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File 148322887410.png - (801.34KB, 1500x1500, __usami_renko_touhou_drawn_by_nanahi_toshi__9a77af.png) [iqdb]
30951 No. 30951
==========
Mt. Takao, Hachioji - 29th of March 15:19
==========

“Scrap that, Renko.” I tell her, pocketing my phone. “You’re gonna come with me to a job.”

She raises her head from the ground. “A job?” She asks, perplexed.

“Yes. I do work.” I tell her. “I can’t spend all day everyday working this majestic body.”

She rolls her eyes in response, apparently not finding my sarcasm fun. “I mean, what do you do for work?”

“I fix holes in a giant invisible wall, essentially.” I tell her. “Then I also take care of the monsters that made that hole by forcing them back through it.” Which is oversimplifying it grossly.

She sits up. “And how am I supposed to help?”

“Who said anything about helping?” I ask. “You’ll be there to observe.”

“Oh thank god.” She lets out a relieved sigh. “I was afraid you’d ask me to fight it.”

“The whole point of this training, is to increase your chance for survival.” I tell her. “Sending you out like that would be sending you to die.”

“Yeah.” She scratches her neck. “I wouldn’t be too eager to throw my life away just yet.”

And yet you insist on training with me.


==========
Odake Spring, Hinohara - 16:41
Renko Breach scene. Small puddle under a waterfall.
==========

Odake spring used to be a popular tourist spot back when people still cared about nature, or at the very least, the small waterfall just before the actual spring. The mouth itself is located in a small area half encircled by a decently sized cliff. With the spring in the middle, filling out a puddle before flowing down the stream, this place creates a rather tranquil atmosphere.

“And done.” I stand back up and brush my hand off in my shirt.

Renko looks over my shoulder. “Done? That’s it?” She asks.

“For the preparation, at least.” I tell her. “All that’s left to do is wait.”

She takes a look around at the talismans I’ve placed. Some under the water, others up high on the cliffs and then a few more on the ground surrounding the puddle.

“So what do all these do?” She asks. “Unless, of course, I’m going to blow myself up just by knowing that.”

“Spiritual energy doesn’t blow up.” I correct her. “I mean sure, if I were to release everything I have at once, I might be able to make a small crater in some dirt, but I’m an anomaly in that regard.”

“But didn’t you say I’d blow myself up if I tried using magic?” She asks.

“I was talking about mana, then. Mana and spiritual energy are two completely different sources of magic.” I explain. “Once we start working on your magic, I’ll explain it in more detail.”

“So what do they do?” She asks again, nodding at the talisman in front of us.

“Well, the knives I’ve placed around create the outline for the barrier, while securing it and making it more stable. The spell for the barrier was placed alongside it, so all I have to do is activate it.” I explain to her. “And just so you’re prepared, once the barrier is erected, don’t forget your name. Remember who you are. If you don’t, your memory will be erased and you’ll be dragged backed into their world.”

“That,” She places her hand on her temple before running it through her hair, “that sounds strangely familiar.”

“It should.” I tell her. “I told you the same thing when we first met. Which reminds me, I ought to get Doc to give you back your memories.”

“Wait, you stole my memories?” She exclaims.

“No, we sealed them away to prevent you from finding your way back to the world of magic.” I tell her. “That’s why it hurts to remember. Although now that you’ve found your way back regardless, that seal is useless.”

“Who gave you the right-”

Her complaint is cut short by a loud crack behind us.

I immediately shove Renko away and raise the barrier.

“Remember your name, Renko!” I yell as I quickly spin around and prepare to activate my talismans.

The air itself shatters and out falls a youkai who lands in the middle of the spring.

Wasting no time, I quickly activate the first set of talismans. The water’s surface begins to quickly freeze over, covering the entire spring in ice and trapping the youkai from the waist down.

It’s not likely to stop it, but it’ll hinder it enough to buy some extra time.

Wait. Is that a tengu? To think one would let himself get carried over by the border.

Not happy about being encased in ice, he displays his overwhelming strength by breaking free using only raw power.

Well, considering I’m dealing with a tengu, I can’t say that was entirely unexpected.

Though to my surprise, he doesn’t charge at me like I’d expect. Instead he staggers for a bit, gripping his head like it’d blow off if he didn’t.

“Make it stop!” He screams.

I quickly make eye contact with Renko. With a simple gesture I tell her to run to the opposite end of the barrier from me.

Keeping her out of his view for now would be the best course of action. I have a fairly good idea of his mental state.

Being dragged across the barrier like that exerts a great amount of strain on the mind. In most cases, the mind switches completely to instinct to rest a bit, which is what causes the violent behavior. Other times the mind simply shuts down and they go unconscious. It’s rare, however, that they can remain on the border between sanity and instinct.

I think this is a case of the last one. If so, I could either be lucky enough to not have to fight, or unlucky enough that he fades into instinct. And considering the fact he can resist it so much, I’m not too keen on fighting him.

Preferably I’ll be able to knock him unconscious and wait the time out.

I activate the second set of talismans located up high on the rocks. The air inside the barrier begins to heat up drastically, causing the ice to melt almost as fast as it froze.

A layer of mist forms and grows thicker as the heat meets the cold.

Seizing the opportunity, I dash into the center of the mist, towards the crow.

A sharp fist breaks through the wall of mist, heading straight for my face.

I throw myself out of the way, dodging it as it grazes my cheek.

Shit. He’s a trained combatant? No way he’d be able to throw a punch so accurately otherwise.

I swiftly create some distance between us.

Think. I need to knock him out. Sneak attack? One hit? Painless?

Scooping up a couple of pebbles, I dash back into the wall of mist.

With all my might, I throw both of them at once and immediately grab a fist-sized rock.

As I hear the pebbles hitting him, I leap at him.

With all the force behind me, I crash into his chest, knees first and hammer the rock into his temple on our way down.

And just like that, everything goes silent. Only my own heavy breathing can still be heard, though the beating in my ears overshadows it.

I throw the rock away to examine the now unconscious tengu. I don’t favor attacking, much less with something so crude as a rock, but it was the most effective method I could think of.

It’s going to leave a bruise, and most likely a serious headache, though his skull seems to be intact.

“It’s done, Renko. You can come out.” I yell out to her.

I get off his chest and stand up.

This mist really did get a lot thicker than I anticipated. Maybe it’s because I activated the second set of charms too early? At least I can still salvage the last set of talismans. I’d have used them to freeze over the mist and make the air even colder than before.

“We’re in the middle, Renko.” I yell out again.

Still no response?

Wait. Don’t tell me-

Just as the thought crosses my mind, the breach begins to close.

It starts pulling at me with an unnatural force, forcing me on the ground to stay in place.

The unconscious tengu flies past me and disappears back to the other side of the breach. Only a few seconds later have the breach also claimed all the mist, clearing up the area before closing.

“Renko!” I yell out.

She’s not here.
112posts omitted. Last 50 shown. Expand all images
>> No. 31288
[X] A sense of being grounded, stubbornly standing unmoving

>[ ] A sense of freedom, untethered from the world I walk
Sounds like what Reimu does, so I think going for the opposite would be thematically appropriate, plus it seems to fit our fighting style.
>> No. 31289
[x] A sense of freedom, untethered from the world I walk
He's already a defensive juggernaut, so a Earth Dragon makes sense, but I'd love to see him fly around the world he loves so much.

Also, versatility yo.
>> No. 31290
[II] A sense of freedom, untethered from the world I walk
[I] A sense of being grounded, stubbornly standing unmoving
[I] A sense of formlessness, like a stream twisting through the land
[I] A sense of a growing void in my mind, complete tranquility
[0] A sense of force, growing stronger as my emotions burn

Not what I expected, being biased and all, but this should be fun.
>> No. 31291
>>31290
You expected an earth dragon, didn't you?
>> No. 31292
>>31285
> I consider this my failure

>>31282 here. Haven't looked at the spoilers (took all of my willpower not to) but I now feel dense for not realizing it was an elemental choice.

Doubly so since I know the five elements you're referring to. I was just reading Fallout Gensoukyou and everything!

Triply so since I was away so long I missed the chance to change my vote.

I will now perform the ritual of shame of my people.
>> No. 31312
It might be a little early to call this, but I think the next update will be slightly delayed. Some problems arose with the new apartment
I had to rent and I've had to deal with that as a priority, otherwise I'd have no internet to shitpost with.
It's been sorted now, and I'm writing, but just in case it's delayed.
>> No. 31313
File 153346802521.jpg - (73.87KB, 500x375, Don't view until Chen.jpg) [iqdb]
31313
==========
12th of Planting Month 05:58
==========

I dismiss the feeling. I can’t afford to lose focus. Ran beat me without effort in a spar. In a real fight, I wouldn’t even be able to notice that she’d attacked me before it was too late.

With some swift footwork, I quickly back off, creating distance between us.

Obviously not willing to allow me to set the terms of the engagement, the fox follows in pursuit, maintaining a constant distance just outside my range.

With a tree coming up behind me, I dance around it, keeping my back against. As I’ve reached the other side, I kick off and start dashing.

If I can’t create any distance backing off, then I’ll just have to run.

It’s strange. My body feels lighter. Not in the same way as when I drop my weighted clothes and just lose the extra weight. Rather, it feels like there’s no resistance on my body. I’m still grounded by gravity, but I feel nothing dragging me down. I’m moving forward fast, yet I don’t feel the air brush off my body.

I feel like any restraints on my movements have been lifted. Like I can move however I want.

Weaving through the forest is a breeze. And now that I think about it, the fact I must weave even though the trees aren’t that dense probably means I’m moving fast, although it doesn’t feel like it.

“Yukari!” The fox calls out from behind me.

“I can see.” The sage responds. “Pin him down and I’ll take care of it.”

Pin me down? Why can’t they just let me figure this out? I’m so close to a revelation I can practically taste it.

“Chen! Now!” My pursuer calls out.

“Huzzah!” A young girl jumps out in front of me, arms stretched out ahead. A couple of cats follow her movement, including a familiar ashen one.

Without much effort, I manage to dive underneath her and her catpanions, bringing myself so close to the ground I can smell the dirt, yet I somehow don’t lose any speed before getting back up.

“What?” Is all I hear her say behind me.

“Caught you.”
“Caught you.”

I hear Ran yell right before she jumps on my back, crashing me into the ground.

With the force of a youkai, she flips me around and pins me down.

There’s two of her.

I’m sure I didn’t hit my head that hard, but there’s two of her, each holding down one side, making it impossible to move at all.

“I know it can be hard to trust me,” the sage walks into view again, “but that’s all I can really ask of you. I do what I believe is best in the long term.”

One of her gaps open just above my chest, a small one barely the width of my fist.

Yukari then proceeds to jab her parasol into the gap.

Oh god. This feels weird. She’s reached into my mana pool. I’ve had my energy forcefully drained, but this strangely painful intrusion can’t compare to anything I’ve felt before.

As she starts to drag her parasol out, it’s as if she draws my breath out along with it. I start to lose feeling in my feet, then my hands, slowly creeping further up as she continues to drag it out.

Then as the tip comes into sight, it becomes apparent something is attached to it. A small ball of light, with threads reaching back into the gap.

She continues to pull until the threads snap, and the next thing I know I’ve lost all feeling, unable to make my body respond in any capacity.

“Despite the small amount, it’s surprisingly pure.” She comments. “You’d have made a great mage.” She lifts the ball of mana up and lets it disperse into the forest.

“Lady Yukari.” One of the Rans speak up.

“The traits haven’t disappeared.” The other one continues, pulling down my collar to show.

“We were a little too late, then.” Yukari sighs. “At least we managed to reset the advancement.” She opens a large gap behind her. “If you’d be so kind as to take him to his room. It’ll take a while for him to recover the mana.”

One of the Rans lifts me up and sling me over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

Not a single muscle in my body responds. I’m completely paralyzed.


==========
13th of Planting Month 08:09
==========

“Are you sure you should be moving about already?” After having observed me for a minute, Ran finally speaks up.

“I’m good.” I respond without stopping my exercise. Though calling it exercise might be a slight exaggeration, since it’s just a series of movements designed to stretch my body continuously. My mana has passed the safe threshold again, so I’m in the clear, but I’d like to make sure everything’s okay before I go wild again.

“I see. That’s good.”

She doesn’t say anything beyond that. She just remains sitting on the porch, watching me, shifting around every so often.

Nothing seems wrong with my muscles. Now to check my spiritual power.

I take a wide stance, feet planted firmly in the ground. I stretch one hand up and the other down, moving them in wide circles going opposite direction until they meet in front of my core.

Releasing every valve on my energy, I allow it to flow freely.

Even though I can’t sense my own spiritual power, I can feel all excess power ooze out of me.

I then start to eject some, increasing the rate at which it flows out of my body. While increasing the rate, I keep track of as much power as I can, both of my giant reserve and the expelled energy.

“You aren’t mad, are you?” The fox asks. “About yesterday, I mean.”

Without letting up, I glance over my shoulder before answering. “Last time I got mad, I almost threw a woman off a building.”

“That’s,” She trails off. “I’m not sure how to respond to that.”

“What I'm trying to say is that I don’t really get mad easily, Ran. But when I’m finally pushed to that limit, I get angry.” I explain. “You might also like to know that I don’t get passive aggressive. That kinda shit accomplishes nothing. Instead, I prefer to confront whoever I have a problem with. Get it sorted out as early as possible.”

“I see.” She replies, once again stopping the conversation.

And stop.

I shut all my valves at once, measuring the rate at which my reserve fills back up.

Nothing abnormal here. Aside from my inhuman level of spiritual energy, that is.

“This would be a good example, Ran.” I continue the conversation. “You clearly have something on your mind, yet you refuse to bring it up.”

“It’s just,” She trails off again.

“Be frank. Be direct.” I tell her.

“It just doesn’t feel proper.” She blurts out. “I know it was the best thing to do, but we, I, still assaulted you.”

“And you wanna make it up to me?” I finish her sentence. I’ve seen this pattern before. Not exactly hard to predict.

“Please allow me.” Keeping her hands on her thighs, she bows her head.

“That’s it?” I ask. “That trick you used back in the forest, where you split in two. Teach me.”

“Split in two?” She looks back up. “You mean the paper shikigami.”

Shikigami? That’s right. Ran is a master of shikigami. Somehow that slipped my mind.

“Paper shikigami are easy to create.” The fox continues. “Controlling them will take some time getting used to, though. Next time you’re free, come find me and I’ll get you started.”

“Will do.” I confirm.

“I see you’re up and about.” A gap opens up behind Ran and out steps Gensokyo’s sage.

“No thanks to you.” I reply.

The sage lets out a sigh. “So we’re going to start the day like this?” She leans against her parasol. “I can’t tell you why I had to do it, all I can ask you is to trust me.”

“What? Is it because I’m a dragon? Or partly anyway.” I ask.

Yukari’s eyes widen. She glances down at Ran who looks up at her, equally confused. The fox just shakes her head.

“Ran didn’t tell me.” I explain. “In retrospect, the signs were obvious. The eyes, the scales, my magic resistance. Heck, youkai are notorious for their uncreative names, so that should have been a dead giveaway.”

The sage taps her index finger on her parasol a few times. “So you’ve figured that much out already.” She states. “Yes, you are half dragon. If I hadn’t stopped you yesterday, you would most likely have transformed into one. And we’re not sure if your body can handle it at this point.”

Half dragon. That raises a lot of other questions. Questions for later, that is.

“So if you stopped my transformation, why are my scales still here?” I ask.

“Because your body has started its first transformation.” She explains. “This first one is unique since you have to fully transform before you can resume your human form.”

That sounds like an arbitrary rule. Then again, I have no info on the early life of youkai with innate shape shifting, such as the Royal Werewolves.

“So my progression is fueled by mana?” I ask.

Since she drained my mana to stop it, it would make the most sense. Gensokyo also has a lot more ambient mana compared to the outside, which could explain why my “transformation” never triggered in the outside world.

“Correct.” The sage nods. “To be specific, it’s your mana overflow that fuels it.”

“That would have been my next question.” I inform her. “Since my mana pool is so shallow, what would have happened if it was bigger.”

“Well considering the overflow lies entirely in the magic circuit, the size of your pool wouldn’t make a difference.” She grabs her chin, pondering a bit. “If anything, I would have to say your actual size would speed up the process, since your circuit can hold more, allowing for a bigger overflow.”

The magic circuit. A network of thread-like veins wrapped around the blood vessels. The purpose of which is to transfer magical energy more efficiently than the blood vessels can do on their own. With some effort, these circuits can be converted from the standard mana transfer to working with spiritual energy or qi.

Normally, when a pool fills up, all excess energy is expelled. Occasionally, however, some of that energy is stored in the circuit temporarily. Taking in external energy also requires it to be stored in the circuit before it can be processed. So essentially, storing energy in the circuit is what we refer to as overflow. It’s an entirely natural and well understood phenomenon in the magic community.

Since I initiated a mana overflow back in the forest, I had mana flowing throughout my entire body. That just brings up another question.

“Why does mana trigger the transformation?” I ask. “As far as I know, dragons are immune to magic, but susceptible to metal.”

Yukari holds out her hand and a gap appears above it. A couple of small metallic balls drop into her hands from the gap. One of them is gold, another silver, and the last might be copper.

“Most weapons used to slay dragons contains at least one of these metals.” She says. “Some of them have the metal mixed into the blade itself, while other have been adorned with them.”

“The mana dispersion property of noble metals.” I note.

That would imply that dragons are mana-based beings. It also explains the magic immunity.

“Isn’t my shallow mana pool going to become a hindrance then?” I ask. “With regard to my apparent dragon heritance, I mean.”

She drops the ball into a new gap. “From what I’ve gathered, no.” She states. “And even if that should be the case, we have plenty of gold to compensate.”

Noble metals all have a different dispersion rate. Gold has a dispersion rate at half of its absorption rate, making it a sort of mana storage. Mages use it as an emergency backup, while people like me can use it to cast spells despite our lacking mana.

I look up, mentally running through my list of questions. “So you took me here to monitor my transformation, more so than to help me train?” I ask.

She gives Ran a dismissive wave, to which the fox responds by disappearing into a white dust cloud, leaving behind a small slip of paper.

So that was a shikigami?

“No.” She softly answers. “I brought you here for another reason. I don’t believe the time is right to tell you, however, so do bear with me for a while longer, my child.” With that said, she puts on a prideful smile. “But that does not mean I don’t intend to train you. My promise to take you to the top still stands.”

It’s stupid. I know it shouldn’t, but that managed to tickle my fancy.

“I’d like another day to make sure my mana is back before I can resume our training.” I tell her.

“That works out perfectly then.” Her expression is back to the usual charismatic smirk. “Reimu has been having more trouble with this incident than usual. Ibaraki, the mountain hermit, and Futatsuiwa, the tanuki, have come up with a plan to take matters into their own hands.”

“And you would like me to help out?” I assume.

“I would like this incident solved as quickly and peacefully as possible.” She states. “And since they are waiting for a rift in the barrier to open, your help could ease the whole thing.”

Indeed. Managing those rifts is my primary job, after all. But with Reimu there, there’s no pressing reason for me to go.

That also reminds me. I should probably go see Akyuu soon. After all, I just disappeared on her for two days after an injury like that. I would like that to take higher priority than it probably should be. Though, I don’t think she’ll go anywhere, so she should be easy to find when I have the time.

I could also take leave for the outside world again and get Doc to fix my eye. Maybe he can do something about my transformation too. Whether that’s helping it along or reverting it. I mean, he’s skilled enough to revive me without using necromancy, so he should be able to do something.

[ ] Go foil some raccoon plans Go help Reimu
[ ] I owe it to Akyuu to let her know I’m okay
[ ] Getting Doc to double check my health is a priority
[ ] Actually, forget it. My body is ready to resume training


Somehow managed to get it done on time, and without cutting anything.

>>31291
Expected water, actually. Hoping for void. Wind is gonna be fun, though.

Also, I'd like to announce a small retcon, regarding the magic system. Back early on, I made it known that magic flows better without fabric, or the likes, in the way. While I did try to make it fit into these new systems, it just won't work with how I've designed things. None of you probably remember that line, but I'd rather be open about it.
>> No. 31314
[x] Getting Doc to double check my health is a priority
>> No. 31315
So no naked dragon? I'm somewhat relieved.

[x] Go foil some raccoon plans and, incidentally, help Reimu

I like that he's direct about the things he dislikes.

>You'd have made a great mage

Can't he be both a mage and a dragon?
>> No. 31316
>>31315
"Mage" refers to mana users. You have a mana pool the size of the average human, making it virtually impossible to cast spells. Spell Break is the one exception because it was designed by you to get around that issue.

You're more of a Spiritualist, using spiritual energy for your spells. Which allow you to use spells Mages can't, and vise versa.

Of the three (qi being the third) mana is the most versatile, while spiritual energy and qi are more specialized.

>No naked dragon
Yet. Maybe. Who knows.
>> No. 31317
[x] Getting Doc to double check my health is a priority.

Still annoyed at Yukari's "punish first, answer questions later" attitude, so I'd like a second opinion. Even if it turns out to be "don't fuck with rocks".

Also, whoa, that's quite the magibabble dump. You've put a lot of thought into this. Getting a decidedly Nasuverse vibe here...
>> No. 31318
[X] I owe it to Akyuu to let her know I’m okay
>> No. 31328
Going for a pro's opinion on the checkup.

>>31317
>magibabble
You haven't seen the tip of the iceberg yet. That's just a summery of how magic flows. Soon I've sat up all the pieces to actually start explaining it properly over time, something which have been delayed for too long
>> No. 31329
File 153469577069.jpg - (299.41KB, 1400x1012, __maribel_hearn_and_usami_renko_touhou_drawn_by_e_.jpg) [iqdb]
31329
Bet you weren't expecting an update. Because I sure as hell wasn't expect to finish it this early.


==========
13th of Planting Month 08:59
==========

“I’m not really in a state to help out, though.” I tell the sage. “It’s not every day I get a critical amount of mana drained from my body, so I can’t say for sure I’m back in top shape.”

“I made sure to leave you with enough mana, so as to not be a problem.” She replies proudly. “If there was any danger, it would already have happened.”

“Yeah, no.” I dismiss her. “I trust my mentor enough to believe in his trust of you, although draining my mana does put a strain on that.” I tell her honestly. “But you're not the authority when it comes to making the call on my overall health, especially not when you’re the cause of the concern.”

She closes her eyes and looks down. “I see. That’s disappointing but I won’t force anything.” She looks back up at me, all hints of emotion completely washed off her expression. “What do you intend to do instead then? Rest for another day?”

“Actually, I want to return to the outside shrine for a quick visit.” I tell her. “I’d like for Doc to double check my condition.”

“Do you still have the necklace?” She asks me.

I pull the small wooden tablet out from under my shirt. “Still wearing it.”

She walks up in front of me, pressing her hand against the necklace.

I can feel the magic flow from her palm, though only a little goes past the charm.

Without warning, she gives me a slight shove, forcing me to take a couple steps back.

As I look back up at her, I see she’s gone. And so is her house. Instead, I see the familiar scene of the old shrine.

I don’t get the chance to take in the view, though, as my phone starts to vibrate like crazy.

Pulling it out, the screen lights up with notifications that just keep scrolling. All of them are missed calls, from Renko no less.

According to the call history, she first tried yesterday around 23:15. Then again a minute later. And another minute. And another. They started to slow down around 2, taking breaks of up to fifteen minutes.

I don’t get to the top before I get another incoming call.

“I’m here.” I answer.

“Help!” I barely get to finish before she yells out from the other side. “West of Dokura falls.”

Dokura falls? That’s our territory according to the Watchers. It’s a stone’s throw away.

“I’ll be there immediately.” I reply. And hang up.

Without wasting another second, I turn around and dash, jumping down the first flight of stairs into the village.

On my way through the village, I spot Doc sitting under a tree, with a can in hand, trying to ignore Yukiko, the village’s yukionna. For the brief moment he’s within view, we manage to lock eyes.

No time to stop, though. Renko sounded too distressed to wait.


==========
13th of May 09:20
Dokura Falls, Mie Prefecture
==========

This most certainly wasn’t here the last time I checked.

In the short span I’ve been in Gensokyo, someone saw fit to erect an old crumbling western mansion inside a minor illusion barrier.

Questions. Why would someone build a mansion in such a way as to make it appear old and crumbling? Why a western design? Was it moved here? If so, why not build a new one instead?

Questions for later.

The surrounding barrier had no security on it, allowing anyone to pass through, making its only purpose to hide this crumbling mansion from a distance. That said, the wall surrounding the mansion's grounds has another type of barrier. From the quick examination I’ve done, it seems like a one-way trap, allowing things in but not out.

What’s more concerning is the fact something is walking around in there. And whatever it is, it’s not alive. It’s not emitting any spiritual energy.

Renko, from the second floor of the mansion, seems to have spotted me, by the frantic wave.

How should I go about telling her?

Keeping eye contact, I gesture in the direction of whatever that dead thing is, then cross my arms in a big X.

She looks in the same direction, then back at me. Without making any gesture back, she dives out of view from the window.

Well then, time to gather some intel before I spring this trap.

I pick up a sizable stone from the ground and chuck it inside the barrier, hitting the wall on the other side where that thing is.

No reaction. It stays still.

I pick up another stone and infuse it with my spiritual power, before throwing it the same way as the last stone.

It reacted. No big movements, though.

Picking up a third, I throw it across the garden away from both of us.

No reaction.

I then throw another stone, this one also charged with spiritual power.

And again, it reacts. Instead of just looking, though, now it walks to where I threw the stone.

So it reacts to spiritual energy rather than sound.

I try flaring up my own power, but it doesn’t react.

And it doesn’t seem to care about things outside the inner barrier, either. Both of the girls have a small spiritual footprint, so they should be safe given the distance between them and it.

Aside from the barrier, that’s as much information as I can get from out here.

I walk through the barrier, ignoring the uncomfortable feeling of stepping through a one-way barrier.

Immediately that thing perks up and looks at me.

It’s a hooded figure, carrying around what’s either a broken shovel or an axe. The robe doesn’t cover its feet. Revealing that it’s both barefoot, and has seams running all around one of its ankles.

The figure grasps the shovel with both hands and runs at me, readying the makeshift weapon over it’s head.

I throw myself to the side, dodging its strike.

The sudden motion caused the hood to fall back, revealing its face. Or to be precise, the lack thereof. This thing has no face. The entire perimeter of where the face should be is outlined by a deep scar.

Nopperabou? No. They have a solid spiritual signature as a youkai. And more importantly, they never kill. They’ll scare the living shit out of you for fun, but they’ll never actually kill you.

This thing doesn’t have any spiritual power at all. Neither mana nor qi.

What in the actual fuck is this? Why does it look so human?

It pulls the spade up from the earth and turns toward me again. It starts rattling its head, causing an unusual grunt.

Even necromantic beings give off some form of energy.

Faceless takes a wide swing at me, forcing me to take another step back to exit its range.

I immediately step back in and hammer my fist into its liver.

The force causes him to move to the side, but no other reactions, no sign of pain.

I skip back a few steps, hurrying out of its range again.

Its humanoid appearance makes me think it has a skeletal structure similar to humans. The way it moves supports this idea. The problem, however, is that my spiritual power can’t penetrate its skin, so I can’t confirm it. That said, having a black void against the spiritually saturated background makes it far easier to track.

It jams the tip of its shovel into the ground.

The earth under my feet starts to crack. A cold blue light shines from the openings.

I jump back another good couple of steps to get out of the range of those cracks.

Then the light itself blows up into the air and disperses.

I didn’t detect any magic. No mana, no spiritual energy. I ask again; what in the actual fuck is this thing?

While its shovel is still in the ground, I charge in jumping, delivering a roundhouse kick to its neck with all the force I can muster.

It staggers backwards, its head at an angle, clearly showing I broke something.

And it cracks its neck back in place like nothing happened.

This thing isn’t going to go down from physical attacks, at least not blunt strikes like mine.

I reach for my talismans.

Which are in my bag. At Yukari’s place. Because I didn’t get the chance to fetch it. The only thing I still have are the silver knives, sheathed in my sarashi. They aren’t suited for cutting, but I should be able to use them for a ritual. The problem is, after I’ve filled them, I have to get them ready before they’ve dispersed too much of the energy. Normally, you’d do that last, but I don’t have that luxury right now.

I have eight knives tugged away. To banish him, I’d need at least three in the ground. Oh wait, shit, that’s right. I still have the Sumimaru’s trademark barrier. This is the exact moment I bought those lessons for. I can’t cast it barehanded like them, so I’ll need five reference points, or knives in this case.

It’s slow and easy to move around, so setting the boundary will be easy. Planting the final knife in its chest on the other hand, will be difficult. I don’t even know if I can pierce the skin with a knife. Though, it did feel fleshy enough to make it worth the gamble.

Seemingly tired of waiting, Faceless swings its shovel back around over its head, hammering it into the ground.

Cracks similar to the last ones appear again, this time shining with a black-green light.

Once again, I jump back.

This time, the magic is different. Rather than just exploding, a cylinder like object breaks through the cracks, immediately twisting towards me.

Before I can land, the thing hits my chest, pushing me to the ground and solidifies, taking on a bony texture like that of an exoskeleton.

This is bad. This is very bad.

I still have Doc’s seal. I could activate my limit breaker, then forcefully activate the seal to negate the side effects. Will it be enough, though? Will it be worth it? Do I have other options?

“Leave him alone, you freak!” Renko comes running out from the building, carrying a piece of rubble.

She chugs it at the beast, hitting it square in the face.

It lets out a hollow “Ungh” sound despite its lack of a mouth.

The bone holding me down softens up.

“Renko! What the hell are you doing?” I hear her foreign friend yell from inside the building.

“He came to help us!” The brunette yells back. “I can’t just watch as he gets killed because of us!”

The monster doesn’t take kindly to getting hit in the face with a rock, which is understandable, and starts chasing the girl, leaving its spade behind.

The bone softens some more.

I start pushing back against the bone with all my strength.

The blonde girl tackles her friend to the ground, saving her from the monster’s first strike.

They quickly get on their feet again and run.

The brunette runs towards the gates, picking up and tossing another rock.

The blonde, on the other hand, runs towards me and quickly gets her hands underneath the bone, trying to help me lift it.

I’m not complaining about the help, but she’s not helping. In which case, I just need to push harder.

And as if on cue, the bone shatters, freeing me.

I immediately start running towards Renko.

The monster has already made it to her.

It grabs her by the throat, lifting her up against the wall.

Kicking wildly and clawing at its wrist, Renko struggles, too preoccupied to see me coming.

As her kicking gets weaker, she reaches out for the monster instead.

Mana?

Before I realize it, there’s a hole going through the head of the monster. There’s also an intense pain spreading from my chest that makes it borderline impossible to breathe.

I fall to my knees, trying to regain my breath.

Was that magic? Did Renko just use magic?

“Renko. Are you okay?” Her friend runs past me.

“Somehow.” She takes a moment to cough. “Didn’t think we’d get through the night.”

“That’s why I told you we shouldn't come here.” Her friend argues.

“Ah. Ryuko.” She staggers on her legs and walks over, while I’m still regaining my breath. “Thank you. Really. I’m even more in your debt.”

She extends her hand to me.

Instead of taking it, I force myself to stand before grabbing her hand.

Like I thought, the magic circuit was clearly just used.

I inject a small bit of my own mana to probe at her reserves.

She stifles a moan.

I glance up at her.

A huge blush has spread from ear to ear. Probably embarrassed she let the moan escape. Not that I actually care.

“Sorry, should probably have warned you.” I say to her. “Injected mana feels warm. It shouldn’t last too long.”

“No, I was just surprised.” She admits. “It just felt strange. A bit pleasant, maybe.”

I redo the probe uninterrupted.

The capacity is clearly above average, but with that one spell alone, she’s dangerously low.

Must have been Magic Missile. A concentration of raw mana launched using even more mana. Whatever it can accomplish, other spells can do better at a lesser cost. It’s just the most instinctive spell to cast since it doesn’t require any special formula. That said, she managed to cast a spell.

“Renko. Whatever you just did, never do it again.” I tell her.

“I did that?” She asks, looking back at the re-dead corpse. “I thought you did it.”

I don’t reply to that, and instead start to inject more of my mana into her circuit. I can spare some of mine, and it should be enough to get her out of the danger zone. She’ll have to process it first, though, but it should still be quicker than recovering it on her own.

Or I was going to, but there’s an all too familiar ripple from the very edge of my senses.

My spiritual power starts to flare up against my will as my body begins producing and refining energy to the limit of its abilities.

Neither of them can see spiritual power like me, but it’s clear they’ve both noticed the pressure it gives off.

“Renko.” I do my best to remain calm. “I want you two to hide.”

There’s only one type of youkai that can trigger this response from me. And of the few that are in Japan right now, only one fits this exact subtype I’m detecting.

“What do you, ah ow ow.”

I tighten my grip to silence her.

“I’m serious, Renko.” I scan the area where I feel this presence coming from. “I’m not going to repeat myself again. Hide. And don’t come out until I give the clear. No. Matter. What.”

As I let go, she and her friend run back towards the building without a word.

“So it seems you’re done with them.” A dark mist hastily collects itself over a rose-bed, taking on a humanoid shape. “I despise needing to use innocent people like that, but you’re surprisingly hard to find despite being a beacon.”

“Maybe it’s because I don’t want to be found, by the likes of you.” I reply.

The shadow vanishes, revealing the figure underneath. A man, around his forties, above average build, pale white skin and the iconic fangs exposed by his professional smile.

A strigoi, a Romanian monster. Major type, undead, minor type, vampire. Normally strigoi are easy to deal with because of their similarity to zombies, but occasionally a guy like this pops up. Mages that died under the conditions to become a strigoi. Casually referred to as High Vampires, they most closely resemble the modern depiction of vampires.

“And after all the effort I put into luring you out.” He lets out an obnoxiously fake sigh. “I can guess you don’t want to reminisce about old times, then.”

“Do you mean like the last time you assaulted the shrine, trying to kill me?” I ask. “Or are you talking about the few times we met while Kaya deceived me?”

“Sarcasm doesn't suit you, kid.” He walks forward. “Submit to me peacefully, and I’ll make sure you die quick and painless. A deal far better than what you deserve, considering what you did to my daughter.”

“Kaya spent two weeks trying to kill me.” I keep faking my bravado. “Only those who are ready to die are allowed to kill. Therefore, I stand by my statement that I was justified in killing her.”

“So you want to do this the hard way.” He readies his cane. From experience, I know there’s a blade hidden in there.

The head of the cane explodes, to the surprise of both of us.

Mana.

“That’s far enough, rot-brain.”

The strigoi clenches both his teeth and the grip on his cane. “You filthy animal.”

To my surprise, Doc stands by the gate, pointing two fingers at the walking corpse.

“You know the pain of losing your child, and that’s driven you to hunt down her killer.” He states. “Now imagine what I would do, should you so much as touch my son.”

“Damn animal.” He turns around. “This isn’t over, kid. The moment your guard dog lets his guard down, I’ll strike again.”

With that said, he vanishes into a shadow mist and disperses, taking the entire building with it.

A few moments pass by before my spiritual power calms down, signaling that he is indeed gone.

“Can’t that old fuck just leave you alone already?” The fox asks as he walks up. “It’s been five years already.”

“You really saved me there, Doc.” I let out a sigh of relief.

“Forget it.” He pulls out a smoke, ignites his thumb and uses it to light it. “Odd place for a booty call, though. Not that I’m judging.”

“Even though you came to peep?” I retort. “Saw you with Yukiko earlier.”

“Don’t remind me.” He grunts.

“Renko! Blondie!” I call out.

They both stand up. They tried to hide in the grass, since it is tall, but it doesn’t really work without the house there.

“We’re going to the shrine.” Docs states. “Gotta make sure those gals are alright.”

I motion for them to follow us. Neither says anything on the way back.


==========
Hakurei Shrine - 10:02
==========

Renko has an aptitude for magic.

That’s not exactly rare, since the magic world is filled with humans like that. Though it’s rare for humans to just suddenly develop an ability like that. It’d be safer to assume she comes from a magus family. But then why hasn’t she studied? It’s unheard of for a magus family to not train their kids.

In either case, she’s a blank slate as a mage.

I’m an anti-mage. The opponents I specialize in fighting are mages. This came about because I lack the ability to cast spells myself, so I could study a wider array of theories, leading me to understand more spells as a way to be prepared against them.

I’ve agreed to train Renko to defend her friend against youkai. But if I took her as my apprentice, the possibilities of where I could take her would be endless. With my knowledge, I could lead her down the path of any mage she might want to become. I could specialize her in magic that would benefit the shrine like my barrier crafting.

The problem, however, is that I would have to drag her deep into my world to do it. To drag a common citizen into the world of magic, to expose them to a world where everyone is capable of launching the equivalent of a localized nuke at any time.

I still don’t believe neither she, nor her friend, belongs in the world of magic, and it would be cruel to drag them so deep into it without a gradual progression. I would rather just keep shoving them out of this world.

But still. With the amount of time I have left, she might be the only successor I’ll get to train myself. If I keep waiting for the perfect candidate to show up, I’ll die without leaving anything behind, and the shrine will have to find another successor on their own.

I’m almost certain she’ll say yes. Renko hungers for the power to protect her friend, for the knowledge to walk forward and grasp her goal, whatever that may be. Both are things I can give her.

But is it the right thing? If she accepts, there will be no going back. Not for her, nor for me.

[ ] Extend my apprenticeship to Renko
[ ] Withhold my apprenticeship from Renko


And just to be clear, this is not a route lock
>> No. 31330
[x] Extend my apprenticeship to Renko
>> No. 31331
[x] Extend my apprenticeship to Renko
>> No. 31332
[x] Extend my apprenticeship to Renko

This smells like a bad idea. But we're already training her, she's already up to her eyeballs in this shit and she's already proven she's not going to butt out. Either she'll blow herself up or someone less scrupulous will take an interest in her.

As for Merry, she's screwed in every scenario I can think of, but at least this way she has someone trying to protect her.
>> No. 31333
[x] Extend my apprenticeship to Renko

She's already too far in, the only hope here is that we can get Doc to get some input and keep an eye on her as well if needed.

Also, since our resident annoyance also saw that the girls were used as bait, leaving them out to be abducted and used again is probably just a bad idea outright.
>> No. 31334
[x] Extend my apprenticeship to Renko

Like they said, she used magic on her own and her lineage has powerful magic on it (See: Sumireko) Leaving her alone will be for the worst.
>> No. 31335
File 153504728131.png - (119.87KB, 800x608, Unrelated.png) [iqdb]
31335
Quick little question. Have you thought about why I made you make this choice, instead of just picking the obvious answer and continuing?
>> No. 31336
>>31335
Because genki grill + world of magic where people stand on the edge of life and death don't usually mix and it was still possible to get them to get out of this, not to mention that we will have way less time outside. This path, however, leads to more character development and potential suffering, so it's for the best.
>> No. 31337
>>31335

Well, she doesn't know that magic is real despite whom her ancestor was so maybe Sumireko decided that her family should not follow her footsteps?
>> No. 31338
>>31336
>This path, however, leads to more [...] potential suffering, so it's for the best.

>>31337
I can't answer questions Ryuko wouldn't already know the answer to outside of the story.

But that said, interesting insight, although it seems I didn't manage to get my question across properly.
What I'm asking is if you have considered why I'm having you make this decision at all? Instead of making it myself and continuing writing until the usual deadline.
It's not important, I'm just curious.
>> No. 31339
>>31338
Short answer: it's going to go catastrophically wrong and you want to be able to say "THIS IS WHAT YOU VOTED FOR ANON!"

Long answer: it's going to have consequences that will affect the story from now on. Like, more Renko, Ryuko's attention being split, Yukari not approving, not being able to take on someone else later... the list goes on. You put it to a vote because you wanted to make sure that's what we want to read.

And since you're asking this question: because you want to know if we've figured out something important to the plot yet. I suspect we haven't, since the vote so far has been unanimous.

On that note, I need to go re-read the story to refresh my memory of the stuff that happened last ice age thread.
>> No. 31340
>>31333 here

>>31338

Honestly, my answer to this is "No."

If you're saying we won't be able to pick a different apprentice later, or we might find someone more appropriate... ok?

But at the moment it literally looks like you're saying, "Either keep an eye on them after having pretty much exposed them to a direct danger, or leave them alone and have them be exposed to a direct danger either way".

Because honestly I'd rather she get training in the outside world from someone else that can keep her grounded, unless we're planning on taking her into Gensokyo (which seems like a bad idea).

Was there supposed to be a phantom third choice write-in option?

Like, I don't terribly see the need to apprentice Renko here ourselves as long as she's getting proper training from someone and not being left alone. But the only underlying thing I can see here shouted at me is basically seems like it's either "keep an eye on them versus leave them to die once we turn our backs".
>> No. 31341
>>31339
>Short answer
You're technically correct. Which is the best kind of correct.

>And since you're asking this question
Off the mark. Though that assumption is why I try to limit my replies, since that simple act in itself draws attention to theories, which I'd rather be hands-off about until I'm asked a question.
This question has nothing to do with plot, or trying to sway the vote. I expected it to be this one-sided, though maybe one tide pisser for a good laugh. After all, Renko becoming your apprentice was part of the plan all along. Rather, I'm curious whether you've thought about this vote from Renko's perspective. That and trying to gauge how engaged you readers are
>> No. 31342
Honestly the best thing Renko could do in my eyes is having the independence to say "No" to his offer. I just don't know if she would have the... willpower(?) self-preservation instincts(?) foresight(?) to do so.
>> No. 31343
>>31341
>I'm curious whether you've thought about this vote from Renko's perspective

I have not, but I find little motive to do so. She wanted this, she insisted. She doesn't want to feel weak and she knows that she won't be able to wrestle Maribel out of this world and she won't leave her alone so there's really only one option. That's why I think she'll pursue power, one way or another.

She isn't wise enough to pursue power in the 'right' way, much less not pursue power at all and accept being helpless sometimes.
>> No. 31345
>>31341
> After all, Renko becoming your apprentice was part of the plan all along.

Choo choo motherfuckers.

> Rather, I'm curious whether you've thought about this vote from Renko's perspective.

Well why didn't you say so before? No, I haven't, aside from considering how it may affect her, as I explained in my vote. I don't know enough about her personality to make that kind of call, beyond what Ryuko already commented on in the narration ("I’m almost certain she’ll say yes.").

That's also exactly what I meant when I said "something important to the plot". I should have written "stuff you haven't told us directly". I am bad at word.
>> No. 31346
>>31345
>I am bad at word

You and me both. I've never been good at "public" conversations, even if they are online. Which is why I had to step away from THP for a day to collect myself as to not destroy what little I've tried to build up over the last few years. This was a good reminder to just keep my trap shut and write.

What I've said the other day is neither strictly true nor false, and explaining it would require me to spoil even more. What I can say however, is Renko will be fine, even if you don't teach her to control her magic, and when I said it taking Renko as an apprentice was part of the plan, I meant it as that was the basis I started from when developing your relationship to her. Though the last 5 years, that has evolved to allow for much more, though never letting up on the apprentice idea.
If you genuinely think it's better for Renko to not get involved any further in the world of magic, then don't offer her the chance.

I'll extend the voting period slightly in case some of you want to change your decision.
>> No. 31348
File 153885584233.jpg - (588.24KB, 819x558, Fluff squared.jpg) [iqdb]
31348
==========
Hakurei Shrine - 10:04
==========

“Didn’t tell me you’d be back.” The old crow comments as he sits down next to me.

“It was an in-the-moment decision.” I admit. “I just needed some distance from Yukari to calm down.”

“Your training not going well?” He opens a canned beer he brought with him. “Or is it related to that eye of yours?”

“No. This eye is my own fuckup.” I lean back against a support beam. “I just hate Yukari’s way of doing things. She never tells me anything, yet expects me to just know.”

“But you’re a smart kid. Maybe she just has high expectations of you?” He takes a sip of his beer.

“Doesn’t change the fact I hate how she does things.”

“So what exactly didn’t she tell you?” He asks.

“Well, apparently I’m half dragon. I’m not so mad she didn’t tell me about that, to be honest. But as I was starting the transformation on my own, unknowingly, she decided to not tell me and instead stop it by force.” I take a deep breath, calming myself down again. “If she’d just explained it, I’d have stopped and gone along with her.”

“So you finally learned about that.” He puts the can down next to him. “And I assume you have some questions you want answered?”

I look him in the eyes for a second.

“No. I can trust you guys enough to know you had a reason for not telling me. Yukari hasn’t earned that trust yet.”

“Oh. Then don’t mind if I do.” He pulls out another can of beer.

“You old drunk.”

He looks me straight in the eyes and pulls out yet another one from who knows where. “As if this watered up stuff could ever make me drunk.” He chuckles at his own joke before taking a swig. “That’s the one thing I miss about living with the Tengu. We even used to be able to get some alcohol from the Oni.”

“If I ever go to Youkai Mountain, I’ll see if I can bring some with me.” I tell him, though I’m not sure I’ll ever have a reason to go there.

“How kind.” He comments. “If you should ever get into trouble with them, for any reason, just invoke my name. It should still hold some power.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask for a long time now, but how come you left the other Tengu?” I ask.

He waves his hand dismissingly. “Long boring story. Short version; I fucked up and had to leave.”

“So even the great Kohane can fuck up?” I feign surprise.

He chuckles. “Yeah, that was my wakeup call. I’m not invincible.” He puts down his second empty can. “My turn. What happened with your eye?”

“I’d just gotten my left arm back. Feeling confident, I decided to test it against a celestial. Turns out they can endure quite the heavy hits, by the way. By the end, a rock they threw hit me right under the eye, cutting up this area.” I measure out the scar with my fingers.

“Hmm.” He closes his eyes and thinks for a few seconds. “Let me guess, you weren’t taking them seriously? Thinking they couldn’t land a hit, you got complacent and bored?”

“More or less.” I admit.

“After all the years I’ve helped you grow as a fighter, you still haven’t managed to overcome that little flaw of yours.” He says. “Since I might not get many more chances to help you grow, want me to just be direct about it?”

“I obviously haven’t been able to figure it out on my own yet, so let’s hear it.”

“You love fighting.” He states. “For a warrior, that’s both a blessing and a curse. When you get fired up, you can draw out your full potential. You can fight with a smile on your face, ignoring any and all damage you might have sustained as you continue to push for victory, because it’s fun.” He says smiling. “But that requires us to get fired up. And not a lot of opponents can do that. They’re either too weak to be worth our effort, or so strong we know we can’t beat them to begin with. The trick is to learn to enjoy every fight. Every battle is an experience you’ll only ever get once, after all.”

It’s true I love fighting. But it’s been so long since I last had a good match that I can’t seem to recall it.

“Kid!” I hear Doc call out. “Your turn.”

“Time to go.” I stand up.

“Before that.” He remains sitting. “Just know that regardless of what happens, this place will always be your home. Come visit once in a while.”

“I’ll try my best, Coach.”

I walk back to the front of the shrine where Doc’s office is situated and catch the girls just as they leave the building. Each of them seem to be carrying a filled glass of some transparent liquid. They both make eye contact with me as we pass each other, but none of us says a word.

Doc doesn’t say anything either, though we’ve gone through this process so many times words really aren’t necessary more. Which I should probably take as a sign to get my ass in gear.

Walking into the back room, I go through the usual procedure as I wait for him; stripping down and taking seat in the chair.

“Just get on the bed, and put your left arm on the support.” He instructs me from the other room. “I’m not gonna bother with the little details today.”

“How were the girls?” I ask, moving as I’m told.

“Brown one has a very slight case of malnutrition, far within the safe parameters. I suspect it’s from her diet. The blonde one swings a little to the opposite side. Her muscle mass is lower than average, though her total weight is perfectly average. They were both exhausted, having been awake all night, so I gave them some watered down energy drinks, which should keep them awake until they get home. Beyond that, I found nothing.”

So that ancient fucker really didn’t do anything to them. That’s a relief. I’d honestly expected him to go after my associates if they were weaker than me. That’s what I would have done if our roles were reversed. I killed his daughter, so it’d make sense for him to go after people close to me to make me feel the same sense of loss. Then again, I never really got to know him. I only met him once while Kaya was alive after all.

Doc walks into the room, carrying a small glass with him. Which holds an eye in it? He places it on the table next to the bed.

Without saying anything, he starts examining my arm, probing into it with his mana.

“Interesting.” He breaks the silence. “After months, you’d expect the muscles to have grown weaker. But from the looks of it, the stimulation has been copied over from your right arm.”

“So that’s why it felt so great from the start.” I comment. “Right when I got it back, it felt as it’d never been paralyzed.”

“I see. Well, there’s nothing wrong with it, so the rest is on you.” He states. “Now then, could you open your eye?”

I do as I’m told, though I dislike the feeling.

Doc grabs around my head and stares into the empty socket. His golden irises start shining as he’s examining me, pulling on my head to turn it from time to time.

“Gensokyo is a couple hundred years behind us, in terms of technology, right?” He asks. “I have to commend whoever removed your eye. It’s a fine job they’ve done. Though it seems they didn’t know about your weakness to metal, going by the fact the internal scar hasn’t healed yet.”

“I may be confident to the point of arrogance, but I won’t go around broadcasting my weakness to the world.” I tell him.

“While your advanced regeneration can push back the limit of what’s considered lethal to you, it can only repair, not rebuild.” He starts. “Left alone, your eye won’t regrow. And since the removal was done using metallic tools, I’ll have to burn more of your life force to fix it.”

“And I’m guessing you’re not going to?” I ask.

“Depends. Do you actually need it?” He asks back. “Against my better judgment, I will fix it if you actually need it, but I would rather wait if I’m to be honest.”

“Considering I use my spiritual power as my primary means of observation, I can easily make do with one eye.” I tell him.

“As I thought.” He picks up the eye glass. “Until we’re ready to properly restore your eye, you’ll have to use this prosthetic.” He gives the fake eye a squeeze. “It’ll prevent your body from filling the socket and help your eyelids function properly. Plus it’ll look a little less intense than the eye-patch.”

“The scar will still stand out, though.” I comment.

“It’s been healing nicely. It’ll be gone in no time.” He assures me. “Now, try to resist the urge to blink while I insert this.”

I nod as much as I can while lying down.

Using magic, he shrinks the eye enough to get it through my socket. As it’s being inserted, I lose track of it. I can’t see inside my own body with spiritual power, after all. The dry, slightly cold feeling assures me it’s been grown to its proper size, filling in nicely.

“This might be uncomfortable.” He says before he starts rotating the fake eye around. “Good. Now try blinking.”

It really feels strange. The dry feeling is mostly gone, and the eye has started to match my body temperature. It’s still going to take some time getting used to this feeling, though.

“Blinking seems fine. Size is good.” He places his thumb at the top of my nose bridge, with two fingers on the side of my head, next to my eye.

I feel a jolt running through my face, as he casts a spell.

“Focus on my finger.” He says raising an index finger above me.

It’s a typical focus test. Moving the finger around, I track it with my eyes, or eye in this case.

“Alright, seems to work fine.” He says. “I connected the glass eye to the muscles with a mana link. It’ll move around like the real one would. Last thing is the color. Can’t have you walk around with a grey eye after all.”

All he does for that is just touching the eye directly. I feel nothing as he does this.

“Good. Now take a look in the mirror, if you would.” He gestures me to go ahead.

Maintaining eye contact with my handsome reflection, I move my head around to get a look at the eye, and it tracks my reflection perfectly. The color he chose is the same deep blue used to mask my natural golden eyes. The only problem is that currently the illusion is gone and I look heterochromatic, like some sort of fanfiction child. It should only be a couple minutes before the illusion restores itself and it looks normal again. The only other thing being the scar, which doesn’t look too bad, though that too will be gone in a couple more days.

“You never cease to amaze me, Doc.” I comment.

“Either that’s a compliment, or a remark on how little you think of my skills.” He takes a sip of his coffee, hiding his smirk.

I sit down on the bed again. “While we’re still on that topic. How much life do I have left?” I ask.

“I can’t say for certain.” He puts the cup down. “I would have to do an in-depth analysis to figure out the exact numbers. I’d wager on ten years at best, though.”

“Ten more years?” I ask. “Think that’ll change if I complete my transformation into a dragon?”

“Yeah, I figured you’d learned about that, with your back and all.” He gestures towards me. “Considering your life force amounted to the average human’s, and the fact most dragons outlive even youkai sages, I’d say there’s a good chance you’d be able to extend your own life.”

“And in your opinion, how likely is it I can complete a transformation into a dragon?” I ask.

“Honestly, I have no clue. You’re the first dragon hybrid I’ve met, after all.” He admits. “You’re in your prime, though, so unless there are other criteria, I’d say you have the best chance for success now.”

“I see.” Something to bring up with Yukari.

“Obviously, I’ll do what I can to help you in that regard.” He comments. “You humans have such short lifespans, it’s over before it even begins. Yours being even shorter.”

With that comment, he leaves the room.

After getting dressed again, I leave the office and make my way to the shrine’s front steps where the girls have situated themselves.

“Renko. We gotta talk.” I state.

She lifts her head to look at me, but lies back down. “Too tired for a lecture.” She complains.

“You have a talent for magic, Renko.” I crouch. “If you become my successor, I’ll pass on everything I know and help you drag out your full potential.”

She doesn’t answer. Instead she just stares into the sky.

“If I become your successor, I’ll have to commit to your world?” She asks.

“Wait. Renko. You can’t!” Her blonde friend voices her opinion. “You shouldn’t trust him.”

“That’s right, Renko.” I ignore her friend. “If you choose to accept, you’ll formally enter the world of magic. There’ll be no turning back, no way to return to being a normal human.”

“And what exactly would you expect me to do, as I study under you?” She asks.

“You can’t be serious, Renko.” Blondie stands up.

“Once you’ve completed the initial training, so we can expect you to handle a youkai in combat, you’ll be tasked with locating and repairing holes in a large barrier.” I tell her.

“A barrier?” She sits up. “For what reason?”

“I can’t tell you.” I answer.

“I decline.” She states, lying back down. “We have our own goal, and I would be forced to give it up, if I joined you.”

“A shame.” I stand up. “But that’s that. Any other questions you have before I kick you out of my home?”

“Is he, that haughty pale guy, going to come after us again?” Renko asks.

“I don’t know.” I answer. “If he thinks I’ll come save you again, he might.”

“I see. Let’s head home, Mary.” The tomboy gets up. “I’m getting tired again already.”

I think the outburst earlier drained Blondie for energy. She hasn’t spoken since, and her movement has gotten sluggish.

“Yeah, let’s.” Blondie lazily pushes herself off the wall. “Just don’t listen to him, alright?”

“Don’t worry, I won’t.” She looks back at me just before the two of them start descending the stairs. As she does, she pulls out her phone, just enough to make sure I can see it, while still keeping it hidden from her friend.

She’s telling me to expect a call? Should probably have told her I’m going back to Gensokyo later today, if I’ve read Yukari right. Or maybe she’s telling me to call her soon. Assuming she’s sticking to the small muscle training plan I’ve given her, she should soon be ready to begin for real. I’ll call her then, no sooner.

And my phone rings.

To my surprise, it’s not Renko who got very impatient, but a rather ballsy professor.

I answer the call. “Speak.”

Yumemi doesn’t say anything for a few seconds. “I wanna talk. In person.” She states.


==========
Mokuyama, Kyoto - 13:16
==========

As I ascend along the mountain path, I emit a constant stream of spiritual energy, meticulously keeping an eye on everything in my surroundings.

So far I haven’t sensed any other people. I haven’t found any traps, nor do I sense any processed mana.

Seems like she’s kept her word.

She stands up from the tree stump and walks down the path to greet me as I approach.

I stop once there’s approximately ten meters between us. Even uphill, that’s a small distance I can cover in an instant, in case things takes a turn for the worse.

“Ryuko,” she starts.

“Stop.” I cut her off. “First I’d like to say, the only reason I’m here is because I appreciate the balls it’d take to contact me after our last encounter. The situation hasn’t change, so keep that in mind.”

“I know.” She states.” And I’ve come to make a deal. I know that’s something you people do.”

I sigh. “You know, internally we refer to these deals as the Devil’s Contract.” I explain. “We’ll give you what you ask, if you can provide something equal in return. Not negotiable.”

“I had a feeling that was the case.”

“Oh really? In that case, what is it you want?” I hold my arms.

“Knowledge.” She states firmly. “I want to know everything there is to know about magic.”

And this is the point where I demand she become my successor in return, or what? It honestly seems too convenient for Renko to reject me only for another opportunity to jump up immediately afterwards. Too bad I don’t trust her enough to impart my responsibilities with her.

“I’m afraid that’s impossible.” I tell her. “I’m only a human after all, not some genie.”

She clenches her fists.

“Magic is not like you think it is.” I continue. “Magic and science are two sides of the same coin. While science is a process of discovery through observation, magic is the process of discovery through action. The goal of discovering the truth about everything is the same for both, though their methods differ.” I explain to her. “That little bit was a freebie.”

“Then, what do you know about? What knowledge can you teach me?” She asks.

“So, you’re asking me to teach you everything I know? To pass on two decades of accumulated experience?” I ask her. “What do you imagine the price for that is?”

“The fact you’re asking, means it’s more than I can pay.” She clicks her tongue. “And I finally thought we’d gotten a lead.”

“To clarify the price. It’d take roughly ten to fifteen years to properly pass on all my knowledge. After that, you’d have to give me twenty years of your life.” I tell her. “You’d be sixty years old by the time you’ve fulfilled your end.”

“Is that a form of marriage proposal?” She raises an eyebrow.

“Slavery.” I correct her. “Enforced by a magical contract no less, meaning if either of us broke our side of the deal, we’d die.”

“Yeah, there’s no way I could agree to that.” With her head hanging, she walks back to her tree stump.

“So tell me, why do you want magic so bad?” I ask her.

“Because science has failed me.” She says. “With the current level of technology, there’s no way I can go back. And I don’t have the equipment to prove the theories necessary to advance science. My only other option is to kickstart the discovery of magic or accept my fate.”

“Yeah, I followed none of that.” Though I have an idea, but it’s too farfetched.

“I need magic if I want to return home.” She states. “But I can’t cast spells. It’s the same for Chiyuri, since she came with me here.”

Yeah, now there’s no way I can make her my successor. She doesn’t just want to make magic public knowledge, she wants to leave. Entrusting her with the Great Hakurei Barrier is out of the question. Which is too bad, because she has potential. She technically already qualifies for the title of Mage.

“My stance hasn’t changed.” I tell her. “I refuse to knowingly disclose magic to the public, even by proxy.”

“I know. And I doubt that will change any time soon.” She says. “That’s why, I had hoped you’d help me. So I wouldn’t need to make magic public, because it’s still too soon.”

“To be honest, I don’t want you to become part of the world of magic. It’s far from pleasant.” I tell her.

“That’s the impression I’ve gotten.” She leans over, resting herself on her knees. “Which means I’m stuck, unless we have a breakthrough.”

My guts are telling me she’s purposefully trying to guilt trip me. But at the same time, there’s nothing about her body language that suggests she’s lying.

Helping her might be hypocritical of me, since I’ve denied Renko time and time again. But at the same time, Yumemi is already firmly aware of magic, considering she’s made her own spells.

“Assuming I were to agree to teach you about magic, what would you be able to offer me in return?” I ask.

She looks up at me. “If it’s about slavery, then I’d rather not.”

“No, that’s the price for buying everything I know about magic as a whole.” I correct her. “If I were to teach you the basics of magic, enough so that you would be able to start learning on your own. What would you give me in return for that?” I kneel in front of her, so we’re on eye level.

“I,” she trails off, “I don’t know what you want.”

“Part of I what want, is an unbreakable promise that you won’t pass on my teachings to the public, either directly or indirectly. Of course, you may share it with your friend, but you’ll be responsible for how she handles the knowledge.” I stand back up. “Second, I want a full copy of all your current research into magic.”

“Is that all?” She asks. “That should be easy enough.”

“No.” I cut her joy short. Out of all the things I know you have, that’s all I want. But it’s not a fair trade. Therefor, what more can you offer me to make this worth my time and effort?”

“Uhh.” She raises her eyebrows, which then turns to a frown. She covers her mouth as she closes her eyes, humming to herself. There’s a sigh and she moves her hand to her forehead. Then she crosses her arms and leans back, before finally sitting back upright. “I have nothing. All my money goes to my research, so I have nothing to spare. I doubt I have a skill you could put to use. If I have anything to offer, it’d have to be my body.”

“I’d rather not take that deal.” I state. “Either way, this was a hypothetical question. I will think about it, though. So until I’ve made up my mind, try to think of something worthwhile for compensation.”

“Wait. What do you mean not worthwhile?” She jumps up. “I’ll have you know I’m a prize.”

“Seems you got your energy back.” I ignore her comment, which warrants a faint blush from her. “Then I’ll take my leave for today. I’ll be unavailable in the days to come, so I’ll contact you whenever I have the time.”


==========
16th of Planting Month, 12:20
Yakumo House, Gensokyo’s Border
==========

She strikes my chin from below, forcing me to stagger backwards.

Taking advantage of the situation, Ran strikes me in the chest, knocking me to the ground, yet again.

“That makes twelve.” The fox clone relaxes her stance.” Are you sure you don’t need a break? I could bring something to drink.”

“I felt like I was on the verge of figuring something out, but I think I lost it.” I kick my legs into the air, jumping back up on my feet. “I felt like I could match your moves a bit. I even managed to land a solid blow.”

“Only once, though.” She stuffs her hands into her sleeves. “But it’s going to take more than that to destroy this shikigami.”

“But of course. You’re in a different league than me entirely.” I admit. “So I appreciate you sparring with me, even though you have other things to attend to.”

It’s amazing, really. Ran apparently has seventeen shikigami running around constantly, each of them doing their own thing. Since she’s directly controlling them, it means she’s barley giving this one five percent, and she still has to hold back to fight me fairly.

Another one of Ran’s shikigami walk out of the door with a tray in hand, closing the door behind her with her tails.

“This should do the trick.” Ran number two holds out the tray.

Going by the scent, it’s citrus flavored water. Going by the taste, it’s lemon. It’s a bland taste, everything considered, but refreshing nonetheless.

“It’s rather amazing I never noticed there was more than one of you.” I put the glass back on the tray. “Given my ability to track spiritual energy and all.”

Both of them emit a sizable about of spiritual energy, completely identical to each other. Nothing like the level Yukari is emitting, but enough to stand out from the sage’s fog of energy.

“Aside from my main body, there’s normally only one shikigami in this house.” Ran number one looks towards the house. “And since my room is physically disconnected from the house, it makes sense you can’t sense it from here.”

I follow her gaze, sending a wave of energy through the house giving it another look. Which turns up empty.

So I haven’t sensed the real Ran yet? Not that that would surprise me, after all. Foxes are the masters of deception and trickery. Something so simple as hiding her main body so people like me can’t find it should be child’s play to her.

“Let me change the topic.” Ran number one motions me back towards the house. “Isn’t it about time you get back to Yukari’s training?”

“That’s right.” Ran number two steps aside, making room for me. “It’s been a few days since you’ve come back, and you haven’t even spoken to her yet.”

“It feels like an uphill battle to study under her.” Taking her up on the offer, I take a seat on the walkway. “It’s like we keep talking past each other.”

“You’ve only ever had one teacher, right?” The first Ran asks. “It might just take a bit of time before you two adjust to each other.”

“Though I admit Yukari can be a handful at times.” Ran the Second adds. “I’ve known her for centuries, and she still keeps me in the dark about a lot of things.”

“So I just have to trust her.” I finish off her point. “I get that much, but she hasn’t exactly proven trustworthy in my opinion.”

Number One cocks her head slightly. “Well, that’s fair. She can definitely be a handful.” Ran number one agrees. “And it’s not like I can ask you to trust her, or me for that matter.”

“She is trying, though.” Number Two raises her index finger. “She has been spending a lot of late nights, going over her old progress. Not that she wants you to know, though.”

“Anyway.”” Number one quickly adds. “All I’ll ask of you, is that you give her a chance.”

“That’s essentially the same as asking me to trust her, though.” I argue. “Of course, if I were to back out now, it’d just prove how weak my resolve to become stronger actually is. It’ll only get rougher from here on anyway.”

Her ears flick, visibly through her hat. “Great. So with that settled, what’s your plan now? Wanting to spar all day again?”

[ ] It’s about time I get started with Yukari again
[ ] I’m long overdo on letting Akyuu know I’m alright
[ ] Sparing doesn’t seem like a bad idea. I might be able to figure that something out.
- [ ] It felt like I knew what she was going to do ahead of time
- [ ] It felt like my movement could keep up with my reaction for a while
[ ] Ran still owes me some lessons on Shikigami
>> No. 31349
[x] It’s about time I get started with Yukari again


All options are really good, but let's prioritize.
>> No. 31350
[x] It’s about time I get started with Yukari again
>> No. 31351
[X] It’s about time I get started with Yukari again
>> No. 31358
> prioritize

Sure thing.

[x] I’m long overdue on letting Akyuu know I’m alright.
>> No. 31360
[x] I’m long overdo on letting Akyuu know I’m alright

It's mean to keep her in the dark and this isn't some RPG.
>> No. 31361
>>31358
>overdue
Huh? My proofer is usually pretty anal about small mistakes like that. Yet it got past both of us.

Regardless, it's time to get back to playing with the elderly
>> No. 31362
Alright, so everything has been taken care of, regarding the update, except actually writing it. I'll try to get it out before this month is over, then take the next month off from this story to try my hands on the November Challenge.

I mean, I only need to work 30 times faster, so it should be easy.
That said, I'm likely going to take half of December off from writing to recover, but I'll be sure to get the usual New Year update out on time
>> No. 31388
File 154127034872.jpg - (54.17KB, 666x1021, Apron.jpg) [iqdb]
31388
==========
16th of Planting Month, 12:25
Yakumo House, Gensokyo’s Border
==========

“As fun as it sounds to spar for another whole day, I think it’s about time I got back to Yukari.” I tell her. “After all, I came here to train under her.”

The fox closes her eyes and hums to herself a bit. “Lady Yukari should be in her study right about now.”

“Thank you.” I give her a small polite bow. “I’ll be sure to get back to you once I have some more free time. Learning to use shikigami would be incredibly useful.”

“Paper shikigami are tools.” The other Ran adds in. “Use them right and they’ll be helpful. But use them wrong and they’ll only get in the way.”

“For example,” The first Ran holds up a finger. “By deploying multiple shikigami, I have the ability to be in several places at the same time. And while each shikigami is weaker than my main body, they’re more than capable of doing the tasks I need them to do.”

“Figured.” I shrug. “Even a weak copy of yours need to hold back to come down to my level.”

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of, Ryuko.” She smiles widely. “I’m old enough to soon lose my ninth tail again. No normal human would be able to spar with me, even with my power fragmented like this.”

“Most people aren’t dragons either.” I comment as I walk over to the faucet.

I turn it on and take seat right underneath the water stream, just to get the worst sweat off me.

I can almost hear the heat leaving my body, as I let the cold water soak me completely.

Typically, I have talismans attached to my back which help me regulate my body’s heat. I’ve had to take them off seeing as they were getting unstable after a lot of use. And I don’t make these in bulk like most other talismans.

Having cooled off again, I turn off the faucet and stand back up.

Water - Repel

I focus the enchantment into the palms of my hands, and as it’s completed, I yank my hands down to my sides. For a lack of a better description, the water explodes off me and my clothes, flying out in every direction, leaving me completely dry again.

When Yumemi talks about the benefits of magic, I think it’s small things like this she imagines. Because it’s moments like this I’m glad I’ve learned enchantments.

When people think of enchantments, they typically think of granting a sword an elemental attribute or a piece of clothing some amplifying properties. Both of those do fall under enchanting, since they alter the properties of something, but they lack the imagination to truly use this school of magic.

Of course, the use of enchanting, like any magic, the way you use it depends on the catalyst chosen. In my case, I use words as a catalyst for enchanting. This means there are things I can do which other catalysts can’t, such as masking my enchantments with different languages or even inventing my own language to use. But it also restricts me in several ways, like being unable to create advanced enchantments. I’m restricted to three words, where single words create powerful but often unpredictable effects, while chained words have a more controlled though weaker effect.

The effects of the words depends on the caster’s understanding of the word. Like the word, “Weight” on its own would increase the weight of the targeted object, but with additional words the enchantment can be modified to lighten the weight, both relatively and absolutely.

Of course it’s not that simple, or anyone could master it. Most enchantments depend on the target as well, and how the caster relates the word to the target. This can be a strength of using words as a catalyst, since it allows for some complexity despite the initial lack thereof, but if this aspect is not understood, it can be quite problematic to use single words.

Take “Purge” for example. “To get rid of the undesirable. To clean impurities.” If I were to use that on a glass of water, it would become everyday tap water, by removing anything that would change that, though it can’t add anything to the water. Using Purge on a rock would effectively just clean it, remove moss dirt and bird shit.

Using Purge on living beings is remarkably safe despite how powerful the word is. It removes all foreign substances and objects from inside the body. Which include poisons like alcohol, parasites and implanted objects like screws and stitches, in case you’d had a surgery.

Now, the enchantment I used, “Water, Repel.” Being only two words, it’s a powerful enchantment which temporarily repels water from the surface of my skin. The base word “Repel” is placed as the second word in the chain. This is only allowed because the first word isn’t a property or action of some sort, and this has the effect of weakening the enchantment below the two word chain to a three word chain, while turning the first word into a target modifier. It would have been possible to add a third word, weakening the spell to a four word chain, which has virtually no effect.

And while I’ve been monologuing about things I clearly know and have no real reason to go over again, I’ve made my way to Yukari’s study.

I knock on the door.

“Come in, Ryuko.” She replies almost immediately.

As I slide open the door, she folds in a scroll she’d been reading, from the looks of it.

“I’ve confirmed it with Ran.” I state. “My body has recovered fully, with the exception of my eye.”

Storing the scroll in the cabinet behind her, she stands up. “Then let us get started.” She says, mildly enthusiastically. “Follow me outside.”

“So, where are we going to pick up?” I ask her.

“Little old Junya told me you learn best when you learn on your own.” She answers. “So I tried to just push you in the right direction, but otherwise leave you to yourself.”

“Which really only works if I have more of an idea where I’m going.” I reply. “Without knowing where to even start, I ended up going nowhere.”

The sage looks back up at me. “Wrong.” She states, looking back ahead to where she’s going. “You actually ended up going backwards, from where I wanted you to go. Which is entirely my fault.”

She slides open the door outside, revealing a scenery entirely different than the grounds the house is built on.In fact, stepping outside and looking back at the house reveals nothing but a door by its lonesome self.

The location itself is a flat mountain top. I can see the human village off in the distance, but it’s far, far away.

“This here,” she draws a line in the dirt with her parasol, “is one of Gensokyo’s entrances to heaven. I’m sure you can feel it, right?”

“Yeah, this place is charged with spiritual energy, beyond what even Inari’s shrine can manage.” And she’s one of the more visited shrines too, because of the unique entrance. “You’re not asking me to go to heaven, right?”

“No.” She shakes her head. “Without the Yama’s pass, you’d walk endlessly towards heaven without getting any closer, yet still get further away from earth.” She steps over to my side of the line she drew. “I’m going to have you rediscover the nature of spiritual energy, of this higher dimensional power we can tap into.”

Without warning she grabs my collar and with inhuman force, drags me towards her before letting go.

“What the hell?” I protest. “Warn me before you do stuff like that.”

“Take a look behind you, if you would.” Yukari instructs calmly.

Behind me? There’s nothing behind- is that me? Or my body, rather.

I look at my hands.

Transparent. Jade. Liquid. Embers.

My hands, no my entire current body is made from this, these burning watery embers.

“What’s going on, Yukari?” I turn back around to face her.

“I’ve extracted a large portion of your spiritual energy and linked it directly to your consciousness.” She states, as she walks through me to my physical body. My god, that’s a strange feeling. “The energy you’re attached to right now will slowly disperse, naturally. Once it’s all gone, you’ll wake up back in your own body.”

I take another look at my hands.

So this is what my spiritual power looks like? Burning green water? Normally, you can’t see your own spiritual power, since it’d cause an effect similar to light pollution, making you unable to detect anything but yourself.

“Until you can create a barrier, no matter how small, or until your spiritual power runs out, you’ll be staying on this mountain.” My body disappears into Yukari’s gap. “With your power, that could take a few days. Until then, we’ll be keeping your body safe.”

“Wait. You’re doing it again.” I stop her just before she steps into her gap herself. “Where am I even supposed to start this training?”

“Start by trying to create a barrier.” She states. “Then ponder the results. Consider why I took you here of all places. Then try to get a feel for spiritual energy again.”

With that said, she disappears, closing the gap behind her.

I swear, if this is how we’re going to keep training, then I’ll be better off going back to the shrine. At least she gave me a hint this time.

Anyway. Since she implied creating a barrier would be tougher in this state, I should do it properly instead to taking all the shortcuts I’ve learned.

I straighten out my stance, standing tall as I start spooling up my spiritual energy.

And to my surprise, I can actually see it moving inside of my immaterial body, bubbling up as it moves around.

I clap my hands together, pressing each finger against its opposite as I spread them out as far as I can before I fold them into each other. With my hands intertwined, I press my thumbs against each other and channel my spiritual energy into the space between my palms.

“Curabitur, bibendum, eu.” I chant.

It’s a foreign chant, obviously. This one is the easiest barrier in my entire arsenal, creating a simple flat surface exactly one meter ahead of me, centered and angled relative to my hips. The simplicity comes at the cost of strength, though. It’ll be enough to stop the average human, but anyone worth their salt can break it.

Yet nothing happens.

I felt the spiritual energy leave me like usual, yet nothing happened.

Just as I pull my hands apart again, a sphere falls out from in between them, dispersing before it hits the ground.

What?

I repeat the spell and the same thing happens again.

This has never happened before.

I do it again, this time pushing the ball up before it has a chance to fall, though it disperses regardless as soon as I’ve completed the spell.


==========
Mountain top, Gensokyo - 16:18
==========

Are you fucking serious?

I march to the other end of the small plateau, running both hands through my hair.

How can it be so fucking simple?

“Fuck!” I yell out and start stomping back to the other end again.

I’m missing something. I gotta be. I need to be.

I hold out both my hands, imagining a perfect square filling the space between them. As I start to pour spiritual energy into it, the cube appears.

It worked. Fuck.

I throw the cube on the ground, shattering it.

Thirteen years. It’s taken me thirteen years to master barrier crafting, to understand the underlying formulae, why they’re used and how to mix and match to get the desired result.

And all of that can be ignored just by imagining it.

I kick a rock with all the anger in my nonexistent body, only to pass through the small stone.

Just thinking about all the possibilities I’ll have with this fills me with as much excitement as frustration. And I have no idea how to describe this feeling which only makes it worse.

But why the hell does it work? It’s never been this easy when I had a body. Is it because I’m a spiritual being right now, or a pseudo spiritual being at least. I’m still attached to my body.

Does it have anything to do with this place? Yukari did say it was special. One of the entries to heaven, a place brimming with spiritual energy.

The relation to heaven doesn’t matter, since Yukari can do this too wherever. Is it the spiritual power? If so, why could she do it back at her place even though I couldn’t?


==========
22:54
==========

I’m exhausted. Yet I’m not tired.

This body doesn’t feel exhaustion the same way my physical body does. Rather, I can feel I just need a break, a good few hours to just relax. The problem is, there’s nothing else to do up here, so I get bored out of my mind as soon as I try to stop thinking about anything.

Normally, when I need a break from thinking, I just work out, lets me go on auto-pilot. If I could at least start a fire, I’d have something to distract me visually. All I have is the clear night sky. And as beautiful as it is, it never changes so there’s nothing new to spot.

==========
05:37
==========

So I’m starting to notice patterns with what I can and can’t do with spiritual power by just imagining it.

Pattern one. There’s literally no shape I can’t create, as long as I have enough spiritual energy to form it. I can even determine the density of objects, which will obviously impact how solid they are.

Pattern two. Animating these objects requires focus. If I focus on an existing object, presumably one I’ve created, I can alter its shape. The problem arises from the fact it takes the shape that dominates my mind. So to animate it, I have to imagine every step of the animation from shape A to shape B. Skipping back and forth in my thoughts causes the shape to skip back and forth too, making it unstable and breaks.

Pattern three. All these objects have a relative anchor point, which seem to default to my primary hand, though it can be changed easily. The shapes aren’t bound to this point by default either, but is another things that can be changed relatively easily. Using this point, I don’t need to actually touch the shape to create or manipulate it.

==========
12:12
==========

I might have gotten little carried away when experimenting, but I can create and maintain about twenty of these shapes at once, if I keep them all simple. I need them all within my field of view, otherwise I’ll lose track of it, because each of them require their own image, meaning I have to multitask to do this.

==========
20:51
==========

Enchantments works too. Though this requires the dual casting skill I picked up a few years back.

Since I usually have to use a formula to create barriers, weaving enchantments into them usually meant adding a few variables into the mix. But if I do it like this, I have to cast the enchantment on the energy itself, which was a challenge by itself, but oddly interesting.

I haven’t been able to casts enchantments like this either. Those require a catalyst regardless.

==========
02:42
==========

Something’s off about the barriers created like this. I tried recreating a tried and true barrier type using this spiritual shaping skill, and something seems very off about it.

Actually, it looks like a brute-forced version of the barrier, which is unlike the weaving required to shape it using the spell.

==========
03:36
==========

So that’s it. I still have to weave the barrier to make it work. I just have to do it manually while keeping the barrier as a whole in mind.

Seems unreasonably hard. It’d require an inhuman level on concentration and memory to keep track of this level of detail.

To try and visualize it, imagine a rope. In order to make a rope, you have to wrap a bunch of thin threads together. Then wrap those threads together. And then those, and so on until you have a nice and thick rope. A lengthy piece of work that produces a solid result.

But then we have machines that can do the same exact thing, but quicker, of better, since they can weave the threads in a more entwined manner, allowing them to use each other for more strength while being thinner.

It’s the same difference there’s between using this shaping skill and using standardized spells.

Sure, an inherent flaw of the spells is the need for an underlying structure, dictating it’s pattern and giving it a sense of uniform and reusability. I mean, that’s not a bad thing, but it means you need to generalize a way to calculate all of that on the fly before you can create it as a spell.

Shaping is far less restrictive, since you can shape it anyway you want. The problem arises from the fact that you need certain aspects for the barrier to be stable. Creating that manually takes more time, though it’s something that will get easier with practice, as you can generalize that part of it. Of course, doing that means you restrict yourself on the type of barrier based on the foundation, but more so is that you start moving back to the spell based creation instead of the shaping.

Combining the two is an obvious choice too, which doesn’t seem unreasonable after a bit of practice.

Though that line of thinking has gotten me curious.

==========
09:02
==========

Took some trial and error, but I somehow managed to anchor the shape to the earth, making it stationary in the air. I mean, that in itself was easy, since I can just anchor it to something obvious.

No, the hard part came afterwards as I started to play with the restrictions of this.

Anchoring the shape to something means that whatever force is exerted on the shape is transferred to the anchor. Meaning, if I anchor a barrier to myself, I’ll be able to walk around with it, but all force the barrier will experience, such as incoming attacks or thrown objects, will be transferred to me. In theory, of course; I don’t have a body to test it on currently.

But that will mean I can have my body remain unharmed through my barrier, though I won’t be able to stop anything with more force or mass than my own body. The same thing applies to all anchors. If I use a tree, then the barrier’s location will only be locked as firmly as that tree’s resistance to outside force.

The shape itself also has a limited resistance, meaning if the force is too great for the shape but not the anchor, then the shape will break. Factoring this in when creating the shape should allow for a great shield, maybe even a great weapon despite the fact spiritualism is generally reserved for support in terms of combat. That will just make it a surprise attack the first time I use it. After that, the word will have spread and people will be on guard for it.

Can I layer shapes anchored to the same object? If that’s the case, then I might be able to use Newton’s second and third law to my advantage by progressively chipping of velocity with a bunch of weak shapes.

That might not work as well as I hoped, on second thought. Maybe if it’s possible to anchor a shape to multiple objects at once?

==========
11:55
==========

Short answer; yes and yes.

It is in fact possible to layer shapes onto the same anchor. How that impacts the overall force resistance is still undetermined.

It is also possible to anchor a single shape to multiple objects. How that impacts the force resistance has yet to be theorized.

I mean, obviously, with multiple anchors, the overall force will be distributed across all anchors, meaning the resistance of each anchor will come into play. But how the distribution happens, as in how much force each anchor has to cancel out and what happens should one break, is still unknown.

It’s going to be a pain to remember all these questions for Yukari, and I’m frankly having too much fun experimenting and playing around with this skill to really remember them since I just move on to the next question I have right at that moment.


==========

The next thing I know, I’m staring into the ceiling of the room Yukari lets me use.

I sit up, only to realize how stiff my body’s become and how much it hurts to move before I ultimately just fall back onto my bed.

It’s a western style bed too. Yukari has a surprising taste in decoration, mixing both new and old designs from both the east and the west. My room has been designed to look like a modern single room apartment, without the toilet and the stove, of course. The door, strangely enough, is an eastern sliding door, as opposed to a western style swing door like modern apartments. And then there’s the back wall, which leads directly outside. It mixes the western style of the adjacent walls into the open Japanese style via finely carved wood patterns that progressively get more open the further back they go.

The furniture is all western, though. A wide makeshift table, which is really just a wooden tabletop placed on two small dressers. It’s all made from the same type of dark wood, so it blends nicely.

The door slides open, drawing me out of my thoughts.

It’s Ran. She’s carrying a big bowl of water. Her sleeves rolled up to her shoulders.

“You’re awake already?” She asks, walking in and placing the bowl on the table. “We first expected you to wake up tomorrow.”

“I might have gone a little overboard.” I admit, trying to sit up again. “What did you do to my body to make it this stiff?”

“You’ve lied there for two days straight.” Ran explains. “Anyone would get stiff after that long of doing nothing.”

Right. I’m not used to being motionless. Especially not under these circumstances. I mean it’s not like I spent the last couple of days doing nothing. I just did it without my body.

“So, did you learn anything?” She wrings up a piece of cloth she took from the water.

“I might have discovered something amazing.” I tell her. “Once I get my body started again, I’ll see try to see if I can replicate it.”

She presses the cloth against my forehead- and my god it’s freezing cold.

I flinch back out of reflex, but Ran follows the motion, keeping the cloth pressed against my face.

“Careful.” She instructs me as she pulls me back up sitting. “You’re burning hot. You’ve been so since yesterday.”

I grab my own nape, and sure enough, it’s hot. More so than it normally should be.

“Ran, in my bag, wherever it is right now, there should be a bundle of spell tags like the ones taped to my back.” I tell her. “If you could bring it here and help me swap out the ones I have with new ones from the bundle, I believe it should fix it.”

“If that’s all, then it should barely take a minute.” She says, removing the cloth to dip it in the water again. “Might I ask what they’re for, these tags?”

“They help regulate my internal body heat.” I explain. “This is likely a sign that the cold ones have expired.”

Though it’s odd I didn’t notice it myself. Maybe because it happened while I had my out-of-body experience? In that case it should have hit me like a brick when I woke up. It’s hard to say how the body actually works sometimes, since it seems to have a life on it’s own.

Another Ran walks into the room, carrying a plate. “I’m afraid I couldn’t prepare anything warm to eat on such a short notice.” She says, putting the plate down next to the bowl. “I imagine you would be hungry, since you haven’t had anything to eat since the other day.” She wipes her hands in her apron. “I’ll prepare a little more for you for tonight. Meanwhile, be sure to drink.”

A third Ran enters the room, twirling the book of spell tags from my back around her finger. “I took the liberty of glancing over the spells you have prepared.” She notes, flipping through the many tags before stopping on one. “These are the ones you mentioned, right? They appear to have something to do with temperature from what I could glance.”

“I will go fetch something to drink.” Apron Ran declares as she leaves the room.

“Yeah, those are the ones, Ran.” I answer her. “You’ll find the other set ten pages ahead. I need you to pull off the ones I have on me currently and replace them with one of the same type, alternating between them.”

“Alright.” The Ran holding the book rips out the tags from the collection. “Turn around, if you would.”

I shuffle around the on the bed, turning my back against the two of them.

Without warning, she just rips one of them off.

“This definitely looks worn out.” One of them comments. They have the exact same voice, so I can’t tell the difference. “How often do you change these?”

“Four to six times a year.” I reply. “Given how much spiritual energy I can pour into them, they last quite long.”

She tapes one to my back, rubbing it to make sure it sticks properly.

“From what I can read, they consume quite a lot of power.” She comments. “A normal human would suffer spiritual depletion within minutes.”

“The amount of energy I produce easily surpasses that of most youkai.” I state. “Yukari is one of the first youkai I’ve met to actually surpass me.”

“Too bad spiritual energy isn’t as viable as mana.” She chuckles to herself. “If you had half as much mana, I’m not even sure I would be able to match you.”

“Yeah. Sadly, I had an unfortunate encounter that meant I either had to expand my spiritual energy pool at an alarming rate, or die.” I tell her. “This sadly prevented any further growth in both my mana pool and ki pool.”

She rips another one off, and plasters a new one right back on. “I’m sad to hear that.”

“Nothing you could have done about it.” I assure her. “Just a dumb little kid being dumb. I’m just glad I survived.”

“Is it okay to ask about this, or?” She trails off, leaving the rest of the question remain implied.

“I’d rather not talk about the event itself, to be honest. Too unpleasant to remember.” I tell her. “I can say it wasn’t the event itself that caused my spirit pool to expand. The event forced my production to go through the roof. Afterwards, it just wouldn’t stop, which then forced my pool to expand. I was bedridden for days as my body tried to adapt and compensate.”

“I sometimes forget how fragile you humans can be.” She replaces another tag. “Most I meet are like you. In the sense that they stand above the rest of humanity as combatants. You know, people who can take a punch or two before going down.”

“So far I’m at two punches.” I brag. “I can take two serious hits from most youkai before I go down. If it were someone like you, on the other hand, I probably wouldn’t die after one punch, but I certainly wouldn’t be able to fight.”

“Then it’s simple. Don’t get hit at all.” She declares in an equally playful tone as mine. “Problem solved.”

“I’d be the world’s best fighter if I could avoid taking a single hit from anyone.” I argue. “And while I’m certainly great, I’m not quite that good.”

She chuckles as she rips another one off. This one with a little more force than the previous ones, almost causing me to flinch. She applies a cold talisman, causing any pain there might have been to fade away quickly.

“I think that was the broken one.” I note. “The new one seems a lot colder than the previous one. In a few minutes I should have cooled off to my normal body temperature again.”

“Sounds fantastic.” She says as she rips off another. “After this there are just three more to go.”

“There’s only eight?” I ask.

“Should there be more?” She stops her motion to ask.

“No. The current amount is the right number.” I assure her. “It’s just that I keep remembering the number I miscounted instead of the number I corrected it to, so I keep confusing myself.”

She replaces another tag. “I see. That’s not something I’m familiar with myself, but I can understand the concept.”

“Considering how many shikigami you work at once, that’s rather impressive.” I tell her.

“Maybe.” She replaces another tag. “Though I’ve worked like this for centuries, so it’s not exactly something new to me.”

With nothing left to say, I let her replace the last one without interruption.

“I brought the water.” Apron Ran comes back. “It took a little time to freeze the ice properly.”

I shuffle back around on my bed, so I face them.

“Where’s the last one of you?” I ask, glancing over the room. There were three Rans just a minute ago, but now there’s only two.

“We merged.” The Ran that’s been here the whole time says. “I took the remaining energy from her to extend the remaining time of this shikigami.”

I take the sizeable cup from Apron Ran and down it. Didn’t realize how thirsty I was. Guess it’s going to take another moment for my body to wake up completely again. Sitting around here is not going to help in that matter.


[ ] Find Yukari
- [ ] I need to get back to that training to test some more things
- [ ] Have her confirm the fruits of my training
[ ] I want to try this skill while in my physical body
[ ] Request a spar with Ran, to get my body moving again

Next update is likely first coming at new years. In case you care, my challenge entry is >>/shrine/41087
>> No. 31391
[x] I want to try this skill while in my physical body
[X] Confirm with Yukari the results

Uh, I guess she was right: he is the type to learn better by herself
>> No. 31392
[x] Request a spar with Ran, to get my body moving again

Better wake up fully before we go doing anything silly.
>> No. 31406
[x] Request a spar with Ran, to get my body moving again.
>> No. 31479
With Nanowrimo over, I can finally call this vote.

Having spent the month working on a different story, and as a result not being able to think about this one at all, has allowed me to come back after a fresh breath of air. Reading back the last couple of updates, I notice several small things that, if improved should help improve the feeling of the updates.
Though, Ran's seeming blandness is by design. My proofer has pointed that out several times, so I'm aware. Once I get the next sub-quest going, hat should change.

>>31391
You've never had a moment like that? You just learned how to do something new within one of your favorite hobbies, followed by you playing around with the limits of that new thing, trying to see exactly what you can and can't do?
Because that's all it was, or was meant to be anyway. He learned the new skill and then just played around with the limits.
>> No. 31491
File 154630083112.jpg - (919.73KB, 800x903, Working girl.jpg) [iqdb]
31491
Before the update. Short version is that I'm going to have to do some course correction, which in turn means I'll have to overturn the last vote. Long version is just gonna explain how this related to Nanowrimo and my nebulous desire to write better and faster by trying to shift the focus.
----------


“Let’s fight.” I propose, having finished the cup.

“I’m sorry?” The fox stops what she’s doing to look at me.

“I’ve been lying in bed for the past few days.” I’d explain. “I’ll like to make sure I’ve adjusted to my body again.”

“I believe there are better ways of determining that.” She raises the jug of water, silently asking if I need a refill. I shake my head.

“I know. But in case you haven’t noticed, I rather like fighting.” I admit as I stand up from the bed.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to decline your challenge.” The shikigami states. “Lady Yukari gave me strict orders to inform her when you woke up. She’s on her way as we speak.”

Being able to use shikigami like that seems very handy. Being able to be in two places at once, that is.

Oh, and speaking of the devil, look who’s entered the room.

“Welcome back to the physical world.” The sage greets me, closing the door behind her. “So, were you able to create a barrier?” She gets straight to the point, taking a seat on one of her gaps.

“I did. In a couple of hours, actually.” I run a hand through my hair, suppressing the simultaneous wave of anger and excitement I felt when I figured it out. “And I frankly can’t believe how easy it was.”

“A matter of hours?” She raises an eyebrow. “What exactly did you do?”

“For a lack of a better term, I was able to create shapes simply by imagining them.” I explain, looking down at my hands as I let a surge of energy run through them, recalling the sensation of creating the shapes. “Although, I’m not sure if what I made are actual barriers.”

The sage looks over at the fox, who in return shakes her head.

“I don’t think you realize how far ahead you skipped.” She corrects her posture, recovering from the mild surprise. “I had expected you to only learn how to channel your energy like that.”

“Can this skill be used in the physical world?” I ask. One of the many questions I have. Though, if I can use this skill without needing to astral project like that, then I should be able to learn the answers for the rest on my own.

“Is it possible?” She repeats, gesturing to the door behind me leading directly outside. “Why not try to find out for yourself.”

“I take it there are no drawbacks, if you’ll just let me do it?” I walk past Ran who’s holding the door open for me.

“None you aren’t already aware of.” The sage answers, riding her gap with me outside. “Spiritual depletion might be the only thing, but I can’t imagine that’s something you will have to worry about.”

She’s right about that. Reimu’s Fantasy Heaven was the first time in a long while where I even felt my spiritual pool drained.

Recalling the feeling I had while I was out of body, I try to let my energy flow out. I feel it leaving me, though nothing is happening.

“It doesn’t come out, right?” The sage walks up next to me, laying a hand on my shoulder. “This is why spells were invented.” She holds out her hand in the same fashion I do, letting her hand get covered in her own misty lime spiritual energy. “Spells are like training wheels. They’re supposed to teach you how to draw out your energy while in your body.”

Training wheels? I guess that’s one way to look at them. Wait a second.

I clench my hand, recycling the energy I had focused out there before directing a fresh batch of energy to my hand.

The difference is the processing. In order to create a barrier, I usually process spiritual energy in my core first, charging up, if you will.

I point two fingers out and swipe them through the air, drawing a straight line. Like expected, a wall rises from the ground, matching the line I traced.

Isn’t this the same I’ve been doing the last few days? But I’ve been able to create these for years. Though they’re closer to being divine walls than barriers, since these were originally taught to humans by the kami, or to be precise, the kami’s shikigami. But maybe.

Instead of focusing on a wall, I channel the same energy into my palm, imagining a sphere.

And it appears. A ball of deep jade grows from my palm.

“See? It’s easy.” The sage comment, giving my shoulder a pat. “However, I will have to admit you’re learning this a little too fast.”

“I don’t know if I’m learning too fast.” I admit, crushing the sphere and letting the energy scatter. “I just try to keep an open mind when I’m told something new.”

“No, you’re making excellent progress.” She sits back down on her gap. “What I meant was that, I wasn’t prepared for you to learn it this quickly.” She shrugs, giving me a self-assured smug smile. Presumably proud she managed to hit the nail on the head with this teaching method. “I’m afraid I’ll have to spend some more time thinking about how to progress your training. In the meantime, I forbid you from casting any spells unless you absolutely must. Try to get used to just using your raw spiritual energy.”

It’ll take some time to knock off the habit of casting spells, but that’s the best way to master something you’ve been taught. Repeat it at nauseum until even your unconscious body can go through the motions on its own.

“Is that all?” I ask, looking back down at her.

“For the time being, yes.” She nods. “Feel free to take this off, though I can’t put you outside the barrier this time.”

“Yeah, I had a feeling.” I admit. I need to rely on a pendant to correctly travel across the barrier on my own, then wait a week before I can go back. Yukari can do that by herself, bypassing the time limit. I can’t imagine that’s an easy task.

“Then I’ll be off.” She declares, floating backwards on her gap, back into the house without breaking eye contact before Ran closes the door.

What an unnecessary bit of drama.

“If you want to go down into Gensokyo,” Ran speaks up, now that her master has left, “then you can follow the road out in front of the house. However, just be aware that it’s a one-way road. You will have to ask one of us for help to come back.” She bows as she informs me, going back to be all formal. A shame, because I do like her better when she shows even a little personality.

“Thank you.” I return the favor my assuming a monotone voice. “But before I leave, could you fetch my bag for me? Since you know where it is.”

“Certainly.” She bows again. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

True to her word, exactly one minute later, another copy shows up with my bag in hand. Fishing through the contents, I pick out my weighted clothes. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve gotten too used to wearing them, but I’m feeling uncomfortably light right now. I don’t feel like taking a proper bath right now either, so some deodorant will have to do for now.

After that, I go through the usual set of preparations, slapping my set of trump-card talismans around my arms, before wrapping them up in bandages serving as bracers and a thicker layer of skin. I make sure the silver knifes are tucked away under my clothes. With that done, I make for the village, leaving the Yakumo household behind for the time being. Ran, being the proud servant that she is, stands by the entrance seeing me off until the house in no longer in view.

==========

“Hey! Ryuko!” I hear someone call out to me as I’m making my way to the human village. Facing the voice, I notice a dirty little redhead waving at me. And I mean that literally, the little woman is covered in dirt.

“Kotohime?” I ask. She’s too far away for me to identify her spiritual energy, and I’ve never actually been good with faces. Her ridiculously long hair does make her easier to identify, though I’m not one to talk about strange hair, since mine is quite long as well.

The little guardswoman waves me over, encouraging me to just walk through the farms. The other workers pause to look as I walk by. Either to see who she’s yelling to, or to gawk at the man with the eyepatch. I just ignore them like I always do and make my way past them over to the redhead.

“Let me guess.” I start off, before she has a chance to say anything. “You got demoted.”

“No.” She states completely monotone, feigning being insulted before dropping the façade and letting her carefree smile appear again. “No, I was just wondering how you were doing. You just sort of disappeared.”

That’s right, Kotohime came to my rescue after I lost to that rock. It was her, her boss and Akyuu if I remember correctly. Then there was another girl with a voice I didn’t recognize.

“Back in peak condition.” I brag. “I mean, aside from the loss of my eye.”

“Was the damage really that bad?” Her smile disappears. “Sorry. If only we had been a little quicker.”

“No. It was gone before I ran into the forest.” I assure her. I mean, if I’d been killed, I would just have revived good as new. And even if I survived, my eye would have recovered within a few days.

“Is this that boyfriend you’ve talked about, Hime?” An elderly, though not old man joins out conversation.

“No, gramps, this is a friend I met while training in the dojo.” The little guard brushes off the question. “You’re thinking about my boss. You know, blonde and stoic. And he’s not my boyfriend, yet.” She leans against her spade. “Ah, that’s right. Ryuko, these are my grandparents.” She gestures at the woman who continues to work in the background.

“Hakurei Ryuko. Priest.” I introduce myself with a polite bow.

“I see, I see.” The old man nods. “Despite how she might act, little Hime is a kind girl. Even though she’s always busy, she comes to help us in her spare time.”

“Gramps.” The redhead protests in vein.

“I know she’s a handful, but please continue to support her.” The old man continues. “She doesn’t have a lot of friends.”

“Gramps.” She protests louder.

“Of course.” I agree.

I don’t really know Kotohime, since we have barely gotten the chance to talk, let alone develop a friendship. I did, however, get a good feel for her personality when we spared back then, and I think we’d be able to get along, since we share similar risks in our line of work. Mainly the fact we can die at a moment’s notice.

The little guard shoots me a glance before realizing I’m just being polite in my answer.

“Oh yeah. If you’ve recovered as much as you say you have, do you think you could do me a favor?” The guard asks. “Only if you have the time, of course.”

“I don’t have any pressing plans for today.” Though I planned on seeing Akyuu, since I still owe her to let her know I’m alright.”

She tabs the spade’s handle with her finger, thinking over her options. “Sorry, gramps, but I have to take care of this.” She lifts her spade up and stabs it back into the ground, making sure it can stand on its own.

“It’s alright.” The old man nods. “Sounds like you haven’t seen your boyfriend here in a while.”

“Again, gramps, wrong person.” She runs past me, back towards the road. I start following her at my own pace.

“Seems like a nice man. He should think about getting a real job.” I hear the old man talk faintly talk to himself as he goes back to work.

“So, what was it you wanted?” I ask as I catch up to the little guard.

“Hmm.” She hums, thinking about how best to explain it. “Let’s just say it’s a favor that’ll have to go under the table.”

The little goodie-two-shoe deals with shady business as well. That’s a surprise.

“There’s a place just inside the walls where we can get something to eat in private.” She points out. “It’ll be my treat, this time.”

I assume she eats at this place regularly, since she walks us to the café, or whatever you want to call it, without any hesitation in her step. Well, that and the fact the staff seem to know her as they simply gesture us onward without even asking any questions.

The little guard takes us to a back room, secluded from the rest of the store. We sit there for a minute before a waitress brings two plates of takoyaki. As soon as she’s left, Kotohime starts speaking again.

“Sorry about that wait.” She says, picking up one of her skewers. “It’s just that this is best kept off record.”

“And you trust I’ll keep it like that?” I ask her, picking up a stick of my own to give it a taste. It’s spicy. Not burning hot, but like more like a mild curry, just without the curry taste.

“You don’t exactly look like the type who’d be against bending the rules once in a while.” She takes a bite out of her skewer. “No offense.” She adds.

“None taken.”

“Anyway, let me get to the point.” She puts down the stick and leans in over the table. “The short version is that there’s an underground group that tricks people into debt they can’t pay, then force them to fight each other for entertainment.” She takes a bite from another skewer.

“Don’t you have an entire guard force to deal with that?” I ask. “I may be able to kick your ass, but that doesn’t mean I can take on an entire crime syndicate.” Not quite true. I mean, if there are skilled martial artists, then it’s going to be a bad time. But fighting aside, taking on a structured organization to effectively take out its ability to function is beyond me.

“That’s exactly the thing.” She points her half-eaten skewer at me. “The guard force is divided into departments, you can recognize us by the color of our uniform by the way. We wear crimson.” She adds. “But anyway, the department that’s responsible for taking care of these guys hasn’t moved. And they’ve known about this for long enough to allow enough information to slip out that even we can pick up their trail.”

“While there’s a part of me that won’t mind becoming an enemy of the human village, that would greatly hinder my work.” I explain. “So, I’ll have to pass on taking down corrupt bureaucrats as well.”

“Then it’s a good thing I’m not going to ask you to either.” The redhead picks up her final skewer. “We have already planned the whole thing. We would like you to distract the big guys while we work our magic.”

“Distract? How?” I start eating one of my skewers.

“Dunno, don’t care.” She reaches over and takes my last piece of food. “As long as you don’t kill anyone, my boss will be able to cover for you. The small guys are just debt slaves, after all. They’re the people we’re trying to save.”

Sounds doable, at the very least. I can think of a few ways to cause distractions, though it’s not my forte, so it’s going to be rough, but not impossible. But I had planned to go see Akyuu. I mean, I do owe her to at least know I’m alright.

[] “I’ll have to pass.”
[] “You can count on me.”


4 years into this mess, as of today. Happy New Year to whomever it may concern.
>> No. 31492
[x] "You can count on me."
>> No. 31493
[x] “You can count on me.”

fuck it, what's the worst that can happen?
>> No. 31495
[x] “You can count on me.”

An excellent way to practice spells. Not being able to kill them is a good handicap to keep it interesting too.

Happy new year btw
>> No. 31496
“Sure, why not.” I lean back into the chair. “This could be fun, for a change of pace.”

“Sweet. I knew I could count on you.” She takes my last skewer, having now claimed five of the six given to us. “We will launch our strike in roughly 90 minutes, if everything goes according to schedule.” She places the now empty stick across the four others, making it look like a western tally mark. “As long as you get in there before then and work your magic, then everything should run smoothly.”

“Other than cause a distraction and not allow anyone to leave, is there anything else I’ll need to know?” I inquire.

“The location.” She states, pulling out a small notepad from her chest pocket. “The village isn’t small, so there are too many places to look.” She jots down the address, rips off the page and hands it to me. “We’ve placed a barrel with a red lid next to the entrance.” She explains. “Color coding barrels is standard practice for business, so we make use of it too.”

“Red barrel. Got it.” I scan over the note, memorizing the address before tucking it away behind my belt. I pull out my phone to check the time; 16:45. One and a half hour until they start. “I expect you’ll be paying for the meal.” I state.

“Obviously.” The redhead grins. “Even if I didn’t eat all the food, I would have. That’s the least I can do when asking you for a favor like this.”

“If I had actually gotten a chance to taste it, I wouldn’t have minded paying my share.” I tell her.

“Gotta be faster, then.” She just argues back. “But then I guess we’ll meet again in a few hours.”

==========

The place seems to be located on the other end of the village, out in the peasants’ ring. The walk did take a while, but I still have plenty of time before they launch their surprise attack.

As I approach the address written on the note, I spot the barrel with the red lid. It’s placed at the wrong address, however, sitting next to the neighbor of the address I was given.

I take a seat outside one of the food stalls nearby and place a small order. My guts are telling me something is wrong. I doubt Kotohime would have given me the wrong address, and I doubt she’d have misplaced that barrel. I may be paranoid, but this is exactly the kind of small mistakes that can cost lives.

And this is exactly why I’m glad for my annoying huge pool of spiritual energy, as it allows me to poke around inside the buildings without leaving this spot. Being I’m the size of an Oni, compared to everyone around me, the only form of “stealth” I have is to just appear as if I belong where I am, since I can’t exactly hide.

I don’t sense anything from inside the house. Nothing in the one where the barrel is, either. Maybe they’re underground? Checking that is outside my reach, so I’ll have to get closer.

I look at time on my phone; 17:50. Less than half an hour until they begin.

If they’re in there, it should be easy to contain them until the two of them show up. But I’m starting to suspect they aren’t in there. In theory, it’s possible they’re concealing their spiritual energy, though that would require a natural element which can’t be moved. So I doubt that’s the case.

Luckily, there aren’t many people on this street. Most of them are working in the fields, with only a few remaining. Once I’m sure no one is looking, I drop the money for my meal and quickly make my way across the street. I don’t sense anything underneath, aside from the fact that there is a big empty space.

I try the door, which turns out to be unlocked, allowing me to enter the building seemingly unnoticed. The interior is devoid of any indication of life. No furniture, tools or utilities of any kind. There is, however, an obvious trapdoor in the floor.

I make my way over to the panel and open it. I can sense the floor not too far down, though there is no ladder. More interestingly, however, is the note hammered onto the bottom of the panel. “Too late” it reads, in crude letters.

They’re gone. The gang has packed up and left, being cocky enough to leave behind a note, showing they were aware they had been found. If Kotohime has given me the correct address, then that’s the only explanation I can think of.

I examine the wooden note. Depending on how recent they moved out, I might be able to use this to track them down. But I need to tell Kotohime that the bandits left, as soon as possible. But I don’t know where she is. If I’m lucky, they might still be at their headquarters, preparing to strike, but if they aren’t then they’ll be completely off my radar. But sitting here and waiting could buy the gang too much time.

[] Wait here for the two of them to show up
[] Go to their HQ to inform them
[] Start tracking the gang down on my own
>> No. 31497
[X] Start tracking the gang down on my own

This is pretty weird... Well, let's just move on and see if we can just catch 'em
>> No. 31498
[X] Start tracking the gang down on my own

Onward! To P L O T!
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