make yourself a broom. It is not necessarily important but certainly good to make a broom yourself, that way you have a connection to it and understand it well.” Hitoka nodded, Shoyou and Tobio nodded with her, they found it really important to be there for her flight training. “It’s probably best to start with choosing a type of wood that your broom should be made out of, as well as twigs or straw for the brush part, and a type of twine to keep it all together.” Hitoka and her crows nodded again, she felt like a schoolgirl again. Kiyoko put her finger to her chin. “It is also recommended to add accessories, usually protective ones and those that keep you from getting lost. Stuff like offerings from your familiars.”
I’ll give you a feather !
Kiyoko had that smile again that promised trouble. “A leg or a beak would probably be the most helpful.”
“You don’t need to give me a leg, Shoyou, I’m sure Kiyoko was exaggerating.” Kiyoko stayed silent, but that smile was still there.
“Feathers from your familiars are good things to weave into the twine, but I’m sure you’ll find other things that work as charms. You can even add more as time goes on.” Kiyoko continued normally as if she hadn’t just scared the life out of Hitoka’s familiars. “It’s best to start to ask the forest gods for help with choosing, you’ll find something along the way.”
Hitoka didn’t follow. “So do I ask Nishinoya or…”
Kiyoko laughed. “No, I mean, it probably doesn’t hurt, but that’s not really his area of expertise.” She had recovered. “His duty is to guard the inhabitants of the forest, look out for you if you’re lost, hurt, or otherwise in distress.” Kiyoko seemed to consider something. “On second thought, it is probably a good idea to ask him to give you something of his, so you can fly without getting lost or falling victim to distress.” Hitoka realised she may have unnervingly powerful friends. “A good move is to just… to just go out and ask. Maybe bring a sacrifice in exchange.”
Hitoka was worried for a second about what ‘a sacrifice’ entailed, but decided not to worry too much.
They made their way out of Kiyoko’s room, lesson evidently over. Hitoka thought about what to sacrifice to the forest gods to bring her the things she needed. Her thoughts briefly wandered to that bottle of Sake that her and Kiyoko had picked up in that first week, Chikara and his lot had raved about it, but refused to touch it, “It’s for special occasions,” they had said.
Hitoka dismissed that thought though, she couldn’t just pass on presents onto other people. Or maybe payment rather, but still. Hitoka had to do something personally.
“It’s best to just sit in the forest for a bit and listen, meditate a little. Asahi can help you there, he meditates regularly.” Kiyoko looked up. “Come to think of it, Asahi can give you something from the gardens too, so that you’ll always have a piece of home with you.” Hitoka nodded, all the information made her a bit dizzy, meditating in the woods for a bit didn’t sound too bad. She wondered if she had to bring a sacrifice already. Whatever, it probably didn’t hurt to meditate more than once, she could always bring a sacrifice the second time.
Chapter 18: Ask the forest spirits
Hitoka proclaimed her desire to have more practice before they would have another match, the ravens understood, so did her crows. The crows still wanted to watch though.
Asahi had also agreed to help Hitoka with meditating, though he didn’t have the time to be there himself, he did offer her some advice, and a round blanket to sit on. He also recommended to take some tea with her, in case she got cold, or bored, or just wanted tea.
Hitoka sat down on the ground. Just her, her blanket, her thermos, and her questions. She was a few minutes away from home, far enough that she couldn’t see or hear it, but close enough that she wouldn’t get lost.
She sat down in the middle of the blanket, crossed her legs, rested her hands on her knees, and closed her eyes.
Asahi had said that closing her eyes wasn’t necessary, but she could do it if she wanted, he also said that speaking her questions out loud was also not necessary, but may help her collect her thoughts.
She took a deep breath.
“Dear forest god.” Hitoka laid her head sideways, “uhm,” she didn’t quite know if that was how she was supposed to start, and if so, how she was supposed to continue.
“My name is Yachi Hitoka, and I am a witch. I live with my grandma Yachi Chiyo, I’m learning witchcraft from her.” Hitoka swayed a little uncertain. “Well, from everybody there.” She took another breath to collect her thoughts. “Kiyoko, my mentor for this, said I could learn to ride a broom, which I really want to do, she said I should make a broom myself, and that I should ask you for the materials.” Hitoka felt more certain now. “Just whatever you think fits me best.” She smiled confidently. “I can even bring something in return, I just don’t know what.”
It was completely still around her. Hitoka just sat and listened.
She could slowly hear things more clearly.
A slight wind making the leaves above her rustle.
A bird chirping here and there.
Something small making noise in the bushes around her.
Every now and again a call from an animal she couldn’t name.
She was getting a bit cold, but also felt perfectly concentrated, so she didn’t want to move, or drink her tea.
Hitoka let her thoughts wander.
I wonder what animals there are around here. What kind of birds? Do they like it here? Would Shoyou be able to talk to them? Would he be friends with them? Could he be friends with other animals? Could he talk to them? Like rabbits, Shoyou surely would be friends with rabbits, and they probably would be friends with him, he’s pretty likeable. What about predators, would they be friends with him?
Would they be friends with me?
Are there any here?
A twig broke behind Hitoka, she shrieked and turned around. She had sat herself in front of a tree, so there was nothing immediately there, but there was some bushes around her, not big enough to hide any danger though.
But if a fox just wanted to attack me when I’m not looking…
There was a single Owl hoot above her, it was far louder than should be possible. Hitoka looked up but couldn’t see anything. She closed her eyes again.
The wind seemed stronger now, she squeezed open a single eye, it seemed the forest was darker now than before. She also saw something moving, only a few meters away from her, it would have been nothing if it was just bushes and leaves, but it looked like the darkness itself was warping before her eye.
She squeezed her eyes shut, tried to regulate her breathing. She was frozen with fear. If only she had gone to a lighter part of the forest. Couldn’t she have meditated in front of her house? Maybe in the garden? Or just waited until Asahi was free? No, Hitoka had to go all the way and be all alone in the forest, in the dark, by herself, where anything-
“What are you doing?” Hitoka was so scared that she actually screamed and jumped up. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.”
Looking into Nishinoya’s massive brown eyes actually calmed her down immediately. She also saw Ryuu behind him, and behind Ryuu Chikara, smiling gently but amused. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the darkness warp, that must be Hisashi and Kazuhito . God she was stupid, and dramatic, the forest didn’t actually want to kill her.
“Hey guys. I was just here to meditate, but I…” Hitoka trailed off, feeling really self-conscious about her previous train of thought.
“You got scared alone in an unfamiliar environment.” Hitoka nodded strongly, that was exactly it, Chikara was very smart.
“Ha, don’t worry, ya ain’t alone anymore.” There was something about Ryuu’s confident grin that made Hitoka feel secure.
Hitoka shuffled back on her blanket. “Do you guys wanna sit?”
“Sure, why not.” Following Chikara’s example everybody sat in a circle on the blanket, all folding their legs the way Hitoka had.
There was a two people big gap between Ryuu and Chikara, she couldn’t see anything when looking directly at it.
It’s a bit weird, isn’t it ?
God, that voice. At least with the birds it sounded like they were talking, like the voice came out of a headset, but with those two their voices sounded like her brain produced the sentences itself. It made it hard for her to believe she wasn’t crazy.
“Honestly, the voice thing is worse than the not seeing.”
Tanaka laughed. “Ya get used t’ it with time.”
Hitoka nodded skeptically, but Ryuu had spent more time with them than she had.
“I have tea!” Hitoka said, perhaps a bit too loud. The others didn’t seem bothered though. She produced the thermos from behind her. It had been lent to her by Kiyoko, which she was eternally grateful for. It was quite big, so it should produce enough tea for six people, and the lid was of the kind that could also function as a cup.
She offered the lid full of tea, as well as the thermos to Noya, sitting to her left. He thanked her, drank his cup, and passed them onto Ryuu, who thanked him, drank his tea, and passed it on.
Watching Hisashi and Kazuhito drink was quite the experience, the bottle and lid just floated straight through the air, though Hitoka’s brain kept telling her that she was just imagining the entire thing. It gave her a headache, so she looked away until she got the bottle back from Chikara.
She was pleasantly surprised that there was still plenty of tea left for her, so she had a cup, put the lid back on, and the bottle back behind her.
“So what are you meditating about?” Noya looked at her cheerfully, with his eyes so big and bright he looked like a young boy.
“Kiyoko said she was gonna teach me to fly, but I need a broom first, so I’m asking the mighty forest gods for materials.”
Noya laughed. “Good old Takeda? Yea, he’ll love helping you out.”
“You know him? Personally?”
“Yea, old friend of mine, still owes me 5000¥.”
Hitoka gaped in disbelieve, her previous thoughts about Nishinoya being far superior to her came back full force.
“If you wanna give him something he’ll appreciate some nice sake.” Then he waved his hand at her in dismissal. “Not that one from the Johzenji, it’s way too strong for him, he’s a real light weight.”
Johzenji? Must be those small bright people that seemed drunk when I met them . Hitoka nodded, she could get some really nice sake somewhere.
“Do you want to meditate together or do you want to go home?”
Hitoka thought about it for a minute. She hadn’t been out for long, and it wasn’t everyday that she could pray to the actual gods with another actual god and a bunch of spirits.
Also a cursed guy.
“I would like to meditate together if that’s alright.”
They all agreed, and closed their eyes, facing the middle of the circle. Hitoka wasn’t actually sure what Hisashi and Kazuhito were doing, but she thought it would be something along those lines.
Hitoka let her gaze wander over the group of guys, it landed on Ryuu. With his shaved head and his legs crossed like that, he actually kinda looks like Buddha… Embarrassed by her discovery she quickly closed her eyes.
Hitoka felt calmer now. The forest didn’t seem as cold, the leaves moving and bushes rustling and birds chirping didn’t seem intimidating anymore.
Hitoka felt calm.
She breathed deeply.
She said Goodbye to the boys, and went back home.
She wasn’t really sure if their little meditation session had come to a satisfying conclusion, but she certainly felt better, refreshed, and the guys had told her to just be patient and attentive.
Arriving at home she was met with yelling and chirping.
Shoyou fluttered in her face.
Hitoka! Look! Look! I was out having a flying race with Tobio and this branch fell on my face and it barely hurt !
Shoyou, now something close to a fully grown crow, had a branch in his claws, it was about the right size and diameter for a broom, Hitoka had to admit, and it was either really light or Shoyou was really strong for holding it at her shoulder height.
Hitoka thanked Shoyou and took the branch. It was indeed very light, she wasn’t sure what sort of wood lacked any weight, she couldn’t name any. She ran her fingers along it, and noticed that it also felt really smooth. If you removed that small number of twigs coming out of it it should make a fine broom.
“Thank you, Shoyou. This is amazing.”
Idiot almost died for it. That better give it some special powers .
Grumpy-o is overreacting, I was fine, barely felt it .
Hitoka was now certain that Tobio was genuinely concerned for Shoyou’s safety, even if he called him an idiot in the same breath.
“I’ll make sure to make the best broom out of this.” Shoyou looked proud, Tobio displeased. Though that could just be his resting face.
“Good evening Hitoka, I see your familiars are almost fully grown, they could turn human any day now.” Hitoka was excited to see her grandma, and to be told that soon her crows would be human.
So much good news.
I bet you’re still grumpy looking as a human !
I bet you’re still short .
Fight me, Sucky-o !
Hitoka sighted, maybe seeing them as humans wasn’t actually something to look forward to.
Chapter 19: Tsukishima Kei
I wake up first, I usually do.
I look next to me, there is Hitoka, she sleeps, Tadashi sleeps nuzzled against her. The poor idiot has an obvious crush on her, and she has an obvious crush on that dark haired witch.
You have unfortunate taste in women Tadashi, though I can understand your choice.
I feel different today, like something has changed.
Like my voice chords are working for the first time in a long time.
Great. Now I’m going to have to talk.
Well, at least I can tell the idiot duo to shut up for once in their lives.
Hitoka and Tadashi slowly rise, Hitoka says good morning. We’re gonna be fine, as long as Tadashi doesn’t-
Good morning .
Damn you Tadashi, we could have had a few more days of peace.
Hitoka ! Hitoka ! Voice ! Words !
Damn, Tadashi, who are you, that loud idiot?
“Oh my god! That’s cool! We have come so far! What’s your name?”
Yamaguchi Tadashi ! Hitoka looks confused for a bit, I don’t know why.
We know Hitoka, we have been sleeping in your bed for a while now.
They turn to me expectantly. It’s fine, I can pretend that I’m just not as developed as Tadashi, I can have a few more days of-
Damn Tadashi and his nicknames and his friendliness. I wouldn’t be able to hide too long from him anyway, he’s too smart for that, and if I don’t start talking for myself he’ll just tell embarrassing stories about me again.
Tsukishima Kei . Well, and manners are important. Nice meet . God damn it, I sound like that loud idiot without full sentences, I hope I don’t have to talk much.
Hitoka looks excited, her smile is very similar to how Tadashi’s used to be. Very big and genuine. “There is the moon.” Yes, I am moon boy, nice to meet you.
Of course Tadashi connects to that exclamation mark immediately, as if he isn’t as annoyed by their noise and idiocy as me.
Given, there is something very charming about Shoyou, I can see him being easy to get along with.
He doesn’t need to know that though.
Hitoka wants to show us off to the others, I really don’t want to.
Tadashi is eager to climb on her hand. Damn him, now I have to go too.
The others are super duper ultra excited to meet us.
Tadashi is about as excited to meet them.
We introduce ourselves, my days of avoiding everybody here are over, seemingly. We agree to join volleyball practice, we might as well.
Tadashi has been pressuring me to go for a while.
I don’t care.
I don’t care about volleyball anymore.
You can see Hitoka’s drastic improvements over the last few weeks. I watched her first practice, I would never have expected this.
Tadashi’s support for Hitoka seamlessly bleeds into Shoyou’s, the rude idiot actually gives genuine advice, which I didn’t expect.
Nice spike !
Good receive !
Raise your hands more, makes it easier to receive .
Nice cover !
Good move !
Arms closer together, or the ball will just go through .
Of course Tadashi goes right back into his passion for volleyball, the shock didn’t hit him as hard as me.
Good game . I thought I should say something, but judging by that rude idiots glare that wasn’t the right thing to say. My monotone voice must not show my put on enthusiasm.
I wonder if Hitoka is going to learn any tricks soon. I learned to faint because I got bored at practice.
I wonder if Sugawara knows any fancy moves, everything he does is kind of textbook. Given, I haven’t watched him play for very long, and this is practice after all.
Hitoka and Sugawara eventually exhaust themselves and break for lunch.
The idiots are still hyper and fly around the kitchen still yelling about practice.
Hitoka gazes at that dark haired witch lovingly, I really don’t understand why she doesn’t make a move, she really stands a chance.
Given, I know a thing or two about not making a move on people I stand a chance with.
Next to me Sugawara and Tadashi talk about volleyball.
“ You really seemed to know your stuff out there, did you play ?”
Yes ! Middle school !
“ Did you play for your middle-school team ?”
Yes ! Yes ! Tsukki too !
“ Tsukki ?”
I nod at Sugawara.
Tsukki best player !
Well, that isn’t really true, I was never bad, but I was mainly a starter because I was tall. I try to tell Sugawara as much.
Tall . God damn it, this is frustrating.
“ So you played volleyball and you were really tall ?”
“ God, I hate people like you .” I am taken aback by that, but Sugawara puts a shit eating grin on, so I think he’s just teasing. “ Besides, that was in middle school, maybe we’re the same height now .”
Yes, you are right, Sugawara, when I was in middle school I was about the same height as you now. Not even to mention that my brother is about the same height as that scary guy who lives here.
Tsukki tallest !
“ We’ll see about that when he turns .” Sugawara winks at Tadashi.
Wishful thinking, Sugawara. Don’t get your hopes up too much.
Tsukki more ! Tsukki talented ! Tsukki dedicated ! Tsukki -
Shut up, Yamaguchi .
God, this is middle school all over again, don’t you know I have a reputation to uphold?
Sorry Tsukki . I swear I can see that unapologetic grin on him. Beak or no.
That tall, scary guy comes in, he has an arm full of hay, though it looks too thick to just be normal hay.
“ Hey Hitoka, I thought you could use this for your broom .”
“ Thanks, Asahi. This is great .” Hitoka looks truly excited, with that massive smile you can tell that she is truly a child a heart.
Hitoka turns around to Kiyoko, bundle of hay still in her hand. “ Those spirit guys are coming tomorrow, right ? We could ask them if they know how to play volleyball .” God, I hope not, I don’t want any actual tournaments here. The idiots do though, going by their excited yelling and flying around at least. Tadashi seems excited too.
Kiyoko puts a finger to her chin contemplatively. “ I suppose, but I should probably take the wards off the door then .”
“ Wards ?” Hitoka lays her head sideways, I was certain she was an adult, and not an actual five year old.
Sugawara steps in before Kiyoko can answer, he always seems to wear this trouble promising smile. “ Noya and Ryuu are banned from entering, remember? ”
Hitoka looks shocked. “ I-I’m sorry I forgot, K-kiyoko . I-I didn’t want to cause any trouble with my ideas .” Calm down, Hitoka, it was just an idea, she can still say no. It’s not like they can play volleyball indoors anyways.
Kiyoko lets out a sigh. “ No, it’s all right, they probably have calmed down by now .” You don’t look so sure about that miss Kiyoko. “ Besides, it was quite a drastic measure I made in the heat of the moment .”
Hitoka doesn’t really looked assured, but she isn’t disagreeing.
I don’t think this tiny witches hut can really hold six inhabitants plus five guests. Especially if two of those guests are those Noya and Ryuu guys, who seem to cause chaos wherever they go, and one of the inhabitants is Sugawara, who likes to cause trouble for other people.
If I could evil grin I would do it. Tomorrow is gonna be amazing.
The afternoons have become quiet lately, the idiots are outside racing each other. Hopefully they get lost and don’t come back.
Hitoka usually has something or other to do, and when she doesn’t, she seeks out Kiyoko’s company. At least she’s doing something about her crush.
Tadashi says we should go to the garden to hang with Asahi, that boy just doesn’t give up. I suppose I already went downstairs today, I might as well do something with my efforts.
Hanging with Asahi isn’t half bad, he gives us berries as he picks them, holds light conversation with Tadashi, and doesn’t talk to me unless absolutely necessary.
Tadashi is thrilled to talk to him, you can even see his eyes sparkle.
Well, not that I can’t understand, we haven’t had anyone who wanted to talk to us in a while.
Especially anyone nice.
Kiyoko comes out with a paper bag full of food scraps, she deposits the whole thing on what seems to be a compost in the far corner of the garden. She comes back and asks Asahi how his work is going.
“ We are drowning in forget-me-nots . Have been all year, but lately ,” Kiyoko raises her eyebrow, urging him to continue, “ they’ve really become a pest .”
“ Forget-me-nots, out of all things ?”
I want to ask what the problem with the forget-me-nots is. Issue ?
The others look at me puzzled, evidently not catching my drift.
Issue ! Issue ! Tadashi understands me, but he isn’t any better with getting the point across.
Issue ? Forget-nots ?
Asahi looks like he understands now. “ What’s the issue with the forget-me-nots ?” I nod. I can see Tadashi nodding as well, but more intensely than me. “ Well, every garden has a weed in the way of its plants, ours has forget-me-nots .”
This really can’t be that much of a problem.
“ We had an issue with them all year, but in the last few weeks it’s really gotten out of hand . I can’t keep up with them anymore .”
Kiyoko turns to us. “ Usually a weed growth like this shows that the inhabitant of the house has an issue that the weed is fit to respond to . Someone in the house needs these forget-me-nots . Badly .”
Well, that would be me. I am the forgotten one after all.
Kiyoko goes inside, and says that she is going to remove the guards from the house, she then turns to us and asks if we want to watch. Tadashi is content just sitting on Asahi’s shoulder and having vague conversations about growing vegetables, I however, want to witness the start of the downfall of this household, so I fly to Kiyoko.
I try at least.
I forgot that I am actually a baby bird that can’t fly correctly yet, so I just jump off the stand-up shovel I was sitting on, try a meagre attempt a flying, and fall straight on my face.
Also it’s humiliating to boot.
Oh shut it, Tadashi. I don’t want any attention on me right now.
I see Kiyoko’s shoes in front of me, she is squatting down and offering me a hand without saying a word or making a face. It’s appreciated.
I climb on her hand and from there onto her shoulder. Thanks . I say, but very quietly.
Kiyoko, Hitoka, and I stand outside the front door. Kiyoko points at a number of little metal shields with writings on them.
She points between two that are centred right above the entry. “ These two are to keep out Nishinoya and Ryunosuke .” I didn’t even know they had longer names. “ As long as they are over the door those two cannot get in .” And how do you and your short arms intend to take them down?
Kiyoko folds her hands and stares at the shields in concentration. Then she chants in a language that I do not understand, but makes a nervous shiver run down my spine.
After no more than two sentences the shields just fall to the floor by themselves. Go figure.
Hitoka is super mega duper excited.
“ I could understand everything you said there !” So it’s some sort of witches speak. No wonder I didn’t understand it. “ You told them to- “ Hitoka looks at the ground and thinks hard, “ release .” She looks up all excited again, “ you told them to release and then they just fell down !” Kiyoko nods. She looks proud, and fond. We get it Kiyoko, you like Hitoka, just ask the poor girl out before she does something stupid.
I look up at the place that once kept our beautiful little household sane. Tomorrow is going to be marvellous.
The rest of the evening is sort of eventless. I eventually get sick of Hitoka making heart eyes at Kiyoko, and use that as an excuse to have her bring me upstairs.
This is a mistake, as the idiot duo had ended their racing for the day and are going at it in Hitoka’s room. I don’t know what they are arguing about, and I don’t care to listen.
I turn straight around to go back down the stairs. However I had not calculated that I am not human, and that getting down a flight of stairs when you are a crow the size of an individual step is quite a painful ordeal. After trying to fly and falling down onto the third step I get sick of it and flutter-crawled back up.
I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself now. Maybe have a look around.
Loud yelling about volleyball comes out of Hitoka’s room. Across from it is a bathroom, it is clean and nice and surprisingly modern for a witches hut in the woods. On the other side is a depressingly small and dark room, seemingly only host to a desk and a computer. Next to that is what I assume is Kiyoko’s room, it is the clean and nice room of a young woman. Has a distinctive feminine touch.
I look to the other side and see Chiyo’s room. Her door is open and I can see her sitting at a desk, reading an old looking book and humming softly to herself. The entire scene in inviting. I should say hello. Thank her.
Chiyo looks up, she sees me and smiles. “ Hello little one . Come on in .” I walk in hesitantly, it’s weird walking into an adults private territory. “ What brings you to me ?”
Boredom, mostly, but I do have a mission. Thanks . I have reached her chair now, she lowers her hand for me to climb on and puts me on her desk so we can talk eye to eye.
“ Well, I don’t know what I have done to receive your gratitude, but you are very welcome .” Oh don’t pretend woman.
Rescue . Thanks . God, this is hard. Tadashi . Me . Thanks . God, I don’t intend for every second word to be ‘thanks’.
“ It is absolutely no problem my dear .” Her eyes turn serious. “ That woman ,” Miss Sakunami, “ did she ,” Chiyo hesitates, “ has she … do you …”
No . I don’t know what she wants to ask, but it probably regards our treatment by our old witch. Memory . Fuzzy . I don’t know if that is because we had infant brains for nine years or because she put some sort of spell on us. At least I can still remember my time as a human.
Would I even notice if most of my childhood memory was gone?
Did my family notice?
“ Are you doing okay ?” I look at her, I can’t quite follow. “ Here, with us . With Hitoka .” I nod.
Good witch . Good person . I am grateful to her too, must show that as soon as I can talk properly.
Chiyo laughs. “ That is good then, I was hoping you guys would connect . The others boys are doing splendid, you guys seem to be fine too .” She leans down to me, I don’t like that mischievous look she has on her face. “ Now that other boy, Tadashi did you say ?” I nod. “ He is quite important to you, am I right ?” I just want to say yes, but I don’t like that sparkle in her eyes, she looks like she is going to turn my words around in my mouth.
Best friend .
“ I see, I see .” She says, nodding and leaning back. “ It’s just that I noticed quite a strong string of fate between you two .” The other witch had said something along those lines too. I don’t quite know what it means, Tadashi has been my best and only friend for years, and we have been through a lot. Even before we turned. I owe him a lot for how he tried to defend me against that witch.
Especially because it resulted in him turning too.
Though the other witch had mentioned that string of fate too, had mumbled about how she hadn’t noticed it at first, but how she wanted to explore it. I never found out what she meant by that. Maybe I can ask someone once I can talk properly.
Chiyo asks if I need anything else, I deny that. We say goodbye and I leave. I can hear Hitoka coming up the stairs, I think it’s about dino time.
I still hate that she found out about that.
Dino time is the best time of the day. We lie in bed, Hitoka on her stomach, Tadashi in the crook of her neck, me by her page turning arm.
Hitoka sometimes reads passages out loud, usually when she has trouble understanding them, or when she tries to pronounce a name. She also shares with us when she finds something funny or interesting. Now that we can talk, her and Tadashi have an ongoing conversation, even if he can only add single word comments.
I think about how nice it is to have Hitoka as a witch as I doze off. My head might have sunken against her arm, but it's okay, it's not like she is going to hurt us.
Chapter 20: Two Years
Hitoka woke up in the morning and stretched, she had a feeling something big was going to happen.
She said good morning to all her crows and headed downstairs for breakfast.
At breakfast she asked her crows how they wanted to spend their day. Tobio and Shoyou wanted to watch volleyball, as they did everyday, Tadashi and Kei wanted to go to the gardens with Asahi. They must have bonded at some point. Hitoka didn’t want to lose two of her crows to another familiar, so she proposed making fries and strawberry shortcake for the get together tonight. The boys were excited, even Kei showed some life in his words.
Hitoka felt different during practice, more precise, like things were finally going the way she wanted, she shared that thought with her crows in a water break.
Your muscles are getting used to the movements, your moves are sharper and more purposeful . I noticed it too .
A quiet and disgruntled, damn Kageyama being all cool and smart , came from the other crow.
Hitoka went back to practice and really understood what Tobio meant with his words. It felt like up until now, her arms had been flailing around trying to copy a move she couldn’t do, but now her arms only did what they needed to, faster and more powerful than ever.
I’m like a real volleyball player now .
We should have a match .
Hitoka decided to make lunch, since she was feeling particularly well that day, her stamina must finally be catching up with her training regime, she asked her crows what they wanted to eat.
Pork curry . Said Tobio.
Raw egg on rice ! Said Shoyou.
Dumbass, that is more of a breakfast food, we’re eating lunch ! Tobio, for some reason, talked louder to Shoyou than he did generally. More aggressively too.
So what ? Good food is good food, Stingy-o .
Hitoka just trained for four hours, she needs a real meal !
Raw egg on rice is a real meal !
It's basically cereal .
Suga, the unhelpful prick, was just sitting next to the fight and smiling in his troublesome way, meanwhile Hitoka tried to resolve the tension.
“N-Now now, I-I’ll try to see what we have in the house…” Hitoka turned around with her eyes squeezed shut as well as with her hands and shoulders raised defensively.
There you go, scaring poor Hitoka with your stingy attitude again, Stingy-o .
I did no such thing .
Yes, you did, Scary-o .
Suga honest to god tried to suppress a chuckle, Hitoka honest to god tried to not die of embarrassment.
She looked through the kitchen and found that they didn’t actually have pork, and were too low on curry to feed four people.
“L-looks like we’re going to have to have raw egg on rice.”
Hitoka suspected that the face Shoyou made at Tobio was smug, and that the face Tobio made at Shoyou was angry.
Hitoka put four people worth of rice into the rice cooker and realised that she had absolutely nothing to do now.
Her anxious thought about whether or not she would actually have to physically restrain Shoyou and Tobio from one another were interrupted by Kiyoko and Daichi coming into the kitchen, holding light conversation.
“Kiyoko, Daichi, are you going to go shopping for tonight?” The both turned to her, Kiyoko nodded. “Can you bring strawberries, and some more oil? Oh, and also vanilla essence? I’m going to make strawberry shortcake and fries.”
“That sounds like a marvellous idea, tell us how much you need and we can bring it.”
Kiyoko and Daichi seemed to have finished their conversation, Kiyoko joining Hitoka behind the kitchen counter, asking her how she was doing, Daichi joining Suga.
“Actually,” whispered Hitoka to Kiyoko, “I need something else too. I’m kinda low on supplies and my…” Hitoka looked left and right, “you know, my bad days are coming up.” Hitoka felt disturbingly surrounded by guys in this kitchen.
Kiyoko nodded knowingly. “You need tampons.” She whispered back. Hitoka flushed a deep scarlet and refused to meet Kiyoko’s eye, but nodded. “That’s fine, what size?”
“Just medium is fine.”
“Oi, Daichi!” Kiyoko turned around to get Daichi’s attention just in time to see Suga jabbing him in the ribs while smiling and Daichi doubling over in pain. Hitoka begged for the ground to swallow her whole. “We need to put medium strength tampons on the list!” This was it, this was the end of Yachi Hitoka’s demise. On this very day Hitoka died of embarrassment and the kitchen tiles refused to consume her. In her despair she almost missed Daichi’s wheezed out ‘will do’.
“Medium? Is it light this time?” Hitoka was usually grateful for Suga but today she wished he didn’t exist. Kiyoko didn’t answer him, only stared at him unmoving. “Oh.” He said, turning back around to Daichi. Five minutes ago Hitoka had considered herself as embarrassed as physically possible. Boy had she been wrong.
Her only silver lining was the rice cooker peeping to show it was done, giving her the opportunity to collect herself while she made food.
When she gave everybody their bowls she looked almost human again.
She ate her food contemplatively, she had a burning question to ask Kiyoko, and Kiyoko sat right next to her, looking at cat memes on her phone.
“Shay, Gyogo?” God damnit, Hitoka, stop talking to attractive people with your mouth full . Kiyoko didn’t seem to mind though, she smiled at Hitoka expectantly. Hitoka swallowed and continued. “How do these strings of fate work, and how do you see them?”
Kiyoko sat up straighter, the teaching role really suited her. She pushed her glasses up. “Fate is, among other things, connected to how much of an impact another person has on your life, you have strings of fate with your best friend, but also with your subway cashier.” Hitoka almost forgot to eat, with how she was staring at Kiyoko. “The fate you share with your friends is obviously stronger though. Particularly strong strings of fate can be found between friends, family, or lovers. Even strangers, really, depending on how much of an impact you have on one another.”
Kiyoko looked ahead, there was something very deep in her look. “There is more to it than impact though, it’s just the easiest part to pick apart. Potential for impact is also a strong one. One can also be a tutor to you, helping you find your way in the world, and even if you miss how you’re supposed to meet them, you do meet them eventually.” Hitoka spent every day being more and more impressed by Kiyoko.
“Unless,” came Suga from the other side, “you no longer have the goal. If your one wish in life is to be the world greatest volleyball player, you might have someone along your way that has a major impact on that, they would probably be your tutor. If you completely gave up on volleyball though to be the world’s greatest baker, your string of fate with them fades.” Hitoka was amazed, two months ago she didn’t even believe in fate.
Kiyoko nodded at Suga’s words. “That’s why strings between friends, family and lovers tend to be the strongest, they are tied to you as a person, not your life’s ongoing journey.”
“And as you may have noticed,” Daichi picked up from what Kiyoko said, “you can also have negative ties. You can accidentally be tied to a person that has a big, drastic impact on your life that is going to make it significantly worse.” Hitoka got scared, the universe suddenly seemed disturbingly mighty. “This can go two ways, you can be, say, the world's biggest prick, and then someone robs you of all your belongings and you learn compassion, or you can be an innocent child on their way to school and be kidnapped by some guy who is going to keep you in his basement for several years.” Now Hitoka actually started to shiver.
“Strings of fate can be cut, Hitoka.” Kiyoko must have noticed Hitoka’s distress. “It’s one of the things that we witches can do. Obviously a stronger string is going to require a stronger witch, but basically what it means is that fate is not the end.”
“And any fate you have can be changed through random circumstances or even personal choice.”
“Like leaving volleyball behind to be a baker.”
Hitoka felt better, still a bit overwhelmed, but better. After a beat she said, “and how do you see them?”
Kiyoko smiled in a mysterious way. “You ask for them.” Surely that wasn’t the whole story. “You close your eyes,” Hitoka closed her eyes, “concentrate,” Hitoka skewed her face, “and ask for the fate to show itself to you.”
She felt a difference. She felt like she was in the middle of a spider net, ties only barely touching her. When she opened her eyes she saw that it was true. Dozens of see through ties, just going through the entire house, most of them at about the same distance above the ground, all of them looking like they were made from light, all of them different shades of red.
She looked to her friends, strong, red ties connected Kiyoko to her familiars, and her familiars to one another. Light pink ties linked Hitoka to everybody else in the room. Barely visible ties, among some strong red ties connected everybody to the outside world. Hitoka was amazed.
She saw a tie, stronger than the others, it was connected to Asahi, a dark red, connecting him to the outside world. Hitoka wondered who it was connected to. She briefly considered if she knew them. That was impossible though.
In her awe she almost missed the strongest tie of them all, her two crows, Shoyou and Tobio, shared a bond that took her breath away, it was so dark red that it looked black, and the string itself looked completely solid. Hitoka felt the urge to run her hands through it, to see if she could touch it.
She looked at Kiyoko, Kiyoko looked back at her. “It’s amazing, huh?” Hitoka nodded, still stunned. She looked back at the birds, but the strings around her slowly faded out of her vision.
It had been colder that day, so when Kiyoko, Daichi, and Suga went out to get groceries they put on light coats. There was something very adult and graceful about them. Hitoka had that creeping feeling of insignificance again.
She saw her granny come down the stairs, also wearing a going out coat, and a light scarf around her head.
“Where are you heading, Nanna?”
“Oh deary, I am meeting with my own friends, Friday night is game night for all of us.” She winked at Hitoka and straightened her coat collar. They all said goodbye to each other and headed out.
Hitoka didn’t know what to do with herself, she spent some time pretending not to stalk Kiyoko’s blog.
Her crow Kei was on her shoulder, she felt the need to defend her actions.
“It’s not like I’m stalking her, I’m just interested in what she posts.”
Didn’t comment .
“I’m just saying, it may look suspicious,” Hitoka gulped, “but I’m just scrolling down social media, everyone does that.”
That’s true .
“I’m gonna scroll down the timeline later too, I’m just interested in what Kiyoko is interested in.”
I’m sure .
“It’s just a thing you do on these platforms, you look at the blogs of the people you know. It’s how networking works online.”
I know . Got one .
Hitoka was excited, she hadn’t even considered that option. “You have social media? Can I add you?”
No computer .
Hitoka’s shoulders slumped. “That’s right.” That made her think. “Say, Kei, how old are you now?”
There was a break of silence for a bit. About 18 .
Hitoka was amazed again, this was just too convenient. She asked something else that irked her. “When did you turn?”
Kei was quiet again. Nine years .
“Since you were nine years old or nine years ago?” Either way, it was a really long time. Too long.
Both, really . Hitoka supposed that was right.
“So you just spent nine years of your life as a baby bird?” Half your life ?
Hitoka had to process that for a bit.
“Wha- what about Tadashi?”
“Did you know each other before?”
Best friends .
“You were best friends before you turned?”
“How did you meet?”
School . Then, after a beat. Bullies .
Hitoka tried to translate what was said. “You met via bullies?”
“Where you bullied?”
There was a laugh, and then, no .
Hitoka thought. “Was Tadashi bullied?”
Hitoka was excited. “So you met because you saved him from bullies?”
Kei was quiet for a beat. Kinda .
Hitoka really didn’t know what to make of that. “I suppose you’ll have to tell me the story when you can talk properly.
Maybe . Hitoka didn’t know what to make of that either, but she supposed that Kei just didn’t like to talk about himself. She hoped it wasn’t anything worse. Maybe Tadashi would be willing to share.
Hitoka didn’t get to think about that much, because the others came home with their groceries, this time they were significantly earlier than last time. They had said it was because they wanted to give Hitoka time to make her snacks. Hitoka was grateful.
Hitoka had made enough fries for them to be used as a party snack, plus some for Tadashi to let sit and soak, and enough strawberry short cake to feed the crowd. Hitoka was proud.
There was excitement all around, Hitoka dressed nicely because she was expecting friends, she saw the others wearing dapper clothing too. Shoyou and Tobio flew around the room making bets about which one of them would own the others at the games tonight. Tobio’s money was on Suga, either because he favoured Suga for whatever reason, or because Suga had actually ripped them all off last time. Shoyou bet on Asahi, who was flustered but appreciative, Hitoka didn’t know why Shoyou had a sudden interest in Asahi when they didn’t spend any time together. That she knew of.
They’re argument eventually turned into which one of them would win against the other, which eventually resulted in Tobio jabbing at Shoyou’s, apparently, crappy volleyball skills. Shoyou, in response, jabbed at Tobio’s crappy attitude.
Tadashi and Kei seemed excited as well. Tadashi jumped around the fries in excitement, and Kei looked like he was about to consume the entire pile of short cakes by himself.
Hitoka looked around. She saw the food bowls, the different board and card games, and people chatting excitedly while setting up. Hitoka was ready.
Among all the buzzing she almost missed the knock on the door. She ran to the door, announcing herself, but then ran back to get the tea for Hisashi and Kazuhito, and ran back to the door.
She awkwardly tried to open it with her elbows, but eventually just gave up and asked them to come in.
Hitoka saw Chikara first, Ryuu and Noya waved and yelled greetings at her from behind him. She also noticed that she couldn’t quite focus on the space around Chikara, so she squeezed her eyes shut and stretched her arms out to offer the tea.
The tea was taken from her hands, two ‘thanks’ came from the inside of her head, and when she opened her eyes the regular guests greeted her with kind smiles and came trotting in.
“You guys can come in too, Kiyoko removed the barriers yesterday.”
Ryuu’s and Noya’s eyes lit up like fairy lights.
“Really? That’s so generous of her!”
“The beautiful Kiyoko graced us! The stars are in our favour today!”
Noya and Ryuu stormed past Hitoka towards Kiyoko, who was currently catching up with Hisashi and handing a drink to Suga.
A loud, “KIYOKO YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL TODAY!” Was accompanied by cawing from the ceiling, as well as laughing from the direction of the shortcakes.
Kiyoko shrieked and stepped back, Hitoka tried to tell the boys to keep it down, but her voice drowned in the general noise.
Ryuu tackled Kiyoko in a big hug, picked her up and spun her around saying how grateful he was to be seeing her that day.
Noya had… stopped.
Half way on the way to Kiyoko Noya had just… stopped in his tracks. Hitoka could feel a suffocating tension come from his body. She tried to ask him what the matter was but the words died in her throat.
She wanted to approach him, but didn’t feel safe going near him, so she circled around him until she could see his face.
The intense stare in his eyes was… intimidating. Hitoka didn’t dare looked at it directly. Instead she followed his line of sight, and discovered that he was fixed on Asahi.
Asahi had noticed that he was being stared at like that, he looked about as intimidated as Hitoka felt. All around them a quiet had settled, everybody had noticed the tension in the room.
“I see you’re doing well.” There was something in Noya’s voice that Hitoka couldn’t quite place. It sounded deeper.
Asahi stood up straighter, but also significantly less tense. “Thank you for… for helping me.”
Hitoka was completely lost, as there was a loud commotion erupting around her.
After a lot of yelling and asking questions and a lot of buzz that left Hitoka frankly unmovable with fear, the combined forces of both Daichi and Chikara left everybody quiet, with some tea in their hand, and sitting down.
Asahi sat on the tiny couch, Suga next to him. Noya sat across from him on a well used seat, focusing his intense stare at his cup of tea, probably to not intimidate Asahi, Kazuhito next to him.
Everyone else was scattered around chairs and on tables or just leaning against walls. It felt crowded.
“I was… I…Well…” Asahi scratched his neck in awkwardness. “I don’t really know where to start.”
“The beginning is usually a good call.” Suga said, with a cheeky grin.
“I don’t really know where the beginning is though.” Asahi said in distress.
“Why were you with that witch?” Noya’s voice still sounded deep and intimidating. He kept staring at his cup.
Asahi took a deep breath and looked at the ceiling. “When I was- When I was first turned, I had the best witch in the world.” Asahi looked reminiscent, with that fond smile on his face.
My witch and I were a true power couple. There was nothing we couldn’t do.
I had the best time of my life living with her, and she seemed happy to have me with her as well.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, she went through a very bad time in her life. Her long term partner had left her after several years of relationship, she couldn’t deal with the loss.
She turned into a completely different person, she was more demanding, harder to please, more rude, louder. I accepted her behaviour though, because it wasn’t truly her, it was just her bad circumstances. It wasn’t that she was a truly bad person, and it wasn’t that she was truly mad at me, she just had a hard time and needed to vent.
I was alright with being her outlet.
One day, we got guests. We frequently got guests, but it had been a long time since we had let anyone in. A loud and bald man talked about business to my witch, and used the opportunity to flirt with her mercilessly.
The other man though, he only looked at me. He had this stare on me that was intimidating, I knew that the second he had stepped in and had looked me in the eye that he had known everything. Every last detail.
He turned to my witch and said ‘why is your familiar so dusty?’ It was because I didn’t take good care of myself then, I hadn’t had the motivation.
‘Spring cleaning.’ She had said. It hadn’t even been spring.
‘Why are his feathers a mess?’ It was because I hadn’t eaten properly. My witch didn’t feel the need to feed me, said I hadn’t earned it. I felt I hadn’t deserved it either.
‘He likes to get into fights.’ That wasn’t true either, I avoid fights at all costs.
‘When was the last time he was in human form?’ It had been weeks, I felt I had lost the art of transformation.
‘He prefers his bird shape.’ That wasn’t true either. I prefer whatever shape is most convenient at any given time. I just had forgotten how to be human anymore.
The strange, perceptive man was actually angry then, he yelled at my witch. ‘As his witch you have the duty to actually take care of him!’
‘As his witch I can treat him as I like!’ She responded. She was right, she was just in a bit of a slump lately. ‘Which ever way I treat him is none of your business!’
He took her and shook her violently. ‘As a creature of these woods he is under my guardianship-‘ but my witch just shook him off, she was a good deal taller than him. She looked at him coldly and said, ‘get out of my house.’
The man was about to charge her again, but was held back by his bald friend, who said soothing words and lead him out.
As he walked passed me out of the door, I could see in his face how upset he was. I didn’t understand what had riled him up so much.
My witch banned him from the house, so he never went inside again, but I could occasionally see him stare at the house from the outside. Sometimes his bald friend was with him.
I would occasionally meet him outside too. Usually I would fly passed him, so we didn’t actually get to talk, but sometimes we did.
He told me that the environment I was in was not good for me, that I had to leave her to be happy, to be healthy.
He said that she was bad for me.
He didn’t know anything about her, she picked me up and looked after me when no one else would, she made me a strong and healthy familiar and person.
She was just having a bad time. Bad circumstances.
He would pester me with questions though. When was the last time she cooked for me? When was the last time she said something nice unprompted? When was the last time she did something for me that didn’t in any way benefit her? When was the last time I relaxed around her?
The man obviously knew nothing. It could only have been a few months, no big deal, things would be back to normal soon.
Eventually my witch got upset with how little I could do to help out with the household if I was a bird all the time. I tried to tell her that I didn’t know how to be a human anymore, but I must have forgotten how to talk as well.
So I forced myself to be human. It happened, and I was proud. She just told me that I took too long to turn.
And to take the trash out.
And do the dishes.
And make the food that was apparently so bad that neither of us got to eat it.
It seemed my magic had completely dwindled as well, no potions I made actually had any power.
One day I took the trash out, and at the same time my witch was out running an errand.
We left the door at the same time, and she said, ‘I am really disappointed that todays chores took you so long, now I have to go on this damn errand myself.’ I nodded because I agreed.
Neither of us had noticed that we weren’t alone, the small man and his bald friend stood in front of us, having overheard our conversation.
‘When was the last time you did an errand yourself?’ He said angrily, he voice chilled me to my bones.
‘I wouldn’t have to run any errands if my stupid familiar did his work properly.’ I nodded because I knew she was right.
The small angry man charged at her again. ‘He is not your slave! He is your friend! Your family!’
I saw red, he had attacked my witch, the one who had taken me in and looked after me. ‘You have no right to to talk to her like that!’ Yelling so loudly after all this time of not speaking felt weird in my throat, but I had to get him away from my witch. He looked taken aback, I took my witches arm and steered her away from him.
‘And you!’ The small man yanked me back by my free arm, my witch stumbled forwards, and her broom fell behind us. ‘You can’t let her treat you like that! Stand up for yourself! Make her treat you with respect!’
I was truly angry at him now. ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about!’ He didn’t. He had but a glimpse into our life. It was much more complex than that.
Now he charged at me, evidently as angry as before. ‘You don’t even try!’ His push made me step back, I stepped on the broom, it broke in half.
The bald man charged the small man from behind and pulled him back, tried to calm him down.
‘I just want you to be happy.’ He said. It was the quietest thing I had ever heard him say, he hadn’t even looked at my face.
He had looked up afterwards though, and I could see a burning honesty in his eyes, one I didn’t want to deal with. It burned into my soul.
‘Stay out of my life.’ I said, throwing the garbage into the bin, and going back inside. I could hear my witch complaining about having to run her errand on foot. The two men stood outside for a while more, the small man staring at the ground, but eventually they retreated as well.
I thought about his words though. I thought about what I wanted from my witch, how she treated me in the past and how she treated me then.
I was ready to tell her that I had a few issues with the way things were.
When she came home, she complained about the way, the customer, the day in general. ‘It is all your fault anyway, you and that guy with the attitude problem.’ I was appalled, all I ever did was for her, I ripped my arms out to support her and help her, and here she was, complaining about lack of effort. ‘If you hadn’t made so much of a fuss lately none of this would have happened.’
I don’t really know what happened after that. I know that I saw red, and that I yelled at her, and that I eventually stormed out without saying goodbye. I turned into a bird and flew away, aimlessly, just to get away. Spend a few days just flying through the woods, letting off steam.
Asahi smiled happily into his still full cup, eyes closed. “After a few days, or maybe a few weeks I found Kiyoko, who was willing to take me in.” He looked at the ceiling. “I have friends, I go out every now and again, I have a garden I can look after. It’s been pretty neat.” Asahi smiled sheepishly. “I like it here.”
“That’s good then.” All eyes moved to Nishinoya, who smiled gently into his cup. An empty one. “That’s all I wanted.”
Nishinoya looked up then, making eye contact with Asahi, and holding it. Nobody dared say a word. Hitoka had that feeling of unease again, that she had when she first looked into Noya’s eyes. She knew what it was now, it was honesty.
Nishinoya, and his big eyes, didn’t hide a thing. No embarrassing secrets, no unbearable desires, only showing raw emotion. Hitoka felt the need to look away, feeling like she intruded on a very private moment.
“All right, do we want to play some games?” Hitoka was very grateful for Suga in this situation, she felt like she hadn’t taken a breath for a very long time.
“Sounds good!” Noya leaped up in joy. The instant change between Nishinoya the god and Noya the boy gave Hitoka whiplash.
They actually divided into two groups of players, each playing a different game. Shoyou and Tobio insisted on playing too, even though they had a hard time hiding their cards from the other players.
Ryuu would yell and usually lose a shirt whenever he had a good hand, and Chikara would restrict him on his nudity adventures.
Noya seamlessly bled his aggressive love into Suga’s, usually each of them of either side of Asahi, punching and grinning whenever they felt the need arose.
Hitoka was excited, she always had a few friends in school, and while they hung out after class, and had sleepovers where they talked about crushes and avoided their studies, she never quite felt like this. There was something big and communal about it, like she was another cog that belonged into this clockwork.
Like it was…
Hitoka turned back to the cards in her hand, she didn’t quite understand the game, but she was sure that her hand was garbage, that she would surely lose.
Kazuhito traded cards with Daichi, and Kiyoko threw one of her cards in the discard pile, Hitoka let her thoughts wander.
Something about Asahi’s story had irked her. She felt it had stirred up a distant memory, but couldn’t quite place it.
Both groups, finished their games, at her table, to her surprise, Ryuu lost it all, he looked appropriately upset about that. Chikara did a half hearted attempt at cheering him up.
Both teams mixed again, so people could sit with others, Hitoka ended up on the other table, Ryuu and Suga on either side of her, Noya in front.
It was a board game this time. It had been quite popular in her class when she was in Karasuno, so she knew it well. The point was to trade and barter with others, but the start of it was quite slow, since no one had enough money to barter yet.
It was Hisashi’s turn to make a move, he sat next to Noya, and the round would go along the table across quite a handful of people until it would land with Hitoka. Hitoka sighed, it would take some time.
She looked ahead and stared at Noya, she was sure she had wanted something from him…
“Say, Noya?” Noya turned to her with a wide smile, she briefly thought back to that bone shaking stare he had on when he came in. “Can I ask for something of you? So I can make a broom?”
“Sure thing!” He looked excited to help her, then he thought for a bit, until he finally reached for his hair. He took a strand and yanked it out. “That should be good.” He seemed completely unfazed by her screaming.
“Th-th-th-th-th-th-thanks…” Ryuu next to her laughed, seemingly amused by Noya’s brash actions, and Hitoka’s startled response. Suga at least tried to hide his chuckle.
“So,” Hisashi started, “Asahi was the guy you were so hung up on these last two years.”
Noya actually full on blushed, Hitoka thought her eyes played a trick on her. “Wha-? No! I jus- I wasn’t- I wasn’t hung up. I’m not hung up on anybody. Ever. I was just concerned.” Hisashi raised a skeptical eyebrow, Suga let go of a cough that suspiciously sounded like a ‘hung up on’. Hitoka giggled. She hadn’t even noticed that it was Ryuu’s turn to move yet.
Overall the evening was a success. Noya and Ryuu promised to cause more trouble next time they came by, Daichi warned them not to or the guards would come back up. Hitoka waved the group good bye, Kei and Tadashi on each of her shoulders. They seemed pleased too.
Hitoka went upstairs and brushed her teeth. Tadashi was already fast asleep on her shoulder, Kei was dozing off himself. They agreed to not read anything today, as neither of them could see well enough anymore.
It had been a long day.
Chapter 21: And then came summer
Hitoka felt groggier that particular morning than she did usually. Shoyou and Tobio where already out of the room. She could hear their faint voices yelling about something down stairs.
Good morning, Hitoka . You look like a mess .
Hitoka was about to reply something appropriate when she noticed something.
“Kei, you can talk properly!”
So it seems .
“That is amazing! Tell me everything about you!”
I’d rather not .
Hitoka turned the other direction to ask Tadashi, but he still slept soundly.
Hitoka stretched and went downstairs for breakfast, she rubbed her eyes and said good morning to no one in particular.
“Good morning, Hitoka.” Asahi said with a cup of coffee in his hand and a gentle smile on his face. Shoyou and Tobio were in front of him on the kitchen counter and yelled about which volleyball position was the best.
Setting is lame, Lame-io ! Spikers are cool like buwa !
Spikers can’t do anything without the setter ! He is the control tower of the team !
But setting isn’t flashy !
Being flashy is not the point !
Hitoka’s head was spinning, she felt like there was a thought in her head that was trying to reach her, but she couldn’t quite catch it. She tried to pinpoint what set it of.
Coming down stairs.
Asahi’s shared story with Noya…
“Ah, Hitoka, good that you are here, we’re having a customer today.”
Hitoka closed her eyes.
Asahi and Noya .
The story .
The job .
“The broom!” Hitoka yelled, she felt much more awake now.
“Are you alright?” Kiyoko sounded concerned, Asahi looked it, but that didn’t matter.
Hitoka’s head was spinning faster now, but it was okay, because this time she could see everything that was spinning in her head.
“The broom! It’s the broom! The broken broom that is broken in half!” Hitoka paced around the kitchen counter, trying to keep up with her thoughts. “The broom in the garage. It was broken in half by two powerful beings that had an emotional turmoil. A strong emotional turmoil.” Hitoka beamed at Kiyoko and Asahi, they looked at her in confusion. “A familiar and a god have to be about the strongest beings in this forest.” Hitoka stopped pacing but gesticulated heavily with her arms to undermine her point. “And Asahi, a familiar, and Noya, a god, had a strong emotional turmoil with which they broke a broom. Kiyoko,” Hitoka pointed at Kiyoko, the girl, who was taken aback by that, “how long has that broom been here?”
“Well, eh, a little over two years.” She turned to Asahi. “It arrived a few weeks before you.” Hitoka beamed. “You think the broom that Asahi and Noya broke in their fight was that exact broom?” Hitoka nodded enthusiastically. Asahi still looked a little lost. “Only one way to find out, you guys stay here, I’ll get the broom.”
Hitoka wanted to protest, but a loud sound from her stomach interrupted her. “Do you want waffles? I made waffles. The crows like them.” Asahi made such an uncertain face about the food that Hitoka simply couldn’t refuse it, so she waited patiently while stuffing her face with waffles.
Kiyoko came back after a short time, one half of the broom in each hand. “Is this the broom that belonged to your witch?”
Asahi gulped, he looked really uncomfortable, but eventually he nodded. “Yes that’s- that’s definitely hers.”
Hitoka was excited, she felt like a detective.
“That’s good. If we got you and Nishinoya together then we could probably untangle the magic and fix the broom.” Kiyoko looked at Asahi. “If you will be willing that is.”
Asahi hesitated for a moment, but eventually agreed with a silent nod.
Hitoka was thrilled, this was already a good start to a day, she was excited to play volleyball.
“Arg, we never asked the guys if they played volleyball!” Hitoka complained, pulling her hair.
Kiyoko chuckled. “It’s alright, Hitoka, we’ll see them again, we can ask them then.”
Hitoka let her face fall onto the kitchen counter in despair. “That will take so long though.”
Exactly ! Exactly !
I agree .
Hitoka nodded with her crows, they understood.
“We can seek them out earlier if we need to.” Kiyoko said with an amused smile. “We know how to find them now.” Hitoka didn’t follow. “Surely you noticed that Asahi’s strongest string of fate is connected to Nishinoya.”
“What?!” Asahi and Hitoka said at the same time, Asahi also sported a deep flush, and eventually hid his face in his hands.
“So if we need to seek them out we can just follow Asahi’s string of fate and at the other end will be Nishinoya.”
Asahi groaned in despair, evidently embarrassed, Hitoka was excited. “Let’s do it then!” She wanted to do it right then, skip dressing appropriately and brushing teeth, important things had to be done. Volleyball had to be done. They could even fix the broom while they’re at it.
Then, Hitoka realised that she was still mediocre at best, when it came to volleyball, she didn’t stand a chance against the people she lived with, and what if the other guys were actually experts, and had played for years…
“M-maybe we can seek them out after practice…” Hitoka said quietly, Kiyoko still had that small, amused smile on her face.
Hitoka quickly emptied a tall glass of orange juice and immediately regretted it when she brushed her teeth right afterwards. She flushed her mouth with three glasses of water but the bad taste wouldn’t go away. She went downstairs with Shoyou and Tobio, who had yet to decide on the coolest volleyball position, and started practice with Suga.
At lunch time Kiyoko reminded them to come inside, since they were expecting their customer soon. Hitoka was both excited and terrified. She wanted to meet a customer, and know what they wanted fixed, but she was also scared to meet new people.
Hitoka, Suga, Kiyoko, and the volleyball crows sat around or on the kitchen counter and ate sandwiches Suga made.
These sandwiches are adventures more than food . Hitoka thought to herself, she didn’t quite want to know what was on them, she felt it would be harder to eat them then.
There was a knock on the door, Hitoka’s stomach did a flip, the eaten half of her sandwich almost made a reappearance.
“Come on in, the door is open!” Kiyoko said. Hitoka turned around to see who came in.
It was a young girl, must have been around ten years old. Hitoka was concerned about her walking through the woods alone, as she seemed to not have adult company.
Hitoka swallowed away her nervousness and had a closer look. The girl had long, bright orange hair, that looked like it was a pain to deal with, with how many strands peaked out of her twin braids. Hitoka quickly thought back to when the last time she actually saw a ginger was.
The girl looked shyly to the ground, not focusing on anything. “I- well- I saw your adds, and…” She looked up then, making straight eye contact with Kiyoko. There was a determined look in her eyes. Her eyes were big and brown, a shade of brown Hitoka recognised but could not place. “I’m here to find my brother. My name is Hinata Natsu.”
Hitoka briefly thought that the name ‘Hinata’ rang a bell, but her thought was interrupted by a ‘ Natsu ?!’ Coming from behind her, followed immediately by a loud poof, followed by a ‘ Hinata, you idiot, you can’t just transform in front of people !’ followed by another loud poof.
Hitoka turned around to see what happened behind the kitchen counter. A cloud of smoke diluted to show a guy with eyes as big and brown, and hair as wild and ginger as that of the girl. The girl in question squeaked, and probably hid her face behind her hands, but Hitoka could only guess. Hitoka was enraptured by the second cloud of smoke diluting to show another guy behind him, quickly putting him into a headlock with an angry face and saying, “you can’t just show up naked in front of girls you pervert!” Tobio .
The wide grin of the small, ginger guy quickly turning into a pained expression and him saying “sto’ K’yama! Ca’ Brea’!”
Hitoka’s brain caught up with the events though, and she realised that both guys were currently stark naked, and while the gingers private parts were low enough to be covered by the kitchen counter, the taller guy’s were only shielded from her eyes because they were covered by the gingers body.
Hitoka considered it a good time to flush immensely and hide her face in her hands. The girl at the door let go of some sort of pained noise, Hitoka could strongly empathise.
“You guys should transform back now. Follow Suga upstairs and ask him to get some clothes, he should have something that fits both of you. Then you can come back downstairs and say hello.”
At Kiyoko’s calm words Shoyou and Tobio came back to the real world. They realised what predicament and situation they were in and seemed embarrassed immensely. Hitoka dared to spy between her fingers, she could see them blush deeply, agree with Kiyoko, transform into crows again, fly upstairs followed by an uncharacteristically quiet Suga, and leave twin clouds of smoke behind.
Hitoka took a deep breath and turned back around. Her face still felt uncomfortably warm.
The girl at the door hadn’t recovered yet though. She was still very red and hiding in her hands.
“I suppose your brother is one Hinata Shoyou.” The girl nodded at Kiyoko’s words, hands still on her face. “I suppose he is an excitable guy, very friendly, loves volleyball, went missing four years ago.” The girl nodded again. “Then I suppose we found him.” The girl nodded again, more softly now though.
Slowly, she let her hands sink from her face, the flush was mostly gone now, replaced by worrying whiteness. She sank to her knees. “This is a lot.” She said quietly.
Hitoka wanted to comfort her, tell her that it was okay, and that her brother was fine, but she felt uncertain in her words.
“He just… poofed up…” Damn, that was right. That was probably her first exposure to magic. Damn, Hitoka hadn’t even considered that.
Out of nowhere, Kiyoko had produced some tea, she was slowly walking towards the girl with it and said, “we can sit down and explain everything”. This must have happened before, there must be some sort of protocol or something .
The girl took her sweet time, but eventually nodded and followed Kiyoko to the couches.
Hitoka and Kiyoko sat patiently on the couch, or rather, Kiyoko was patient, and Hitoka was nervous, and the girl sat in front of them in her seat, just staring at her tea on the table. She mumbled something to herself, something Hitoka couldn’t quite hear, but eventually she took the tea with shaking hands.
“What do you want answered first?” Kiyoko said, she looked like she did this for a living. Hitoka could only hope to be as cool as her some day.
“Wha- Whe-?” The girl squinted at her tea, then she looked at Kiyoko. “Who are you?”
Kiyoko had a graceful smile on her face. “My name is Shimizu Kiyoko, this is Yachi Hitoka.” Hitoka nodded, but didn’t quite dare to say anything yet. “We are witches and run a magical repair service, but I suppose we’ll reconnect you with your brother today.”
The girl had been looking disturbingly pale throughout the exchange, but colour was slowly coming back to her face. Kiyoko must have put something in that tea to help her calm down .
“And wha-,” the girl gulped and then continued louder, “what happened to my brother? Why is he like this? Why was he gone? What is this?” She looked like there was tears forming in her eyes.
Kiyoko was undisturbed by that. “Children that are lost without any connection to their surrounding can be turned into familiars to witches so they don’t stay lost to the world. Your brother was,” Kiyoko laid her head sideways, “he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The girl nodded slowly, then continued, quietly. “What’s a ‘familiar’?”
“Familiars are powerful beings that support witches in their craft. Likewise witches, in turn, help their familiars with their lives. Whether that be reconnecting them with their family, or simply giving them a home.”
The girl was still quiet, she stared at the table, but didn’t seem to focus on it. “So my brother is magic?”
“He wasn’t always, but he is now.”
The girl was quiet now. She looked like she still had questions, but neither Kiyoko nor Hitoka pressured her to ask them.
“Natsu!” A blur of orange tackled the girl, she shrieked at the unexpected sound, and collectively they fell onto a pile on the floor. “I haven’t seen you in so long! How have you been?! I missed you!”
Hitoka had to stretch her back to see the girl being smothered by love on the floor.
The girl seemed shocked and reluctant at first, but eventually hugged her brother back, clutching tightly like she never wanted to let go. The tears were actually coming now.
“I missed you, big brother.”
“I missed you too. You’ve gotten so big.”
“You haven’t grown at all.”
Hitoka clutched her heart at the scene, she leaned back on the couch to let the siblings reconnect.
To her side, a bit away from them, she saw the tall guy, Tobio. He looked disapprovingly at the scene, but didn’t say anything. Maybe he had known Natsu back in the day and didn’t like her. Maybe his genuine distaste for Shoyou came through now. Maybe he’s jealous .
Hitoka painfully remembered that even though Shoyou had a lot of healthy connections, he was taken away before his time because his strongest connection was with Tobio, and Tobio had no connections other than Shoyou .
Hitoka briefly wondered about Tobio’s home life but concluded that she wasn’t ready to know.
The Hinata siblings had sat up, still clutching each other though.
“If you want you can go into the garden to catch up, it’s a beautiful day today.” Kiyoko always has those amazing ideas .
“Come on, I can show you some cool stuff!” Natsu still had tears in her eyes but nodded. Her brother took her hand and dragged her out.
Hitoka looked to her side again, Tobio watched the siblings leave and didn’t seem happy about it. Maybe he just has a resting grumpy face .
Hitoka wanted to say something, to do something, to have him feel better, but she didn’t know what.
“We still have a lot of junk food from last night to get rid of, anyone wanna help me eat it?” Tobio nodded silently at Kiyoko’s comment, Hitoka nodded as well.
Three open bags of chips, a mostly empty package of cookies, and a still mostly full bag of marshmallows ended up on the kitchen counter, with the three people around it, digging in.
Hitoka helped herself to the last cookies, Kiyoko went for the cream cheese and chives chips, Tobio chewed on a marshmallow unenthusiastically.
“Have you met Shoyou’s sister before?” It was a good thing that Kiyoko could actually talk, because Hitoka still felt a bit too uncertain to be of any conversational use.
“No. We didn’t like each other back then, so I never met his family.” This was probably the most Hitoka had ever heard him talk on a topic other than volleyball. It made her curious.
“Why didn’t you like each other?” Hitoka’s voice felt weird in her throat, she must have neglected it for too long.
Tobio skewed his nose. “He wasted his potential.” Neither Hitoka nor Kiyoko could follow, but they waited patiently for him to elaborate. After a while Tobio said, “he is fast, and he jumps higher than anyone I have ever seen, and he has the instinct and desire that could make him a force to be reckoned with.” His face darkened. “But he sucks. I don’t know why, but he sucks, and it pisses me off because he just leaves all his potential unused.” Tobio’s face went normal again. “And he doesn’t like me because… I don’t know, probably because I got onto the team, and he didn’t.” He furrowed his brows. “Or maybe it’s my personality. I hear I have a really unlikable personality.”
Hitoka couldn’t help but let out a giggle then, this confused boy had no problem bad mouthing his potential team mates, but had no idea if he had a good personality.
“What’s the matter, did I say something funny?” That boy was genuinely confused, Hitoka couldn’t help but be charmed by his lack of self awareness.
“No, it’s just… it’s fine.” Hitoka took a breath so she would stop giggling.
“Would you want to play volleyball again, Tobio?” There was a mischief in Kiyoko’s eyes that made Hitoka weary of the question, but went completely over Tobio’s head.
“Would you be alright with playing with Shoyou?” Hitoka had never seen such a distorted reluctant face in her life. She couldn’t help but laugh at the intenseness of it all.
“I’d prefer not to.”
Kiyoko let go of a small smile then too. She offered some soda to Tobio who gratefully accepted.
They both had a certain sort of grace and beauty to them, even among all the mostly eaten junk food on the table.
Their tall bodies and dark hair and deep blue eyes had something unfathomably beautiful, and Tobio was taller enough than Kiyoko to be perfect boyfriend height. Hitoka realised that they made a beautiful couple, that their babies would be other-worldly. Her stomach twisted at the thought, and she quickly chucked it down with some Soda.
The Hinata siblings came back in. Still holding hands, still smiling brightly, somehow illuminating the room with their presence. It’s like watching a sunrise happen . Hitoka felt the sudden need to wear shades.
The sister turned around to them, eyes zeroing on Tobio.
“You must be Kageyama.” Tobio nodded, he looked mildly intimidated. “Shoyou talked a lot about you.”
“Hey, didn’t talk that mu-“
“No, I mean back in the day.” Both boys seemed shocked by that. “You are the prodigy with the terrible personality.” Tobio looked confused, seemingly uncertain whether he should deny those claims or even be offended by them. Shoyou laughed wholeheartedly. “Go toss to my brother so he stops whining.”
“Wha-? No! Natsu!” Tobio looked confused, but neither agreed nor disagreed, Shoyou complained to his sister about saying embarrassing things, Kiyoko silently chuckled at their antics.
As Natsu and Tobio discussed the ups and downs of tossing versus not tossing to Shoyou, the boy in question turned to Kiyoko. “So can I like… see my family? Or am I bound here?”
Kiyoko giggled. “No, you are free to come and go as you please. It’s our duty after all to reconnect you with your environment if the need arises.”
Both Hinata’s beamed at that. Shoyou seemed keen to see his family again, him and his sister made immediate plans to go home and spread the good news of Shoyou’s continued existence. Hitoka was happy that he found his people, that he wasn’t truly a lost child. She felt accomplished, but she also felt weird, like a big chunk was about to be taken out of her life.
Hitoka watched Shoyou leave, saying his goodbyes, saying he would see them again. Hitoka waved and smiled. When she looked at Tobio she could see every negative emotion she tried to hide clearly on his face.
It was all very bitter sweet.
Tobio spent the rest of his the day in his bird form, he didn’t say much. Hitoka wanted to lighten him up, but didn’t know what to say.
Cheer up your highness . The loud idiot is too attached to you to just abandon you forever . Hitoka had no idea why Kei had called Tobio that, or why he was so snarky about the whole situation.
Shut up . He found his family, he shouldn’t come back . God, somehow hearing him talk was even sadder than not hearing him talk.
Don’t worry, the idiot is probably the one underling that won’t abandon you . Hitoka didn’t know whether Kei tried to achieve peace or more chaos. She had to intervene.
“N-now… h-how about we read something?” Hitoka brought the big dinosaur textbook to her bed. “You want to join us, Tobio?”
Tobio was silent.
Come on, king, we don’t bite .
I’ll be going to bed .
Ouch, rejected .
Tobio hopped into the cage and closed his eyes. Hitoka was really concerned about him, but didn’t know what to do.
Is he going to be okay ? Tadashi sounded about as concerned as Hitoka felt.
Happiness comes to the simple minded . Hitoka and Tadashi both turned to Kei in confusion. He’ll be fine, he’s too much of an idiot to dwell on things like this too much . Now come on, we have a book to read .
Hitoka turned to the book, because she didn’t know what else to do.
She slept uneasily that night.
Chapter 22: How to be a good setter
Hitoka woke up and noticed something was off, something was very unsettled in her stomach.
She looked around, like most mornings, Tadashi would snore soundly against her, and Kei would sleep silently a bit away from her, but still on the bed. They looked older, like they were almost fully grown crows.
She got up and said hello to the bird cage. Tobio was in it, sleeping.
Hitoka looked at the wall painting behind it, her eyes lingered on the rising sun. It all seemed a bit more dull that day.
She went up to Tobio to wake him up.
“Rise and shine.” Tobio woke silently, he nodded at her. “Do you want to watch volleyball today?” Tobio nodded, but it looked like it was on autopilot. Hitoka stretched her hand out and he jumped on it.
They went downstairs together and greeted Suga in the kitchen.
“Where’s your other crow?”
“Shoyou’s family came to pick him up last night, there was a happy reunion. He is with them now.”
Suga nodded understandingly. “Good for him.” He then looked at Tobio, who just stared at the ground, seemingly not noticing that he was being stared at.
Hitoka sat Tobio on the kitchen counter. “What do you want to eat? I’ll make you something today.”
Tobio was silent. He scanned the entirety of the kitchen counter, and when Hitoka was about to say that she was just gonna make something he was gonna like he said, “raw egg on rice”.
“Okay, coming up.” Hitoka remembered having raw egg on rice for lunch a few days ago, she remembered Tobio arguing that it was a breakfast food and should not be eaten after training.
She gave Tobio and herself a bowl of the rice, and Tobio a glass of milk as well.
The food he ate, but the milk he barely touched.
“Say, since you can turn into a human now, do you want to practice with us?” Tobio was silent at Suga’s question. There was a few beats of nothing. “You’re a setter, right? I am too, I can teach you stuff about setting.” Tobio perked up at that, he nodded but stayed silent. “You can come with me, I can probably get some clothes for you somehow.” Tobio nodded again, but still didn’t say anything.
Hitoka went to her room to get dressed, and was met with some surprisingly concerned crows.
How’s The King holding up ? Kei sounded genuinely concerned. In a Kei sort of a way.
Hitoka shook her head to sort her thoughts. “He is very silent, but he’s training with us, so it’s okay.” She pulled her pyjama top over her head. “Say, why do you call him King?”
You weren’t in the volleyball scene in middle school, right ? Hitoka shook her head. It was his nickname then . It wasn’t a nice name, but I suppose it’s his story to tell . Hitoka wondered in what sort of context someone could be called ‘King’ as an insult.
Hitoka pulled her pants up. “Why do you think he’s so silent?”
How would I know ? Am I a royalty whisperer ? Hitoka raised her eyebrows, as if to ask if he actually was. I don’t know, but it’s definitely because The Queen is gone . Maybe they were closer than we anticipated, or maybe it’s because he noticed that he isn’t missed by his family . Who knows really .
Hitoka had to think about that. The part where Kei had referred to Shoyou as ‘The Queen’ mostly, but something else had stuck in her mind. Nanna Yachi had mentioned that she had taken Shoyou because of his strong bond with Tobio, and even though he had plenty of strong bonds to go around. Maybe he feels guilty for that, the whole ordeal must have taken quite a few years out of Shoyou’s life .
“Do you guys want to watch volleyball down stairs?”
No thanks, I don’t need to hang around The King moping .
“I got Daichi to help us train today, so we can make proper use out of having two setters.” Suga said his words with an upbeat tone, and even a wink, but the look in Tobio’s eyes as he just stared at the ground silently was heartbreaking. His human form showed his emotions more readily than birds eyes ever could. Hitoka wanted to avoid them, but felt bad about it.
Suga stood on one side of the net, Hitoka his spiker, Tobio on the other, Daichi next to him.
Here it was evident that Tobio was the tallest of them all, even if he let his shoulder slump like he did then.
Suga and Tobio let their respective spikers spike a few times, with Suga adding commentary on how to improve each move. Tobio saying nothing other than ‘nice spike’ or ‘good move’ in a monotone voice.
“I can tell why they call you a prodigy.” Suga said, grinning widely. “Here I am, trying to correct your posture or your moves but if anything I can learn from you.” Hitoka greatly appreciated Suga’s good nature, but Tobio just wouldn’t respond to it.
He did, however, turn to Suga and said, “how do you…” he squinted briefly, still just staring at the ground in front of Suga, “how do you play well with other people?”
“In what way do you mean?”
Tobio leaned his head left and right, thinking. “I don’t quite know.” His head stopped swaying. “My old… my old team, my team from before I was turned…”
Suga closed his eyes, and nodded knowingly. “You’re classmates from middle school.”
Tobio nodded. “They didn’t- They didn’t like the way I tossed to them. They said it was selfish, impossible to follow.” Tobio swallowed, and pulled his shoulders up. “It was fine most of the time, but it wasn’t- it wasn’t when we had a strong opponent.”
Hitoka couldn’t quite follow what the issue was, or how one could ‘toss selfishly’, but Suga seemed to understand.
“I think my school played yours once, I wasn’t in the game, but I remember your toss.” He nodded knowingly again. “Towards the end, when it was obvious that we would win, you would speed up your toss more and more, until it became impossible for them to spike it, and you would yell-“ Suga corrected himself, “tell them off for not being fast enough.”
Tobio rubbed his fingers together. “I had to win. Speed was the only way.”
“It was a practice match, Tobio, it’s okay to relax and not let things matter too much.”
Tobio looked sternly at Suga now. “Winning always matters.” He caught himself and looked down again. “Sorry.” He played with his hands again. “Something like- that- Something like that happened in an official match too. My team was so fed up with me that-“ Tobio had a really pained expression on his face, Hitoka’s heart tore in two. “They refused to play with me.” He squeezed his eyes shut, Hitoka wanted to look away. “We were… we were at the end of a set, it was the opponents set point.” Hitoka was confused as to what that meant, but she assumed it was something big and important. “I sent my toss, and no one was there to spike it. When I turned around they all looked at me and said they were sick of me.” He looked close to tears now, Hitoka wanted to hug him. “Even after the game, after everything was over, after they lost the following match with their mediocre second year setter, they still didn’t want to talk to me.” Tobio turned very quiet now. “But I… I didn’t have anyone other than them, I didn’t get along with people in my class, I didn’t have childhood friends, I didn’t have anyone to hang out with after school, and my parents…”
Suga nodded again. “I can see at least part of the problem. It’s in your wording.” Tobio looked at him with glistening eyes. “You said ‘I wanted to win’, right?” Tobio nodded. “When instead, you should say ‘I wanted us to win.’” Tobio looked genuinely stunned by that.
Daichi stepped forwards. “The way you toss doesn’t actually help your team win. It may be the best toss for the situation, but it’s not the best toss for the individual player.”
Suga stepped under the net to lazily sling an arm over Tobio’s shoulder, though it looked quite weird and uncomfortable with their height difference. “Every player in your team wants to win, because losing really sucks.” Hitoka couldn’t quite remember being invested in something enough to care about winning or losing that much. Maybe she was an outlier. “So you should use all that talent of yours to send your teammates the best toss so they can give it their best shot to win.” Suga used his free hand to clap on Tobio’s chest. “Everybody on your side of the net is your ally.”
Tobio looked from Suga’s face back to the ground. “How do I know though what kind of toss is best for each player?”
“You ask.” Daichi had a kind smile on his face, Hitoka could see something very fatherly in his features. “Doesn’t hurt to communicate with your team mates.” Tobio nodded. He looked much more alive now than he had all morning, though he didn’t necessarily look good. A success nonetheless, in Hitoka’s book at least.
“Now let’s continue, we’ll see if you remember anything other than setting after four years.”
Kiyoko looked like a goddess of thunder and lighting when she stormed into the kitchen with an angry face on her.
“What’s gotten you so worked up?” Daichi said.
“I reminded Asahi earlier that we’re going to see Nishinoya now, and he just mumbled something and now I can’t find the wimp.” Hitoka felt a sudden need to be scolded by Kiyoko. “But enough of my misadventures, what has that poor milkshake ever done to Suga?” Kiyoko nodded in Suga’s direction, who angrily sipped on a milk shake and stubbornly looked out of the window. Tobio next to him looked uncomfortable, but at least he didn’t look sad.
“Suga tried to get into a volleyball competition with Tobio and lost.” He leaned further towards Kiyoko and stage whispered behind his hand. “He hoped to win against the prodigy because Tobio hadn’t had the ability to play for four years, but the boy completely wiped the floor with him at setting, receiving, blocking, and spiking.”
“It’s just not fair is all!” Suga complained, slamming his milkshake onto the kitchen counter, spraying it everywhere, even onto a shocked but silent Tobio. “There is only so much of an advantage raw talent is allowed to give a person!”
“I think you’re just petty and wanted to exploit your juniors inexperience.” Daichi said with a smirk.
“Not true.” Suga continued slurping his half spilled milkshake angrily. Then he put the milkshake back down. “And so what if I want to feel like a wise senior for once.” Silence followed that, Tobio now looked a different kind of uncomfortable.
“Well, anyway, if you see the wimp tell him to find me. He won’t be able to hide forever.”
After lunch Hitoka sought out Kiyoko’s company, she knocked on her door, even though it was open.
Kiyoko raised her beautiful face and sent her a stunning smile when she saw her in the doorway. “Come in, Hitoka, no need to knock.” Hitoka swallowed, she felt weak, but she went in anyway.
“Tobio- well… Tobio has been quiet today.” She leaned further towards Kiyoko even though she stood directly by her desk. “I think Shoyou leaving has shaken him more than he likes to let on. Is there anything we can do?”
Kiyoko thought. “We can give him food that amplifies luck and happiness.”
“There is such a thing?”
“Yea, come with me.”
They went into the kitchen again and stood in front of a bookcase that was right behind the fridge, usually hidden from view when sitting at the kitchen counter.
The book case had everything Hitoka wanted. Kiyoko pulled out a book titled “Magic in the kitchen”, and opened it to a chapter that was titled “luck and happiness”. Hitoka wanted to read the entire book.
Kiyoko skimmed over some of the recipes. “If we want to keep this up we may need to go shopping again, but we can definitely make something for dinner tonight.”
Hitoka was amazed, a lot of it was just ingredients, but there was even some recipes, Hitoka’s fingers itched to try it all out.
“Ooh, Cheese Pizza,” Kiyoko said with a look of mischief, “should we try that out? He is the milk enthusiast if I’m not mistaken.”
Hitoka was uncertain. “We just had so much fast food last night, if we want to give him milk we should try rice pudding.”
Kiyoko looked at the book again. “It says you should avoid sugar in excess, so I don’t think pudding is a good idea.”
Hitoka pointed at another page on the book. “But it says chocolate and lemon cake are just fine.”
“Hm, you’re right, maybe we can make lemon tarts, or maybe muffins, to not have too much sugar at once, but for dinner…”
“Iceberg lettuce, cucumber, and olives are on the list, maybe we can make a salad?”
“It says oregano is on the list too, we can put that in the dressing.”
Hitoka got excited, this was working after all. “If we have feta cheese we even have the added milk.” This was working. This was working. This was working after all!
“And tomorrow we can get some fish, and the day after that we can have rice pudding, and after that we can make cheese pizza.” Kiyoko smiled widely at Hitoka. “We can fill a whole week with luck and happiness.”
Hitoka felt ecstatic.
‘Cooking with luck’ felt weird to Hitoka. They had lit a white candle, and the book had recommended to cut the vegetables in round shapes. Kiyoko had said that just cutting the cucumber and tomatoes into slices was round enough, but a lot of lettuce, feta cheese, and parsnip went lost due to roundness.
Kiyoko had enchanted the ingredients for the dressing, the vinegar as well as oregano, dill, and saffron, to be ‘charged with luck’.
They didn’t actually have olives, which turned out to be a good thing, because Tobio hated olives, and the book had recommended to avoid least favourite foods, but other than that things went completely fine.
Tobio noticed that most of the food was in weird shapes but didn’t say anything about it.
The book had also recommended wine, but also said to avoid alcohol in excess, so Kiyoko opened a bottle of wine and poured one out for everybody. It also stayed with one glass even though Suga had begged for more.
After dinner Tobio looked almost human again, he was still quiet, and seemed to prefer his bird form, but the look in his eyes wasn’t devastating anymore, and he actually joined the others on the bed for dino time.
Hitoka felt they managed the best with their bad situation.
Chapter 23: Better fit
Hitoka woke up with Kei next to her pillow, Tadashi in the crook of her neck, and Tobio on her back. They all still slept, so Hitoka got up slowly to not wake anyone up, but she couldn’t avoid disturbing Tobio, who nodded sleepily, and moved to her shoulder, but otherwise continued dosing.
They went down stairs and met Asahi having breakfast, he offered milk and cereal to them.
“Thanks.” Hitoka said sleepily, pulling out a bowl for herself and her crow. She poured them both cereal, and as she watched the bird eat it, she couldn’t help but think that doing this in human form would be much less awkward. She didn’t say anything though.
She turned back to Asahi. “Say,” she started, “why are you avoiding Kiyoko?”
Asahi scratched his neck awkwardly. “Have I really been that obvious?” Hitoka nodded with her mouth full. “Well, it’s embarrassing, having a bond that strong with a guy I barely met. Hell, if I had a bond that strong with Suga it would be embarrassing.” He looked into the distance in concern. “I wouldn’t stop teasing me about it…”
Hitoka thought about that, she could understand his point of view, she would probably also be self conscious of a really strong fate bond that tied another person to herself.
“So what are you feeling for Noya?” She meant to say ‘about’, asking about his opinion at large, and his view of the guy, but messed up the words in her not quite awake mind. Asahi however flushed deeply, and fumbled with his words, so Hitoka didn’t correct herself.
“You see- well- it’s like…”
“There you are.” Actual thunder goddess Shimizu Kiyoko came in, but before she could finish saying ‘You are not getting away this time’, Asahi turned into a poof cloud and flew out of the door, leaving his clothes and dishes behind. Kiyoko sighed and turned to Hitoka. “Good morning. Suga said he overslept but will be here soon.”
Hitoka nodded at Kiyoko in acknowledgement, she had some thinking to do.
“If we don’t see Asahi in the afternoon we should go shopping. We need to restock on some food,” she send a wink to Hitoka, who felt proud that she didn’t stop to function as a person in response, and instead just felt excited, “and we should get Tobio here some clothes.”
Tobio looked up at the address.
“Don’t look at me like that, you look weird in Suga’s too small pants and Asahi’s too big shirts.” Hitoka giggled, they did, indeed, give him weird proportions. Tobio nodded, seeing the point.
After breakfast Tobio came back down stairs in human form, with his ill fitting clothes. “I saw Sugawara sleeping at his desk, he said we shouldn’t wait for him but he will come soon.”
They started without him, Tobio adjusting Hitoka’s posture for receiving with comments and and physical adjustments when necessary.
“Lower your weight, and keep it there, even when you move.” He put his hand on her shoulder, and gently pushed her down. Hitoka went down well enough, but she didn’t consider herself particularly mobile. Her suspicions were proven when Tobio went back to spike the ball at her, it went right passed her, she went to step into it but her low stance made her steps heavy and slow, so the ball just continued it’s path unhindered.
She turned to Tobio in frustration. “It’s hard to move my legs like this.”
Tobio thought. “I suppose it would be in the beginning. You’ll have to get used to it.” Well, that wasn’t particularly helpful.
“Sorry I’m late guys, did I miss much?”
“Morning Suga, do I really need to keeps my stance so low? I feel like I can’t move.” Hitoka was certain that she didn’t whine.
Suga put shoes on but thought about Hitoka’s words. “Well, that’s what I was always told to do, but it’s really hard, it took me a few months to get used to it.” Hitoka sighed, she had only played volleyball for a little more than a week.
Tobio raised his hands defensively. “I just saw that the Libero’s that did it were the most stable and mobile.”
Suga got up and clapped Tobio’s back. “Spoken like a true player from a powerhouse school.”
“But Suga, didn’t your school play Tobio’s once?”
Suga waved her off, other hand still on Tobio’s back. “My school sure wasn’t bad, but we were never a powerhouse, and winning one set out of five isn’t particularly threatening.”
“We actually played a powerhouse in the same area, we only played there as well because we had the time, and more practice is best practice.” Hitoka really couldn’t understand how he could say such standoffish things with such an innocent face, like he didn’t even intend to insult Suga and his school.
They continued practicing, things went fine, Tobio was quiet but looked human, which was really the goal of anything. Hitoka couldn’t quite tell the difference when Suga and Tobio set to her, so she really didn’t understand what their difference in skill was, with Tobio considered a prodigy and all that.
They ate lunch with a furious Kiyoko, and without Asahi.
“I suppose that means we’re going shopping.” Kiyoko said, tension leaving her.
“Whoohoo!” Suga exclaimed, Hitoka suddenly felt reason to be concerned.
“Groceries first, Suga.”
The four of them went shopping, there was actually something akin to a grocery store in these very, not particularly big, woods, that Hitoka had been living basically right next to all her life.
Hitoka wondered just how active this magical society inside the forest was, and how they weren’t found by non magics yet. And if they had to pay taxes.
The grocery store itself was reasonably small, but it had everything they looked for. It had the looks of some sort of overpriced organic store, everything in the inventory made out of light brown wood.
They got apple juice, cherry juice, apricot juice, and some raspberries for a drink the cooking book had advertised as ‘charged with positive energy’, as well as some fish, extra milk, rice, as well as celery. They also got some stuff for Tobio, like a tooth brush and other toiletries.
After that they went to a taylor, one that offered ready clothing as well. This shop, similar to the grocery store, had a particularly small feel about it, but offered everything they looked for.
They all chose some clothes for Tobio to try on, the boy himself seemed to prefer darker colours, and Suga forced him into sleek designs, but didn’t manage to make him try out a blazer.
Tobio would walk out of the dressing room, showing off different outfits, Suga would holler at him, tell him to twirl and show off, Kiyoko would nod approvingly.
Hitoka felt weak again, Tobio was tall, really tall, he had a narrow face and sharp blue eyes, and under his outfits he was well toned.
Very well toned.
Narrow waist, strong arms, long legs, and now that he had clothes on that were actually his size, he didn’t look weirdly disproportionate anymore.
He was stunning.
Like a model.
Hitoka looked over to Kiyoko, who had the same sort of feel about her. She too, had black hair, blue eyes, a sharp face. She was slender and walked with a grace that demanded respect. They could be twins, even if Tobio was much taller than her.
Hitoka swallowed, she felt inferior again.
They decided on a handful of outfits plus some essential stuff like socks and underwear. Satisfied they went home for dinner.
Dinner was tense. Hitoka barely dared to eat, Daichi was more awkward than strictly necessary, Tobio had noticed the tension in the room upon entering and had promptly excused himself, Suga was unaffected.
Asahi, on one end of the table was sweating buckets, Kiyoko, at the other end, was glaring daggers into him. Not a word was spoken.
Hitoka looked forward to just spending the night with her crows.
Tobio spent the night with them in bed again, Hitoka couldn’t help but suspect that he was lonely otherwise.
Tadashi and her discussed things in the books, often getting distracted by their conversation, and forgetting to continue reading. Kei would chime in sometimes, usually when they had a question or didn’t understand something, Hitoka wondered why he had chosen the book, when he already knew most of its content. Tobio never said anything the entire time, Hitoka suspected he may have fallen asleep, but when she went to look he listened attentively.
Chapter 24: Star crossed
Hitoka woke up surrounded by crows again, she was getting used to it. The regulars looked mostly adult, Hitoka would be excited to see them as humans soon, but she was still too groggy for that.
Her and Tobio made their sleepy way down stairs, Hitoka vaguely remembered Tobio spending most his morning wide awake back in the day.
Before they became one less.
Suga and Daichi greeted them.
“Good morning, sleepy heads. Kiyoko told me to tell you that she has ‘apprehended Asahi’ and that you guys will… ‘do the thing’ today.” Hitoka nodded at Daichi’s words.
“‘Do the thing’, ominous much.” Suga said with a giggle.
“We have the broom of Asahi’s old witch, we’re gonna get him and Noya together-“ Hitoka yawned “- to fix it.”
The ravens nodded.
Kiyoko came in, she looked calmer than she had the previous few days. “Morning Hitoka.” She nodded at the ravens, Hitoka smiled and greeted her back.
Kiyoko sat down to eat breakfast. “We’re going to meet Nishinoya and the others today, so don’t make any plans.” Hitoka nodded.
After a moment she had a worrying thought. “How- say, how exactly did you ‘apprehend’ Asahi?”
Kiyoko looked up. “I banned him from leaving the house.” She looked at Hitoka. “Basically the same way I banned Nishinoya and Ryuunosuke from entering.” She took a bite of her breakfast. “Usually Asahi would be strong enough to break the ban no problem, but Suga and Daichi helped me here, so he can’t leave.” Daichi nodded, Suga winked. “I don’t know where he is right now, but that doesn’t matter.”
Hitoka was intimidated, as she continued breakfast she swore to herself to not get on Kiyoko’s bad side ever.
They all met outside for training, Tobio wearing well fitting dark jeans and a deep blue V-neck that brought out his eyes. Hitoka was so stunned she actually stumbled over her own feet, Suga whistled, Daichi nodded in appreciation. Tobio seemed confused about what they all were addressing.
Receives went mostly eventlessly, but spike training lit new light for volleyball in Hitoka’s eyes.
“It’s really weird how the ball is just right in front of my hand when I spike.” Daichi said to the group at large after spiking Tobio’s toss.
Tobio looked as confused as Hitoka, Suga however giggled, so Hitoka leaned towards Suga and asked, “what’s so weird about it?”
Suga grinned widely and turned to Hitoka. “When you spike one of my tosses, you know where to spike because your eyes follow the ball, right?” Hitoka nodded. “Well, Tobio has pinpoint precision,” Suga laid his head sideways wistfully, “one I will never have. It basically means that Tobio sets the ball right in front of the palm of your hand, and not just in front of you, like I would.”
Tobio seemed as impressed by this information as Hitoka was.
“It also means that in the three days that Tobio has played with us, he knows exactly where my hand is going to spike, with centimetre precision.”
Tobio was visibly flustered at that. “That’s not- That’s not true. I still… mess it up all the time.”
Suga stepped under the net to pat Tobio’s back forcefully. “But that means that you get adjusted to your teammates easily. I just don’t understand why your last teammates didn’t like you?”
Tobio looked more gloom now, dangerous territory, Suga. “Well, you guys said I should set to where the player can spike the easiest, not to where the best spike would be.”
Suga raised his eyebrows, obviously impressed.
“See, Suga? You were being a good senpai, just like you wanted.” Daichi had a smirk on that was obviously teasing.
Suga completely ignored that smirk, probably deliberately. “I know, that’s because I am the best senpai.”
Hitoka nodded along, but didn’t quite understand what all their volleyball talk was about.
Daichi and Hitoka changed setters. Hitoka decided to test what the others said: if they were right, if she went up for a spike, the ball would land right in front of her palm without her needing to look at it.
So she tossed a ball to right over Tobio’s head, where he would easily toss it back into her hands. She ran towards the net, jumped up, and just went for the spike without concentrating on the ball. She spiked, and felt the ball exactly where it needed to be, but not where she expected, since she hadn’t looked out for it, she got a shock, and completely messed up her spike.
“What’s wrong, was that spike not good?”
“No, no! It was, just- I wasn’t prepared is all.” Tobio just nodded, not realising her fumbling.
Hitoka got used to Tobio’s tosses after that, but didn’t dare look away from them.
Kiyoko and Hitoka had decided to make lentil soup and that luck drink for lunch, Hitoka making the soup, Kiyoko starting to pour drink ingredients into a mixer. Kiyoko turned to wink at Hitoka, Hitoka winked back, Kiyoko seemed taken aback by that, she appeared to flush and looked at the mixer flustered and smiling shyly. Hitoka felt invincible.
Kiyoko had added protein powder into the drink, and labeled it ‘for the athletes’, which Hitoka found an amazing marketing strategy. Suga turned out to be an avid lentil hater, but ate the soup without complaint.
After lunch, Kiyoko went upstairs and produced Asahi, who, according to Kiyoko, had been ‘hiding in his room’. Tobio excused himself to go upstairs, where he turned back into a crow, and went into the cage. Hitoka folded his used clothes on her bed and asked her other crows if they wanted to go on an adventure.
Yes ! Yes, oh my god !
Sure, why not .
With a light summer jacket, and one crow on each shoulder, Hitoka went downstairs to meet with Kiyoko and Asahi. Kiyoko wore that summer coat she wore the other day, and had the broken broom in her hand, Hitoka felt truly blessed. Asahi, next to her, looked miserable but ready.
“Alright, here we go.”
Hitoka turned on what she had labeled her ‘destiny vision’ as frequently as possible on their journey. The dark red string was amazing to watch, even though there was a moping Asahi at the end of it.
The vision would leave her every couple of seconds, but by the looks of it, Kiyoko had no trouble keeping it on. Hitoka still had a lot to improve.
They arrived after not too long. Noya and Ryuu were thrilled to meet them.
“Is that the beautiful Kiyoko my insignificant eyes are seeing?!”
“We are so blessed today!”
“Truly a day blessed by the gods!”
“What brings us the honour of your visit, oh beautiful?!”
“Hello to you too.” Kiyoko nodded at the rest of the group, they waved back, at least Chikara did, but Hitoka was certain that the others did similar things. “We are here for two reasons, first of all,” she held up the broken broom, “do you recognise this broom?”
Noya turned serious as he thought, after a moment he said, “not really, but that’s the broom we broke, isn’t it?”
Kiyoko nodded. “We need your help to fix it, if you will be willing.”
“Sure thing, what do you need me to do?” Hitoka didn’t remember Noya ever acting so calmly around Kiyoko, Kiyoko seemed shocked too, but continued on.
“I just need to untangle the magic that you put on it, so if you just hold it like this,” she put the broom together the way it belonged, then she put Asahi’s hand over the broken part, and Noya’s hand over Asahi’s. Like a couple swearing an aid, Hitoka thought briefly before catching herself. Kiyoko stepped behind them, each of her hands hover over and under the other’s, in an attempt to do her chant, Hitoka couldn’t help but be reminded of a wedding.
“None of this magic belongs here, go back from whence you came from. Free this object of your tumult, and free the chanters of it as well.”
Kiyoko looked immensely powerful in Hitoka’s eyes, even though nothing interesting happened with the broom or the other people involved.
Kiyoko stepped back and looked up, looking at Asahi and then Noya, who held unbroken eye contact since they had touched the broom, then she put her hands back to where they were before and said,
“fix the broom, bring the pieces to where they belong. Heal.”
She stepped back again, had another look between the pair that seemed unfazed, and then said, “you can let go now.”
It took them a moment before the words reached them, but eventually they did step back looking a bit flustered, seemingly having become aware of their quite intimate actions, and Noya actually took the broom for himself.
“It’s like, actually fixed.” He said in amazement.
“That it is.” Asahi said, without looking at the broom. The look Noya sent him back was so sickeningly sweet that Hitoka had to avert her gaze.
What’s this, I thought we came for the adventure, not for the romantic melodrama of some star crossed lovers . Kei said under his breath. Hitoka tried really hard not to giggle at that.
“To be fair, I didn’t know what to expect of this when I signed up for it.” Hitoka whispered back.
Tsukki is just joking, he loves other people’s melodrama .
Tadashi, for just once in your life, shut up.
Sorry, Tsukki .
Hitoka had to try not to giggle again, she could sense a light heartedness in their banter, it was very similar to how Tobio and Shoyou used to be.
Before her thoughts could settle on Shoyou’s absence again, Kiyoko had addressed the group.
“We also wanted to ask if any of you played volleyball.”
“Really? No way, I played ’til high school, but Karasuno’s volleyball club disbanded before I could join. What’s it for?”
Kiyoko addressed Ryuu directly. “Some of Hitoka’s familiars are quite fond of volleyball, so we wanted to ask if you’d like to play next time you come around, so maybe we could have a real game. A lot of us play as well.”
“I can’t say the rest of us ever played it, but we’re fast learners, if you teach us the rules we could probably play.” Kiyoko nodded at that in acknowledgement, Ryuu beamed.
Kiyoko and Hitoka bid their farewell, Asahi actually decided to stay for a bit more to catch up, Noya’s group was keen to have him there.
As they turned away Kiyoko pulled something out of her backpack, it looked like an amulet. “I am actually going to meet a friend, so you will have to go back without me. This will make sure that you will make it home alright, please take the broom and put it on the shelf with the fixed things, I’ll be back tomorrow night.” Hitoka took the broom and nodded. Kiyoko turned away and smiled gently. “Good night, Hitoka.”
“Good night, Kiyoko!” Hitoka flushed when she realised how loud she had been, but Kiyoko had turned away and didn’t acknowledge her.
It was already dark when they arrived at home, Hitoka was tired from the walking, and yawned as she entered the garage. She had locked the door behind her before she was even aware of her actions.
She put the broom in the shelf for the fixed stuff, and had a look around the room.
There is so much junk here . Despite the word choice, Tadashi sounded excited by all the stuff.
“It’s all stuff that was broken with magic, most of it is on queue or can’t be fixed that easily. We can probably have a look around.”
Tadashi fluttered off to gawk at the many pieces of junk huddled in dark corners, Kei stayed on Hitoka’s shoulder, she yawned again. If it had been earlier in the day she probably would have been more curious about the little pieces of personal history and acquired magic, but at the moment she just really couldn’t care.
Tadashi showed enough enthusiasm for all of them combined, so Hitoka half heartedly followed him as he went around to explore.
Look, my family had that exact mixer back in the day, I wonder why this one doesn’t work anymore . Oh look, there is a broken mobile, I wonder where the other half of it is . Gee, this cooking pot is mostly melted, there has to be a good story behind that .
Hitoka nodded along, it was getting late, she really wanted to go to bed.
There was a knock on the door, Hitoka wasn’t sure if she had actually heard it, but Tadashi was perking up as well.
There was another knock, it was definitely on the garage door, Hitoka wondered why somebody would be knocking on their garage door at this time of night. She also did a mental head count of who was still in the house.
There was the knock again, she stepped closer to the door, but felt goose bumps running up her arms. “Who is there?” It was probably Kiyoko, who had come back because she had forgotten something really important for her sleepover.
“Hello?” A male voice said, one that Hitoka didn’t recognise, Kei on her shoulder flinched. “My name is Tsukishima, Tsukishima Akiteru. I am here to find my little brother Kei.” Hitoka leaned her ear against the door, it was dense enough that she couldn’t spy through it, and the shivers on her skin kept her from opening the door. “Please, I haven’t seen him in nine years.”
The poof-sound right next to her ear was actually quite loud, and disoriented Hitoka for a bit, as did the colourful cloud of smoke.
“Don’t open to them,” Kei’s voice said, now not from inside Hitoka’s head, “my real older brother doesn’t know that I exist.”
Before Hitoka could even process the information she heard another poof, from the unfixables corner a bit back, she heard a ‘Tsukki’, followed by bare foot steps that walked towards her.
Hitoka stared at the door, sweating buckets. She willed herself to not look around, to not make eye contact with two people who she knew quite well and who were currently stark naked right behind her . What truly made her swallow though was that the voices came from above her, indicating that both Tadashi and Kei were quite tall.
Much taller than Hitoka.
She feared what she would make eye contact with if she were to just turn around just then. She swallowed.
“Business is closed for today.” Hitoka was glad that the steadiness in her voice didn’t show how unnervingly hard her heart was beating.
They all waited for a response.
There was none.
Hitoka still didn’t feel safe opening the door, the others didn’t say anything.
After a while she sunk to her knees, mostly to not stand anymore, but the more she calmed down the more unsettled she became, she must have swallowed it up in the heat of the moment.
She hugged her legs that were shaking badly, and couldn’t keep herself from crying. She could hear someone kneeling down behind her, and put a soothing hand on her back, whispering support and encouragement. It seemed to be Tadashi.
“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go back to being a crow if that is all right with you.” Kei said, Hitoka nodded to show she would be fine. Kei poofed and landed back on her shoulder.
“Do you want me to stay a little longer?” Hitoka didn’t know.
Tadashi, you should be aware that you are currently naked .
“Ah, shoot, you’re right.” Tadashi poofed as well, and sat on her other shoulder. Hitoka laughed honestly at his mumbled apology, and told him at was alright. She wiped away her tears and stood up. She felt stronger now.
She opened the door carefully, and spied out, but couldn’t see anything in the dark. She sprinted as fast as she could into the house, and closed the door behind her. She breathed shallowly and looked around, the moon was covered by clouds that night, and all lights in the house were out. Hitoka really wished she knew a sort of fire magic or other illumination.
There is a light switch right next to the entry, you know ? Good thing that Kei was onto it, unlike her.
She turned the switch on hastily, and actually needed three tries in her hurry, but she felt instantly better once everything was illuminated properly.
She took a deep breath and started walking to her room, making sure every room she was in at a time was properly lit. Neither Tadashi nor Kei commented on it.
She was fine getting changed and brushing her teeth, but once she had to actually go to bed and turn all the lights off behind her she felt antsy again. Neither Tadashi nor Kei commented on that either.
She ended up lying on her bed, the text book in front of her, her bedside lamp on, her crows by her arms.
She failed at trying not to think about what happened, she never even opened the book.
“Say, Kei, what did you mean when you said that your older brother doesn’t know that you exist?”
Do you really think that would make a good bedtime story ?
“Just tell me this much.”
Fine . When my witch turned me my strings of fate were shaky, but not actually gone, so the witch that was trying to have me as her familiar put a chant on me to have the people in my life forget my existence . Didn’t work on that guy though . Kei nodded at Tadashi.
I- well- ah ! I mean, I saw Tsukki being turned into a crow by some old woman , and she was about to just walk away with him, so I threw a stone at her so she would fight me instead of taking Tsukki away, but she just pulled me over and turned me too .
That was very cool of you, Tadashi .
Wha- ? No ! Don’t- Don’t say things like that, Tsukki .
I’m just honest .
That’s not like you, I don’t like it .
Well, excuse me for being nice .
You better apologise, that was weird .
Hitoka had a hard time listening to their quips, as her eyes felt really heavy.
“We’re gonna have t’ ask Nanna ‘bout that, t’morrow.” She said, barely conscious.
We should . Good night, Hitoka .
Hitoka didn’t hear anything else anymore.
Chapter 25: A Broom
“Could you sleep?”
Like a baby .
Hitoka could hear the sarcasm drip from his tone, she would have said something if she would have felt like it.
They all laid still on her bed, staring at the ceiling. Processing. Judging by Kei’s comment they got about as little sleep as her. She didn’t even hear Tadashi snore.
She could still feel it in her bones, the presence of the thing they met the night before.
Hitoka deemed it about time to get up, since she wouldn’t be able to close her eyes anyway. She picked up Tobio on her way down who was groggy but still said hello. She took Kei and Tadashi with her.
“Gee, what made you look like zombies?” There was a laugh in Suga’s voice, but it died when none of them retorted. “Okay, seriously, what happened?”
Hitoka sat herself at the kitchen counter, she lowered her crows onto the table, Tadashi stayed on her shoulder.
“Last night we… we met a presence…” Suga listened attentively, but didn’t urge her to go on, “it was very unsettling.”
Well, ‘met’ is a bit much. We heard them through the door . Hitoka nodded.
“There was some sort of weird, creepy presence by the front door last night?” Suga seemed to have trouble following.
“No not really, it was… We came back from meeting Noya and the others, we had fixed the broom, and we were gonna put it back into the garage, but when we were in there we heard knocking.” Hitoka swallowed.
It was way past night fall, and it was knocking on the garage door, it was a wee bit unsettling Sugawara .
“All right, I see your point.”
“It knew we were in there… or rather… it knew Kei was in there.”
More importantly, it knew that I have a brother, and that I haven’t seen him in a long time .
It pretended to be him, had his voice and called itself by his name and everything .
“Yea, okay, that’s creepy as fuck.”
But more importantly , all eyes went to Tadashi, the thing didn’t know that your brother doesn’t know you . Shock and surprise went around the room.
“You mentioned that last night actually, what’s that all about?”
I suppose it’s time for the more in depth story . Suga and Hitoka nodded vigorously. Do I have to ? They nodded even more vigorously. Alright .
When I was nine years old I attended my big brothers high school volleyball match. I left it early because I was upset about … Kei paused, circumstances . It was early evening on a week day and even if it hadn’t been, Miyagi isn’t usually buzzing with activity . So I ran run away from my problems and I see this old woman, she has a smile on her face that I’m weary of, so I ask her what she’s doing there . She doesn’t say though, she only says ‘this is fine, you will do’ but doesn’t elaborate . Next thing I know I stand exactly in front of her, she flicks me on the forehead and hits me in the stomach with her walking stick and says ‘so they forget you’, next she puts my her thumb between my brows and says ‘you will make a fine specimen’ .
Before I can even process that I can hear Tadashi from behind me calling my name, he was at the game with me, must have followed me when I ran off . I want to tell him to run because this weird old woman is obviously bad news, but I can’t use my voice anymore because I have become a bird . The woman doesn’t even pay attention to Tadashi and just turns around . I hear something flying though and it bounces off the woman’s head, she turns around, irritated. There is Tadashi, in a fighting stance, holding some stones, crying and saying that getting to me means going through him, even though he is like a fifty meters away and we’re going in the other direction . She just rolls her eyes and turns back around, but there is another stone bouncing off her head and she actually gets annoyed . She turns back to Tadashi, somehow pulls him towards her, puts her thumb between his brows and I see him turn as well .
So that’s why my brother shouldn’t remember me, and why we are familiars .
Suga and Hitoka nodded quietly, Tobio didn’t react, but still listened attentively.
“Doesn’t help us tell what that thing last night was though.” Hitoka says in defeat.
Suga’s smirk promised trouble. “Maybe a smart book can help us though.”
Hitoka perked up. “There is a book for this sort of thing?”
“There is a book for everything my dear Hitoka, but yes, there is a book somewhere here that catalogues all the spirits and other good for nothings in this forest.” Hitoka was excited, things were gonna be fine.
Things were not fine, three hours they spent looking through books, three quarters of one just looking for the books themselves, since Suga wasn’t too big on the inventory, and the witches of the house had left.
They had found three books, one actually reasonably big, but another more of a pocket edition.
Hitoka lay defeated on the couch.
“Well, that’s about all that I can offer. So far I would say that Kei shouldn’t leave the house unsupervised.” Kei nodded understandingly. “And if we have nothing better to do we can play volleyball until the witches come back.” Tobio perked up at that, visibly excited. “Now don’t turn right here in your excitement, Mr. Lets-scar-little-girls-forever.”
Tobio seemed flustered. Y-yes .
Hitoka got up as well, she felt tired again, but at least practice wouldn’t make her antsy.
Actually, can we play as well ?
Or we could not .
Shush, Tsukki, I’m just asking .
“That’s right, you guys used to play.”
We were on the neighbourhood youth team .
Hitoka got the vague feeling that one of the prerequisite of living in the Yachi household was having played volleyball as a kid.
“Sure thing then, just tell me what size clothes you guys need and we’ll see what we can do.”
We should be about the same size as Kage- Tobio, actually .
Another prerequisite, apparently, was being unnecessarily tall.
Tadashi hadn’t lied when he said they were about the same height as Tobio, because Tadashi actually was, but Kei was even taller.
A good deal taller.
Asahi’s shirts still showed his hip bones, and Tobio’s jeans were three quarter pants.
It was ridiculous.
It was obvious that they hadn’t played in a long while though. In the beginning they were quite awkward with the ball, would have it go just wherever. Tadashi was somewhat embarrassed about it, but Kei was visibly annoyed. After a few hours though they played at about the same skill level as Hitoka. She couldn’t help but feel a bit bitter about that, it was nice to be a volleyball senior for two hours.
“Jump more Tsukki, you can reach higher than that.”
“Don’t call me that, King.”
“Don’t call me King then.”
Tobio was setting to Kei and Tadashi, with Hitoka and Suga on the other side of the net to receive the ball. Though they had little to do receiving wise because Tobio and Kei were busy being bitchy with one another.
“Your toss is too accurate, it’s creepy.”
“Huh?! How can that even be creepy? You just need to spike.”
“Some people like to make their own decisions, your highness.”
Tobio recoiled at the words, obviously hurt by them, Hitoka would have been happy that he was talking and jumping about, but the quips Tobio had with Kei didn’t seem to have the same light heartedness they had with Shoyou.
“Now, now, no need to get our panties in a twist like that, just tell us what sort of toss you want.” Kei seemed genuinely surprised by Suga’s words, Tobio still seemed upset, but not enough to leave the playing field or do anything brash.
“Just a- just a standard toss is fine. I like to decide for myself what my next move is going to be.”
“Alright, let’s do that then. Go on, Tobio.”
Hitoka could not follow that conversation at all, she had no idea what a ‘standard toss’ was and what the hell kind of toss Tobio had been sending until then.
When Tobio tossed again Kei seemed reluctant, like he was unhappy with the situation but unable to complain about it.
Hitoka put herself in a receiving position, Kei’s spikes had been strong, but not impossible to pick up. Unexpectedly though, he didn’t spike with full power, even if it looked like that at first, he spiked softly, let the ball fall just beyond the net, Hitoka was too far back to reach it, Suga made a dive, being closer to the net than her, but was too slow.
“Damn you, I didn’t even know you could feint.” Feint ?
“Tsukki is talented like that, he can also-!”
“Shut it, Tadashi, they don’t need to know that.”
“Sorry, Tsukki!” Tadashi scratched his head awkwardly, but his voice was still upbeat.
They continued practice until Kiyoko came home, which was about the time they noticed that they had missed lunch.
Tadashi offered to make food, which was apparently something he liked to do but didn’t get the opportunity to, being a bird for nine years and all that. Hitoka and Kei explained what had happened the night before, and how they couldn’t find anything in the books that Suga gave them about it.
Kiyoko used the cooking time to examined some books upstairs in what Hitoka assumed must be some sort of secret library. “Well, if there is nothing about it in here, I don’t know either, but I can have a look into it if you guys like.” Kiyoko smiled gently, and Hitoka felt her heart fill with joy. Her and Kei nodded encouragingly at the proposition.
Tadashi presented them with fish tacos, and they were… amazing.
Hitoka had to actively keep herself from moaning embarrassingly loudly. She didn’t even like Taco’s that much.
“Damn, Tadashi, these are orgasmic. Where did you learn that?” As always, Suga had no filter, making Tadashi visibly uncomfortable, Hitoka could swear she could see Kei try to hide a snigger.
“I well, I taught myself when I started middle school. Made myself lunch for school everyday.”
“They were shit.”
“What? It’s true. It’s the reason they’re so good now though.” Tadashi blushed at that, Hitoka hadn’t known that Tadashi was so responsive to compliments. She would have said something as well, but her mouth was full.
The volleyball itself had been fine, but being in between Tobio’s and Kei’s constant quarrels had been exhausting. Directly after lunch, Tobio had turned back into a bird and sat himself in the cage. It reminded her how Tobio and Shoyou used to take the afternoons to race each other through the woods, Hitoka couldn’t help but feel that he was still thinking about that.
So Hitoka sat on the living room couch, drained, and also bored. Kei was with her, she didn’t know where Tadashi was.
“You’re looking dead to the world.” Kiyoko observed.
“That’s because I am.” Hitoka retorted, her voice lacklustre.
Kiyoko giggled. “I can tell, how is your broom going?” Hitoka perked up, she had forgotten about her broom.
“I have most the materials together, even some charms and such, just need the twine.”
Kiyoko thought. “That’s fine, we can go to the broom maker and get twine there, should work just as well. She can start on the broom as well, I assume you don’t know how to make brooms.” Hitoka shook her head.
“So we can go to the broom maker today?”
“Sure thing, I have no plans. Take everything you need, but leave your charms here, you can attach them yourself.” Hitoka was excited, this afternoon was going to be good.
The broom shop was way closer to Hitoka’s expectations.
It was filled to the brim with materials for brooms and what looked like wands and maybe some other things Hitoka couldn’t quite identify, there were sounds of grinding and snipping everywhere.
A girl came towards them, she was right in between Hitoka and Kiyoko height wise, she had brown hair up in a bun, but the bun was messy and falling apart, the top of her overalls was tied around her waist, and a tank top showed strong arms.
As she came towards them she pushed up safety goggles, showing red rims where they had previously been.
She looked stressed, tired and sweaty.
And very, very hot.
“Y’all want a broom, huh?”
“Yes please, it will be Hitoka’s first time flying.”
“No prob, come with me.”
Hitoka was glad that Kiyoko cleared up the talking for her, as she had concentrate on not drooling.
As Kiyoko and the broom witch, Haruko, sorted out stuff with the broom, Hitoka had a look around. There was a card in front of her with all the different services they offered. Apparently there was several different brooms to purchase, depending on what a witch wanted. There was a speed demon, that was faster than any car, a safety broom that made the witch bullet proof, even one that was basically it’s own navigation system for witches that got lost easily. From what she could tell, Kiyoko had ordered her the base model for beginners.
Hitoka looked around, there was buzzing and movement all around her, but there was nobody there. As she looked closer she could see that all the material was moving by itself, straw was clipping itself, brooms were polishing themselves, some just straight up flew around the room, seemingly testing their own functions.
This was exactly the sort of witchy feel that Hitoka had expected when she moved in with her grandma. There was magic all around, everything was small and cramped but not uncomfortably so. Hitoka was beaming.
She briefly considered if she would have been happier starting her apprenticeship here…
“It’s gonna take a few days, I’ll give ya a call when it’s done.”
“Thank you for your service.” Kiyoko said with a slight bow.
Hitoka straightened up and nodded enthusiastically, Haruko had a certain casual cool to her that made Hitoka unable to use her mouth.
They said their goodbyes and left.
On the way back Hitoka thought about what to have for dinner.
“So I asked my friends, and they had no idea what that creature you met was either.” Kiyoko looked up from her phone then, Hitoka could see several messages popping up on the screen, but was too far away to read them.
“Do you have like a group chat with other witches or something?”
Kiyoko looked fondly at her phone. “I do. Some of them are quite far away, so this is how we keep in contact, it is quite fun.”
Hitoka was excited. “That’s so cool, can I join?”
Kiyoko went completely pale at that. “M-maybe after you’ve met everyone, uhm, it would be awkward for you to talk to them if you didn’t know them.” Hitoka was suspicion, in this day and age it was not too weird to talk to someone online that you have never met before, and that deep blush was especially question worthy, but she didn’t pry.
Kiyoko smiled gently at her. “My friend Yukie from Tokyo is coming down for the end of summer festival next month, you’ll see her then, and her familiars too.” Kiyoko giggled and looked ahead. “Her familiars are quite exciting, I think you would get along splendidly with them.” Then she put on her mischievous grin again as she looked back at Hitoka. “And if not it will still be entertaining to watch.” Hitoka didn’t know what to expect, but she was weary.
Dinner was an exciting affair, mainly because of Suga’s relentless teasing regarding Asahi’s previous absence.
Suga had pestered Tadashi into cooking again, who was flustered but otherwise keen, Kei helped, even if he didn’t do much.
Asahi shared his concerned thoughts regarding the creepy presence from the previous night, and felt bad for just ditching the group like that. Hitoka appreciated that.
Night time found Hitoka and two of her crows in bed, Tobio was sleeping in the cage again, their volleyball game must not have been good for their relationship. Hitoka didn’t know what to do so she just read the book until they fell asleep.
Chapter 26: Like the sun is missing
Tsukishima Akiteru hated eight a.m. classes. This one wasn’t even particularly bad, aside from the fact that it was eight in the morning and no college student can be expected to be awake at this god forsaken hour.
Akiteru stood in line at the coffee store on campus, yawning to himself. It wasn’t buzzing full, probably because Akiteru was early to class, as always, even if it was for an eight a.m. class.
It was Akiteru’s turn to order, he ordered a double espresso to get through three hours of sociology, he liked the subject, but no human could be expected to be fully invested in anything before ten a.m.
Akiteru went over to the accessories bar and added two packs of sugar, because he had to get the junk down somehow. Then he added some cinnamon as well, because added flavour couldn’t hurt.
The third year sociology classes were in the basement of the human sciences building, Akiteru drank his espresso on the way and realised that the added cinnamon didn’t actually make a difference. The coffee made a difference though, as Akiteru slowly remembered what the day would entail.
This class wouldn’t be a normal one, last week the lecturer had said that they would be holding group presentations, and that in this class they would be finding their groups and their topics.
This was good news, as it meant that Akiteru didn’t have to spend all morning stuffing his face with an abundance of facts and knowledge, but rather talk and interact with a bunch of humans, an activity far more proactive and consequently fit for such early mornings.
Akiteru sat down in his usual seat, the lecture theatre was mostly empty, he set his laptop up and eventually played on his phone as he watched the people around him trot in.
Early classes like these were usually the least busy, less than half the people that came on the first day actually still came to these.
Akiteru looked up from his phone and his coffee cup to see his lecturer come in, he was a round man at the end of his forties. He was a fun lecturer with passion for his topic. It was a shame he had to teach so early.
Akiteru saw a pretty girl with a black ponytail come in, she usually sat in front of him, as she did then. She looked way more put together and onto it than she had any right to be. Akiteru assumed they would be doing the presentation together.
The next person that caught his interest was a guy with chin long, brown hair, he always slouched and and always wore a beanie, Akiteru wanted to ask if he had a skate board, but never did. He sat near the pretty girl. Also a potential partner for the presentation.
The next person was Akiteru’s favourite student, it was an old woman, a grandma already, who picked up studying again because she never got the chance when she was young. She was lovely and always added interesting points to discussions. Another valuable member for the group presentation.
Class started, and Akiteru listened attentively, the lecturer told them what he expected from the presentations, and had put links to examples on the class webpage. He told them to turn around and find partners to work with, introduce themselves, their major, their year, and an interesting fact to break the ice.
Akiteru adjusted himself so that he could form a circle with the other people, the all gestured around to allow others to introduce themselves first, then eventually decided to let the nice old woman start.
“Oh well, my name is Mitsuyo, I am 67 years old, mother of two, grandmother of five. I major in Sociology and Psychology because that’s what I always wanted to do and now no one is holding me back anymore, and an interesting fact… well, some people have become weird cat ladies, I suppose I am a weird bird lady.”
The guy with the beanie looked surprised. “Really? Do ya got like, a lotta birds?”
Mitsuyo laughed. “Why yes, I have six cockatiels and three cockatoos, I have an avery for them.” The other two nodded impressed.
“Ah, sorry I’m late! Are we doing presentation stuff already? Did I miss much?” Akiteru’s face lit up, this was the person he had been looking forward to the most. The girl that just came in was small, but her presence was huge. She always made loud arguments, and had a confidence Akiteru could only hope to achieve. Not to speak of the fact that she was also highly attractive, and the way she walked in her heavy combat boots made Akiteru equal parts excited and terrified. He was looking forward to hearing her name and getting to talk to her.
“Not much dear, my name Mitsuyo, we’re introducing ourselves around the circle.” Mitsuyo pointed at the group in general. The girl nodded understandingly and sat down next to the other girl, and consequently near Akiteru, who tried hard to not let his excitement show too much.
Next was the beanie guy, he waved at the group. “Yo, my name is Do Gao, I major in Japanese history, I’m 23 and I uh… I got a mom that burned down our kitchen twice while cooking so we’re not letting her cook anymore.”
The girls looked shocked, Akiteru felt it, they went on to the pretty girl with the ponytail.
“Hi, my name is Ennoshita Erina, my major is Sociology, I’m 22, and I can actually cook pretty well.” The group laughed at that, next it was the attractive girls turn.
“Mornin’,” she winked at the group, Akiteru noticed that her eyelashes were particularly long and dark, “I’m Tanaka Saeko, I’m 25, I major in sociology and education, and I only went to university to impress my kid brother, but uh…”
“Dude, is your bro that Tanaka kid that went missing last year?”
“The very same.”
“Yo, I’m sorry bruh.”
“Nah, it’s okay, we’ll find him again,” Saeko looked gloomier then, “Somehow.” She looked up at Akiteru expectantly, and more brightly than he was prepared to deal with.
“I well, I’m Akiteru, Tsukishima Akiteru. I’m 24, I major in philosophy and politics, and I… I think we went to the same school. Karasuno, correct?”
Saeko’s perfect eyebrows perked up. “Correct. How’d ya figure?”
“Ah well,” get yourself together Akiteru, you’re usually more composed than this , “I remember when your brother was on the news, they said he was at Karasuno, in the basketball club if I’m not wrong. So I thought you were probably in the same school.”
Saeko laughed, she looked beautiful. “Ya right kiddo, I was.” She looked at him then, her stare was sharp and went into his very soul. “I think I remember ya, you was on the volleyball team when they went to nationals, right?”
Akiteru scratched his arm awkwardly, feeling awkwardly put on the spot. “Well, yes, technically, but it wasn’t like I played as a regular or anything.” Akiteru got calmer then, remembering something. “I pretended to be though.” He said quietly.
“Huh?” Akiteru didn’t know whether Saeko had actually not heard him, or had accused him of something, but the others looked confused too.
“I, well… the thing is, when I was in high school, my family was friends with this kid that I think was from the neighbourhood or something, and we would play volleyball together, and I think I tried to impress him but that backfired when he saw me in the stands at national qualifiers, because he went missing after that and hasn’t been seen since.”
“Damn, that escalated quickly.”
“Jesus, I didn’t expect that outcome.”
Akiteru fiddled with his hands, not ready to make eye contact with the group, he didn’t know why he felt the need to share this information with the group, but it had been bugging him for a while.
“He was like a brother to me, but I don’t actually remember why were were friends with him. He was too young to be my friend, and we didn’t babysit him, and my parents were only close to his parents after he started showing up all the time, he didn’t even live that close.” Akiteru squinted. “Ever since then I feel like a big chunk is missing from my life, but not like it was taken, but like I forgot about it.” Akiteru looked up, suddenly self conscious. “Ah, sorry, that was a bit lengthy.”
“Nah, is fine, I live for weird urban legends and conspiracy theories.”
“That really didn’t go where I expected it to.”
Akiteru looked around the group, they were all impressed or at least entertained by his story. Saeko had a piercing gaze on her though.
“All of two people go missing in the last couple of years, and two people closely associated with them just happen to take the same sociology course. Say, what was his name, that kid friend of yours.”
“That was nine years ago, his name was Yamaguchi Tadashi.”
Akiteru’s project partners had turned out to be surprisingly reliable. They had all exchanged numbers and even made a group chat so they could talk about the presentation and make plans.
Akiteru had two hours break until his next class would demand his attention, so he went through the city looking for lunch, but he saw an add spring into his eyes.
Yachi Repair Service
Is anything broken in your household? Be it through accident, curse, or mistake, we can fix it.
Call us at : xxxx-xxx-xx
Or find us on our website under www.xxxx-xxx.ya
We’ll do our magic.
A magical repair service, or at least so it seemed. Akiteru thought back to Tadashi, how he had disappeared over night, how the police had officially given up the search, how the Yamaguchi’s and even the Tsukishima’s had done everything to get the boy back. For the first time in a long time he thought there may be more. He took a picture.
Me, 11:12 am: You guys probably did everything to get your brother back, right?
The response was instantaneous.
Sakeo <3, 11:12 am: every damn thing
Me, 11:12 am: [image send]
Me, 11:12 am: Do you think we could have done more?
Saeko <3, 11:12 am: you know what?
Saeko <3, 11:13 am: [image received]
Saeko <3, 11:13: I was thinking the exact same thing.
Akiteru couldn’t believe it, Saeko had found the same poster somewhere else, they made plans to check out the place the next day.
Hitoka sighed, Kiyoko was making them lunch, which Hitoka was grateful for. She was exhausted, Volleyball itself didn’t take as much of a toll on her anymore, but Tobio’s and Kei’s constant quarrels were draining.
“Here you go.”
“Kiyoko, you are an angel.”
“Thank you, Kiyoko.”
“This looks nice.”
They all dug in, Kiyoko had made them sandwiches, though Tobio would have to struggle through his in his bird form.
Tobio was spending as much of his non-volleyball time in bird shape, it worried Hitoka, she couldn’t help but think of Asahi, and how he had done the same thing when he hadn’t been doing well.
Maybe she should ask for his opinion on the matter.
Kiyoko looked up from her phone. “So I have two pieces of news, first of all, we’re having customers tomorrow, they don’t actually have something to be fixed, they’re just coming for a consultation.” Hitoka nodded. “Secondly, I think we’re closer to finding out what that presence was.” Hitoka, as well as Kei and Tadashi perked up at that.
“I asked my friends, and they suggested that it may not have been a creature, but a spell, like a summoning or a luring charm.” Hitoka nodded.
“So someone tried to lure me into falling for this summoning charm?”
“That seems correct, at least it is a theory.” Kei nodded, he looked uncomfortable. Hitoka could empathise.
“Now that we’re looking for spells and not for creatures though we have a different lead and may find what happened and who did it.” Kei nodded, he looked taken by the situation. In his subtle Kei sort of a way.
Tadashi quietly mumbled something about ‘punching whoever was out for Tsukki’, Kei quietly told him to shut up.
They had finished lunch, Tobio went upstairs to sulk in the cage, and Kei and Tadashi had some sort of plan with their day that Hitoka didn’t know about.
Hitoka decided to seek out Asahi, to ask about Tobio.
Turned out, Asahi had a room. Hitoka didn’t know how everybody’s rooms actually fit into the house, but she just didn’t question it.
She knocked on the open door. “Can I come in?”
“It’s you, sure thing. What brings you to me?” Asahi’s smile was wide and gentle, he gestured at Hitoka to take a seat on the desk chair, right in front of Asahi who was reading a book on his bed.
Hitoka felt awkward, she didn’t quite know how to bring up what must be Asahi’s darkest days in his life.
“It’s about Tobio, I wondered if you could help me.”
“He has been quiet lately, hasn’t he? What exactly did you want help with?”
“Ah, well… he has been spending as much time as possible in his bird form, and well… you had said that, well…” that you had once used you bird form to deal with your depression , “I’m just concerned that he’ll be stuck as a bird again if I can’t help him.”
Asahi hummed. “That’s a valid concern, I’m not sure if I can help that though.”
Hitoka panicked. “No! I just- I wanted your input.” She turned solemn again. “I think you were in a similar situation as him… back in the day. I just wanted to ask if you think he will get out of it alright, or if there is something that needs to be done.”
Asahi scratched his goatee contemplatively. “You’re right about the pulling away being concerning, I wouldn’t know about how to combat that though. Do you know what his biggest issue is?”
Hitoka thought for a moment. “I think he has quite a lot going on, especially between him and Shoyou.” Hitoka swallowed. “Back when they knew each other they were on bad terms, and I don’t think they ever really grew out of it, or never really got the chance to, but I got the feeling that they got along really well while they were here, especially as birds.” Hitoka swallowed again, she felt like she was spilling Tobio’s secrets. “And the only reason Shoyou even ended up as a bird was because of his strong bond to Tobio, and I think Tobio may feel guilty about that.” Hitoka was getting sad just talking about all that. “And just recently Shoyou’s family came to pick him up, so it’s obvious that his family loves and misses him, but I don’t know if Tobio…” She had to stop, it was not something she wanted to think about.
“Man, that’s a lot.” Hitoka couldn’t help but agree. “So Shoyou and Tobio had a buding almost friendship that was cut short before it could have turned into something solid and before any old grudges could be resolved.”
Hitoka nodded, then she realised something. “And Shoyou just up and left, he had no clothes to collect or anything, and he didn’t know any of us well enough to make a fuss about leaving.”
Asahi nodded understandingly. “So Tobio never got to say goodbye properly.” This was bad, this was even worse than what Hitoka’s hyperactive and constantly worried mind had painted out. “Maybe things could be resolved if they got to meet again. You guys could visit him together, you can do that as his witch, you’re allowed to be worried and make a fuss.”
Hitoka nodded enthusiastically, then she realised. “But I don’t know where he lives or have any way to contact him!”
“His family came to pick him up, right? So Kiyoko should have their email or their number.” Of course, that made sense, Hitoka nodded again. A plan was forming.
The plan was failing. Hitoka had mentioned that she wanted to check in on Shoyou, it being her duty as his guardian witch, and had suggested Tobio come too.
I don’t want to see him . Tobio said in a hostile tone, but didn’t elaborate on the topic.
Hitoka didn’t know what to do with him. In the end the night ended with Hitoka reading to Tadashi and Kei, and Tobio dozing on her back. Hitoka deemed nothing that couldn’t be tackled another time.
Chapter 27: Anything for my kid brother
The kitchen was getting cramped at breakfast, all three of Hitoka’s crows spending the time in human form, as well as all three of Kyoko’s ravens spending the morning in their human form as well, not even to speak of Hitoka and Kiyoko themselves adding to the mix.
Hitoka looked around the kitchen counter, everybody was in one another’s personal space, and no one was particularly happy about that, but no one made a move to leave. Apparently the ravens had decided to join practice today, and to have a three on three with judges.
The first round was ravens versus crows. Suga had even dug out a whistle from somewhere, and given it to Hitoka so she could be the judge for the first round.
Suga was the first to serve, it went over the net and was easily received by Tadashi, who let the ball spring back up right over Tobio’s head, who in turn sent it to Kei.
Kei made a face at having to have literally any sort of interaction with Tobio at all, but effortlessly sent the ball over Daichi’s and Asahi’s blocks, who for one, were smaller than Kei, and secondly didn’t expect a soft spike.
Suga dove for the ball behind them, but it was too late. The first point went to the crows.
It was Kei’s turn to serve. The ball bounced off the top of the net but still made it to the other side, Suga stepped in place to toss the ball to Daichi, who put all his force behind the spike to get it across.
The ball bounced off Tobio’s and Tadashi’s blocks and flew out of bounds on the crow’s side, earning the ravens a point.
In that manner it went backwards and forwards. Kei and Tobio couldn’t communicate for the life of them, but created a force to be reckoned with when building a block. Kei and Tadashi struggled with their receives, but not enough to have any major problems.
Suga slowly got used to the game rhythm, and would eventually yell at Kei for being tall, and Tobio for his glare, and Tadashi for his weak receives.
Asahi, with a real Setter by his side, would go into scary player mode a total of five times, and always feel self conscious about it afterwards.
In the end, the ravens won with a five point lead, and they mixed up the teams.
Kei tapped out, apparently having ‘played enough for one day’, and let Hitoka in turn be part of the action.
Kiyoko was offered to join as well, but declined, neither eager to play not familiar enough with the rules to actually participate.
The following game saw Hitoka, Daichi, and Suga on one side of the net, and Tobio, Tadashi, and Asahi on the other.
Hitoka served, the ball didn’t quite hit her hand correctly and bounced against the net, luckily it fell to the other side though.
Albeit that ended up not mattering, as Tobio squatted deeper than she had deemed possible, and tossed the ball to Asahi. Asahi, on instinct, went full power on the ball, and smashed it across the net, right next to Daichi. However Daichi did an impressively deep squad himself, and tried to receive the ball, but it knocked him backwards and flew out of bounds.
Asahi profoundly apologised, Daichi said it was okay, and Suga told him to be less of a wimp.
Tobio’s team had a much easier time now with Asahi’s raw power, and Tobio’s natural talent, but Hitoka’s team didn’t go down without a fight, having Daichi slowly get used to Asahi’s spikes, even the special ones.
When their points evened out, Tobio told Asahi to aim his spikes at Hitoka, which made Hitoka’s heart drop to her knees. Asahi was hesitant to do it, deeming it cruel, but Suga, the traitor said “don’t be a wuss, Asahi, we can take it. Right, Hitoka?” Turning around to a Hitoka who was both shaking like a leaf, and pale as a sheet of paper. Still in a receiving stance though.
The next spike from Tobio went to Tadashi instead of Asahi, which Hitoka didn’t expect, resulting in her completely over doing her receive, and sending the ball out of bounds of her own accord.
This resulted in Tobio having to serve again. A strong serve, that Hitoka usually struggled with, but was a piece of cake for Daichi. It went over Suga’s head, and was tossed to Hitoka. She went up to spike it, but accidentally touched the net with her arm, if only a little bit. The spike itself was shut down by Tadashi’s block, and ultimately fell right behind Hitoka, but she barely noticed. What she did, indeed, notice was that her action deserved a penalty, she also noticed that Kei, to her right, had been looking at the other team’s side, so he may have missed her mishap, but Kiyoko to her left, was looking straight at her, without blowing her whistle.
Hitoka didn’t know what to make of that, maybe she was just spacing out, since her face was completely neutral, maybe she just didn’t know that move deserved a penalty. It was all really confusing. Consequently Kei blew his whistle and called out a point for the opposing team.
They played another game with Hitoka, Tadashi, and Daichi on one side, and Suga, Asahi, and Tobio on the other. Hitoka’s team didn’t stand a chance.
At lunch, Kiyoko handed out ‘athletes drink’ for everybody, but not without winking at Hitoka before hand, and they had curry for lunch. Another courtesy from Tadashi.
“Don’t forget that we have customers today, they should be coming about now.”
Hitoka nodded. She was excited, but she also hoped that they didn’t come to take her familiars away again.
They waited for a bit, everybody started settling down. Asahi went back to his gardens, Suga and Daichi apparently went to their rooms, Tobio went upstairs to be a bird in peace, and Tadashi and Kei were curious to see what the customer was like, but not enough to stay human for them.
Just then there was a knock on the door. Hitoka’s pulse spiked, and she could feel Tadashi jump excitedly on her shoulder.
Kiyoko opened the door for them, and two young people came in.
They couldn’t be much older than Hitoka, at least if they were human, but Kiyoko hadn’t said. They were both blondes, he was really tall, and she was really small.
Kiyoko, still standing by the door introduced herself, Hitoka, the shop, and their services, the customers introduced themselves too, she went first.
“I’m Tanaka Saeko, nice to meet ya.”
“I’m Tsukishima Akiteru, pleasure.”
They both came in and for a split second Hitoka could feel a twitch on her shoulder, but immediately after that she heard a loud Akiteru ?! From her other, and Tadashi flew from her shoulder, one round around her, and then upstairs.
The tall guy, Akiteru, looked at Hitoka in confusion, but then back to Kiyoko. Hitoka remembered that he could probably only here a really loud crow call and not his own name.
“So what exactly brings you to us?” Kiyoko said, as she led the two customers into the kitchen, where Hitoka sat at the counter.
“Both of us are looking for family.” Recurring theme , Hitoka thought.
The customers sat down at the kitchen counter, Hitoka went to greet them personally but was slightly distracted as Kei took off upstairs without a word.
“My little brother went missing a year ago. Was on a camping trip with a few of of his mates, here in the woods. Hasn’t been seen since, the police gave up on the search.”
It was all too familiar, the name, the face, the story . Kiyoko seemed to have noticed too, but Hitoka spoke up.
“Is you’re brothers name Tanaka Ryuunosuke?” Both customers seemed surprised by that.
“How’d ya know?” Hitoka beamed, this was great, it all bled into one another, this was a customer she could help. Kiyoko continued for her.
“Ryuunosuke is a good friend of ours, we meet him alongside others every Friday night. If you care to stay a few hours you can meet with him as well.”
The woman, Saeko, looked close to tears. “Thank you.” She said with a shaky voice, her shoulders started shaking as well. “I can’t- I can’t believe we found him.” A stray tear fell from her eyes, she wiped it away. “This is so surreal…” Akiteru put a soothing hand on her back.
They left her be, she smiled and still cried, muttering soft ‘thank you’s every now and again, but otherwise seemed fine. It wasn’t like they could help her until Ryuu came anyway.
They looked at Akiteru.
“Well, the person I’m looking for is Yamaguchi Tadashi, he’s-“
Before Hitoka could even think familiar name , she heard a loud, “Akiteru!” From the stairs.
Tadashi, in human form and in Tobio’s clothes, sprinted from the stairs straight into Akiteru’s arms, muffling a surprised ‘Tadashi?’ from the guy.
Hitoka had to giggle at the scene, it being equally heart warming and over the top. Still, something irked her about his name.
Something about how it correlated to the moon.
“I didn’t think you would be looking for me! Did you miss me? Does my family miss me? Wow, you seem so much smaller now! And old! You should meet Tsukki! I mean Kei!” There it was, the thing that irked Hitoka, but she let them catch up first.
Akiteru, with an arm full of Tadashi, looked perplex. “This is a lot.” He was smiling though, and eventually cupping Tadashi’s face in his hands. “It’s really you. I haven’t seen you since you were like this tall.” He held his hand at about hip height. Which really didn’t mean much with a guy that size, he could have shown Hitoka’s height there.
Tadashi was jumping excitedly. “I can’t wait for you to meet Kei.”
Akiteru looked even more confused now, though no less ecstatic. “You keep saying that, but I don’t know who that is.”
Tadashi’s face fell a bit, so Hitoka felt the need to pick up.
“Mister Akiteru,” Akiteru looked at her, a bit perplexed, probably at the address, “do you perhaps have the feeling that something big is missing in your life, something that was important but that you can’t, for the life of you, remember?”
Akiteru’s face paled. “How do you know that?”
“We have the answer to your woes.” Akiteru looked confused, which seemed to be his only state of being since entering the Yachi household, which was understandable though, considering the storm of new information he was presented with.
Tadashi picked up for Hitoka, he talked all about Kei. How he was Akiteru’s brother, how they had met at school when Kei saved him from bullies, how they became best friends after joining the volleyball youth team together.
He said how they both admired Akiteru, how they found out that he had been lying to them, how they had run away from the game.
He told him about the witch, being familiars, and having only hazy memory of the nine years in her ‘care’.
He finished on being rescued by Chiyo, both Chiyo and Kiyoko trying to bond with them, and Hitoka eventually succeeding and making them human.
Akiteru looked like a computer that had done a shut down to reboot all his systems. After a solid two minutes of silence he said, “so where is Kei?”
Tadashi pointed behind him, and sure enough, there was Kei standing at the bottom of the stairs, having accumulated clothes, but seeming reluctant to join the commotion.
There he was.
Nine years, not a word. Nine years of being forgotten, and then out of fucking nowhere he stood on their doorstep.
Kei looked at them, at Tadashi talking animatedly with Akiteru, distracting him from Kei in his excitement. At the woman that stood next to him, maybe a friend, or even a girlfriend. At Akiteru’s life having continued on, while Kei’s had been put on hold until convenient.
Akiteru made eye contact with him again, obviously confused about the whole situation, Kei still stood by the door, refusing to budge.
It really helped that they never actually got him glasses once he turned human again.
“Come here, let me see you, little brother.” Kei couldn’t really make out his face in the distance, but going by his tone of voice he was smiling gently and with excitement.
Kei was reluctant, it was a way too touchy-feely-good-emotions sort of a deal. Slowly hough, he made his way towards his closest family he got.
The only one that found him in the end.
Abruptly, Akiteru pulled him into a tight hug. Kei didn’t reciprocate. After a longer moment than Kei would have deemed necessary he pushed him away to arms length, still holding him tight though.
“I knew you were missing,” it was easier to make out his face from this distance. He looked exactly the same as Kei remembered, only older, more mature, “but I have no idea who you are.” Wow, so that hurt. Not that Kei didn’t expect it to, and not that it hadn’t so far, but still.
“If we find out what sort of spell was used to make you forget him we can probably reverse that.” Kiyoko said.
“The forget-me-not’s! The forget-me-not’s can probably help here!” Good old Tadashi. Smart, perceptive. Though he never got any credit for it.
“You know, you are probably right.” Kiyoko said in response. Akiteru looked simultaneously confused and delighted between the two, still holding Kei tightly in between his hands.
A lot was happening in a very short time and Hitoka was very excited about it all.
Tadashi was fluttering around Akiteru, catching up with him and asking him questions about his life that Akiteru happily answered, all while they looked through spell books to see if they found the right kind of spell to find a counter for it.
Saeko had caught herself again, keen on getting some work done and seemingly excited about all the magic happening around her.
Kiyoko had gone outside to collect a good handful of forget-me-not’s for what would probably a counter spell or healing potion.
Kei was the most quiet and subdued of all. It seemed that he would need the most time to adjust.
Hitoka was looking at potions, just in case.
They met up in the living room consequently.
“So we found a lot of spells about forgetting, but they were mostly about forgetting stuff yourself or being forgotten yourself, none of them make other people forget others.” Tadashi said, closing his book, putting it on a mountain of three others.
“There is one about…” Akiteru squinted at his page, “‘cutting strings of fate’, but other than that we didn’t find anything.”
Kiyoko sighed, sitting down as well. “I feared something like that. That must mean she used dark magic. It is a topic we do not have any books on because we do not wish to indulge in it.”
Akiteru and Tadashi opened their mouths, seemingly as if to apologise, but Kiyoko raised her hand to cut them off. “Don’t. This does however mean that I will need to improvise. It is not impossible to make a functioning reverting potion with nothing more than the results and symptoms as guidance, but I cannot guarantee success.”
“Let’s do it.” Akiteru and Tadashi said in unison. Hitoka had to double check that Kei was the little brother, not Tadashi.
Kiyoko made a potion in the end, using a frankly unholy amount of forget-me-nots, as well as several powders that Hitoka couldn’t see the name of with how fast Kiyoko was pulling them off shelves and putting them back onto them.
It was all very fascinating.
The end product was purple and bubbly and had something like steam or smoke coming off it. Akiteru raised the glass to the room at large and and emptied it in one go, even though he looked not keen on it.
“Your memories should come back with time. If not you can come back, and we’ll try something else, if they do then we can make more for your parents, and other people that are important to you.” Akiteru and Kei nodded, also in unison. Hitoka could see their relation now.
Kiyoko looked at the wall clock in the kitchen. “The boys should come any moment, if you care to stay and see the reunion.”
Saeko was starting to get excited again.
“We didn’t actually go shopping.” Hitoka noticed suddenly.
“I think there is going to be too much excitement for anyone to eat much anyway.” Kiyoko said with a wink.
There was a knock on the door, Hitoka sprinted to it, from the corners of her vision she could see Kiyoko work around the kitchen space.
She opened the door. “Welcome, Welcome! I think Kiyoko is working on the potion for Hisashi and Kazuhito, but come on in!” Hitoka couldn’t hold onto herself in excitement.
She nodded at Chikara as he entered, and she nodded into the general direction of where she suspected Hisashi and Kazuhito to be.
When Ryuu went to go past her she took one of his hands in hers and held it tight. “We have somebody waiting for you.” She said, not containing her excitement.
“What? Who?” Like a game show host Hitoka stepped sideways and gestured at Saeko.
Saeko, at a distance, was staring at the door, there were tears running down her face again. “You’re really here…”
“Sis…” It came quietly from Ryuu, before both siblings ran into each other’s arms and into a tight hug. Tears were flowing like they wanted to create a river. Hitoka was feeling it too.
“I thought I’d never see you again. The police gave up on the search.” Saeko moved back to hold Ryuu’s face in her hands. “I never stopped believing you were still alive.”
“Ya so embarrassing, Sis.” Ryuu said, crying ugly tears. Saeko punched him in the arm, then they went back to hugging. It was quite evident how much taller than her he was.
Hitoka joined Hisashi, Kazuhito, Chikara, and Kiyoko in the kitchen.
“You really found Ryuu’s family?” Hisashi asked, in disbelief.
“It wasn’t really us, they found our posters and reached out to us.” Kiyoko answered.
“It wasn’t even the first time,” Hitoka added in excitement, “a week ago another family member came and-,” Hitoka looked down now, a good deal less excited, “took one of my familiars home with her.”
“That’s good news then,” Chikara said, looking at the Tanaka’s fondly, “the familiars in your care are finding their homes. That’s how it should be.”
“If you’re excited about that you should see Tadashi and Kei.” Kiyoko said, pointing over to her left where Tadashi and Akiteru were in an animated conversation, and Kei stood close to them not contributing. “The two blond guys are the brother’s that haven’t seen each other in nine years. Tadashi has no blood relations here.”
“Ah.” Said Chikara. Hisashi snickered, Kazuhito raised an amused eye brow.
Hitoka suddenly got an uncomfortable feeling in her gut when looking again, it reminded her of the feeling she got when thinking of Shoyou, so she made her way towards the Tanaka’s, who too were now talking animately with one another, as well as Noya.
As Hitoka approached them she could hear Saeko stage whisper, “who’s that dark haired beauty,” pointing at Chikara, who made his way across the room to greet Daichi and Suga coming down the stairs, “he’s exactly your type.”
Followed by an exasperated “Sis~.” From Ryuu, as well as what seemed to be a knowing grin from Noya.
“Uhm, hello,” Hitoka chimed in, but before she could say anything she was interrupted by Saeko throwing an arm around her.
“You won’t believe how grateful I am that you found my baby brother, little witch.” Hitoka was slowly sinking under all the weight that Saeko threw on her. “I can’t wait to take him home with me.”
“About that,” Hitoka said, trying to free herself from Saeko’s death grip around her, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news but-.”
“I can’t come, sis.”
“What? Why not?” Saeko said affronted.
“I’m cursed sis, I can’t actually leave.”
“Well, damn. Then I’m gonna have to visit you heaps,” Saeko answered in defiance, putting her hands on her hips and pushing her chest out. “I’ll bring the old folks too.”
“If you come Friday nights you can join game night.” Hitoka helpfully contributed, before she realised that game night was getting cramped before, let alone with however many people were in the Tanaka clan.
Then she remembered that Akiteru had come to take Kei and Tadashi to their families.
She was feeling unsettled in her stomach again.
“We do actually have a place to live,” Noya contributed with an ever shining grin on his face, “we can show you were it is, and if we’re not there Kiyoko can just find us apparently.”
“That’s because you have a really strong string of fate connected to Asahi.” Hitoka answered, before even thinking about her words.
“What?” Noya asked, with a really strong blush on his face. Ryuu and Saeko wore matching, borderline evil grins on their faces. It was evident that Saeko had already adopted Noya as her honorable little brother.
After everyone was introduced to one another and there had been hearty hello’s and goodbyes it was time for everyone to leave.
Saeko and Akiteru had decided to leave together as they had come, they both waited downstairs as Ryuu and his group said goodbye to them. Saeko promised to visit their home another time with the Tanaka parents.
Kei and Tadashi were upstairs with Hitoka, since they actually had stuff and connections there and gave a good farewell.
“Do you want your book.” Hitoka asked, heaving the massive Dinosaur textbook into the air to offer Kei.
“No, you can keep it. I’m not even sure if I still have a room.”
“Oh.” Hitoka didn’t quite know what to do with the book. It wasn’t quite her subject matter and it was also awkwardly big for her. Maybe she should create a shelf for stuff that helped with familiars before, but weren’t of use any longer.
Kei sighed. “We’ll probably come back anyways, because of the spell and the weird creature and all that. When I’m more sorted with my parents I can take it with me.” Hitoka nodded, she put the book on the bed.
“We’re gonna miss you, Hitoka.” Tadashi said, he leaned down to hug her, and it was really quite awkward with how much of a height difference they had, but Hitoka was feeling sad too and she needed the hug.
Over Tadashi’s shoulder, or rather, behind his arm, she could see Tobio leaning against the door frame, glowering into the room at large. Hitoka wasn’t certain what to make of that.
Hitoka and Tadashi let go of each other and made tough faces. This was gonna be fine, they could deal and they were adults that could move on with life.
Hitoka went down with Tadashi and Kei to give the lot of them a hearty goodbye again, a quick warning to not have Kei walk alone to not fall trap to any luring charms alongside a promise to bring him a personalised protection amulet within the next couple of days, as well as grateful hugs and handshakes to Saeko and Akiteru for connecting them to their family.
Kyoko and Hitoka closed the door behind their guests and Hitoka felt weird.
There was something odd and devastating about sending your familiars to their families.
The house felt quiet.
She turned around to see Tobio at the bottom of the stairs, glowering into the room at large again.
He seemed sad too.
“Well, I suppose it’s time to make dinner. Does anyone else want to eat?” Kiyoko seemed to be an expert for times like these.
They didn’t eat.
Hitoka and Tobio had breads in their hands that they half heartedly chewed on, but they didn’t eat.
They didn’t feel like it.
Across the table, Suga was making lively conversation with the other room mates, especially Chiyo, who hadn’t been home in a while, but Hitoka and Tobio didn’t have the energy to be involved in any of that.
They said good night as early as they could and brushed their teeth in mutual silence. They went to bed without much fuss, Tobio in his bird form and Hitoka not even bothering to open her book or laptop.
Just before she drifted off to sleep, she heard an almost inaudible I miss him .
Chapter 28: For what its worth
If Hitoka had thought that the silence was jarring before, it was nothing compared to now.
Hitoka and Tobio nodded each other good morning out of politeness, but didn’t speak. Tobio stayed a bird as they went down and Hitoka didn’t address the matter.
They were greeted by Noya and Asahi giggling to each other in the kitchen. Noya seemingly wearing nothing but a too big shirt that barely covered a lot of red spots that were spread all over his neck. The shirt seemed familiar, Hitoka would swear she had seen Asahi wear it-
Hitoka blushed and avoided eye contact as she gave her curtly hello, Tobio nodding on her shoulder.
Asahi raised his hand with a shy smile in response, Noya shot up from his seat and waved at her enthusiastically. His actions made the shirt ride up and reveal more hickies on his legs. Hitoka pointedly stared at the space behind the pair.
“Hey, what makes you guys so gloomy?” Noya said, still with a big grin on his face.
Hitoka looked at Tobio who didn’t say anything or react. “We said a lot of goodbye’s lately. It feels odd.”
“Oh.” Nishinoya said, in a smaller voice now. He held a plate with food, as well as a jug in their direction, “there are waffles and coffee if you want some of that.”
“Thanks.” Food should help, at least a little bit.
Or rather, Hitoka ate, and Tobio unenthusiastically picked at the food on his plate. Hitoka didn’t know if it was a good idea to have them play any sort of sport when Tobio refused to eat. Not that she had good faith that he even wanted to go outside.
“Say,” Hitoka started, Tobio hummed in acknowledgement, “Why do you not want to see Shoyou?”
Tobio stayed silent for some more time, picking at his food some more. He’s with his family now . Hitoka didn’t know what to make of that. She looked at Nishinoya and Asahi for help, who listened attentively but otherwise didn’t contribute to the conversation.
She put another waffle on her plate. “We can still check up on him, we should do that anyway, to see how he’s doing.”
Tobio made a face that Hitoka was sure was the bird version of bunching one’s eyebrows. We shouldn’t interrupt him. He found his family and that’s where he belongs . Tobio picked into his food harder. Hitoka ate her waffle and thought for a moment.
“He probably misses you too, you know. We can even just invite him, to learn about flying and being a familiar and stuff.”
Tobio still looked angry. He has no place here .
“I just wanted to say-“
“Sorry I’m late, Kiyoko held me up.”
Suga hastily put on a coat and quickly stole three waffles from Asahi’s plate.
“I can’t play with you today because I am busy, and Kiyoko said there would be a customer today so keep your afternoon free.” After that statement he paused in his actions and threw a meaningful look at Asahi who returned the look and swallowed hard.
“Kiyoko said you don’t have to be here for it.”
Asahi closed his eyes and shook his head. “No it’s important to me that I’m there. I want to cut ties if possible.” Suga nodded and left.
Nishinoya’s demeanor darkened significantly. “It’s her, isn’t it?”
Asahi, sighed. “Yes it is.” Hitoka was so engrossed in the conversation that she didn’t pay attention when eating her waffles and bit into her fingers on accident. She collected herself again and noticed that Tobio was eating properly as well now. He didn’t seem to listen to the other couple though, so maybe just letting off some steam helped.
“I’m gonna be here with you.”
“No, you’re not, I will need you to leave.”
Nishinoya shot up, slamming his hands on the table, Hitoka jumped a little. “No way! I’m going to stay here with you!”
“If you see her you are going to start a fight with her and I want things to pass as civilly as possible.”
Nishinoya still looked agitated, in a smaller voice he said, “I don’t want to leave you alone with her.”
“Anyway, I’m going to leave.” Suga said, stuffing all three waffles at once into his face, and making a ditch for it. A wise decision. Hitoka risked a look at Tobio’s now empty plate.
“We should get out too before the day ends, right?”
Tobio nodded and followed her upstairs.
Morning training passed without much drama. Passing the ball for several hours and doing basic training with a quiet, unenthusiastic Tobio was as boring as it was depressing, so when their stomachs growled and they went inside to eat it was an honest relief to Hitoka.
Their lunch sandwich eating was interrupted by Asahi and Nishinoya having another confrontation at the door. Hitoka decided to very aggressively do something else and ignore their rather imposing conversation. When the noise died down and she deemed it safe to look up she was greeted with the sight of Asahi leaning down to give Noya a very gentle kiss, Noya then running his hand over the others face oh so carefully before turning and leaving.
Hitoka craved that. For a very intense moment she craved a love as sweet and gentle as that.
Kiyoko appeared next to her.
“She is going to come any moment, it is going to be tense. I won’t force you to be here if you don’t want to be.”
Hitoka shook her head. “No I want to learn everything, I wanna be there.”
Kiyoko smiled in a way that made Hitoka very proud of herself. “Good. You will see some advanced magic today so that’s going to be exciting.”
Hitoka nodded enthusiastically and someone knocked on the door. Kiyoko let them in and showed them to a seating area with two couches, a few seats and a coffee table. Four sets of tea cups and saucers and steaming tea had been put down already. Hitoka sat next to a very tense Asahi on the couch.
The woman that sat down in front of her was not what Hitoka had expected. She didn’t exactly know what she expected but blonde, wavy hair, a nimble sort of figure, and big, brown eyes avoiding eye contact with the person across from her still somehow caught her off guard.
“This is my apprentice, Yachi Hitoka,” Kiyoko said, gesturing to Hitoka at her side, “and this is our customer for today, Natsuko Tsuyumi,” Kiyoko said about the woman on her other side, “she is here to pick up her repaired broom, but there has been a request for a cut so this may get more extensive than a usual job.” The smirk on her face told Hitoka that she was excited for this.
Well it wasn’t as exciting as she would have hoped. The woman got her broom, signed a paper, she and Kiyoko nodded at each other, and Hitoka was a little lost and sorta second guessing her profession if it tended to be this boring.
In Hitoka’s day dreaming about flying on brooms and fighting dragons with ancient, enchanted and probably illegal magic wands everyone else had gotten up and formed a circle.
Well, more of a triangle really.
“Hitoka, can you please rise as well, I could use you for this.” Hitoka jumped off the couch, did a quick bow to show that she was sorry and also ready, got into her assigned seat between Asahi and miss Natsuki in the circle (or square) and observed Kiyoko as she did her magic.
A weak but resistant string of fate flared up in front of her, Hitoka was fascinated by it, but her awe was interrupted by Kiyoko talking to it in an aggressive tone. Hitoka could tell that it was the witches speak, that she talked about fate and cutting ties and people never meeting again, but Hitoka really had to strain her ears to understand it at all.
It was uncomfortable. She felt the urge to turn away and leave the room as uncomfortable energy emitted from the middle of the string in front of her. She forced herself to look at the scene and saw Kiyoko quite literally cutting the tie. It was blindingly bright and an impressive scene.
Then it stopped. Hitoka breathed deeper.
“It is done.”
“I don’t feel much different.” Asahi said, touching his own chest as if to feel what had happened to the string.
Miss Natsuki picked up her half empty cup of tea and her broom, turned to Kiyoko to say, “thank you for your service”, then turned to Asahi and Hitoka to nod at them silently.
At the door Miss Natsuki turned around and took Asahi’s hand, who looked a bit perplex at the action.
“Asahi,” she said, “I can see that you are doing well, and I am glad that you are,” she looked at a quite prominent hickey apparent on his throat, “and I hope it will stay that way and will only get better. But for what it’s worth, I hope we never meet again.”
“I wish you the best, Tsuyu.”
She nodded at him and let go of his hand. Then she turned around and walked away as the door closed behind her. Hitoka had a heavy heart somehow.
“How are you feeling?” Kiyoko asked Asahi.
“Weird, somehow, but not much different, at least physically.”
Kiyoko nodded. “I suppose only time will tell with things like these. Let’s make dinner.”
Hitoka had a bit to think as she watched Kiyoko burn her second batch of mushrooms, Asahi trying his best to save what she made and not abandon his own food.
“Only time will tell, right Tobio?”
Tobio was quiet.
Chapter 29: A nice thought
Hitoka woke up with something heavy landing on her chest. Landing on all of her really. She wheezed out the little air she had in her lungs.
“Good morning Hitoka!! You should really not sleep with an open window you can get all sort of bugs in!! I have five mosquito bites already. Hey I’m hungry let’s get waffles, I want waffles!!”
Hitoka took a moment to orient herself. The sun was shining in her face.
In the way that the sun was shining from the face of a very excited, widely smiling person that had his face very close to her own, big brown eyes and ginger hair covering her vision.
“Sh-shoyou?” Maybe she was still asleep, this couldn’t be true. “Wha-?”
A loud crash as her door burst open made Hitoka jump in shock, disorienting her further.
“What are you doing here dumbass?! Go back to you family!!” Hitoka tried to free her arms which were trapped under Shoyou sitting on her chest to cover her ears from the noise.
“I told my mom I would come here. I had business to attend after all and I’m going back in a few days.” Shoyou said in a voice too cheery for this early in the morning. Hitoka’s eyes got used to the blinding sight of the morning sun and Shoyou’s face though. Shoyou. Shoyou…
Wait, he was back. Why was he back? Shouldn’t he be with his family? And was that? Hitoka gulped in shock as she realised that Shoyou was sitting on her chest on top of her covers, completely naked. She tried to free her arms again from under him, but Shoyou was heavier than he looked and her arms had the strength of cooked noodles.
“You have no place here,” Tobio yelled next to her bed, “you have a family, you should be there!” Oh god, those were tears running down his face! Oh god what was happening and why was it happening on top of her???
“But Stupi-o, I had to come back," Shoyou smiled more gently as he laid his head sideways, "you're my soulmate after all."
"Dumbass." Tobio said through tears, taking Shoyou into his arms very tightly and burying his face in the crook of the others neck.
Well Hitoka was very happy for them and the reunion and seeing Shoyou again albeit naked but, "can you get off me please?"
“Oh yea, sorry!” Shoyou said removing himself from her. Hitoka quickly covered her eyes with her now free hands to not see anymore than she had already been exposed to.
Shoyou spent all breakfast talking about his family. His parents and his sister and how they had missed him and how he got a room and how happy they were to see him and how happy he was to see them and by god he talked so much he barely got around to eating.
Hitoka wondered how this guy was ever let go again by his family when they missed him so much and he was gone for several years without a trace.
You’re my soulmate after all.
Well maybe some things weren’t her business.
Hitoka could feel herself breathing more deeply as Shoyou and Tobio started training together again. It was like there had been a massive stone on her heart the second Shoyou had moved out and Tobio had turned more gloom, but the brightness and sunshine was back and Tobio was smiling occasionally if only lightly.
Hitoka was so distracted by her happiness that she received a ball with her face.
“Did you guys eat already?”
The crows and Hitoka nodded at Kiyoko as they cleaned their dishes.
“Good. I hope you don’t have any plans for this afternoon because your broom is ready, Hitoka.”
Hitoka was so excited she almost smashed her plate.
“I tested it and everything, it should be all good.” Said the broom witch with a bored tone that matched the look on her face.
Hitoka was so hyped she was vibrating with the broom in her arm.
Kiyoko paid and the lot of them went home. The crows had come with, just sitting on Hitoka’s shoulder, getting into quarrels about random things occasionally, but agreeing that the broom Hitoka got was the coolest thing in existence. Hitoka felt the same way.
“All you need to have is faith.” Was easy for Kiyoko to say, since it wasn’t her that was standing at the edge of the roof of the house, with a broom between her legs and the intention to jump fifteen meters towards solid ground.
Hitoka gave Kiyoko a dirty look. Kiyoko just smirked.
Hitoka turned back towards the abyss of doom that was in front of her. At the tip of her broom rested Tobio, probably as a sign of solidarity, rushing towards certain death with his witch. Shoyou on top of her head, a tight grip on her hair that scratched her scalp.
Hitoka was uncertain about how she felt about their loyalty, given that they could just fly off the falling Titanic being birds and all that.
“Trust me, as long as I am here nothing can happen to you.” Hitoka threw one last skeptical look at Kiyoko before she closed her eyes and jumped.
She hovered in mid air for a little bit, just enough to open her eyes and register that she hadn’t fallen. Then she fell.
The force if gravity and impending doom released a high pitched scream from her throat. She was so shocked it took her a moment too long to realise she was standing on solid ground again. The solid ground in front of the house that is.
She had certainly fallen, but she had landed alright.
When she noted that she sank to the ground, her adrenalin shaking legs not holding her up much.
“How are you doing?” Kiyoko yelled from the top of the roof.
Hitoka tried to form words but could only release noises of distress.
Kiyoko giggled, and the jumped off the roof, Hitoka tried to yelled at her for it but didn’t get her lungs to work.
Kiyoko sailed smoothly to the ground, with a slight spin in her flow. She looked gracious and beautiful. And magical.
“Your broom has a buffer integrated in it. As long as you are on it you cannot crash into the ground, or anything else for that matter. It is a really basic spell.” Kiyoko said as her feet touched the ground with the quiet grace of a ballerina. “Wanna try again?”
Hitoka thought hard about it. The experience had been quite thrilling, and not necessarily in a good way, on the other hand it would be good to know that she couldn’t actually get injured or die. Also she wouldn’t ever learn to fly if she was scared of the fall all her life. She nodded at the other witch.
Kiyoko helped her up and they went back upstair to the roof.
On it, Hitoka stood herself at the edge of the house, Tobio completely unmoving in front of her, Shoyou excited on top of her, she closed her eyes.
No, she couldn’t let her anxiety get the best of her, she had to take action.
She opened her eyes again, took a few steps backwards with her broom, took a deep breath, and charged forward.
Her broom levitated in mid air again, a bit higher than before, and a bit further from the house. Kiyoko yelled exclamations of pride and general encouragements at her. Hitoka looked around.
She could see the entire clearing that the house was in, she could see a bit of the backyard where Asahi did his work, she could see the patch of grass and collections of trees where she had meditated with Noya and the others, she could see the path where she came from on the first day, and the one they took to go shopping.
She vaguely registered not seeing the car, when she lost her balance in mid air again.
The fall was just as jarring as before, you don’t really have time to think about how you’re not going to die with the adrenaline and blood rushing into your ears.
“Wanna have another try?” Kiyoko yelled from the roof.
“Absolutely not!” Hitoka managed to yell with quivering lips.
Hitoka was still shaken when she lied backwards on the living room couch, laptop on her stomach, iced tea in her hand. Tobio and Shoyou had taken the time before dinner to fly around outside again, Hitoka was just happy that Tobio seemed to be much more lively.
Kiyoko was next to her in a similar position, albeit looking significantly more graceful. A question had irked Hitoka since that morning, and honestly, in a way since far before that, so she let it out.
“Do you believe in soulmates?”
Kiyoko blinked at her in surprise, seemingly not following her question.
“Well like when two people have a particularly strong string of fate, do you think they are soulmates? Is there such a thing?”
Kiyoko looked forward for a moment, thinking.
“I don’t see why not,” she looked at Hitoka with a cheeky smile, “it’s a nice thought.”
Hitoka hummed and looked at her laptop again. A nice thought indeed.