The soothing sound of scoring pen against paper is the only noise that can be heard in my room. Too early in the morning for the birds to be chirping. Lit only by the nearby candles, I work. I hasten the strokes created by my hand as I see the final sentences approaching. Finally finished. I take one last glance at the page to ensure that there are no more errors. Fully satisfied, I place it inside an envelope and securely seal it with candle wax. A simple engraved stamp lets the receiver recognize the sender.
Dawn will break soon and there are plenty of tasks left before I can send this off at the human village. So I hide my creation away safely inside the folds of my clothes, close to my chest so I can always feel the faint edges to the paper. Done. I mentally check off the completed step. Next on the list is cooking breakfast. And so, I make my way to the kitchen with soft footsteps. Traversing the halls always gives me spare time to think, this time my mind wanders on how pointless it is to take so much care in my footing. Even if I ran loudly, stomping my feet, I doubt that it would even bother those two.
The kitchen comes into view and I quickly begin my practiced preparations. Gather ingredients, gather equipment, and start a fire. All mechanical and methodical. Soon the air is filled with the alluring scent of grilled fish. It is a good morning to have fish along with some soup and rice. I set the table and examine the placement. Perfect, all I need now are the dreamers to take a seat. If I let them sleep all day there is no doubt they would waste it all away.
However, I take some satisfaction to see their rousing faces. Before their food grows completely cold I'll give them some assistance. Who to see first? There is a chance that I'll only get to wake one of them up.
Help should go to the helpless. Chen's youth will eventually kick in and transform her into the relentless ball of energy she usually is. That being decided, I enter Lady Yukari's room. In the middle of the bed is a mess of blanket folds and scattered blond hair tangling together. It would be easy to say that a fight broke out between her and the covers, it is clear who the victor is. An unblemished thigh manages to escape the chaos revealing her indecent positioning.
"Lady Yukari." I kneel down next to her bedside to whisper quietly. "Come. It's time to wake up."
"No Ran, it's too early and I'm still too tired." A groggy voice responds, muffled, from the pillow. The figure laying in the bed turns away from the sound of my voice. "Every time you wake me up is another day that I have to do burdensome things. You're able enough to do all my chores, so just live my life for me."
"Even if I could, I won't. You shouldn't act like this. What if Chen saw you whining up a storm?" I attempt to motivate her just enough to get her out of bed. It seems to have at least gotten her attention. Stirring for a few moments first, she flips around onto her back to face me and looks at me with those golden eyes.
"I don't care. If you refuse then there is only one choice left. Come let us waste away together." Yukari's soft hand reaches out and cusps my chin. Compelling. Irresistible. I'm drawn in and our foreheads touch. My determination wanes under her comforting presence. A set of slender fingers run up through my hair and sends chills down my spine.
"There is so much to do today." I say as try to convince myself more than anything else. I crawl into the bed and let the feeling of satisfaction overwhelm me. Yukari's embrace wraps around my waist and I return mine in favor. I allow each of my nine tails to enclose around us like a golden cocoon. We stay this way for several minutes, our bodies practically as one. I feel Yukari's heartbeat respond to mine. Consistently, Yukari's breath tingles against my neck. I want to be held like this forever.
"Too hot!" Lady Yukari suddenly exclaims as she writhes to escape. In the end she resorts to slipping away inside one of her portals and reappearing next to the bedroom door. "I changed my mind, I'm getting up."
"Breakfast is ready in the dining room." I cough as I sit up from the bed alone. Just as I planned all along.
I follow Lady Yukari into the dining room. Shortly after, Chen arrives rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. We all take a seat, Chen plops down unceremoniously at her spot. Now with the table properly assembled, everyone can begin to eat. We all say thanks for the food before us and begin to eat.
"Wha-" A meek sound comes from Chen and an accompanying look of confusion paints her face.
A bowl of rice in one hand and lacquered chopsticks in the other, they fruitlessly grasp at the empty main dish before her. After a few moments, something catches her eye across the table. The absurd sight of a grilled fish performing aerial stunts with ease. It isn't too dissimilar to the water jet shows that the kappa hold at times. The food traces the air several times in a questionably graceful manner before plunging out of sight below the tabletop. Another fish enters the stage and is soon to create formations with its partner. I glance down to quickly snap at my meal but it is swallowed by a gap and soon joins the others. Chen is quickly enamored by the performance, giddy claps are emphasized by Ohs and Ahs.
"Lady Yukari, please. Don't play with everyone's food." Now I can see where most of Chen's bad habits come from.
"What ever do you mean, did you ever consider the possibility that the fish merely became bored and wanted to put on a show?" Lady Yukari responds innocently with a haphazardly constructed counter argument. Her favorite fan in hand, she conveniently hides her blatantly devious smirk.
"These cooked fish have already lived a good lives, their new purpose is to give us energy for the day. We can't have them be delinquent on their duties." The fact that I'm even humoring the possibility causes my rational brain to die, ever so slowly. However, this conversation would go nowhere if I just rely on disputing Lady Yukari's statements. And so, I turn to some additional assistance. "Chen, don't you agree?"
"Yes?!" Chen snaps to attention at the mention of her name. "Well... I am kind of hungry."
"I suppose the fish have had their fill of fun." Lady Yukari indirectly concedes. With one last graceful leap the trio of fish smack plainly against the plates.
"Now then, I hope we all learned something important today." I begin to salvage what I can of Chen's proper development. "Playing with food is a waste and is disrespectful to those that selflessly give us nutrition." I mainly focus my attention on the impressionable young adult in front of me. Out of my peripheral vision I can see a childish attempt to distract me. Lady Yukari's tongue is replaced with the fish head from her plate, hidden away from Chen's view with the fan. Wiggles as it might, I disregard the taunts and continue without pause. "Furthermore, all the work that is put into planting, farming, an-"
"Pfttt-" An interrupting outburst comes from Chen. She is shaking trying to hold back laughter.
My senses perk up at the exceedingly close warmth and savory smell of meat wafting just right of my cheek. I can already construct the situation in my mind. A fish being manipulated to move in synchronization with my words. The thought alone is enough to get me riled up but I stay cool and collected. Lady Yukari has gone too far but I can't let her know she is getting to me. Clearly these shenanigans won't end unless I act.
Take Lady Yukari head on, attempt to directly punish her. Don't let Lady Yukari push my buttons. Ignore her and pretend to punish Chen.
"Do you find something humorous Chen? I was going to let you join us for the upcoming harvest festival but it seems that you don't respect the hard work of others. I'll have to reconsider." I hold back on the strength of some of my words. While I want to discourage her I don't want to break her.
"But Lady Yukari is-" Chen only gets a few words in before I start again.
"No buts young miss. If you have time to make excuses then you can take some time to consider your own actions. Now finish your breakfast." I quickly cut decisively and leave her no options to move.
"Yes Lady Ran..." Her posture droops down as she nibbles away at the food, defeated.
"Wait Ran, don't you think that's a little much? She has been looking forward to going for weeks." Lady Yukari chimes in after watching Chen take the blame.
"Sorry, I can't let it slide. If I let this go now then when will she ever learn?" I hold firm in my decision. Even if Lady Yukari said it was alright for Chen to go, she wouldn't. She wouldn't unless both Lady Yukari and I agreed to retract her punishment.
"It's my fault that Chen was laughing, she's a good girl after all. She would never make fun of others." Lady Yukari actually admits it! This is where I advance forward.
"Oh, it's your fault then? Then I should come up with a good enough punishment." I play ignorant but I'm sure she knows that I knew but I lead the conversation anyway.
"I'll brush each and every inch of your tails." She tries to take an easy way out, with shiny baubles and temporary trinkets. Tempting but I won't be swayed that easily this time. I want something more substantial for the hassle she put me through.
"I said punishment not bribery, I want you to stop all these childish pranks." I state my goal clearly for her, even she can't avoid it at this point.
"Fine then, I promise not to play with breakfast anymore. On my honor." Lady Yukari raises her hand in the air as she takes it seriously. "And with that, I'll be off." With the use of gaps, she disappears along with her breakfast. Sneaking away before I can squeeze anymore out of her. That's good enough for now.
"Alright Chen, I've been convinced that you can go to the festival with us." I say in hopes of raising her spirits again.
"I can't. I don't deserve to go. Lady Ran you were right, I've been a bad kitty." Chen is looking down at her plate as if all the life had been sapped out of her. "If only I had as much self control as you. I would be able to take it seriously even with Lady Yukari trying to make me laugh." Hearing her say that feels like an arrow piercing my heart.
"Don't be so hard on yourself, you're still growing. No one is perfect, not even me. Besides, without your help I wouldn't be able to get through to Lady Yukari." I try to bring her some comfort with my words.
"I helped? You're not mad anymore?" She looks up with small pockets of tears in the corners of her eyes.
"No, of course I'm not mad, come here." I kneel down next to Chen's seat and she quickly grabs on. She firmly wraps her arms around my body and presses into me to dry her watering eyes. I gently rub her back until she calms down. "Let's go shopping for the festival."
Chen and I walk hand in hand into the human village, the market is bustling with life as always. The stalls set up cater to almost any need or desire, if it sells well then there is probably a stand for it. When we arrive at a stand selling baked goods and sweets, Chen gets distracted at the various shapes and colors on display.
"Do you want to look some more?" I ask as Chen drags behind. She looks at all the different shelf levels.
"Yes, there are so many more types since the last time I came." The green hatted cat continues to shift up and down, window shopping.
"That's because they are decorated for the fall. During times of celebration, these always sell the most." The stall owner gloats as he enters the conversation. "Oh, you're the one that often buys our fried tofu. Can I help with anything?"
"Would it be alright if this little one stays to look for a moment? I just have some quick business to run. It won't take long." I ask politely.
"Sure! Anything for a paying customer." The shopkeeper agrees with no hesitation at all.
"You'll be okay, right Chen?" I verify with Chen that she would be able to handle herself.
"Geez Lady Ran, You don't have to worry about me I'll just be looking at these treats. I'm old enough to take care of myself." She pouts at me a little before turning back to the sugar confectioneries with a glimmer in her eyes.
With that settled I make my way to local tavern. There is a courier that often hangs out around here. He is especially useful if things have to be sent the old fashioned way. Now then, it would be difficult to find a disguised tanuki in a bar but I've had plenty of practice. I scan the room for the obvious visual signs. Ah there, a well off portly looking man sporting a large hat on his back. It looks as though he is entertaining a few other patrons of the bar.
"Excuse me, it seems that kind of teapot you wanted had ran out." I approach the booth and interrupt the conversation at the table.
"There was one there earlier, if price is an issue..." The man I targeted looks back at me like we had just talked earlier today.
"The owner said that he wouldn't sell it again, not even to a friend." I complete the set expected phrases per usual etiquette. Personally I think such traditions are pointless but it's not worth arguing over.
"Sorry everyone, I'll have to see to this." He gets up and walks over with me to a more secluded section of the bar. "Still high strung as usual, why not just sit back and relax?"
"I don't have the luxury. This is urgent, so make sure this gets to Mamizou quickly." I pull out the letter I wrote this morning and a small bag of coins and hand the pair off to him.
"Don't worry ma'am this is what I get paid for." The man says with a smile and places what he received inside one of his pouches. He returns to his booth and disperses the group before leaving the building.
With the main task for today done I can rest easy. However, I still feel guilty roping Chen into this morning's events, so I decide to surprise her with something special. I have a little extra money to spare, how much should I dote on my lovely cat?
Sweets can never go wrong. Delicious, cheap, and stays well for a few days in any kind of weather. A petite butterfly hair clip, its colored glass segments sparkle in the bright sunlight. Expensive, this will probably be the only big purchase this month.
I make the purchase at one of the village's specialty jewelry stores and I can instantly recognize the weight difference in my coin purse. The hair pin comes in a small paper package that can easily fit in one's palm. The gift wrapping is quite intricate and was most likely crafted to make unpacking an experience all on its own. It will be worth thousands of times more just to see Chen's expression when she opens it. I make my way back to her, she is still waiting at the stand engaging in conversation with the shopkeeper.
"... and then we all went to go chase the mice in the field." Chen seems to be recounting one of the times she was out playing with her friends.
"I'm glad that someone is trying to keep the village's crops safe." The friendly man does well in multitasking as he bags another customer's sweets and receives payment. He looks over towards me and gives a simple greeting. "Welcome back, have you finished all of your business?"
"I have, thank you for keeping an eye on Chen." It's nice to have some people I can trust in the human village, it makes life much simpler.
"Oh no problem, no problem at all." He waves it off. "She was a little quiet at first but if you give her the chance she'll talk your ear off with a ton of interesting stories."
"For your trouble I'd like to pick up something to snack on when going home. I'd like a pair of dango please." I give the man a little extra tip and he hands the treat to both Chen and me.
"Thank you Mister, I'm glad that I was able to speak to you." Chen gives a big wave as we go pick up the supplies for tomorrow's festival.
With the shopping done, we carry our bags back to the house. I wait for the ideal time to spring her present on her. There is a pleasant autumn breeze in the air that's cool to the skin. However, the near noon sun sitting the sky lets one enjoy the day without thick winter clothes. Chen is talking about her time in the human village.
"He said that if I wanted to, I could come back and watch how he makes those sweets." Chen hints that at some point she would to revisit and learn something about baking. It is good that she has found some interest in gaining some practical skills.
"Maybe after you learn you can make some sweets for Lady Yukari and me. I wouldn't have to worry about dessert again." I mention with a chuckle.
"I'd love to do that!" Chen beams at the possibilities.
"Chen do you want to take a quick break?" I ask as I spy a tree just ahead. It isn't too far off the beaten path but it looks like a nice place to stop for now.
"Okay!" She runs ahead and checks out the area before putting her bag down.
I arrive shortly after and place my bags next to Chen's. She is watching the falling colorful spectrum of leaves dance in the wind as she waits.
"I have something for you Chen." I reach into the folds of my clothes and pull out the small package.
"A gift?" Her ears stand tall as she jumps to conclusions about what it could be.
I don't say a word as I extend my arm out to her. She gently lifts it up and examines it with curiosity. With some picking away at the paper, it soon blooms into a variety of layers and gives way to the hidden treasure inside. Chen's smile widens as she sees what is contained within. Quickly she takes it and places it into her hair, pulling and pinning her bangs in place.
"How do I look Lady Ran?" Chen does a small twirl, her dress fans out and collapses when she stops. The few beams of sunlight that make it through the treetop shower her entire body. The butterfly hair pin sparkles in every color imaginable but that is nothing compared to the brilliance that is her eyes. The breeze blows against her body and she holds the remainder of her free flowing bangs with a free hand.
"Beautiful." It's all I can respond with. Her radiance is blinding. She has grown so much from since we first met, that small child has grown up to this beautiful young lady. I can only be proud of her and fill her with praise.
"Are you alright?" She asks with some concern.
"I'm fine, the breeze just blew something in my eye." I wipe away at my eyes.
"Thank you." She approaches me. This time she is the one comforting me with a hug. "I love you Lady Ran."
"My lovely orange sun, I love you, my one and only child."
Sorry, no choices this time. I felt that this was a good point to stop for today. More tomorrow of course!
We returned home and stored the goods until we need them tomorrow. Since there is no one else to teach Chen, I personally see to her educational pursuits. Education is one of the most important aspects of life. Just by having knowledge, it allows the user to have sound judgment and informed decisions. While it doesn't provide as much direct utility as experience, a solid foundation will never lead someone astray. To mix it up from the usual math, science, or history, I'll be attempting to teach the fundamentals of calligraphy. In front of us are equal workstations, each one containing an inkstone, brush, and paper. I sit just to the right of her so she can get a clear view of my paper and brush.
"Now remember controlled movements are what you are trying to go for, it's just a matter of your body and mind communicating as one." I simply state the objective and the benefits for today's lesson.
"I can already do that Lady Ran, like when my body is sleepy I know to lay down. Simple."
"Then you should have no problem writing this character down." I make a series of bold strokes on the paper, nice and large so that all the nuances can easily be seen. The kanji I've written is "口" something that Chen has probably seen countless times before and should be familiar with it's construction.
"Got it!" Chen dips her brush in the ink and begins to work. She is confidant in herself as she quickly jots it down and then looks over at my example. The differences are obvious, just at a glance it is easy to see that the shape has been skewed into a long rectangle. The lines stop abruptly or trail on too long making the entire structure seem unbalanced. And the line weights, they vary from too thick to too thin across any given line. The big blotch in one of the corners show that she pressed too hard in that section. If you were to grade her failure it would easily rank near 100 points. However, failure is part of the learning process.
"Not as easy as it looks, right? It's different from using a pen to write."
"It's just a dumb square, it shouldn't be that hard."
"No need to resort to name calling, doing so means you're letting it get the better of you."
"I'll keep trying then!" She focuses her energy into the brush and attempts a few more times. They don't turn out too differently from her first attempt.
"You can't solve all your problems by brute force Chen." I get behind her so I can easily guide her hand across the paper. Her warm hands want to push past mine but I slow her down. With gentle and precise movements, together we create a decent looking try. We create a few more on the paper as practice. Steadily, Chen's hand gets used to my movements and soon our movements flow together easily.
"I think I got it now. I want to try on my own."
"That's great. I'll start preparing dinner, when you are satisfied come get me so I can look at your progress." I go off to the kitchen to prepare a meal for tonight, maybe a hot pot would be good for the cool weather.
I return after a short while. I had managed to get everything ready to cook but I was expecting Chen to interrupt me. I find Chen face down in a pile of papers all covered in scribbles. Quickly, I go over to her and shake her shoulders.
"I can't do it." She sits up and a paper sticks to her forehead.
"You can do it Chen, you and I did it together earlier." I grab a corner of the paper on pluck it off of Chen's face. I have to cover my mouth for a second but luckily I don't make a noise.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing is funny, it's just that... you have ink all over your face." I look away trying not to stare too hard but I can't help but smile at the silly appearance.
"That's no fair Lady Ran, you can have fun but I can't?" Chen complains and I turn back to look at her. I am greeted with a wet ink covered hand. It slowly smothers my cheek and I can feel the sticky fluid remain long after Chen retreats. "Hehehe, now you're covered in ink too."
"You mischievous cat, think you can get away from me?" Chen had crossed the line of civility with her antics. I dip my hand into the pool of ink and I can see her bestial instincts flair up. Fight or flight is it? I can't help but to keep grinning.
"You won't do it Lady Ran. You're too prim and proper to win against me." She playfully goads me into coming after her. I can't have my shikigami talking down to me, I'll teach her to properly respect her master.
I shift my body weight to get up and she immediately bounds towards the door at full speed. While Chen is fast it is nothing compared to my speed. By the time she reaches the sliding door it has already been slammed shut.
"Eeeeeeeeek!" Chen runs in the other direction, laughing all the way. "She's gunna get me!"
"You've made a terrible mistake. I'll have you begging for mercy when I'm through with you." I cut her off just after the desks and tackle her to the ground. We take a few swats at each other with our blacked hands, all while we roll around on the ground. The sounds of amusement could probably be heard throughout the empty village. The mess on our face and clothes further compounds as time passes. I finally pin Chen to the ground and begin tickling her. She attempts to squirm out of my grasp but I won't let her.
"Ahahaha, I g-give up, I give!" Chen surrenders but I continue on anyway without remorse. "Please, I'm sorry Lady Ran. Ahahaha."
"Hehe, have you learned your lesson?" I stop so that she can answer properly.
"Haaa haaaa, yes..." That is all she was able to say after trying to catch her breath. We both sit back up and have a good chuckle about the gray and black splotches covering our bodies.
"What is all this noise about?" Lady Yukari pops in to check what was causing all the ruckus.
I look over to my shikigami and I can tell she has the same idea as me. Distract Lady Yukari and execute a sneak attack with Chen. Full frontal team attack, Shikigami Special "Gold and Onyx Spiral"!
>>30060 That's just the cynical side of you talking, nothing but a simple and happy Yakumo family time here. :^)
"I was just teaching Chen about calligraphy. We just got really into it." I answer back to the posed question. "I suppose that is enough for today though, I'll be back with the cleaning supplies."
I get off the ground and walk out into the hall where Lady Yukari is standing. She gives me an odd look but doesn't ask any more questions. I take just a few steps past her, here should be good.
"Oh, and Lady Yukari?" I draw her attention towards me and that's the signal for the attack.
Chen pounces at high velocity and the floor creaks as she leaves the ground. Lady Yukari responds as predicted, she turns her head to look towards the noise. Chen clashes and rebounds off the newly appearing barrier of light surrounding Lady Yukari. Here is my chance! I pull out a previously made seal from my sleeve and lunge forward. With seal in hand, I press on, it instantly vaporizes once it touches the protective barrier and a large path is opened. With no obstacle left in my way, the tips of my blackened fingers grace her cheek. At the moment of contact, a blinding set of beams slashes around Lady Yukari and forces both Chen and me to jump back a good distance. All three of us are now standing in the hallway.
"Ran, I see you've been doing your homework. Good." Lady Yukari reaches up to touch her own cheek. There is just a dab of black ink sullying her otherwise flawless face.
"It isn't anything you haven't taught me yourself. The Great Hakurei Barrier isn't too different from your own barrier."
"I'm sure you could have completely surprised me had I not noticed one thing. You have a bad habit of hiding your hands in your sleeves when you are planning something." Lady Yukari stays composed as ever. "Although not bad, two layers of sneak attacks. I'm proud that you've learned that fighting me head on is impossible."
A tension hangs in the air as we stand quietly in the sunset soaked hallway. Lady Yukari is one of a handful of people that can make me feel so powerless and insignificant. That carefree smirk on her face shows how little I pose a threat to her. That small expression is so crushing yet so refreshing. It reminds me that I have a long way left to go. Even now, I continue to grow stronger, so that I can one day stand next to Lady Yukari as equals. I have no doubt that Chen feels the same way I do.
"Are you content with just touching my face?" Lady Yukari doesn't seem satisfied with this conclusion. "How about this, I'll only use my gaps. That way it will make it a fair and I can join in the merriment as well."
"Lady Ran!" Chen speaks to my mind directly. One of the many benefits to having a pact together. "Don't be afraid to use me."
Now that the advantage of a surprise attack is gone we'll be facing Lady Yukari directly. Even if she is holding back, her limited power is more than enough to fight Chen and myself with ease. Despite that fact, I can't help but want to test my strength. My entire hand is still numb when I broke through her barrier. Normally that fact alone would dissuade me not to carry on but the mixture of fear and excitement pumps through my veins. I had forgotten this old feeling, it was the same when I first met Lady Yukari.
Hold nothing back, I want to see Lady Yukari's full strength once more. It's just like a friendly game of chess, a battle of wits. Take only calculated risks. It isn't worth the risk of injury, give up.
In addition, how much should I let Chen participate? Allow her to experience all there is to offer as a shikigami. It's best to keep her safety in mind but she can still help. Have her sit this one out.
"There is no need to hold back for our sake Lady Yukari. After all, you'll need all the help you can get."
"An amusing idea Ran. I suppose we should move out of these cramped hallways. So at least we can stretch our legs out properly."
Gaps form beneath all three of us, swallowing us whole. It's for just a few moments but every time I'm transported this way I can catch glimpses of Yukari's domain. A nonsensical space that only she understands. Endless eyes peer from the void but I've never gotten a good understanding of their purpose. We escape back to sanity, the cool autumn breeze laps at my face. Chen and I get our bearings and quickly recognize that we are several hundred meters above the ground. In the distance I can see Mayohiga and below is the vast ocean of trees that make up the forest.
"If you are truly serious then I thought I would bring this with me." Lady Yukari twirls her trusty umbrella on her wrist. "I hope you two are ready."
A loud crack of thunder booms and a massive beam slashes from beneath me. I jet to the side with all my might and barely avoid contact. I glance to my side and see it sweep though the air, it crackles as it warps space around it. The amount of energy contained within is unfathomable for most people. It is enough power to construct and destroy realities at a whim. That show of power was merely a warning shot. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my body tenses up, no matter how many times I see it I am in awe. Any mistake will instantly end this match. I look over to Chen and see she has frozen up completely.
"Place your life into my hands Chen, I will show you what it means to be a shikigami." I can feel Chen's legs trembling. Even though she is so far away from the source, she can still feel the effects. This is the first time she's experienced the full extent of Lady Yukari's abilities. I forge a direct link with Chen and begin channeling my energy into her. As I pour strength into her, Chen's mind, body, and soul are reinforced several times beyond her latent and natural ability. In exchange for her drastic improvement, I gain all her senses. Each nerve in her body is directly relayed to me. No matter how insignificant it is, I feel it. What she is sensing, what she is feeling, what she is thinking, there is nothing that I cannot touch or control.
"I'm ready Lady Ran!" Chen exclaims with the new vigor coursing through her body.
The next few moments to the layman observer can only be described as complete chaos. An endless amount of lasers shred apart the sky. Layers upon layers of moves and counter moves are made, Lady Yukari is proceeding defensibly for now. For each laser that I create either a counter laser is instantly created to cancel out mine or it is redirected by a gap for a new purpose. The sky is filled with a complex maze of energy not too different from danmaku but instead each individual beam has just one purpose. There is no wasted effort in any of these attacks, each of them are created for the sole purpose of directly destroying anything in its path. Chen and I have to make exceptional effort to weave though the cracks of Lady Yukari's defenses.
"You two are getting a little feisty today." Lady Yukari stands there with an amused expression, any stray beam that comes in proximity to her is instantly deflected by her barrier. Just as if it were simple rain, she twirls her open umbrella underneath the torrent of energy.
I just need one opening, anywhere is fine, I guide Chen as my extra set of eyes. Just ahead! There is a small pocket where I can engage Lady Yukari with a direct assault. I barrel into place and unleash my attack on her. A barrage of beams bear down on Lady Yukari, but she nonchalantly raises her hand to block. A deafening impact echoes throughout the land as the array of lasers clash against a gigantic multi-tiered barrier. Without warning, my lasers rake the forest floor and permanently scars the earth below. Lady Yukari is gone! I frantically look all around and I'm soon met with shouts.
"Lady Ran! Above!" Chen yells at me. I can see through her eyes the pillar of marble traveling towards me at absurd speeds. It's too late to escape completely, so I brace myself and it catches my shoulder. Stuck underneath, it drags me plummeting towards the ground. I manage to shake loose and as soon as I do, the sizable amount of rock is instantly eviscerated by a set of saws below. Each section of the energy blades rip wildly into the structure leaving nothing but dust when it passes through.
"I was sure that would have been enough." Lady Yukari ponders as she sits to cross her legs in the air. "My turn, right? I guess I'll go on the offensive now."
My arm is still throbbing from the last attack, I'm given no time to rest. Lady Yukari is relentlessly attacking now. While Chen still has to dodge, the attacks are focusing completely on me. Desperately I shift my weight to survive, a near-hit of a beam singes my body. The smell of burning fills my nostrils. Anything imaginable is being tossed at me. Signs, pillars, vehicles, and rocks, repeatedly the same items careen by me several times. They must be using the gaps to redirect their vectors. I graze each object and slyly slap a tracking seal on what I can. I map out Lady Yukari's network in my mind, I'll abuse her own power and turn it against her.
"Now!" I telepathically beam a set of instructions to Chen.
Chen and I grab onto the debris and allow ourselves to be transported by a gap. A pincer attack! I leap from below while Chen dives from above, we close in rapidly. As we approach we are diverted by a set of gaps, just meters away from Lady Yukari we are consumed by darkness. When I reappear, I'm on a direct path to collide with Chen. I shift my weight to the side, just enough clearance to graze past her. Quickly, I strip off my tabard and hand off an end to her as we zoom past each other. We snap back and rotate violently in a circle as the garment acts as a tether between us. My hairs get tickled by an immense energy, a follow-up beam pieces though the neck-hole. Now for the real attack!
As we pull closer together we spin exponentially fast, I slap several seals onto Chen and send her hurling towards Lady Yukari. I thrust after her and approach from beneath. Lady Yukari throws up a gap in the way of Chen's predicted path but it isn't enough. Like lightning, Chen's position instantly shifts to the side and smashes violently against the barrier. A tangible shock wave ripples throughout the air as the barrier shatters into a million pieces. Lady Yukari is forced to deflect Chen with her umbrella. The last thing I see before my link get severed with Chen is a face full of fabric. In a move of desperation Lady Yukari places a large rock barrier between herself and me. It groans as its massive weight shifts through the sky.
"Chen!" I yell out and shear through the tons of earth easily with my hand. It cleaves cleanly in two and reveals the woman I've been chasing my entire life. She hasn't lost an ounce of strength over all these years. No... she's gotten even stronger than before. Even after tirelessly training day in and day out, I've never felt so distant from her power. I can only look in envy as fragments of the barrier shimmer all around Lady Yukari. That same immutable and untouchable smile graces her face.
"Checkmate." Lady Yukari has been waiting all this time, her finger half poised to issue my destruction. I've never felt more defeated in my life. That is until Lady Yukari's posture wanes and a grimace appears on her face.
"That's enough Ran." Before I can react, Lady Yukari binds me with her absolute order. To a shikigami their master's command is unquestionable. No amount of strength or willpower can break that bond. My body responds sluggishly and I'm whipped through the air. After several seconds my head stops spinning and I find myself in our washroom. I've been stripped of my clothes completely, Chen is in a similar state. She is holding her head, barely an arm's length away from me. I'm relieved she didn't get seriously hurt.
"Both of you clean up, I can't have you two looking like that for tomorrow's festival." A strongly toned order from Lady Yukari echoes in my head.
"Lady Yukari, what is the meaning this?!" I shout at the ceiling even though it is pointless. To some degree, it relieves my frustration and confusion.
"You have lost Ran. That is the end of that." She coldly responds in turn.
"Wh-" Before I have a chance to protest any further, a gap opens up above me and out pours a waterfall of freezing water. It drenches me completely.
"Make sure you wash your face extra well." Lady Yukari enters the room ready for a wash like the rest of us. She acts as calmly as she always does. Like the last few minutes never even happened. I bite my tongue, at least for now. I'll give her a piece of mind when Chen isn't around to listen.
"Hehehe, that was so cool. I'm not even mad we lost." Chen has already regained all of her composure, she pops up and starts to shadowbox the air. "Both Lady Yukari and Lady Ran are so strong, I wanna fight just like you two! Pew pew!" Her animated body seems all fine and dandy until she grasps her ribcage. "Oww."
"Slow down, your body needs to heal first." I closely examine the spot she was holding, I feel the slight indentations of her bones with a press of my hands. Chen squirms under my touch, after the few checks she relaxes and gets used to them. It seems like nothing is broken but just a little bruised. "You'll be fine, tell me if it still hurts tomorrow morning."
I look over at Lady Yukari, she seems lost in thought as she sits all alone. She has already begun lathering herself at this point. While I still have questions for her, there is no purpose in fuming the whole time. I let out a deep sigh and take a seat behind her.
"Lady Yukari, may I?" She glances back at me for a moment before nodding.
"Me too, Lady Ran let me do yours." Chen wants to join in as well and so the three of us sit in a line, tending to one another.
We all sit in the comforting silence as the sounds of scrubbing and bubbles work their magic. Chen struggles a little to bypass my wall of tails, I try to accommodate her as best I can but there is limit to what I can do. She shifts around and eventually climbs over them at an angle. Chen's hands feels good on my back, cleansing away any sweat and dirt that accumulated during the fight. I apply a similar technique to Lady Yukari's back but I sneak in a massage to help relieve the tense muscles in her body. It seems like her mood has improved a little bit.
"Now for the one left out." Lady Yukari signals to me. The both of us proceed to clean Chen. However, it is more hands than she can handle as her body grows limp under all the stimulation. There is a dream like expression plastered on her face as she is petted into oblivion.
"All that's left is to rinse." Like I was before, we are all doused with cool water from a questionable source above.
"Brrrr, gotta hurry up. Let's get in the hot bath." Chen is shocked back into a cold and cruel world and rushes to the large pool of steaming water.
She dips her foot in several times before just jumping in. The waves ripple over the edge and splash water everywhere. Lady Yukari and I follow suit in a more civilized manner. The temperature of the water is just right, I let it pull me in all the way up to my neck. The soothing heat soaks into my sore shoulder from before.
"Let me see your arm Ran, I know I hit you pretty hard."
"I'm perfectly alright Lady Yukari, you were only doing want I wanted anyway."
"Don't be so stubborn." She lifts my arm out of the water without my consent and examines it closely. The soft feeling of lips press against my skin. I can't help but blush but thankfully the warmth of the water masks the more obvious signs. I hate that Lady Yukari knows how to manipulate me all too well.
"Don't I get kisses too?" Chen asks innocently, her face makes a pout.
"Oh, you want kisses? Then come here." Lady Yukari scoops up Chen and starts kissing her all over. "Mwaa, mwaa." It doesn't take long Lady Yukari to start blowing raspberries onto Chen's exposed stomach.
"Ahaha, noooo." Chen weakly resists all the affection.
"I've just noticed, you've been growing a lot while I wasn't looking." Lady Yukari eventually let's go and scans over Chen.
"Yeah, I've been working hard on it." Chen puffs out her chest in a stance. "Soon I'll big bigger than Lady Ran and Lady Yukari in no time."
"Oh my, then you'll have all the boys swooning over you."
"What, boys? Why would I want that to happen?"
"Ran! What have you been teaching this girl?"
"Well, it is a touchy subject and with all the other things that Chen needs to learn I haven't had time." I make up some excuses on the spot for my lack of diligence.
"I've never seen Lady Ran or Lady Yukari bring any boys home, so it's fine right?" Lady Yukari and I look at each other for a moment.
"Chen, I was waiting until you were more grown up. So..." "You know Chen, sometimes love doesn't always apply to..."
"It's time for dinner!" I shout out to purge this conversation from existence. Lady Yukari has an undeniably evil grin on her face, trying to force this subject on me. Just you wait. I rapidly exit the bath and begin drying off.
"Dinner time, I can't wait to see what we are eating tonight." Chen is more than happy to drop the subject at the prospect of food. She leaps out after me and snags a towel. "But wait, weren't done here yet." Chen shuffles around in a nearby cooler and pulls out a container. "This is the best part!" Chen pops open the cool glass of milk and chugs it all down in one go. "Haaaa! There, now I'm ready."
Hopefully drinking all that milk won't spoil Chen's appetite.
After dinner, who should I spend time with? Chen Lady Yukari
Dinner went on without a hitch. The fulfilled feeling a full stomach, despite happening several times a day, never gets old. The onset feeling of sleep loomed over all of us but most heavily on Chen. "The brightest burn the fastest." That is a pretty accurate saying when I look at her. The signs of contentment and the burden of her own eyelids are obvious, Chen struggles to stay awake.
"You don't have to stay up with us, you should get some rest for tomorrow's festivities." I wish Chen a good night's sleep and with a weak nod she soon wanders off into her own room. She'll probably sleep like a rock tonight, after fighting Lady Yukari I feel fatigued as well. The fight has been on the edge of my mind all evening. "Lady Yukari."
"I already know what you want to ask, let us go to a more suitable location. Come to my room when you are ready." Lady Yukari disappears from the table like usual.
I go directly to Lady Yukari's room. Once again, I find myself at her bedroom door and I pause for several seconds. I mentally prepare myself to get the answers that I deserve to know. This time I won't let her slip away, with a quick rap on the frame I enter without any permission.
"My, my. What's with that stern glare?" Lady Yukari has already changed into her comfortable nightwear. She speaks to me from her bed.
"Lady Yukari, enough with the games. I want to know the truth. Why did you end the fight like that?"
"Both you and Chen have fought adamantly today. Her abilities are top notch, no doubt due to your tutelage. However, don't you think that she needs more than just your education? If you shelter her from the world then she'll be taken advantage of at some point."
"This isn't about Chen or me, this is about you Lady Yukari. You've haven't controlled me with a direct order like that in ages. I'll keep persisting until I get a straight answer."
"You already know the answer to that question Ran. You're smart enough to have already put all the pieces together." Lady Yukari closes her weary eyes for several seconds before reopening them. "Why do you keep looking for a different conclusion? It isn't like you to ignore the facts."
I ponder the meaning behind her words. Then it hits me all at once, all the information cascades like a falling tower of cards. The signs have been there all along, but the fight today is the last and final damning evidence. Lady Yukari usually does well hiding her fatigue under the guise of laziness. During the winter season, she sleeps for weeks or even months at a time, like in a coma. After seeing her pain today I can only attribute it to her body's weakness. I thought she was just developing an eccentric quirk but I can no longer ignore it. That fact that she is...
"Lady Yukari are you-"
"Everything of this natural world will come to an end, it is inevitable. Not even I can escape the ticking hand of time. We do what we can to delay our fates but even the best efforts cannot stop it."
"Then why did you fight me! You should have just declined and saved your strength." I practically yell at her, why would she do such a reckless act?
"That isn't living Ran, you can't remove the risk from everything and call that life. It's like those poor souls that drank the Hourai Elixir, they'll never find any real satisfaction in anything they do."
I'm livid. Furious. There are not enough words to describe this raging feeling deep inside me. I want to lash out at the world but I just clench my hands and teeth. I want to blame Lady Yukari for fighting me when she's in that state. However, most of all, I want to blame myself for being a complete and utter idiot.
"Have a seat Ran." Lady Yukari invites me to sit on the bed. The turmoil of my revelation wracks my mind.
"I want you to treat me as you have always done. You can consider that an order." Lady Yukari awkwardly hugs me from behind and whispers that command into my ear. Time passes which feels like an eternity, I sit in silence trying to calm myself and to think about it logically. I attempt to come up with a solution, there must be something in the vast knowledge that I've collected over the years. My brain churns away at centuries of data but the answer is always the same. There is nothing I can do.
I can feel Lady Yukari's embrace tighten around me. I can feel every little movement when she is holding me like this, it is just now that I recognized the small shaking hiccups coming from behind me. She is silently sobbing into my back. I'm the worst... I've only been thinking about myself. Lady Yukari has been fighting this entire time by herself and I want to blame her for making me feel guilty. I am a failure as a person and a shikigami, to think that I once thought that I would one day be her equal. What a joke. I scoff aloud.
"Ran?" A muffled voice whispers into my clothes.
Without her, I would have never gotten to enjoy the life I have now, these simple yet sweet times as a family. Without her, I wouldn't recognize all my flaws and shortcomings. I'll accept them all and improve on them for both her and my sake. I sincerely thank her from the bottom of my heart. This the one and only time that she has willingly shown me her weak side. In return...
I want to give everything to Yukari. My mind, body, and soul. I'll comfort her in anyway I can. I don't want to see Lady Yukari cry. I'll do everything in my power to see her smile again!
As a friendly warning, I would like to inform everyone that while these choices are similar in some ways, the implications are vastly distinct from one another.
On another note, intermittently throughout the month, updates may not fall within a daily update schedule. Due to the nature of my work, there may not be enough physical hours in the day to write an update. Don't worry though, I'll do what I can to post as soon as possible. I hope that everyone is enjoying the story as much I am writing it.
I turn around to face Lady Yukari, her eyes are wet with tears. I pull her close to me and wipe away her sadness with the back of my hand. In this position I am sitting over Lady Yukari's fragile frame, just barely a head's height taller.
"I found a thought funny. The thought I could change how I treated you, the person I respect and admire most, over a detail like that." I lie to Lady Yukari about what I was laughing about. With these words I cast an illusion, I hide away my insecurities and become Lady Yukari's support. After all, tricking people is what foxes do best. "Lady Yukari, now and forever, I will always be your shikigami. No matter what happens."
"You've become quite the charmer." Lady Yukari looks up to me and gives me a complement. The tears have slowly stopped forming pools in the corners of her eyes.
"It isn't anything you haven't taught me yourself. Let me show you more of what I have learned." I cusp her chin with my fingers and lure her closer. She doesn't resist my advances as our faces loom next to each other. Both of our lips press together when we inevitably meet in the middle. The feeling of her tender lips against mine sets my heartbeat racing. We separate and she stares at me with an obviously feigned disinterest.
"I didn't quite catch that. Perhaps you should put a little more effort behind it."
I take up her invitation and move towards her again. This time I force my tongue into play, there was a slight jolt of surprise but that feeling soon turns into pure lust. Our taste buds tussle with one other and I can feel her erratic breath heavily on my skin. Yukari inches her body closer to mine as she straddles my leg and continues to kiss me. For several moments we drown ourselves in desire. I pull away and a sliver of saliva suspends between us. It thins and shimmers before it eventually snaps. The traces heat of her lips still lingers on mine.
"I should give you more chances to be aggressive." Lady Yukari muses the possibilities. My heart is pounding like crazy and I'm sure hers is as well. "Now that you've wrapped me around your fingers, what do you plan to do? At this point you could have me do anything you want."
"Please pet me, run your hands through my hair like you always do." I answer her seriously, if there is just one thing I can have her do then I wish for her to be happy. I want her to continue as she always has. I want to see that untouchable smile on her face like before.
"Of all the things you could want..." Lady Yukari pauses for a moment but then chuckles. "However, you are not wrong to think that the greatest reward on Earth is being touched by my hands."
She grants my wish. Shivers are sent through my spine as her soft and slender hands comb through my hair. Both of us lay down and I pull the covers of the bed over us. I am drawn towards Lady Yukari's body heat and so I curl up next to her as she peacefully plays with the ends of my hair. This is fine, it's alright to take temporary reprieve from the harshness of reality like this once in a while. Whenever the two of us are alone we can reject the rest of the outside world. Society, status, rules. None of those matter anymore. My role as a tool, as a shikigami, as a lover, as a friend, the boundaries of all those roles are blurred. I can just be Ran and she can just be Yukari.
The soothing touch rubbing against my ears slows to a stop, it seems that Lady Yukari has finally calmed down enough to fall asleep. I quietly sneak out from under the covers make my way to the exit. I turn back and look at the content expression on her face. I will continue to grow stronger until I can catch up to my illusions and Lady Yukari. I will make dreams into reality with my own power. But until then, I wish you sweet dreams Lady Yukari.
I return to my room with newfound purpose, I look at the materials that I had been neglecting for years. They are components of a transformation ritual allowing me to continue to the next step of a multi-tailed fox. Every now and then I had been purchasing pieces to complete the ritual on the odd chance I would need it. I'm glad that I planned ahead. I pull out my old notes and look them once again, formulas and calculations are crammed on the pages. I've gotten a good grasp on the ritual but balancing the risks and side effects is difficult.
Work through the night on the ritual, there are still many preparations left to do. Go to sleep and focus on tomorrow's festival.
I light several candles to accompany me on the long night ahead, their wicks burn bright enough to give me ample vision of the entire room. I'll need several hundred seals for the ritual, they will serve as the most rudimentary building block of the process. I move over to the closet and slide the door open revealing several large rolls of paper. Not too dissimilar to textile rolls seen at tailor shops these are high quality paper that have my specific preferences in mind. When I buy whole rolls like this it's much cheaper than individual precut stacks. I unfurl it across the span of the room leaving a large blank canvas obscuring the tatami mats underneath.
I pull out a sharp cutting blade from my desk and begin to cut away at the solid sheet. I need all the seals to be exactly the same size and shape when I'm finished. Guiding the knife with a steady hand, I take my time to ensure that each of the lines are cut straight and parallel to one another. When combining multiple seals to create complex spells it is important for them to line up properly. The simplest way is to just have them all exactly the same. I slice out all the rows out first and then cut them column wise to easily mass produce them. I roll out some additional slack to work on and repeat the process until I have the numbers I require.
I handle the thick stack of seals I had just created and level them on the desk top. With a overall inspection, it seems that there is some additional pruning needed to get them to the proper size. I pass through the stack with a set of fine scissors to trim down the edges with a bit extra on them. This part is the most arduous, as I flip through the each one individually, I compare it to my previously chosen template. I reject ones that cannot be used or salvaged. 973 of them passed my specifications, I will probably need more later but for now this is good enough for now. I peer up at the candles flickering in the room, the tiny flames have burned through a decent amount of wax since I last looked. A few hours have passed just like that.
I move on to my notes and familiarize myself with them again. I had scanned through many historical documents looking for hints on if foxes with nine tails is truly the pinnacle of our race. Many of the documents were just senseless drivel, poorly written fiction to sate the adventurous mind. However, there were traces of a truth hidden within a few others. I extrapolated a method which I plan to use for this ritual. The theory holds promise, all the tests that I had conducted over the years so far have turned out positively. The method that the ritual will conduct is self reprogramming.
The idea it self is simple, to refine ones own mind, body, and soul to the logical extreme. The execution is riddled with so many hurdles that all of the papers that have touched on the subject have deemed it impossible. Without full understanding of those three aspects it certainly is impossible. However, what I plan to do is only partially change myself. The aspects that I do fully understand. Not to understate the enormous risks and dangers of tampering with myself but it isn't anymore dangerous than growing extra tails. With that basic premise in mind there are a few other modifications that I had planned for the ritual.
The main focal points will be the body and the mind. Minor changes to the body can be done on the fly without too much consequence, so that is essentially the same. However, streamlining the mind is a difficult task. Interwoven experiences cannot be rearranged, moved, or removed in a module manner. It would require many years to map out the relationships between all nodes and by the time one would finish the calculations all of those ties would have changed drastically, inefficient to say the least. So the plan is to empty the mind and restructure its foundation then overlay the memories on top. With a proper baseline, the majority of the work is accomplished after the ritual automatically.
So in that pursuit, I have created what I have deemed "memory seals". They can store vast amount of data by copying sections of memory from the user. When used in tandem with other seals one can easily recollect entire lifetimes worth of information. However at the moment it isn't perfect, the current methods I am using only provides a 68.37% retention rate of recorded memories. While this would keep all my daily functions and long term memories intact it would lose the majority of recent events I've experienced.
I experiment some more with the seals that I've created, applying different variations and algorithms. I can't seem to break that upper limit no matter what I do. Perhaps it isn't possible with the tools I have on hand. I ponder over this fact some more and then the lights go out. It seems that the candles have dimmed to the point where they are no longer properly emitting light. I suppose that is enough for today, I should get an hour to two of sleep before I need to get back up. I lay on my bed and let the night whisk me away.