Yatsugatake stood proudly in the distance, its peak completely white with snow. The snow spread from the summit to almost the very base, interrupted only by occasional patches of color. At this distance, the many trees that normally covered the mountain were indistinguishable, much like the hairs of a brush. These were the days when it could claim to be Japan's tallest mountain. An undoubtedly marvelous sight and one that would surely be forever imprinted on the mind of any man that saw it.
The snowfall had been steadily increasing over the past hour and threatened to obscure the view of the titan from between the trees.
The heavy branches above his head groaned a bit as the amount snow piled on them continued to increase. Wrapping his heavy winter cloak around even tighter, he decided that it was time to move on. Moving his heavy boots through the snow his weight, as well as that of his gear, encumbered him slightly. He had hoped that the hunt would have been over over days ago. Instead, he had been forced to pursue his prey ever deeper into the wilderness, where it would have an ever increasing advantage.
The thing he was hunting (and not even for an instant did he consider any of them anything but a monster) was elusive, its ability to hide in the woods matching its fox-like appearance. Killing it had proven difficult, with a previous trap only resulting in the wounding of the creature. But he had an advantage, something that this resilient abomination did not possess in the least, his years of experience in tracking and hunting. Even now, in this snowy wonderland, he had a solid lock on where the creature was headed and how fast it was moving. This despite the lack of footprints or other telltale signs.
He had been hurt in the earlier scuffle as well, but a makeshift bandage kept his chest tightly secured. He knew that the creature could smell his wound, its bloody allure making him as noticeable as a still-green bush in the snow. This is why he was moving quickly, taking less breaks, and keeping himself relentlessly at the heels of the creature. It would soon tire of fleeing and, like most of its kind, would attack in a frenzy while cornered. He would be prepared.
It was only after two more days of chasing that he had finally cornered his prey. He was not alone – other creatures were following the hunt closely, ready to intervene whenever they thought they had an easy meal. That was the nature of these creatures, these youkai. He despised them wholly, and had vowed to hunt them down and exterminate to the last. This, over the course of a few years, had translated into some renown, with requests for cullings coming from the four corners.
This hunt was the result of a petition made by the local lord. A particularly troublesome and feral youkai had been spotted and needed to be purged. As luck would have had it, the hunter happened to have been passing by and gladly answered the calls of the people.
“I can see you now. Prepare yourself.” He announced in a clear voice. The youkai stood against a sheer cliff, some distance away. It had stopped snowing earlier that day and the afternoon sun cast an almost blinding reflection on the white surface; Evening would be upon them soon. With a well-practiced motion he shrugged off his gear pack, leaving only the weapons hidden by his cloak. Soon his sword was unsheathed and facing the foe. “I will be merciful and finish this quickly.”
The creature shuddered at the realization that confrontation was inevitable. Her (for it was clearly closer to being a female than male – despite what the hunter would care to claim about the gender of such creatures) face betrayed anxiety and panic. Already she had almost lost a limb to his traps and her golden brown hair was stained with her own blood. From a distance her non-human features were hidden, the two bushy tails passing for a continuation of her hair and her fox ears might be confused for some sort of hat. Her flight instinct was already completely exhausted. This only left the alternative – and her tired body began to summon its strength reserve to counter the threat.
The hunger helped as well. The sweet smell of human blood drove her predatory instincts wild. In a small snowy clearing, she would either feast on his carcass or be a victim of the hunter's skill.
She leaped at him, claws, fangs, and magic at the ready. She was young for her species' standards, but already was quite powerful and cunning. A normal person wouldn't have stood a chance. The hunter, however, merely found such wild attacks pathetic and practiced his calling with great dedication. A quick dodge and slash later, and already the creature was further wounded. Red violated the pure white, and snow melted where the hot blood met the ground.
Desperation caused the youkai to try even harder. But to no avail. With moves that were as elegant as they were deadly, the hunter continued scoring hits against the creature at almost every opportunity. Her superhuman strength was failing her. She was down to her mystical abilities. This was something that the hunter had expected, but could never be completely ready for. He was not infused with divine abilities and had to weather the worst that these creatures had to offer.
A gash on his leg produced a jolt of pain. His own blood gushed forth now, staining the snow as well. “As expected, like the whole lot of you, you won't play fair.” He grit his teeth putting a little distance between him and the feral creature. With a quick motion of his hand, he reached into his cloak to pull out the last ward he had in his possession. “I'll make it fair again.” The sacred seal was activated with the right choice of words.
The creature looked terrified, causing the hunter to smile. He would finish it off now.
“Don't-!” She yelled as the sword run her through, hitting several vital spots. The hunter was slightly surprised at the humanity in her, enough to delay beheading it. His sword bloody, he stared at his still-whimpering fallen prey. As she withered on the red snow, she looked more like a normal woman than a monster. He found himself studying his foe's appearance momentarily.
This was, perhaps, a mistake. It lowered his guard just long enough.
A torrent of blood came from his chest as multiple objects penetrated him from behind and came out on the other side. He was incapacitated, crumpled on the cold snow like his victim, in just an instant.
“A good evening for shopping, wouldn't you agree?” A woman spoke to him casually, her voice hovering in from behind. He gurgled a reply, sensing that this was his assailant. “You're dying, don't try to speak.” She laughed cruelly. “I apologize about that, I don't really care about a hunter like you, even though you care about my kind. I just want to acquire that little something you almost cut into shreds. No hard feelings, right?”
He couldn't muster a gurgle of protest as he choked on his own blood, feeling his consciousness fading quickly. Last thing he heard was the woman talking to the fallen youkai. In his dying moments, he was completely ignored.
This is a prologue to a story idea that has been slowly developing inside me for quite some time. The tale is set at a time before a lot of the Touhou cast was even born. Specifically, at a time when Yuyuko was still a mortal girl and youkai still roamed the land. The main focus would naturally be on Yukari and Yuyuko, although other characters pop up and have varying degrees of influence. I don't know how long the story would span, there's a definite plot in place, but I guess it depends on how interested anon is on this look into the past.
Forgive the third-person narrative above, that was done mainly for the novelty. The main story would be written in either a second or first person viewpoint (I'm comfortable with both, but am leaning slightly to second person at the moment). Third person is also a possibility, but that's probably a bit awkward for something that'll inevitably have choices. Anon's preference also would factor in, so your input on that is appreciated.
Then again, I know how seemingly over-saturated the boards are with stories, so I don't mind not writing at all, leaving it at just this. Again, I'd appreciate any comments/input from any potential readers. If I do start writing something it could be as soon as later today. But I'll be patient and give it time. No need to rush things.
I say so long as you don't become too frustrated with anon (we're such a fickle bunch), as well as keep a reasonable amount of time in between both anon to vote as well as the frequency of your updates, I say go for it.
I am however speaking for myself as those are my thoughts personally. I firmly believe that so long as the writefag continues to enjoy writing, so will anon enjoy what is posted.
So far I like what I've read, so keep it up.
The hunter... Youki..?
>>19458 Oh, is that a fact? I wasn't aware that it was a rule set in stone (in fact the FAQ states the contrary). Besides which, this is a CYOA and I did ask anon for their choice (and no one has chosen anything incidentally) as well as some feedback.
Since I'm not in a rush I'll give it a little bit more time before committing myself to a choice and actually writing.
It's not an easy conclusion to come to, but all the evidence points towards it.
Your wounds are gone. So is all of your equipment and most of your clothes. You're clad in clothes you last wore in the previous summer, fresh modest clothes that offered much mobility during a hunt. It's something that you had in your sack, tucked away below all of your other belongings.
But, it's not just that that tells you that you're dead. It's your surroundings. A bleak landscape, the land itself ashen black and featureless towards the horizon – featureless except for a great river several paces to your left and great mountains breaking the monotony in the distance. Mist abounds, limiting visibility randomly in any given direction. It reminds you of the lands up north, the fabled resting homes of the dead. This convinces you that you're dead.
It's not a painful realization at all. You died exactly how you thought you would one day. There are no regrets about the path you trod. What confuses you is what comes next. There's no obvious indication, and if you're to go to hell or paradise like tradition claims you would not know were to begin. The murky and turbulent river is uninviting, and you would sooner walk forever than attempt to cross it on your own. It gives the impression that the far bank is at least a cho away from this shore.
“You there.” A relaxed voice manifests itself at your side. You turn to see that it's a woman. A tall, beautiful woman dressed appropriately for the occasion.
“Have you come for me?” You know who it is. She will guide you. She is, after all, a death god.
“As a matter of fact, I have.” She smiles, looking glad to not have to waste time on the particulars. “Judgment awaits on the other side.” She tilts her head slightly indicating a small row boat resting peacefully amongst the excited waters.
You nod. And begin to move towards the vessel.
“Hold on.” She stops you. This being the first time you remember dying, you're unsure if you're missing some formality. “You need to pay for the service.”
“Payment? But I have no money.” You spent all the money you had in the mortal world on the supplies for your last hunt.
“That was that.” She seems to understand what you're getting at. She flashes a knowing smile, “Check your purse now, you might be surprised.”
You do as she says. Your simple money pouch is still tied where you last left it. But it still feels as empty as before. A glance inside shows that it is, indeed, still empty. You show the shinigami.
“Empty?” She looks puzzled. “That can't be right...” Her hands move to her hips, and she asks herself out loud, “Did he have no one that mourned him?”
That was probably the truth. If you are dead, no one living would care. No grave marker would commemorate your passing.
“Well.” The woman thinks, looking at you strangely, realizing that you understand what has happened. And that you don't care. “I am not supposed to ferry you across unless you give me everything you have. But since you have nothing...” She pauses, “It would be a tragedy not to take your soul across, after all, you're the first.”
The woman continues, “Yes, you're the first to cross in this area. It's a new department, for a new area, and so you're the first.” She adds unnecessarily, “It's the first job for me here.”
You did not know that shinigami could look so happy over something so mundane. The woman nods happily, already having decided on a course of action, “Alright, you may get on the boat. It can't be helped that your soul was poor in earthly bonds.”
You silently get on the boat, a sturdy wooden craft, and await the woman. She continues chatting with you, making observations. “You're quiet for a dead person, usually they speak more, wanting to find out what is happening. Then again, you don't strike me as the talkative type. In a way that stern face of yours suits a dead person.” You say nothing, just letting her talk as she please. “My little boat isn't so bad, right? It'll get you to the other shore in one piece. The Sanzo is no challenge at all for it.” She has no restraint on her familiarity, it's as if you're good friends at a drinking den. She introduces herself by given name, “My name is Komachi by the way.”
“Isami.” You say succinctly.
“I know.” She shrugs off your terse introduction. “Let's get going, alright?” She sits in the middle of the boat and picks up the oars. “We shouldn't keep the boss waiting. I don't know what kind of person she is yet, and it'd be good if I were on her good side.”
You stare at the bleak landscape as she begins to row. She continues to speak, chattering away like before, but you tune it out for the most part. Your body (this body, your physical one is still probably laying in the cold snow – likely torn apart by flesh eating monstrosities) feels strange. The lack of the comforting weight of your sword and tools makes you feel unnaturally uneasy, more so than adventuring into the land of the dead could ever make you feel. You hope that whomever inevitably comes upon the sword cherishes it and recognize its value.
There is something swimming in the blackened water. Whatever it is, your hunter's instinct tells you that it would not be a docile creature. You step towards the center of the boat, coming to look at the still-talking woman. Were she not a death god and just a mortal, she would be the talk of the land. Surely betrothed to some lord somewhere. The object of adulation by poets. She has a casual sense of beauty that is hard not to notice.
Still, despite all this, she is your guide in death. Perhaps she senses your thoughts; She stops talking and looks up. Her rowing slows down. She smiles at you, asking with her eyes if you need anything.
 Take the oars and row instead of her
 “You are not what I expected a shinigami to be.”
 Continue the trip silently
“You're not what I expected a shinigami to be.” You look into eyes as you talk, finding her soft and alluring features all the more a sharp contrast to what she supposedly does. Probably because you haven't spoken much she lets you carry on, smiling silently as she rows, “I am sure that the living would spin tales of someone in your profession being an old sickly crow who is as mysterious and unwelcoming as this frightening land.” But, it's not like you're unsatisfied.
“That does sound like something mortals would say. I have to agree” She grins, looking at her exposed arms like they were something remarkable. “Are you unsatisfied?”
“No.” You give the thought no pause. “There is nothing wrong with you being the way you are.” There's no intention of flattery as you add, “A captivating and beautiful woman taking the souls of the dead into the afterlife is in many ways both more satisfying and fitting.”
It's true. The boatwoman is an invaluable agent to this process of death apparently. The mysteriousness and enigmatic nature of the afterlife is heightened by her appearance and attitude. Surely others would interpret as a sign of hopefulness, that better things await them. You're not nearly as optimistic, feeling caution but not pessimism. Before attaining paradise or whatever it is that you deserve, you'll no doubt be judged.
“You know, you really aren't like the other dead.” The boatwoman continues on smiling as she speaks, her eyes locking into yours. “I'm glad you're my first.”
You sit, bringing yourself to her eye level.
“I had expected you to lament your passing, to despair somewhat like others would.” She explains. “But you didn't, your gaunt face never once looking it had regrets. You haven't said anything, pleaded to go back, or even hesitate in getting onto the boat.” She laughs, her chuckle reverberating sweetly over the sounds of the river. “The first real words out of you are a compliment. A real good one as well.”
She stops rowing momentarily, and moves a hand to grab something hooked to her side. She produces a gourd with the same pattern as her blue-white attire. She offers it to you with a pleased smile, “Here, you can have some.”
“Wouldn't that be pointless?” You ask, guessing the nature of the liquid.
“You're dead, not gone.” She says as you take the gourd. “You can still think and feel, can't you? Not to mention that you're breathing as if you were alive.” She points out something you hadn't noticed yourself – your rhythmic and controlled breathing is the same as it usually is. “Not that you really need to here, I think. But food and drink will continue to be as pleasurable as it was before for now.”
“Thank you.” There's nothing else to be said as you have a go at the contents of the gourd. A strong willful liquid washes into your mouth and down your throat, adding an intense flavor on its way down. “It's really good.”
The strong moonshine is something like what you used to make yourself when you were in any given place for long enough. Proud and powerful, but with a round taste at the end. Not the drink of choice of most.
“Good that you can appreciate it.” She takes the gourd as you hand it back and immediately takes a drink herself. “Nothing like a little magic to make the day better.”
Her attitude reminds you somewhat of what you used to do. Her job is certainly as grim as yours was (although in a less visceral way); A little help to get through that reality went a long way in keeping you together. Out in the wilderness, a drink was the highpoint after a difficult hunt.
“So, how did you die?” She asks directly. You notice that she's stopped rowing, and leaning back in her seat with the gourd in hand. “You give the impression of someone who wouldn't die even if you killed him.”
“Now that's certainly not true.” You laugh earnestly, taking the gourd as she offers it again – you take another drink. “Else I wouldn't be here, right?” The boatwoman smirks, looking pleased with your joke. The alcohol tastes better than before, and it's as if your whole spirit is ready to fly about. “How do you think I died?”
“Obviously not surrounded by friends and family on a warm bed.” She doesn't act sensitive, cutting to the thick of it. You like that. “I take it you died all alone and quite suddenly.”
“That's right.” You realize you're being talkative. Must be the alcohol, or the overwhelming strangeness of the situation – floating in the middle of a river casually in a land of bleakness, mist, and the dead. “I died in the freezing cold, alone, fatally wounded and as helpless as I was when I came into the world. In short, I died exactly how I thought I was going to die.”
“Rough, bro.” She looks sympathetic to your death. “But you do have that look of blood and iron about you.”
“Isn't that right?” You laugh again and drink more, handing back the gourd to her.
The sky there is a deep grey, uninviting and dull. You stare up at it, and time passes without even the realization that you're doing nothing. It's the same for the woman with you. Though it's finally her that breaks the silence, sitting up and readying the oars again.
“Let's get going, shall we? It's only prudent to keep the Yama waiting for so long. I have no idea if this new boss is easy-going or stuck up as the rest of them.”
“Sure thing, Komachi.” You close your eyes, the movement of the boat feeling like a comforting lullaby.
“Here we are.” You see the shinigami's hand extended towards you. You take it, trying to remember where you are. You realize that you probably fell into a light sleep. “Isami, we're walking for a bit now.”
“Alright.” You try your best to come to your senses, stumbling slightly as you come out of the boat. The far shore feels weird – the ground feels packed and hard.
You say nothing as she guides from the shore up a hill and onto a wide path. She's silent as well, and you realize it's your surroundings that are to blame. Statues and grave markers adorn the sides of the path, and religious symbols overwhelm the senses. This is the starkest reminder you've had yet that you're dead, and you feel belittled and vulnerable.
An eternity passes before you arrive at a large imposing temple-like structure. You follow your guide up steps and into the great doorway. The corridors are immense and seemingly stretch infinitely, being devoid of all movement and clutter. Your normally muted footsteps, trained from a lifetime of stalking, reverberate loudly on the polished stone floor despite your best efforts. This place brings out your self-awareness in full, making you feel utterly insignificant.
A great door at the end of the passageway is your destination. The shinigami signals for you to wait and knocks. A moment of involuntary tenseness passes before a reply comes and the great door is opened for you.
A great chamber welcomes you, decorated with luxurious carvings of precious metals depicting all of the facets of the afterlife. The wicked are being punished for their sins while the enlightened ascend into paradise. In the middle of the largest relief in the room stands a tall and imposing judge, decreeing what occurs to souls that don't reincarnate immediately. Komachi stands near the entrance of the room as you're encouraged to stand in the middle, before a grand pulpit that's before a shelf full of scrolls.
“Your life and deeds are to be assessed before your fate is decided.” A firm voice comes from the side of the chamber, as a woman in an ornate dress makes her entrance. She confidently makes her way to the pulpit, standing tall before you with a full look of confidence. In her left hand she holds an equally ornate rod. “I am the Yama of the Paradise. We shall find out if you lived a life of virtue or a life of sin.”
She looks to the end of the chamber, “You. Komachi, was it? The transport took longer than scheduled. Explain.”
“I apologize, boss.” Even though you don't turn to look at her, you can feel the other woman lowering her head. “We ran into some difficulties. He had no currency to pay for the trip.”
“I understand.” The judge seems satisfied with the answer. You look at the golden emblem on her hat, trying to make out what it is. “In the future, make sure there is no more tardiness, keeping a smooth-running schedule is of the utmost importance.”
“I'm sorry, it won't happen again.”
“Good. Now close the door and leave us. But don't go too far, I may require your presence again.”
You hear the door close behind you, and you're left alone with the judge.
“Let us begin then.” She reaches into the shelf behind her, grabbing a scroll. She opens it and begins to ask questions. “What is your name?”
“Your full name.”
“That is my only name.”
“It says here that you have a given name as well. Attempting to lie to me won't bode well.”
“It's no longer mine.” You state, speaking frankly.
“So you claim. That is acceptable. In your moment of judgment you should reply with the truth as would be known by the divine.” The woman reads more of the scroll. “Your profession, what you did until the very moment of your death, how long did you do that?”
“As long as I could wield a sword properly.”
“It would seem so, even though it was reckless and endangered you.” She recounts your past, “A mere boy attempting to hunt that which is beyond human is extreme.”
“It was what needed to be done.”
“I can see that that is the truth as you perceive it. Let me ask then – why? What compelled you to take the path in life that you took?”
 “It was my calling – pure and simple.”
 “I had no other alternative.”
“I had no other alternative.” You speak, thinking of how things just conspired to make you into what you are now.
“No other alternative?” The judge looks into her scroll, and then back at you, “I see. So then that is how you see it. You're fortuitous that you were apt at that path then. With the kind of situations you've undergone, it's a surprise that you were in the land of the living for so long.”
She goes over one such situation, at the beginning of your career. With no food nor money, and treated as a suspicious stranger in town you were forced to live in the mountains for a whole season. Having to forage and trap small game in order to eat, you nearly died several times; Encounters with wild animals as well as the merciless elements pushed you to the extreme. “But that wasn't the worst of it.” The judge observes. “It was the encounter with that youkai that put you in real jeopardy. What happened there... as you say, that probably made you feel like there was no real alternative.”
The judge looks thoughtful, weighing down information with her eyes closed. She changes the subject;
“Your main fault is the extent to which you take your job. Life is important, life is precious. To treat it like anything but that is a sin.” She lectures, not letting up, “Selflessness is good, certainly a virtue, but not when it categorically leads to self-destruction. You led a life that was, according to some, selfless and indirectly saved countless lives. What's more, you never asked for any compensation that was unreasonable and always within the means of your employer. That is a virtue.”
You did that because you thought it was right. You weren't doing it because of the possibility of profit. You hunted youkai even when no one was paying, something the Emna points out.
“This isn't to say that you're without additional fault. The disregard for yourself is a big problem.” She continues to scold you, “You can only achieve enlightenment when you regard yourself as an important part of the world. Not the most important part, but knowing your place and what you mean is vital.”
Her judging becomes a long sermon, and your input is gradually asked for less and less. The summary of your life is about as interesting as you thought it would be to you – not very interesting. Your hunter's patience keeps you from showing your true feelings, however, and you keep a straight face as the woman goes about her rant.
“You must give me time.” The judge begins to conclude. “I can't say much, but I know you're a special case. I'm afraid that you can't go to beyond Higan for now. A fitting decision needs to be made. And so you'll have to wait.”
She summons the boatwoman. “Komachi, I'll relieve you of your regular duties for now. Keep this one company while I deliberate.”
And that is that.
The judge is gone and you're dumped into the care of the shinigami again. She doesn't speak before you're clear of the temple and back outside. “Oh boy you've led an interesting life. I was right on the nose about the blood and iron too.”
You realize that she was eavesdropping.
“First time I see a Yama take time to think judgment over too.” You're led to the side of the temple, were a vast field of flowers stretches as far as the eye can see. “I don't think they'll be sending you to hell though.”
“How do you figure?” You ask, figuring that she probably has a good reason for suspecting as much.
“A hunch.” Her reason isn't very good. “Besides, punishment is never delayed.” She sits, and you do the same. “By the looks of it, you probably don't mind where you end up, do you?”
You think about that. You feel that the meeting with the Yama was strange to say the least, but insofar as how that makes you feel...
 “You're right, I don't care at all. Even hell is fine.”
 “Heaven is what I should hope for, right?”
 “I don't mind just staying a spirit or a ghost.”
“You're right, I don't care at all. Even hell is fine.” You laugh, finding your feelings absolutely hillarious. An eternity of punishment without the prospect of reincarnation is not even a concern.
“You really are messed up, you know.” Komachi smiles, and breaks out the gourd again. “For what it's worth, if it were up to me, I'd keep you here.”
“Oh, and why is that?” You accept the gourd gratefully, pausing to think about how absolutely bizzarre this entire situation is. No one ever said that the afterlife would be this strange. You even feel the warmth in your belly from the alcohol.
“It would be fun having someone completely uninteressted in the afterlife and uninpressed by everything around. You could always be a shinigami.”
“I don't think it would suit me. I dealt a lot of death, but never took care of the dead. I wouldn't know where to start.”
“Oh, it would take work. I've had to make an effort to get where I am. And I often woneder if it was worth it. But then I would have someone else to work with me on this stretch of the Sanzu. Beling alone with the boss isn't my idea of fun.”
“Your boss doesn't seem like a bad person.” That much is obvious. She is a judge of the dead, she can't be too tyrannical nor too lenient. “Your days here are probably going to be fine.”
“Maybe.” She drinks as much as you do, which is to say a lot. You've come to enjoy a lot her kind of drink, finding it much more pleasant than before. “But, like I said you really are weird. I mean, you died, came over not caring, and here we are... and you just tried to cheer me up. I don't think that even the next one thousand dead combined will be even a tiny bit as interesting as you.”
There's nothing else to be done but drink.
Time passes in the vast field of flowers. The only way you have of knowning that time passes is by how much alcohol is left in the gourd; The field is illuminated by an unchanging and unseen source of light, bathed by a static luminosity.
It feels alright there. Even though she's perhaps a bit too talkative for your tastes, the shinigami provides the kind of company which you hadn't enjoyed in many a moon. You talk with her until she finally puts an end to the waiting.
“I think she's ready now.” Komachi sighs, getting up and looking back towards the temple. “Come with me to receive your judgment.”
You're led back to the chamber you met the Yama before in. You wait as the shinigami checks inside first for the judge. She comes out moments later, confirming that judgment indeed awaits.
The judge stands at her pulpit as before, looking as imposing and certain as before. The door closes and you're left alone again.
“Before I deliver judgment, I would like to point out that decision is not entirely my own. Your karma and fate have apparently worked to secure this more than I have.,” You don't know what she means by that, but see cracks of humanity – frustration – appearing from behind her facade. She blinks, and then points her rod at you, “You'll be going back to the land of the living.”
“Pardon?” You ask with disbelief.
“Not content? You wouldn't be the first soul to be unhappy with their judgment.”
“I am dead.” You state the obvious.
“Quite possibly.” The judge says dryly. “If it's death that you want, you'll be back here soon enough. But as of now you're to return to the world of the living. You have reason to be there.”
“And what is that reason?”
“The reason is that there are mysteries in the universe that even Yama are not privy too.” She definitely pouts as she says that, scowling immediately after. “You are to return, and that is that.”
“First you need to cross the Sanzu again, and then you shall see how.”
She's not very helpful or descriptive when it comes to what awaits you. She instead poses another question – a dilemma of sorts – to you;
“Upon returning to the land of the living will you continue hunting youkai?”
“As expected then. Is there anything that you would like to change about that. Any regrets perhaps?”
“Indeed. Anything that you may have wanted to change or improve about yourself but never did. The impression I have is that you're always prepared, but even then you're not perfect. For example, you were completely without money for the boat ride. No one in life lamented your death. That is something very regretful to most.”
 “The lack of closeness to people.”
 “Being physically weaker to more powerful youkai.”
 “There is nothing.”
“There is nothing.”
“Oh?” The judge looks s little surprised. “Lucky for you that your real judgment is not now. At best that is a continuation of your systematic disregard for the sanctity of life and at worst that is pride and stubbornness. The price for both is measured by eons, if not by a whole eternity.”
You expected, as before, for her to go off into another chiding rant. That doesn't prove to be the case, as she instead calmly continues.
“If we are to meet again, and I do believe that we will and soon, there will be something special in store for you. It is only appropriate.” The judge places the rod on the pulpit, and speaks in a more conversational tone, “Go now, although there is no hurry, and make the most of the rest of your life.”
She summons Komachi again, and gives her instructions. “Take him back across, he is to return to the world of the living.”
“I'll do as you wish, Yama.”
“Fine.” The judge sighs. “Come back after you're done, I could use a spot of tea.”
With a dismissive wave of her hand, you're shown out of the chamber as the judge leans wearily onto the pulpit. Her job is more tiresome than first impressions would have one believe, you decide.
The shinigami starts to take you back towards the river, and waits until you're well clear of the temple to start speaking.
“So Mr. Blood and Iron, content with your sentencing?”
“It's slightly surprising, as I didn't expect it to be possible, but as I said before – I don't care.” It's unusual for you to be so talkative with a woman you just met. But you owe her at least this much for helping you and sharing her kindness with you.
“As far as I knew, it wasn't possible. But I suppose that you wouldn't be the first. There are some who have escaped from hell and back into the land of the living before.”
You listen as she recounts what amounts to a folktale about a daring escape from hell. You reach her boat as she details how oni and demons were tricked into letting these cunning souls run away. And how they braved the dangerous waters of the Sanzu for freedom. “This is why we don't have bridges anymore either. Makes it easy for wayward souls to try to cross back to the other side.”
The crossing is much shorter than last time. You're across in what seems to be just a couple of minutes this time. You look around the shore.
“Where am I supposed to go now?” You look to the shinigami for guidance.
“Beats me.” She is as clueless as you are. “If you walk, you're bound to see the path you're supposed to take I reckon.”
There are no paths as far as you can see. “I'll go towards that hill then.” It's the only feature within sight that stands out. And you can see that there's some sort of structure on it as well.
“That's probably your best choice.”
Get off the boat and onto land.
“Wait.” The shinigami stops you from leaving just yet, getting up lazily from her rowing position. “Here, take this, you might need it more than I do now.”
“I've nothing to give you in return.” You stare at the offered item. She's extending the gourd out to you.
“That doesn't matter, I can always get more. But this will probably make your trip easier.” She smiles as earnestly as the first time you saw her. You've no choice but to accept. “Right right, that's a good wayward soul.”
Then she throws in something else. “Take these as well.”
Coins. A palmful of old coins.
“So you have something to give me when you come back.” She explains.
“Isn't that against whatever rules exist? It seems a bit pointless if the person to be paid pays me instead.”
“There are no rules about this sort of thing. And well, if there were, I could just say that it's just rightful compensation. You're leaving the land of the dead, and I'm going to mourn that. So that means that you are entitled to some spiritual currency.”
“Very well.” You nod, understanding her logic. “I'll accept these gratefully as well.”
The shinigami waves you off cheerfully as you leave, telling you that she's looking forward to your return. Something which would put off a lot of people, but you find somewhat charming. After all, being welcome anywhere is a positive thing, even if that place happens to be the afterlife.
Eventually you lose sight of the river and the boatwoman completely, having walked a path that sinks in between uneven terrain. You drink, having nothing else to occupy yourself and walk towards the hill looming in the distance. There is a cold serenity to the land, and you spot what are most likely fellow spirits in the distance, wafting aimlessly.
The amount of liquid inside the gourd is deceptively large; As you reach the actual hill, there's still quite a bit of sweet liquid inside. You don't even manage to drink a significant of the liquid remaining as you reach the top, flat part of the hill. A simple roofed structure – a shrine- sits ingloriously. It's decrepit and looks like it was abandoned eons ago. You make your way towards it, seeing no other alternative.
The shrine is gone before you know it. The dead surround you, staring at you with vacant eyes. They disperse, driven off by an unseen force, and the netherworld is soon a bygone dream.
Your current dream is much different than the previous one. Spring, cherry blossoms, and tears are the highlights. Ethereal beauty coupled with nostalgia and want mark the occasion. A peaceful occurrence that is only marred by the transient nature of it all. No doubt that in the future this will occur more often and in a more intense manner. And you'll be there to witness each instance of it.
It's winter again.
The cold wraps around your barely warm body, seeping viciously into your wounds. The pain reminds you that you're alive, and is your beacon back into consciousness. You hear your heartbeat in the darkness, the dull thumping occurring slowly but surely. Your extremities aren't as numb as the cold would normally imply, and you can feel your blood gushing throughout your body, bringing warmth.
It's a while before you can open your eyes, as you have to remember how to. Instead of a field of snow dyed by the setting sun you're in a small room, the howling wind being contained for the most part by the four walls around you. You move a finger, now feeling a fabric covering most of your body. Except for your head, you're completely wrapped in a warm textile.
You look around, seeking orientation. None comes, as you start to realize that you have no idea where you are or what happened. Pain shoots throughout your chest and leg as you try to sit up, making you give up on the idea of getting up just yet. There is nothing in the room – nothing besides you and the covers. A door is located to your right, but it's closed and there's no light beyond it. There's not much light anywhere, actually, as you begin to realize that it's night now.
You fight the overwhelming urge to pass out again. It's a lost cause and you fall into another deep torpor.
The next time you realize that your senses are working again, the howling wind is gone. There is more light than before, indicating daytime. The desire for rest and sleep is still strong, but you can now move somewhat. The generalized lack of strength is disconcerting as you start to wonder again about your general situation.
> “Oh?” The judge looks s little surprised. “Lucky for you that your real judgment is not now. At best that is a continuation of your systematic disregard for the sanctity of life and at worst that is pride and stubbornness. The price for both is measured by eons, if not by a whole eternity.”
Expected that much you stoticfags
One can be a cool detacted guy yet while having friends.
>>19555 He's starting to come around.
>After all, being welcome anywhere is a positive thing, even if that place happens to be the afterlife.
Keep in mind that Komachi's probably the only friendly person he's met in a long time.
>>19559 Don't overlook the fact that people have a tendency to justify their existence whether it was chosen or forced onto them by circumstance. I didn't want the hero to be stoic either (as that will make his interactions with others boring, thereby making the story boring), but as his character was established as such, overcoming that difficulty won't happen instantly and with only one choice. In this particular case, following the plot thread with Komachi could help him come out of his shell.
I'm with this Anon, I would just seem out of character for the guy to bemoan his entire life after having fought and survived for so long. Doesn't mean his second shot at life has to be the same, he's got a second chance to make better. The seeds have been sown after his interaction with Komachi.
You're barely struggling as it is to remain awake. A battle that you start giving ground on again. It's a natural consequence of staying put. Or rather, of having wounds as serious as yours. It's not a battle that you can win easily, and if you walked you don't know what the consequences might have been.
The moment you lose focus, you pass out.
Most of the day is spent with you fading in and out of consciousness, sometimes being awake for only a few seconds – long enough to realize what's going on. It's an unfortunate cycle that you just can't seem to break anymore. It causes your mind to play tricks on you. As you open your eyes you're sure that you see silhouettes looming behind the door. But they're gone as soon as your eyes gain some measure of focus. You can only pant as you feel pain from your wounds, and you're sure that you've got a fever.
The dreams that accompany this state are even more distressing. Shapes, colors, sounds all flung about – mixed into something and nothing. You can see your blood gushing out, never stopping, into a large chalice. You keep seeing your sword, your trusty friend, always just outside of arm's reach. Demons mock you, pulling you down as you are completely defenseless. It's all the more troubling because you know it to be just a dream, but feel the primordial rush due to fear.
You flail out at the person in front of you, scoring a weak glancing hit on their cuff.
“Be still.” A weary voice chides.
You open your eyes to an old leathery face.
“Sleep more.” The old woman suggests.
“...” You try to vocalize your feelings, but find that your voice fails you. All you can do is gasp slightly as you feel your entire body burn up.
“Lie still then.” A cool rag is deposited on your forehead and the woman keeps an eye on you as you heave. The wetness on your head does little to douse the intense fire that wracks your body. You cough, feeling a strong nausea overwhelm you. “I told you to lie still.”
And you do. You pass out again.
Most of the day thereafter you wake up to see the old cracked face staring down on you, occasionally depositing another wet rag on you. But at night, when you feel sufficiently better to actually say something, the person is gone. You wait and wait and wait and wait. But she doesn't appear.
You eventually fall asleep (instead of passing out).
This time your dream is more manageable. You are aware that it's a dream, and can interact with this reality as if you were awake. You float around a barren landscape, and spot a large river in the distance. It's somewhere where you have to go, but not right now. No, right now you are standing face to face with another one of those dreadful monsters. A normal-looking woman, albeit a rare beauty, smile at you enigmatically.
She wants you. Her forwardness is counterattacked by her inexperience. Her pale golden hairs rest on smooth white skin and her dress is unlike anything you've ever seen before. You've dealt with creatures whose specialty has been to seduce men to their doom, but this is completely different. Not to mention on a whole different level. While you could resist them and expose the monsters which they were inside, this woman is different. There is no doubt that she's a monster, but no more than you are. Her lack of humanity may indeed be lesser than your own.
She holds out her arms in a welcoming embrace, beckoning you to lose yourself with her. The promise of warmth and overwhelming sensuality drives you nearly mad. You stagger towards her, feeling that one way or another you'll have to deal with her. Already she is undressing, exposing soft gentle curves and bountiful attributes.
But, casting that aside, last update for now I think.
The warmth turns to bitter cold, as your legs move backwards instead of forwards. She looks at you, devious smile pleasantly plastered on her face, and understands what you've chosen. The cold isn't coming from her, not directly anyways, but from your own apprehension. Her arms remain outstretched and welcoming as she whispers what you already know.
That like it or not, you're going to go to her. That like it or not, you're going to have to work with her.
Her lewd and sumptuous body is completely exposed to you. You know that you're going to go to her not only because you need to, but because you want to. It's a matter of time, and it's due to something that you will not be able to control. She promises much to you, much that you know she will deliver on. The only shortcomings here are the ones that you create for yourself.
Still, you avoid consummating the informal relationship now, standing your ground a step or two away from her arm's reach. She continues to smile, knowing, making you imagine the wild and animal bond that could be shared if you just so wished. She doesn't hide her shamelessness, and you realize that she has no reason to. It's you that's creating this image, you and your hidden desires. That is probably it. There is otherwise no reason for something this explicit and extreme to be shown to you.
Certainly it's not desire. Certainly it's not lust. Certainly it's not a desperate wanting of warmth. And acceptance. Those things mean little to you. Yet there she is, waiting and waiting and waiting and smiling. Just almost within arm's reach.
A great internal cataclysm wrenches you awake.
“Ah.” There's a gasp as you sit up suddenly.
You look around, expecting to see the woman from the previous night. Instead, a girl is sitting to your left, looking surprised. You scowl and collapse back, hearing the girl emit another surprised gasp.
Your chest feels cold. It's uncovered, exposed to the coldness of winter. Your bandages have been loosened as well. You let out a groan.
The girl scurries away like a frightened mouse, leaving the door open in her wake.
You start to count to one hundred in your head, and then sit up again. Your head swims, and you feel your consciousness wane momentarily. The idea of getting up is appealing to you and, unlike the last time, you don't give staying a second thought. Something in the back of your mind, a general unease prevents you from staying still.
You find that you're dressed in little more than undergarments and wrapped in bandages, most of your clothes seem to have been removed for easy access to your wounds. You attempt to check some of your wounds, but doing something even as little as looking at them makes you dizzy. With a heave ho and a few trials, you manage to use what little strength you have in your arms to prop yourself up and stand tenuously on your feet. Something is afoul.
You lurch, almost tripping several times, towards the door and lean your weight against the wall. Just taking a few paces from where you were has made your heart speed up like crazy and your breath harsh and hoarse. You cough and your whole body shakes. You have to rest for a while before you're able to keep going.
The corridor beyond the room proves to be just as simple and barren. You wobble along the hallway, stopping every couple of paces to keep your heart from bursting. As you near the end of the hallway, the girl from before appears, looking sheepishly at your lumbering figure.
“Please go back.” Her voice is almost inaudible. You almost don't hear them at all thanks to your accelerated heartbeat drowning out most noise.
You continue to take tiny steps forward.
“Some more sleep will do you good. You're not supposed to be walking around just yet.” You ignore her, pressing on slowly. You can smell something in the air that propels you to get clear of here. Something unmistakable to your hunter's senses.
It's something of an extra sense that you've acquired from years of dealing with this sort of abomination.
You move past the girl and into an entrance hall, feeling that whatever it is it's near. A cane left leaning against a wall becomes your improvised weapon. You can barely move, but the alarm going off in your head overrides your body's common sense. The cane will do as an improvised bludgeoning tool.
Cold seeps in from the outside. The foe is just outside, probably to a side of the entrance. You look behind you, seeing the girl look at you unsure of what to do. She hovers just a pace or two behind, following you with the obvious intent of herding you back.
“...Danger.” You croak out, warning her of what you perceive. She looks at you unsure of what you mean. You stagger, almost fall, but manage to stay standing at the last moment. The girl almost moves in to support you, but instead chooses to just look on apprehensively.
You silently curse yourself. You think you haven't lost the initiative and element of surprise here just yet.
 Confront the creature
 Take a risk and emphasize the danger to the girl
Sorry for not updating yesterday. I was busy. Unfortunately probably going to be busy until much later today as well. I'll endeavor to get something done though.
I'd like to say that straight out virtual unanimity on every choice is a bad thing. A very bad thing. If it were clear-cut obvious, there wouldn't be a choice in most cases. I'd like you to at least consider why the other choice(s) are there if not perhaps take some time to discuss them (if necessary of course). You'll find that it'll really help the experience down the line.
>>19608 Perhaps. But this isn't about me - it's about you, the reader. And how it might benefit you.
>>19613 Something markedly more sexual, carnal and explicit. Although not entirely what you might expect, I suspect. It led and hinted at something else, something which I will refrain from revealing for storytelling purposes. Note that it wasn't necessarily inherently better than the chosen choice either. Depends on how you look at it.
I can write now, but am tired, so I'd wager I won't get this update done right away.
On the contrary, death is a time where one becomes over come with regrets as their life flash before their eyes. And I didn't mean he'd be crying about it, but he might just go, "I do wish things could have gone better", since it was clear he wasn't perfectly content with his life, but something he had to.
You don't allow yourself to take much of a risk here. Whatever the reason the girl is there, or you're here, doesn't matter. You look at her with hard eyes, taking only a moment to convey the urgency and danger of the situation. When it's clear that she either doesn't understand or simply does not care, you push her away. She crumples away, a look of shock on her face. It had to be done. She doesn't follow you further.
Wielding the cane in an annoying clumsy fashion, you make it outside. A snowy wonderland greets you, wind penetrates your bandages easily. But none of that matters. You scan the scene, heart racing and head swimming in thought.
There's nothing in front of you.
The left is clear. Nothing but snow.
A quick look to the right shows that there's nothing but snow and, further on, trees.
Apparently there's nothing. But you feel something. Your skin tingles, and your body feels like it's burning. There's no mistaking it. Last time you were this sure, you got ambushed right there and then. And the time before that it was a grisly encounter. This time had to be the same.
Your feet feel frozen already. You hold in the desire to cough, knowing the danger of letting down your guard for even a single moment.
It's a tense moment, one that you choose to prolong by walking slowly through the snow. You are not blessed by the divine. You are a mere mortal. Those facts are made more painfully aware to you now than ever, with the bone-biting chill wracking you. It's only through willpower that you haven't collapsed yet. The cane feels heavy in your hands, and you are forced to lower it in order to save your strength.
Something. Off near the trees. Movement beside the swaying of the trees in the wind.
You spot it with another scan of your surroundings. You raise the cane again, anticipating danger. You make your way to the trees, searching for signs of the unseen foe. Drops of red essence on white snow alert you to the fact that you've aggravated your wounds. The bandages quickly become saturated with blood. Stopping now is not an option.
But it quickly becomes the only option available to you.
There's nothing in the vicinity of the trees save for a camouflaged white hare – and it hops away as soon as it spots you. The feeling is gone.
You double back to the door before your strength fades away completely. Chasing whatever was there in your condition would be unfeasible.
The girl is standing by the doorway, surely thinking of you as a wild beast.
“I apologize.” You bow to the girl, collapsing as you sit. She doesn't say anything. But that does not matter. You pass out as soon as you've finished sitting down. The wind howls in the distance.
When you next come to, you're lying down again. Covered as you were before and further immobilized by the generous application of bandage. You're not alone. The old woman with the leathery face is watching you.
“Come to again, have you?” Her dry creaky voice upsets your tender wounds. “Are you about to get up in a fit of madness again? You're a piece of work.”
You try to say something, but find speaking to be a serious challenge. It's like your voice is being weighed down by an incredible weight. Your limbs feel the same way, and you feel like moving them would be paramount to a heroic feat.
“You probably wonder why you cannot move. Medicine, my dear.” She cackles – a frighting sound. She holds a small jar over your eyes. “It will help you heal, preventing you from attempting something absurd again. You frightened the young lady, you realize, uncouth beast.”
The old woman gets up, walking to the door. “I shall be back in several hours' time. When you have enough strength to speak. Then I shall decide whether or not to administer some more.”
She leaves, consigning you to solitude. It feels like a century passes before the woman returns. You think about things, too many things for your own good. It is a pain different from the one caused by your wounds. But, by the time she comes back, you're able to speak.
“Keep your poison away from me.” You say as soon as you spot her.
“Such a sharp and wicked tongue. Is this how strangers repay kindness? Without help, you would be dead.”
“It is only sharp because of trickery.” You reply, conjuring up enough strength to raise your arm to your chest. “I do not wish to be disabled.”
“Perhaps you should not expose yourself to danger then.” The old woman cackles again, the noise grates your nerves. “I do not know what happened for you to get this hurt, but it was likely your own recklessness. Like the recklessness earlier.”
“There was danger.”
“The only danger was your delusion.”
“That is only for me to decide.” You look at her sternly. “I thank you for the help, and I shall repay you somehow, but as soon as I am able to walk properly I shall leave. I do not wish to burden anyone further.”
“Oh my. That does seem like it'll take a while. Your wounds are grave. I thought you dead when I first saw you. For your own sake, you should stay until you're absolutely fit. By my calculations that should be by the thaw of the snow.”
“But you're a strange one.” She smiled, revealing a less -than-perfect teeth. “A man in your position would first seek to know where he was before engaging an old woman in foolish discussion. But, then again, you did stumble outside in a fit of madness so the usual does not apply. I'll leave you be for now if you wish to recuperate your strength for some other foolish enterprise.”
 “Then let me rest already.”
 “I take it you're some sort of medicine-woman then?”
 “How exactly did you find me?”
I'm officially putting this story on a 2-week or so hiatus. I want to do this properly, updating regularly and quickly. Even if it's only got around 4 readers right now - not a problem. In two weeks time (+- a couple of days), I'll be able to dedicate myself to this properly.