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Stroll in Unfamiliar Lands

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“Ryoma.”

It had been several minutes after lunch when the man in the white suit was sitting around in an armless plastic chair with his eyes closed, letting the din of the cafeteria and of the other Servants fade into the background. His ever-attentive companion, a woman with long black hair and pink eyes who dressed in a black sailor uniform, had been hovering at his side for a while before getting bored and wandering off for a bit. Though mere minutes later, at the sound of her flat, calm voice, his eyes opened slightly. Ryoma turned and stared directly at Oryou’s pale face, which was close to his and crinkled in anticipation. “You're back,” Ryoma said with a smile. “Did you need something, Oryou?”

“Mm-hmm.” It was the plaintive tone she always used when she wanted something from him. “Oryou-san wants to walk around.” She gestured around at the cafeteria at the busy Servants and staff members. “This place is nice and cozy. Similar to Ryoma's old house back in the Bakumatsu times. So, Oryou-san wants to explore.” Putting her hands on Ryoma’s shoulders, she said, “Come with me. Or else Oryou-san will sulk in her room and not come out even if Ryoma asks nicely.”

Chuckling, Ryoma adjusted his hat and tilted his head back. “I'm feeling a little sleepy, Oryou. I don't really want to come along…”

Oryou pouted, folding her arms and looking away determinedly. However, Ryoma couldn't help but notice that her dark pink gaze continued to flit back to him at the corners of her eyes. “If Ryoma doesn't come with Oryou-san, then Oryou-san will not come out of her room,” She repeated. “And I will eat all the frogs too, so Ryoma can't have any.”

“Aah, alright, alright, you've got me.” Pretending to sigh in exasperation, Ryoma pushed himself out of his chair. “Where do you want to go first, Oryou?”

Oryou turned her back to Ryoma and used her scaly scarf to hide her elated expression before facing him again. “Oryou-san is ready,” she announced. “Ryoma can lead me wherever he wants.”

“Leaving it to me? That might be a bit of a bad choice, since I don't know the place well enough yet…” Ryoma said, trying for a casual tone of voice.

“Oryou trusts Ryoma.” Oryou said, patting him on the back. “Besides, there are frogs on the line for Ryoma. Oryou-san will not give them to him if he keeps teasing me,” she added.

Ryoma gave her a sheepish grin. “Saw right through me, huh? Okay then, let's go.” He turned around and walked for the cafeteria exit, with an excitedly muttering Oryou following behind.
However, they hadn’t walked for more than a minute before a voice behind them bellowed, “OI! DON’T MOVE A MUSCLE!” A figure dressed in black hurtled out the cafeteria door and skidded to a stop directly in front of the couple. The man brushed aside the tangled mess of hair hanging in front of his face with a hand clutching a half-eaten sandwich to reveal a pair of glaring red eyes that were focused directly on Ryoma’s calm expression. “It’s about time I caught y’alone, Ryoma!” The man hissed, unsheathing the blade hanging on his belt with his free hand.

“Hello, Izou,” Ryoma said, smiling. “Would you move, please? Oryou and I are going on a little walk.”

“To hell with that!” Izou shot a venomous look at the black-haired woman, who was staring at him with a disapproving look on her face. He pointed his sword at Ryoma and shouted, “I haven't forgiven ya, Ryoma! You'll pay for what you did!”. In response, Oryou floated out from behind Ryoma and thrust her arm out in front of him protectively. “Master’s dog is too noisy. Ryoma, can I hit him?”

Ryoma and Izou’s protests of “Be nice, Oryou,” and “Who’re ya callin’ dog?” were spattered with the sounds of loud clapping. “Alright, break it up, you three, break it up.” A purple-haired woman in a dark blue dress wearing gold jewelry on her arms and head walked out of the cafeteria, her large purple eyes narrowed as she stepped between Oryou and Izou. “ You do realize what a racket you three are making, right?”

“Sorry, Miss… Parvati, right?” Ryoma said with a sheepish smile, raising his hands in surrender. “I apologize on behalf of my companion and my old friend. Anyway,” he said, ignoring Izou's outrage at his words, “Oryou and I were about to head off on our walk. Sorry to be a bother.” He took Oryou's hand and quickly walked away down the hall. Oryou made no protest, but turned around and gave a halfhearted wave to Parvati before the couple turned a corner and disappeared.

“Where d'ya think yer going?” Izou yelled, ready to hurtle after them. “I won't let ya off that easy, Ryo—” A slender hand shot out and grabbed the back of Izou's jacket, pulling the furiously cursing manslayer backwards. “You are coming with me, young man.” Parvati said coolly into his ear. “I think you need to learn what an indoor voice is.” With that, the purple-haired goddess turned and dragged the irate Izou back through the gaping mouth formed by the cafeteria doors.

****

They were continuing their walk through the long, empty halls when something big smashed into Ryoma. Reacting quickly, Oryou leapt forward and grabbed the man in white, who had stumbled backwards from the blow, and raised her fists defensively.

“Whoa there! Sorry about that!” The big “something” turned out to be a tall, well-built man with short blonde hair and round sunglasses. Adding to his already-intimidating appearance, he was wearing large amounts of gold accessories, including a thick belt. Overall, he looked like some sort of gangster, though the guilty look on his face gave him a gentler air. “Didn’t mean to run into you two like that. Hey, hey, calm down!” he yelped, noticing Oryou’s darkened expression as she floated towards him. Looking at him up and down, she turned to Ryoma, pointed at the man, and asked, “Ryoma, can I eat him?”

The blonde-haired man leapt back in fright. “Aw man, not you too!” he groaned. “Look, I’ve already got Shuten after me, alright? I don’t need another predator after my bones and stuff! This ain’t golden at all!”

“Oh dear, don’t mind her. She’s just overreacting.” Ryoma said, quickly pushing himself out from the dragon woman’s grip. “You’re not in the wrong here, my friend. May I have your name?”
Calming down, the blonde man poked himself in the chest with his thumb. “The name’s Sakata Kintoki, though Golden is fine, too!”

“Oh, so you’re Kintoki.” Ryoma stepped forward to shake his hand, raising his arm a bit to reach the taller man’s height. “Of course, I heard all the legends about you when I was young. Very inspiring. I’m Ryoma Sakamoto, and my friend here is Oryou.” He gestured to the woman in black, who was still looking suspiciously at Kintoki.

“I’m tickled to meet you both, though if you could stop her from tryin’ to eat me I’d appreciate it.” Kintoki glanced over his shoulder and his face whitened. “Oh gosh dang it,” he whispered. Turning to Ryoma, he said in a fast, high-pitched voice, “Hope to see you again later; I’ve gotta run. Also, please tell Shuten and Boss I wasn’t here!” As he sprinted away down the corridor, disappearing before either Oryou or Ryoma could reply, a loud shriek erupted from the other side of the hall. Ryoma tensed up, his hand on the gun at his side, while Oryou raised her fists once more, staring apprehensively as two women tumbled into the corridor, punching and attempting to stab each other.

The taller woman was wearing a light purple jumpsuit with what looked like a tanuki tail at the back, with long, sleek black hair that was currently held back behind her ears. Her face, which had gentle and even features that normally curved into a motherly way, was twisted into an expression of darkness that could even have scared an Avenger-class Servant, and her eyes were narrowed into thin purple slits as she aimed her long sword at her adversary. The much shorter woman had a mop of short, dark hair with two curved horns peeking out from underneath. She was wearing a purple kimono that had been carelessly undone in the front and showed off more of her slender body than what either Ryoma or Oryou wanted to see. Unlike the taller woman, her expression was a darkly mischievous one, and her eyes crinkled up at the corners with malice. Laughing softly, she parried her enemy’s blow easily even though she carried her much shorter sword in one hand and a sake dish in the other. Taunting her, she called out: “Come, come, can’t you do better than that, cow woman?”

“Quiet, insect. It pains me to go against Master’s orders, but I can’t stand seeing you around my little boy any longer!” The long-haired woman took another swing at the short woman, who quickly jumped away. Landing in front of Oryou and Ryoma, the oni woman turned her head and gave them a devious grin. “Sorry, but could you two wait for a bit? I’d love to ask you where my dear husband went, but as you can see, my hands are a bit full!”

Listening to the clanging and watching sparks fly from the women’s swords, Ryoma turned to Oryou. “This is a real mess, isn’t it?” he sighed, adjusting his hat some more. “What do you think? Should we do something?”

“Hmm… Oryou-san doesn’t know if she likes it, but Ryoma could go stop them,” suggested Oryou. “Yes, Oryou-san knows you can do it. Go, Ryoma!” She said this in a more cheerful voice, even pumping her fist in the air.

“Ahh… you’ve put your confidence into me, so I’ll do it.” Ryoma began to pull out the long katana hanging at his side, entering an offensive stance as he carefully watched the battle between the two women, looking for an opening. Suddenly, he lunged forward like a crashing wave and swung downwards as the women crossed their blades, each trying to overcome the other. With a whistle of wind, Ryoma brought his katana down with a clang on top of the two swords, making the women stop dead in their tracks. “Sorry, ladies,” he said with a smile. “I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to stop this fight before something bad happens. My apologies for my rudeness.”

Looking thoroughly embarrassed, the tall woman immediately withdrew her sword. “Oh, no, it’s my fault!” she said, her face returning to its usual gentleness. “I should’ve realized that we would inconvenience others… please accept my sincerest apologies!” She lowered her head into a bow before giving the other woman a sideways glare. “What are you doing? You should be apologizing too!” she hissed.

“I told you to wait, you know~” The short-haired woman chuckled. “Ah, yes… I am sorry you had to see that… unladylike display. But we haven’t even introduced ourselves, have we, little stick-wielder? My name is Shuten-Doji, leader of Mount Ooe’s group of oni. The cow over there’s Minamoto no Yorimitsu, or Raikou, but you probably already knew that~”

Oryou stirred. “Don’t like oni much.” she muttered. “Can I eat her?”

Shuten gave the dragon woman an approving stare. “What’s this, what’s this… a dragon, perhaps? No, you’re not quite there yet… eat me? I’d like to see you try.” She took a sip from her crimson dish and smiled, showing sharpened white fangs. “You’ve got spirit though, little lizard. One day, you’ll be there. I’ll be looking forward to it…”

“Enough of your buzzing already!” Raikou snapped. “Have you seen a little golden-haired boy passing through here?” she asked the pair, a slight note of concern entering her voice.

“Ah, yes… I should find him quickly for some fun… Kintoki, of course.” she added, noticing Oryou’s rather blanker-than-usual expression.

Ryoma started to say something, but suddenly Oryou put her pale hand to his mouth. “Oryou-san saw a golden one going that way,” she said, pointing to a corridor that branched off from the one they were standing in.

The taller woman gave an audible sigh of relief, putting her hand on her chest to steady herself. “Thank you so much. Mother’s coming to help you, Kintoki!” she cried as she turned and ran away down the corridor.

Laughing again, Shuten turned to the couple. “My, my, you both have my thanks as well… I’ll see you around some time, I suppose.” She sprinted after Raikou, carefully balancing the sake dish in her fingers.

There was a tense silence in which Ryoma glanced at his companion, whose face remained impassive as ever. “Should you really have done that, Oryou?” he asked hesitantly.

“Oryou-san knows what it feels like to be followed around like that.” The black-haired woman said solemnly. “I will help others too.” She patted Ryoma’s back. “Ryoma did well. Oryou-san is proud. We should continue on our walk now.” She floated off without another word.

****

After bearing witness to a number of other incidents (such as where Hijikata was seen pushing a half-dead, coughing Okita in a wooden cart, bellowing “Shinsengumi transport!” at the top of his lungs), they were passing by a room with open door when Oryou stopped and put out a hand to stop her companion. “Hey, Ryoma, what's this room?” she asked, pointing inside. Her brow furrowed at the strange clicking and whistling coming from it.

“Oh, this?” Ryoma leaned over, pushing the door open a bit more. “I think this is… the genius’ workshop. She sells a bunch of merchandise. Do you want to have a look?” He asked, noticing Oryou peeking her head over his shoulder in an attempt to look inside.

“Oryou-san wants to go inside.” The dark-haired woman agreed pushing the door open completely and floating inside.

The workshop was a dimly lit room with paintings, various strange-looking objects, and inventions scattered everywhere. Light streamed in lazily from several colored windows, illuminating a large pile of glowing green cubes that were sitting in the corner. Oryou had no issues maneuvering through the maze of objects, though she stopped several times to help Ryoma get through or to examine the clutter. She picked up several sketches on a dusty table with notes written in the margins and tried to read them before getting bored and floating off.

At the far end of the workshop, a girl with long brown hair tied into a low ponytail stood at a table with her back to the door. Fiery sparks flew everywhere from whatever she was building and a loud whirring noise filled the room. Finally, after several minutes in which Ryoma and Oryou stared at her back, she stopped her work, turned around, and lifted her heavy-looking welding goggles to reveal a pair of large, mischievous blue eyes. “Hey there!” she said with a cheery wave. “The genius inventor, Da Vinci, at your service! Oh!” She walked over to the couple and shook both their hands. “Aren't you new here? The warmest of welcomes to you both! Feel free to have a look around my adorable shop,” she added, noticing Oryou floating to a table to inspect some objects. “If you see anything you want, just let me know!”

Oryou looked at the pile of objects on the table for a second before her eyes lit up at something and she began throwing things over her shoulder.

“H- hey! Oryou, don't do that! This is a shop!” Ryoma called, running over to the woman in a panic.

Da Vinci chuckled. “It seems like something of mine has caught your friend’s eye. What’ve you got there, my potential customer?” she asked, leaning in and peeking over Oryou’s arm.

After rummaging around in the pile for a few seconds, Oryou finally extracted her prize— an extremely fuzzy plush frog about the size of her head. It was rather squat, as frogs sometimes were, with shiny black button eyes and a little blue party hat with squiggly designs sewn onto its head. The dark-haired dragon woman gave a little murmur of joy before squeezing the toy tightly in her long arms, breathing in the musky smell of the workshop that was stuck to it. “Oryou-san likes this.” she said with a childish smile before turning to Ryoma. “Can I have the frog?”

“Going to add that to your collection, Oryou?” Ryoma asked, returning her smile. He turned to the brown-haired girl, who was observing their conversation with a devilish look on her face.

“How much do you want for the toy?” he inquired.

“Let’s see… 10 Mana Prisms. Those are the green cubes over there.” Da Vinci replied, holding out her hand. “Do you have any?”

“Oh dear,” Ryoma muttered, digging around in his pockets. “Is that the currency normally used here? I’m afraid I don’t have any of it yet. Hmm…” He pulled out a handful of slightly tarnished metallic coins in various shapes with holes in them. “Would you accept these instead?”

Da Vinci swiped up the coins from Ryoma’s gloved hand and began examining them carefully, lifting a few of them closer to the lights. “Am I correct in thinking that these are Japanese coins from the late Bakumatsu period?”

“Yes, they are. When I died, the yen wasn’t in circulation yet, so this is all I have.” Ryoma explained. “Are they enough for you?”

Da Vinci closed her palm over the coins. “I’ll take them.” she said, backing away from the couple. “You two have fun together! Good luck in the upcoming events and such!” She turned and disappeared through a closet in the back next to the worktable.

Oryou floated towards the door, keeping the plush in her arms and her eyes on the man. “Let’s go then, Ryoma. Oryou-san wants to go put this in our room!” she said excitedly.

“You’ve got it. Let’s start heading back.” Ryoma said, stepping through the piles of Da Vinci’s stuff on the floor. “How did you like our walk, Oryou?” he asked after they had exited the shop.

“It was… unpredictable. Oryou-san thinks everyone here is weird.” The dragon woman said after a thoughtful pause. “But not in a bad way. Oryou-san thinks that weird is good. Ryoma is weird. I am weird. Master’s dog is weird. One day, I will hit him.” She buried her face in her frog plush as she said this. “Soft. Very soft.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it.” Ryoma said, watching her squeeze the plushie. “You really do love frogs, don’t you?”

Oryou took her face out of the toy, nodding. “Yes. But..." She blushed slightly, using her long fingers to fidget with the toy. "... Ryoma is much more precious to Oryou-san than frogs.”

The man could feel his face reddening too, so he hid it quickly with his hat. “Oh, if you say so. Now, let’s hurry up. We have lots of work to do, after all.”