Make New Friends, But Keep The Old

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{A few days later...}

Katsumi sighed in relief as she pulled off the straw hat and scarf she had her blonde hair wrapped in, and watched the fish she had caught in a nearby river as they were roasted by her small campfire. It was about noon, so Katsumi had decided to stop for lunch. Since she was traveling on her own, she had tried to avoid attracting too much unwanted attention by hiding her ears, hair, and stripes with the scarf, and keeping her eyes hidden in the shadow of her straw hat. It seemed to be working surprisingly well. It probably helped that she was short, so most people wouldn't take her as a serious threat, despite the sword hanging from her waist. Katsumi was in the woods now, so she didn't have to worry about being spotted right away, like she did on the open road, or in a village... at least that's what she thought until she heard a twig snap. She knew it wasn't a youkai because she'd gotten really good at being able to sense them. It was humans that worried her, because they tended to overreact, and she didn't want to kill them, even if it would be in self-defense... but she wouldn't just roll over and die either. It just so happened the source of the noise was a cute little human girl. She was peeking out at Katsumi from behind a tree. The girl looked more curious and nervous than scared. Katsumi smiled gently at the little girl. She liked kids.

"It's okay, I don't bite," Katsumi said jokingly, smiling warmly at the girl. Katsumi noticed the girl had a bruise on her wrist. It looked like someone had grabbed her too roughly. More than happy to give the girl a reason to delay going back to whoever hurt her, Katsumi deiced to offer the girl some lunch. "Are you hungry? I've got plenty of fish here." The girl hesitated for a moment before smiling and nodding her head. Katsumi patted the ground beside her and smiled when the girl plopped down beside her without any hesitation. "Hi, I'm Katsumi. What's your name?" Katsumi asked the girl. The girl's smile faltered slightly, and she looked away. The girl looked like she was feeling a little guilty, sad, and happy at the same time. "It's all right, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to," Katsumi said gently.

The girl shook her head as if to say, 'No, that's not it!'

"... Or maybe you can't...?" Katsumi asked.

Rin nodded and smiled, 'yes' she was saying.

'Is she mute?' Katsumi wondered. 'She doesn't look like there's anything physically wrong with her, other than that bruise... oh... I think I remember reading somewhere that people who have been through a really traumatizing experience sometimes lose their ability to see or speak because their mind was too damaged to deal, so the brain shuts down one of the other senses because it would somehow protect their mind from totally breaking.' "Hey, how about we play a game?" Katsumi suggested.

The little girl smiled and nodded eagerly. Katsumi smiled back.

"How about this, I'll go stand by that chestnut tree, and ask questions. If the answer is 'yes,' you take one step forward, and if the answer is 'no,' you take one step back. We can play until you either reach the chestnut tree, or the fish are done cooking," Katsumi suggested. This way they could play and 'talk' at the same time.

The girl nodded excitedly. Katsumi smiled back at her and went to stand by the chestnut tree a few feet away.

"Ready? And... start!" Katsumi said, clapping to signal the start of the game. "First question! Do you like fish?" Katsumi asked playfully.

The girl giggled and took a step forward.

"Second question! Is the first syllable in your name 'Ai'?"Katsumi asked.

The girl took a step back.

"... Is it 'Ha'?" Katsumi asked.

The girl took another step back, giggling as Katsumi made a face of exaggerated shock.

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