Pearly Gates 3: A Garden In Ink

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It was calm out here, soothing, routine. Kaede would come here to center herself, to meet some of her less... masked friends - she knew well enough that Megumi needed a break now and then, all else aside - and to practice one of her favourite hobbies. She invited Cord- Megumi countless times, but every time, it was turned down. She didn't claim to understand it, much less stop trying.

As for her other hobbies... well, she wasn't much of a singer yet. That was for private practice, so as not to embarrass herself. Or the company of someone she knew wouldn't mock her, at the least.

It was another of Sanbey's generous concessions - for which she was certainly grateful - to the Third, a large garden on the ground floor, housed partly indoors and partly sticking out of the building itself, a spot of greenery and a great many colours besides in the otherwise relatively drab palette of the city. She tended to it daily - though to varying degrees - which seemed to only come to her more and more naturally after her contract. It helped, of course, that she could bend or grow plants with a thought, that she could make new ones sprout up on a whim. She really did need to come up with names for some of the more... unprecedented plants she had accidentally created.

Her friend's talents, too, were no small help. Between her and Izuho - her accomplice here in the garden - they probably could have made a jungle out of bare concrete, but somehow, that felt like cheating. There was something to be said for doing all this with your own two hands, taking time over it. If nothing else, it left them something to come back to - to look forward to seeing - time after time, a new surprise with every day.

There was a peaceful sort of... quiet to the garden? No, not quiet, and certainly not with the sounds that surrounded it in and outside the officio's walls. Still, it was a refreshingly different sort of noise from what she was used to, and that was enough. It was a place to come to when she needed to refresh herself between brushes with the world, when she needed something to calm herself, and no place in the world could compare to it.

...There was the forest, of course, but that was so terribly far; she could only afford to make the trip once in a while. Not a sight she would readily share with any but her closest friends, but... well, maybe she could make an exception. Cordy. Surely she would enjoy the peace of it. Something to show her, then, some day when they both had a day to spare.

It was a hideout too, in a sense. One in plain sight, but it counted all the same, in its own way. Where the Third's hulking monstrosity came to tend to the grasses and flowers, along with... well, as far as Kaede was concerned, the fact that the girl who bled bugs and sap attracted no comment said enough by itself. Looming over an entire room and protruding pieces of rusted weapons like some sort of twisted hedgehog was, evidently, more of an attention-getter.

Which made it all the more unusual that they had a guest. Another who hadn't quite found her place at the Third, in her own way, despite Harumi's best efforts. Junko Otozaki, one of the many that Sanbey had rescued from Mitakihara's hospitals, though as to just what it was that landed her there, she refused to say. A Callidus - for all the good it did, as she was always quick to add - with an unfortunate knack for being unheard and unnoticed, despite her best efforts. Ironic, given some of the magic she had been given, but as retiring and nervous as she was, much of the Third seemed to pass over her entirely.

So there she sat, sketching pad in hand, trying to draw the garden and skies in front of her over and over. She never seemed quite happy with it, for some reason.

"Tea?" Kaede offered, a little hesitantly. It was a rare sound in the garden, if only because any sound - besides the ambient noise of the world around them - was rare here. Its usual occupants spent their hours there in amicable silence, or else idle gossip during their breaks.

"O-oh, thank you," the Callidus stammers out, startled, as though Kaede had roused her from a deep sleep. "Er... what is it?" She asks after a moment, looking at the unfamiliar striped berries floating in the mug.

"...I haven't thought of a name yet," the diminutive gardener confides in her, a little embarrassed. "It's something I made last week."

"She tried to grow candy," Izuho points out, from a few furrows away.

"Like YOU wouldn't."

"And it's... you made tea from it?"

"It works better than you might think," Izuho answers again, from between stalks that would have mostly obscured either of the other two.

The visitor takes the cup hesitantly, the sketchpad and pencil abruptly dropping from her other trembling hand. She scoops them up soon after with a nervous laugh, trying to hold the whole bundle in twitching fingers long enough to put it all down somewhere safer, and fortunately only spilling a few drops in the process. "T-too much coffee," she explains, shaking her head. "Been... busy, really busy, Miss Minakata told me I'd start seeing things if I didn't lie down soon, but... it's such a nice day, I couldn't miss a chance like this."

"What are you drawing?" Kaede's inquisitive voice from around her knees, where Junko's legs hang off the garden's short brick fence.

"Oh, this is just practice, rea- don't look! It's not finished yet." She clutches the pad to herself defensively, hiding it with a look of extreme embarrassment. "Sorry, it's just... I'll show you when it's done, okay?" The suggestion meets a happy nod from Kaede, who quickly backs away.

"It's nothing very interesting, anyway. Just practicing some landscapes for a little pet project. I thought this might be nicer to draw than... well, more concrete. It's not really that special, but I'd love to show you when it's done!"

"Can Cordy see it too?"

"Of course!" And with that, nodding and flashing Junko an eager smile, the little gardener runs back to her patch, picking up her trowel. An improvised piece she seemed oddly excited about, a small plastic handle attached to a golden piece of metal, reminiscent of a spearhead.

"Is that new?" The visitor asks curiously. It was an oddly flashy choice for a garden tool, if nothing else. Kaede nods quickly, grinning as she waves it about in the air to show it off, as if she had been waiting for the question.

"I got it from Cordy yesterday!"