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Ninomae Ina’nis was ten years old when she moved into the cul-de-sac. Amelia Watson and her aunty and uncle Watson. They arrived in an old van, and though it rattled and desperately needed a new paint job, it had character.

“Whatcha lookin’ at?” Ane’nis’s question almost made Ina jump out of her skin. Her older sister merely cocked an eyebrow. Ina didn’t respond and instead peeked through the floral print curtains again. She felt the curtains shuffled and brush over her forehead as Ane’nis pried them open further, squinting at the sight.

“You could’a just told me we had some new neighbours moving in,” Ane’nis quickly lost interest. Ina continued watching.

“They have a kid my age,” She stated, finally leaving the window to grab a snack from the kitchen. Ane’nis stifled a laugh, glancing at her little sister as Ina rummaged through the fridge.

“A kid your age, huh?” Ina nodded before burying her head in the fridge, probably looking for the bottle of Dr. Oopsie Mama’nis had begrudgingly bought the last time they went shopping.

“I like her hat, and she has pretty blonde hair,” Ina spoke absentmindedly. Ane’nis chucked softly and smirked. Her little sister could not be getting a crush on the new girl already, right?

“Nice hat and pretty hair, huh?” Ane’nis parroted her sister’s words, letting them sink in. Somewhere across the room, Ane heard Ina squeak before she froze and started sputtering, unopened bottle of Dr. Oopsie in hand as she closed the fridge door.

“I wasn’t- I mean, maybe- I mean!...” She accepted defeat. Ane frowned. No quip back, huh? The older Ninomae strode over to where Ina sat, face hidden in her hands.

“You wanna go over and say hello?”  Ina peaked through her hands and nodded shyly. Ane’nis chortled and pat her younger sister on the back. She had to admit, it was kinda funny seeing the ever so quiet and composed Ina ever so flustered.

“Well, c’mon then!” Ane’nis strode out the door, leaving Ina in the kitchen.

“Wait! Ane’nis! I need to put my shoes on!” Ina stumbled into the living room where she had left her slip-on sandals, rushing after her older sister. They both shared a laugh, strolling down the street at a comfortable pace.

Their neighbourhood was small and peaceful, their house nestled at the very end of the cul-de-sac they lived in. Surrounding the rustic buildings was a forest, and deep within the forest behind Ina’s house was their family temple where one of Ina’s only friends remained.

Ao-chan.

Ina briefly wondered how these new people would fit in, and if they even knew about the sect just beyond the fence line.

“Cra- Uh, crud! Ina, I need to tell Mama’nis and Papa’nis where we’re going. Just stay here and I’ll be right back!” Ina watched her sister’s departing form with an almost blank stare. Something in her gut told her that maybe it wasn’t the best idea to tell her parents about the new people, but Ina didn’t exactly know why.

So she stood there, letting the breeze tussle her short, purple hair and sweep around her clean, white robes.

“Hi!” Ina almost jumped out of her skin at the new voice. She whirled around, only to be met with the brightest, sky blue eyes with a matching smile. Wide, pale purple eyes flicked back and forth nervously, wondering if this person right in front of her was truly talking to her.

“Uh, hello? Did I scare you? I’m sorry if I did,” It was only then did Ina realise that the girl was holding out her hand. She quickly shook herself out of her stupor.

“Oh, hi. I’m Ina,” Her voice shy, Ina slowly shook the blonde girl’s hand.

“I’m Amelia! Amelia Watson!” Amelia smiled at Ina, her excited attitude almost infectious as she felt a smile growing on her own face. “I like your robes!” Ina looked down at her casual wear. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for people around here to wear things like her set of white robes.

“Thank you… I like your hat,” Somewhere Ina found the courage to speak up. Amelia giggled, finally letting go of Ina’s hand.

“Thanks! I got it from my uncle,” A silence settled over the conversation. Ina glanced back at her house, hoping at any moment that Ane’nis would return and join the conversation.

“You wanna come over? I got Pokémon cards!” And just like that, Ina was bribed. Ane’nis and her parents permission forgotten, Ina happily walked with her new friend who continued to talk and ramble animatedly about any random topic that came to mind, ranging from the new puppy her family got to her dream of being a detective.

 

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“Auntie! Uncle! I’m home! And I brought a friend!” Filled with curiosity, Ina gazed around their home. She somewhat remembered the people who lived here before the Watson’s, a lovely old couple that would come by her parent’s house every now and then to give them a pie or a couple of pastries.

Wooden bookshelves lined the walls, although all their titles were smudged beyond recognition. Most of the curtains were drawn closed, and various candles littered around the house casting a warm, golden glow. It was just enough light for Ina to make out all the boxes scattered around the floor, some either empty or only half emptied.

“Ame! You’re back early! And you… brought a friend,” Ina withered under Auntie Watson’s cold stare. Something about her aura just felt like Ina was intruding on some sort’ve sacred ground. Beside her, Amelia grimaced and stood a little closer to her new friend, sending a look toward her mother figure. Auntie Watson sighed.

“Well, I’ve fixed some tea in the kitchen, feel free to help yourself. Uncle Watson has gone to grab some groceries, so he’ll be back in an hour or so,” Auntie Watson picked her way out of the room, disappearing down the short hallway.

Ina fidgeted with her robes, letting them fall past her hands as her bangs obscured her face.

“Did.. Did I do something wrong?” Amelia didn’t answer, instead choosing to kneel to properly look Ina in the face, giving her a small smile.

“Don’t worry about her, my auntie and uncle can be weird like that sometimes… You wanna come meet Bubba?” Amelia took Ina’s hands in her own, half leading half dragging her over to a pudgy, little terrier was napping in front of one of the few sunbeams around the house.

“He’s a little sleepy from the move,” Amelia cautiously reached a hand out before carefully running it over his fur, making sure not to disturb him.

“He’s very cute,” Ina muttered quietly. Her family had never let her get a dog or a cat despite the amount of pleading and asking coming from both her and Ane’nis. Something about distracting from priestess duties.

But I’m ten! I won’t take on Ao-chan’s care until I’m fifteen!’ Ina had begged, but her parents hadn’t wavered.

“I want a puppy like him one day,” Amelia smiled, turning to Ina. “Well, whenever you’re free you can come over and say hello,” Ina tried to force a smile, though it came out more than a grimace.

“I have a feeling my parents wouldn’t exactly like that…” Amelia cocked her head and frowned. So far, Ina’s parents didn’t sound very fun and they certainly didn’t seem fond of Amelia’s family.

“Well… We can go look at my Pokémon cards now?” And just like that Ina lightened up, eager to move away from the topic of her parents. For once, she finally acted like the kid she deserved to be.

 

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“I should probably head home,” Ina looked out Amelia’s window, eyeing the sun set high in the sky. Beside her, Amelia blew a loud raspberry, forcing Ina to stifle a laugh.

“You’ve only been here for an hour or two!” The young Watson tried to argue, a playful smile on her face.

“Yeah, my parents are probably worried sick by now. I did just sort’ve run off,” Ina took one last look at Amelia’s room before standing up, treading carefully around the boxes she had stacked in the shape of a fort. Amelia, while disappointed, followed after her.

“Can we play again tomorrow?” Ina paused for a moment and thought. Was she doing anything tomorrow?

“I’m busy in the afternoon, but I should be free until midday! There’s a cool place I could show you in the forest. If you’re interested?” At the very idea of adventure Amelia’s eyes sparkled.

“I’ll be looking forward to it, Ninomae Ina’nis!” Amelia saluted. Ina giggled.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Ame!” For once, Ina felt overjoyed at the idea of hanging out with a kid her age, rather than being forced to play with the other kids at church.

Although all that happiness drained when she saw the towering figure of her father. Usually, Papa’nis was a gentle giant, but when he looked mad it made Ina scared. Slowly, her running slowed to a graceful amble.

“Ina’nis… Where have you been?” Soon enough, Mama’nis appeared over his shoulder while Ane’nis skulked by behind them, shooting a sympathetic glance towards her younger sister.

“Well… Ao-chan felt lonely… So I went to go visit them for a little bit…” Ina fiddled with her fingers, hoping her parents would pass it off as her being nervous rather than lying. Papa’nis’ expression softened, but Mama’nis just sighed and pet him on the shoulder.

“Well, lunch is almost ready,” They both disappeared back inside. Ina stood on the porch, stepping inside and slipping her shoes off. Before she closed the door behind her, she quickly glanced at the new van outside the old house. A curtain flickered, and a familiar face peered through the window.

Ina peered into the kitchen, watching her Mama’nis add the finishing touches. She quickly waved to Amelia, smiling as the young Watson waved back. With a faint smile, Ina closed the door, hoping that no one had seen her.

“So, had fun with your new friend,” Ane’nis sidled up out of nowhere, a smug grin present on her face as she tussled her sister’s hair.

“I wasn’t gone that long, was I?” Ane’nis sucked her teeth, trying to look anywhere but Ina.

“Nooo… You were gone for a little longer than that, actually…” Ina crumpled a little more.

“Eh, don’t worry. I’ll help keep your cover, you just gotta help me with the dishes and the temple upkeep. Now c’mon, your lunch is gonna get cold,” Ane left Ina to herself. Ina shelved her shoes with the rest of the families before joining them at the chabudai table.

 

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“So, how’d you find this place?” Amelia kept herself perfectly balanced upon the log she tottered across while Ina watched with a faint smile. A nearby stream gurgled quietly, the sounds of birdcall cheeping throughout the winding trees.

“My sister found it, actually. We just come out here together sometimes to get inspiration,” Ina held her robes to her body, carefully kneeling down to get a closer look at a round frog nestled between a clump of mossy rocks. It croaked at her once before hopping away.

“Inspiration?” Amelia hopped down next to her, watching the frog dart in the direction of the flowing water.

“Ane’nis and I like to draw, well, Ane’nis more so than me, but it’s a fun way to pass the time,” Ina got up and pushed aside a curling fern, revealing a somewhat worn down path. She let Ame past first before following her.

“Neat, can I see some of your drawings next time you come over?” Amelia looked over her shoulder back at Ina, who just smiled in response.

“I can bring my sketchbook over next time, but I am pretty busy for the next few days,” The two of them continued down the path, coming across a clearing with a single tree in the centre, and hanging from that tree was a wooden swing. Ina and Ame shared a look, one that only two mischievous kids could understand.

“Rock paper scissors who goes first?” Ina offered. Amelia shook her head.

“I’m fine with you going first,” She insisted.

“You sure?” Amelia only nodded.

Ina had been on this swing before, in fact, she and Ane’nis were the ones who made it, but she always had her sister’s help getting on. The seat had been lifted just high enough so the younger Ninomae needed a lift.

Amelia must’ve caught on before Ina could say anything, as before Ina could ask for help she was being lifted off the ground.

“Wah!” Ina flailed her arms and legs in surprise, Amelia’s arms wrapped firmly around her waist.

“You looked like you needed a lift” She offered helpfully, giving Ina a toothy smile. Ina finally stopped flailing and latched on to the swing, expertly swinging her legs over the seat until she was somewhat comfortable.

“Can you give me a push?” Ina looked down at Amelia, who didn’t respond. Instead, she grabbed the parts of the seat Ina wasn’t sitting on and started running, pushing the swing forward to give it enough moment to swing wildly in a circle.

They both laughed, the sound piercing the usual ambience of the forest. Ina kicked her legs back and forth happily while Ame ran to keep up with her, occasionally giving her an extra push to keep the momentum going.

Dirt clumped on the young Watson’s shoes, a wide smile split along her face. Ina’s face was red with laughter, her short cut purple hair waving madly in the wind.

Soon enough they calmed down, Amelia slowly losing her breath as she came to a stop. While Ina kept swinging, Ame leaned against the tree, her chest heaving with every breath as everything came to a stop.

Even as the swing fully stopped, Ina continued to laugh. Her face looked permanently windswept with her hair sticking up in random directions and a pale blush spread across her cheeks.

“My turn now!” Amelia strutted up to the swing. “You know how to get down?” Ina just smiled and just jumped off, stumbling a little as her feet hit the ground.

“Perfect landing,” She wheezed, much to Amelia’s amusement as she expertly clambered onto the swing.

“Mind giving me a hand?” Ame kicked her legs back and forth, smile shining. Ina nodded happily, grabbing the seat the same way Amelia had, though there was much less force behind it this time.

“Want me to keep going?” Ina spoke a little louder. Amelia just shook her head. “I got this!” As soon as she got closer to the trunk of the tree, she stuck her legs and pushed off, sending her flying in the opposite direction. Amelia laughed and the wind tugged through her hair, hat flying dramatically off her head and miraculously landing by Ina’s feet.

“Huh?” Ina looked down, her eyes coming to rest on the cap. She looked from the hat to Amelia and then back to the hat until she got a lightbulb worthy idea.

Meanwhile, Ame was just letting the swing slowly come to a halt, hoping to collect her hat and fix her hair. What she didn’t expect to see was Ina staring at her with big doe eyes, her favourite deerstalker cap nestled comfortably atop her head.

Amelia pretended to scrutinize her.

“Looks good,” She said in the poshest voice she could muster, which made the two of them break down in laughter.

“We should definitely come back here again,” Ina managed through wheezing breaths. Amelia faltered, taking a moment to respond.

“Definitely.”

 

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“I have returned with the popcorn!” Amelia announced, a big bowl of popcorn in hand as well as a few more blankets. Ina shuffled over, making room for her best friend to slip in beside her.

“Don’t we have enough blankets already?” Ina cocked an eyebrow. Amelia scoffed as she placed the bowl of popped kernels on the coffee table in front of them.

“One can never have enough blankets, Ina,” She chastised playfully, taking a handful of popcorn and shoving it into her mouth. Ina rolled her eyes with an almost inaudible chuckle as the movie started.

“Feels like it’s only been a month since I moved here,” Amelia shuffled a little closer, wrapping her blanket around both of their shoulders.

“Well miss Watson, I am glad to tell you it has been almost one and a half years since you moved here, which means you have been stuck with me for almost one and a half years,” Ina gave Ame a playful boop on the nose.

“Well, if I had to be stuck with someone, I’m glad it could be my best friend,” The two shared a warm smile.

“Now shush! Let’s watch the movie!” Amelia shoved a handful of popcorn in Ina’s face, making her laugh as most of it fell to the floor.

“You girls having fun?” Auntie Watson strolled into the room, setting down two warm cups filled with sweet, chocolatey liquid.

“Hot chocolate! Thank you, Auntie Watson!” Ina immediately grabbed the mug, feeling the warmth seep into her admittedly cold hands. She blew on the steaming beverage, letting it cool down before she slowly sipped it.

Meanwhile, Amelia didn’t do any of that and instead jugged the hot chocolate, almost dropping her mug as the scalding liquid burnt her scarred tongue. Ina and Auntie Watson just laughed.

“Well, my mouth is going to be burnt for the next three days,” Amelia sighed as she accepted her fate. Auntie Watson ruffled her hair.

“Your uncle and I will be in the study if you need us, kay? Love you, sweetheart,” She leaned over and gave Amelia a quick peck on the crown of her hair, flicking the lights off as she left the room.

Amelia would’ve gone back to watching the movie if it weren’t for the mushy face Ina was giving her.

“…What?” She looked over her shoulder at her friend. Ina giggled, her smile widening mischievously.

Sweetheart~,” She teased. Amelia flushed and pulled the blanket over her head, squeaking at Ina to ‘shut up!’ as she readied a nearby cushion for attack, meanwhile Ina was too busy trying to meekly defend herself with a nearby pillow, laughing as all kinds of feathery hell were brought upon her.

After winning the battle, they both finally settled down, Amelia’s head resting against Ina’s shoulder as the two finally relaxed. Though, instead of focussing on the movie, Amelia’s eyes kept wandering around the room. First, they rested on one of the nearby bookshelves, then on Ina’s face, then over to a stack of boxes from when they’d moved that had never been cleaned up, then back to Ina as she laughed at something. Amelia felt positively mushy inside seeing her smile.

Without thinking, Ame wrapped an arm around Ina’s shoulder, bringing her just a little closer into her embrace. If Ina noticed, which she probably did, she didn’t say anything, instead choosing to just hum softly and lean further into Amelia’s embrace.

Warm…” Amelia mused, not even paying attention to the movie anymore. In fact, she could already feel her eyes sliding closed, a peaceful smile splayed on her face.

Ina just felt a hot flush creep up her neck, letting Amelia fall asleep on her shoulder.

 

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“Hey, Ina, Mama’nis wants you to know that we need to head out early to check with Ao-chan tomorrow, so you might wanna get an early night,” Ane’nis quirked an eyebrow, seeing Ina still in her day robes sprawled on her bed, pencil in hand and sketchbook in front of her. For some reason, Ina squeaked and clutched her sketchbook to her chest dramatically. Ane’nis chose not to question it.

“Okay, Ane’nis!” She replied a little too forcefully, not moving an inch as she stared down her sister. The older Ninomae just blinked, slowly closing her bedroom door as Ina kept smiling awkwardly at her. Even after Ina was sure her sister was gone, she didn’t move, only shocked out of her stupor was a gentle knocking on her window.

The young priestess half expected this to happen at some point, her awkward grin softening into something more real as she saw Amelia smiling cheekily at her.

“What are you doing here? I thought you were joking when you said you’d visit me through my window!” Ina wasn’t mad, jokingly stealing Amelia’s hat right off of her head. They both shared a soft bout of laughter.

“But seriously, my parents would kill both of us if they found out you were doing this,” Ina leaned a little closer, resting her arms on the open windowsill.

“I was lonely,” Was all she responded with, a certain glint in her sky blue eyes that made Ina’s heart flip. Amelia reached out, taking her hat from Ina’s hands before delicately placing it atop her head.

“Well, I’m sorry to inform you that I will be busy all day tomorrow. Family business and all that,” Ina struggled to hide her amused smile as Amelia pouted.

“But Auntie and Uncle Watson are gonna be busy all day tomorrow! I’m gonna be all alone!” She cried mournfully, slinging an arm around Ina’s shoulder. Meanwhile, Ina just pursed her lips, trying to look serious.

“Ame! If you’re too loud my parents are gonna hear!” She whispered. Amelia sighed in her dramatic fashion. Ina just shook her head fondly, taking the hat off her head and placing it back onto Amelia’s, tucking a few strands of blonde hair behind her ear.

“Why don’t you hang out in the forest with Bubba tomorrow? I heard there was a cool waterfall around somewhere. Just be careful if you go, I don’t want you to get lost,” Amelia gave her a small smile, her eyes twinkling at the thought of adventure.

“I’ll be sure to find you something cool, then,” Amelia quickly wrapped Ina up in a hug, her touch lingering for just a moment longer than normal before she effortlessly scaled down the wall again, saluting Ina as she disappeared into the night. Ina just smiled softly, carefully shutting her window and drawing the curtains closed before setting off to do her night-time routine.

 

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“Ame! Are we almost there yet?” Ina felt her sandals snag on a nearby root. She would’ve tripped over if Amelia didn’t rush to catch her.

“Almost there, I promise! You’re gonna love this!” Ina did trust her, which was the only reason why she kept going. Normally, she and Ane’nis would’ve turned back by now, the dark, looming trees would’ve been far too dangerous by her parent’s standards. Even now with her best friend by her side, she still felt a little nervous.

Amelia must’ve felt the way Ina tensed up, freezing in place, as not a moment later she felt warm hands wrapping around her own. Ame’s smiling face was the only thing she could see.

“I’m right here, if you wanna take a little break we can, and we can head back if you want,” She assured. Ina smiled warmly and shook her head.

“It’s fine, I’m excited to see what you found!” Still walking hand in hand, the two continued on their journey. It was only a few minutes later did Ina hear the sound of rushing water, and only a few moments later did the sight of a series of miniature waterfalls greet her.

“Cool, huh?” Amelia looked so proud of herself, eyes shining as brightly as the sun. Behind her sat a picnic blanket, set up perfectly in the shade of a low hanging tree, its red and green leaves overlapping, casting dappled shadows onto the checkered blanket.

“Cool would be an understatement,” Ina slowly spun around, trying to take in the scenery piece by piece, from the waterfall turning into the gurgling steam to the surrounding colours of the trees as the seasons changed, to the bright blue sky that perfectly matched her best friend’s eyes.

“It’s so beautiful, I should bring my sketchbook next time we come here,” Behind her, Amelia faltered.

“Next time?” Ina turned to face her confused. Before she could question her friend’s words, Amelia continued.

“Sorry, I’m just not used to that. Me and my auntie and uncle move around so much, I’m not used to having a next time with the friends I make,” For once, her smile didn’t reach her eyes. Ina frowned, quickly clearing the gap between them and taking Amelia’s hands in her own. Amelia giggled softly, melancholy.

“Why are your hands always so cold?” Ina’s face remained stony, in fact, her eyes seemed to darken ever so slightly. Amelia frowned.

“Hey, what’s up?” Ina shook herself out of her trance, shooting an apologetic look at Amelia.

“It’s… A long story, but it doesn’t matter. You’re the sad one, I should be helping you to feel better!” Ina had a crooked smile. Amelia held her hands a little tighter.

“We have time! Trust me, I’m fine. If we were going to move, we would’ve done so by now!” Ina just frowned again, her eyes refusing to meet Amelia’s.

“Can we sit down?” Her voice was quiet, so soft that Ame almost didn’t hear the words she uttered. The blanket was lumpy, the grass underneath trying its hardest to poke through. Neither of them paid any attention to it. Ina was too busy righting her robes and trying to look find and Amelia was too busy making sure her friend was okay.

“Ina, you okay?” Ina’s gaze didn’t reach Ame’s eyes. Her fingers fidgeted nervously, tugging at the sleeve of her robes before meekly wringing them together.

“Ame… I’m scared,” Ina admitted. “I have been scared for so long. I’ve wanted to tell you this for months, but I’m scared my parents will find out,” When Ina finally lifted her head, Amelia had to bite back a gasp. Her usually lively eyes were stained with tears and ringed with red, cloudy tears leaking down her cheeks and dripping onto the blanket below.

It tugged at her heartstrings, and without hesitation Amelia leaned forward and cupped Ina’s face, carefully wiping the tears away from the corner of her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” Ina froze, fixating on Amelia’s bright blue eyes. She sniffled once, then twice, then wiped the rest of her face clean by herself. Her eyes still stung with unshed tears, but she tried her hardest to keep them from falling.

“Ame… I haven’t been entirely honest with my family business…” Ina mumbled, her hand fumbling and reaching for Amelia’s hand. For the briefest of moments, Ina was afraid Amelia was about to leave, but she reached forward and intertwined their fingers, a comforting warmth settling in Ina’s palm.

“You haven’t told me much about your family business in general,” Ina supposed that was meant to be a joke.

“I haven’t for a reason. It’s… dangerous to say the least,” Amelia cocked her head curiously.

“But it’s a family business, so your family knows how to handle it?” Ina just nodded.

“It’s a little hard to explain, and probably sounds crazy to anyone new to this area,” Amelia paused as Ina took a deep breath.

“My family owns a temple. We maintain it, keep it clean and all. In that temple is a book called Ao-Chan. Ever since I was born, it was decided that I would be the next holder, or priestess, to Ao-Chan,” Ina froze, taking a moment to rub away a few remaining tears. Meanwhile, Amelia hung on to her every word, her curiosity growing with every passing second.

“Ao-Chan isn’t just a book, the book is a cover, a container or vessel for an ancient entity that surpasses the power of space and time,” Amelia briefly let go of Ina’s hand, instead choosing to wrap an arm around her shoulder, pulling the priestess to be into a one-armed hug.

“Is this what you’re scared about?” Ina just shook her head.

“No. I mean, I used to be scared of Ao-Chan, but for the most part, they’re relatively harmless,” Amelia gave her a sceptical look. “I mean they don’t crave destruction! They’re perfectly content to just live under my family’s care!” Amelia hugged her a little tighter.

Neither of them spoke, neither of them needed to. Amelia was perfectly happy to wait until Ina was ready to talk if she even wanted to keep talking about this. After all, the Ninomaes weren’t the only family with their reality-bending secrets.

“Ame…You never found it weird that I wore a robe every day?” Ina tilted her head as she looked at her best friend. Amelia smiled sheepishly.

“Well, everyone else dressed similarly, so I thought it was a kind of dress code… No one bothered me or my family for it so we didn’t care,” Ina blinked before chuckling, her chuckling quickly turning to laughter which she stifled in Amelia’s coat.

“You’re… So silly!” She chortled, a natural smile finally spread across her face.

“Besides Ina, you really didn’t think my family was exactly normal either, did you?” Amelia finally questioned after Ina’s laughter died down. Her smile shrunk, though it was still there.

“I mean, I never really questioned your family. You’re all so nice!” Neither of them cared about the lack of distance between them.

“Well, you know that pocket watch my Uncle always has on him?” Ina nodded. She was always intrigued by the antique pocket watch. Despite its age, it was always so shiny. “Yeah, you can still use it as a regular pocket watch, but if you try hard enough, you can travel through time with it!” Amelia’s eyes had stars in them.

Time travel… Cool’ Ina mused. The very idea of time travel sounded so alluring to her, being able to go to any point in time? Could Amelia take people with her? Would it be considered rude to ask? Were there rules to time travel?

“Before you ask, it’s not as great as it sounds. Apparently, there are all kinds of rules, and if you break even one of them the fabric of time rips and you get a reeaaaally long lecture from Kronii, at least, that’s what I’m told,” Amelia rolled her eyes, though she still had a playful smile on her face.

“I’m just glad I could get that off of my chest,” Ina sighed before flopping onto the blanket, staring up at the drifting clouds.

“You wanna cloud watch for a bit?” Ina pet the spot next to her, inviting Amelia to lay next to her. Ame smiled, laying down next to Ina, letting their shoulders brush ever so slightly.

“Race to find the weirdest cloud?” Amelia challenged.

“You’re on,” Ina smirked.

 

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Four years. It had been four years since Amelia had come into Ina’s life, and the two were like two peas in a pod for almost all of it. If one of them was roaming the streets or exploring the forest, odds are the other would be right there beside them. The two couldn’t be any different from each other. Rambunctious and loud Amelia compared to the more tranquil and quiet Ina.

But despite Amelia being the more adventurous and rebellious of the two, Ina still found herself scaling her wall and sneaking off into the forest well after her bedtime.

It had become a thing between the two of them. Once every week, they’d sneak off to the clearing with the waterfall Amelia had found roughly two years prior, it had become their own little safe haven. Ina could probably navigate the track blind she had travelled it so many times. Even the nighttime ambience didn’t scare Ina anymore.

The clearing looked so different in the dark, especially under a waning gibbous. The silver light of the moon reflected off almost every surface, glittering along the water, dancing on the swaying leaves and casting a glowing sheen of colour on the environment.

And under that moon was Ina’s best friend, Amelia H. Watson.

Ina smiled, her heart skipping a beat. Somewhere in their friendship, Ina had realised how incredibly cute Ame was. It seemed every time they two had met up for the past six months or so, Ina’s heart started fluttering madly against her own will.

A crush, Ane’nis had to practically spell it out for her. Meanwhile, her own parents weren’t even aware that the two saw each other every day (excluding the days Ina had to look after Ao-Chan, of course).

“Ina! You took a little longer this time,” Amelia’s gaze followed her steps as Ina sat next to her on the log. In her palm sat a glinting pocket watch. It was worn with age, and the chain looked like it had been replaced at least a few times. Otherwise, it still served its function perfectly, like a well-oiled machine.

“You’ve become weirdly punctual ever since your uncle gave you that,” Ina nodded her head to the watch. Amelia pocketed it back in her coat.

“I have to learn sooner or later. Punctuality is an important part of being a time traveller,” Amelia puffed out her chest, proud of her newly acquired title of ‘Time Traveller’. Ina giggled airily.

“So, when are you taking over guardianship of Ao-Chan?” Amelia took Ina’s hand in her own.

“Just one more year. You have no idea how early we have to start the preparations,” Ina clutched her hand carefully, relishing in the warmth it brought her.

“I mean, they are an ancient god, so better safe than sorry,” Ina just nodded, stifling a yawn as she rested her head on Amelia’s shoulder. The time traveller felt her face flush, redness creeping up her neck and staining her cheeks.

Since when were you so adorable, Ina?’ Using her unoccupied hand, Amelia hugged Ina a little tighter to her.

“I should be getting back soon. I can’t believe how long the sermons took last night,” Amelia remembered. Ina had complained to her this morning about how the sermons had lasted well into the early morning, which is why she had slept till 3pm.

Amelia just hummed. Something in her heart tugged, and Amelia knew exactly what she wanted to say in response. She just… didn’t know if she could. Ina was her best friend! She had said so too many times to count! So then, what was the chance she even liked her back? Was Ina even allowed to be romantically involved or did her position as (soon to be) priestess of the Ancient Ones prevent that?

“Whatcha thinking about?” Ina asked quietly, her voice somewhat muffled by the collar of Amelia’s coat.

“Huh? How’d ya know I was thinking?” Ina leaned up, turning Amelia’s face to make her look at her.

“You got that look in your eyes, and your forehead was crinkling. What’s got you worked up?” Amelia didn’t respond, the words caught in her throat. She could admit everything, she could say how much she admired Ina, how much she wanted to just hold her and kiss her and everything else a corny, mushy teenager would say.

“Watson~ What’s up?” Ina leaned in even closer, their noses almost touching and their breaths mingling. Amelia felt her heart leap up into her throat, her blush returning full force. Ina must’ve noticed the position they were in for the first time, as a similar blush appeared on her own face.

Immediately, she started sputtering out apologies, and for the first time, Amelia realised that Ina might feel the same. She was not letting this moment pass.

Amelia reached up to Ina’s shoulders, gently holding her in place.

“No, you’re fine,” Her voice was low. Ina paused, blinking.

“Are you sure?” Her voice was barely louder than a whisper. Amelia didn’t trust her words and chose to just nod weakly. Ina leaned back in, letting their noses brush.

Is this happening?... This is happening!’ Amelia felt her breathing stutter, the sensation of Ina’s lips brushing against her own. Out of habit, Ame reached her hand out to Ina’s hand, gripping around it in a practised motion as her thumb brushed over Ina’s knuckles.

It was warm and clumsy, neither of them knew what they were doing and it was obvious. But at the same time, it felt so comforting to know someone cared about them so deeply. The faint tingling of Ina exhaling through her nose tickled as it jostled strands of Amelia’s hair. Ina giggled sweetly as they parted, finding Amelia’s starstruck expression equal parts amusing and adorable.

“Wow,” Was all she could utter. Slowly, Amelia’s smile grew. Ina thought it fit perfectly with her flushed expression and cute freckles.

Without saying anything else, Amelia leaned forward, parting Ina’s bangs before giving her a quick peck on her forehead. Now it was Ina’s turn to be flustered.

She squeaked, hiding her face in the draping sleeves of her robes. Amelia rested their foreheads together, laughing at Ina’s reaction.

“You’re too adorable,” She mused, not even flinching at Ina’s attempt to swat her away.

“Stop!” She whined, though anyone with half a brain cell could tell she was just playing.

“Not my fault you’re too cute!” Amelia defended herself. Ina accepted her fate, choosing to faceplant and bury herself in Ame’s embrace. Instantly, she felt her arms wrapping around her midsection, hugging Ina closer.

“Please don’t fall asleep, I don’t think I’m strong enough to carry you all the way back and I don’t really want to explain to your parents why I had to bring you home,” Ina didn’t respond, humming softly.

“Not my fault you’re too comfortable and warm,” She rebuked. Amelia smiled. A perfect moment that couldn’t be ruined.

Until it was.

The sound of someone clearing their throat made Amelia almost jump out of her skin and hug Ina a little tighter.

“So this is where my sister has been going,” Ane’nis strolled into the clearing. Ina finally removed herself from Amelia’s embrace, shooting a guilty look in Ane’s direction. Before either could try and excuse the fact that they were in the middle of the forest at midnight, Ane’nis held up a hand to silence them.

“You really don’t think I snuck out of the house when I was your age, Ina?” Ane’nis held out a hand. “C’mon, I gotta sneak you back home before Mama’nis and Papa’nis realise I’m not taking a shower,” Ina looked between her sister and Amelia, hesitating for a moment before giving her new girlfriend a quick peck on the cheek before joining her sister.

“See you later, Ame~” Ina waved goodbye as Ane’nis muttered something about the two of them being mushy.

 

<><><><><><><><><><> 

 

Ina was in a positively joyful mood. Not only had she just led her first sermon (perfectly, as Ao-Chan praised her) she also got to spend the rest of her day with her amazing girlfriend of six months. It still felt unreal that she got to call Amelia her girlfriend, it still made her feel giddy every time she thought about it.

“Going out to see your girlfriend?” Ane’nis poked her head in on Ina, watching her as she scribbled away madly at her desk.

“In a few minutes, I just want to finish this first,” Ina thoughtfully tapped her pencil against her chin, thinking.

“Uh-hu, well, you better finish your sapphic poetry cause Ame just told me she had something pretty serious to tell you,” Ina didn’t know what to feel more surprised over. The fact that Amelia had come over to Ina’s house to personally tell her sister to tell Ina she had something important to say, or the fact that Ane’nis knew that she had taken writing poetry about aforementioned girlfriend.

“You really need to hide them better, you don’t want Mama’nis to find them if she comes in here looking for you,” Ane’nis left as quickly as she arrived, leaving Ina’s brain to shift into overdrive as she tried to simultaneously slip on her sandals while shoving her poetry into a more secretive spot.

Ina’nis tried her best to run to their not so secret meeting spot, but you can only run (read, power-walk) so fast without tripping over in a pair of platform sandals.

Soon enough, the familiar clearing came into sight, that same rushing waterfall with its trickling stream, those same trees with their dangling leaves and the same, perfect person seated on their log turned seat.

“Ame!” She called out. Amelia flinched, and her expression broke Ina’s heart.

Almost instantaneously she came to a stop, carefully approaching her sobbing girlfriend. Amelia practically melted into her hug as Ina sat down next to her, sobbing audibly into her girlfriend’s robes.

Ina didn’t pry or prompt, instead letting the time traveller sob all her emotions out until she was ready to talk. The only thing she did was rub circles on Amelia’s back, uttering sweet assurances in her ear.

“Ame, what’s wrong?” Ina finally asked after she’d calmed down enough. For a moment, Amelia didn’t say anything. It was like she was trying to tell her, but the very words made her want to burst out crying again.

“I’m… I’m moving in a week,” She finally croaked out, and it was like Ina’s world was shattered. Her one and only best friend and girlfriend was leaving her life, possibly forever. There was no way to keep in touch once you left the town, and certainly no way to keep in touch once you left the state or country.

All Ina could do was hug Amelia tighter.

“I wish you could come with me…” Amelia whispered, tucking herself into Ina’s embrace, feeling smaller than ever.

“I wish I could show you the world outside of this place, but that could never happen,” Amelia sniffed. Ina’s teary gaze darkened.

“What if… I did go with you?” She asked slowly, bringing a hand up to cup Amelia’s cheek, gently wiping away the tears remaining. Ame just sighed, leaning into her girlfriend’s palm.

“Ina…” She began, “you know that couldn’t happen. We both have families we need to stay with, and as much as I love you, I don’t think either of us could separate from our families,” Amelia whimpered. Ina didn’t say anything. For a moment, Amelia wondered if she was truly considering leaving her life behind just to follow her.

“Ina, please… We’ll find each other again, I promise,” Ina sighed, not moving from her spot. They both knew Amelia was right.

“I just wished you could be here for my ceremony,” Amelia wished she could be at Ina’s ceremony too. Ina had told her about it, she had even seen the robe that Ina would wear. Crafted of dark purple silk with gold trimmings, it fit her perfectly.

“I don’t think I’d even be allowed to go if your parents had a say,” For once, Ina smiled.

“The whole town would be there, traditions and whatnot,” Amelia opened her mouth to respond, but no words came out. What else could they say? Just reminisce on old times? Maybe…

The hand on Amelia’s cheek shifted slightly, gently pushing their faces apart so Ina could look Ame in the eye, stormy purple meeting sky blue.

“We’ll see each other again,” She muttered, pulling Amelia a little closer. The time traveller swallowed her sadness and smiled. “We will, I’m certain,” Ina managed to give her a smile in response, leaning in and letting their lips meet.

Short and sweet, Amelia still felt flustered whenever they kissed, even when it was a simple kiss on the cheek.

“I’m going to miss you,” Ina whispered as they parted.

“But we’ll meet again,” Amelia promised.

 

 

“So, the news wasn’t good?” Ane’nis solemnly walked into Ina’s room, closing the door behind her. The sight of her little sister crumpled on her bed like a defeated piece of paper, crying her eyes out just confirmed her fears.

Ina briefly looked up to glare at her. Well, obviously the news wasn’t good. Ane’nis settled herself on the end of Ina’s bed.

“So, the Watson’s are moving?” Ina just nodded, clutching her pillow. Ane’nis frowned, having a fairly good idea of what happened.

“Ina, do me a favour and follow me?” Ina finally separated herself from her bed. Her short hair was a mess and her eyes were red and puffy. Ane’nis snagged her sister’s hairbrush, motioning for her to come closer.

“You wanna vent before we go?” Ane carefully ran the brush through her sister’s hair, trying to tame it. Ina grunted, hugging her knees.

“I’ll take that as a no,” Ane’nis frowned, quickly taming Ina’s messy bedhead.

“Now quickly, I don’t know if they’re still talking,” Ane’nis tugged Ina to her feet, silently opening her door before wordlessly padding down the hallway. Ina just followed, confusion wracking her brain as Ane’nis gestured for her to be silent.

“So they’re leaving?” It was her mama’nis’ voice coming from the kitchen. Ane’nis hugged Ina tightly.

“By the end of the week. Good for nothing detectives, snooping and sticking their noses where they shouldn’t,” Papa’nis’ voice sounded stony, surprisingly emotionless. Ina had never heard him so… cold.

“At least Ina’nis didn’t hang around their kid too much,” Mama’nis sounded relieved. Ina could only imagine her Papa’nis was nodding along to her mother’s statement. Ane’nis chanced a glance at her sister’s face, only to see tears streaming down her face.

“Ina, do you want to leave?” Ane’nis whispered. Ina didn’t respond, but Ane could see the sadness and anger flaring in her eyes. “Ina? Please don’t do what I think you’re about to do,” Ane’nis’ grip tightened ever so slightly, but Ina still managed to wrench free from her hold and storm into the kitchen.

“Ina! What’s wrong, you look like you’ve been crying!” Mama’nis fretted, rushing over to her daughter. Ina just shouldered past her, making a beeline to the front door.

“Ina’nis, what has gotten into you?” Papa’nis stood up, moving to block his daughter. Ane’nis walked into the kitchen, looking like she desperately wanted to do something to help.

Ina didn’t spare a glance at any of them, just taking her sandals from the shoe rack and slipping them on with ease. Before any of them could say anything, she opened the door and disappeared into the night, slamming the door behind her.

Mama’nis and Papa’nis turned to Ane’nis.

“I guess I’ve got some explaining to do…” She muttered.

 

 

Priestess, you seem distressed’ Ina slumped against Ao-Chan’s podium, burying her face in her hands.

Is it about the time traveller and her family?’ Ina nodded. Ao-Chan knew of their relationship, though they didn’t fully understand how these sorts of things work among humans. All they understood was that Amelia meant a lot to Ina, and in turn, Ina meant a lot to Amelia.

For a moment, they remained silent, like they were thinking.

You will meet again, that we are sure of’ Ao-Chan mused.

“I don’t know what to do, Ao-Chan… I was looking forward to seeing Amelia at the ceremony,” Ina mumbled. The book vibrated. ‘ We understand that it would mean a lot to you… Perhaps you could show her earlier?’ Ina peered over her hands and up at Ao-Chan.

“What… What do you mean?” The aura around the book darkened, and for a moment Ina swore the eye embedded on the cover shifted to look at her.

Unlike your family, we believe you’re ready to become our priestess. What difference is there between a few months?’ Ina stood up, sniffling once or twice as she mulled over Ao-Chan’s words.

“Are you suggesting I skip the whole ceremony process and just become a priestess now?” A moment of silence before the book started hovering. ‘You wanted to show your time traveller, didn’t you?’ Ao-Chan dodged the question. Ina did want to show Amelia, she wanted the two of them to be able to bond over their unique abilities that you would never find among another human family.

“I do… Are you sure though? I don’t know what’s going to happen, what if I lose control?” Ina fretted.

Trust us, priestess, we seek not to harm you’ With that, Ina made up her mind.

Hesitantly, with shaking hands, Ina reached out, brushing her fingertips over the velvet cover. Instantly, a chorus of voices invades her mind, flooding her senses and forcing her to the ground. Among all those voices, one stood out, one that she had heard Ao-Chan speak with normally.

Relax, priestess, for if you stress the whole process will be a lot more difficult for you’ With those words said, Ina proceeded to blackout, darkness swallowing up her vision.

By the time Ina regained consciousness and opened her eyes once more, the sun was peeking over the horizon and through the various hills and mountains that surrounded the region. Somewhere in the distance, Ina could hear the panicked voices of her family.

‘If you are not ready to deal with them, we can help you escape, priestess’ Ao-Chan hovered over and settled themself into Ina’s grasp.

“I don’t think I’m ready, especially after that,” Ina agreed as she struggled to her feet. In her rushed escape through a nearby window, the newly appointed priestess didn’t bother to take in her new appearance. She only had one goal in mind, and she was going to achieve it through any means.

In the early morning hours, very few people were milling about the street, and those who were Ina could easily avoid. The sight of various boxes set outsides the oh so familiar Watson’s house was a sight Ina never wanted to see.

Priestess, confronting Amelia’s guardians might not be the best idea in your current state’ Ao-Chan chimed in her mind. Ina didn’t even question the statement, choosing instead to slink around the side.

Like Ina’s, Amelia’s room was on the second floor, proving an issue for Ina if she were to get inside undetected.

Priestess, allow us to help’ Ina didn’t even get to question Ao-Chan before a slew of giant, purple tentacles burst forth from the shadows, curling and twining their way up to Amelia’s window. The very sight made Ina stumbled. Was that her? Or Ao-Chan? Would she be able to do that in the future?

She stumbled forward, blindly grasping at the tendrils for support as she started climbing. It was surprisingly easy considering the shoes she was wearing and her lack of talent when it came to climbing.

With little hesitation, she began knocking frantically on Amelia’s window. She had no idea if Amelia was awake, but… well, she didn’t know what she’d do if she wasn’t. It was only when she paused in her knocking did Ina finally take in her new appearance.

Two little nubs growing out of her skull, pressed flat against her head as Ina tried her hardest to calm her breathing. Her side bangs had turned into tentacles, now coloured in a golden-orange sheen. In her mouth was just a single fang, giving her what Amelia would describe as an adorable goofy look.

Aside from the tentacles, a pair of wings wrapped carefully around her waist, though Ina couldn’t tell where one wing ended and the other started.

With a defeated sigh, Ina rested her forehead against the glass of Amelia’s window. Meanwhile, a certain time-traveller had just blearily pulled open her blinds after being rudely awoken. She was certain that maybe a bird had come by and was pecking on her window again, but to see what she thought was her girlfriend hovering at her window certainly woke her up.

Amelia knocked gently on the glass, shocking Ina to the point she almost fell over backwards.

“Ina? What happened?” Amelia finally took in the new appendages her girlfriend had seemingly grown overnight. The priestess didn’t say anything, instead choosing to awkwardly clamber into Amelia’s room, wrapping her arms around her girlfriend.

“Ame… I may’ve done something I might regret,” Ina whispered hoarsely in her ear. Behind her, a purple-cover bound book floated after their priestess.

“I’m assuming this is Ao-Chan,” Amelia nodded towards the book. Ina cast a glance over her shoulder. “Yes, this is Ao-Chan,”. Amelia still looked puzzled.

“Ina? What happened to the ceremony? The one happening in six months?” She asked, rubbing the sleep away from her eyes. Ina didn’t say anything, instead tightening her hug.

“I have some explaining to do,” Was all she said.

 

<><><><><><><><><><> 

 

In only one week had Ina’s life been upturned. In one week she found out her best friend of four years and girlfriend of six months would be moving far away from her tiny little hometown. In that one week, Ina had gone ahead without her parent’s permission and had taken her future into her own hands, becoming the new priestess of the Ancient Ones six months ahead of schedule.

And here she was, watching the family she had become so close with pack away the last box into their dingy little van.

Amelia slowly shuffled over to where her girlfriend was standing, hands neatly clasped over each other as her ear flaps drooped low. Ame cupped her face and planted a gentle kiss on her forehead.

“Try not to think of this as goodbye, Ina,” Amelia murmured. Ina looked at her with big doe eyes. Amelia smiled to herself. “Try to think of it as goodbye for now, and then hello, and hello again,” Ina’s newly acquired ear flaps twitch in confusion, before perking up as she seemingly remembered something.

“I actually have something for you,” Ina reached into her pocket, fishing around for whatever she was looking for. Before Amelia could catch a glimpse of what it was, Ina delicately swept her hair to the side, using whatever the gift was to pin it there.

“Here, check it out. I made them myself… Well, Ao-Chan helped,” Ina handed her a small, hand-held mirror. Giving herself a quick once over, Amelia noted the new hairpieces. Made of a golden monocle and gear pieces, it fit her aesthetic perfectly.

Amelia didn’t say anything, instead tugging Ina in for another kiss, gently running her fingers over her squishy ear flaps.

“C’mon, Ame, we have to get going!” Auntie Watson was sad breaking them up, but they were already on a tight schedule, and if they wanted to make it to their destination by sundown they had to hurry.

“Thank you. I’ll miss you, Ina,” Amelia whispered sweetly in Ina’s pointed ear. Soon enough, Amelia was smiling sadly at her, head poked out of the van’s window as they disappeared around a bend in the road.

 

<><><><><><><><><><> 

 

“Big building with the blue triangle on it, this has to be the place, right?” Ina directed her attention to a single Takodachi floating beside her. The little spirit did its best to shrug.

“Well, it is the only building with a big, blue triangle on it,” The room was fairly empty when she walked in, the only person was sitting behind a desk, furiously tapping away at her keyboard with a determined look. She took a moment to wipe her glasses clean before she noticed Ina awkwardly standing in front of her.

“Interviews are in the room over,” Ina politely nodded. She hadn’t gotten enough sleep for this.

At least this room was nice and air-conditioned, a much-needed break from the sweltering heat outside. The only available surface to sit on was a three-person lounge, white in colour. The only problem for her was her antisocial tendencies and the fact that there was someone already sitting there. She was an… interesting person to say the least.

Fluffy, orange hair with swathes of teal at the tips. Bright magenta eyes that seemed fixated with whoever she was texting. Ina decided to just sit as far away from her as possible, setting her gloved hands on her lap as she stared off into space.

The door opposite them cracked open, and Ina felt her eyes bulge seeing who walked out of it. She barely paid attention as the girl next to her swiftly got to her feet and all but skipped into the room.

Meanwhile, Amelia just walked past her, engrossed in something in her hands. Ina felt extremely tempted to reach out and tap her on the shoulder. She was sure Amelia wouldn’t mind, and she had promised they would meet again.

“Oh, Amelia! You forgot this!” The door quickly opened again, and a woman with a blonde bob cut and fluffy wings peaked through, phone in hand.

“Oh! Thank you, Jenma! I swear, I’m not usually this scatterbrained, just-” The person, Jenma, cut her off. “You just have a lot on your mind?” She asked sweetly. Amelia smiled awkwardly, nodding in agreement.

With a final thank you, Amelia turned around to leave, only to see a certain someone sitting on the couch, watching her. Ame felt her heart flutter.

“Ina?” Whatever stupor she was in, Amelia’s question must’ve knocked her out of it. Her ear flaps perked up in an adorable fashion that made the detective’s heart melt.

“Ame?” Neither of them said anything, but within moments they were in each other’s embrace once more. Ina giggled sweetly as she wrapped her arms around Amelia’s torse. Meanwhile, the time traveller happily nuzzled under Ina’s chin arms wrapping around her shoulders.

The priestess boldly took a chance, placing a delicate kiss on the crown of the detective’s hair. She felt Amelia freeze in her grasp before she practically melted into her arms.

“I forgot how much I missed this,” She happily murmured. Ina hummed in agreement.

“Hey, I’m sorry to ruin your moment, but is this the place for the Hololive English auditions?” Amelia and Ina turned to face the newcomer.

Taller than both of them with waist-length pink hair. A heavy-duty cloak fitted with spikes wrapped around her shoulders snuggly, matching perfectly with her ornate dress. A tiara and veil decorated her hair, framing her piercing, crimson eyes.

“Yeah, you’re in the right place,” Amelia nodded, still putty in Ina’s arms. In an instant, the person’s harsh demeanour dropped as she gave them an awkward thumbs up, slumping onto the nearby couch.

Amelia stiffened as she noticed something important.

“HEY! WHEN DID YOU GET TALLER THAN ME?” Ina just laughed.