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He walked easily through halls that betrayed every step with an echo. The cool morning sun streamed dimly through cracked and shady windowpanes, and the shadows of songbirds danced in its light. Held beneath his arm was a dusty leather tome, its title faded just barely beyond recognition. He chewed absentmindedly on a pastry. 

It had only been recently he started spending time at his home. His first purchase had been an apartment, but he'd later sold it to help him purchase Green Garden after learning about the useful buffs that a larger estate could provide a player. That didn't mean he cared to actually live in the house, though. For the longest time, he'd preferred wandering the floors and sleeping in shoddy makeshift campsites to a dry, warm bed. Something about how he hadn't deserved it. In truth, the serenity of the castle had once maddened him. Isolation had been his punishment. Now it brought him a certain sense of calm he found himself desperate to preserve. 

Pinball pushed through the castle's doors and stepped immediately into a lush and leafy garden. He breathed in the crisp morning air and settled into the bench, which was sat central in the garden and protected from the elements by the wooden shelter built around it. He sat and for a moment he considered the slowly falling leaves and petals and the soft breeze that swept through the castle grounds. He let out a content sigh and relaxed. The morning had all the markings of a good day. 

And so he got comfortable, picked up his book, and flipped it open to the first page. 

Edited by Pinball
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Another cold morning.

That time of the year when the days were short drew ever closer. She woke at the first hint of light through parted curtains, the lingering scent of ashes in the fireplace. Blindly, she reached past herself, feeling about in the space beneath the blankets for the warmth of another person. Her fingertips met fabric.

Nothingness embraced the mind in lieu of the body's anchor. For a short moment, everything was still once again. The unnamed dozed off for a few seconds longer. Then she sat up, blankets pooling around her waist.

A downward swipe of two fingers opened her interface. Immediately, multiple floating windows appeared before her, pre-configured to display at a lower brightness in the earlier hours of the day. She drowsily reacquainted herself with the waking world and glanced over the screens in her usual order. Some unanswered messages she had set to notify her from time to time, her shop NPC's daily report, a collection of to-do lists. The day that she was set to deliver several batches of fulfilled orders was approaching, which was a great indicator that she should drop by her residence soon – restock her shop and man it herself for a few days to ensure that everything was in working order.

Perhaps within the week.

She rose to her feet and disassembled last night's makeshift bed.

Pinball's castle was large, a more daunting place to fill out than her and Sibyl's residence – a place intended for two people with allowance for three more, give or take – but once the mystique had worn off, it wasn't that difficult to get around. He had let her build what was essentially a perfect duplicate to her residence's kitchen in an empty room that was in decent proximity to the other places she frequented. A great amount of her time was dedicated to crafting and today was no different.

Setting a cup of coffee to brew, she began her work.



There was a small portion of rejects that she polished off on her own as she downed a Crafter's Respite. It was still morning. A good chunk of her work was done and she had it in her mind to inquire into what her housemate was doing. Shutting the door behind her, the scent of freshly baked pastries wafted out into the empty halls.

She did not excel at finding people, unlike Pinball. It was always the opposite. All too often, she used to wonder about the implications of the fact that they only ever met on his terms, as if he were measuring out how much she could never give and exacting the same toll. But he'd led her to his dwelling place. He'd watched with unmistakable fondness as she acquainted herself with the halls of his house, opening and closing doors at random, silent in her awe, until she'd constructed a map in her head and could wander about the ruins alone. Here, after all this time, she knew where to look.

Sound ricocheted off the stone walls, sending faint vibrations up through the thin soles of her slippers. At the base of the stairs to the second floor, she paused, querying its source.

The front door–

She followed.

Not long after, the heavy wooden doors swung open with a long-suffering groan and she stepped out into the sunlight. The mouth of the wooden shelter faced the other way but she knew without sight that he could only be there. Pulling a short cloak over her bare shoulders, Mishiro rounded the makeshift structure and settled down beside him without a word. She peered at the open pages of his book for a moment before the laziness of the morning and her equally languid friend won out and her eyes fluttered shut. 

Pressed closely against his side, the woman's breathing turned faint.


a corpse is talking.




Edited by Mishiro
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It wasn't long before the groan of the old castle door echoed throughout the garden again. Mishiro. Icy blue eyes flicked to the girl who took a seat beside him. "Good morning," he murmured. He couldn't help but notice that she seemed tired. He couldn't blame her. The lazy morning had probably gotten the best of the both of them. But he was happy that she was here. It looked like she was going to read with him, so his attention returned to his book, and he flipped to the next page. 

The book was an account of the rise and fall of some ancient kingdom in long and boring detail. It wasn't his usual choice of read, but since returning to Green Garden and finding an entire library at his disposal, he'd resolved to pick through every ancient, dusty tome that lined its shelves before he allowed himself to go out and collect easier, more entertaining books from one of the other floors. 

She fell asleep against his side not too long after that. 

He continued to read, but his mind wandered. How much longer could things stay like this? How many more lazy mornings with her were in his future? He had a bloody past. Although all was well and good with Bahr and with Mishiro, he had absolutely no way of knowing if he had been entirely forgotten by those who had wanted to see him brought to justice. For all he knew, he could be captured tomorrow during a morning walk. He could be caught by surprise and killed in his own home, if they knew where to find it. And it wouldn't have been soon enough. But even if that were the case, and his peace was to be ended in bloodshed, Pinball figured that he'd be able to accept it. 

After all, he'd been lucky. 

He sat his book, still open so as to save his spot, down in his lap, and settled more comfortably in the bench. Lazily, he swiped his hand through the air and navigated the menu to his inventory. In a click of a button and a flash of sparkling light, his long dark cloak materialized in midair. With a dexterous flick of the wrist, he whisked the cloak around and settled it gently across her shoulders. He watched her for a moment, ensuring that he hadn't disrupted her rest. And then he sat back and closed his eyes, and his melancholy musings made space for the more comforting songs of nature around him. 

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For a while, there was nothing. The girl at his side would not stir even if he called. But she was still listening to the castle. Half-awake and half-asleep, her thoughts passed through her like ghosts. The water flowed down the stream by their feet and the branches of the tree that dwarfed the shelter knocked against the roof above their heads. She felt, very faintly, the rhythmic rise and fall of Pinball's breathing, the careful movements of his arm. She heard the occasional rustle of a page being turned.

He read at a slow pace. It was a difficult text -- the sort that only Pinball would attempt to read for leisure, even if he didn't always get very far. She found it terribly endearing; often, the only thing that stopped her from fawning over him in these moments was the fact that it would break his quiet focus. So time trickled by and the pauses between each page turn grew in length. Then, he stopped.

Mishiro's eyes opened, her fingers reaching up to grasp the edges of the second, larger cloak that was now draped across her shoulders. Whether or not she was actually cold had no sway over how she unquestioningly held the cloth up to her chest. Her head turned to the side, loose strands of hair coming untucked from the opposite ear, half-closed eyes spotting the book left unattended on Pinball's lap. Carefully, she transferred it to hers and flipped it over.

Its pages were quite stiff. How old was this text? Marking the place Pinball was stopped on with a finger, she flicked through the previous chapter, picking up only the most interesting details as she went. It did not take her very long because nothing about Aincrad interested her on a personal level. Rather, she had a different curiosity that begged to be satisfied.

She turned to face Pinball, bumping his knee with hers. She had recognized earlier that he hadn't dozed off: he just had his eyes closed, much like she had earlier, and if he really was sleepy, he would have leaned more of his weight onto her. When she had his attention, Mishiro began in a tone that clearly indicated she was reciting off of what she had just read. "Year 1439. The second human settlement to fall, and also the last point in the available timeline. Where was it located and for what reason was it destroyed?"

The girl was holding the heavy tome with one hand, the other still clutching at his cloak. Open pages facing towards her, soft violet eyes peered at Pinball from above the book's top edge.

No peeking.

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