Styx: 046

The hallway, when Xavier peeked his head out of his door, was deserted. From Hinata-san's description, he knew that the dining hall was down the hall to his right and around the far corner. Meanwhile, the entryway and the room where he'd faced off with Guujin was to his left. He briefly considered the left-hand hall, but decided against it. The odds of running into whoever was manning the front desk were too high, and he suspected that would cut any potential exploration time short. "If you see any maids, let me know," he said under his breath to Princess. "They're guaranteed to be trouble."

Looking right, he discovered that the next door down had been cracked open and Sumiko's head was poking out in a mirror to his own. She grinned as their eyes met. «I see I'm not the only one who is curious about what sort of trouble we've landed ourselves in.»

Xavier stepped into the hallway with a rueful smile. «Yeah, I was thinking about exploring a little. I'm not a huge fan of just sitting around waiting for someone to decide my fate.»

The door across the hall flew open, and Yukio bounded out. «Hey, what's going on? Is that Sumiko-san I hear? Oh hey, Zabi-kun!»

«We were considering doing a little exploring,» said Sumiko. «You want to join us?»

Yukio frowned. «I don't know, guys, I don't think we should.»

Xavier and Sumiko both stared at Yukio, non-plussed. «Uh, Yukio-san?» said Xavier. «You are Yukio-san, right? You're not feeling sick or anything?»

«You're hilarious,» grumbled Yukio. «Look, I was the last one who got called out for single combat against that crazy mobile artifact, and Kahina-san and I had a few moments alone beforehand. She explicitly warned me to follow any instructions I was given to the letter today. I get the feeling that curiosity is highly desired once you're part of the Society, but they're not too forgiving of outsiders snooping into their business.»

«Hmm,» said Xavier. That was problematic. A direct injunction against exploring from Kahina changed the potential risk versus reward a lot. On the one hand, he was tempted to do it anyway; the random coincidence that lead to him learning about it smacked of manga narrative. On the other, this wasn't his home with a supportive family to back him up and protect him from the consequences of his mistakes. «Damn it. Well, do you two want to talk in one of our rooms, at least? I really don't feel like sitting around staring at a wall until dinner.»

«Now that I can do!»

«What, you? Talk?» said Sumiko in mock shock.

Yukio grumbled good-naturedly and herded them all back into Xavier's room.

«Alright, spill it,» said Xavier once they were seated in a loose semi-circle on the floor, the bed being the only other real seating in the space. «What was up with Guujin-san? I didn't know that sort of thing was even possible.»

Yukio held up his hands. «Don't look at me! I just about had a heart attack when I walked through the door and that thing attacked me. I have no idea what it is.»

«I think I'd heard about it before,» said Sumiko softly. «This was many years ago, but my family's trade route took us near the Confederacy every few years, and there were some crazy rumors about a living artifact that looked like a human which I'm guessing were about Guujin-sama. I didn't take it very seriously at the time, but now I wonder how much of what we were told was true.»

«Well, don't hold out on us!» exclaimed Yukio. «What were the rumors?»

Sumiko looked apologetic. «I honestly don't remember very much; I was very. I think the story was something like an eccentric genius in Sunda had invented a living artifact, but it went on a rampage, killed its creator, and fled to the Confederacy.»

Yukio stared at her in clear disappointment. «That's it? Come on, that's way too vague. I get you heard this as a kid, but they didn't have any good stories about it? There's no way.»

Sumiko shrugged. «None of the other Araiguma Traders thought it was anything but a tall tale. And we never dealt much in artifacts, so it's not like it had anything to do with us.»

Yukio sighed. «You usually tell such good stories, Sumiko-san, but you clearly lack a poet's soul.»

«Well excuse me, most poetic of cats,» teased Sumiko back.

Xavier frowned, though not at Yukio and Sumiko's back and forth. «So you don't think there could be other artifacts like Guujin-san?»

«Well, that was the one thing that my family really cared about, actually,» said Sumiko. «The follow-up to the story was that a few months afterward when one of the surviving assistants tried to recreate his late master's masterwork, he was found dead in his lab, with the artifact he'd been working on completely destroyed, and his notes destroyed or missing. Word was there were enough similar instances that it was risky even to trade certain materials that the original inventor had been making extensive use of. I forget what the components were—I was too young to really care at the time—but I do remember some of the adults taking it seriously.»

«Agh, see there you go again! The proper way to tell that would be more like: several of the genius's assistants tried to recreate their master's accomplishment, but each time they were found dead in their labs, their creations in pieces around them. And every time the original artifact would be missing for several weeks to a month at a time right around when—»

Sumiko interrupted him with a lightning-fast smack upside the head, and Yukio fell back laughing.

Xavier privately wondered how far off the mark Yukio had been, though. Having a high-placed individual with a murderous hidden agenda would certainly be a classic manga plotline…not that it mattered much to him at the moment. He'd have to chalk this one down to foreshadowing, and point it out to Princess the next time they were alone.

«Did Guujin-san fight both of you?» Xavier asked. «He attacked me as soon as I walked through the door, although thankfully the practice I've been doing with Princess allowed me to stop him pretty quick. We were halfway convinced he was going to try and kill us regardless afterward, though. He said some stuff about us being a threat to him that was kind of disturbing.»

«Yeah, he attacked me straight in the door, too,» said Yukio. «Kind of freaked me out, honestly. I sure wasn't expecting to face some sort of golem or whatever he is, so I froze up for a few seconds. Dodged his first swing, though, and managed to get my hands on a spear that let me keep him off me after that. We traded a few blows back and forth, then he sped up, disarmed me, and sent me on my way. Freakiest thing that's happened to me in a long while. What about you, Sumiko-san?»

«He tried to attack me, as well.»

Xavier blinked. «Tried?»

Sumiko shrugged. «I avoided him, and once I'd maneuvered him into a position from which I could successfully escape out the door I'd come in he stopped attacking.»

Yukio gave Sumiko a hard look. «You were absolutely wasted in that wayhouse, Sumiko-san.»

Sumiko merely smiled at him without offering a rejoinder.

«So what did Guujin-san say to you two? Did he let you into the Society?»

Yukio-san shook his head. «No such luck. Said he'd need to consider things.»

«The same for me.»

«Huh, I got the same spiel. I wonder if that's just part of his standard test procedure.»

Yukio nodded. «It's possible. That might explain why Kahina-san decided to warn me against exploring.»

Sumiko gave him a wry look. «Or she just knows you.»

«Hey! Who was it who tried to sneak off and get themselves into trouble, huh? You two are just lucky I have good hearing and caught you yakking out there in the hall.»

Xavier laughed. It was good to finally be able to talk with his two friends in private again. He wasn't sure why he felt more at home with the bakuhito than with many of the actual humans he'd run into, but despite the current uncertainty of what would happen to them all just having them here in his room with him was making his anxiety subside.

Although come to think of it, the main character relying more on demi-humans than humans was pretty damn common in isekai. Shit, he'd absolutely fallen into that trope head-first.