After the mess her mother came home to in the living room as well as
upstairs during Corine’s visit, Rina found it a bit easier to ask to go
out. Considering how quickly her mother agreed to let her go out with
Hibiki after her previous resistance she had had to assume that her
mother finally wanted her to get out of the house for a while. It was a
bit of a relief to finally start to feel as though she had her life
back, but she worried she might be regaining her freedom for all the
She tried not to worry about it though. At least while she was out of
the house she had something else to focus her mind on. Today Hibiki was
taking her to meet with Penny. She would finally have answers to her
questions. Those questions had been eating away at her for the past few
weeks. She had hoped to find answers while talking to Hibiki, but he had
been almost as far in the dark as her, but he had been able to point
her in the right direction. He was even good enough to take her to the
person who could give her the answers she so desperately wanted and
Riding in Hibiki’s car again took her back to a better time. She felt
almost normal again — the way she felt before she got sick and stayed
in the hospital. For a little while, at least, she managed to pretend
nothing had gone wrong at all. They talked about Hibiki’s classes —
finals were just around the corner. She hoped he would still find time
to be with her in between all of the papers he needed to write and the
studying he needed to do. She avoided mentioning her concern though
because she did not want to be the girlfriend that distracted him from
his studies and messed up his plans to graduate early.
They also avoided discussing the topic that brought about his outing
in the first place. Rina’s nerves would not allow her to even broach the
topic, and fortunately for her Hibiki seemed to be content to keep this
discussion relatively insubstantial. She only regretted the light,
essentially useless conversation a little bit. She would prefer to have
her time with Hibiki actually mean something in the long run, but she
knew it would be impossible for every moment of their time together to
be filled with meaningful conversation.
As the drive continued on and the casual conversation started to
peter out she found herself starting to worry about the outcome of her
meeting with Penny. She wanted answers, but she did not know if she
would get any satisfaction from the answers she received or if she would
be left with even more questions and another long process to find the
That worry ate away at her and by the time they reached their
destination her nerves had managed to work themselves up into a frenzy.
Hibiki looked over at her. “Are you okay?” he asked, “You’re looking a little pale.”
She nodded. “I’m fine. Just a little nervous.”
“Are you going to be okay going in there?”
“Yeah. Let’s just do it before I lose my nerve.”
She tried to smile but it came out all wrong and she felt like crying
instead. She tried to take a deep breath and it caught in her throat.
All of her willpower went into keeping herself from crying. No matter
what she felt inside, no matter the amount of panic she felt right now
she would not allow herself to back out of this visit. Getting answers
was too important to allow her own discomfort or anxiety to slow her
Hibiki offered her his hand, and she gladly took it. Just that small
bit of human contact was enough to act as a conduit. She felt her
anxieties begin to lessen as she sensed his calm steadiness. Her worries
were still there, but feeling that he had faith that the answers were
just around the corner helped her to reign in her own thoughts. He
helped her to form a bit of a barrier to keep everything from boiling
“We’re just here to ask questions and hopefully get some answers.
Knowing the truth can only make things better. Not knowing is the scary
“Right,” she agreed. Her voice still shook, but she actually agreed
with him. Hearing it said out loud made all the difference in the world.
They were meeting Penny at her house, which meant waiting on her
porch after ringing her doorbell. Somehow waiting there, and knowing she
would be sitting in someone’s home rather than somewhere more
impersonal like an office helped calm her down even more. She would not
have to worry about a clinical environment here. Most of her excursions
out of the house these days involved doctor’s office visits so office
buildings felt like an odd combination of stressful and annoying to her
these days. Not going through that today was a blessing. Having Hibiki
with her through this was a blessing. Finally getting answers was a
blessing. She just wished she could stop worrying.
They probably waited about thirty seconds for Penny to answer the
door, but the way Rina’s mind was racing made her feel as though they
were left out in the crisp autumn air for much, much longer. She took a
few deep breaths to clear her head, and she wanted to believe it made a
difference, but she also knew she was still worrying herself to the
verge of feeling light headed.
Almost before she had a chance to realize things were happening she
was finally introduced to Penny and ushered into her home. Her brain
finally started to catch back up to the events taking place when they
were already sitting in her living room on a surprisingly soft couch.
She felt extremely unprepared right now. All of her questions that felt
so pressing such a short time ago seemed to fly right out of her head
now that the time to ask them had arrived.
Penny seemed to accept that she would need to wait a moment or two
before she would be ready to ask any questions. Just being in this room,
having a moment to look around, had a soothing effect on her. She could
not place exactly what about it helped her calm down, but she wanted to
keep at least one foot firmly grounded in reality so she refused to
give credit to anything metaphysical, even if she was sitting in the
presence of someone she willingly believed to have psychic abilities.
“So,” Penny began. “Hibiki said you had some questions for me. I’d be happy to help if I can.”
After a moment of awkward silence Hibiki chimed in. “Yeah. Rina asked
me some things and I didn’t know how to answer so I thought we should
come here and ask you since you’re the one who actually showed up and
They both looked at her and she squirmed a bit under the weight of
their expectations for her to speak. She had these questions. She needed
to ask them to get answers, but now that the time had come to take
action she felt frozen. If she spoke now she was afraid that she would
start to cry. That would just add a brand new layer of humiliation to
what was already turning into a painfully awkward situation.
Rina took a deep breath and forced herself to say something before
the situation got any more awkward than it already was. She swallowed
hard to keep the tears at bay and said the first thing that came to her
“Well, you see,” she stammered while her mind scrambled to actually
put her worries and questions into words. “I was sort of wondering what
happened to me and if I’m really better or if I could just suddenly get
sick all over again.”
Penny sighed. “I wish I had an easy answer for you. To be honest I’m
not sure how to explain what I know. You see, um, it’s not so much about
knowing as it is about feeling something was wrong and fixing it.”
“Oh. So you don’t really know whether or not I’m going to be okay in a month or a year.”
“Rina, your spirit, your soul was trying to detach from your body. I
know that sounds bad — it really was bad, but at the same time, it felt
as though it was tethered to your body by some force I’ve never felt
before. If your soul left your body you’d be as good as dead, but that
tether saved you. It left you a tangled up mess, but you’re still here.”
“But you fixed me. Does that mean I’ll die if it happens again?”
“I can’t say for sure,” Penny said as she shook her head sadly. “That
tether is still there so in theory it will perform the same function a
“I can’t tell you anything definite. This is so far outside my
previous experience I don’t even know where to begin connecting the
“Do you know anyone that might be able to offer us any more of an explanation?” Hibiki asked.
Rina sighed in relief. She was grateful that the question was out
there and the burden of asking all of the questions did not rest on her
Penny stood up and left the room. “I know I have a card here somewhere,” she shouted back over her shoulder.
Rina took the chance to glance over at Hibiki. She knew she would not
be nearly this calm if she was here on her own. She would not be here
at all if it were not for him. He did so much to help and support her
and she did not think she would ever be able to properly express the
depth of her gratitude.
He caught her looking at him and gave her a reassuring smile. She
reached over and gave his hand a squeeze. She could not think of
anything to say to him right now — not when they could be interrupted by
Penny’s return at any moment. She needed time to properly get those
words out, and a few fleeting seconds would not do.
After a lot of drawer slamming in another room Penny returned with a business card and presented it to Rina.
“This is Dr. Charlotte’s card. She taught me everything I know, and
she’s been studying this metaphysical stuff for at least twenty years.
She’s seen and been through things I can’t even imagine. If you want
more answers she’s going to be your next, best step.”
“Okay,” Rina agreed, holding the card in her hand by the very edges.
To her, at least, it felt like she had just received a piece to a
precious, extremely delicate puzzle. Even smudging it with her
fingerprints seemed like it might be enough of a violation to break the
spell and she dared not risk it just yet.
“I know it’s not exactly what you were looking for today, and I can’t
even guarantee she’ll be able to help you with all of your questions,
but it should be better than searching for answers all on your own.”
Rina had to admit getting some answers and a clue as to where to look
next was better than being left without knowing anything at all. She
could not begrudge Penny for not having all the answers. She did not
even know if she was asking the right questions. Having someone — a true
expert — might be for the best after all. Part of why Penny could not
help was because neither party had a full understand of the situation.
Charlotte had more experience and might have answers even if Rina did
not understand or know enough to ask the right questions.
A step in the right direction might be less than she had hoped for,
but it was something at least. Rina refused to allow herself to feel
anything less than gratitude.
* * *
After getting herself established as a skilled detector of various
barriers and dimensional walls Yuzuki started to accompany Souma along
on missions for the smugglers from time to time. She tried not to think
too hard about the fact that they were doing something that was probably
illegal in all of the worlds involved, but sometimes it still bothered
her. She would much rather be helping people in an honest way rather
than just doing something to make as much money as possible. She still
liked to feel useful, and most days feeling useful was more important to
her than simply doing the right thing.
Sometimes she still stayed home. There were times that she had things
to do there that could not wait. Other times Souma just did not think
it would be a good idea for her to go along. Those were usually the
missions he knew would be dangerous or he would end up doing things that
would cause them to be separated. He still did not like the idea of
leaving her alone in strange places, and she really could not fault him
for it. She did not like the idea of being left alone in those
situations either. She was not a fighter and getting caught in a strange
place by strange creatures meant she might not have a valid way to
This particular mission had caught them both off guard. They had not
expected to be stuck going this far out or being gone for so long. It
had been tougher on Yuzuki than the others in that regard. She just did
not have the strength or endurance to make up for the dwindling
supplies, and after a few days traveling she did start to feel homesick,
which put her spirits even lower. Souma tried to cheer her up, but they
were both rather reserved while in front of others, and this time they
had a whole group of people they were working with every day.
The group still scattered every night to see up separate camps to
prevent everyone from being detected at once. At night they were able to
Souma frequently expressed his concern that the pace was too rigorous
for Yuzuki to handle, and every time she insisted she was keeping up
just fine. Overall her spirits were still high, but the truth was that
her body was starting to protest the excessive amount of traveling.
The night the blisters started to get rubbed raw she could not hide
the difficulty she was having any longer. She took off her shoes and saw
blood on her socks. There was no way to hide it from Souma who
descended on her and immediately set to work trying to figure out what
herbs he could grow to help heal her wounds.
She tried to insist that it would be a waste of perfectly good
bandages that the might need for something more serious later, but he
would hear none of it. She ended up making a short list of antiseptic
herbs for him to grow just so he would stop hovering over her. The herbs
did help a bit and once she had a bit of relief it was hard to regret
giving in to his demands.
The next day was the hardest. She had been fine until she put her
shoes back on. Then she was back to having all of the painful places on
her feet getting worried by the shoes all over again. As soon as she
started to walk funny Souma was hovering again and worrying over her.
He apologized time and time again for giving her shoes that did not
fit properly. He promised her the next time he bought her shoes that he
would be sure to take her along, and he made her promise to tell him if
the next pair of shoes did not fit her feet to absolutely perfect
specifications. Then it became a lecture about how she needed to speak
up about these things before they became a problem for her.
She reached the point where she had to start ignoring him. His worry
had been reasonable at first, but now he was starting to get out of
control with his concern again. She was going to have to put a stop to
She put her hands on her hips and told him just as simply as could be
that she had made a mistake and learned her lesson. There would be time
to fix the mistake later but for now she would just have to live with
By then he had already come up with another plan. Their destination
was not more than an hour away from where they had made camp. Not
everyone in the current party was needed to collect the items. It would
not be safe for Yuzuki to stay behind and rest by herself, but she would
not be bothered if a few others stayed with her.
Yuzuki was fine with the idea of staying off her feet for a few more
hours, but as soon as Souma mentioned that he would still have to go on
ahead with the rest of the group she immediately did not like the idea
“I’m not staying behind without you,” she stated in her most definitive tone of voice.
“I can’t stay behind. We won’t be able to get through the overgrowth
without burning through it unless I’m there to coax it into making way.
You can’t go with us or you end up falling behind and then you’ll be
completely alone. Hisao and Katsu aren’t really needed until we make the
drop so they can stay behind with you and make sure no one bothers
“I don’t want to stay here with Hisao and Katsu. I don’t know them.
They’ve barely said two words to me and we’ve been traveling for five
days with them.”
“They hardly talk at all. They’re pretty much muscle. Handy in a
fight, but not exactly made for conversation. At least no one will give
you any trouble with them round.”
“I don’t like it. I don’t want to be left behind.”
“We aren’t going to get the job done if we have to wait for you to
get there with us, and if we don’t finish this job we’re going to get in
a lot of trouble. It’s too important to risk it.”
She tried keeping her mouth shut and just glaring at him. It was
woefully ineffective. She knew she was probably the least intimidating
person Souma dealt with in his everyday life, but she still hoped that
she had some tricks up her sleeve. Apparently intimidation was not a
skill she had.
When that failed she tried begging again. “Souma, please.”
“No. Yuzu. This is the way it has to be. I’m not letting this job
fall through and I’m not letting you tear yourself to pieces trying to
keep up with the rest of us when it is perfectly possible for you to
rest and heal up for a while before your part of the job comes in.”
She just stared at him with anger seething just beneath the surface.
He was obviously not going to budge and she knew it was futile for her
to try to follow after them against his wishes. She would only end up
hurting herself if she tried to keep up.
He was going to get his way and she hated that she could not do
anything about it. She hated that she could not have an argument with
him where they could go toe to toe with each other. Someone always
seemed to have won the fight before it had even begun. It was unsettling
in her opinion.
“I don’t like it,” she warned him.
“Just be patient. I won’t be gone for long. We’ll be back together by noon.”