There are only a few patrons in the pub, mostly sitting at the bar and making light conversation among themselves. An old man, the owner, nods at you as you come in and Komachi picks a small table towards the back of the place. She orders right away, reclining in her chair as you wait for drinks.
“Been a long day, hasn’t it?” she asks.
“Has it?” you reply, “it feels as if most of the time you were napping, eating or sitting around.”
“Keeping an eye on you is pretty tiring, trust me,” she ripostes, none too bothered. The sake is quick to arrive, brought by a young girl who asks if you’d want something to eat as well. You tell her that you’ll think about it and Komachi agrees. “Cheers,” she raises her glass, “to work.”
“To work,” you echo, somewhat more seriously. Sake is nice and all, and you drink it gladly, but you also take the opportunity to write down more thoughts in the notebook. It’s not quick-going since the shinigami keeps talking to you throughout but over the next hour—while enjoying a few more drinks and some finger food—you manage to build up a satisfactory record of the day and what was going on in your mind. You close the notebook with a satisfying thump and finally put it down.
It is fortuitous that you decided to do at least that much as Komachi’s freewheeling drinking session comes to an abrupt end. She was in the middle of a story about putting a celestial in her place. In an instant an ample smile and ruddy cheeks morph into a reserved stare and ashen face. Your back is to the door but you turn to follow her eyes and see the source of her sudden transformation: Lady Shiki has come into the establishment.
The Yama spots you instantly, offering a sober nod as she comes over. “Candidate. Komachi,” she greets each of you with a polite nod.
“Enma,” you stand to return the greeting.
“Lady Shiki,” Komachi speaks quietly, “come to join us for a drink?”
“A tipple would not be unwelcome,” the Yama says to her surprise, “It has been a long day.”
Komachi does not wait for the waitress to come around again, leaving the table to order directly from the owner. It is obvious that she is nervous to be around the Yama and does not know what to expect from her. As such, she is foisting the responsibility of first contact with Lady Shiki unto you. It is a burden you welcome.
“How has your day gone, Candidate?” Lady Shiki asks, voice quiet but firm.
“It was interesting, Enma,” you answer. “I met many different sorts of people.”
“I look forward to hearing all about your experiences,” she says and eyes the black cover of the notebook, “I trust that you have used what I have given you appropriately?”
“I have attempted to organize my thoughts and feelings on what I’ve seen and those I’ve spoken to today,” you inform her.
The Yama still has her rod with her, placing it in front of her on the table as she reaches out for your collected thoughts. Anxiety, of the sort a student might feel as his teacher marks an essay, begins to manifest itself in your mind. You watch as she reads your notes quickly, dispassionately, without a single hint of what she may think of your efforts.
“I would have you explain some things to me,” she says without looking up from the book, as she flips to another page. “Your companion, the one that hesitates coming over with the drink for fear that I might scold her, has clearly made a positive impression on you. Though you note that she does delay, if not outright shirk her duties at times, as well as indulge in overfamiliarity you have continued to tolerate these failings. Why is that?”
You believe there is a subtly worth clearing up. You wait for the Yama to assent to the question before asking, “After ferrying me across the Sanzu, Komachi was not accompanying me in any sort of official capacity, is that correct?”
 Risking constant antagonism would have made the day’s objectives needlessly more difficult.  Her idiosyncrasies were tolerable because she wished to be helpful in her own way.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/03/27 (Fri) 12:10
[x] Her idiosyncrasies were tolerable because she wished to be helpful in her own way.
She neglected her duties, but helped ours. We are trying to understand people and someone that provides a new perspective is invaluable.
The first option is not untrue, but that's not really the reason, is it? He doesn't seem like someone afraid of antagonising people, and he could just ignore her. He couldn't, as she pointed out, order her around though. That's not his prerogative-yet.
“In other words, you are saying that her intent excuses some of her actions,” the Yama summarizes your position.
“In essence, yes,” you nod, feeling that your explanation is weak. Then again, nearly anything you might have said would seem weak in face of her sharp, unemotional gaze. You cannot begin to fathom what it is she is thinking in her heart of hearts.
“It is true that she was not subordinated to you and chose to accompany you of her own free will,” Lady Shiki recapitulates. “This, however, does not make impropriety acceptable.”
“I understand that,” you simply say, feeling that trying to argue details would simply diminish your position.
“…” the judge says nothing else. She continues to read from the notebook. You don’t even have a leg to stand on when it comes to claiming you attempted to reign in the shinigami’s excesses. Familiarity clearly won out.
The woman central to the discussion eventually comes back with more to drink. Lady Shiki thanks her. Komachi makes an excuse right away that she would like to get fresh air as she’s maybe drunk a little more than expected. The Yama accepts the excuse at face value, taking a sip of her drink while continuing to read.
When Lady Shiki speaks to you again, it is about one of your encounters. “Was an ambush necessary? Would approaching openly and with conviction not been the more proper course of action? The way it’s framed here it seems like yet another unnecessary indulgence of your companion.”
“In retrospect, given their reaction, they may have well scattered before I could speak to them,” you say.
It is a weak excuse and the Yama is right to imply that it was conduct unbecoming someone from the ministry. She does not need to belabor the point. “This kappa you caught,” she instead continues, “seemed to be in distress throughout.”
“She did not understand that I merely wished to speak, Enma. There was a preoccupation with the exchange of valuables of one sort or another.”
“So I see,” she carefully analyzes a page of your notes, running her finger along the paper and tapping gently on things that you imagine she thinks insightful. Without daring to interrupt the process you drink some more, calming nerves with sake. Though far from being outright inebriated, you worry that you may say something unfortunate so you keep quiet as the Yama reads. Finally, she repeats, “I see.”
“Is there anything the matter, Enma?” you ask, perhaps foolishly.
Lady Shiki takes another drink from her cup, emptying it. A thought occurs: she is not acting in an official capacity. Else you would not be in the human village, much less drinking together. This thought drips heavily with hope.
“Though clumsy at times, there is an attempt to extract information and learn here,” she says, “the over-reliance on others to intervene notwithstanding. However, I believe you forgot something key.”
“What would that be, Enma?” you try to contain developing feelings of despair.
“Judgment,” she states. Her blue eyes seem to stare directly into yours and you feel utterly exposed. “You assessed this kappa to be living according to her values and that she would manage well because of it. That is a facile conclusion. This lack of trust she showed, an inherent disbelief in people, it is sinful.”
As if by habit, she places her hand on the rod but does not raise it. You are mesmerized by her intransigent stare, subsumed by her commanding aura that harbors no doubt. There is no world beyond her, the casual conversation in the pub made by other patrons does not exist as far as you are concerned. You say nothing as she continues, “To not use the opportunity to help others better themselves, to find the correct path, is unbecoming for the yama. The work we do does not begin nor does it end in formal trial. Is that understood?”
“It is, Enma,” you nod as a marionette whose strings have been pulled. There is no other acceptable reply.
“Is there anything else you wish to add before we move on?” she asks. In official capacity or not, your own trial continues.
 There was nothing else.  If there was anything overlooked with your approach.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/03/28 (Sat) 12:30
Instead of answering your question, Lady Shiki is silent for a moment. Her eyes move to the notebook and then back to you. Quietly, in a half whisper akin to a guarded revelation, she says, “You have been thorough in cataloging things beyond mere observations. That there are illustrations, assorted thoughts and emotions characterize this as something of a looking glass.
“The true insight here,” she continues, “is how you would adjudicate any issue. To what end would you have us concern ourselves with minutiae? Whatever perceived failures you would entreat me to discuss shall be discussed, if they are relevant. We mainly concern ourselves here with the actions taken and words spoken, not with those left undone and unsaid. Doubt, regrets, intent can mostly be dismissed as irrelevant when weighing up the sins of the departed. We cannot fall into the trap of ‘what could have been’ and instead must believe in the righteousness of our mission.
“I have made note of the zeal employed throughout for your task,” she smiles as she speaks, “but do not use that as cover for insecurity or, worse, as a misguided attempt to curry my favor. The truth is in this looking glass here, plain to see.”
With a firm tap on the notebook, she moves on, “It is certainly an unusual choice to converse with a fairy. More than once you note that a shinigami’s scythe might be intimidating, so I understand why you chose to leave Komachi behind.”
“I did not wish to make a distinction as to who I spoke with,” you tell Lady Shiki. There is no time to overthink your responses. You are already on the back foot, having been the target of a pointed lecture. “I was open to all encounters.”
“Yes, that’s commendable,” the judge of paradise nods. Catching the eye of the waitress, she signals for more to drink.
“Fairies have simple natures but it was still an interesting experience,” you preempt her reading of the notes with an explanation. “I felt compelled to take a hands-on approach with Cirno to impart a lesson.”
“And she lay hands on you in return,” the judge says with a raised eyebrow. You’re not certain if it’s meant to be a joke as she is otherwise deadpan. It’s not something that she dwells on either, moving on, “They may not hold much in mind nor spirit but they can be a measure of how well nature is doing. It is not necessary to spoil them with attention but neither is it wise to ignore them completely.”
“I’ll admit that I had fun talking to her,” you say, perhaps carelessly due to drink, “but I think that it was also valuable to understand that aspect of Gensokyo as well.”
“Curiosity well directed,” she agrees, “and though you had to condescend to communicate, it was an earnest interaction. It is questionable whether or not a fairy will truly understand your meaning but the idea of teaching a meditation technique is certainly novel. Not to mention somewhat amusing to imagine,” the Yama says with a soft laugh. She places her rod flat down on the table again and leans forward, the lock of longer hair on her right side brushing over her shoulder.
There are rare instances where you manage to see beyond the fact that she is the Yama of Paradise and your superior. In those instances, you feel a warmth and dedication that colors all her words and actions. It is no doubt persistent, you tell yourself, but merely not obvious. The woman sitting before you is at least as convivial and kind-hearted as Komachi. Her conviction and dutifulness obfuscates this.
The talk of fairies and their simple, straightforward, nature inspires you. There is less reason to censor yourself, you reason. It is even possible this is not a trial at all. It may be worth risking some more impertinence.
 Express a desire to continue to take notes and perhaps sketch during your conversation.  Confess that it’s intimidating but also interesting to be out drinking with a yama.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/03/29 (Sun) 12:30
“Oh?” the Yama is intrigued by your desire. A faint smile forms on her lips as she asks, “In other words, you wish to tell me what it is you think about me?”
“That was not my sole intent,” you say, “I’ve become accustomed to writing things down.”
“There’s something cute about that sort of forthrightness, perhaps Komachi’s impropriety can be excused to an extent,”the judge says nonchalantly as more to drink arrives. You are fairly sure she is being playful. There is room for doubt since she’s exceptionally good at managing how much emotion she allows herself to display.
The amount of drink you’ve had is also something that’s made your judgment suspect. It’s mostly subtle stuff but you catch yourself thinking over what you want to say far more than usual. That, coupled with a little more impulsiveness has you off-balance. You manage to keep up with Lady Shiki by concentrating and she concludes that there’s no harm in giving you a few loose sheets of paper that you can use to write.
“A little hasty but to the point,” she says of the next encounter.
“It didn’t seem like I needed to use a delicate touch,” you tell her. Kyouko would have continued to avoid her friend and talking to her if you hadn’t pushed her.
“That may well be,” the Yama says, “the way you’ve detailed it here is that the actual point of contention was more or less irrelevant. Do you think that you managed to solve the underlying interpersonal issue?”
“I can’t say, but there’s certainly an opening for that to happen now. If there’s another problem in the future then I think that Kyouko will look back and try a similar solution.”
“It is unfortunate that your involvement was so one-sided. It is important to be thorough when dealing with troublesome people,” she says quietly.
The Yama takes a sip from her cup, lost in her own thoughts for a moment. Her eyes wander elsewhere, unfocused. Once again you feel that this is a rare treat; the unguarded Lady Shiki is exactly what you wish to commit to paper. You draw a rough outline quickly, as well as your clumsy fingers allow you to work. Though she soon is back to her usual self and continues to engage you about your notes and your day, you keep drawing from memory.
At some point, Komachi decides to rejoin you. She eyes the Yama warily.
“I must thank you for taking care of the Candidate today,” Lady Shiki tells her, offering her a drink. She either does not notice or opts to pretend not to notice that Komachi is tense.
“Thank you for all your help,” you offer a toast.
The Yama seconds it, raising her cup, “You’ve done well.”
This is something that surprises the redhead. For once, she is at a loss for words—she nods meekly and raises her cup. You drink and get back to finishing your drawing, as well as writing down a few thoughts, while Lady Shiki talks to Komachi about this and that.
It’s wish great pleasure that you finish up your work. You are at your limit for producing intelligible output, anyhow. Komachi has returned more to her usual self: though deferential to the Yama, she cannot help but digress and speak of things other than the original subject.
“We should do this more often,” Komachi says, “have you tried their food, Lady Shiki?”
“No, but that sounds like a good suggestion,” the judge nods, “let’s order something up.”
“You’re paying, right?” Komachi cannot help but ask a cheeky question.
“Yes. Then I’ll garnish the total from your wage,” Lady Shiki says with a stony face. It is a joke, or so Komachi hopes as she laughs nervously. While your flustered traveling companion orders food for the table, the judge bids you to lean in closer as if wishing to share a secret. Instead, she asks, “Do you think you could reform her into someone more diligent? That is, if you spent time regularly with her.”
 You believe you could.  It’s not necessary to do so.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/03/30 (Mon) 12:30
“You are giving me a reply to a question I did not ask,” the Yama says, voice low and grim. She shakes her head and leans back, no longer caring if overheard, “Perhaps drink and affection have clouded your reason.”
“…” Lady Shiki’s rebuke stings. She already knows what you think about many of the people you’ve interacted with due to your extensive notes. Though you can’t say with certainty that her expression has shifted subtly, you feel like there is disappointment knitted into her brow.
“Komachi,” Lady Shiki addresses her, “you have been valuable in exposing the deficiencies of this candidate.”
“With respect, Enma,” Komachi meekly responds, “I have seen a lot of dedication from Makoto today. My untrained eyes spotted little in the way of deficiencies.”
“They are deficiencies in the eyes of the ministry and mine,” the judge affirms, “the sacred nature of our work tolerates nothing less than perfection. We judge souls and so our character must be impeccable and our decisions insightful and just. To let attachment or softness of heart get in the way of that is abhorrent.”
The conversation about matters of life and death is interrupted by the quick arrival of food. The waitress serves the table but you don’t have much of an appetite. Looking over at Komachi it seems like she shares the feeling.
“Perhaps you have been assigned too long to the river,” the Yama says, helping herself to a dumpling. “Our way is to be direct, misdeed are announced with the utmost clarity as is the sentence. This is for the sake of both the departed and ourselves; so that the former may reflect upon them and so that we can never forget the importance of what we do.”
“That level of responsibility is too much for me to consider shouldering,” Komachi sighs. She takes a dumpling, looking deflated. Before taking a bite, she adds, “it seems a lot to expect of a candidate, there can’t be many that live up to the standards of the ministry.”
“Of course there aren’t many,” the Yama nods, “it is an immense honor to be considered even in the first place.”
That honor feels less than satisfying to you at the moment. About as satisfying the dumpling you force yourself to eat, in fact. You attempt to keep your feelings in check—a task not made easy by how blunt the conversation has become.
“In truth, there may be only a single one of us accepted into the ranks every few years. As humanity continues to expand, we continue to be needed in greater numbers. Propriety still takes precedence over mere quantity, however.”
“What happens to candidates that don’t meet the standards?” Komachi asks, unable to help herself. She shoots you a look that says “sorry but I need to know”. That doesn’t make it any better.
“It depends on how they started out,” the judge explains, “Those from within our ranks, like you shinigami, merely retain their posts. I have heard that a kishin who once aspired to become a yama left the ministry altogether after they failed to pass. Jizou are a trickier subject… since I don’t believe any one of them have ever been rejected but I cannot say for sure.”
“What will happen to Makoto if found not worthy?” Komachi gets to the point. Her face shows distress, more than you’ve allowed yourself to display. In a way it is cathartic to see her express worry as it makes you feel less alone in the world.
“That would depend,” Lady Shiki says and then pauses. She looks over at you like she hadn’t really considered the possibility. She smiles at you and offers you more food from the plate. You take it by reflex though the pit in your stomach couldn’t possibly be filled by a fried snack. “Will you make it, Candidate?”
 You will with effort and guidance.  You can’t be certain that you will.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/03/31 (Tue) 12:30
“I’m not sure that’s a very good answer,” comes the reply. It’s not the Yama who says it but rather Komachi. There is concern in her eyes and she soon catches herself, realizing that she shouldn’t have said anything. “Sorry, I may have had a little too much to drink,” is her excuse.
“Would you say that it’s a little too arrogant?” Lady Shiki asks her with a slight smile on her lips.
“Ah, a little maybe. Then again the people in the ministry-” she catches herself again, this time before she says something truly stupid. Shaking her empty cup, she says instead, “well, Makoto is persistent. Hasn’t let up yet.”
“Both subordinates are bad at answering direct questions,” the Yama grumbles and bites into another dumpling. She chews as she thinks, looking less like a judge and increasingly disgruntled. With a sigh, she concludes, “I need to concern myself more with the day to day running of things.”
Komachi’s guard is once again down. Showing you a smile that you believe is supposed to be encouraging, she the blurts out, “Maybe you should go out just the two of you and be more direct when it comes to teaching,”
“There is a time and a place for everything,” Lady Shiki asserts. “There are deficiencies to correct first. Overwhelming someone is not likely to lead to good results.”
“Makoto looks a little overwhelmed right now,” the shinigami says, puffing up her lips. Her cheeks match the tint of her hair. With her hands upturned and elbows on the table, she cradles her head and pouts. From loquacious to childish and fed up in an instant. She could easily be talking about herself.
“That’s because you got my Candidate drunk,” the Yama blames her for your state. Like a weary mother dealing with an unruly child, she says a few other sharp words that put her in her place.
“Please excuse Komachi,” you intervene, “she is just concerned for me. It’s was my choice to drink. And I’m fine. I’ve just been thinking a lot.”
“Yes, I know,” Lady Shiki sighs again. She grabs the last of your notes.
“That’s a pretty good drawing of you, Enma,” Komachi says, looking over at the papers. “Maybe I should ask to make a sketch of me too.”
Hushing her, the Yama speaks to you, “I am not faulting you for not making an effort. That you’ve done so much in a single day without more specific directives is noteworthy.”
“Oh, that’s a pun isn’t it?” Komachi chortles, her head sinking from her hands to the table. The beads holding up her ponytails clack together as her head moves.
You both ignore her.
“There is no guarantee that your effort nor my guidance will bear any fruit,” Lady Shiki tells you. “Step by step, we will discover the truth. Neither despair nor bravado will do much good now. This is simply something that will get resolved with time.”
The fatigue from all the hours spent walking catches up to you. Slowly, you help the Yama finish off the last of the food while Komachi vegetates in her seat. Lady Shiki pays the bill in full. And, as you’re still not completely collapsed, you stir your plastered companion to her feed and give her a shoulder to lean on. No one in the pub bats an eye at a woman with a scythe barely being able to walk.
There’s fewer people in the streets outside and the night is cool and pleasant. The fresh air helps return some sense into you. With the smell of lilacs and dumplings coming from Komachi, you follow the Yama slowly down the road. The Sanzu is far away still.
“It’s been a really long day,” Komachi grumbles, transitioning from a lurch to a shamble at the village’s edge.
“Yes, it really has,” you agree.
“It’s the first of many such long days,” Lady Shiki says, turning to look at you. She smiles, blue eyes catching the light of a nearby lantern. “There is still much work left to do.”
“Of course, Enma,” you nod, doing your best to keep up with the judge on the way home and beyond.
I'm going to be honest in saying that I don't quite understand what effect most of the votes had on anything. Not like it particularly matters, mind. Still a reasonably enjoyable story; I wouldn't mind a sequel/prequel/remaster at some point.