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Mishiro

[PP-F2] Lost and Found

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January 22, 2023
 
The door slowly creaked open and light filtered in through the cracks into the dimly-lit room. All of the lights in her little rented room were turned off save for the kerosene lamp on her desk. The notebook with her client's description lay open beside the lamp, and she would look back at it from time to time as she worked on her initial sketch. The face had taken shape, the hair she had finally gotten right after just a few tries, and she only needed to add a few minor details then she could finally get her sweet, sweet two hours of sleep. 
 
"Shiromi...?" The door opened wider and the room was illuminated with the light coming from the hallway of the inn. Mishiro brought up a hand to shield her eyes and finally lifted her head to glance at her nightly visitor. "I just got back. What are you doing up? It's two in the morning."
 
"Welcome home," Mishiro mumbled half-heartedly. She held up her sketchpad for him to see and had to suppress a yawn. "It's a commission. It's different from the rest... she's here and her brother's looking for her... so I want this finished as soon as possible."
 
"Come on, do that tomorrow!" The door swung shut behind him as he walked over and leaned on the backrest of her chair, looking at what she had finished. "I understand your sentiment, but I think it's good enough already. Honestly."
 
"Not yet," she insisted, shaking her head stubbornly. "There's still a few details I want to add. Can you buy me some coffee from downstairs? I want this sketch finished by tomorrow."
 
"Fine." He patted her head fondly and stepped back. "Just this once, okay? There's not much consequences in-game as there are in real life, but staying up late is still a bad habit to develop. I don't want you to return to real life just to die from overwork."
 
"Mhm. Can you also get some cream and sugar for the coffee?"
 
"Of course."
 
"Wait."
 
He stopped, holding the door half-open.
 
"If we get separated, would you look for me, too?"
 
His answer was immediate. 
 
"I won't rest until I find you."
 
Mishiro smiled.
 
"That's a bad habit to develop, Roman."
 
When he returned, she had dozed off on the desk.
...

January 23, 2023

Quote

To: Huginn

I finished the rough sketch of your request. Do you have time to meet up? I think it would be best for you to look at it before I finalize.
 
I'll be in the garden where we first met from 8AM to 11AM. If you can't come within that time period, PM me your schedule for the week. I'll try to make time for you.
2

Mishiro dismissed her menus and looked back down at the sketch she had finished. Her client's little sister, Misako. Muninn in-game. The girl in the portrait smiled brightly up at her. Mishiro looked at her sketch and idly wondered, where was she now? Was she also looking for her brother or was she moving forward to the frontlines, hoping he would be there? 

She heard a familiar set of footsteps and she stood up to face him. "Good morning," she greeted. She took her hands out of her jacket pockets and dipped her head, giving her client a small, polite bow. She was dressed in her usual Japanese schoolgirl outfit, with an added coat and a pair of black leggings for the cold weather.  "That didn't take long. Do you perhaps live somewhere in this town?" 
Edited by Mishiro

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Shiro walks through the field on the first floor, trying to find a good place to practice violin. He reaches a small clearing in the woods, and looks around. No one here, what’s gonna stop me now? He breathes in, pulling his violin up to his chin, and setting the bow on the strings. What if someone interrupts me? I mean, I know I’ll run, but they’ve seen my face and my violin. What if a monster attacks me? I won’t have time to switch out for my weapon. He takes another breath, calming himself down. It’s okay Shiro. You can do this. He closes his eyes, the arm holding the bow, starts to shift like he’s about to pull it across the strings when a ding sounds out. Sh*t. He quickly unequips the violin and equips his spear. “Did you get a message?” A stranger’s voice cuts through the air as the random player searches through the thick grass and shrubbery of the woods. Only to find an empty clearing where he thought the noise came from.

Shiro quickly read the first sentence of the message and took off like a rocket. His speed was incredible. His legs moved so fast he had no idea where they were at any given moment. She finished the drawing? How? I though the drawing would’ve taken longer. As he runs, he quickly scans through the message, coming to a stop on the last word and inches from the teleport pad. As he climbs up, he shouts the command and his vision turns white. Seeing the town’s sillouhette cut through the white, he turns and follows the path he had followed before. “I don’t live on this floor, the teleport pad is like right over there.” He says, pointing in the general direction of the teleport pad. His face showed he too was sleep deprived at this point. This is gonna be a drag isn’t it. I need my sleep. It looks like she does too. “If you want we can do this later.” He says, a worried look in his eyes. Not in the way like he’s scared, more like “you alright?” Kind of looks like he should be looking at someone who fell out of a chair and hit their head. He had never given this look to anyone and didn’t even know he was giving that look to Mishiro.

@Mishiro

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Mishiro blinked at him, then looked over his shoulder to see the old brick road that led straight back to the center of the town where the teleport pad was located. "Mm. I must still be half-asleep," she mumbled absent-mindedly to herself as a way of setting aside her clumsy mistake. It was half-true. Her movements seem to be a bit sluggish today. "You're already here, so I'm fine if we do this now." 
 
She looked at him and took note of the bags under his eyes and his generally disheveled appearance. He looked tired. So tired that his emotions were showing on his face. But this early in the morning? He must have been doing something late into the night. "Ah, are you okay though? Huginn, maybe you should sit." Mishiro stepped to the side and gestured quietly at the bench. Once he was seated, she would take her seat beside him and hold up her sketch pad, displaying her first rough sketch of his sister. "So how is it? Is there anything I need to change?"

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“It’s almost perfect, especially for a rough sketch.” He looks at the drawing with intense intrigue. “Especially considering the very vague description. I owe you one. You ever need a song played on violin, guitar or piano I’ll play one for you.” He stands up, turns to her and bows. “Was that all you wanted to see me for? Cause if so, I should get back to hunting.” This came from the incredibly tired boy, who was obviously sleep deprived at this point. The bow made it worse, but it also revealed that he no longer had his favorite necklace. Sh*t, she didn’t notice did she? I hate when people ask me about what’s bothering me. He stands back up straight. “Thank you for your help ma’am, I am in your debt.” He smiles at her sincerely and turns, hiding a yawn as he does this. “I’m going to that panda shop again, they had great coffee. Also, they have Oreos.” The genius mentions his favorite snack once more.

@Mishiro

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Almost perfect? Mishiro set the sketchpad down on her lap and gave a genuine, innocent smile out of pride for her work. This was the first time she'd gotten it right on the first try, and she'd been half-asleep through 25% of it no less! Were her skills improving? She addressed Huginn, and her tone seemed less professional and serious than it was before. Exactly like how a girl her age should speak. "Then, I'll just have to finalize it. I don't want to make any mistakes, so it'll take about...another two days or so." She closed her sketch pad. Well. Thinking about it logically, maybe she'd only gotten the drawing right this time because she had a base. That drawing of the woman named Leila. The face shape and the hairstyle were similar, all she had to do was compare Muninn's physical description to Leila's and make the necessary changes. "Mm...a song? I don't really have anything in mind right now, maybe next time?"
 
He stood and she followed him with her grey gaze. Hunting? She looked him up and down and the childish, carefree smile melted off her face, replaced by a small, concerned frown. "Right now? I don't think that's a good idea. You look tired. Maybe try to get some rest first," she said automatically. What had he been doing anyway? Farming late into the night? That was dangerous. The low visibility would leave players vulnerable to ambushes - by either mobs or...other players - unless they had <<Night Vision>>. But Mishiro didn't question him any further. He wouldn't give that sort of information to someone he only knew for a day. But...he looked so tired and kind of like, he was disturbed by something. He mentioned her favorite cafe. There's a higher chance he would for someone he knows for more than a day. Besides, he seemed like he needed a friend. Mishiro rose from her bench. "I happen to be heading in the same direction," she maintained her calm, monotonous tone. The dark-haired girl tilted her head to the side innocently. "Let's go together." 

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Shiro tilted his head. Why does she want to come along? What reason does she have to stick by? Is she worried about me? If so, why? I’m not a good person, I’m not deserving of care. He gives a fake smile and turns, walking towards the shop. The cold air made the boy’s cheeks red, and his nose red as well, which was the most colorful his face had been since joining the game. He didn’t like the feeling of someone following him, but at this point, was too tired to make her go away. Besides, it’s not like he hates this girl, he just wasn’t fond of the idea of sitting alone with any girls. He always got weird when that happened, but he managed to control it last time. Only because he was only thinking of finding his sister, but now he had so much more to rethink. “Why’d you decide to come along? It’s not like I’m a fun person to be around.” He asks, still unable to figure it out. She has no reason to accompany me, I’m just a boy trying to find his sister, and I’m not exactly looking for a good friend along the way. They’re all just people to me. My sister is the only person I’ll ever see as family in this world. He slides his fists into his pockets. Besides, everyone screws you over eventually. They reach the panda shop and Shiro walks up, holding the door for Mishiro. “Ladies first.” He motions for her to go in as he holds the door.

@Mishiro

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He turned and she followed, walking just a step behind him with one hand tucked into her coat pocket and the other holding her sketchpad. The short walk to the cafe remained silent for a few moments before he looked at her and asked what her motives were. Of course. Of course he did. It came out of nowhere after all, and it wasn't like they were friends. No, they were simply an artist and a client. He would obviously be taken aback when she starts acting friendly with him. What would Arabelle say in this situation? She gets along with everyone just fine. Mishiro thought for a bit then figured her small purple-haired friend wouldn't be the best example. Chances are, she would say something along the lines of: "You're lots of fun to me."
 
 "I want to learn more about your sister, if it's alright with you. She seems like a nice person. And," Mishiro pointed a stern finger at his tired, disheveled appearance. "I also want to make sure my client doesn't collapse in some random place before I finish the commission. If that happens, then the entire thing would've been a waste of time. Besides, it's early in the morning and you already look tired. What were you doing before this?"

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Shiro was confused. Is she worried about me? I’m not exactly someone worth worrying about. He spins around. “Worried? I’m not in any danger, besides, if I disappear it’s probably for the best.” He walks into the café and smiles at the waiter. “What was I doing before this? Hunting all night. I have to get stronger.” He says, looking down at his chest where his necklace used to dangle. I have to get it back. And if I die, it won’t be my problem anymore. This world is cruel, but only in this world. It has no power in the real world. Neither will I without my brain. He focuses on the world around him and then on the girl he was talking to. “So, what do you want to know about Misako?” He asks, ready to tell old stories about the hell they used to raise when they were like 7 or 8. His mind raced as he thought about all of the pranks his sister had pulled and fights he had been in to protect her.

@Mishiro

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For the best...? That was... That wasn't something one should say. Or even think. It was obviously a warning sign. To what, he probably already knew. Just how much has the disappearance of his sister affected him? No, perhaps it wasn't just that. She didn't know what he did on a daily basis. Or what had happened to him recently. Mishiro gave him a quick once-over and noticed the absence of the little bird necklace that hung from his neck the day she met him. "It wouldn't be the best for your sister," she pointed out. First, the logical approach. "If she cares about you as much as you do, then she'd be sad if you disappeared."

Mishiro made no further remark. He wouldn't take it nicely if she were to give him a full-fledged lecture on why he shouldn't be needlessly putting himself in danger right now. She stuck her hands into her coat pockets and waited patiently as he made his order. "Caramel frappucino." Then she looked over at @Huginn, and decided to offer him a little tidbit about herself. It would make him feel more comfortable if he knew something about her. "It's his favorite drink. The person I'm close to, I mean. So it ended up being one of my favorites, too. Let's get a table."

Once they were seated, Mishiro idly played with the cuffs of the brown coat's large sleeves. "Let's see. Well, what's your sister like?"

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Shiro chuckles as she asks about his sister. “She’s the troublemaker of the Kamanachi family. I was always a smart quiet type, staying away from the spotlight. I barely knew anything beyond what I could see though. Misako always had a keen sense of what’s going on in someone’s heart.”  He begins to think harder, he had never understood what she could see behind their eyes, but always knew he could trust what she was saying about their feelings. “In the 14 years we could talk, nothing she said about what someone was wrong. And the best part, she always helped. She cares about people.” He frowns and looks down at the table they’re sitting at. “She wasn’t as smart as me. But she’s just as stubborn. And I’ll always back her up.” He looks as Mishiro. “She was one of the only people I ever cared about, now I can’t find her.” He slips his hands beneath the plateau of wood and iron, as he hides in his hood from the world around him. She can’t possibly be dead. I always told her I’d die before her. He looks back to the girl and tilts his head. “Anything else you want to know?” He asks, making sure to not be rude about it.

@Mishiro

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A troublemaker with a heart. Mishiro thought she knew a few people like that: a small girl with purple hair and an ever-present playful smile, and a nervous boy she met in this same cafe. She thought she already had a good idea of how Misako acted, and while that personality type was certainly a bit troublesome to deal with - she had the most fun while they were around and she always admired how they could express their feelings so openly. "I'm sure you'll have a better chance at finding her when this is all done," she murmured, sensing the boy's distress. It wasn't evident from his monotonous voice or his perpetually stoic expression, but it certainly was in his words. "Well, unless you don't ask around." A waitress arrived and set her order down on the table, and Mishiro took that opportunity to stall by swirling her straw around the drink and taking her first sip. What else did she want to ask about? Anything more and she would be prying into Misako's life without the girl's permission. Finding nothing, she responded, "None at the moment. I'll learn more about her when I meet her in person."
 
...
...
Awkward silence. She had initiated this interaction with the objective of doing... something about some particularly concerning statements he made of himself, but she found that she had no idea how to without suddenly bringing it up for no reason. That wouldn't work. She really needed to work on her communication skills. But, now... how could she get a conversation going? She recalled a fun conversation she had with a complete stranger. If it worked for her, it would work for @Huginn too, right? She had no other idea. "So, uh. Question about you. What do you do for fun?"

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Shiro thinks for a moment. What do I do for fun? I mean, I like to read, but she might think I’m a nerd for thinking that. His mind settles on a decision. “I play violin. Sometimes I read.” He says, not emotion in his voice. Why the hell am I being so cold? It’s not like I have anything against her. “I sing, write my music and read, but other than that, talking to you and hunting are the only things I’ve done.” He thinks for a second. Misako would be friends with this girl already, you’re too scared to tell her that you want to be friends. Then he gets and idea. The shift of character would have to be swift but subtle. So he decides to say something, either stupid, or smart, what made the difference was her reaction. “The last two are my favorites...” He says, avoiding eye contact and blushing super hard. It’s the only compliment he had ever given any girl he wasn’t related to. Sh*t. Why would I say that? That sounds like a flirt. I don’t like her like that... at least I don’t think I do. He looks at her for a moment and then blushes really hard once again. Nope I don’t, not at all. Never. Girls are gross. It was unusual to see the boy blush. Emotions were never his strong suit, so he ignored them and moved on. This game changed that, emotions could be useful in a world of swords and monsters. But until now, he had never wanted to be friends with anyone.

@Mishiro

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Mishiro drank from her paper cup, oblivious to the boy's embarrassment. The last two were his favorites...? Talking to her and hunting were his favorite things to do? The latter was somewhat understandable. By 'hunting,' she could only assume @Huginn meant fighting mobs. Some players still enjoyed that aspect of the game even after all that happened. But talking to her? She didn't see that one coming. He didn't exactly come off as a very... social person, and including today, they'd only talked twice. "That was unexpected, but thank you." There was no observable change in her tone nor her demeanor as she set her cup down and looked up to find the boy seated across her blushing. It was a new look on him, one she'd never expected to see. "It's fine," she said quickly, wondering what made him uncomfortable. "I don't talk to people outside of my usual group, so I think talking to you has been a nice change of pace, too."

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He watches her expression not change at all. In the anime in the real world, a small cartoony Shiro would’ve popped up looking drained behind him, but this was real, for all intents and purposes. Well that expression wasn’t very helpful. All she did was bring up talking to me as a change of pace. His blushing disappeared entirely as he shifts his body, looking at the girl. “So...” He recomposes himself as he thinks on what to ask her. His mind begins to race, flipping between hot, topical questions like “what’s your favorite mathematical equation?” And “what’s your favorite paradox?” Almost like time hadn’t Passed at all, but was really an eternity for the boy, he follows up with, “What do you do for fun?” His tone falling back to emotionless, but inside he genuinely wanted to know. Something was different about her, she wasn’t too loud, she wasn’t too callous, she was dense but so is he. Her presence almost put him at ease, and his attention was drawn to her. Is this what being friends is like? Because this is weird. Next she’ll ask why I decided to join Aincrad. Then my bank account number, or even worse, my birthday. He slides his hands into his pockets despite being more comfortable with them out and looks down, avoiding her gaze even if it wasn’t on him.

@Mishiro

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Wholly unaware of the true reason behind the boy's red face, Mishiro swirled her straw around her drink, feeling a little pleased with herself. She had placed him at ease, it seems, and though it didn't visibly show, the girl thought it to be a small achievement. Even more so when he returned her question to her. He was displaying more interest, and it banished her doubts about him not really wanting her to be here.

What did she do for fun? There were many things she could consider to be part of that list, though if she had to narrow it down to the constants, the number would most probably be reduced to two. "I like to draw. But I think you already know that." Strands of black hair fell over soft gray eyes that held a small glint of playfulness as she tilted her head. Mishiro would not mention the second. She remembered being asked that exact same question perhaps a few days ago, and the conversation that her answer led to, while entertaining, was a pit she would rather not fall into again. If she could help it. 

Dinner with Roman had been awkward that night. 

"Other than that, I like taking walks. Sometimes, I wander around Aincrad and draw whatever catches my eye. It's a good drawing exercise for still-life types of art."

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At this point Shiro’s shoulders were relaxed, his voice steady, his eyes open and aware. He was interested in something other than music for the first time in a long time. That’s not really true, I’ve met a few people who don’t like doing something they’re good at. Even if they are absolutely amazing. He had listened to her first statement and the information revealed did nothing more than hold his interest for a second. Is that all she likes to do? I mean it’s understandable, drawing can be fun. That’s when she brings up her other favorite pastime. Walking? “I’ve never actually gone on just a walk in this game.” He begins to think. “This game is beautiful, so I assume a walk through the field is what you mean. Huh. Guess I’ll have to try that someday.” Faces pop through his mind, people he might want to take on a walk if he ever gets the chance. One of them sticks out among the rest, mostly because she was sitting right across from him, but also for another reason. The reason not entirely known to the boy, but it was there, and it would be easy to figure out if he cared to.

@Mishiro

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"You're correct, but it's not just the fields." She let her gaze wander momentarily, drifting past the occupied tables and their small white centerpieces, and the paintings hung along the walls. Her voice was calm and controlled, rarely ever ardent, even as it quickly became clear that they had stumbled upon a topic the girl had a vast interest in. "The houses in this settlement aren't simply complete duplicates of each other. They're made of the same material and largely observe the same theme and color scheme, but there's always some sort of personal touch that sets them apart from the rest. The roads swerve around structures at some parts and some buildings can only be accessed through side streets. It's organized chaos and it makes this place look very, deceptively real."
 
Mishiro looked back at Huginn.
 
"The developers emphasized the game's realism first and foremost, and I think rightly so. Just walking around one of these towns feels like an adventure, like there's always something new to discover even if you've passed the same place many times already." Much like the real world. There were many things left to learn about the world around you, even if you thought you were completely familiar with it already.  She figured being thrust into a completely different world that at the same time felt like the real world only served to emphasize that. It could either be a separator or a connection.
 
"I think it's admirable how people could make something like this. Only problem is, they made it too real." They would both know what she meant. Living here every day, the possibility of dying and never coming back... the developers had tried to imitate the real world all too well. She didn't allow them to dwell on that thought though. She remembered what he said last. Would it be appropriate to extend an invitation? Mishiro didn't know what he saw her as. But... the boy with blue eyes who had taken that same seat across her a few days ago had done the same, and somehow, they were now calling each other friends. "I don't have a set schedule for taking walks. It'd feel a bit awkward otherwise. So, if you don't mind..." Her inquisitive gaze held his. "If you want to come along, I'll send you messages, sometimes."

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The face he had in his mind started speaking. It was a surreal moment, like watching a dream come true. Not that he had thought about this exact moment before, he’s not a weirdo, but the image in his mind lined up with reality, and he was stuck between the two. Then she actually spoke, and he couldn’t be more surprised. The way she described walking around town was amazing, she understood what it means to do something fun. She looks at the little details, like an artist trying to recreate something. Then she asks him if he would like to accompany her on one of her excursions. “I would actually like that.” A genuine smile forms on his face as he looks across the wooden table and over the drink in front of her. His eyes locked themselves in place, like a missile tracking a target, the stayed on Mishiro’s eyes for a few moments before Shiro’s mind kicked back in. His cheeks turn a bright red as he quickly turns his gaze over to the waiters and other staff. He began to worry about if she would think he’s weird, or if she was just messing with him the whole time.

@Mishiro

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The boy accepted her invitation and said nothing more. Though at this point, she didn't doubt his interest. Mishiro had already surmised that Huginn was and always would be a man of few words, and another telltale sign was his smile. A genuine smile. There was a warmth present in her chest; not necessarily demanding to be felt, but still strong enough to be worthy of note. 

So she reciprocated.

"It's settled, then." A sincere smile tugged the corners of her lips upwards and her voice held a noticeable - almost childlike - cheer. It felt resoundingly appropriate for a girl her age. "I don't know when I'm going next, but I'm looking forward to it. Do you have any preferences?" Mishiro paused to think and drank from her (neglected in favor of this conversation) cup of cold coffee. "There's only two open so far, but I think some have their own favorite place already. You already know mine: it's the garden we came from earlier. Do you have one yourself, Huginn?"

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He smiles so quickly you’d think the question was tickling his ears. The thought of walking with her for a while made him happy, happier than the thought of interacting with anyone else ever had. He thinks for a moment and then decides on the answer. “I don’t really have a preference, I’ve never gone on a walk solely for the sake of walking.” He says. The smiles slowly fading now that he realized that probably wasn’t a satisfactory answer. But it was too late to change it now, without seeming rude at least. Besides, he couldn’t think of a better way to describe it.

He leans forwards in his chair, hovering above the table before he realizes he forgot to get a drink. “Shoot, I didn’t ask for a drink.” He says, trying to keep quiet about it. Looking at Mishiro, then shifting his gaze towards the waiter, he starts to think about whether or not he has time to drink something or not.

@Mishiro

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