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Nominally Accurate
“I want a house.”

It was cool by the lake of blood. There were no clouds, and the moon was missing. It would be for a couple more nights before it began creeping back out of its own shadow. Or something like that. Until then, only the light of the stars was there to break the darkness. Did a poor job of it, but it didn’t need to do much more. Youkai eyes and all.

“Actually, no. I want a mansion. I can’t have them showing me up, after all.”

Kurumi was in good form after her meal. The topic of homes and lakes and vampires hadn’t come up during their dinner, but it didn’t matter. She’d found her way to the topic on her own, and now there probably wouldn’t be an end to it until twilight came and shoved the vampire back underground. Annoying.

Well, there was leaving, but it would take her even longer to drop it the next time.

“I don’t think you need to be worrying about that.” The surface of the lake rippled slightly as my feet brushed against it. I wouldn’t bother most nights, since blood’s a pain to get off if you get too much on, and the lake stinks if you break it. But I wasn’t really dipping in, and I was restless anyway. Maybe a touch nervous. Kurumi getting ideas is bothersome at best.

“No? Well, I suppose you’re allowed.” She fluttered over, landing just beside me. Sort of. She was doing that thing where she wasn’t actually supporting any weight with her feet. Why bother when you can just float a little? “You don’t have to maintain your image.”

“You don’t have to either, you know.” It wasn’t as if there was anyone watching. Ever.

“Really, Orange? That sort of thinking is the luxury of the bottom rung.” Kurumi ran one hand through her hair as she stood at her full height. Which wasn’t really much of anything, since she wasn’t quite adult-bodied and a bit short besides. “I, however, am a vampire, and a youkai of my standing needs a proper home that reflects it.”

What standing, exactly? “We all want things.” I didn’t give the subject much thought; it seemed like it was just Kurumi being herself, after all. Instead, I just leaned back, crossed my arms, hands under my head as I stared up at the stars.

“Wanting is like some less complacent youkai’s desire to be the most powerful and feared.” It sounded like there was almost a faint huff of disapproval. Well excuse me for thinking that fighting my way up to that sounded like a pain. “This is not merely wanting, Orange. Nor is this merely need. It is simply unacceptable for a vampire such as myself to not have a fitting home.” She leaned down, lightly poking my forehead. “That is not how things are done, Orange! It is not how things are supposed to be!”

“Yeah?” I wrinkled my nose slightly as I swatted her hand away. “Seems like it’s how things have been for a while.”

“To my endless shame.” Kurumi crossed her arms with her entire face wrinkling in disgust. “No one must ever know.”

“Good luck with that.” Elly, probably her mistress, the shrine maiden, the witch, whoever heard about it from them…

“It’s all the more reason to fix it! Then this terrible state of affairs can be buried and everyone will forget there was a time I didn’t have a good house.” Her disgust turned into a self-satisfied smile almost immediately as she nodded to herself. “A proper mansion of my own, touch up the lake shore a little, and then no one’s going to be ignoring me just because of a couple child-bodied upstarts…”

“I guess we all need a dream,” I muttered to myself. Wasn’t really my problem, and if Kurumi spent the night getting worked up about it, she would probably exhaust herself and forget about it by tomorrow. So I just kept resting there, relaxing.

I treated it like a normal night with Kurumi, some thought filling her head until her interest in it sputtered out. Or maybe some weird idea she actually started acting on, only to eventually get bored of it.

“Oh Orange, don’t you get it? It’s not a mere dream. It’s correcting the failures and injustices of the world.” One arm dropped to her side, while the other was half raised, her hand turned around to properly point at herself. “I’ve decided on this. I’m going to have a home suited to one of my stature. I’m afraid that while living in a little cave hovel may be adequate for some, it simply will not do for me.”

I hadn’t counted on it being one of those ideas. One of her big ideas.

“And you, Orange, are just who I need to make this happen.”

I blinked.

Her raised hand was pointing at me, and her smile was a little bit different. A tiny change in expression I’d come to dread. Not just self-assurance, when she had some clever thought and felt like congratulating herself. Almost a little smug.

“You are going to help me, and we’ll make sure I have simply the most wonderful mansion this little world can provide.”

I blinked again.

She actually expects me to have a part in this? I don’t want to just reject it out of hand, or I’ll never hear the end of it, but I don’t know that I really want to get involved. At all.

[ ] – Negotiate: I’m not agreeing to anything if I don’t get something out of it.
[ ] – Accept: It’ll be easier to just play along until it crashes and burns or she forgets about it.
[ ] – Dissuade: There’s no way this is going to work.
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[X] – Accept: It’ll be easier to just play along until it crashes and burns or she forgets about it.
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[ ] – Accept: It’ll be easier to just play along until it crashes and burns or she forgets about it.
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[x] – Accept: It’ll be easier to just play along until it crashes and burns or she forgets about it.

Gonna make those other vampires so jealous, they don't even know.
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[x] Question. "Why?"

"Why what?", you may ask? Why everything!

Why us, particularly? Why does the Scarlets' mansion even matter? Why are you trying to beat them at their own game instead of playing your own?
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“You want me to help you build it.”

“Isn’t that what I just said?” Kurumi let out an exasperated sigh. “Are you paying the slightest attention? I don’t like wasting my words, you know, and it’s horribly rude to ignore people who are talking to you!”

Building a mansion. Doesn’t sound like it should be that huge a deal at first, right? But I knew better than that. Kurumi wasn’t big on holding back, so even if this all started nice and reasonable and doable, her ideas would probably just start spinning out of control until she wanted… I don’t know, some sort of walking, fighting battle house or something ridiculous like that.

Maybe just a castle, if I was lucky. Really depended on what kind of mood hit her, and when.

“Frankly, it’s insulting! I’m completely serious about this, Orange! I’m tired of living in a filthy little hole like some sort of degenerate muck dweller scraping insects out from under rocks for their meals! And you’re just lazing around, as if nothing I say even matters!”

Of course, that worry’s a bit optimistic. Setting aside what she actually wants to have built, I’m not sure how she thinks it’ll happen. The both of us live in the middle of nowhere, and the lake’s the biggest thing in the area except for whatever’s supposed to be under it. Some sort of weird house? That girl, Elly, is supposed to be from down there. Either way, neither of us really have anything to bargain with. She have a little do-it-yourself in mind?

“I don’t know why I even bothered asking you! You clearly don’t care about me, to be acting like this. I thought our time together meant more than this, but apparently not! And after all the times I’ve let you rest here, ruining my things just because you don’t know how to keep your guts inside!”

Kurumi was staring at me pretty intensely. Looking a little pissed off, even.

“Do you even have anything to say for yourself!?”

“Yeah, sure.” She was like that sometimes, and I mostly just ignored it when it happened. I sat up, moved my shoulders a little, and tilted forward to get some momentum to stand up. Nice, quick little motion, and then Kurumi was on her tip-toes to try and meet me at eye level. Wasn’t quite working, though. “I’ll help.”

“…really?” Kurumi seemed almost suspicious at first, narrowing her eyes and leaning in toward me. And then she simply pulled back again, and with a tiny clap and a little smile all the anger she’d been working up was gone. “Splendid! Wonderful! I knew I could count on you, Orange! You’re always so reliable, going out of your way to bring me food and trinkets and…”

I stopped listening for a moment. Kurumi was just kind of fluttering around at that point, occasionally twirling a little in the air. Honestly, this entire thing felt like a wreck already, but it’s easiest to just go along with it. And for once, I couldn’t really hold her ideas against her or anything. A mansion’s probably overshooting it, but her cave is pretty cramped, and probably downright miserable with how long she’s been stuck in it. Nice little house might do her some good.

“But ‘build a mansion’ is kind of open, you know?” I took a moment to stretch as I spoke, loosen some muscles up again. “You got something a bit more specific in mind?”

“Of course I do! I hope you didn’t think I was that foolish.” Apparently my voice was enough to get her back on track, and she settled down in front of me the better part of a foot off the ground. Hey, she’s actually a little taller than me when she does that. Good for her. “I already have a plan in my head, and several potential spots for the site.”

“I was more thinking materials. We don’t have a lot to trade with.” Understatement of the year.

“Do you have to try and dampen my spirits like that, Orange?” Kurumi gave a little tongue click of disapproval. “Do you feel some need to try and crush my enthusiasm before we even begin?”

“Pretty much, yeah. Don’t want to start on anything half-assed.”

“I suppose I shall simply have to forgive your language and implications.” A little sniff of disapproval, but not much beyond that. “If you simply must know already, I was going to leave matters of resources in your hands, as you seem more than capable.”

Meat and mortar are completely different. Probably not worth pressing that point, though. “Alright, let’s say we do it like that. What about the actual building and such? You got a plan in mind for that?”

“Oh, that?” Kurumi talked as if it were just some minor detail she’d almost forgotten. Barely even worth mentioning. “You just seem so suited for it I thought you’d be fine doing that too.”

“Kurumi.” I couldn’t help but feel a little annoyed at that. Was she thinking she’d just handle the design and siting or something? Doesn’t really seem that even. “Do I look like your servant or something?”

She said it with almost perfect innocence. As if it were the most natural, obvious thing in the world. Not even the faintest hint it had even occurred to her that, perhaps, she wasn’t completely right about it.


I really should have expected that response.

I really should have expected that response.

Gods, what am I getting myself into?

[ ] – Accept: Just roll with it. I guess I could end up with too much to manage, but it’s not like any of this is really going to matter, right? It’ll probably just fall apart.
[ ] – Question: Okay, fine, I’ll roll with it. Could you maybe be a little more specific on what you want?
Object: ...what do I even focus on?
- 1: [ ] – Workload: If I’m doing hard labor, shouldn’t you do something more? Maybe pick out the materials for your house? Since you’ll be the one living in it?
- 2: [ ] – Reparation: Am I even getting anything for this?
- 3: [ ] – Acquisition: No, seriously, how exactly are we getting things when we don’t have anything to begin with?
- 4: [ ] – Other

…though however I handle that, I might point something else out.
[ ] – Do: I have no idea how to build a house.
[ ] – Don’t: There’s a library or something, right? I can probably figure it out there and wing it as we go.
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[x] – Accept: Just roll with it. I guess I could end up with too much to manage, but it’s not like any of this is really going to matter, right? It’ll probably just fall apart.

[x] – Don’t: There’s a library or something, right? I can probably figure it out there and wing it as we go.

This, for starters.
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I have a bunch of questions I could toss at Kurumi to maybe get a better deal out of this, maybe get something a bit clearer or a bit more sensible out of her. And I’m honestly really tempted to start asking some of them. But on the other hand, it’s Kurumi. I don’t know whether I could get actual answers out of her or if all the questions would just tick her off. Honestly, I don’t really care enough to put up with her if she really gets going.

“Alright, look, I said I’m helping, but don’t mistake that for being a servant, okay?” That’s about the only thing I can’t let slide. However this ends up working out, I don’t want that idea stuck in her head. “I’m doing you a favor.”

“Yes, yes, think about it however you want.” Kurumi had switched back to that smug little self-satisfied grin, that little moment of total innocence completely gone. “You’ll come to accept your role in time, I’m certain of it.”

I kind of shook my head, since that was about all I could do. Not like she was going to listen. “How about we just focus on the job, alright? You got any other surprises you want to spring on me?”

“I don’t see what’s so surprising about it. The lower class is always the one doing the hardest physical work, isn’t it?” A quick beat of her wings settled her up slightly higher than before. Really trying to work around the height difference, apparently. “It’s only natural that you’d end up with the heavy labor, Orange. I certainly am not suited for it.” Still smiling, talking like it was just the way things worked. Maybe it was, even. Still kind of annoying.

She’s a vampire, isn’t she? Supposed to be ridiculously strong. Though I have a hard time picturing her actually overpowering me, so it’s kind of hard to stay too annoyed. She’s really kind of scrawny too, not sure I’ve been getting her enough food…

Yeah, no, I don’t want to go dwelling on that. I’ll just end up agreeing to something even more ridiculous before I realize it, and she’s giving me more than enough already.

“So you just want me getting stuff together for you, right? Not fiddling with anything else right now?” One thing at a time, I’m thinking. Just figuring out where to get the stuff – and what to get to begin with – is going to be enough of a headache. More than enough, even.

“That will be acceptable for now. You can worry about actually building things later, so focus on materials!” She twirled a little in the air as she drifted away, still smiling. She’s clearly proud of this plan she’s making, though I don’t know that it’s really warranted. “I’ll be deciding where it goes and how to put it together, but that’s my concern.”

“So, no other stuff you want to add?”

“Let’s see…” Kurumi was rubbing her chin with one crooked finger’s knuckle, just kind of staring at the sky for a moment. “No, I think that should be quite enough for now. Getting lumber and such should take you at least a little time, shouldn’t it?”

“Yeah, should. Well, that’s all I needed to hear.” I bent down a little to pick up my baton and started floating into the air a little. No way I’m swimming through the lake.

“Eh? Really?” And that smile was really gone now, replaced by a hint of shock. “Are you going already?”

“Yeah. Not like you have much else to add, right? You’ll work out where, and I’ll get stuff ready. Pretty straightforward.” Well, except for the not so minor question of how I’m supposed to actually get anything. But the idea was straightforward.

“But it’s not even midnight! We’ve only just had dinner, and…” Real wide-eyed surprise. I can’t say I wasn’t expecting it, since we do kind of have a routine. “There’s still hours before sunrise and you’re already leaving and you’re not supposed to do that, Orange! That’s not how we’ve done it!”

“Look, Kurumi, love your company and all,” I said, giving her a weak smile, “but you’re usually not telling me we’re building a house. Got to get myself ready, you know?”

“That’s – Fine! Do that!” Kurumi gave her wings a nice hard beat, pushing her back up to eye level with me. Kind of puffing her cheeks out too, almost glaring at me. “If you need this much time to get ready, you’d better not come back with anything but the very best! I won’t stand for any subpar garbage going into my mansion!”

“C’mon, trust me a little, would you?” I started gliding back through the air a little, out over the lake, as I spoke. “Have I gone and let you down before!”


“Like one time.” Skimming just above the lake’s surface, rapidly putting distance between us. “Don’t worry, Kurumi, I won’t screw this up.”

Well, probably. There’s a lot of ways it could screw itself up, though, which is ignoring Kurumi herself.

She didn’t respond for a moment, and it was only once I was by the main shore on the way back down the mountain that I heard her. So I turned around, and she was calling out over the lake.

“Don’t forget to bring dinner, too!”

Ha. Of course. Just because she’s trying to saddle me with something new doesn’t mean I’m not stuck with the old routine on top. Still, it’ll be a few days before I really need to worry about that.

I gave her a brief wave before turning back around and starting down the mountain path. Walking again, since it’s actually a pretty place, even at night. Away from the lake, the bugs and such start coming to life again, so there’s some actual background noise too. Get the sun involved and some birds’ll be waking up.

…and away from Kurumi, she’s not here to distract me from how big this task is going to be. We’ve got basically nothing; a few odds and ends and some extra clothes for her, a chest with about the same buried nearby for me. I’ve got a couple people I could chat up in the village from the times I’ve passed as human there, but a couple minor favors are a completely different thing than building a mansion, or even just getting the stuff for it. And even surrounded by trees, it’s not like I can just punch them into useable lumber. Kurumi would probably give me hell for that anyway. Not doing it proper or something.

Where do I even start?

[ ] – Scouting: Might as well figure out where I can get building stuff even if I can’t get it all ready. It would give me time to think too.
[ ] – Research: I could probably just wing a little house, but a mansion’s a bigger thing. Should check the library or something eventually, though that would mean waiting until morning. Humans are funny about nighttime visits.
[ ] – Looting: I may not have a whole lot, but I do know where outside the village people tend to lose things. Or just up and die. Lot of it won’t be worth much, but maybe someone had an axe or a saw or something…
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[x] – Scouting: Might as well figure out where I can get building stuff even if I can’t get it all ready. It would give me time to think too.
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[x] – Scouting: Might as well figure out where I can get building stuff even if I can’t get it all ready. It would give me time to think too.

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Whatever I end up doing, I can’t really get started on building just yet. But figuring out where I can get what seems like a good starting point. If I know that, maybe I can save some time. Flight only solves so many problems, and heavy lifting isn’t exactly one of them.

Yeah, that sounds like a plan. Figure out what all’s where, and then worry about how I should actually be using it.

Wood’s obvious. Even this mountain’s got its fair share of trees, and they seem pretty nice too. Certainly didn’t seem bothered by those earthquakes a while back. Of course, seeming nice and actually being good for it are completely different. Trees are different, right? So it seems like the wood should be different too, and I don’t have a clue which kinds would be best.

What a pain.

I eventually came to a stop a way down the mountain, just sitting down under a tree and gathering my thoughts a bit. The night’s nice and quiet, and there’s not much wind. Bit cool, but I’m a bit hardier for that than an actual human. Going to want to add a couple more layers anyway as it keeps cooling down. Not as much of a problem up at the lake with Kurumi, though – I swear, it’s like the place doesn’t have seasons. Just a little warmer or cooler, drier or wetter, but not by a whole lot. Kind of creepy.

So there’s wood. Easy to get. Most of Gensoukyou has trees to spare, really, though the bamboo forest has its own offerings. And I guess the Forest itself, but I don’t know that I’d trust lumber from a tree growing there. Seems like a quick way to get something you don’t want in your house, and while I’d love a bit of payback sometimes, I’m not about to wish whatever’s growing there on her.

And if it didn’t ruin the whole project, it would probably just make her loopier. Don’t know that I could even handle that.

Wood’s probably the biggest thing, but depending on what she wants – and how much I’ll put up with – there’ll be some other stuff. I think people have started using metal for nails and hinges and stuff, so that means getting a smith involved. That means the village, or hunting down some youkai smiths. Tengu are bound to have some if I can get up there, and the kappa…

Yeah, the kappa are a last resort.

If I go for the human village, I could probably swing by the library as long as I’m there and get both out of the way at once. Or I could just go there tonight, maybe help myself to a few odds and ends while I’m there as long as I’m checking out their stock. That’d be a bit risky, but it might set me a bit ahead. Don’t want to try climbing the mountain yet, don’t know that the tengu and such are worth the bother, and some of them are a pain to deal with anyway.

This is all kind of making me wish we actually had stuff to hire people, but even if we could get anyone to work on a house, I don’t know that we could get them up to the lake. It’s out of the way and kind of eerie even for a lot of youkai, so who would even take the job?

I would, apparently. But I’m still betting this whole thing is falling apart eventually.

Well, whatever I end up looking at, I need to actually get moving again. So I guess now I need to decide what I want to think on and figure out where to go for it.

[ ] – Wood: Kind of a big deal. Trees aren’t in short supply at all, but there are a few places of interest.
- [ ] – Near the village: Probably the safest place to get it, if I don’t mind dealing with people.
- [ ] – The bamboo forest: That stuff’s good for building, right? And it’s not like I’d get lost if I stick to the edges.
- [ ] – The Forest of Magic: …well, it is a forest, and the worst isn’t that close to the edge. Still near the village, but a bit quieter.
- [ ] – Elsewhere: There’s plenty of trees, so there’s plenty of other places to check too.
[ ] – Smith stuff: Places I could get nails and such made. Bit of a lower priority, but worth checking at some point.
- [ ] – The village: Well, it is kind of a go-to place for stuff if you can pass. And I could check some other things too, like the library.
- [ ] – Elsewhere: …don’t much care for the mountain, and I don’t know of many other places off the top of my head, but it’d be worth checking if I really feel inclined.

Specify if you want to go “elsewhere.”
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[ ] – Wood: Kind of a big deal. Trees aren’t in short supply at all, but there are a few places of interest.
- [ ] – The Forest of Magic: …well, it is a forest, and the worst isn’t that close to the edge. Still near the village, but a bit quieter.
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[x] – Wood: Kind of a big deal. Trees aren’t in short supply at all, but there are a few places of interest.
- [x] – The Forest of Magic: …well, it is a forest, and the worst isn’t that close to the edge. Still near the village, but a bit quieter.

Magic wood is perfect for a vampire's residence.
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So it’s funny how things work out sometimes.

I stood up and stretched a bit since I’d been there a few minutes, and was in for a little bit of a hike. Well, flight, but I still don’t like letting myself settle too easily. Hold over from rougher days, mostly, when that extra bit of speed really mattered. Or maybe I’m just imagining it; Kurumi’s said that pretty bluntly before, but I don’t know. Mostly I just feel better for doing it.

Anyway. I got up, and went flying off a minute or two after. Need good lumber to build a good house, need good wood for that, and you need to find good trees for good wood. Plain and simple, and I figured maybe I’d start near the village. Some decent trees there, I’m thinking, since that’s where the humans seem to start when they need some timber. And they’re less likely to try and eat me or something than the forest, so it’s less of a headache.

I apparently don’t remember where everything is as well as I thought, because I ended up on the edge of the forest anyway. I really don’t know how that happened. The mountain and shrine are where they’ve always been, the village is over there, so how is it that here ended up where it is? I’d wanted to avoid the forest if I could, but…

Well, as long as I’m here, trees are trees. Still not big on the idea, but the outer areas should be fine. Deep woods, though, that’s right out. To say nothing of the hassle of getting in and out, I don’t know if the trees that deep in would even be fit for building. But that’s all getting ahead of myself.

I’ve landed at this point, and I notice several things as I’m walking toward the trees. It’s a little bit warmer here, though not by a whole lot. About the same amount of wind. Air tastes a bit different, which I’m thinking is probably because of the forest and gods know what kind of stuff might be drifting out of it. And it’s actually a bit noisier here. Few toads or something in the background, but what really catches my ear are the crickets. They’re a whole lot louder than up on my little border mountain. More than I’d have expected.

And then, as I’m getting real close to some of the trees, they stop. Not all of them, but enough of them. The ones closest to me. And all of a sudden I get this feeling I’m being watched.

Well, isn’t that interesting? Lot of possibilities. Maybe they’re smart crickets, and I just spooked them or something. I know there’s also at least one youkai that’s got bug stuff going on, so maybe they’re involved here. Not really cricket season, so it’d explain why they’re calling so loud.

And of course, it could be a fairy. That’s actually a pretty good option almost always. If it doesn’t take a whole lot of power to cause something, it could always be a fairy. And when you’re dealing with trees in a place like this, well, maybe that’s a fairy’s house, and they’re trying to tell you something with the bugs hanging around them. Or they’re screwing with you.

Whatever it is, though, the bugs right here are awful quiet now, under this big old tree on the edge of the forest. And I’m pretty sure that if there’s actually someone behind this, they’re watching, and they’re probably looking for a cue to decide how this goes down. So here I am, just here to look at wood, and I’m already attracting attention I didn’t want.

Wonder if I can make them just ignore me if I back off. Of course, depending on who and what they are, that could be a bit too yielding and just encourage them… dealing with other youkai can be such a headache sometimes.

[ ] – Back Off: I’m here to look at trees, not get in trouble. And there are a whole lot more trees around here.
[ ] – Wait: If just getting this close got a reaction, maybe they’ll do something else if I stay here. Like actually appear.
[ ] – Get closer: Get a better look at the tree, inspect it a bit, maybe provoke an actual reaction from whatever it is.
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[ ] – Wait: If just getting this close got a reaction, maybe they’ll do something else if I stay here. Like actually appear.
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[x] – Wait: If just getting this close got a reaction, maybe they’ll do something else if I stay here. Like actually appear.

Good enough.
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So I’ve got a tree that’s apparently in someone’s territory, and they’re pretty obviously watching. I could back-off and maybe avoid a confrontation that way, but if they’re hot-headed that could just as easily encourage them to come after me, and that would just be a bother. Could get closer, actually inspect the tree like I had wanted, but if they’re territorial, that would definitely provoke them. If they’re weak and posturing, though, might spook them off. Really, it’s just annoying overall, because I could avoid a confrontation or provoke one just as easily no matter what I do. Just such a bother.

Waiting, though? Same is true for that too, but how long they take to respond, and how they do it, is going to be pretty telling. And it’s less effort.

The problem is that it’s boring. It’s pretty quiet, since the nearby bugs stopped doing anything once I got close enough. There’s not much happening, because it’s the dead of night and I’m right on the edge of the forest where there’s not much to expect anyway. And I’m not doing anything. Just waiting. They’re not doing anything. Just waiting.

Maybe a minute passes. It turns out I’m more patient than they are.

“Are you going to do anything?” A girl dropped out of the tree, not quite landing so much as stopping in the air just above the ground, one foot almost touching it. Looked kind of annoyed, the way she was eyeing me, and her antennae were kind of twitching a little. “You’re interrupting a performance.”

Yeah, I kind of figured it would be someone like her. Bugs, bug youkai. “And here I just wanted to look at a tree. Check the wood, that kind of thing.” Me, I just kind of shrugged it off. It’s not like I want a fight, but I recognize her from that book. Pretty low level, around mine. She’s got a pretty nasty trick, but it’s not one I really need to worry about.

“This tree’s in use. You can’t cut it down.” There’s a little glint in her eye. Pretty minor issue for most people, but not her, apparently.

“Fine by me. I’ll just look at another one.”

“It’ll be in use too.”

“What, are all of them occupied?” If she’s going where I think she’s going with this…

“Every tree here is home to a lot of insects. And when it’s getting colder, they’re less able to defend themselves. So it’s up to me to make sure people like you don’t take advantage of the season and drive them out of their homes!” The girl actually landed, planting her feet and pointing at me entirely too dramatically. “I won’t allow you to displace them just because you can’t deal with the cold!”

“Huh.” Bug nut. She’s gone loopy, is just coming up with extra reasons for territoriality, or she’s just putting on airs. Really can’t guess which yet. “So how about the trees on the other side of the village?”

“What about them?” She’s got kind of a puzzled look on her face.

“Could I cut them down if I wanted?” Wood’s probably just as good, and less magic involved.

“I… guess you could?” The girl kind of steps back, rubbing the back of her head as she thinks it over. “They’re all the way over there, so…”

“Yeah, but wouldn’t bugs be living there too? You sure it’s okay?”

“That’s right, they are!” And then her fire’s suddenly back. “That’s completely unacceptable!”

“Alright, so I can’t cut down trees here at the forest, and I can’t cut down trees elsewhere around the village, ‘cause bugs are living there too, right?” I really wonder how far I can take this. It’s not often I can screw with someone like this. Kurumi, sometimes, but that can backfire horribly when she catches on. “The village know they can’t cut these trees down?”

“Of course they…” A pause while she’s thinking it over. Then I can see her eyes practically light up as something clicks. “You’re just a human anyway! What are you doing out here in the dead of night? Don’t you know it’s dangerous?”

“Didn’t I say? I’m here to look at trees.” Just a human, is it? Fine by me, if it gets around a fight. On the other hand, low level youkai like her might like the chance to terrorize someone. We’re still close enough to the village she probably won’t get up to too much, but it could still be annoying. “Hey, you’ve got bugs everywhere, right? You mind pointing out some good ones?”

“You’re not listening at all, are you? Fine!” She floated back up in the air with a dramatic swish of her cape – or are those her wings? She’s supposed to have wings, but that looks like a cape. How does that work? “You’re a human who wandered into the night, interrupted one of my performances, and refuses to respect the lives of the insects! This is your last chance before I punish you!”

She really is sure of herself. And a bit overly full of hot air, I’m betting, but most of the youkai at our level are loons of one sort or another, so it’s not surprising. She does seem pretty dead set on being a hassle, though, if I don’t back off. That would be the easy way out, sure, and that kind of appeals just so I don’t have to bother with her. But I’m not awful at danmaku, and I’ve got a good trick if she tries to swarm me with bugs…

[ ] – Fight her: If I can beat her, maybe I can get some information out of her, make this all go a bit more easily.
- [ ] – Egg her on: It’ll be great if she fires the first shot, too, because she’ll have botched her own challenge.
- [ ] – Start it: Or I can just cut to the chase and start it myself. Maybe save a little time.
[ ] – Back off: Less of a hassle. Not going to get much more done here unless I go way out of my way to avoid her, though.
[ ] – Diplomacy: I really doubt I can talk her down at this point, but it might be worth a shot. I've been wrong about stuff before, after all.
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[x] – Fight her: If I can beat her, maybe I can get some information out of her, make this all go a bit more easily.
- [x] – Egg her on: It’ll be great if she fires the first shot, too, because she’ll have botched her own challenge.

Might as well have some fun while we screw around.
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[x] – Fight her: If I can beat her, maybe I can get some information out of her, make this all go a bit more easily.
- [x] – Egg her on: It’ll be great if she fires the first shot, too, because she’ll have botched her own challenge.
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[X] – Fight her: If I can beat her, maybe I can get some information out of her, make this all go a bit more easily.
- [X] – Egg her on: It’ll be great if she fires the first shot, too, because she’ll have botched her own challenge.
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[x] – Fight her: If I can beat her, maybe I can get some information out of her, make this all go a bit more easily.
- [x] – Egg her on: It’ll be great if she fires the first shot, too, because she’ll have botched her own challenge.
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So I’m looking at this girl and I’m thinking she’s another low level youkai. Worst case, not more than a rung or two above me, and I’m kind of doubting even that. So I’m pretty sure I can take her, and as much of a pain as the real battles for status and dominance can be, I’m still a youkai. Pissing someone off and then beating them up can be damn fun. It’s even better when they haven’t even figured out I’m not human.

“Come on, punish me for taking a walk? Don’t you think that’s overreacting?” I punctuate it with an exaggerated shrug, trying not to show how carefully I’m watching her. I’m trying to bait her, but I don’t want her first shot to hit. “Besides, can you really say I interrupted a performance? Isn’t that giving a few bugs a little too much credit, calling it that?”

I’ve got to give her credit, she’s pretty fast. One motion brings her arm up, and there’s barely a delay as the first shot goes flying off of her finger. I step just out of the way, and a ball of light almost as big as my head goes zipping by. Good aim, too!

“I won’t have you disrespecting us like that! If you’re going to take my warning as an excuse to just insult us more…” Floating up in the air, anger pretty clear on her face. But as she’s talking, her expression’s changing. Turning into a smile almost as smug as some of Kurumi’s, though that anger is pretty clear just under the surface. And why not? She’s a youkai about to go to town on a block-headed human who can’t listen, right? “I’ll show you just how terrifying insects can be!”

And then the light show starts. Nice shell of bullets starting to form, and I’m up in the air before they start getting close. She’s pretty clearly surprised by that, but it doesn’t stick long.

“This is supposed to be scary?” Several bullets go by. I duck under one, though it almost clips my hat. “Isn’t this something just about anyone can do?”

“Don’t get too full of yourself.” A few familiars appear around her. That might make this a little trickier than I’d expected, but I’m not worried. At this level, dodging’s easy if you’re focused on it. It’s not until you start multitasking and returning fire that it gets a bit challenging. And me, I’m holding out on that; I can’t really get going without kicking up an aura, and I want to see her face nice and clear when that happens. “I’m just getting started with you!”

“So it’ll get harder? That’s good. You’re not pushing me much right now.” Best annoying grin I can give her. I’m holding back, sticking to just dodging, but so is she. I bet she wants to crush me ‘like a bug,’ as it goes, but wants to savor it. After all, I’m just a human, so she can take her time and play with me before going straight for victory.

Well, that’s what I’m guessing. She’s a youkai, but she’s also a bug. I could be completely wrong.

We’re going at it like that for a little longer, but just throwing a bunch of sparkling lights around doesn’t mean much. Not a minute later, I see two things happening. There’s this kind of hazy cloud showing up around her, and she’s pulling out a spell card proper. I’m pretty sure I know what that cloud is, if I’m remembering what I’ve read right. Bugs. Lots of them, coordinated with the spell card. Kind of an amusing thought. But she can control them, so why not make them into bullets? Not like she’s running out anytime soon anyway.

Well, it’s getting to be around winter, so she actually could. But as long as they’re on hand, I guess.

“See what we insects can do!” And with a declaration, the spell card starts. The bullets are going to be absolutely everywhere in just a moment. And she’s pretty clever, turning bugs that she can totally control into bullets, but it kind of makes it a weak point too. I could probably keep up with dodging, but now is probably as good a time as any to get serious. So the real question is if I want to see her make that face yet…

[ ] – Return fire: Surprise!
[ ] – Drag it out: I can build her frustration a bit more.
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[x] – Return fire: Surprise!
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[ ] – Drag it out: I can build her frustration a bit more.
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Going in favor of what I was already writing when the second vote came in. Maybe Wriggle is angry enough to make up for not making the duel longer, sage-voter.

Yeah, there’s not really a question about it. I could let this drag out plenty longer, but there’s no point to that. Kind of a bother, really. It’s supposed to be an entertaining little diversion, not a chore, but the latter’s what a longer battle would turn into. Almost always does, really.

“Hey, the bug thing’s a neat party trick and all…” I’m maneuvering to keep away from the worst spots in the pattern, and have my baton at the ready now. She’s not moving a whole lot, which isn’t surprising, since this whole thing seems pretty one-sided in her favor so far. No point dodging what isn’t there and all. But she is listening, and that’s the important part. “But I’ve got something too.”

“So you can fly!” She’s still pretty confident, grinning wide. Almost predatory, I think. She’s not really taking me seriously. Good, that just makes this even better. “What’s it matter when you can’t even return fire? It’s like you’re just dancing for me!”

“Yeah, about that…”

I dive under a group of bugs and float back in front of another cloud just long enough she can’t entirely see me. Baton’s up with a quick little flourish, and I’m channeling just enough energy to get started. Then I emerge from behind the cloud again, best grin I can throw back at her on my face.

“Sorry, but I’ve been holding out on you.” There’s a flash of light as my own bullets start streaming out from the baton, and the air’s starting to get warmer. Her grin vanishes, and she’s gone a bit wide-eyed, but she’s quick to react and manages to avoid the first round. It’s almost a proper spell card duel, but I’ve still got one little trump card. The energy’s flowing, so in just a moment…

“You’re on fire.” She’s just staring at me for a moment, almost still as she floats in an empty spot of air. “Why are you on fire?”

“Hey, you’re shooting bugs at me, right?” Channeling enough energy to get a good bullet storm going tends to flare up an aura whether I like it or not. Great for posturing, and here I’ve even got a fringe benefit going. “Why wouldn’t I be on fire?”

“That doesn’t even make any sense! People don’t just set themselves on fire to avoid bugs!” She’s still pretty quick even taken aback, and ducks under another stream. “You’d all just burn to death!”

“Wow, really? Must have missed that.” There’s another big group heading for me, but I don’t try as hard to dodge. I pretty handily avoid most of it, and the rest either ignites and falls or pulls away on its own despite her control. Self-preservation and all, I bet. “Of course, that’s assuming I’m human, you know. But I’d think the fire bit kind of says something about that.”

“That’s – if you’re not, what are you even doing here?”

“Like I said, looking at trees.” There’s a brief lull in my own pattern, and I give her a bit of a shrug.

“Oh come on, really?” Her own has paused as well, and she’s kind of just angrily pointing at me now. “And you’re just picking a fight while you’re at it?”

“Well yeah. Isn’t that what you’re doing too?”

“That’s…” She’s kind of lost for words for a moment, and I’m perfectly happy to start shooting again. Not fast enough, though, and she dodges – if only barely – and starts again herself. “I’m done screwing around with you! I’m not going to let you keep insulting me!”

“Hey, I’m not even trying to insult you yet.” Not that she’s listening. Apparently got through the first spell card alright, because she’s pulling out another. “By the way, I’ve got a better trick than the fire for you.”

“You can keep your tricks!” Man, now she’s just shouting at me. How hot headed is she to get this pissed so easily?

“Hey, your loss.” Another shell of bullets is starting to form around her, and she’s moving just enough to avoid my return fire. But she’s angry enough I’m pretty sure she’s not paying close attention. Bit of wind-up for the baton, careful aim…

And it pegs her right between the eyes. I never get tired of doing that, even if it really doesn’t work that often. But it did this time, and that makes it my win.

“That’s your trick?” She’s rubbing her forehead and glaring at me as I swoop in to grab my baton before it gets lost in the grass or something – that’s always a pain. “That’s just fighting dirty!”

“Yeah? How’s that? I say it’s probably even easier to dodge than most bullets, and you just weren’t paying attention.” At this point I deliberately suppress the aura a bit so I’m just kind of smoldering, help drive home that we’re done with the fight. “Not really much different than your bugs, if you want to complain about it. You didn’t start with those, I didn’t start with this.”

“Fine, then! You win!” From the looks of it, I’m pretty sure she’s almost ready to start tearing hair out. Probably mine, if I get too close. “Look at the trees, and then leave already.”

That was the idea the entire time. Really, while that was fun, it would have been easier if you’d just let me do that from the start instead of flipping out.

Well, whatever. Maybe with a bit of fighting already done she’ll listen a bit more if I want to try talking with her. That was my original idea, wasn’t it? Beat her so I can make her help a little. Though I pissed her off well enough I don’t know whether it’ll work.

[ ] – Original plan: Try and make her help find some good trees. She’s got bugs everywhere, so I’d think she can just exploit that.
[ ] – Diplomacy: Try and get her to help with something else. Since I can really just look at trees myself. Maybe ask for information on something else?
[ ] – Ignore her: She’s angry enough I might want to just get on with things on my own.
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[X] – Original plan: Try and make her help find some good trees. She’s got bugs everywhere, so I’d think she can just exploit that.
Think we have humiliated her enough allready
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[ ] – Original plan: Try and make her help find some good trees. She’s got bugs everywhere, so I’d think she can just exploit that.
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Alright, so I’ve won, and she’s willing to let me look around a bit. But it’d be a lot faster with some help, and since she’s commanding all these bugs, she’d help a whole lot if she cooperated, right? I’m going to stick to the plan I had going into this, though I’ve got a feeling it isn’t going to be easy to pull off. I did beat her, sure, but it wasn’t really crushing enough to make her just listen and obey. Really, I don’t think I even have the power to defeat any youkai worth noting that handily. End result is I’m free to move around now, but she’s still pretty pissed.

Yeah, this is going to be tricky.

“Alright, it’s great you’re letting me look around and all without too much more fuss, but I was thinking that maybe -”

“I’m not helping.” Wow, harsh tone. Goes well with that glare of hers.

“Come on, I didn’t even say anything.” She’s still not shooting or anything, so I let the fire just start sputtering out. I stay in the air, though; last thing I want is to throw a surprise grass fire or something into the issue here.

“Like you even needed to! What else would you even want?”

“Good bowl of soup, some warmer weather, maybe a bit…” Okay, yeah, no. That stare of hers isn’t getting any softer. “Fine, yes, I was going to ask you to help. I did beat you in a proper duel and all, I don’t think it’s that unreasonable.”

“All that gets you is a chance to look around. Why would I even care about helping you?”

“Well, I’d be out of your hair faster.” I finally land since the fire’s basically out, but I keep an eye on her. “Just help me find a few good ones for lumber and such and I can just be on my way that much faster. And then I’m gone, and you don’t have to deal with me.”

“Until you’re back.” She doesn’t land. Not surprising, but kind of rude. “Then I’ll still have to put up with you causing problems, and you’ll be displacing us.”

“Well yeah, that’s kind of what happens when you cut down a tree. You going to fight every villager who needs a bit of firewood just ‘cause you’re got some termites or something in there?”

She’s still staring at me, and I could swear she was about to say something almost immediately. Seems to have stopped herself, though. She was probably about to say ‘yes’ until… well, there’s plenty of reasons she might not have gone through with a knee-jerk response like that. And since I don’t really know just how similar our thought processes are, since she’s a bug youkai of all things, I don’t really want to guess that much. Doesn’t matter a great deal anyway.

“Look, I get you’re on this insect respect kick and need to draw the line somewhere, but you can’t win everything, you know?” I really hope I’m remembering that book right, or this is going to be completely pointless. And maybe even counterproductive. “And I’m pretty sure there’s enough other trees you can find a place to put them all.”

She’s still just kind of glaring at me, and she’s crossed her arms now. It might have helped a little, but I can’t really tell. For someone who came into it so hot-headed, she’s sure hiding her reaction pretty well now. Or maybe it’s just kind of drowned out next to anger.

“Come on, is it really that bad a deal? Put up with me now, maybe a bit later when I’m actually ready to get the wood, and then I’m just out of your hair.” Seems good to me. Now if I could just remember what her name was… “So what do you say, Wiggle?”

“My name is Wriggle!” And she snaps at me pretty promptly. Guess that’s not surprising. “You’re just running with what’s in that book, aren’t you! Do you have any idea what it’s like to be in there? To have everyone in the village suddenly think they know who you are, suddenly know how to deal with you? Maybe it’s like a status symbol for some of the stronger youkai, but it’s not for me! It’s a huge pain! ‘Wriggle’s a bug! I’ll try and squash her!’ Do you have any idea what that’s like? I’m a youkai, but every winter I have to deal with some idiot that thinks they can treat me how they like just because most of the insects are asleep or dead! They don’t know respect! And now you think you can just come in here and cheat and try and strong-arm me into helping you just because you can set yourself on fire and kill my bugs and try to drive us out! What’s it even matter whether you’re a human or a youkai? What’s it matter how long you’ll be here? You’re just treating me like garbage anyway!”

Okay, I was not expecting that. This respect thing is apparently a bigger deal for her than I had figured. Not just a low-rank youkai problem, but a people are being stupid problem too. Though I kind of wonder if anyone native would really be that thick-headed about things. Low-rank or no, she is a youkai. Even if they could get away with something in winter, she’s not going to just forget about it once spring rolls around…

…yeah, probably some outsider who isn’t learning how things work very well. Not that it really changes anything. She’s pissed now, which isn’t exactly helping me get her to cooperate. On the other hand, maybe knowing a little more can actually get me some leverage here. I mostly need her to calm down so I can maybe strike a deal or something, but it seems like that might be a challenge…

[ ] – Try to relate
- [ ] – People are dicks.
- [ ] – Bottom Rung: So are youkai, actually.
[ ] – Diplomacy: Maybe I can figure out some sort of deal for her.
[ ] – Get on with it: I don’t really need her help for this…
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[ ] – Try to relate
- [ ] – Bottom Rung: So are youkai, actually.
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She’s angry, and I think it’s mostly pretty understandable. It’s one thing to kind of be on the bottom of the ladder, and another to be stuck there when you don’t want to be. Random humans getting full of it doesn’t really help. I can’t really relate to the human problem that much, though; yeah, sometimes people are dicks, but even bottom rung, I can throw my weight around well enough to make them shut up most of the time it happens. Wriggle’s got the book to deal with. So that’s probably a bust as an approach. Other youkai, though…

“Right, okay, maybe I came off a bit hard provoking you. Bit of fun, you know? But being on the bottom, I can relate to that.” Though given how I basically live in the middle of nowhere, I can get away with being on the bottom. There’s not a whole lot above me, outside Kurumi. “And hey, maybe I don’t have to put up with shit since I’m not in the book, but that aside, we’ve both still got to deal with other youkai being asses, right?”

“I don’t want to hear that from you.” Oh boy, that look of hers is cold. I think I can make this thing work, but it may involve some pretty thin ice. I’ve gotten too used to Kurumi. She’ll swing at the drop of a hat, if you give her even half a prompt. Anyone slightly more normal, though, and anger’s a bit more lasting.

“Hey, the baton thing was a perfectly valid move. Isn’t there even someone that throws an umbrella or something?” Seriously, an umbrella. I’m pretty sure I read that, at least, could be wrong. “Outside of that, kind of just a terrible match-up for you, isn’t it? You use bugs, I set myself on fire. Kind of hard to get around that.”

“Is that supposed to make it better? You still came here, barged into my territory and tried to humiliate me! Because you want some trees or something!”

“Some of that’s just what we get being youkai. I get that, though.” Now it’s going to be the territory thing. Great, one more angle to try not to screw up. “It’s hard to keep everything marked, so sometimes people come wandering in completely clueless it’s your territory. Yes, like me.” She was just about to say something, but I don’t want her launching into another tirade just yet. “I get that. And maybe I did play things up a little bit too much, okay? But we’re still basically on the same rung. And I didn’t come here to screw up your day or anything.”

“Fine. What are you getting at?”

“I’m just saying I can relate, you know? We’re youkai, and we end up being huge dicks to each other because that’s just what we do. Whole lot of empty posturing and all that.” She’s still pretty visibly angry, I think, but at least she seems to be listening. “Real problem’s that we’ve got even tougher youkai than us to deal with though, isn’t it? And it’s fine so long as they do their thing and we do ours, but sometimes they get something in their heads that has them rolling right over us. But we can’t do anything about them, so we’ve got to take it out on each other, right?”

Though I’ve got it better than some others, since Kurumi is usually pretty alright. And that aside, we’ve got it a hell of a lot better than we would have even a few decades ago. Gensoukyou mostly sticks to danmaku duels now, formal spell card ones or not.

“Oh come on, I’ve heard this before. Next you’re going to go on about something like the systematic oppression of the weak, and how it’s time for us to do something about it or…” She kind of trails off, looks like she’s trying to remember what she heard. Scratches the back of her head a bit. “Something. You just don’t want to admit that you’re a jerk!”

“…didn’t I kind of admit to that already?” Not in those words, sure, but wasn’t that the whole point of what I started with? That maybe I came in a bit hard on her? “Look, I don’t know about any systematic thing or whatever, I’m just saying we toss a bit of hell around at each other, and we get a bit of hell we can’t toss back from tougher people than us. Pretty simple, right?”

“Yeah? And what about it?”

“Alright, I was a bit of a jerk about how I did things. Sorry about that.” Sheesh, just let it go already. “I’m just trying to say, I get why you’re pissed off, even though I kind of helped get you there. We’re on the bottom rung, and people think they can just push us around because of it, right?”

“Bottom rung? When you’re looking at trees for wood? Yeah right, if you were doing anything minor with them, you could just take any old wood.”

“Funny you mention that, I’m actually doing errands for someone else. Wants my help building a house. Unbelievable, right?” At least she’s a bit more chill now, even if she’s still grumpy about it.

“A house? You? What, you get stuck in debt to one or something?”

“Nah, she’s just a vampire and could wreck me pretty bad if I didn’t play along with her sometimes.” She’s just about to ask the inevitable question. “No, not one of them, they already have a house. Pretty nice one, from what I hear.”

“So you’re just under their thumb. Good for you.” And now there’s a little bit of a smug little smile showing up. I’m not entirely happy with this, but it’s better than being completely pissed off. I think I can work with that. “Don’t put us on the same level when you’re just someone’s dog.”

Okay, wow, that’s a turn-around. First she’s pissed, now she’s really getting smug. What I get for doing Kurumi a favor, apparently. “Yeah, sure. But hey, that aside, do you think -”

“And why should I help you?” I think I’ve probably yielded a little too much to get her to calm down, because she’s gone full smug mode now. Great. “Maybe you won a duel, but that just means I’ll let you look around a bit. You’re still an intruder.”

Well, at least that’s something I can work with. Let’s see…

[ ] – Debt: Call it a favor. Those get paid back.
[ ] – Gratitude: I did say she’s a vampire, right? Pretty high-tier youkai right there, gratitude could be worth something.
[ ] – Cut a deal: I can probably arrange something
[ ] – Forget it: Yeah, on second thought, I think I’ll just do it myself.
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[ ] – Debt: Call it a favor. Those get paid back.
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“Yeah, you’re right, I’m just the intruder right now.” She’s stubborn about this, that’s pretty clear. Can’t say I blame her; in her position, I’d probably be a bit difficult to handle myself. “Can’t rightly ask you to do much more than let me roam around a bit for winning, you’re right about that. I’d still like your help, though. It’d make things go a whole lot quicker for me, you know?”

“I’m sure it would. But I’ve still got no reason to give it.” She finally lands, still with that smug smile, and starts twirling around a little. Got a few fireflies trailing after her now too, little streaks of light from outstretched hands. “I think it would be much more fun to watch you wander around and get lost.”

“Oh, probably. That’s always good for a laugh. Getting lost, though, I don’t see that happening. ‘Up’ doesn’t change direction all that often.” I’m walking over to the tree as I’m talking, and end up leaning against it a little, knock on it a little for emphasis. “And really, if I want to be lazy about it, I can just walk around the edge for a bit. Plenty of trees here. So you’d miss your show, and a chance to get something out of it.”

“Oh? Really?” She stops her impromptu little dance and gives me a pretty hard stare. “I don’t see that I’m missing much. You haven’t offered anything.”

“Well, I’ll admit, I can’t give you much in the way of goods. But that’s a pretty human way of thinking anyway. Service is a more suitable one for us, don’t you think?” Her expression isn’t changing, but I think – or at least hope – I’ve got a little traction here. “You could call it a favor. On second thought, though, maybe you shouldn’t. I don’t really expect you feeling too friendly, cooperating or not.”

“So you want to trade? I do this, you do something for me?” She flutters over to me through the air, stopping just a bit more than an arm’s length away. “What do you even have to offer?”

“Well, that depends, doesn’t it? No point doing a thing you don’t need done. But for instance, there’s the thing you mentioned with the villagers, and how -”

“No. That’s mine.” Her stare just got a whole lot harder. I think I preferred that smug little smile she had before this. “Try again.”

“Alright, sure, you can handle your image problems on your own. But if you want something done in the village, I’m still good for that.” Wry little smile of my own now. “You’re not the first one to slip up and think I’m human, you know? I can pass pretty easy.”

“So you’re saying you can just do something in the village for me? When I want? Whatever I want?”

“I wouldn’t say whatever, but yeah, floating favor. Bit of debt, if you want to think of it that way. Call it in at some point, I’ll do an odd job or whatever, we’re done with it.”

“Really now. And who am I doing this favor for, exactly?”

Oh hey, that’s right. I got her name, but she didn’t exactly get mine. Ever. Not in one of those books either, so she wouldn’t even have a guess, I bet. “Call me Orange. Tucked up behind the shrine, if you ever need to find me. That work?”

She doesn’t say anything at first. Just keeps staring at me for a while. Long enough I can start to notice some things about her. She looks pretty human at first, couple quirks aside, but when I get a closer look… the way the starlight is catching her eyes almost makes them look kind of… bug like. Fitting, I guess, but it’s starting to get a touch creepy. Am I imagining that? It’s hard to say.

And then she just breaks out this big, cheerful smile. “Right! I’ll give you the best tour you’ve ever had!” She swings back to serious just as quickly, getting a pretty stern look. It’s kind of funny, actually, given how childish she looks otherwise. “But there’s a condition. We’re doing this my way. You’d better listen.”

“What, just listen? Fine by me.” To swing that suddenly from trying to give me hell to cheerfully showing me around, she must have hit a pretty good idea for what to make me do. But I’ll worry about that later. For the time being, I’ve got a guide through part of the Forest, and all I have to do to get a few good trees pointed out is listen to her a bit. How bad could this be?


To Wriggle’s credit, she delivers. More than delivers, in fact; I’d expected just a few, maybe a dozen or so, but she goes an extra mile and then some showing me around. I have to cut it short, in fact, and she’s still got more to show me after that. But it’s not like I didn’t have a reason. It was taking up a fair bit of time, and we’d been at it for a few hours by then…


“This is another good one. It’s a couple centuries old, and there’s a termite nest that’s gotten set up thanks to it. It’s kind of beautiful! It’s high quality wood, and the tree’s pretty resilient, so the nest has gotten pretty big and it’s had a whole bunch of really successful flights, you should really see what it looks like when all the new queens and consorts take off in spring…”


“This one’s pretty good too. It’s a real favorite for the fireflies, and I have to say I’ll be pretty sad if you take it. If you could peel back the bark a bit in a month or two, you’ll find a whole lot of larva just waiting for it to warm up again. It’s great! All these beautiful little glowworms just beneath the surface, a lightshow just waiting to happen once they can get out and grow up a bit…”

“…so you’re showing me somewhere you might have grown up? You do know I’m cutting some of these down at some point, right?”

“Yeah, no, don’t take this one. Forget about it. Actually don’t, it’s still great and you should know about it and respect it but you still can’t take it. Got it?”


“I have to admit, this one’s a little questionable, but I think you shouldn’t mind anyway. A lot of bugs want to avoid this kind of tree, especially since it’s this deep in the forest, but I think it’s kind of got its own charm, don’t you? You said she’s a vampire, right? I bet she’d like this kind of tree, it’ll add a little character to the house.”

“…is it moaning? I think it’s moaning.”

“Oh, it does that sometimes. When it thinks there’s people around, I think. Probably a way to lure them over.”

“Holy shit is it bleeding?”

“Yeah, I have no idea why it does that. Kind of weird. Sometimes it just oozes that stuff out everywhere. Pretty nasty.”


“This one’s pretty good, actually, even if it’s kind of a pain to get to. You do have to watch for those mushrooms, though, but you’ve got fire, right? That shouldn’t be a problem for you.”


“I don’t usually come here since those things are kind of hell to get around. Even bugs like me have trouble when the spores are dense enough, you know? But we got through them pretty okay, so, you know, it can be done.”

“Wriggle, I can’t feel my face.”

“Oh, that’s probably just the spores. Mushrooms in the deep forest, right? Got some funny effects.”

“I think we’re done here.”

“What? No, I’ve still got a lot more to show you! Come on, Orange, it’ll be great!”


…okay, it might have been a little bit more than just the length. When she wasn’t going on about how many ants or termites or gods know what else this tree or that could support, there was the occasional moment of disgust when I realized just how weird the deep forest got, or even a tiny, tiny bit of existential terror around this one tree she showed me that I’m pretty sure went youkai more than century ago and was trying to screw with my head to entertain itself. Dick move, tree.

Even cutting her off, it took a while. I’d say we got started a hair before midnight, and the very first hints of dawn are starting to creep over the horizon as I leave the forest. I’m starting to get tired, so I’m tempted to just head back to the mountain for now, but I could probably keep going for a little while. Pretty good at staying awake a long time if I can rest up afterward. If I do rest, though, I’ll probably be up before the afternoon is done, so I can still get some stuff done that would need daylight. Just not as much.

[ ] – Rest: I could keep going, but that doesn’t mean I need to. I’m doing this all as a favor, no need to get myself too exhausted…
[ ] – Stay Awake: On the other hand, just get as much done as possible. Why not? I still need to figure out some other stuff…
- [ ] – Tools: I’ve got two main choices here. I could just go to the village and figure out how to buy – or steal – some, or I could go looting. Bodies galore, if you know where to look.
- - [ ] – Village: Easy choice. Chance I can get stuff done on the side, too.
- - [ ] – Looting: There’s bound to be someone who dropped something useful. Or dropped with it.
- - [ ] – Elsewhere: I’m not too big on some of the other options, but if I have an idea for it…
- [ ] – Knowledge: I still have no idea how to build a house. I should probably fix that. Library’s the first choice, but if I can think of another, maybe it’s worth trying…
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[ ] – Rest: I could keep going, but that doesn't mean I need to. I’m doing this all as a favor, no need to get myself too exhausted…
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[x] – Rest: I could keep going, but that doesn’t mean I need to. I’m doing this all as a favor, no need to get myself too exhausted…

One thing at a time.
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Let’s put this in perspective. I was up before dusk, scrounging around for a meal since Kurumi hadn’t eaten in a few days and that’s going to wreck her health something fierce if it’s not addressed. And even if it’s mostly stalking around and ambushing someone who can’t really fight back, that’s pretty tiring on its own. Got to keep an eye out for other youkai, once in a while I’ve got to really keep an eye out because my hunting grounds are overlapping with one of the big hitters like that maid… then after all that, I’m settling in for another quiet night with whatever crazy idea she’s got, and she throws me this house building job. After that I get into a duel with Wriggle and end up spending the rest of the night in the middle of the Forest, swinging between absolute, mind-numbing boredom and the occasional moment of horror because by the gods some of it is completely screwed up. And that’s without really running into anything that actually lives in there.

I’d say that’s a pretty good night. Kurumi’s a decent enough neighbor and all, but even if I wasn’t mostly convinced this is all just going to fall through at some point, I still wouldn’t be sticking my neck out too far for her. I’m tired enough as it is. I’m just heading back to the mountain and taking a good nap, start something this afternoon when I wake up. So that thought in mind, I take to the air and leave the forest behind…

Yeah, this should be a good rest. Might even have some new ideas after it.


Your name is Kurumi. You have just sent Orange, a youkai of questionable relationship ranging from sometimes ambiguous friendliness to uncooperative subservience on a task most vital, as you have charged her with securing the materials with which to construct a proper house suitable for habitation by you. This is no small task, as you are not only a vampire, which demands a certain degree of grandeur and class inherently, but also a lady of refinement, which only further raises the standard of what is acceptable. It is shortly before midnight.

Orange will, in the course of her endeavors, end up at the Forest of Magic, engage in a duel with another peasant-class youkai who is unaffiliated with either of you and, through a combination of her own wit and perhaps an excessive willingness to place herself in debt when the restitution is as yet unknown, turn said unaffiliated youkai into a guide to identify potential sources of lumber. You do not actually know this, as it has not happened, and because you will not have been present for any of it.

Midnight has not yet arrived; the darkness is still young. It is further punctuated by the moon’s impetuous absence, denying you the gentle splendor of its beauty for yet another night. That it does so with such regularity borders on insulting. It briefly occurs to you that perhaps you should seek to address this after you have a suitable home to plot from, but you dismiss it just as quickly. It seems almost laughable to imagine Orange could take the Lunarian enclave hostage successfully.

That is a thing, isn’t it? Somewhere in one forest or another. You think that was in one of the books she’s brought you. It’s quite hard to keep them all straight, sometimes, to say nothing of the wild speculation no doubt worming its way in as if it were actual fact.

Insult of the lunar cycle aside, there is still much to be done. A home is only as good as its foundation allows, no matter the quality of its construction otherwise. As such is intimately bound to the location, it is necessarily your burden to assess the site of the house you do not yet have. Fortunately, you have the entire perimeter of the lake to choose from. If you are particularly daring, you may even have an artificial island created instead, so as to properly separate your noble abode from the plebeian shores. Though you could choose to renovate those as well, once the house itself has been constructed. It would allow a greater degree of proper insulation, further reinforcing your elevated status.

You quite like that idea. But one step at a time. A mansion that shall put the entirety of Gensoukyou to shame, and then some scenic touch-ups. Yes, this sounds perfectly reasonable.

The night is still young.

What do you do?

[ ] – Capriciously change your expectations and forget they were ever different.
[ ] – Fondly regard the splendors of the past, oblivious to the degradation of memory.
[ ] – Reflect on the universal karmic injustice that is inherent in your current situation.
[ ] – Actually do something productive.
[ ] – _____ (Write-In)
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[ ] – Actually do something productive.
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[x] – Actually do something productive.
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Ignoring the rudeness of her departure, there is no question that Orange is doing you a tremendous service. One she should be greatly honored to have been entrusted with, of that there is no doubt, but a tremendous service nonetheless. Even if she is on doubt doing it in her own uncouth manner, there is no doubt in your mind she is, in fact, tending to it. She’d said she needed to make preparations, after all, that that’s basically the same as tending to it, just not as close to the part where you have actual results to show for it. Clearly. Therefore, with Orange so diligently at work on your behalf – as she should be, of course – it would be unbecoming of you not to tend to your own preparations. A site must be selected, designs made, and more. There is much to be done!

The tremendous burden of the supervisor. But it is yours to bear, and yours alone.

A single beat of your wings gives you an appropriate height, and a silent flight over the lake’s surface begins. It is not the largest lake you have seen, as a far greater one takes that title, but it is sizable enough. There are many spots along its shores you could build a house, and several may even be suitable. You cannot yet be certain which, of course, but determining that is one of the tasks at hand. But before even that begins, there are questions you must answer.

Location is, as any person of even slight education should know, of paramount importance. In perfect honesty, you cannot say the lake is ideal at all for your designs; indeed, the one that actually has water in it would be far more suitable. Alas, such would be overcrowded, and the Misty Lake is utterly inaccessible for you besides. As is most everything but the lake of blood, really. It is not ideal at all, but it is available. With the overall location already subpar, finding as ideal a spot as possible within its bounds becomes all the more critical!

A silent landing as you reach the shore proper, settling back on the ground one foot at a time, barely even stirring up dust. Suitable for one such as yourself. Acceptable. It would really have been a pain if you kicked too much up, these clothes can be absolutely awful to clean. And there’s really not much water around to use most of the time, so sometimes you end up having to find a way to drain it out of the blood from the lake and that’s just generally awful and…

Well, you’re getting sidetracked.

There are multiple issues to consider in placement, of course. You are presently on the southern shores of the lake, which are as dry and stony and generally lifeless as every other part of the shores. A ways away, lifeless stone yields to grass, and further away from that the mountain forest asserts itself. A possible source of wood, but not exciting; you could accept it, but hope Orange can come up with something somewhat more exciting. Though perhaps there is something to be said for wood harvested on the border of a sealed world…

Ah, but you are getting sidetracked again. The grass quite accurately depicts the bounds of your terrain, and therefore the outermost edge of your building space. This gives you plenty of room at most parts of the shore, and should not be a concern in general. More concerning, perhaps, is where along there you might place your home. You could have the mansion built directly on the shore, of course, which would allow a boathouse or something to be seamlessly integrated into it. Or perhaps somewhat further removed, and either a separate building for that or a connected annex. You could conceivably disregard the idea of a boathouse entirely, but that sounds terribly dull and barely even worth considering.

Location around the perimeter matters a great deal as well. Most of the lake has little to offer in distinction; the southern shore, for instance, is simply the one closest to the mountain path. The eastern one would be most sheltered from the rising sun if positioned carefully, but would shield little land in the process, and be most exposed at dusk . The west reverses this problem. North and south would both be consistent for the most part in that what shadows they did cast would consistently leave at least a specific area sheltered, but perhaps not much else. The north has a clear advantage in terms of sunlight management as the land would be more shadowed than not… unless you wanted a nice view of the lake during the day, in which case settling the northern shore would just set you on fire.

And beyond merely location, you have a wonderfully exciting idea in the back of your mind. However frankly disgusting as the lake may be, it is a lake and has secrets of its own, not the least of which is the mansion lurking beneath it. Sort of. Elly was never very clear on how it worked, just that you eventually run out of lake and start having air instead of blood again. But you could have your home on an island in the lake, further dividing the masses from your glorious estate!

The island, of course, would be the problem. The lake has little to offer in that regard; a few boulders, a few clumps of rock and dirt with holes in them such as the one you’re begrudgingly nested in… really, none are suitable. You’d have to expand the affair to include an artificial island as well. It would be doable, of course; before all this business with forcible isolation, certainly long before Gensoukyou happened, you understand one of the coastal cities had arranged something for the foreign barbarians. A constructed island large enough to hold an entire village!

Surely, with all the mysteries and wonders in Gensoukyou, one large enough to hold a house should be manageable. Though it also occurs to you that you don’t entirely remember how it was made. Did they build the island, or merely separate it from the mainland…

Well, it hardly matters. You’re sure something can be arranged.

There are thus two critical questions. Location, primarily in terms of the cardinal direction, and arrangement. Close to the shore? Far? On an island? Should you have two houses, one on an island, one off? Or perhaps a smaller structure, maybe just a little secure boathouse on the shore, with your mansion proper on the island? That would make it harder to get a proper garden and courtyard going, unless you make it a pretty big island. That’s probably manageable. But it has occurred to you that, conceivably, alien as the idea is, you might just wish to consider some slight measure of restraint.

Even if that would be boring, which borders on reprehensible.

[ ] – North Shore: Good land shading, furthest from the path down the mountain.
[ ] – East Shore: Partially shielded at dawn, when it shades the lake. Exposed at dusk, when it shades land.
[ ] – South Shore: Good lake shading, closest to the path down the mountain.
[ ] – West Shore: Partially shielded at dusk, when it shades land. Exposed at dawn, when it shades the lake.
[ ] _____

[ ] – Not for now.
[ ] – Maybe a boathouse on the shore.
[ ] – Let’s build two mansions! One on an island, one on land!
[ ] – ______
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[X] – North Shore: Good land shading, furthest from the path down the mountain.
[X] – Maybe a boathouse on the shore.

I guess.
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[ ] – North Shore: Good land shading, furthest from the path down the mountain.
[ ] – Not for now.
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You come to a decision after some moments of thought. The overall area seems a clear choice to you. Yes, let it be the north side. Nicely isolated from the path, giving a bit of advance notice of anyone entering your domain. It’ll also give you more shaded land than the south, and more consistently shaded land than the other alternatives. Though it’s unclear how much that really matters, given that you will most likely be sleeping through most of the daylight hours. Similarly, though it provides an awful daylight lake viewing experience, you’d probably be asleep and the lake is kind of a terrible thing to look at anyway.

It’s a great big puddle of rotting red. How exciting.

Taking to the air again, you begin making your way around the lake. At first, you stick to the edge, but you increasingly drift out over the main body for a more direct route to the northern shore. You’re moving slowly enough you have abundant time to think either way.

The general location is clear to you, but that wasn’t the only major question. The idea of an artificial island still lingers, an entirely constructed mass on which to build your glorious home. You are of two minds on that matter. On the one hand, it would be simply wonderful if you could accomplish it. After all, just the image of it seems delightful in your head, and that seems reason enough to do it!

On the other hand, you still have some modicum of sense and restraint. No matter how outrageously awesome it would be to have an entire island built in a lake of blood just for you, that’s an enormous ordeal. There isn’t the slightest doubt that it could be done, but you are relying on Orange. If you pushed her hard enough for long enough, she’d probably be able to figure out some way, but…

You are a benevolent master. And she’s kind of lousy when it comes to being the obedient servant anyway. You’ll have to work on that.

For the first time in quite a while, you are actually plagued by indecision. Perhaps you’ll compromise, maybe just settle for a boathouse for now and consider making islands after the initial structures have been completed. Fortunately, you have time to decide before it becomes too important. It’s only the first night, after all! Even if Orange proves surprisingly expedient, she’ll probably need a few days to finish making arrangements, and then there’s waiting for everything to be delivered.

After some time of flight and contemplation, you land on the north shore of the lake. Much like the south, it is barren stone and clay. Not entirely smooth, but not quite rough enough for you to call it rocky. It is expansive enough for you to work with little issue of running out of space. The lifeless nature of the lake’s coast does present a challenge for potential gardens, but you can think of several possible solutions to that already. And it’s a secondary problem anyway.

The night is cool as you walk, carefully eying the ground around you. Relatively little dust is kicked up, despite how very still the lake shores tend to be. Was there wind recently, or was it always like this? You are unsure, but it does not terribly matter. The terrain seems to be in good condition, at least at a glance, but it will take some time to fully determine that. At least you need not worry overly much about flooding. In all but the absolute heaviest of downpours, the lake seems to change only the slightest amount.

A pity the rain never does anything for its palatability.

Time slowly passes as you gain a greater feel for the earth. Some spots are rockier than others, more stone than clay. Some are softer, more yielding, whether by virtue of composition or the holes the strange youkai that inhabit this place make. Those more than anything else might be the greatest obstacle in the long run. You know quite well the foul temper territory invasion can produce, and the things you have for company seem to have no real thought to restrain them. Pests, but perhaps troublesome in persistence if provoked. That too you shall have to address, as they are not likely to obey their betters readily. The thought is enough to annoy you.

You stop for a moment, breathing slowly, carefully. This is a time of contemplation, not annoyance. Planning, not wallowing. Your gaze turns upward toward the night sky, slowly taking in the vast array of lights so far above you. Even with the moon’s impetuous absence, the stars are lovely. You will have to make sure you can appreciate them from comfort. Perhaps an observatory of some sort…

And with that thought, another key issue dawns on you. The location is of paramount importance, there can be no denying that; the flow of energy, the surroundings, stability, and more all stem from where the building is. But you got so caught up in considering where to put it that you neglected something almost as critical. The aesthetic of the structure is almost as vital to determine, as it could influence your home’s architecture on the most basic levels!

What kind of home do you want, anyway?

[ ] – Japanese: It is your heritage, after all.
[ ] – Western: Isn’t that sort of how they’re classified now, those weird barbarians from so long ago? The aesthetics they brought with them were always so fascinating…
[ ] – Mixed: You’ve never been one to settle for some when you could have all.
[ ] – _____
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>>your heritage, after all.

[x] – Western: Isn’t that sort of how they’re classified now, those weird barbarians from so long ago? The aesthetics they brought with them were always so fascinating…
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The question of architectural style is one of great importance. The traditional forms of Japan are of course those with which you are most intimately familiar, having lived with them almost exclusively during the time you actually got to have buildings around. It undeniably embodies the world you live in. Or lived in. When you had the pleasure of actual civilization around you, and some freedom to move. Actual water. Company that understood the proper order of things. Luxuries like that.

But the past is strong. There is an undeniable drive to embrace that which you know so well, to once more live in a manor, even a castle in the manner of those you once inhabited.

At the same time, your fascination with the customs of the western world is also undeniable. Nowhere is that more evident than in your very wardrobe! So carefully assembled from what made itself available, meticulously maintained with what scarce resources you had… and now, a chance to create a home in the fashion of those lands. You recall images you have seen, books you have read and since lost. There is a strong allure.

It is a decision of tremendous importance. You plan to all but bare your soul in the design of your home, and the architectural principles that dictate it will dramatically influence the message it conveys. It is perhaps the single most important decision you can make regarding its construction.

Naturally, you decide immediately with only a minimum of thought. Reflection on the matter seems entirely unnecessary. If you really end up wanting something older, more traditional, you can just build extra rooms in that style.

Having made that decision, you can already begin picturing your home as you walk along the stony shores of the lake. Almost dancing, occasionally twirling, hair sailing gently through the air. And why not? You have a place, and you have a vision. You have Orange, hard at work to find and gather what materials you will need and do the heavy labor as is fitting for your relative stations. The future seems bright! Figuratively. If it was literal, you’d probably be on fire or something.

Your figuratively bright future is clear in your mind’s eye. Two - no, perhaps three floors. A grand main hall, fit for the kind of enormous feasts and parties that are apparently still popular among people free enough to actually go somewhere. You can even picture the magnificent furniture you’ll have; a table and actual chairs! Not far from that can be the kitchens and pantries and all of that, and then the main servants’ quarters not much further, though you’ll obviously need to do something about not having anyone to put there, maybe you can get Orange to help expand the staff…

And of course you’ll need a proper tower to have your own quarters, your own little private spaces. An entire tower to yourself, looming tall over the rest of the manse! And there, at the top, an observatory to appreciate the night sky, to watch the patterns of the heavens as the stars wander on their paths through the sky.

Other things occur to you. A proper courtyard is simply a must, as are well-kept gardens. A basement area is necessary too, for proper storage and maybe even secondary living spaces. Your tower would have one of its own, obviously. Maybe a nice little personal crypt. Just for thematics, of course; it’s not like you’re going to need a funeral anytime soon! And of course you’ll have to make sure that there are guest bedrooms and such since you know that inevitably Elly is going to surface again at some point and you certainly don’t want to shove her over into the servants’ quarters, even if she technically is a servant herself, but it hardly seems relevant anyway when she’s not yours and…

Were you anyone else, the house you have in your head might feel a little overwhelming! It’s going to be a tremendous amount of work, even if Orange will be doing most of the physical part. You have to plan it all, supervise it and make sure nothing goes wrong, do quality checks, prepare the land while Orange is assembling things on her end, probably fight off a few annoying lesser youkai, clear it periodically because you can’t be sure they won’t come back while you’re sleeping during the day; it’s really going to be quite a lot! It might not seem like it at first, but you’re sure Orange will understand. She seemed accepting enough of her role when you initially explained it.

And with that vision now in your mind, you can begin properly. There are still several hours of darkness left to begin clearing the area. You’ll probably need that time, and several more nights besides. You’ve seen how the things that live in the area can be, how persistently they cling to ‘their’ territory, and how well they can hide their little burrows. Yes, you’ve seen it, and it’s your task to start rooting them out now. They’ll just get in the way otherwise, and you can’t have that.

It turns out to be an annoyance. Slow going, as they’re stubborn and resistant. The night gradually passes, and you can only uproot a few, and they are slow to be chased off. You end up with a few dead ones, but no one cares, they’re barely even reaching something close to baseline intelligence. Worse than faeries, and even less worthwhile as company. Can something that low class even regenerate? You know Orange can, but sometimes only with a great deal of help. But too much lower than her and it seems like even that little bit would be out of the question…

In time you are forced to stop. The first rays of light, cruel and merciless, begin to creep through the heavens; dawn has arrived, and the true, unrelenting light is soon to come. Powerless as always before the terrible might of the sun, you make your way back to your cave and settle down again in the comfortable darkness. Your retreat is a bit slow, leaving your wings slightly singed, but you have suffered worse. It’s not even an inconvenience, really.

And as you prepare to wait out the day – or more likely sleep through it – you faintly wonder what Orange is doing. You’re fairly certain she’s more diligent than she lets on. She hasn’t failed you… more than once or twice. With simple tasks. She’s probably still hard at work, ensuring you will not have to wait too long for your dream to begin its realization.

You’re quite confident of that.
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>She’s probably still hard at work, ensuring you will not have to wait too long for your dream to begin its realization.
>You’re quite confident of that.

Shit, now I feel guilty.
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So I’ve just woken up. I holed up in a pretty cozy little cave I’ve got on the mountain, and had about as decent a nap as I’ve ever had here. Going by the sun, it’s probably not much more than an hour after noon. General sounds of nature around, but not a whole lot worth dwelling on. Seems like it’s a pretty quiet afternoon right now. Good for just sitting down and having a good bit of thinking on what’s coming up. I’ve got…

Actually, I’ll hold that thought.


So I’ve been up for about an hour. Going by the sun, it’s probably a couple hours after noon, not much more than that. Got a little bit of a fire going at the mouth of the cave, and the remains of one of those weird bat-winged eyeball things from the lake is skewered over it. Don’t have a clue what that thing was doing this far down the mountain. Kind of an awful meal too, hide’s way too tough and there’s not nearly enough meat. Mostly eye goo. Not very appetizing. But hey, it was on hand, and I don’t think anyone’s going to miss it.

Well, maybe Kurumi, if she even notices. I don’t even want to guess, I swear she’s always swinging back and forth between adoring them and trying to kill them herself.

Anyway. Just the general sounds of nature, not much else getting too close. Good chance for just sitting down and having a good bit of thinking on what’s coming up. Kurumi wants a house, and she’s definitely going to make a lot of noise about wanting a big one. Mansion, pride of Gensoukyou, putting upstart foreign bloodsuckers to shame, the works. And of course that means it’s my job to do all the heavy lifting. And all the actual set-up to the heavy lifting. Because she’s a noble lady of standing or something. Yeah, whatever, I’ll go along with it because she’s actually halfway decent as company most of the time.

And I guess it is getting to be pretty wintery. If it’s real cold, it’ll be pretty bad being stuck in that cave of hers, and I know she’s too stubborn to move anywhere else. I guess I can at least see it through to a little hut or something.

Anyway. Hut, mansion, whatever, it’ll need wood. I know where to get wood, the mountain’s practically covered in it, just a bunch of trees waiting for an axe. And I even went out of the way to check out the Forest, since she’s probably going to pitch a fit if it’s all just mundane, boring, local wood. Pain in the ass, and now I’ve got Wriggle hanging a blank favor over my head for I don’t even know how long. Maybe she’ll call it in soon and it won’t be much of anything.

So I’ve got no shortage of trees to choose from, but that’s pretty useless on its own. Can’t really punch trees into wood, convenient as that’d be. I’m going to need tools and such so I can do some proper cutting and such, unless I want to just knock them over and strap them together with vines or something. Could probably do that and get her a basic little hut set-up, but I know she wouldn’t go for that.

Easiest way of getting tools is probably just scrounging around where people tend to die. Bad spots in the forests where woodcutters might have an unhappy encounter, somewhere like Muenzuka where outsiders get the short end of the stick, things like that. Or I guess there’s scrounging together what I can and going shopping. Or stealing. I’m not above that if it seems like the way to go. The village is the go-to place either way. Don’t really want to get completely gouged out by the kappa and the tengu can be major assholes about mountain access. And I definitely don’t want to try stealing from either of them.

Or I guess I could go looting, try and get a halfway decent price from any outsider junk I can scrounge together, and then go shopping. Probably won’t get much at this time of day, but you never know.

So that’s the problem with tools, and a few ways I could try and fix it. The other problem’s a bit harder to solve. I’ve got basically no clue what building a house actually involves. Take some wood, cut it apart and turn it into lumber, I guess nail it together and… well that’s probably the gist of it, but the big picture doesn’t always show the little details too well. And the little details can be pretty important.

There’s a pretty good library or bookstore or something in the village, I could probably check that out. Less work than bothering carpenters about it. I’m not a huge reader, but I’m literate enough if it doesn’t go full blown fancy babble on me.

This’d all be a whole lot easier if I could just hire someone who had a clue. But we don’t exactly have much in the way of stuff or money, and kidnappings out anyway. Going around and stealing people who’ve gotten settled in would land me in pretty hot water. Boiling, really. And I don’t feel like getting that kind of scalding. And I wouldn’t put it past some of the people around to do it literally too…

What a pain. But I haven’t really hit a wall or anything yet, so it’s not like I can just blow it off. Even if she’s kind of an insensitive ass about it, Kurumi is being pretty earnest about this. And winter’s coming anyway. Seems like it’s the neighborly thing to do to help her not… well, she wouldn’t freeze to death anyway, but it’d be pretty miserable.

Well, that’s the gist of it. Don’t have tools, don’t have a clue, need to fix both of those. Question’s where to begin, and how.

[ ] – Scrounging: Might find tools. Might find something I could sell, which’d be a good step too. Might find a fight, but that’s just business as usual.
- [ ] – Forests: Probably a good bet; there’s the occasional disappearance in some places, and it seems like a place you’d find a lost axe. Might run into Wriggle though, and I’m not sure I want that.
- [ ] – Hunting grounds: I know them pretty well anyway. Good number of decent spots along the border. Probably picked through a bit already, though, since most new arrivals happen at dusk or after.
- [ ] – Muenzuka: That’s a pretty good place to find stuff in general, but it’s getting a little crowded last I heard…
[ ] – Shopping: Well, window shopping, maybe. Don’t exactly have much to buy with unless I do something else first… or maybe ‘shopping.’ Which is stealing.
- [ ] – Village: Good bet in general, can swing by the book place while I’m at it if I’m really feeling it.
- [ ] – Elsewhere: I don’t like the alternatives, but maybe someone else might be bigger on favors than on goods…
[ ] – Studying: Might as well get a clue.
[ ] – _____


So we’re now halfway through November and the daily update NaNo challenge. Thank you for thus far humoring me as I stumble through a form of writing I’m not familiar with, particularly the person(s) providing the regular votes that let the story move on without resorting to either asking for input or authorial fiat. If there are any specific issues that could be worked on to improve things, I’d appreciate it if you would consider pointing them out.

That said, there are still two more weeks, so I plan to keep up the pace for the rest of the month, and then for however long after that at an appropriate pace until the story is acceptably concluded. Hopefully it will remain adequate enough, if not improve beyond that.
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While I admire your ability and dedication to update every day, I have to say that your subject matter is incredibly uninteresting. Kurumi and Orange were fine enough for that short story, but here you really need more characters, or conflict, or a goal that might actually be achievable, or something.
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[ ] – Muenzuka: That’s a pretty good place to find stuff in general, but it’s getting a little crowded last I heard…

Meh, a THP story about building a house had enough novelty to start reading. Hoping for more character interaction when we visit different places.
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Many great stories start out a little slow, both here and in general. Talk like that can only discourage a writer from continuing through to the part where it gets rolling.

That said, I'm already enjoying this story.

[x] – Muenzuka: That’s a pretty good place to find stuff in general, but it’s getting a little crowded last I heard…
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I think on it for a couple minutes, weighing my options, but eventually settle on digging around in Muenzuka. Wouldn’t usually be my first choice, but that area’s probably my best bet for actually finding something right now. Kind of a pain, and really kind of unpleasant too, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. If I can find a little bit of just about anything at all, it’ll probably be worth it.

I just toss the remaining firewood in the back of the cave where it can sputter out on its own before flying on down the mountain. View from high up’s usually pretty, but I’ve always liked staying low myself. Easier to keep a feel for the land below that way. Just a bit above the treetops, just high enough to not have much of anything in the way, that’s where I am.

Muenzuka’s kind of a pain for a lot of reasons. I don’t like dealing with spirits all that much, and the place is crawling with them. It’s not that super hard to come across a competing looter either, which is always risky, and I hear someone’s even gone as far as taking the place as their home. They probably can’t keep their eyes on everything all the time, so I can work around it, but even so.

But before all that even happens, it’s kind of annoying just getting there. I skirt around the Forest, trying to stick to the edges as long as possible, since I kind of don’t want to run into Wriggle again first thing. Fortunately, I’ve been there just enough times to have worked out a good idea for where to enter to get the road.

It takes a few minutes to get here, but this part of the forest is actually pretty quiet most of the time. The trees aren’t super dense here, the weirdness of the deep forest isn’t here, and the loons who actually live in the forest haven’t started cropping up here. Don’t usually run into anyone here, and I don’t now either. Fine with me. Gives me some time to enjoy the shade and quiet. I actually fly closer to the ground here, mostly so I can keep track of where I am; the trees may not be super thick, but it’d still be easy to just go right by the road from above if I’m not careful.

A few more minutes go by without much to speak of and I pass through one last bit of forest into a nice open bit. The Road of Reconsideration. Cuts straight through a little bit of the Forest before it’s just its own thing, and it leads to Muenzuka eventually. In fact, it’s about the only way to get there unless you want to really hug the border, but weird ,weird things can happen when you’re that close to the edge for that long.

Anyway, I actually land here and start walking. I don’t need to, and it’s slower, but even the road’s a good place to find stuff. People sometimes turn up, and sometimes some unfortunate things happen to them, same as Muenzuka. It’s easier to spot stuff if I’m moving a bit slower, a bit more carefully, and I can already see the occasional hint of where someone had a very bad day. Few bits of cloth, a few specks of blood here and there, right on the road, even. Must not have had one of the burial parties come through recently if that’s still there.

Well, tattered rags aren’t going to get me much. I’m looking for something a bit more useful, or at least more interesting.

I keep walking for a while, watching for whatever bits and pieces might be around. Not just on the road too, but off it, even in the nearby trees. There’s not a whole lot, just a few scraps once in a while that are enough to make you remember that things sometimes happen. That’s how life is. Don’t wander around in the wilderness or you might get eaten by something, and such.

The thing about walking this road, especially so long, is that it starts messing with you. Not just ‘cause the flowers are poison – not that they’ll actually hurt you if you’re just walking along – but because it’s a real hazy part of the border and you basically get some of the same stuff as Muenzuka. Ghosts, wandering phantoms, and if you’re really, really having a bad day, maybe even a few vengeful spirits once in a while. On top of the youkai that are eager to have a shot at the outsiders that show up here every so often. It’s real easy to end up on edge, even when there’s not actually anything there.

That's why I don’t pay it much attention at first, really. But as I keep going, I really, really can’t shake the feeling something’s watching. And not quite like always, either. It’s getting persistent, too, and it’s just enough to start bothering me.

I can’t be sure it isn’t just the road, but…

[ ] – Keep going: Whatever it is, I’m not human, and I’m here often enough a lot of the other things should recognize it. No problems, right?
[ ] – Keep to the trees: I may be out of the Forest proper, but there’s enough trees around I could still stay more out of sight.
[ ] – Go higher: Or I could just start flying along instead of walking. More visible, sure, but harder to get at too.
[ ] – _____
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[ ] – Go higher: Or I could just start flying along instead of walking. More visible, sure, but harder to get at too.
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I disagree completely. I really like low key stories like this one. Much more interesting then action or drama.
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With the road the way it is, I can’t be sure it isn’t just my imagination. Besides, I’m a youkai, and I’m one of the ones that comes here every so often, so the others that do should recognize me, right? Well, that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the ones that wouldn’t, if it’s anything at all. And really, better safe than sorry. Getting into a fight at some point is just par for the course here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try and avoid it anyway.

I float upward a little bit, drifting along at more or less the same speed just a bit below the treetops. Still going over the road itself, keeping an eye out for things, and maybe whatever it is that might be watching. Now that I’m up here, I think it might even give a better angle of the flowers and such off the sides, though not so much into the trees. Still not a whole lot to see, though. It’s been picked pretty clean since whenever the last drop-off was. But I’m not at the weakest parts of the barrier just yet, so there’s still hope. And it’s usually Muenzuka that has the real good stuff anyway.

I keep moving along like that for a few minutes, but the feeling doesn’t quite go away. Stop every so often, look around, see if there’s anything nearby, and so on. Still not a whole lot turning up. But after a little while longer doing that, I finally catch a glimpse of something. Low to the ground, scurrying through the grass, and then it pops its head up and just kind of stares at me. I’m staring back.

A mouse. Huh. Wasn’t it supposed to be a mouse youkai or something nesting up in Muenzuka now? Maybe that’s why...

Yeah, it just bolted. Well, I’m not about to call this thing off just because a rodent freaked out, so whatever. If it’s connected with the youkai living up there, I guess I’ll just have to deal with that soon enough.

It doesn’t take much longer to actually reach Muenzuka. It’s a pretty quiet place, the main part being a fairly sizeable grove. There’s a small house there now, so I guess someone really is holing up here now; pretty as it is, seems a terrible choice to me. You’ve got the bits of treasure, yeah, but you’ve also got the spirits, the poison, the occasional outsider and whatever else wanders in through the barrier. Think the Netherworld’s connected here too, that just adds to all the fun.

Great place to visit, but it seems like it’d be a pretty terrible home. Well, if they’re feeling that nuts, I guess they can just deal with what comes.

I pause by the entrance to the main grove, not quite landing beside a tree. Looking around is already giving me a feel for the place again. House is over there, just on the very edge of the grove itself, and while I can’t really get a good look at them, I’m pretty sure there are a lot more mice in the area. Just a glimpse here or there’s enough. Can’t say I know whether they’re just being mice or if they’re talking with the resident, though. Be nice to know, but nothing for it.

And just from looking around, I’ve got a couple ideas for where to start. I think I see a little bit of a light nestled in the trees a ways ahead, which may mean something’s there. Off to the side, I think I can see what looks like a half-buried chest. Kind of weird, though, since I wouldn’t expect a chest to just show up and not get swiped, and I think I can faintly hear something from it. Or maybe just near it, hard to say. There’s always just digging around in general, too, since some interesting stuff can be really easy to miss. And if I’m feeling really bold, I guess there’s always trying to check the house, but that’s just begging for something to go wrong…

But before all that, Muenzuka’s kind of turning into almost a hallowed site. Dead without families and such get cremated and sent here – or maybe sent here and then cremated, I don’t pay that much attention to the details – which means there’s kind of a build-up of lingering spirits. Might be appropriate to say a word or two…

[ ] – A prayer for the dead.
[ ] – Not really my place.

[ ] – Check the light.
[ ] – Check the chest.
[ ] – Check the house.
[ ] – Just kind of scrounge around in general.
[ ] – _____
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[ ] – A prayer for the dead.

[ ] – Check the light.
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Muenzuka’s a place for the dead. I came here for looting, sure, but just ignoring those who’re buried here would be pretty damn disrespectful. I’m uneasy enough around here sometimes anyway, tossing disrespect on top of that isn’t going to help. It’s only appropriate to give a prayer, right? Especially since I know I’ve put some of them here…

It’s not a whole lot, and I’m keeping my voice pretty low. Can’t even really call myself that spiritual, but there’s just some things you do – or don’t, sometimes – whether you’re committed or not. Proper decency and all. Half the reason I put up with Kurumi at all, for instance. It’s not much, I have to admit that, but it’s something. A little token of respect for the dead, since there’s not really anyone else to give it now. Takes a couple minutes, but even so.

Well. That’s done.

I don’t cut straight across the grove, that’d be too risky. I start looping around through the trees, keeping my distance from that house. Gives me another angle to look at it too. Small, really more of a hut, but looks decent enough. I could probably manage something like that on my own, though I’m not even going to guess how hard Kurumi’d flip at it. Not a mansion, not fit, etc. Well, whatever, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

I end up going near the chest I noticed while I make my way toward the light. I take a glance at it, and it’s basically half buried, and I know I can hear something from inside of it. Pretty muffled, but pretty regular. Almost constant. Weird. Might want to look at that. On the other hand, it might be that I really, really don’t. You can never tell with that sort of thing, and it’d be a huge pain if it’s something I don’t want to deal with. Well, I’ll handle that when I get to it too. One thing at a time.

I spot a few other odds and ends on the way over, but it’s still the light I’ve got my eyes on. And as I make my way over, I’m pretty sure I’ve got an idea what it is. Kind of pale, kind of otherworldly, edge of Muenzuka… I’m guessing that’s a lantern or something out of the Netherworld. Might fetch a halfway decent price, and it’ll be useful even if it doesn’t. Kurumi will probably love the ambiance it gives if I give it to her.

Or hate it with a passion. One or the other if it’s of any interest to her, and sometimes I wonder if it isn’t changing day to day.

And when I land closer to it, yeah, it’s definitely a lantern. Probably Netherworld. Even a couple things nearby. Look kind of like… gardening tools, I think? I guess those might be useful, look to be in pretty good condition. Not much use for gardening myself, but Netherworld metal’s going to fetch a decent price, right? I’d hope so.

So I’ve got a nice little lantern and a couple tools I tuck under my arm. Thinking back, I really should have dug up a bag or something. Well, maybe I’ll find something I can use for that. I guess there’s the chest if it comes to it, but…

I turn around and notice another mouse. A few, actually, kind of staring at me from the edge of the trees. If I had managed to sneak in at all, I’m pretty sure that’s ruined now. Bunch of mice watching for a mouse youkai, they probably know I’m here by now. Man, that’ll be a pain to deal with, won’t it. I guess there’s a chance she’s one of the more level-headed ones, but…

Well, me, I just go ahead and start making my way back around through the trees, but wouldn’t you know it, she’s coming out just a moment later.

“Now who could have come here?” She’s short, about the same size as Wriggle, and she’s definitely a mouse. But she’s got a good air of confidence to her like she basically owns the place, and it shows in her steps. She’s looking around a bit as she approaches, but doesn’t seem concerned at all. “I don’t get many visitors, and the shopkeeper’s the only one brazen enough to go digging around without announcing himself.”

Well, she’s out of the house now, and while I don’t think she’s actually spotted me just yet, it’s only a matter of moments with all the mice around for them to actually point me out. What to do…

[ ] – Step out: Well, might as well cut to the chase and get out in the open.
- [ ] – Keep it cool: Muenzuka’s full of treasure, house or not. Just setting up here isn’t going to keep everyone away, you know?
- [ ] – Take control: You definitely don’t have exclusive claim to this stuff, and I’m not budging on that.
- [ ] – Appease: It’d be awful unusual for a youkai to try and apologize or something, but maybe it’d work here?
- [ ] – Attack: I’m trying to avoid a conflict if I can, but maybe I can catch her off guard…
[ ] – Leave: She’ll probably spot me on the way out, but that’s not much of a problem if I get away.
[ ] – _____
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[ ] – Step out: Well, might as well cut to the chase and get out in the open.
- [ ] – Keep it cool: Muenzuka’s full of treasure, house or not. Just setting up here isn’t going to keep everyone away, you know?
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[ ] – Step out: Well, might as well cut to the chase and get out in the open.
- [ ] – Keep it cool: Muenzuka’s full of treasure, house or not. Just setting up here isn’t going to keep everyone away, you know?
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“Well, I wouldn’t call myself a guest.” I slipped out from the trees so I was on the edge of the grove, relaxing as best I could. No use getting too worked up about things just yet. “Don’t feel that brazen, though, ‘specially since I didn’t even do any digging.”

“Oh? Is it just you?” She turns toward me with kind of a look of mock surprise, and the hand that isn’t holding a pair of rods goes up to hide her mouth. Caught what she was doing though, how she’s really starting to smirk a bit. “I wasn’t expecting anything impressive, but…”

“Hey now, I might get offended if you talk like that.” Pretty confident, the way she’s acting. She’s a mouse, so it’s not like she’s a real powerful youkai by species, but she’s definitely got some trick or another up her sleeve. And she’s on her home ground, basically. I don’t get the feeling she’s a whole lot ahead of me, but I still need to be careful if it comes to it. “Besides, weren’t you talking about looting just before? Seems like a bit of a jump.”

“It’s really not. Looting needs a looter, but I guess it’s just a human.” That hand at her mouth has gone to her side now, and she’s not even bothering to hide the smirk. “Are you here to find something? Maybe you should have knocked instead of poking around yourself.”

“You could say that. Just here to find what hasn’t been picked up yet. You know how it goes.” She’s confident getting into smug, but I don’t really have a feel for what she’s thinking beyond that. Hard to guess where this is going. “Didn’t think it’d be much of an issue.”

“Really? That sounds presumptuous. Is it fine to go into someone else’s garden and just take what you like?” She gives her tail a little swish as she’s speaking. Is that a little basket at the end? Is that a mouse in the basket? It’s kind of cute, but pretty redundant.

“Kind of funny for a mouse to ask that. Sure you don’t want another example?”

She doesn’t even blink at the objection. “My point is that I’ve set up my home here. It would be one thing if you wanted me to find something for you, but it’s terribly inconsiderate to just intrude and loot, isn’t it?”

“Well it’s not like everything’s yours just ‘cause you’re here.” Though if that kind of logic held, it’d be great for me. Or would be if there was really anyone on the mountain to compete with. “Besides, you’ve got a whole bunch of mice helping, right? This was just sitting out for the taking, and none of your helpers had touched it.” I held up the lamp, still dimly glowing. Not nearly so clear now that it’s not in the shade, but that’s how it goes.

“I didn’t say I own it. I said it was inconsiderate. It’s trespassing.”

“Yeah, and you brought up the garden yourself. Mice aren’t known for respecting property lines and such.” I shrug and tuck the lamp under my arm again. Really need something better to carry these with.

“That’s different. It’s a mouse’s privilege.” Not even a bit of shame saying that. “It’s only natural for a mouse to intrude like that. But you’re a human, so you don’t have any excuses like that.”

“What can I say? The treasure’s calling pretty loud, and who am I to say no?”

“And what do you want with this kind of treasure?” First time she directly looks at what I’m holding, kind of waving at it. “Does the village need upgrades now?”

“What do you want with all the stuff you’re digging up? Mice getting scared of the dark or something?”

“I’m a treasure hunter, it’s what I do. What are you?”

“Might be a collector too.” Of a sort. This is just a different kind of stuff I’m collecting now. “Anyway, are we going on about treasures or territory? Because we’re just going to go in circles if we can’t get that straight.”

“The treasures are in the territory. You can’t get at them without intruding.” One foot of hers is sliding slightly forward as she takes a more assertive stance. It would probably look a little silly to an observer, since she’s basically just the size of a kid. I’m not. “I can’t just let that kind of disrespect go by.”

“What, you want an apology or something?”

“That’s a starting point.” Yeah, she’s pretty confident. Me, I’m just leaning against a tree, not getting too worked up, but I know I can’t just pull what I did with Wriggle on her. For one, I don’t think she’s throwing her mice at me if it comes to it.

“Hey now, say what you like, but I took these completely fair. I’m keeping them.”

“I could just take them myself.” Kind of a wicked little edge to her smirk. I’m not really liking where she’s going with that.

“Be a bit of a bother for both of us.” I can’t really tell if she’s planning to shoot soon or just posturing that way for effect. I can’t rely on beating her, but I’m not too worried anyway. If it really comes to it, I can just run off. But I’d like to get a bit more before I leave… “Look, I’ll make up the territory thing if it’s really that big of a deal for you, but like I said, it’s not yours just because it’s here. So I’m planning on keeping what I came for, thanks.”

“You want to make it up with an attitude like that? That’s even more presumptuous.” Another swish of her tail, and she’s starting to kind of fidget with her rods. More posturing, or actually moving toward a fight? “How are you planning on doing it?”

This girl’s a pain.

[ ] – Diplomacy: I’ve already kind of hinted at making amends. I can’t exactly pay her, but I guess I could help with something. There’s probably not a shortage of stuff to find.
[ ] – Leave: Yeah, I can just bait her long enough to get a distraction and then just leave.
[ ] – Fight: Might as well shoot first.
[ ] – _____
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[ ] – Diplomacy: I’ve already kind of hinted at making amends. I can’t exactly pay her, but I guess I could help with something. There’s probably not a shortage of stuff to find.
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[x] – Diplomacy: I’ve already kind of hinted at making amends. I can’t exactly pay her, but I guess I could help with something. There’s probably not a shortage of stuff to find.

My reasoning might be a but meta, but I kinda feel like if we succeed at building a mansion, that'll make us count as a faction, and if we're on Nazrin's bad side, that might give us some tension with one of the very few factions that might be friendly with us.
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File 141654716229.jpg - (138.99KB, 1000x1150, There isn't enough smug mouse.jpg)
There isn't enough smug mouse
I don’t really know what the mouse girl is thinking. It could be a bunch of posturing on her part, or she could really be getting ready to start a fight. It could even just be posturing that’ll turn into a fight if I botch it hard enough. What I do know, though, is that Muenzuka’s a pretty good looting spot – though I always feel just a little dirty coming here just for that – and she’s living here now. Getting into a fight when I’m hoping to get some other stuff done is a pain too. If I piss her off too much, she’ll be a headache, whether now or later. Don’t quite want to fight her, don’t want to just waltz off and have her ready to fight over this when I come back.

“Well it’s not like there’s a shortage of stuff to find here.” The grove itself isn’t really that big, but there’s the trees around it, a little bit of road that could stand double-checking, probably some stuff that’s been buried… and hey, if I’m remembering it right, she’s a dowser or something? Buried just makes it harder to get at for her, if that’s true. Well, if she’s any good at it…

“Is that your justification? There’s plenty here, so you can just take a little?” That smirk of hers is getting kind of annoying, to be honest, and it feels like she’s only getting smugger by the moment. “Maybe you should try again.”

“Wasn’t a justification. More like an offer.” I’ve been leaning up against a tree, so I stand up a bit more properly. Seems appropriate. “I’m saying, you want me to make up for barging in on ‘your’ territory, right? Well, there’s plenty more stuff to find, isn’t there? Just ‘cause you’ve got all these mice to help doesn’t mean it’s not a bit of an effort.”

“Oh really? You think you can find something we can’t?”

“No, I’m thinking it’s a bit less of a hassle for you with an extra hand or two.” No matter what I say, she’s going to twist it around if she feels like it, isn’t she. Pleasant. “You probably could get most of what’s here with just you and your mice, but seems to me like more hands would mean it goes faster.”

“And you do this purely as a gesture of reconciliation, I’m sure. The idea of maybe getting a share hadn’t even crossed your mind.”

“I never claimed to be that generous, did I?” I’m beginning to wonder how long she’ll pick at the idea before actually saying something either way. Turns out not much longer at all.

“Well, you’ll have to work your way up to forgiveness.” She just gives a little nod, still with that smug little grin on her face, and turns around, starting back toward her house. “If you’re honest about that offer, I trust the mice can keep you out of trouble for a minute or two. If not…”

She doesn’t say more than that, but she’s still thinking I’m human, apparently. ‘I know where you live,’ probably. Maybe not exactly where, but with mice at her command, it wouldn’t take that long to figure out.

Well, grove is quiet again. I can kind of hear her doing something in her house, but for the moment, I just lean back again and watch the mice watch me. A couple minutes of mostly quiet. Nice, really, even if I know something’s coming that’s probably going to be a pain. Muenzuka’s kind of pretty, though if the lilies were in full bloom it would be better. Still enough lingering poison around without that, though, so it’d also be a real headache if they were…

She comes back out after a couple minutes carrying a small chair and a shovel rather than her rods. Right then I’ve already got an idea what she’s going to have happen, and frankly if I wasn’t trying to keep things smooth I’d be offended. It’s really pretty shameless exploitation. Fact is, I am kind of insulted by it, but it’s not worth raising something over. Not right now, at least.

“If you’re really intent on trying to makes amends for your shameless intrusion, then I, Nazrin, will give you that chance.” She basically just drops the chair part way over, though it stands pretty well on its own. After just a couple more steps she shoves the head of the shovel in the ground and moves back, still with that grin on her face. “If you have the energy left to help afterward, we can think about letting you have a small share, but we’ll start with this. I’ll forgive you with this, but what comes up is mine.”

Yeah, pretty much called it. I do the hard labor at this part and ‘earn’ her forgiveness, she gets something nice and shiny.

“So.” She just kind of takes a seat, tip of her tail kind of swishing through the air a little. “Start digging.”

What a pain.
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So it’s been a little while since we got started. I’m waist-deep in a hole, covered in dirt, and she’s leaning over on the edge looking down. I’ve finally started uncovering what she was actually looking for, but it’s not exactly what I was expecting. It’s not that it’s not interesting or anything, because it’s definitely the kind of thing that provokes a response. But it’s not really what I’d think is desirable either. But what do I know? I’m not the treasure hunter.

“I’m pretty sure it’s staring at me.” Still half buried in the dirt is a little ball of what looks like glass. Dark spot in it that I’m pretty sure moves on its own. It kind of looks like a fake eye, and it’s pretty eerie to me. Dig up an old eye made of glass and it just stares at you on its own? Not like there aren’t stranger things, but…

“I don’t see how you could tell. It’s not like you’ve moved.” Nazrin’s squatting at the edge, watching it herself. Or maybe watching me move the dirt away from it, since it’s supposed to be hers by default.

“Alright, watch.” I stand up straighter and kind of lean from side to side. I’m pretty sure it’s tracking my head. Staring right at me. Just a little glass eye in the dirt. “See? It’s watching me.”

“That probably means it’s got a bit of magic, which is good.” Now she’s got a self-satisfied little grin again. “It’s more valuable that way.”

“Yeah, well, you can keep it.” I lean down again and finish brushing the dirt around it away, then take it and hand it up to her. “Don’t think I’d contest it for that anyway.”

“I’d hope not. That would be going back on our agreement.” Nazrin lifts it up to catch the light better, kind of squinting at it, and I can see the dark spot roll away toward her. Bit of a pause before she kind of sighs and puts it away. “…okay, fine, it’s a little off-putting. It’s still going to be worth something.”

I’ve hopped out of the hole by then and start wiping down a little; I managed to get her to bring out a towel partway through, because this is kind of hard work, even as a youkai. I’m already making a mess of my clothes, and honestly it’s kind of annoying. It doesn’t help that there’s a chilly breeze picking up…

Sweat, cold breeze. Screw it, I’m getting a little chillier than I’d like. Just a quick little burn should fix it.

And now she’s just kind of eying me weird…

“Well, I suppose even you have powers sometimes.” She looks away when she finally speaks, letting out a little unimpressed sigh.

“That’s a pretty big assumption you’ve been sticking to.” I’d normally let it slide, but something in her tone when she talks about it is really bugging me. “When did I ever say I was human?”

“Eh? You didn’t, but…” She’s looking at me again with kind of this odd look. Little bit like before, but wider eyed, like she’s trying to figure out how to take that.

“Yeah, that’s kind of the point.” I let the flames start dying out and stretch my arms a little before grabbing the shovel again. “Anyway, that’s the first bit of the deal, right? I dig this hole, you get that thing, we’re good.”

“Yes, that’s what I said.” Just a little bit of a pause there like she wasn’t quite expecting that. “If you’ve got the energy left to keep going -”

“Right, what next? Fill the hole back in?”

Now she’s really just kind of giving me a look. Alright, hey, I get it, most people wouldn’t be jumping at it quite this quick, especially youkai. And I don’t much care for digging holes either, truth be told. But this is going to get me something, and that’s a better shot than half the other things I could be doing. I’ll probably just end up with so much junk, but even that can probably sell for something. Even just pocket change would be enough to get started on something…

“No, I have a better idea. We’ll leave it for now, I have a couple other spots I want to check.”

“How about you actually help this time?” I try not to show too much of my annoyance with this, but I do let just a little into my voice.

“What, you don’t like doing it yourself? You seem pretty suited for hole digging.”

“Ha ha. Grab a shovel.”


By the time we’re done, most of the afternoon is pretty well gone. The sun’s not really properly setting just yet, but it shouldn’t be too much longer. There are a few new holes in the grove alongside a few new piles of dirt, which we’ll probably fix shortly, and there’s a small pile of stuff near Nazrin’s house where we mostly just tossed the stuff we dug up. Easier than bickering over who gets what. I know she’s ‘supposed’ to get the greater share on account of living here, but I may try to challenge that. I’m pretty sure I did more of the digging here than she did, even setting aside that first hole.

We’re both kind of messy too. Well, what you get from digging in the dirt.

“Well, at least this managed to turn up a few things.” She’s tired, and it shows in her voice as she wipes some dirt off her skirt. “I hope you’re up to helping fill it all back in.”

“I don’t know, sounds like a pain.” I’ll do it, of course. Cleaning up your own mess is just basic decency. Doesn’t mean I can’t give her a hard time for being a pain, though.

Well, she got a little better about it while we were digging, but she was kind of insufferable at first. Doesn’t quite balance out, I think.

“Muenzuka’s an important place. Don’t think I’m letting you just wander off without helping clean up this mess.” Complete deadpan on her part. Not really something I want to hear from her, given that she’s the one who set up here for treasure hunting.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it.” Shoving dirt back into a hole is a lot easier than getting it out to begin with. “You said you wanted to do something else with one of the holes, though.”

“Yeah. See that chest there?” Kind of points. I look, and it’s the half buried one I noticed earlier. “I want to finish burying that properly.”

“Huh, really? Seems nice enough.”

“Yes. Really. Just help with it.”

She starts wandering around a little, probably trying to choose the right hole, and I go over to the chest. It’s not very big, so it’s not going to be hard moving it. Each side’s about as wide as my shoulders, and it looks a little deeper than that, so it can hold a bit of stuff. Kind of fancy looking, though old enough it’s starting to fade. And it’s still got that noise coming from inside it…

Probably part of why she wants it buried. Still, seems a waste. I shove enough dirt out of the way to pick it up and haul it over to the hole she’s by, but I’m not really on board with just tossing it.

“Alright, I get that you probably don’t want to deal with what’s in here, but do you really need to toss the box?”

“Can you not argue about it? I’d appreciate that.” Bit snappy about it. Doesn’t really want to deal with what’s in here, even if it’s getting covered in dirt. “Just toss it in and we can cover it.”

Seems like a terrible waste, though. If nothing else, I could use something to haul some of the other stuff around instead of just carrying it all the hard way.

[ ] – Toss the chest: I’ll just have to figure something else out for that.
[ ] – Dump the contents: It’s not like a box is going to be a problem on its own, right?
[ ] – Open the chest: Let’s just see what’s in here before doing anything about it…
[ ] – _____
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[x] – Ask what's inside, if she's willing to tell; don't be pushy about it though. If it's something she doesn't need and not something dangerous (unless Kurumi will like it for whatever reason), we can take it off her hands.
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[x] – Ask what's inside, if she's willing to tell; don't be pushy about it though. If it's something she doesn't need and not something dangerous (unless Kurumi will like it for whatever reason), we can take it off her hands.
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“Alright, I don’t know what’s in here, but all I’m saying is that it seems like a waste to toss the box too. Couldn’t you just dump it out?” There’s clearly something in here that’s not exactly normal. Possibly very much so, given the noise it’s making. But I can’t think of anything that could just keep making sound continuously. Everything’s got to stop at some point, right? Even all the bugs and such that love to make such a racket.

“Just…” She sighs, kind of buries her face in her hand for a moment. “It’s just a box. Why are you getting so hung up over it?”

“It’s a nice box.” Good weight for its size. Seem sturdy, but not too heavy, and it’s kind of nicely decorated too. Even if it’s getting a little worn and faded. “What’s in here, anyway?”

Nazrin just kind of stares at me for several moments, probably thinking over how to respond. Then she just shakes her head as she speaks. “It’s a head.”

“Don’t see what’s so bad -”

“That’s always screaming.”



“I’m not sure I heard that right.”

“It’s a head.” She kind of just rolls her eyes.

“Yeah, I got that part.” I guess it is about the right size.

“That’s always screaming.”

“It’s a head that’s always screaming.” I can’t hide the skepticism in my voice. That’s kind of ridiculous.

“Are you a yamabiko now?”

“Ha ha. Funny.” I guess it would explain the noise coming from it. Pad the box and shove the head in, that’ll get most of the sound out that way. But even so… “Still. That’s just messed up. Who even makes that kind of thing?” She doesn’t reply, instead giving a half-hearted shrug. “Don’t know that there’s much use for it anyway…”

“I can’t think of one, the shopkeeper isn’t going to buy it, and I don’t want it around. Can you just toss it in the hole already?”

“You really want to bury that kind of thing here? In Muenzuka?”

“No, I was really thinking you could throw it in and then pick it up again.” Hey now, no reason to get snappy about it.

“All I’m saying is it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you want around here. Kind of… inappropriate, you know?” Digging for treasure aside, there’s kind of a baseline level of respect that’s expected for Muenzuka. It’s one of the places the dead end up, after all. “There’s probably a better place for it.”

“No, it isn’t really that suited for here, but…” Her shoulders slump a little and she lets out another annoyed sigh. “I don’t know where else to take it, and I don’t want to make the temple deal with something like that. Destroying it doesn’t seem quite right either.”

“Well, there’s always just dumping it in the forest.”

“Do you want to leave something like that somewhere that weird?”

“…okay, point. No telling what could happen.” Too much magic, too many weird youkai, screaming head. That sounds like a recipe for a disaster. Burying it would help, but only so much. Something would probably hear it eventually and get curious. “Still, I bet I could find somewhere better for it.”

“Then it’s yours. Don’t do anything stupid with it.” She doesn’t waste a moment to get her shovel moving again, pushing some of the dirt back in the hole. “Now help me out with this, will you?”

“Yeah, yeah. Clean up, then sort out who gets what.” I set the box aside and grab the shovel she gave me again. At the same time, I catch what sounds like an annoyed little click of the tongue. Guess she was hoping I’d forget about the split with a fancy new box on hand. But my memory’s not nearly that bad, screaming heads to distract me or not.

It doesn’t take too long, but the sun has started setting properly by the time we’re done. Probably not going to be able to sell the stuff today, then. Of course, before I can worry about selling anything, I need to figure out what I’ll have to begin with. She’s definitely going to want the greater part, but beyond that…

Well, I know one thing. We dug up a sack that had some stuff in it. Whether I get the contents or not, I definitely want the sack itself. Don’t want to be hauling everything around the hard way, might lose something.

Without listing every single thing, there’s a few different types of things we dug up. There’s a fair bit of stuff from the outside, some of which is the weird not-actually-magic stuff they apparently have, others of which are just random junk by the looks of it, or a couple metal things with pictures of food on them. Stuff like that. Then there’s stuff that’s gotten here from the Netherworld, like what I had originally grabbed before Nazrin came out and started being a bother. And then there’s the sorts of stuff that end up wandering over here from Gensoukyou in general. Odds and ends, some with a touch or more of magic, some that’s just stuff.

No axes or such, unfortunately. Though there’s this weird outside thing that looks like a box with some sort of blade with a chain on it, though I don’t have a clue how that would work. Kind of like a saw with some extra bits, maybe? Outside stuff can look pretty weird…

I guess the main thing is what I want to try and focus on getting from this.

[ ] – Outside stuff: Mostly the stuff that looks like it could do something. That’ll probably have the best value if I go to the merchant I’m thinking of.
[ ] – Netherworld stuff: That stuff will probably get a good price too, though I’m not sure I want to hang on to too much of it for long. Does anyone ever come looking for stuff that passes through the border from there?
[ ] – Native stuff: I don’t think I care much about the random junk that probably came from the village or something, but there’s some stuff here that was made by youkai and shows it. Maybe not the greatest prices, but probably decent.
[ ] – Mix: Might as well just take what I can get rather than worry about where it came from.
[ ] – _____
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[x] – Outside stuff: Mostly the stuff that looks like it could do something. That’ll probably have the best value if I go to the merchant I’m thinking of.

I choose this because "this weird outside thing that looks like a box with some sort of blade with a chain on it" sounds like its a chainsaw, which seems useful for getting wood.
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[x] – Outside stuff: Mostly the stuff that looks like it could do something. That’ll probably have the best value if I go to the merchant I’m thinking of.
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Looking over some of the stuff we dug up, I’m leaning toward the outsider wares. That’s generally the hardest to come across in Gensoukyou as a whole, so if I can’t find a use for any of it, it should sell slightly better than some of the alternatives, unless it’s just straight-up junk. That’s not necessarily saying much, though, since that merchant can be pretty cheap. Still, better than nothing. A little money can go a long way if you know how to use it.

...which is another thing entirely, but one step at a time.

Focusing on the outsider stuff, there’s the weird saw thing, a few bits of jewelry, this sort of container thing with some sort of liquid in it, a few metal things with pictures of food on them, and what looks like a little hand-held clock. Plus a couple other things, but I can’t even begin to figure out what they’re for. One’s just kind of this smooth little rectangle with a bit of a reflection on one side, fits in the hand. Well, that merchant will probably know something, but I feel like I’ll just get ripped off for it. Still easier to deal with him than the kappa, though.

“So, what, you going to get first pick?” It’s all well and good to decide that, though, but there’s the question of how Nazrin plans on doing this. “Because I’ve already figured out what I’m going for.”

“Quick, are we?” She barely even blinks as she scans through the pile herself, poking at one thing or another experimentally. “Well, that’s fine. I’m after treasure, not junk. Leave the jewelry and I’ll just look over whatever else you pick out.”

That’s generous of you.” Go and just outright climb the most obviously valuable stuff, then. Well, whatever. I already know she’s not going to let me take the better part of it all, so that just tells me what to ignore. “I hope the sack isn’t jewelry, then.”

“You want that? Did you just… you really didn’t bring your own!” Nazrin starts laughing a little, cupping her mouth with one hand. “What kind of treasure hunter are you?”

“The kind that usually doesn’t bother?” I pull it away from the rest of the pile and get it open. I’m going to have to figure out how to arrange things so nothing tears it, but it’s decent leather, if old. Maybe youkai made, which would be nice for the extra durability. Chest can go in the bottom for now, since I don’t want to go opening it for a while. Not sure what to do with it in the long run, but one thing at a time. “Most of it’s just junk to me anyway.”

“Then what are you doing here to begin with?” I’m squatting down, starting to poke through the pile properly and move stuff into the sack while she watches, almost leaning over my shoulder. Apparently saying something ridiculous put her in a friendlier mood, because she almost sounds pleasant right now, rather than smug or annoyed. “You wouldn’t have bothered coming if it was just junk.”

“Well, some people don’t look at it that way, and sometimes we end up having to do things we wouldn’t normally do anyway.” Most of it may be junk to me, but people pay for it, and money’s something I could use right now, I think. Be real good if I’d bothered keeping better track of where all the stuff the outsiders I got went, but it’s not like I could have seen all this coming. Why keep track of junk? Why bother selling stuff when you don’t have a use for money?

Well, I guess there’s always having a bit more spare cash for the festivals and such when I sneak in, but it’s not that big of an issue.

“One man’s trash, I guess. Hey, leave that.” She kind of swats my hand as I try to put in a kind of flattened box thing. “Morichika pays too well for you to just swipe it.”

“Yeah? What is it, then?” He pays well for this thing? Of course I can’t have it, then. Man, that’s a pain.

“A ‘computer’ or something. Look, don’t you have plenty already?”

“This isn’t even a third of the pile. What are you complaining for?” Fine, then. I put it down and just grab something else. Looks like some sort of Netherworld sake dish – actually no, I don’t think I’ll put that straight in the bag. That might break it.

“And you’re getting extra!”

“A screaming head isn’t much of a bonus.”

She lets out a little ‘hpmh’ and kind of pouts, but glancing over my shoulder, I’m pretty sure she’s exaggerating. It could just be all the time I’ve spent with Kurumi, but that’s what my gut’s saying, at least.

“Look, it’s not like I’m ripping you off or anything.” At this point I have some sort of candle holder in my hand. It’s not quite bone, but it seems like it’s close. I really can’t even begin to guess where it came from. “You’re still getting most of it. Lay off a little, would you?”

“Only because I’m feeling so generous.” She huffs a little as she says that, which I’m pretty sure is also being exaggerated. Still, she really is keeping a pretty close eye on what I grab. But by and large that’s the end of it, and I grab a couple more things and stop. I could try for more, but I get the feeling she actually is losing a little patience under all the played-up bluster. I’ve got a decent stock now anyway. Few things to sell, a couple things that could be useful, and maybe a couple things to placate Kurumi because I haven’t flipped heaven and earth upside down in a day for her.

“Right, well, unless you want to shout at me some more or something, I’m pretty sure I’m good.” I stand up as I say that, brushing a little bit more dirt off myself. At this point, most everything’s in the bag, though I was pretty careful with arranging some of it so that nothing fragile would break. Hopefully.

“So soon?” Nazrin has kind of a playful smirk at this point. She’s taken a couple steps to the side and is leaning against the wall of her little hut. “I can’t convince you to save me a little more trouble?”

“How about not.”

“Then try not to break anything you dug up today, that would be a terrible waste.” I start up into the air and she starts looking over the pile again, but glances back up. “Oh, and next time, try announcing you’re here instead of sneaking around.”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t go burying anything weird, alright?”

And then I’m actually off. I’m flying over the road a bit above the trees, just to be careful, and a bit faster than on the trip out here. Not too fast, though. The sun’s setting, so I’m thinking I’ve already missed any time-sensitive stuff I could be doing, meaning there’s no real rush. Might as well be careful with the loot. Especially since some of it is pretty pointy.

The real question, though, is what I do now. I could make a pass by the merchant’s place as long as I’m out, even if he’s probably not open. Not that it makes a huge difference, he’s not exactly keen on the actual business part of things. Or I could just head back to the mountain and stash the stuff, maybe start looting again somewhere else. I only got up again early afternoon, so it’s not like I’m super tired or anything. Might not want to go into heavy digging again, though.

…and if I do go to the mountain, I guess there’s always checking up on Kurumi again, especially since I have stuff she might like. Can’t say I know whether the head counts. And I usually wouldn’t go see her for another two or three days, probably with another meal on hand.

[ ] – Stop by Kourindou: Even if he turns out to be open, I feel like I could use a bath first…
[ ] – Return to the mountain: Might as well.
- [ ] – Stash the loot: Probably shouldn’t haul it everywhere.
- [ ] – Check on Kurumi: Might be good to give her some of this.
[ ] – _____
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[ ] – Stop by Kourindou: Even if he turns out to be open, I feel like I could use a bath first…
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On the one hand, I’m dirty and probably smell a little from digging for half the afternoon. Plus, it’s late. On the other hand, I’ve got a sack full of stuff I don’t need and I want to sell it at some point anyway. Kourindou’s probably closed, but it doesn’t hurt to at least stop by and check. Even if it involves skirting around the forest longer than I normally would, it’s not that far out of the way. Worst that could happen is that I have to go back tomorrow or something.

The sun has really set by the time I’m in the forest proper again, and the night’s coming alive. Call of insects, frogs and such, and the faint rustling of some other things. Some weird background noise too, probably from the deep forest. Better not to think about it too hard, it gets creepy if you do.

Even with the forest coming alive, there’s not a whole lot happening just above the trees. There’s some stuff, like a bird or something taking flight, or maybe one looking around for prey. Maybe some bugs or something, but not much else; in sight, at least, I’m the only person flying around right here. Hopefully that stays the case, I’m not sure I want to run into Wriggle again yet. Sure, she was friendly enough once we got over the whole duel thing, but I’ve just got this feeling she’ll spring something on me that I won’t like. And not just because she’s got a favor hanging over me.

If nothing else, I’d like to avoid surprise company until I can empty the bag somewhere safe. That’s not asking too much, is it?

For the time being, at least, it isn’t. I get a nice, quiet flight over the trees until I hit the edge, and then start navigating around the border of the forest. It’s actually pretty nice when I’m not focused on something else. There’s a bit of background noise, sure, but the creepy stuff from the deep forest isn’t really audible out here. The fields are nice and clear, there’s not a whole lot going on, and it’s kind of relaxing. It’s a clear sky too, so the stars are shining bright and all that. Plenty of light to see by.

Well, for me. Never really see many humans out around now except real close to their houses or something, so I guess not so much for them.

It’s peaceful enough that I get by without issues, and settle down once I near the shop. It’s not a big place, and it’s not really decorated or anything. Just a shop that’s also a house on the edge of the forest, not too far from the village but just far enough to be inconvenient. I don’t think it gets a whole lot of traffic. I can’t be sure, though, because I don’t come here often at all. It’s not like I have all that much reason too.

There’s light coming from inside as I get closer, but there’s no telling what that means beyond someone being there. Could be that he’s still open, but since it’s also a house, it’s not guaranteed at all. Well, nothing for it but to check since I’m already here. I try to open the door, but it doesn’t work, so I’m guessing it’s already been locked. Huh. Probably closed already. On the other hand, probably not been closed for long. If I really wanted to, I might be able to get him to do a little business, though I doubt it would make him very happy.

[ ] – Knock: Might as well try and get his attention.
- [ ] – Be prepared to argue: He might say he’s closed, but maybe I can change his mind.
- [ ] – Be prepared to leave: Or, you know, I could just come back tomorrow.
[ ] – Leave: Locked, probably closed. Easier to just try later, like in the morning or something.
[ ] – _____
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[ ] – Leave: Locked, probably closed. Easier to just try later, like in the morning or something
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He’s probably done for the day is what I’m thinking. It’s definitely getting late enough for that, and it’d be kind of rude to try and make him get to business right now. He’ll still be here in the morning, so I can just come back then, or maybe later in the day. However it works out, really. Anyway, he’s not up for business right now so I’m not going to stick around. I just pick the bag up again, walk off the porch and take to the air again. Going to head back the mountain, I think, so I can drop this stuff off before I get tired of hauling it. Might need to decide if I’m dropping any of this with Kurumi or not, but one thing at a time. Besides, the place I’m thinking of storing it is on the mountain. She’s further up the mountain. Works out pretty well.

At this point, I’m out of the forest and don’t really need to go back in. Kourindou’s right on its edge, and the shrine and the mountain and such are near but not in it. I’m basically clear of it now, which is nice. Probably won’t run into Wriggle again unless she comes out herself, don’t need to worry about whatever weird stuff might come out from the depths at night, and so on. Really, I’ve dealt with to some extent two outings in a row, and that’s more than enough for me right now. Stop by Kourindou tomorrow, and hopefully that’s the last I’ll have to deal with it for a bit. Maybe I won’t have to get near it again until I’m ready to start getting lumber together. Wouldn’t that be nice.

Well, the way things tend to work out, that probably won’t happen. But hey, I can hope, right?

Of course, here I am thinking about the future when I’m not even done with the present. I was hoping I’d have a pretty quiet evening once I got out of the forest, but my gut’s telling me otherwise. The fields are pretty clear, edge of the forest seems pretty quiet, and I’m most of the way back to the foot of the shrine’s mountain already, so I should be good, right? But there’s just this nagging little feeling I’ve overlooked something. Optimistically, it’s just faeries or something. They’re basically everywhere, and running into them every so often is pretty much guaranteed. If that’s it, nothing to worry about. Even so, I glance around a bit more carefully.

I don’t see anything out of the ordinary at first. Nighttime fields, edge of the forest, etc. Sky’s clear, clouds or otherwise, and the stars are shining pretty nicely. Way ahead’s good. Way behind is good too, if a little dark. Then, you know, it clicks. A little too dark in this one spot. Not a whole lot, but just far enough above me that it’s dimming some of the stars behind me. Just enough. Or maybe I’ve just gotten used to spotting that kind of thing so I don’t have to get into a pointless and painful fight I’d rather not have. And if I’m not just imagining it, I’m pretty sure I know exactly who it is too.

On one hand, she could be a pain like she sometimes is. A little too curious, a little too eager to poke at something, stuff like that. But maybe she’s just coming this way anyway…

Ha. As if. That would be too easy. She probably is following me, so I could just see what she wants now. Or I could try and shake her on the way back to the mountain. I could ignore her, but even with things getting more peaceful overall over the last few years, it still doesn’t sit well with me, risking leading someone right back to where I sleep and such.

[ ] – See what she wants now: She’ll probably catch up at some point, and she’s not really that bad when she’s not being too intrusive.
[ ] – Try to slip away: I don’t really want to bother with it. Maybe I can just kind of make her lose track of me…
[ ] – Ignore her: If she really wants something, she can try catching up on her own.
[ ] – _____
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[x] – Try to slip away: I don’t really want to bother with it. Maybe I can just kind of make her lose track of me…
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[ ] – See what she wants now: She’ll probably catch up at some point, and she’s not really that bad when she’s not being too intrusive.
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[x] – See what she wants now: She’ll probably catch up at some point, and she’s not really that bad when she’s not being too intrusive.
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I don’t really want to deal with her right now, but she’s probably not going to be much trouble. She can be pretty annoying if she sets her mind to it, but decent odds she’s just curious about something or other. Like the sack, maybe. If she really is curious about that, she might be a problem, but I suppose I can just handle that as needed. If she’s following me, she’ll probably keep doing that, so I might as well see what she wants. I slow down a bit so she can catch up. A minute or two passes by, and she still hasn’t. I glance back, and it seems like she’s slowed down. She playing a game, then? There’s an easy way to find out. I just stop.

She stops too.

I wait. She waits. And then after a few moments of that I just kind of sigh and shake my head, because this clearly isn’t going anywhere right now. “C’mon Rumia, you want something or not?”

“Why do you think it’s Rumia?” Bit of a sing-song response. Not really surprising.

“You’re a splotchy blob of dark in the middle of the night, you sound just like her, you’re following me like she would, and frankly all that aside it’s obviously you anyway. If it looks like a duck and all.”

“Then it looks delicious.” She drifts over, and I can actually see her once she gets closer. Got a normal little smile that makes me wonder if she’s hiding something, or if she’s planning something. I told Kurumi about it once, she said it reminded her of a cat she’d had. Don’t know about cats, but it definitely makes me think she’s up to something. Not anything huge, but still something. “Are you up to something, Orange? I don’t see you running around very often.”

“Felt like doing some digging, got a few things for my trouble.” I kind of shrug it off, answer as casually as I can. I don’t think Rumia would really get in the way or anything if she knew why, but it doesn’t quite sit well with me to just tell her I’m basically working for someone else. “Sometimes you can find interesting things, you know?”

“I’ve been digging too!” She spreads her arms wide like she usually does, grinning a bit wider. I glance at her, and I can tell pretty much instantly she’s definitely not been digging.

“Yeah. Sure you have.” I just kind of shake my head again. “You’re practically covered in dirt, you’ve been digging so much.”

“Not like that. But I found interesting things anyway!” She floats a little closer, still keeping her arms out as she twirls a little. I lean back a bit so she doesn’t end up slapping me in the face. “I found that Wriggle is trying to come up with something for you to do! Isn’t that interesting?”

“She tell you that?” That’s actually kind of annoying. I’ll do her a favor to pay her back, sure, but I don’t exactly want everyone to hear about it. “It’s just a trade. Paying her back for some help she gave me.”

“Hehe, so I heard. From a little bird.”

“Yeah? You try and eat your little bird?” Not from Wriggle, then. Not directly, at least. Got a guess as to who, then. Met her a couple times, but not as often as Rumia.

“Maybe I did. Maybe she tried to eat me instead.” Rumia just kind of sticks her tongue out playfully.

“Yeah, that’d be a sight.” Bird girl probably has a nasty streak in her, but I don’t see her getting the best of Rumia very often. Could be wrong. “You just here to chat about who’s doing what for who?”

“Can’t we just talk once in a while? You spend so much time hiding out wherever it is you are.” Another couple slow twirls, not coming quite as close. “Can’t we just catch up a little?”

“Yeah, I guess we could.” I sigh a little. She started with trying to give me a bit of a hard time, but maybe she does just want to chat. It has been a while since I last saw her, so it’s not like it’s that hard to believe.

“Great!” And then she’s not twirling or anything, and she’s practically shoving herself in my face. “What’s in the bag?”

“I thought you wanted to catch up a bit.”

“And you said you were digging! What’d you dig up?”

“Few odds and ends. Some stuff from the outside, some stuff from the Netherworld. Probably going to try selling it tomorrow.” It should just be innocent conversation, but my gut doesn’t like where she’s going with this.

“Is it because of that house thing?” She’s just smiling wide as can be as she asks.

Damn it. I did mention that to Wriggle, didn’t I.

“I bet it is. Orange is a house-builder now!” Backing off a bit, she just starts twirling again, laughing a little. “And I bet you’re digging around because of it. So what’s in the bag?”

Rumia’s just latching onto that idea. I don’t really see the harm in just giving her a glimpse if she’s so curious, and she’d probably be even more persistent if I just tried to deny her. But I don’t want her to get too curious. And I definitely don’t want her getting the head. I may not want to hold onto it myself, but if I’m going to dump it somewhere, it needs to be done right, and I don’t trust Rumia to do that. Or really even agree that it’s an issue at all.

[ ] – Show her what’s in the bag: I could just open it up and let her see. Head’s at the bottom anyway.
[ ] – Pull something out: Maybe several, if it comes to it, but if I open it up she’ll probably try rummaging.
[ ] – Distract her with food: Or at least pictures of it. She’d probably try to open one, and then we can both learn what’s inside it.
[ ] – No: How about not.
[ ] – _____
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[x] – Distract her with food: Or at least pictures of it. She’d probably try to open one, and then we can both learn what’s inside it.

I don't think the MREs are going to be that particularly useful to us, so why not.
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[ ] – Pull something out: Maybe several, if it comes to it, but if I open it up she’ll probably try rummaging.
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[x] – Distract her with food: Or at least pictures of it. She’d probably try to open one, and then we can both learn what’s inside it.
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It’s probably not much trouble to let her see a few things, but there is some stuff I’d like to make sure she doesn’t get too interested in. The head’s the main thing, but Rumia’s curious enough – when she’s not being too lazy for it – to wonder what some of the other things are. That wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t mean she’d probably try taking some of them, which doesn’t really help me out with anything. Some stuff I can show her without any trouble, and I think I know exactly what to start with.

“Alright, alright, you want me to show you?” That gets her attention, and she’s basically right on top of me in just a moment. Does she really have to be so touchy? “Come on, give me a little space, would you?”

“But it’s easier if I’m right here, right? Then I can see!” She’s basically crawled onto my back, so she’s leaning forward and has her head right over my shoulder, smiling pretty wide. Shows off some of her teeth pretty well too.

“Yeah, but then you’re seeing everything and you can’t just appreciate it right.” I drop a little and then slowly float my way down to the ground. I let the sack settle a little and try to push Rumia off. She kind of resists a little, but then moves with a very brief pout. Then the smile’s back just as quickly as she ends up right in front of me, leaning over the bag expectantly.

“Well? Show me.” Showing off a broad, toothy grin.

“Could you back up a little? You’re kind of in the way.”

“I don’t see how.” Her smile’s replaced by a little bit of a frown as she stares up at me. I just shrug and lean forward, pushing her head out of the way with my shoulder. “Hey!”

“I said you were in the way, didn’t I?” Sometimes she just doesn’t have a bit of sense. Well, that’s her problem. I do a little digging around with my hand, try not to nick myself on some of the sharp stuff in there, and find what I think is what I’m looking for. Pulling it out, I’m right. One of those metal tube things with a food picture on it. “Well, here’s one of the things.”

Rumia takes it and kind of looks it over, turning it over in her hands. Gives it a sniff and kind of wrinkles her nose at it. “Really, Orange? You’re just giving this to me because it has a picture of food on it. You think I’m interesting in something like this?”

“Well yeah. You are, aren’t you?”

“Duh.” She kind of rolls her eyes and keeps turning it over. Looks like she’s trying to read something? She’s not stupid or anything, but I can’t say she’s the most literate person I know. “…what’s a microwave?”

“Beats me. It say something about one?”

“Cooking in one? Probably not that important.” She gives a little shrug and jams her thumb through one end. It looks like it’s got something on it when she pulls it back out, and she give sit a little lick. “Soup?”

“Hey, you’re the one tasting it.” I guess that makes sense? I haven’t thought too much about what’s in them myself. But why would you stick soup in something like that?

“Hey, Orange, it says something about cooking it.” She holds it out expectantly, kind of staring at me with a smile again.

“Yeah? And what do you want me to do about it?”

“Cook it!” And then the smile’s gone. “Do the thing with the fire!”

“Hey, demanding it like that is pretty rude.” I lean over toward her. She starts smiling again, probably thinking I’m going to do it anyway, but I just reach forward and flick her in the forehead. “Why should I be cooking my food for you anyway?”

“You gave this one to me! Besides, don’t you have more? Just do one for each of us!” She puffs out her cheeks and pouts pretty hard at me after saying that.

Well, she is right about how I have more. And to be honest, I do need to eat soon, or I’ll just get hungry enough it’ll start being annoying. Still, she’s being pretty demanding about it, even if I can’t say it’s really surprising. It’s really a question of how much of a hard time I want to give her, I guess. I’ve got time, after all, and maybe if she’s fed she won’t try to follow me too long.

[ ] – Cook some of it…
- [ ] – For both of us.
- [ ] – For her.
- [ ] – For me.
[ ] – Try and get a more polite request.
[ ] – Try and leave.
[ ] – _____
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[x] – Try and get a more polite request.
[x] – Cook some of it…
- [x] – For both of us.
[x] After she's eaten, demand payment. Having her find out where we can get our hands on an axe for cheap sounds fair...

Let's try teasing her a bit.
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[x] – Try and get a more polite request.
[x] – Cook some of it…
- [x] – For both of us.
[x] After she's eaten, ask where we can get our hands on an axe for cheap
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[x] – Try and get a more polite request.
[x] – Cook some of it…
- [x] – For both of us.
[x] After she's eaten, ask where we can get our hands on an axe for cheap
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“Nah. Seems like a pain.” I stick out one finger and just nudge the tube in her hand. “Someone like you can just eat it as is, right?” That just makes her puff up her cheeks even more. “Shouldn’t really be a problem.”

“Orange!” She practically shouts that. A little too loud for my liking, but that’s not really surprising. “What’s so hard about it? You just take it and make it be on fire! Then the food cooks! It’s not that hard!”

“Yeah, that’s not hard, but what about after?” I kind of shrug and shake my head a little. “I mean, if this is how you ask for things, I don’t know that I oughtta be encouraging it, you know?”

“And what’s wrong with how I’m asking?”

“C’mon, really, Rumia? ‘Cook this,’ ‘do it,’ you don’t get how that’s a problem?” I scratch my head a little for emphasis. “’dunno that I can do much if that’s the case.”

“That’s your problem? Really?” She looks a little taken aback by that, and doesn’t say anything after another moment. That’s really a surprise? Wonder if that’s just with me, or if she’s that demanding of everyone else.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Manners like that are…” How would Kurumi put it? Seems like a great time to channel a bit of her, maybe rub it in a little. “Little rules between people, you know? And if you can’t keep the little ones, how can you keep the big ones like the duels and such that keep us from just eating each other?”

There’s a little moment of silence as she just stares at me. Then she takes this nice deep breath, and I’m almost sure she’s about to start yelling.

“Then please take some time and cook some of it for me.”

Better than she made me think it would be. “’atta girl.” I take the thing and resist the urge to reach over and pat her on the head. Rumia’s probably only going to play along so far, and that might get her biting me. Girl’s got a good jaw, so that’d be a pain.

Anyway, it’s not much time after that I’ve got a metal tube of food and a cheery little fire going in each hand. I’ve sat down beside the sack at this point, but Rumia’s still kind of twirling around in the air a little. Too much restless energy, as always. She’s dimming things a bit harder too, probably because I’ve got a couple flames out. Never really got how she could be that sensitive to light, but hey, youkai can be weird sometimes.

“So what have you been up to since last time?” I doubt it’s much, given how Rumia likes to do things, but I’m not going to just sit here and listen to the sound of fire until it’s ready.

“Not a whole lot. Oh! But you missed something exciting!” She stops just in front of me, leaning forward a little and putting us more or less at eye level with each other. “There were all these exciting battles not that long ago!”

“What, that religion thing? Yeah, I heard.”

“What? Really?” She stands up again and looks kind of disappointed. “I didn’t think it had been long enough…”

“Hey, it’s been over a year now, you know? And I hang out in the village sometimes. You expect them not to talk about that a bit?”

“Well it’s better for me if they don’t when you’re around.”

“They’re not going to care about that.”

“Rude.” Like she’s one to talk. Then Rumia leans forward again, sniffing. “Is it ready yet?”

“How would I know? I’m just heating it.”

“Orange! Didn’t you read what it said?” She points one finger at some of the stuff written on them. “It has directions and everything!”

“Yeah, and part of that’s taking it out, isn’t it? Well, I don’t have a bowl or anything, so we kind of botched it from step one.”

“Fine then. It should be good enough, so just give me that.” She just swipes one of them out of my hand, not even giving me time to respond. I don’t even say anything, just kind of stare and wait a moment. Any second now.

Ow!” And, predictably, she drops it just a moment later and ends up blowing on her hand pretty hard. Well, that’s what she gets for being that impatient. I’m the one who can stand being on fire, not her, so that was just bound to end badly.

Well, after a few minutes of her complaining about it while they cooled to a temperature she could manage, she’s sitting down too, just kind of chugging it a sip at a time. Or was. It doesn’t take her more than a few before hers is empty, and I’m pretty sure she’d happily take more if I was willing to give it. Me, I’m just taking it a bit slow. Not really sure what it is. Definitely some sort of soup, and I can tell there’s some meat in here, but… well, maybe it’s chicken? Definitely not done like any chicken I’ve ever had, that’s for sure. And it’s all kind of super mushy too, but that may just be that I overcooked it. Risk of winging it.

“So, Rumia.” I take another sip, letting a couple bits of meat in before I swallow. “Think you might know where I can find a couple things?”

“I might. But that sounds like the kind of thing that you’d need to pay me for, right?” A completely innocent smile on her face, like she’s oblivious to how exactly we got here to begin with.

“Yeah, about that. This is my food, you know. Pretty sure that if we’re counting favors, you’re the one falling behind here.”

“…oh, right.” She looks away for a moment, but I can still see her kind of make a face about it. “Fiiiine, ask away.”

“I’m thinking something like an axe or a saw. You see any of those recently? Just lying around or something.” Another sip, and I’m starting to empty it. Still, it was a good idea. Night’s getting cooler, and a nice warm soup-drink is helping with that and the hunger… even though I kind of have to ignore how I’m basically drinking soup from a cup. That just doesn’t sit right with me.

“Have you tried the village?”

“I’ve thought about it, yeah. I’m asking if you’ve got any other options to offer.” Pretty straight-forward question if you ask me.

“You could just wander around in the woods or something, right? Maybe someone lost one there.” She gives a self-satisfied little nod. “Seems like the thing to do to me.”

“I’ll take that as a ‘no.’”

“Hey! That’s a rude thing to assume!”

“Then do you know a good place?”

“Not really.”

Damn it Rumia, stop doing that. “Fine, not just finding one, then. Cheap.”

“Have you tried the village?”

“We just went over that.” I sigh a little. I’m pretty sure she’s just screwing with me when we end up doing things like this, because she can be pretty sharp sometimes. And the alternative is that she really is being this thick when she’s like this, which is honestly kind of a horrifying thought. “Somewhere other than the village.”

“How about the kappa? They’ve got things to sell, don’t they?”

“Problem is they’re the kappa.”

“That’s a point.” She nods and then puts one hand to her chin, thinking a bit. “You could try some place like the bamboo forest, couldn’t you?”

“Yeah? And why would I do that?”

“Well, if you live in a forest, you want an axe, don’t you? Maybe they have a spare one or something.” She shrugs. “I don’t know, I don’t care about that kind of thing. I stop worrying about a tree after I’ve bumped into it.”

Maybe you’d run into them a little less if you thought more about stuff in general, but that’s not something I want to be saying right now.

Anyway. Good meal, good chat, even if I couldn’t get that much out of her. I think I’ll get moving again and drop this sack off somewhere I can feel secure about it, then maybe see about finding something to do for the rest of the night. Might even rest a bit for part of it just so I’ve got a bit more daylight tomorrow, but I’ll figure that out as I go. So I’m standing up and all that, and Rumia doesn’t miss a beat.

“Oh, are you going somewhere?”

“Yeah, figured I’d get started again. Got a few things to do, you know?”

“I know what you should do!” And just like that, she’s in the air again and floating right by me. “You have to drop this thing off somewhere, right? So you should show me where you live!”

…of course she’d think of that. Just what I wanted to hear.

[ ] – Yes: Fine, whatever, it’s not like I have to show her every spot I use, and she’d probably figure it out at some point anyway.
[ ] – How about not: I like having a bit of security, and people not knowing where to look helps with that.
[ ] – _____
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[x] Omochikaeri~

[x] Sure! I can show you where I live!
-[x] Show her a place where you don't actually lie at all. Explain the lack of your stuff as it being buried, or you living in a general area and not a specific spot, or a combination of the two.
-[x] If she stubbornly sees through that, explain that you like her, but you like your privacy and security better, and promise that you'll try to find a way to make it up to her.

I like this Rumia, but she's just a bit too well-connected and loose-lipped for my comfort.
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[ ] – Yes: Fine, whatever, it’s not like I have to show her every spot I use, and she’d probably figure it out at some point anyway.
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[x] – Yes: Fine, whatever, it’s not like I have to show her every spot I use, and she’d probably figure it out at some point anyway.
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I meant to give her a picture last time
“…really, Rumia? Come on, I’ve still got some work to do, you know?”

“How’s that a problem?” She frowns a little and then starts staring at me a bit suspiciously. “Are you trying to get away from me? That’s rude, Orange.”

“Look, no, that’s not it. I’m just saying, I’d like to get some more done tonight, and I don’t think that meshes really well with a tour.” Also, I kind of don’t want to give you one, but I’m not going to just go and say that out loud.

“There’s plenty of night left. I don’t see the issue.” She’s frowning a little harder now.

“It’s just -”

“Ooooraaaange!” And then she’s basically hugging me, pulling in close and looking up at me with the biggest, saddest eyes she can manage. “Do you just not like me? Do you not want to spend time with me?”

“…fine, fine.” I sigh a bit. She’s definitely playing her reaction up, but if she’s going that far, I don’t think she’s about to let up very easily. If nothing else, it won’t be something she’ll forget by the next time we run into each other. And I do have a fair bit of mountain to work with, and no real obligation to show her all of it. “I’ll show you around a little bit of it, but don’t cause any trouble, alright?”

“Yay!” And then she really is hugging me. Pretty tight, too, and she’s strong enough for that to sting a little. “I’ll be the best guest you’ve ever had!” That’s a pretty easy prize to win, given a competing list of no one, but I won’t mention that.

I manage to pry her off and get going after picking up the sack again. It’s not nearly so quiet as it was before, because she’s apparently a bit of a chatterbox if she gets excited enough. I’m not even paying that much attention, if I’m honest; something about something that happened when she was eating with the sparrow, or something she said, or something Wriggle said or did at some point, or some minor incident she’s hoping I hadn’t heard about from the village.

The flight past the shrine is fortunately pretty uneventful, so we get by there in peace. It gets even quieter as we start up the mountain itself, Rumia aside. But after a few minutes, even she starts getting a bit quitter, mostly just looking around since she hasn’t been in this area. And I get the feeling that some things are looking back, but I’ve established myself in this area well enough they shouldn’t give me any trouble. Or Rumia, so long as she doesn’t wander off.

“Is there not anyone else here?” Rumia speaks up again as we’re making our way up the mountain. “It seems like it’s just some things lurking in the woods.”

“Yeah, pretty much. Not a whole lot of company out here. About how I like it, though.” I’m walking again by this point, like I am at least half the time. Good for the legs, and the sack is still manageable. Maybe not if I’d walked the whole way, but I didn’t, so it works out. “No real competition for space, you know?”

“Not really.” Ah, yeah, that’s right. Rumia just wanders around wherever it is she feels like going. Or maybe more whatever direction, since it’s pretty aimless overall.

There’s a bit more quiet after that, but we get to one of the caves I sometimes use and I just stop by the entrance. Not the one I used last night, but one a bit further down. Haven’t used this one in a little while, actually, so it’s even less impressive than it might have been. Not that it’s saying much. Still, it’s one of my caves, and it’s technically what she was asking to see.

“Well, here we are. Nice little hole in the mountain.” No real presentation, no real showing off or anything. Just letting her see one of them.

“That’s it?” She’s predictably not impressed, crossing her arms and looking at it kind of annoyed. “I was thinking of something a bit better.”

“What, like a house?” I snort a little, not quite laughing. “I’m fine dealing with the open sky and everything. ‘sides, you shouldn’t complain when you just end up falling down wherever you are.”

“That’s different.” She turns toward me, directing that kind of disappointed stare at me instead of the cave. “You live somewhere, so you should have something you can show off proudly! That’s how it works, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, some people seem to think like that.” Like Kurumi. I’m pretty sure pride is driving this at least as much as actually wanting a decent roof over her head. “Me, though, I’m fine without it.”

“That’s boring. You should give me something more exciting!” And that’s the sound of trouble.

“Yeah? Like what?”

“You’ve got a friend somewhere up here, right?” Now she’s smiling and leaning in close. “We should go say hello!”

Yeah. That’s the sound of trouble. Rumia and Kurumi? Together?

[ ] – No: How about not.
[ ] – Leave: Or maybe flee. That seems like an acceptable response.
[ ] – Distract her: Just forget you had that idea and we can get on with our lives.
[ ] – Lie: She’s not here, so that’s kind of a silly idea.
[ ] – Do it: ...gods know she’ll find a way there eventually, I might as well try and control it while I can.
[ ] – _____

30 days, 30 posts. Huzzah. I'll give some thoughts on that later, maybe alongside the next update.
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[x] – Do it: ...gods know she’ll find a way there eventually, I might as well try and control it while I can.

We've already gone this far
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[ ] – Do it: ...gods know she’ll find a way there eventually, I might as well try and control it while I can.
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Okay. Letting these two get together is an awful idea. I really can’t remind myself of that enough. I’m really not sure what would be worse; the two clashing and exploding and both of them being pissed at me, or them getting along. Rumia’s sharp, but Kurumi… I don’t really want to admit it, but she does have a certain charisma to her when she gets going, kind of? Maybe a little, at least? She can definitely make you feel like she believes what she’s saying, at least, and it puts me on edge to think that maybe, just maybe, Rumia might get taken in by that. And then Kurumi would have someone who’s actually taking her ideas seriously. And then, inevitably, that’s someone who isn’t ‘stuck’ at the lake to badger me to do this or that or the other thing.

On the other hand, Rumia’s got it in her head that someone I know is on this mountain, and she’s right. If she’s really interested, she will find Kurumi on her own eventually, and this is possibly the only chance I have to influence how that first meeting goes. As much as I dislike the idea of letting them meet when I can’t even begin to predict how that will go, maybe being able to nudge it one way or the other is a pretty compelling reason to suck it up and introduce them. If nothing else, I might be able to distract one or both of them long enough to figure out what I’m doing. I’ve got a sack of stuff, don’t I?

I guess this means I have gifts for Kurumi too.

“Orange? Helloooo!” Rumia’s looking faintly concerned, leaning forward and getting entirely too concerned. “Are you going to do it or not?”

“Yeah, yeah.” I sigh and nudge her away. Apparently I got lost in my own head for a moment there. Must be the anticipation. “Come on then. Let’s get walking, and I can prep you for what’s coming.”

“Oh? What do you mean?” I say ‘let’s walk’ but she’s floating along anyway once we get moving. Not really a surprise. I don’t think she appreciates a good hike. “Is there something tricky about meeting her?”

“Yeah, you could say that.” Not about meeting her as such, but more about not driving me up the wall with her. “Her name’s Kurumi, and she says she’s been stuck here since… well, before the barrier went up.”

“Wow, that sounds awful.” She makes a bit of a face as she says that. “So she can’t go anywhere?”

“Yeah, that’s what she says. And you can imagine how that’d be a problem, having trouble finding food and such.” She makes that face again, which I saw coming. Rumia’s not single-minded about food, but I think it’s one of the very last things she’d ever willingly give up. “It’s a bit worse for her, though. She’s a vampire, you know?”

“Eh? Don’t they live by the lake?”

“Different ones. Better fed, too. Anyway, I think it’s left her a bit loopy being stuck without much food for so long. So don’t believe everything she goes on about, okay?”

She looks at me for a moment before idly looking downward while she’s thinking. She’s actually quiet for a few moments as we’re moving along, so I guess she’s actually considering it fairly carefully. Not for too long, though.

“So you’d say she’s not all there?” She comes a bit closer, almost dropping into a conspiratorial whisper. “That sounds like a headache.”

“I don’t know that I’d say that about her, I just don’t think you need to take everything she says seriously.” Because she will say things, I’m certain about that. “I think you’ll see what I mean when we get there. She’s still friendly enough, I think, just a bit over-dramatic.”

“If you say so.” She really doesn’t sound convinced. I’m not sure which part she’s not buying, but I guess there’s not a whole lot to be done about it. It’s a couple more minutes before she speaks up again anyway. “So is she who you’re helping?”

“…yeah, more or less. I don’t know that anything will come of it, but I guess I feel like I should at least try.” It’s only the neighborly thing to do. Lake’s only got a few little holes here and there for shelter, and I don’t know that they’re really any good in winter. I’m not sure I buy her really being stuck there, but she definitely seems to think she is. “Just don’t make a fuss about that, alright? She’ll probably do that well enough on her own.”

Rumia doesn’t say anything to that. She just kind of gives me this smile that I’m pretty sure means I should have stopped about a sentence or two earlier. I take her along to try and control it and I’m botching it before they’ve even met. Great job, Orange! Great job.

It doesn’t take much longer to get up to the lake area. For once, I can smell we’re getting closer before the terrain levels off and gets near the barren edge. Something must have fallen in recently, I guess. Rumia definitely smells it too.

“This place stinks. It’s like an old rotten corpse.”

“Yeah, it’s usually not this bad. ‘dunno what’s up with it right now.” As we get closer, though, I can start figuring it out. There’s some stuff in the air. A whole lot of stuff, actually.

About the same time I actually set foot on the bare stone around the lake, a pretty big swarm of those eyeball bat things comes swooping down, rushing by out toward the forest. Rumia kind of ducks under them and just barely avoids getting clocked in the head by one. So of course this all gets me to stop for a moment and look a bit more carefully. And apparently I have either very good of very bad timing, because then one of those leathery balls of flesh with the spikes or whatever they are goes right by and almost hits me.

It takes me a moment to recover from that. There’s another one headed straight for my head when I do, and I’m reacting just a bit too slow when it up and explodes.

So instead of a headache, I just get a nice gory little shower. Thanks, world, I needed that.

I blink a couple times to clear my eyes and I hear someone land a few feet ahead. I’m pretty sure I know exactly who it is.

“Oh, Orange! I wasn’t expecting you back so soon!” There’s not a single bit of shame or anything in her voice, but I know she’s the reason I’ve got meat and blood all over me right now. “I’ve just been doing some early evening housekeeping! You’d be amazed how many of those things camp out around the lake, and it’s so hard to keep them from settling back in during the day since I can’t just fight them off when the sun's out, so it turns into this huge production in the evening. Well, maybe not so much since this is just the first night of it. Maybe they’ll start figuring out they should stay away, and it won’t be such a hassle. They should do that, it would save me a lot of trouble.”



Apparently chasing the low level monstrous youkai around and trying to scare them off counts as housekeeping now. And it’s why I’m covered in gore now, and probably why I can actually smell the lake.

[ ] – What.
[ ] – I brought a friend: I’ll just ignore this and introduce Rumia properly.
[ ] – I brought stuff: I just wish there was a towel or something in there.
[ ] – _____

So with the NaNo challenge done, I may relax the update schedule a little. I don’t intend to let it go more than two or three days between updates, but I think having a little extra time to consider the updates and revise them as necessary would be helpful, even if I probably won’t always use it. There have definitely been some updates in this that I would have written them differently if I wasn’t pushing myself for a roughly 24 hour schedule, though I admit I’m not sure how much of that was the pace and how much was how I’ve never done one of these before. Whichever it may be, this whole thing has been a learning experience.

Relatedly, I’m still open to whatever criticism or other commentary you might have; I hope that as it’s shifted a bit into this next section, at least some of the earlier concerns have been partially addressed. What I’m most interested in hearing about, though, is how you, the readers, are enjoying the granularity of the story. Is this level of input over events acceptable? Would you generally prefer longer updates, even if that means trading some of your ability to finely influence events? The opposite?

All that aside, whatever adjustments I make to the update schedule or update length, etc., I do plan to see this through to the end as long as at least one or two people are still voting. I don’t know how long it’ll take to get there, but I do intend to get there eventually.

In the meantime, thank you for participating thus far.
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[x] – What.

Your current granularity for choices is just fine. In general, I find that the level of granularity I prefer is the one the writer is most comfortable using. Trying to force yourself to meet a perceived ideal update length or level of control can only hold you back.
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[ ] – I brought a friend: I’ll just ignore this and introduce Rumia properly.

Enjoyed the addition of Rumia, level of story control through voting is fine.
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[X] – I brought a friend: I’ll just ignore this and introduce Rumia properly.

Well this is a fun little story, looking forward to seeing how it develops.
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Okay. I’m just going to ignore how Kurumi’s going on, because it’ll be easier that way. I’m not here to get in an argument with her or anything. Just appease Rumia, introduce the two of them, try to keep it from turning into a disaster. Basic stuff. Just because Kurumi’s off in her own head again and just because I’m covered in the messy aftermath of that doesn’t mean I have to go and take the bait she’s dangling in front of me. She’s probably not even doing it on purpose. Just say calm.

“Nevermind that.” I let out a little bit of a sigh as I put the bag down and ignite. I feel like this is just baking the dirt on, but it’ll at least get the chunks to burn off. Probably. If nothing else, it feels better to be doing something about it. “So, Kurumi, I brought someone.”

“I can see that, Orange. Really, you’re slipping.” She tosses a bit of her hair off her shoulder and back behind her. “She’s still conscious and everything. Flying around, even!”

“I didn’t bring her as food.” I shake my head a little, resisting the urge to sigh again. “She figured out you were up here and wanted to meet you.”

“A guest?” Kurumi tilts her head a moment, thinking it over. A bit more subdued than I’d expected, all things considered. Just pausing, taking a moment and –

“Orange!” And then she looks like she’s about to panic as she flies right at me, basically grabbing me by the chest as she leans in close. Apparently the fire doesn’t matter right now. “I can’t take a guest! I don’t even have a house yet! How am I supposed to show her anything? I’ve got a cave and dirt and rags and maybe a couple changes of clothes that I admit are very nice and should still be impressive even with all else but that’s not enough and what were you thinking bringing her here!?”

“Well, for one, I thought you might like some company.” This is more along the lines of what I was predicting. Not this exactly, mind you, but something more pronounced. Could have done without her kind of panicking though, since that just sets me up with a great start to all this. “Second, she was being pretty insistent, and she’d probably have found her way up here at some point if I hadn’t brought her here. Third, she’s right there.” I manage to turn enough despite Kurumi to get a glance at Rumia. She waves back, friendly as can be.

“I can see that, Orange! That’s the problem!”

“And fourth, I don’t think you’re as fire-proof as I am.”

“That’s not the point!” She gives me a good shake. At this point, though, the ends of her sleeves are starting to smoke a little. Took longer than I’d have thought. “Just because you’re on fire doesn’t mean you can get out of this! You’re bringing people here without permission and I can’t handle that when I don’t have anything to greet them with and there are things that are done when you have guests, Orange, and I don’t have any way of doing most of them and it’s one thing when you come over because you’re just you but sometimes Elly comes over and I’m already having enough trouble treating her properly and now you’re bringing people I haven’t even met around like that’s okay and why did you set me on fire!?” Okay, yeah, she’s noticed.

“Alright, you grabbed me when I was already on fire, okay?” I give her a little push, and it actually gets her away a little since she wasn’t holding on that tight at that point. “And I don’t really think she’s going to mind not having all the bells and whistles and such.”

“It’s not about what she minds or not! It’s about how things are supposed to be done!” She’s almost shouting that part, but she takes a deep breath and takes a few moments to quash the fire on her before it spreads. “It’s really terribly inconsiderate of you to bring her here without warning.”

“Yeah, sure. If you say so. Hey, Rumia.” She’s cooperative enough to float closer. I think it’s for the best if I just get on with things and try not to let Kurumi dwell too long on all the little social rules she can’t follow because she doesn’t have a house or anything yet. “Now that we’ve got all that out of the way-”

“I’m not forgetting about this, Orange!”

“This is Kurumi. She’d like to be a good and proper host, but she’s a little concerned. You probably heard all that.”

“It was pretty easy. Your friend can be loud.” Understatement, much?

“Kurumi, this is Rumia.” I turn back toward Kurumi, trying to gauge how she’s reacting. Well, she’s still pretty obviously worked up about it, but I think she might be calming down? “She wanders around a lot. There’s not much more to say, unless she’d like to. Hey, Rumia, why don’t you introduce yourself properly now that we’ve got names out of the way?”

“Eeh, I guess I could…” She’s floating a whole lot closer now. Kind of annoying. The flames die down a fair bit just to be safe, because I don’t want to ignite both of them in one night.

“Alright, what’s the but?”

“You just smell delicious! I can barely take it!” Oh gods damn it Rumia don’t go trying to hug me. She’s leaning in way too close and taking a pretty strong sniff. “You’re so good at cooking!”

“I don’t think you want to eat anything that came from here.” Nevermind that I did right after waking up. Wasn’t really that good anyway. “Could you try more for social than hungry? I didn’t bring you here to show off your appetite.”

“I should hope not. We don’t have any food to spare anyway, unless you went hunting.” Kurumi’s finally saying something again that isn’t freaking out, but there’s a definite edge in her voice. Well, as long as she’s actually calming down and not just hiding it.

“Well, not for food.”

“Yeah!” Rumia chimes in again, finally moving away rather than trying to inhale the bits that are still burning on me. “Orange went digging and pulled up all sorts of neat stuff! Isn’t that right?”

“Oh. Did you now. I suppose it’s all very important if you dedicated yourself to doing it.” I’m not sure she could sound more skeptical as she says that. Well, fine.

“Well, we’ve got to start somewhere. Might as well see if I can dig up tools or stuff I could sell, you know?”

“I don’t.” Not even the least little bit of hesitation in that response.

Okay, I get it. She’s a little angry because I brought Rumia up without any warning or anything and she would probably want to basically throw a party or something extravagant to be a proper hostess. Something like that. Point is she’s a little pissed and isn’t really doing much to hide it. Which I could work with, but it’ll just make her insufferable later because she isn’t going to forget this. And I did bring this stuff up anyway…

[ ] – Just try to get on with it: If I can get them talking, she can calm down, right?
[ ] – Distract her with stuff: I do have an entire bag full of it.
- [ ] – General goods: I’m sure one of the random bits of stuff I wanted to sell could appeal to her.
- [ ] – The box: Here, have a head that’s always screaming. That can’t possibly go wrong.
[ ] – _____
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[x] – The box: Here, have a head that’s always screaming. That can’t possibly go wrong.

This will either completely distract her, or make her so angry that she faints. Either way, it'll be great.
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[X] – Distract her with stuff: I do have an entire bag full of it.
- [X] – The box: Here, have a head that’s always screaming. That can’t possibly go wrong.

It can be like a pet or something.
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[x] – The box: Here, have a head that’s always screaming. That can’t possibly go wrong.
You seem agitated, hopefully this eternally tortured decapitated head that screams with the fury of undeparted souls will make you feel better.
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File 141818954619.png - (317.12KB, 593x601, This is later than I had planned.png)
This is later than I had planned
Kurumi’s a little pissed, and while I could probably work that to make sure she and Rumia don’t end up in cahoots in anything, that doesn’t quite feel right to me. Not right now, at least. So she’s angry, and I need to kind of cool her off. But I think I know how to handle that; she’s had her rant, so she’s a nice slow burning kind of angry right now. That’s the kind of thing I can distract, and I’ve still got a whole bag of stuff.

…well, what I’m planning on trying isn’t guaranteed to work. It might just make her angrier, but that just seems to be how things go with her.

“Alright, look, you’re the one who wanted me to do all this work for you, right? And you told me to handle it on my own, so I’m just doing it a way that makes sense. That going to be an issue?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Kurumi’s not even really looking at me now, twirling a bit of hair around one finger. “It just seems to me that you could be doing something better than digging in the dirt. But what would I know about that kind of thing?”

“I found some stuff that might help, and I found some stuff I can sell, which will help me get some tools and such I know will help. I don’t see what the problem is.”

“I just think that maybe you could have skipped straight to getting whatever tools you need instead of rooting around.”

“Well, sometimes you turn up stuff alongside what you actually want.” She really can be a pain like this, but if I can lead her along just a little more – and if Rumia doesn’t butt in at the wrong time – I think I’ve got this. “You’re after the blood, but I can’t bring you that without the rest of the body. It’s kind of like that.”

“I like the rest of the body.” And there’s Rumia. “Is that a vampire thing, not liking it? That doesn’t sound fun.”

“It is not merely a thing. It is the inherent nature of us vampires, and comparing it to a mere distaste-”

“Anyway,” I say. Interrupting Kurumi’s always a risky shot, but I don’t want her launching into that. Not because it’s bad or anything, but I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that in particular already. “I mention that ‘cause I found a few things I thought you might like. Nice little odds and ends that might brighten up the place for you while you’re stuck waiting. Of course, if you don’t want them…”

“Oh. Simple bribery. Very well then.” Kurumi lets out an exaggerated sigh. Frankly, she’s putting on the airs of ‘suffering’ a bit too hard here if you ask me. “If you absolutely must.”

“Alrighty then.” I start digging through the sack to get what I’m thinking of, not voicing my immediate response. Yes, Kurumi, I’m bringing you gifts. That’s clearly horrible, having to deal with getting stuff. “There’s a few things in here you might like, but there’s one thing in particular you might appreciate…” Damn it, almost nicked myself on that saw thing.

“Ooh, are you going to be cooking again?” Rumia of course is floating right beside me, trying to get a look inside.

“No, I’m not cooking for you again. And there’s nothing in here Kurumi’d want to eat anyway.” Not unless one of them is filled with blood, which would be kind of weird? I don’t know how long that would even keep anyway. She’d probably pitch a fit about old blood anyway, so it’s for the best if it’s not even an issue. “What I’m thinking of is… buried pretty well. Back up, would you?”

“Fine, fine.” She pouts a little as she floats back, and I start moving some of the stuff out of the sack just so I can get at the bottom. Weird saw thing, candelabra, a food thing Rumia tries to scoop up before I swat her back, couple other odds and ends… Kurumi’s barely even watching while she keeps up that passive disinterest thing. Well, fine, she can ignore it and I’ll have an easier time not giving her even more instead of selling it.

“Alright, here we go.” I manage to fish the chest out after a couple more moments. Probably be better if I’d had a chance to get more of the dirt off it, but whatever. “Right, Kurumi. This can be yours.” A couple steps later and I’m offering it to her, and she’s just kind of looking at it like it’s barely even worth acknowledging.

“Splendid. A dirty box.”

“Look, I wasn’t planning on giving you anything just yet, alright? I’d have cleaned it up a bit if I’d had more time.”

“Oh very well. If this is the best you can do right now.” She just shakes her head a little and takes it, looking it over pretty carefully. “It appears to at least have adequate craftsmanship. You would know what’s inside, I hope.”

“Yeah, it’s…” Okay, this is the part where things could go pretty damn bad. I’ve really got no way of predicting which way it goes. “Well, I was told it’s a head that’s always screaming. Makes enough sense, with the noise it’s making.”

“I see.” There’s kind of a pause that’s a bit longer that I’d like. Rumia’s just kind of floating around behind me, I think waiting to see how this goes, and Kurumi’s sort of staring at me and at the box. She finally says something, though, after just a bit too long. “And why would I care about this?”

“Well I kind of figured it’d be something you might like, since sometimes you’ve gotten really into some of the more morbid stuff. And you know, it’s just kind of supposed to be this head that’s still at it, still screaming and all that, so I figure, maybe that’d suit you, you know?”

“I see.” Man, for someone who can be so loopy, she is way too good at this uncomfortable staring thing. There’s another long pause, she’s just looking at me, and then she finally does something. Not speak or anything, just casually jam her finger into the lock – and I swear I hear metal just straight up crack – and flip the lid open.


Holy shit that thing is loud.


“Well, it does seem to be a head.”


“And it does seem to be screaming.”


“Hey, Kurumi, that’s nice and all-” I try to say something, but…


Okay Nazrin really was not kidding when she said it was always screaming. I can barely get a few words out between, and it’s hard to hear myself thinkthe way it’s going at it. And Kurumi doesn’t seem to care in the slightest, she’s just kind of giving it that same dull, “I don’t actually care about what you’re doing” passive aggressive look she was giving me. I don’t have a clue what she thinks about it, but I know what I think.

“Could you try to shut it again!?”


And she doesn’t seem to care in the slightest even after I ask that. Welp.

[ ] – Try and ask again: Maybe if I try asking louder or something.
[ ] – Shut it myself: Okay that’s enough sorry closing the box.
[ ] – Toss the box: This was a terrible idea and the lake is right over there.
[ ] – Try to ignore it: …she might just be doing this to spite me. Fine, I’ll just try to ignore it and we can hope Rumia doesn’t try to eat it or something.
[ ] – _____
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[x] Quick, while she's distracted! Sneak up and give her a bug ol' hug!
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I had a different vote before my internet connection went wacky and denied me from having my original vote posted, but... this one is much better!
[x] Quick, while she's distracted! Sneak up and give her a bug ol' hug!
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[x] Quick, while she's distracted! Sneak up and give her a hug!
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I ask the question again. Kurumi doesn’t seem to notice, again. In fact, she just kind of starts turning around, walking away real slow and giving the head kind of a poke. It just screams, of course. It’s a head that’s always screaming. What else is it going to do?

Ruin my ears, for one. I hear Rumia saying something behind me, but the better part of it comes out at the same time as one of the screams, so I can’t quite make it out. Got enough of her tone, though, she doesn’t seem to like it much either. Not that Kurumi seems to care. Honestly, this girl is really a pain to deal with some times. Is she planning to see just how long it can keep screaming?

Well, nothing for it but to do something.

I start moving after her before she’s taken more than a couple steps. She’s not going that fast, and I was right there to begin with, so with the height difference it’s barely a couple for me anyway. Maybe she’s not paying attention, or maybe she’s just continuing with not giving a shit, but she doesn’t seem to notice. Works well enough for me. I lean in right behind her, the damn thing lets out another shriek like it’s getting murdered. Reach around, making sure the last of the flames on me are out, pull her in…

“Orange!?” Well, that got a reaction out of her. I flick a bullet forward, yanking it back in my mind as it overshoots, and it hits the lid of the chest.


Gods, it’s so much better with the lid closed. Kurumi promptly drops it, of course, but it doesn’t pop back open or anything. It actually bounces and tumbles a little, ends up lid-down. Works for me. Which just leaves Kurumi to deal with. She’s not going anywhere, though. Pulled her in nice and close, arms around her. She could break out pretty easily if she wanted, yeah, but I don’t think she will.

“C’mon, Kurumi, I piss you off that much?” Pretty passive aggressive if so. Almost enough to make me prefer the open, blustery angry. Harder to work with, sometimes, but at least it’s honest.

“…there’s a way things are done.” She’s probably pouting now, the way she sounds. It’s actually kind of funny, the way she postures so much and then acts like this. Sometimes I wonder if she’s not just as young as the vampires in their mansion supposedly are. She’s almost small enough for it.

“Yeah, I get it. Shouldn’t have brought her uninvited and all.” She’s just kind of small in general. I’m not that much taller than most people, but she’s a full head shorter than me and a little more besides. Kind of scrawny, that much is a whole lot easier to tell now that I’m actually touching her. “Guess I should have figured out some way to tell you about it.” Nevermind it probably wouldn’t have been possible; she doesn’t care about that right now.

“You should have.” Little quieter, little less obviously grumpy. Well, that’s progress. One thing at a time. “And then you just tried to buy forgiveness with things.”

“That was just a gift I was going to give you anyway.”

“Of course.” Almost mumbling that one. See, less grumpy. This didn’t completely backfire at all. I’d kind of thought it would, but hey. Sometimes it’s worth a try.

We’re both pretty quiet for a few moments before she says anything else. “…you’re dirty.”

“A bit, yeah. Digging around all afternoon.”

“Orange.” She tilts her head up, staring at me with a disapproving pout. “You should take better care of yourself. Take a bath.”

“What, now? Seems like there’s a bit of a crowd for that.”

“Not now, obviously! Sometime! And maybe again before you come up, next time!”

“Yeah, sure, I’ll see about it.” Lift one hand up and kind of poke her in the forehead a little. Kind of cute to see how her whole face wrinkles like she’s thinking I’ll flick it. Funny too.

“Now let go.” She lowers her head again, shutting her eyes. Not pouting, just disapproving. “You’re being entirely too personable about this.”

“’dunno, kind of like it like this.” I give her a nice grin that I’m sure would be pretty annoying if she was actually looking.


“Shut up, Rumia.”

[ ] – Let go: Eh, fine.
[ ] – Don’t: Nope.
[ ] - _____
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[ ] – Don’t: Nope.
[ ] - Rumia's just jealous. She can get her hug later.
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[ ] – Don’t: Nope.
[ ] - Rumia's just jealous. She can get her hug later.
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"Well duh, Vampire, symbol of sexual contamination."
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[x] – Don’t: Nope.
[x] - Rumia's just jealous. She can get her hug later.
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[ ] – Don’t: Nope.
[ ] - Rumia's just jealous. She can get her hug later.
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