In the summer of Age 608 Okinaro, the Unshriven, journeyed to the bustling trade world of Lipanto to satisfy the nostalgia harbored in his taste buds. Thirty-seven years prior, he had visited a crowded and very expensive restaurant called ‘Nindago’, and its meatballs had been, in the Inari’s humble opinion, the most delicious food he had ever eaten in his travels across the universe.
Being a wandering solitary warrior-monk, Okinaro was almost always hard-pressed for cash. When he required food, he flew to a planet (being able to comfortably breathe in space), and customarily hunted its native fauna, or consumed its fruit if he could find any. He was not above stealing, but he didn’t usually have to resort to that. Visiting a world such as Lipanto, which was populated by millions of Planet Trade Organization soldiers and civilians alike, meant that he would inevitably need to have plenty of space woolongs to do anything fun–that, or be a little clever, and a little cuntish.
It was always impossible to get a table. Last time, he’d paid for his meal. This time, he was too impatient to use gambling tricks to rack up a quick petty fortune, although he’d done that in the past. He had decided that he would use his wits to win him a free (and much too expensive, in the space fox’s estimation) meal. When he came back again, thirty years from now, the waiters wouldn’t be the same, surely. No one would remember him.
He got an idea as he approached Nindago, which was a little brick-red eatery crammed between a butcher’s shop and a souvenir store near the corner of the road. Snaking out to the street was a line of well-dressed and impatient aliens of many a species, bickering amongst themselves as they waited to be seated. Okinaro had to be quick, though that was no problem for the two-tailed fox of a man. He shot inside, not so much as disturbing the air around them so as to make them notice, yet not going so slow as to let himself be physically seen by the famished patrons.
Making his way past the customers lined up before the podium of the head waiter (a regal-looking Faerin), he turned left at the far wall and headed straight into the restrooms. Inside that foul, polluted zone, he spotted a caped Jolean shipmaster who was pissing to his heart’s content in the trough. That was when Okinaro got another idea.
It was entirely normal for the boron-based being to hear another patron washing their hands in that respectable establishment, or so he must have thought. The sneaky fox crept up behind him, his hands cupped with water, and, silent as he could, released it onto the floor. The man was still pissing. Okinaro had plenty of time to hide in one of the stalls.
And wouldn’t you know, when the Jolean turned around, he didn’t expect there to now be water all over the fine metal floors that the Planet Trade Organization so loved. So he placed his boot out exorbitantly for the circumstances and tried to take a step. Needless to say, the man fell, cracking his head on the floor and bleeding out some.
Okinaro licked his lips, closing his eyes for a moment, then opening them again, concentrating on the man’s appearance, the color and shape of his clothes, and how drunk he had acted when he had tried walking a few steps. Everything had been duly noted; the Inari was well-practiced in the art of deception. He exhaled, extending an invisible energy beam towards the unconscious officer.
All it took was stuffing the bleeding man in one of the stalls and locking the door. No one would notice for an hour or two, which would give him plenty of time to eat up. He exited the restroom some moments later, in the form of the pirate, and stumbled out to an empty table. There, a steaming plate of Nindago’s signature stilark meatballs in a bowl of Lipantian rice awaited him. Fortuitously, the drunkard had only taken a single bite out of it already.
He thought himself quite lucky, so he scarfed it down in one mouthful. He didn’t care if people stared at him–this wasn’t his body. As long as the drunk man with the concussion didn’t wake up in the next few minutes, he was good. Okinaro called over a Faerin waitress and ordered another bowl.
It hadn’t arrived before the indignant space dingo whose dinner he had stolen came running back to her table. Off he ran in a blur, disappearing as the hapless off-duty soldier yelled and shook her fist. There wasn’t much else she could do. There were no on-duty officers in the restaurant, and she was not about to chase after him while she was off-the-clock. He retreated to the restroom, for that was the one place he could stash the bodies without needing to vaporize them, which seemed overly cruel in his estimation.
Returning to the restaurant as an overweight Inovian with three chins, he was clearly no one at all, and no one should have looked at him sideways. He had tucked his furry tails underneath his tunic (leaving the mimicked lizard one out, of course), and hoped that no one would notice. Thence, he returned to the table he had been at before, where the second bowl of meatballs awaited him. The space dingo was over by the kitchen, furiously berating a helpless waitress. He could hardly believe his fortune.
The meatballs were delightful. It was a shame the pleasure of eating them was such a fleeting and tantalizing high. Seeing that the dingo wasn’t going to stop anytime soon, he whistled over a different Faerin waitress and ordered a dessert.
Near the end of the space fox’s meal, a man across the room got to his feet, cleared his throat, threw out his arms, spun around, and began speaking in a deep voice, causing the other conversations within the restaurant to come to a sudden and awkward halt. Exasperated, the off-duty soldier took a thirsty gulp from his glass of Enacir-imported beer and shook his head, as if he were ready to come to blows over this with the woman sitting beside him.
Okinaro didn’t quite know what to think, so, feeling a little daring, he ordered a milkshake to watch the events unfold.
“I’m a grand old thing, really, you know I am! Maschey, oh, Maschey, don’t do it. No, no, I am not going back to the hotel, get off of me, hag!” he said, slapping his woman away. He drained his beer, placed the empty glass carefully on the table in front of his embarrassed wife, and ordered another one in front of the entire restaurant before continuing. “I must say, it’s really pathetic. No one here compares to me. None of you pissants come close. I haven’t scanned anyone with over a power level of eighteen thousand, and I’ve been checking all night, I have. Hah! You know, mine’s forty-five? Bet that scares you lot.”
“Oi, shut up!” someone shouted.
He raised his fist, then thought better of it, smiling sheepishly. “I’m a gentleman, you know that? It’s not right to wreck this establishment. No, no. Classy place, this. Can’t do it. Won’t do it. You’re all lucky, cunts.”
Okinaro, being a boy, was most certainly not entitled to appraise country matters personally. He had liked this girl once–she’d been named Chihako and she had been a grade three Zenko. Only she had succeeded in their double-suicide attempt. He still thought of her sometimes. Afterwards, the space fox had been banished from Inan and discharged from the Ijo Temple over it, and, as if there had been some force of divine punishment involved, his two tails had been reduced to one (by which supreme force, he knew not). Since then, during his decades wandering the universe, he had gained his second tail back, though for what reason exactly, he did not quite know.
He had been about to gain his third tail–for wisdom, if he remembered correctly–the morning after he and Chihako were to commit double suicide. If only he had not gone down that reckless, romantic path, he would have had three tails almost three hundred years prior. Surely, by now, he would have four or even five. But one should not dwell on the failures of their past self, lest they become choked by bitterness.
As it were, his precociousness had seemingly run out. He yet had two tails, and that rather pissed him off. Gaining a third had seemed so easy back then; the matter was not so clear, or feasible, at present. To have some random Planet Trade Organization soldier lecture him at a time like this, when he was supposed to be on vacation, enjoying a delicacy, was beyond intolerable. That shit-mouthed man who had little to no control over his pride was about to get it good.
“Any of you cowards want to arm wrestle? No, no? Hah, bunch of recreants.”
Okinaro stood up, licking his cup clean in front of everyone (whenever he was impersonating someone else, he didn’t care how he behaved in public to an even greater extent) before setting it down. Wiping his mouth with a scaly hand, he said, “You’d break your arm if you fought me. I’m sure there are half a dozen others in here who could do the same to you.” He paused to look around at the others eating their grub, to make it extra uncomfortable. “So why don’t you shut up and sit down and stop making a damn fool of yourself?”
“You wanna fight?”
“Not at all, soldier.”
“Oh hahah, you’re a civilian, eh? Look at you, you tub of shit. I’m not afraid of you, I ain’t!”
“So what if I am?”
“Doesn’t make it illegal to fight. You a coward? I think you’re a coward! C’mon coward, show me what you’ve got.”
It wasn’t him–the others in the restaurant were glowering at Okinaro. How they had turned on him only made him more likely to do something brash. He couldn’t help but feel some level of peer pressure in that moment. Approaching the drunken officer, the Inari called forth some small measure of his power, being sure not to push himself too much. If he did, it was likely he would lose control over his shapeshifting ability. That could never be allowed. He did not want any of them to know who he was even if he wouldn’t be back for thirty years. Maybe three of these guys would still be around by then. He could risk that. He didn’t care if their scouters picked up the power spike.
They took their seats (the man’s wife being pushed aside to make room for the space fox), and a crowd gathered around them of officers and wealthy civilians with alcohol on their breath. A referee was chosen (seemingly at random) and commenced the game. Without so much as giving Mr. Braggadocious a moment of glory, Okinaro snapped his forearm. His tails might have popped out the moment he did that, but he hastily stuffed them back inside his tunic. He wasn’t sure if anyone had seen. Most likely not.
Not one of them cheered for him. That was unfortunate. Still, what else was he to do? It was a clean scam. That tickled him good, nonetheless. He wasn’t going to bitch and whine like Mr. Braggadocious was doing as he rolled on the floor, clutching his bleeding arm, the bone poking out near the wrist. Satisfied greatly, Okinaro collected himself, bowed, and disappeared in an explosion of light
Suffice to say, none of those drunken fools ever saw him again.
Some days he dreamed of her; some days he wished they had succeeded together. He was still a two-tailed Inari, as he had been that day, and try as he might, he had never managed to break past this hurdle. At one point, he had been a prodigy. Now, he was a pathetic wretch.
He missed her company. Perhaps if he could have gone back…
They served liquor. That made them classy in his opinion. Nyarin gin got him good and drunk, and around two hours later, he stumbled out of the bar in an elated, semi-euphoric mood. There, he found few welcoming faces, and a cold street at night. Lipanto was colder than he remembered. This was supposed to be summer, after all.
He got lost because that was the most natural thing for a drunk foreigner to do in a complex structured city that had been originally modeled some ten thousand years ago. How anyone had been so civilized back then struck Okinaro as odd. Nonetheless, their foresight (if it could be called that) led him down the wrong path.
Running down an alleyway, Okinaro, now returned to his normal form following his fleeing of Nindago, came face-to-face with a gang of dirty Joleans. They smirked at him and spoke in threatening voices, but were not too pushy, and indeed, for all the space trash he had encountered over the years, they were amongst the classiest.
“What are you looking for, furry?”
The question was casual enough. “That does not concern you.”
Their leader grinned, opening his cloak and revealing his inventory, which hung from the inside. “So you’ll want J’tartha then. Eight thousand space woolongs an ounce.”
“Good deal that,” one of his comrades hissed.
“Best price around.”
“You assume much, Jolean. I have no idea what this ‘J’tartha’ is.”
The green man was unmoved. “It’ll change your worldview, furry. Take it or leave it. We good for eight thousand?”
He sucked in a breath and went for it. “If you say so.”
There was a pulse in the air that everyone felt and that no one else understood, nor made a comment about. The dealer looked over the eight coins–silver thousand woolongs each that had been plucked from his pockets moments earlier–and deemed the transaction complete with a haughty look. He was almost too stupid for Okinaro to contain himself. He wanted nothing more than to make the fool aware of his folly. Alas, now he held a baggie of small green candy-like pellets (18 in total), and that soon became the sole focus of his thoughts.
“Don’t take more than four your first time.”
On the way back to his hotel, he ate ten of them. Nothing felt off at first. He was moving, acting semi-social towards those walking the moonlit streets with him. He knew where he was going. Then his chest started to feel light, and he felt good–happy, even–and the feeling was strange enough to make it difficult for him to react properly and with enough urgency in the environment around him.
Soon, colors started streaking. Lights became everything, turning into fractal patterns before his eyes. Still, if he blinked, he could see reality before him, dull and misshapen as it was. Okinaro knew that whatever those cursed Joleans had sold him, he had not been prepared.
Time passed too slowly, and at the same time too quickly. It was hard to keep up. He didn’t know what he was seeing–there were eyes in everything watching him now. He felt goosebumps rising on his flesh, and it felt good, not terrifying. Staggering down the alleyway, he noticed Mr. Braggadocious.
The old sappy sucker was getting a suck-off from an old friend, who bolted at the first sign of the two-tailed Inari.
Okinaro could hardly bark out ‘hello’ he was tripping so hard.
“Hey, you just cost me a lot of money, damn bastard! Hey!”
The colors and patterns were becoming overwhelming; he was more interacting now with the machine elves he could see popping up around him than with Mr. Braggadocious. “You started it, pal.”
“Hey, first off–I am not your pal. Take that back. The hell’s wrong with you? I didn’t start nothing. You came down here, startling everything, not me.”
“Whoa, back off, man.” The space fox did all he could not to trip. His vision had become filled with mostly greens and yellows, with some oranges and blacks added in, and some muddying browns splashed in the corners here and there. Every being he could see, having eaten ten of them, was watching him–some were just eyes–and were slowly moving in a rhythmic sensual pulse, like they were thrusting against one another slowly.
He had not the patience for it.
“Don’t tell me what to do, furry! I remember you from the restaurant. Uh huh, yeah I do. You were that fat slob that broke my arm. Civilian, hah! My ass. Look at those tails. They’re exactly the same. What’re ya, some kind of shapeshifting demon?”
Okinaro had been caught red-handed, and he didn’t really have much to say, so he asked the man, “Would you like to duel?”
The man’s face was drawn up in a wrinkly scowl that made his second chin dwarf his first in size. He massaged the outside of his cast. “You’re not worth my time, furry. You’re real scum. It would be like killing a bug.”
In a blinding flash of light, he approached Mr. Braggadocious and elbowed him in the forehead three times.
“Gah!” the man screamed in horror as he stumbled back, blood running freely out of his left nostril. “You–you di…”
He fell over, dead. Okinaro couldn’t exactly be sure, as everything around him was stretching, like he was watching a film roll of time. It didn’t much matter to him. He didn’t care about any of this. The candy was alright, but what, really, had it given him in the end?
For all his worth, the Inari made it to his hotel room, even with the shapes and colors popping up in his vision. Without reflection, he promptly collapsed onto his bed, where he fell into a deep and dreamless slumber.
Some hours later, Okinaro, the Unshriven, awoke. His head was killing him. Everything was so much greyer, so much tighter, so much more plain. He sighed, staring at the ceiling, thinking of her. His tails spasmed, and he shivered, feeling an unnatural tickling on his leg.
Looking down, the Inari noticed three tails, not two.
He wasn’t sure if he was dreaming, so he tried to put his finger through his palm. When he realized he could not, he jumped up, ran out of his room, and fled Lipanto before the local security force could find and question him about Mr. Braggadocious, because, as a wandering warrior-monk would know best, ain’t nobody got time for that.