Styx: 008

After he calmed down, Xavier climbed out of the bath and discovered that his pajamas had been replaced with a towel and clean set of clothes similar to those he had seen Yukio wearing. He had some conflicted feelings about that; on the one hand, clean clothes sounded like pure heaven, and his pajamas had honestly been starting to fall apart in places after only three days of trekking through the desert. On the other, he hadn't noticed anyone enter at all, and it was both creepy and embarrassing to think that someone might have seen him crying alone in the bath.

Nothing he could do about it now, though, so Xavier struggled into the unfamiliar clothes as best he could and exited to find the old goat woman now with a much higher stack of folded towels and a much lower stack of unfolded ones. She grunted at him, and pointed toward the outside door, so Xavier bowed, said «Thank you very much,» and exited the building.

Yukio was crouched with his back up against the building across the way, playing some sort of game with rocks in the dirt. When Xavier came out, he tossed the rocks he'd been holding down, and stood.

«Ah, Zabi-kun, you're looking much better!» Yukio strode up to Xavier and before Xavier could protest began peremptorily adjusting his clothing. «You're definitely not used to our clothing, though, huh?»

«Thank you very much.» Xavier wasn't a huge fan of having a cat boy re-dress him in the middle of the street or alley or whatever you would classify these walkways between buildings, but he was intensely grateful to be clean.

«Feels good to be clean, yeah? Alright, this way. Come, Zabi-kun.»

Xavier followed along after the agile cat boy. «Where?» Ugh, he wanted to speak in something other than one word sentence fragments so badly.

Yukio appeared to understand what he was asking, at least. «The elders want to see you and figure out what to do with a human who has wandered into a bakuhito settlement. You've caused quite the uproar!»

Not that getting an answer from the fast-talking Yukio did Xavier any good. Still, he followed along with good will. Of all the animal people he had encountered so far, Yukio had made it clear through his actions and attention that he cared about Xavier's well-being. Even if Xavier had no idea why. Maybe cat people were just generally friendly by nature? He supposed some house cats he'd known were sort of like that.

Yukio led him to the large building he had noticed dominating one side of the central town square. Xavier was surprised to find the inside appeared to be entirely one big open room that was built down into the floor with descending ledges, some of which were lined with benches, others of which were empty. The very bottom level was spacious enough to accommodate a large number of chairs arranged in a semi-circle, most of which were filled with old animal people. Yukio led Xavier down to the bottom level, hopping carelessly from one ledge to the next while Xavier let himself down more carefully. At the bottom, he urged Xavier to sit on the frontmost of a series of three benches that were placed in front of the semi-circle of elders, and then plopped down next to him with an air of utter unconcern.

Xavier looked nervously around. Aside from the old animal people, there was a scattering of other animal people occupying various benches, and with the exception of one hodge-podge section directly behind him nearest the doors they were roughly segregated by type of animal, with wolves to his left, lizard-people directly across from him, and goats to his right.

«So this is the human we've been hearing so much about,» said an old wolf-person seated in the very front row. «What are we going to do with you, boy? How did you end up in Henka?»

«He doesn't speak very much of the language,» cut in Yukio.

The old wolf gave the cat-boy a withering glare before turning his attention back to Xavier. «That true, human? You don't speak our language? Well? You understand?»

Ah, he caught that last bit. «I don't understand.»

«Hmph. That certainly makes this more difficult. You've been with the human almost constantly since he was discovered, have you not, Yukio-kun? You tell the story.»

While Yukio talked, Xavier looked around the room he was in. This was obviously the political body for this town; though he had no idea how they were chosen, it was pretty clear that the decision makers were these elders and that they were discussing what to do with him. It was incredibly frustrating that he couldn't advocate for himself, although from Yukio's passionate speaking he guessed he had a decent advocate already.

Even so, he was nervous. If the elders threw him out, he literally had nowhere else to go, and he didn't relish getting stranded in the desert a second time. He knew from a practical standpoint that he'd likely survive—he hadn't noticed any flags getting triggered yet that indicated a bad isekai path—but trusting in the genre was not exactly his strong point.

Come to think, what was the most likely genre-appropriate event at this point? If he were an over-powered character, his plot armor would have protected him from this annoying language barrier and he likely would have saved the lives of multiple people already, leaving them all gratefully in his debt. As a "normal boy caught in the fantastic" he was likely expected to rely on the good friends he'd formed thanks to manga coincidences—which he supposed was actually what was happening. Huh. Strange to think the genre likely considered Yukio his bosom buddy already, even though he barely knew anything about him at all.

Yukio appeared to finally be winding down, and some of the elders in the back started talking amongst themselves. Xavier tugged lightly at Yukio's sleeve. «Yukio-san. Is good?»

«We'll just have to wait and see, Zabi-kun,» said Yukio cheerfully. «Wait.»


An old wolf woman was speaking. «What are we supposed to do with a human we can't even speak to? He's a waste of water. And appearing out of the Deadlands? That's highly suspicious. Have we verified that he's not a youkai? Some sort of shape-changer, perhaps?»

«That seems unlikely,» croaked a stooped lizard man. «He's been in direct contact with several of our most powerful Vigor channelers and hasn't made a single aggressive move. The neko claims he even helped against the true youkai.»

«Cat tales,» growled one of the wolves, prompting glares from several of the other elders and nods or grunts of affirmation from others.

«Yukio-kun's behavior has been above reproach, and he is not the subject of this meeting,» said a large, white-furred goat man. «I am more interested in this 'siphoning' business. Are there any objections to me testing the human?»

There were sounds of assent and nods throughout the company. The goat man stood up and paused briefly with his eyes closed. For some reason, Xavier's focus was immediately pulled to the old goat, and he was surprised to see the muscles on the man's right arm ripple and expand.

There were murmurs throughout the audience. Apparently this was something unusual.

Once the goat man's arm stopped buffing itself up, he approached Xavier and held out his right hand.

«Take his hand, Zabi-kun. Hand,» said Yukio. As if Xavier couldn't have figured that out from context.

Feeling nervous and hoping this unexpectedly ripped old goat person didn't decide to hit him like the bird girl, Xavier reached out and gingerly touched the man's hand. At first nothing changed, but then the muscles of the man's arm rippled once again and began to gradually collapse in on themselves. It was the strangest sensation, and Xavier couldn't place it. His hand on the old man's felt warm? Except he wasn't actually feeling any heat. It was something else, some indefinable sense that he'd never experienced before. Well, he supposed he had in retrospect experienced it before, but this was the most extended time someone in this world had touched him; most of them seemed to be curious, but unwilling to come into prolonged contact. After a short period of time—but longer than it had taken to bulk up—the man's arm was back to normal.

«Fascinating,» grunted the goat man, and when Xavier went to withdraw his hand, the old man grabbed it. «Wait just a moment.» Xavier dutifully waited, but nothing else seemed to happen, and the indescribable sensation he had been feeling had ebbed away into nothing. At last the goat man let go of his hand, bowed slightly to him, and walked back to the other elders.

«Yukio-kun told the truth of it,» he said shortly, and sat down.

That seemed to stump the other elders for a moment, before the cantankerous wolf woman spoke up again. «So the cat boy wants us to take in a suspect human who siphons the Vigor of anyone he touches, and this serves the interests of Henka in what way exactly?»

«That ability would certainly be useful against youkai,» remarked one of the lizard people quietly.

«Ah, yes, the types of youkai who by the neko's own admission the human hid from like a craven. It was only by chance he helped the extermination instead of hindering it!»

That caused a mild uproar, but the elder's voices died down when the old goat man's gruff voice rang out. «What of the Antean?»

«What of her?» snapped the wolf woman. «Two outsiders aren't better than one, and so far she too has been nothing but a drain on our resources!»

«But perhaps this human might be able to help the Antean, at least in the short term. Her pain could well be alleviated by his siphoning, which would give us a chance to find a more long-term cure. And with the Society in our debt…»

That caused the whole mood in the room to shift, and the elders broke down in chatter amongst themselves.

«The Antean…» mused Yukio to himself.

Xavier tugged on his sleeve once again. «What is Antean?»

Yukio gave him a considering look, and then with a sparkle in his eyes spread his arms wide. «The Antean is BIG!»