Changing Handsby Chika (Chris Johnson), Lorna Appleby & Dot Warner
Part One: Finding My Way
Chris watched as Oyuki started to pack up her things. Faithful as she might have been, Chris knew that oyuki had a calling that would always take first place with her, and now it was calling to her strongly and nothing he could say would change that. Why he had to keep watching successive passings was a mystery to him, and it didn't get any easier each time it happened. He remembered back to Mistie and her passing, though it hadn't seemed so traumatic as this one, but perhaps that was just time doing its usual thing to his memory.
"Is there absolutely nothing that would keep you here, Oyuki?" he asked, just in case there was. But Oyuki just shook her head sadly. Chris could tell that this was eating her up too.
"I have been here for three years or more, but I knew that my time was short. You know that. If I were truly..."
"No need for explanations, Oyuki," Chris cut across her. "I know that side of it, and I know that you must go back, but I'll miss you." With that, the two hugged....
"Hey, Mads," Chris said, looking up from his drink, "ever here from Oyuki anymore?"
He would have to ask that one, Madoka thought.
"You know that I have very little contact with my home," Madoka replied, somewhat darkly. "Mind you..."
Chris gulped. A cold dread was creeping into him that had last been felt years earlier.
"You are thinking about going back yourself?"
"Looks cold today," She said, trying to lift her own spirits if not Chris's.
Chris said nothing.
"Mmm? What is it? Madoka-neechan, it's still dark!"<
"I think I've been called back."
Chika sat up. "You sure? I mean, you've not been here that long."
"Longer than you," Madoka replied with a half-hearted giggle. "I mean I can't just walk out and leave it!"
"Granny Oyuki did though."
"Oyuki didn't have the Retreat to worry about. I can see now why she didn't get involved in responsibilities now. Must have been really easy for her to go."
"You have to stop her, Chris-san! She'll go if you don't!"
Chris immediately guessed what was happening. He bent down and wiped Chika's tears away and said in as calming a voice as he could; "Chika, you know that it comes to all of you eventually. One day you'll be called back and there will be nothing that will stop you. Madoka is going through that now, and I can't do anything about that."
"But what will happen to everything? Can't she just ignore it?"
"You know better than I do that she can't ignore it. She's probably as upset as we are but..."
Chris heard a sound from behind the bar. He got up and went to look. "Well, that's a novel way of doing it, but I don't think it's going to help, Mads."
Madoka looked blearily up and tried to guess which Chris had said that.
"Why thank you, Madoka," Oyuki replied. "Good to see you again."
"I don't think so," Chris replied. "I think I need a change of scenery. This place has been too close for the last few years and I'm beginning to get a bit tired of it."
"So go on a holiday! It'll still be here when you come back!"
"Not the same though." He felt like saying that the place would not be the same without Madoka Donguri, the hacking barkeep and resident moderator of #microsoftsux who did more than anyone else to stabilise the ever-expanding wall of sake. "So what will happen to Chika?"
"I've arranged for her to go and stay with Shinobu for a while."
"Shinobu? You mean she's still about?"
"Oh yeah, She just set up a place in Hokkaido and isn't doing too bad either!" Madoka informed him, climbing down from the stepladder.
The solicitor looked at the red-headed creature in front of him and mopped his brow.
"I take it that you are new to this country."
"How can you tell?"
"It is not traditional to remove the yukata as well as the shoes when entering a house..."
"What was that for?" she asked. She had never really got romantically involved with anyone, but Chris was probably closer to family anyway so she didn't mind it but he had never really expressed any feelings for her until now.
"Call it a going away present," Chris said with a half-smile.
"Well, it isn't much but it does have a link between GRIT and that place over there."
"So what is it?"
Chris looked out through the main entrance, but everything was in flux. From nowhere a voice muttered words that seemed incomprehensible at first, then resolved themselves.
Chris shouted "Nene Romanova" into it and the mood seemed to increase.
From the midst of this, as if in answer to this, came a person. "And you are?"
"I'm Chris and that is Madoka."
"Really?" said the character. "Hmm..." He turned away to rejoin the melee, and added over his shoulder "Ayunami Rei is cuter than Nene Romanova."
Chris fumed and shouted back "No she ain't!"
Madoka shook her head and moved over to on of the walls which seemed to be trying to produce something. Something that looked suspiciously like sake...
"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!" The sound echoed through out CAPOW as a short, red-headed elf pounded on the locked door of the retreat. "I WANT MY CHOCOLATE SUNDAES! I WANT MY ICE CREAM! I WANT MY CHOCOLATE ROOTBEER FLOATS! YOU CAN'T LEAVE! YOU CAN'T GO! MAAAAAAAAAADOKA-SAN!!!!!!!!"
Tenris stood to one side, scratching his head nervously, "Kattarina.. people are staring.."
"I DON'T CARE! MADOKA CAN'T LEAVE! SHE *UNDERSTOOD* WHEN I TALKED ABOUT POLARITY AND CHIPS, AND.. AND.. WAH! MAAADOKA-SAN! YOU CAN'T GO!!!"
Tenris coughed, "Kattarina, she has obviously already left. Hence the 'closed' sign and locked doors."
Katt folded her arms across her chest and slunk down the door, hitting pavement as she leaned up against the door looking defiant. "Well, I'm not moving until I get Madoka back."
"It's going to rain soon," Tenris tried to point out as a crowd was starting to grow. He used the same tone a tired parent would use with a particularly unruly child.
"Then I'll get wet." Katt said sulkily. "I don't care. Madoka can't just leave. The Retreat is part of CAPOW, CAPOW isn't the same without the Retreat. Where will Ryan drink coffee? Where will Chika and Elyssa work? Where will Dachend start brawls with everyone who blinks? Where will Jo-chan / kun go for baths? Where will Jinxie chan go for hot chocolate?" Katt sniffed and repeated, "Madoka can't leave."
Tenris sighed and crouched down in front of Katt, "She can live a life too you know, She has the right to leave."
"She's family. Family just doesn't leave. Family says 'see you' not high tails it in the middle of the night. Family doesn't just leave you high and dry when you need an ice cream fix."
Tenris sighed, "Fine, sit here, get cold, get wet. See if I care." Tenris turned tail and marched back across the street to the garage. Of course, knowing Dachend, he'd be there to try and talk sense into the stubborn woman while holding the rain off with an umbrella soon enough.
*Everyone has a right to their own path.*
As if she heard the thought, Katt yelled after him, "I DON'T CARE! I WANT MADOKA-SAN BACK!"
Katt looked up into the slate gray eyes of Samui and wiped the water from her face. "I know."
"You should go home and change." Samui tipped her black umbrella back a bit and observed the sky. "It doesn't look like the weather's clearing up any time soon, and you'll catch a cold if you stay out here like this."
"I don't care," Katt said morosely. "I'm not moving until Madoka comes back."
"In that case..." Samui dug into her pockets and fished out a small pill-looking object. Katt gave a start when Samui tossed this pill into the alleyway next to the Retreat and a small house appeared in its place.
"What in the world...?" Katt jumped up to make sure that she hadn't been imagining things.
"Capsule technology," Samui replied, turning to leave. "It can run on its own power and water supply for at least two or three months, and by then maybe you'll be able to hook some utilities to it."
Katt blinked. Everyone else she had met today had given her a long lecture about accepting the present and moving on. This was certainly very different. "Hey, wait!" she managed to call out.
Samui stopped and turned. "Yes?"
Katt smiled, and for the first time in the day it didn't quite feel forced. "Thanks a lot."
"You're welcome," Samui answered. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm already late for work."
The shower finally lessened a bit, and the sun began peeking out even as the light drizzle continued to fall.
"You take the high road, and I'll take the low road, and we'll be in Scoooooooootland before you knooooooow it!" sang the two voices. Well, it was sort of debatable if Dracho'xian 'sang' per say, since he was a telepathic sword and just put his mind-voice into people's minds directly, but lets just not get picky.
"That's so off key you wouldn't be able to open a lock." Dachend said calmly, revealing his presence. He'd been leaning up against the wall for a while now, trying to figure out why his sword was in the shape of an umbrella and why his girlfriend was sitting in the rain, under the sword-umbrella singing songs; badly.
Katt blinked up at Dachend, "That doesn't make any sense!"
"Sure it does, if you think laterally." Dachend replied with a smirk.
"I think he means to say we couldn't carry a tune in a bucket." Dracho translated.
"That too." Dachend agreed with his stereo-typical smirk.
Katt sighed. "I'm sitting right here until Madoka comes back. I'm not moving. I want a drink and I want Madoka to serve it! I want to sit in fear of the bottles of Sake' coming bouncing down on top of my head! .. You know we could have a new member join CAPOW and we wouldn't even be able to have a Sake' party?!" She glared up at Dachend like it was all his fault.
"So?!" Dachend's grin didn't grow any less as the rain pounded down on him, "There's other bars, y'know."
"But there's no other Madoka's!" Katt protested and probably would have stomped her foot if she wasn't sitting cross-legged on the ground.
"People leave. People have lives. She'll be back or she won't. No reason to sit here and bitch about it."
"I'm not bitching! I'm PROTESTING!"
"Should we sing 'Puff the Magic Dragon?' next?" Dracho asked entirely too innocently.
"Oh god, I'm out of here. When you come to your senses let me know!" Dachend turned and disappeared into the darkness.
Katt looked at Dracho, "Y'know, he's right, singing won't do any good." She sighed, miserably.
"Well, we *did* try.. and it *was* fun.."
"This requires drastic measures, you know." Katt continued, reluctantly. She stood up, leaning Dracho'xian against the door to the Lurker's Retreat. She stood out in the rain, arms spread wide apart.
"FINE! I'LL PAY THE BARTAB! JUST COME BACK MADOKA!!" she yelled into the night.
Part Two: One More Bottle of Sake
Chris walked up to the front door of the Lurkers' Retreat and pushed. Only as it rejected him, locked, did it finally sink in; no more Madoka! He fumbled in his pockets for the key to the door and finally found it lurking at the bottom of a pocket filled with slips of paper and other bits and pieces, some of which spilled out as he pulled the key out.
Inside was a little dusty, maybe a bit drab. The sake wall was full, untouched after the few days that had passed since... no, don't dwell on it! Chika is still here and goodness knows who else might turn up to take over. Certainly not Oyuki; too old, that one! Maybe Shinobu will return from wherever she went after the Annexe went kablooie. It was at that point that Chris realised that he had no actual idea about how big the Donguri family actually was. A few lights cleared the gloom somewhat, but the bar and the snug behind it seemed cold and empty. The fire was out in the snug, and the computer that Mads used for her irc habits lay closed where it had been left, all the goodbyes said to the #microsoftsux channel days before, internet account closed. She'll miss that, Chris thought.
"Mrs. Blob," Chika asked. "Why is it that things have to change?"
Mrs. Blob could only shrug her shoulders, if those could be called shoulders, and say nothing. The Blobs very rarely spoke anyway, and though on this occasion Mrs. Blob could have spoken volumes, but still kept her peace anyhow. To her, Madoka's departure was an anomaly, though her knowledge of the former landlady was somewhat different to other folks any way. Chika finished her tea and went upstairs to greet the first customers.
Chika sighed. "My family is fast running out of members, if you must know. I'm the last true Donguri, but there are a few relatives."
"You mean Oyuki is still alive?!?"
"You knew Granny Oyuki?" Chika was aghast, but then at her age even forty was considered a ripe old age, so Chris took no notice.
"Oyuki and I studied together years ago, long before I knew of this place." Chris took a bottle from the wall. Strangely enough, it didn't replace itself; the wall had not replenished itself since that first day back. "What I'm worried about is who is going to take over this place. I mean, Madoka was perfect for the job, even though I knew she would have to go sooner or later. I just didn't count on it being sooner."
"Ye be strangers in these parts?"
They nodded, a combination of fear of the man and fear of food leaving their mouths prematurly robbing them of speech.
"Ye heave never heard of.... Remi Rah?"
With that, the man started to sink into the ground, yelling "No! No! I didn't mean to say anything! PLEASE NO!!!!"
The three exchanged glances, dumped their bowls and departed, a strangled cry of "Thank you! Come again!" echoing from the closing pit where the man had stood.
"Bloody crossovers," Ranma muttered.
"No," replied Ranma. "Who needs that sort of pressure?" Just then a jeep pulled up by them and a man jumped out.
"Where am I?" he asked.
"Why, don't you know?" Akane asked.
"I don't remember."
The three carried on, leaving him to discuss his future with a lanky woman that just happened to be his passenger.
br> "One bottle of sake on the wall..." Chika solemnly chanted. "One bottle of sake. Take it down and pass it around..." She passed it to Ace who had left his delivery service for the day for the occasion, then the last bottle went around the room, each taking a swig in turn. The song was normally sung in such raucous tones while now it seemed so eery. As the bottle came back to Chika, the door opened, and the three travellers walked in.
"Saotome Ranma des'" Ranma replied. "S'masen!"
The third fumbled with her glasses as she tried to get them as clean as she could given her dusty demeanour. "And I'm..."
"CHIKA!" Samui yelled across the room. "The wall is filling up again!"
Part Three: That Position Has Now Been Filled
"Aw come on, Chika!" one lurker yelled, bravely. "It's been four days now!" Chika turned a stoney glare on the lurker, hoping to emulate Madoka as closely as she could. It wasn't as easy as it looked keeping these lemming-like GRIT jumpers in check as they psyched themselves up for their first leap into the unknown, and Madoka had been fairly good at it but even she occasionally had to reach into Hammerspace and pull out the rubber chicken of doom and give them a good smacking down.
The little beggar was right though. Since arriving in the middle of a rather sombre sake party that suddenly turned raucous when the folk in attendance realised that the "unlimited sake on tap" wall had sprung back into life, the new arrival had been pretty secretive, moving into Madoka's old room as speedily as possible, then nothing! She wasn't a direct Donguri member, that much Chika knew since she knew all of the family. However she must have some link to have had that effect on the wall; Chika was too young to be able to influence the wall yet.
Chris turned up later that day, solving part of the mystery. Madoka's share had been sold on to the new stranger, who apparently had met Madoka short after she had left the Retreat. However this was as much as he knew since this was all the documents on the sale had on the new part owner of the popular bar. However, this would have to be resolved now, since there was a little matter of the future of the Retreat to resolve. Chris went out to the back and up to the first floor and knocked on the door still bearing a name plate for its former owner.
Sitting at a desk piled high with pieces of paper of various origins and meanings, the new owner seemed somewhat tired, but brightened somewhat when she saw that she had a visitor. She stood up and clasped Chris's hand. "I'm so pleased to see someone at last! What on earth is it about these people?"
Chris was puzzled. "How do you mean?"
"Well, everyone seems afraid to come up and see me!"
Chris scratched his head and replied; "Given the nature of the place, I rather think they would prefer to see you down there!"
"Eh? Oh! Yes, I suppose they would... anyway, to whom do I have the pleasure of... er...."
"Chris Johnson. I'm your business partner, formerly Ms. Donguri's partner."
"Miyuki," replied Chris's new partner. "Shall we go then?"
Chris looked back to the desk, but Miyuki was well ahead of him. "Don't worry! I've been at that bloody thing since I got here and it still makes no sense! It seems that we have a limitless sake supply, or else Madoka magicked the stuff out of thin air!"
Chris chortled at that as he ushered Miyuki downstairs to meet the rest of the crowd. "Let me first introduce you to the Retreats' famous sake wall! Oh, and there's a little song that goes with it..."