Styx: 045

Hinata-san showed Xavier to a room down the hall, told him how to reach the dining hall, and asked him to wait to head there until he heard three bells.

As soon as the door was shut behind him, Xavier flung his pack down in a corner and collapsed on the bed, Princess crawling off his shoulder to sit nearby. It was possibly the first time he'd been alone—to the extent that he was ever alone, given Princess's insistence on being in physical contact at all times—in over a month.

"What the hell is up with this place?"

He'd meant it rhetorically—he was talking to himself—but Princess answered. "It is certainly not what I expected. I would not have believed an artifact could gain sentience if I hadn't seen it myself, much less lead a group of non-artificial beings."

Xavier flopped his head over to look at Princess. "I was more talking about the whole 'trial by combat' thing, but yeah finding a robot in charge was unexpected."

Princess tilted her flower. "Robot?"

"Uh, machine? Artificial human?"

"These must be concepts from your original reality."

"Yeah, sorry. Anyway, I'm really curious if there are other creatures like this Guujin-san running around. Or is he unique? I thought I had a bead on the genre when I ran into a cat person, but maybe we're in for a robot uprising?"

"Ah, right, your assertion that we are characters manipulated by an external agency. Any predictions about where the Society for Progress will fit into this plot?"

Xavier threw his arm over his eyes and addressed the colored lights that danced on the insides of his eyelids. "I don't know. I feel like I've wandered off the edge of the isekai map. I would have expected to get thrust into some sort of national-level emergency at this point, but maybe we avoided that when we fled the Sundlin army? Then again, it would be pretty classic isekai to have an initial brush with an evil army of some sort, then run into them again after regrouping and gaining abilities…which, I guess I kind of have. Huh. That's not so good."

Xavier sat up and scooted so he was leaning up against the wall that ran along the far edge of the bed. Princess had her flower pointed his way again, watching him, he supposed, through whatever senses she used. He'd never been able to get a coherent description of how she experienced the world. "So you expect a large-scale conflict to break out in the near future. Fair enough. What about short-term? What will happen with this audition?"

Xavier shrugged. "Like I said, I don't really have a lot to work with. I didn't get any over-powered abilities when I was sent to this world, which means I have a lot fewer stories to draw on for figuring out tropes. Also, I'm not sure to what extent I've been able to force the genre to shift by avoiding some of the obvious conflicts."

"Well, put it another way, then: what do you want to happen? And will you get what you want?"

"I want to have Guujin-san accept us into the Society for Progress so that I can maybe get some actual work done figuring out how to get home. But now that I think about it…shit, that's not going to happen that easily, is it?"

"Why not?"

"It's too convenient. There's two main paths isekai characters walk: either they get tossed into big conflicts they don't understand, and through shared adversity and being total ass-kickers come to appreciate their new life more than their old one, or they leave the world to its devices, settle down, and slice-of-life it up until they're so attached to their new life, neighbors, love interest, or what-have-you that they don't really want to go home. There's some variation, I suppose, but the important thing is that right when they arrive in the new world and have the highest likely motivation to find a way out, they don't have any good chance to look for one."

"And you think it's too early for you."

"It's definitely too early." Xavier looked away. "I'm homesick every day. There's no way that Guujin-san will simply let us in."

Princess crawled up into Xavier's lap and leaned up against his stomach. It wasn't as nice as having a cat curl up in his lap, but he supposed it would do. He gently ruffled some of her outer leaves. "So you're predicting Guujin-san will not simply allow us to stay. Noted. I am still not fully convinced about the idea of some predictable plot driving our lives, but your accuracy so far has been unexpectedly high. What will we do, then?"

Xavier smiled. "We" indeed. "I think we still need the help of the Society for Progress, so we'll have to see what Guujin-san says. I'm guessing there will be at least one more trial before they'll actually throw any resources behind us, though, so we'll have to play that by ear. If we're lucky, whatever it is will allow us to stay in the chapter house, since we can at least get a feeling for the people and resources here in that case. On the plus side, it didn't sound like he was going to do any more trials by combat, though I suppose you never know. We'll just have to rise to the challenge, I guess." Xavier sighed. He was getting sick of rising to the challenge.

"Well, whatever comes, at least being on edge like this means that it's safer for me on your shoulder than in that damn sack!"

Xavier laughed. "Always looking on the bright side, huh?"

"You know it! So, are we actually going to laze around in this room, or does your narrative allow you to explore?"

"That's—a really good question. I can't really think of any applicable tropes, but curiosity is almost always rewarded, far as I can recall."

"Well, then!" Princess clambered back up to Xavier's shoulder, and swung a vine toward the door. "After you."