Someone once told you that all paths eventually take you where you're really going. Not that that's very helpful right at this moment. At least, not in a practical sense.
As far as your eye can see, you’re surrounded by bamboo.
This isn’t really a problem in the daylight if you keep to the edge of the forest. People in the village harvest shoots there all the time. You, however, are in way deeper than that. It’s gotten considerably darker, too. You’re pretty sure it’s become nighttime somewhere along the way. And a thought keeps coming up. A stupid but persistent one: if the bamboo forest were alive you’d be stuck somewhere deep in its bowels. You still hope to see the moon, eventually. That would dispel some of the near-total darkness. Wishful thinking at its best.
You hold back a sigh. A lot of youkai prefer to come out at night. Therefore, It’s more likely that you’ll get eaten up whole any time soon. This previously-unseen monster would, naturally enough, have an impossibly large mouth and be full of deadly teeth. That’s just the way things tend to go for innocent humans around these parts. Ain’t no sugar-coating it.
Still, it’s still too early to panic. You got into this mess knowing fully about the risks. But you couldn’t help it. You saw her in the market, peddling her wares, and spent most of the day working up the courage to talk to her. And when you finally did, you could only stammer out a request for medicine. You handed her a few coins and lost your nerve to say anything else. you barely stammered a request for medicine and handed over a few coins. Still, though, there was reason to hope – when your eyes made contact, a funny sensation spread throughout your body. It was warm and comforting, like napping under the shade of a tree on a sunny afternoon. Made you feel stupidly carefree.
You held on to that and slowly built up your courage again. Problem was, by the time you had the perfect line, she had already packed up and left. By chance you spied her off in the distance, walking in the direction of the bamboo forest. Without thinking, you followed, not quite being able to clear the village crowds before she had disappeared. Once in the forest, you caught glimpses of her here and there. Even called out a few times to no avail. The rough terrain and her head start made it feel like catching up was impossible.
And so you got lost. Eventually you stopped catching glimpses of her and everything got dark. Thus your current predicament.
What to do? You can’t go back. You don’t know which way is back anyhow. And it’s not like you’re giving up on her just yet. You fancied her, even if she was a youkai. A rabbit youkai like her couldn’t possibly be dangerous. Quite the opposite: you were sure she was lovely. Both on the outside and the inside. Anyone who offered up medicine to the village couldn’t be a bad person.
Not that your friends would understand. They’d make fun of you. But what did they know about true love? They could spend the rest of their lives settling for the plain-looking girls of the village. You, on the other hand, would not settle for anything but the most sublime.
Enough thinking! You can’t afford to spend any more time lost in your thoughts. If you don’t make up your mind now, it feels like you’ll never find her again.
 Keep pressing on in the last direction you saw her going.  Call out for help, maybe someone will hear you.  Try to stay quiet and look for some way to get your bearings.
Granny always said that the smartest thing to do if you were ever lost and alone in the dark would be to be as careful as possible. Too many villagers got eaten up by those nasty, filthy youkai, she said. Didn’t want her precious grandson to end up like ‘em. But then again, she never once set foot outside of the village. And grandpa used to trade with the tengu. Take a week or so to go to the farthest reaches of Gensokyo with his wares. So maybe she was just jealous of them stealing away her husband for so long. After all, you had heard the lurid tales of promiscuous youkai who looked like innocent young women and seduced men and stole their souls. And your friends insisted that they stalked the village in disguise, looking for victims... but that was neither here nor there.
Point was that there was some wisdom to Granny’s words.
There was a certain level of noise that was unavoidable – your snapping twigs and rustling of leaves – but you were sure that you could otherwise be pretty stealthy. So, what next? Getting to the high ground. Somewhere where the terrain would make more sense. You look around and stumble in the dark some but find a direction where the forest floor seems to slope up subtly. So you follow it. All the while keeping as quiet as a poor lost human could reasonably be.
Your patience pays off. Just a little. Over by a babbling brook (or maybe it’s more of a creek? Hard to tell in the dark) you find your first clearing. It’s not much of a clearing but it’s enough so that there’s actual openings in the bamboo canopy. As if on cue, the moon breaks from behind clouds, providing you with some much needed light. Lucky that it’s nearly full too, it’s much brighter that way.
You wash your face with some of the cool water from the brook. It’s almost summer and so the nights have gotten warmer as a result. Your chase through the forest made you sweat more than you realized. It makes you wish you had unnatural powers like some of those youkai did – flying through the air would make you get your bearings right away. Still, if you could figure out which stars are which, you can at least know your heading.
But before you can recall the orienteering lessons you got as a young boy, something else draws your attention. It’s subtle at first. Something low-pitched like a groan or maybe a growl, barely inaudible. But then comes the rustling. And the shaking. A cluster of bamboo stems and their busy parts are all shaking not even a stone throw’s distance from you. Even with the pale moonlight you can’t see what’s causing all the commotion. It’s a leafy thicket. You’d have to go in to see what’s going on. Only thing that’s for sure is that the shaking is intensifying.
It’s a worrisome development, for reasons your grandma would be keen to point out.
Obviously, there's only only one thing to do in a scenario like this.
 Pick up a stick and poke the rustling spot.  Call out and hope it’s not a hungry youkai.  Run away!
>>27628 >>27625 Guys, if you don't mind, please don't sage votes. It's way easier to monitor activity on the site through the front page than it is to go through all the different boards. The sooner I know there are votes, the sooner I can decide whether or not to update. Thanks.
Aiming for a fastish update schedule. And we're just now starting to cook with gas.
“Oh hey,” you call out weakly, trying not to startle whoever is in there. “Is someone there?”
There’s no reply. The rustling intensifies for a moment. And then stops altogether.
“Hello-?” you say a little more firmly, taking a step closer to the source of the disturbance.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” you say, just in case it’s another frightened human who has lost his way. And if it’s not… well, it’s still a disarming gesture. Probably.
You cross your arms, waiting for a reply. Maybe they’ve gone? No more rustling at all. All you can hear is the soft whispers of the breeze across the bamboo above you.
In the time it takes you to draw another breath, you find yourself suddenly staring up at the sky. You wince, feeling the pain of being knocked back flat on your butt. And then, the realization that someone is grabbing on to you. Their weight pressing down violently on your chest and legs.
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?!” you exclaim, frowning at whoever it is that’s tackled you.
A pair of red eyes star back at you, brightly reflecting the moonlight. “What do you think you’re doing?” she asks, long nails running down softly, but provocatively down your neck.
“Seeing if there was anyone else around,” you reply, frowning even harder and meeting her eyes with your own gaze. It’s important that she know that surprise tackles are not acceptable in the middle of the woods. “So are you always this rude?”
“I could ask the same of you,” the girl asks, grinning and showing off a few pointy teeth. Not as many as you thought a youkai would have. “Spying on a girl is completely unacceptable.”
“Spying?” you try to shove her off, but she growls and pins your arms down with preternatural strength. Her nails dig into your forearms, hurting you slightly. You realize that you won’t win in a contest of strength. “I was just minding my own business in these woods,” you tell her calmly, feeling that maybe you should be panicking harder than you should be. Granny would want you to, after all. “You were doing all that rustling and moving around. Hard to ignore. So I called out and announced myself as is appropriate.”
“I don’t believe you,” she says, raising a very skeptical eyebrow. “Would you have me believe that just the moment I’m adjusting my clothes is the one that you decide to make your presence known?”
“Yup, dunno what else to say,” you attempt a shrug. Doesn’t go to well with you on your back and with your arms pinned. “So, are you going to eat me or what? I’d rather you let me go if it’s all the same to you.”
“No, I’m not going to eat you,” she says, frowning. Her animal-like ears droop some, as if unconsciously, “are all you villagers this stoic?”
“Well, panickin’ ain’t going to do me any good,” you tell her, “you clearly could rip me apart if you wanted. So, really, this all I can do.”
“Hm...” she closes her eyes and smiles, “I guess you have a point. Still, you have to admit it’s not a typical response.”
“Maybe,” you try to shrug again, to similar results, “only other thing that comes to mind is trying to flatter you. Call you pretty and all, see if I can catch you off guard. But I’m already in love with another youkai, so maybe things would get messy if the truth ever got out.”
She laughs and shakes her head. More importantly, lets go of your arms. You're not sure she believes you entirely, especially the part about being in love with someone else. You flashed her your most honest look, but that's probably not enough to dismiss all doubts right away. She keeps her body on your legs and torso, keeping you from sitting or standing up. “You might have had some luck with that,” she says, “I’m not exactly vain or anything, but I admit that I’m a bit self-conscious about my appearance. We all have our weak points.”
She relaxes and finally gets off you, extending a hand to help you up. You take it and are pulled up with a strength unbecoming such slender arms. She wipes the dirt off her long dress and adjusts the brooch that sits near her neck.
“Don’t I know you from somewhere?” you ask. A girl with long, auburn hair isn’t that rare… but you can’t help but feel that you’ve seen her face somewhere before. In the village, probably. Without the ears and the teeth, obviously. Still someone's cousin? A festival? You can't quite figure it out.
“Nope! Don’t think so!” she replies hastily, pulling at the edges of her sleeves. The motion is entirely unsubtle and draws your eyes to whatever it is she’s hiding. The thing about the pale moonlight is that it's hard to see up someone's sleeve at the best of times. Let alone when their wrists have retreated into their clothes.
“Hm...” you pause for a second, thinking of what to say next. Stories about encountering youkai in the wild usually end in bloodshed and tragedy. Staring at a strong, yet evasive youkai girl after she tackles you for a misunderstanding isn’t exactly standard fare. Though if you squint just right, she looks like a regular ol’ girl.
 What kind of youkai is she, anyhow? You don’t know much about them.  You don’t know if she’ll believe you anymore but, for whatever it's worth, you do think she’s pretty.  It keeps on bugging you that she looks somehow familiar. Gotta prod more.
“Didn’t I see you at a wedding last year?” you ask.
“No,” she says firmly, any playfulness rapidly gone from her face.
“The harvest festival?” you ask again. A white dress seems about right, you reason.
“Definitely not,” she answers dourly, the lack of amusement growing more intense. Any more and it looks like she’s liable to maul you.
Regardless, you ask again, “a bar then? Restaurant? Just messing around the village?
“No, no and no!” she huffs, more upset than a normal person would be when faced with inane questions. But it’s not like you have a clear idea of why exactly she’s so… unambiguous in her answers. Sure, stupid questions don’t deserve much of an answer, but they don’t deserve sharp rebukes either. You get the feeling that if she hadn’t just helped you up from the ground, she’d happily have you pinned to the ground.
“I’m pretty sure I know you from somewhere,” you tell her. Though it’s equal parts a declaration as it is a question. There’s nothing more solid that you can use against her. It’s all conjecture and spotty memory.
“I don’t know you and you don’t know me, got it?” she clarifies with all the patience of a parent brandishing a belt in one hand. It’s clear to you that any more prodding will lead to physical discomfort. At best.
It’s the end of the subject and you’re not too sure where to go next. “So...” you trail off, pretending you have something insightful to add.
“…I’m not going to hurt you, if that’s what you’re wondering,” she says a sly smile manifesting itself on her lips. “Go on, you’re free to leave. If you’re not here for the performance later, you should just go back to your village.”
“Performance?” you ask.
“Need to know only,” she grins, her fangs a ready reminder that you could be killed at any moment. “Go on then, shoo.”
“I’m not a dog,” you tell her, thinking quietly, kinda unlike you. Somehow you suspect that the comparison would not flatter her much. Though there’s a part of you that would gladly pet her and run your fingers around the back of her head, scratching those big ears of hers. She’d probably enjoy it, too.
“Well, you’re not welcome in these woods,” she tells you, “humans aren’t supposed to be mucking around outside of the village at this hour.”
“I’ve got somewhere I have to be,’” you tell her, “you can’t keep me away from her.”
“And who is ‘her’?” she asks, a very smug look on her face. Whatever antipathy she may have shown earlier is replaced with idle curiosity.
“My one and true love,” you tell her, without missing a single beat. “Like I said earlier, I’m in love with a youkai.”
“Right, right,” she nods, as if it was something she should have kept in mind. “And who is this youkai?” she asks, like she doesn’t quite fully believe you,”someone who spends a lot of time in the village?”
“No, not really,” you answer. “She’s more of a an occasional presence. Every two weeks or so, for a single day. Sells medicine to us. Cute face, kind heart.”
“I’m sure,” she says, a clear level of sarcasm poisoning her tone. Reminds you a little of your friends’ reactions when everyone is sharing their tall tales full of alternative facts and wishful thinking.
You shrug, “well if you’re not going to eat me, I think I’ll just be on my way.” You don’t need her insinuating things about your beautiful youkai rabbit. If she doesn’t get it, she just loses out.
“You’re going to keep wandering all by yourself through the woods?” she asks. Her tone does not really convey concern, it’s more akin to bemusement. If you were in her position, you’d probably feel the same way. Not like you’re the very model of self-reliance or anything. Not by a long shot.
“I have to find her,” you tell her, “I feel like I’m pretty close.”
“No, not really,” she says, “at this rate you’ll die here before you find anyone else.”
 Appeal to her decency and ask her to help you find the way.  You don’t need any help to find your one true love.  Pat her on the head, she’s a good wolf-like girl despite all the posturing.
“More importantly...” you trail off. Crossing your arms, you try to get your thoughts organized. She follows your movements with a raised eyebrow, seemingly curious about what you’re going to say next. Probably that whole dying soon if you keep at it business. “It’s a pretty nice evening out, isn’t it? Not too cold or not too hot. I was worried the temperature would drop a lot.”
“What are you, stupid?” she sighs, both her shoulders and ears drooping. “Who cares about the temperature? Go back home.”
“Didn’t we meet during the winter?” you ask, “I was walking to my grandma’s house one day and I thought that someone was following me through the snow. Pretty sneaky-like, could have been a youkai like you.”
“Again with this?” she looks cross, her lips joining tightly together in displeasure. “No, we haven’t met before, stop asking.”
“Somehow I don’t believe it,” you tell her, with another shrug, “I guess it’ll come back to me some other time.”
“I’ll be looking forward to it,” she says with no uncertain sarcasm. And, just like that, a little smirk forms on her lips. “Come on now, little boys like you ought to just give up and home. I’m going to be going my own way now, you’re on your own.”
She motions like she’s about to leave, giving a half-hearted goodbye with a wave of a hand. Her long, sharp and crimson nails look like they could poke a hole through solid barrel. It’s a gesture that’s no doubt calculated for maximum intimidation, in order to get you to finally leave.
“Hold up,” you stop her.
“What?” she frowns, “if this is about how you think you’ve seen me before, I swear that I’ll...” she opts to finish her sentence with a mixture of an unintelligible (curse?) word and a growl.
You smile at her. Without any hesitation you reach out towards her. It doesn’t seem like she was expecting the move, as she could have swatted down your arm at any moment. You pat her on the head, telling her, “you’re a good person. You were nice enough to talk to me and warn me because you care if I get hurt.”
Youkai have pretty soft hair, you find yourself thinking as you try not to muss up her hair too bad. Whether she's a youkai or not, a woman’s hair is her life. Another nugget of wisdom you’ve learned from your granny. So, yeah, it’d be pretty rude of you to mess her hairdo up. There’s a temptation to stroke her hard, maybe just behind the ears, and make a real mess of things. Would be overkill for a first encounter. You’re not some kind of monster. It’s harder still to brush aside the impulse to say “good girl” and tell her she’s special.
There seems to be some confusion in her eyes about just what is going on. Confusion that quickly becomes realization. And then a range of emotions show in her eyes. The one that she eventually settles upon isn’t the one that you would have preferred. Without even hesitating, she grabs your hand by the wrist and forcibly removes it from her head. She then hold on tight and, without ever breaking eye contact with you, bites down on it. Hard.
“Ow,” is what you would have liked to have said. But what comes out is a string of expletives, both real and made up on the spot. It hurts way more than you thought was possible, like her teeth specifically targeted all the nerves in your hand. What’s more, in the instant after she withdraws her teeth, blood begins to gush out at a alarming rate.
There’s tears in your eyes before you know it. An involuntary reaction to shooting pain.
“Weirdo,” she says quietly but firmly. Evidently not proud of what she’s done but she’s playing it like it was a necessary evil. Her carmine eyes follow the same-colored blood that’s now dripping onto the forest floor. It feels like she wants to ask if you’re going to do anything about it, but doesn’t want to encourage you to interact with her any further.
 The medicine your true love sold you will fix everything  Bite her back to see how she likes it  Wipe away the tears and ignore the wound completely
I'll be writing now, instead of later, because there's a good chance I'll be busy. It's near the full amount of votes I've been getting, anyhow. With the same amount logical consistency that anon is renowned for.
It’s with some glee that you remember that you have a little something that should take care of your problem. You smile at her because of the supreme confidence that you and your hand will be alright. The smile seems to confuse her, and her eyes widen some as she looks hard at your face. Trying to figure out why you aren’t whimpering or filled with anger, no doubt.
Yeah, you ought to be somewhat angry. She bit your left hand, your dominant hand. As someone who often has to fill out ledgers and write, it’s a complete pain to work with your other hand. Smudges are the least of your concern, that said, the actual pain of cramped fingers because they’re not used to the work is much worse. It’s enough of a bother to reach into your pockets with your right hand right now. But it’s worth it.
You eye the little pouch that you bought with some expectation. For the moment, the girl’s curiosity seems to match your own. She follows your every move silently, her eyes fixed on your clumsy attempts to carefully undo the little knot at the top of the cloth. When you finally get it open, you discover that the contents are a little white powder. Innocuous enough, but the proof of your love’s infinite compassion for all living things. It feels like any problem in the world can be fixed by the medicine’s application.
There is some question as to how to apply the powder. Rub on wound, ingest directly, mix with something else like a liquid? You’re not too sure about that. Nor are you really sure about the required dose. Well, doesn’t really matter, you reason. There is no way possible that there’s a wrong way to take in her love.
So you pinch a bit of the powder between your fingers and then apply it directly to the wound. The blood flow isn’t particularly wild but it’s steady enough that by now little droplets of blood are starting to roll off the tips of your fingers. The powder mixes with the blood, becoming something like a paste. Or maybe sludge, given its viscosity. It has no immediate effects and you happily apply some more to where the youkai bit you.
Just in case you haven’t quite figured it out. You also swallow some of the powder. It has an acrid taste, like ash or coal and almost immediately bonds with your saliva. It’s hard to swallow as it begins to stick to the inner walls of your mouth and throat. Eventually, with enough saliva and determination, you manage to get a reasonable amount of the stuff down.
That just leaves you with a little bit more of the medicine in the pouch, which you decide to keep in case you need more later.
“I’ll be fine,” you tell the girl who has been watching you silently all of this while. “I forgive you because you gave me a chance to try something my love made.”
“So is that some sort of miracle powder?” she asks, eyeing your still-bleeding hand.
“It must be,” you answer.
“...you don’t know what it does but took it anyways?” there’s disbelief written all over her face. You can’t blame her. She doesn’t know what true love is. That trust you instinctively feel. In a way, you pity her, because you can’t share your feelings with her.
“It must be good for me, otherwise she wouldn’t have given it to me,” you share your logic. It’s not hard to understand.
Her ears droop more, becoming almost entirely flat. She scratches her cheek lightly as if trying to think of something else to say. But she can’t think of anything and sighs. She grabs your hand again and brings it to her mouth. Instead of biting it again, she forcefully turns it so the back is towards her lips. And then licks it. Her tongue moves methodically up and down your hand, lapping up any excess blood and leaving behind a slick coating of saliva. She turns your hand and does the same for your palm. She even kisses the tips of your fingertips, sucking up the stray drops about to fall. Your hand is moist all over by the time she lets go.
“Press where the biggest hole is with your fingers,” she says, grabbing your other hand with some force. Your fingertips start to feel sticky when pressing against the mix of residue blood, saliva and flesh. “Until it stops bleeding keep the pressure on.”
“Um, okay,” you say dumbly, not sure what’s brought on what you assume is an act of kindness from her perspective. She lets go and rubs a finger on her blood-stained lips. She then smacks them. When she senses that that’s not enough to get rid of your blood, she passes her equally-stained tongue over them, spreading a thin and shiny coating of saliva. At last, with some frustration she wipes her mouth with one of those long sleeves of hers.
“You’re going to die out here,” she says finally. Her ears perk up and her features harden as certainty dominates her expression.
“I’ll be fine-” you start to tell her again.
“You’re going to die out here,” she repeats with some finality, interrupting you, “unless I change my plans for the evening. So you’re coming with me.”
“Oh, but it’s okay,” you tell her, “I don’t want to put you out or anything.”
“This isn’t a discussion,” she says, grabbing onto your shoulder. Her long nails begin to dig into your flesh through your clothes. It’s an implicit threat of violence if you dare to refuse her kindness. “You’re coming with me. Now.”
There’s nothing else to do but let her chaperon you. You were right, she is a good girl. For her to be so concerned about a stranger, especially a human stranger, is touching.
“What?” her expression refuses to soften, and suspicion is dead-set in her tone.
 You are glad to have made a nice and kind friend like her  With her help, you’ll be seeing your true love again in no time  You’ve always wanted to go on an adventure with a youkai
“You’re really nice,” you tell her, the smile firm and warm on your face. The second best thing to happen you that day was, no doubt, meeting her. “I’m glad we’re friends.”
“We've just met.” It seems that she’s unimpressed and looks just about ready to roll her big red eyes. Such a kidder, this one.
“Yeah, but you’re being kind. You’re going to help me out now. Isn’t that level of solidarity normal in a friendship?”
“I guess,” she frowns, failing to think up a better response. Her arms cross for a brief moment and she seems to think. But if there’s anything that comes to her mind, she chooses not to share it. Instead engaging in further conversation, she urges you to follow her. Adopting a tone that smacks of self-confidence, she leads you back into the bamboo maze and remarks, “come on, we’re wasting time.
You follow, chuffed that your relationship is going so well. It’s all that you can talk about, really. She doesn’t really share much about herself, but it’s okay, you fill in the silence by talking about how much it means to you that there’s good people like her around in the world.
There’s moments that she fires back, acting annoyed. But you know it’s all just an act, a way to make it seem that she’s keeping a modest distance. There’s the whole human-youkai cultural divide between you. It must be fear of setting down on the wrong course without getting to know you better first that keeps her from betraying much in the way of genuine emotion. First day together, so it’s baby steps all the way. It’s something she points out at one point, stating in response to your optimistic comments, “I bit your hand. That isn’t exactly something close friends do to one another.”
“That’s not really a big deal,” you reply, “friends fight sometimes too. But it makes their bonds grow closer once they move past it. I once got into a fistfight with one of my dearest friends when I was in school. Once we patched things up, we’ve been like brothers for the last ten years. Since you’re taking me along, holding my hand, I think that the groundwork is in place for great things to come from our friendship.”
“I’m just holding your hand because you’d get lost otherwise,” she growls, tugging on your unhurt hand as if to tell you that you should hurry up. For a while she’s been crashing through the foliage without hesitation. It’s loud, tiresome work to clear a path. It seems that she’s gotten a little tired of it. Her hand has gotten sweaty.
And so has yours. More than that, your entire body has all of a sudden started feeling hot. It’s a kind of weird heat, though, one that feels white-hot in the depths of your stomach and is spreading all across your body in waves. It numbs your muscles so that all the trudging you're doing through underbrush feels about as tiring as breathing. You can’t say that you feel good but you can’t say that it feels bad either. Most of your sensory awareness of the world kind of just melts away.
You hope that you won’t start sweating too much. It simply wouldn’t do to meet your true love with your brow slick with sweat and a body odor that could instantly curdle milk.
You stop by another clearing. This one is artificial as it gets. Bamboo grows quickly so any sort of space that’s got such a clear round edge to it has to be constant work to keep perfect. In the center of this perfect space is a lone cottage. It’s not much to look at – made from wood brought from somewhere else and with a likely one or two small rooms inside. A wisp of smoke is coming from the back and lights flicker through a small window. There’s someone home.
“There,” she lets go of your hand and looks at you, “knock on the door. You’ll be able to go back home afterwards.”
“Eh?” you look at her quizzically. The heat in your stomach has worked its up to your head. Thinking about things is a little hard at the moment. Your more complex thoughts keep getting… interrupted? There’s a lot that you can and do think about. Most of which has little to do with the thought that precedes it.
“I can’t keep babysitting you all night, I have other things to do,” is her cold follow up. She points to the cabin with her chin, motioning for you to go up to the door and knock.
 Go on ahead, she’s done enough.  Hold her hand tightly so she doesn’t leave.
There’s a few words that you blurt out. They’re sincere but maybe not quite coherent thoughts. The warm numbness in your head is responsible for that.
Your thoughts are coherent enough for you to do as you’re asking without complaining, though. So you cross the distance to the cottage and to its simple wooden door. There’s no knocker or anything. Or a lock by the looks of it. Still, it’d be rude to just barge in.
You take a final look back towards your companion before knocking. She’s nowhere to be seen. Whatever she had to do tonight was probably real urgent. That’s a reasonable interpretation. And so, after mouthing a final silent goodbye, you rap on the door.
The smell of food lingers in the air, now that you pay attention. It’s nothing too distinct, no pungent spices that dominate the fragrance. Maybe roasted vegetables or some sort of mild stew. Earthy and simple. Kinda like the cottage itself. Pretty amusing connection, you think to yourself.
There’s a smile on your face when the door opens. A young girl with long, pale hair answers the door. She studies you silently, her eyes scanning from head to toe. “Um, hullo,” you greet her, finding that she’s not exactly too keen on speaking first.
The girl crosses her arms. Though she is somewhat smaller in stature and definitely more delicate-looking that you are, she has a surprising amount of presence. More than you see yourself having normally. Maybe she’s not used to talking to people either? It’s not that you think she’s unfriendly, that’d be rude to assume, but it’s fair to say that she is not about to engage you in the inane pleasantries typical of human interaction.
“Hey, nice home, looks cozy,” you say, blurting out thoughts at forefront of your mind. Anything else requires too much effort. And from what you can see from the intimate lighting behind her, it’s probably a fair assumption. “I was told to come here, I’m looking for help since I got a bit lost in these woods.”
“...yeah?” she asks, looking around to see if you’re alone.
“My friend is gone, sadly. Was a nice youkai with cute ears and brown hair. Long red nails and scary te – well that’s not important. She’s a good friend. I’m a human, though,” you say, “pretty normal guy.”
“...” she stares at you, her face betraying no emotion. If there’s any curiosity about her, she hides it well.
You’d love to explain it all to her in much more detail. Maybe over a cup of tea. Or cold water. Something. Whatever gets rid of the urky feeling that’s come all over you. The heat is sultry, disabling most of your systems. Though you can’t really feel your legs, you “know” they in the process of giving up on providing support. As the girl stands before you, you drop to your knees.
“Absolutely… normal...” you say quietly, feeling like it’s too much effort to even look up at the girl. Idly, you think to yourself, strange to see a girl wearing trousers.
She finally moves, to do something. Or maybe say something. You’re not too sure. There’s a whole different thing going on with you. Something hot, different than the feeling in your head works its way up your stomach and your throat. Bitter, sweet, white and red, it then erupts out of your mouth. And onto the floor and her shoes. And some onto your hands, instinctively placed to brace yourself. It really hurts; the feeling is that your insides are all trying to crowd through your mouth at once.
It’s not long after that the heat wave gets to be a little too much. It’s like staying too long in a hot spring: the result is that you are completely lightheaded. A second wave of brackish liquid comes out of your mouth, hurting just as bad. You slump onto your side and close your eyes. There’s nothing else you could possibly do.
Except apologize. Granted, when you come to. Whenever that is. Feels like it’s going to take a while. But it’s the last coherent thought you remember...
 Flowers are key  Sweets are better  Nothing beats a heartfelt poem
It’s a morning like any other. The steady soft sound of rain provides a comfortable cushion for your return to reality. You groan, stifle a yawn and slowly open your eyes. A somewhat unfamiliar ceiling looms above you. The cottage. The memory of your arrival is still fresh. So fresh that you can remember the exact sensations that dominated your body before you passed out.
You sit up. Not hurriedly, mind, but with enough urgency so that it shows that you want to make sense of what followed your collapse. It’s then that your sense of smell decides to return; the damp scent of wet earth from outside is mixed in with the subtle smells of a kettleful of herbal infusions somewhere. It’s a relaxing combination, much better than the smell of sick and blood which had filled your nostrils just before you lost consciousness.
There’s a candle lit on a simple dresser next to you. Next to the bed. The simple straw bed that you’re lying on. It crunches reassuringly as you shift your weight and look around. The cottage is sparse, save for a stove, a pair of chairs, the bed and the dresser, there’s only a few hooks on the walls with some clothes pegged to them and not much else. It’s cozy and lived-in but by no means what you’d call a proper home.
It’s on one of those chairs, facing one of the windows on the front of the house, that your host is minding her own business. She sits with her legs against the wall, the rest of the chair tipped back precariously at an unstable angle. If she stopped pushing off suddenly, she’d no doubt fall clear off the wooden chair.
There’s a reserved look about her, like she doesn’t quite connect to the world around her. With the noise you’ve made, you’re certain she’s noticed that you’re awake. Yet she doesn’t so much as glance in your direction, instead looking out at the falling rain outside. The lethargic look is what would probably suit you better, given the circumstances of your arrival.
“Good morning,” you greet her, trying not to sound either too apologetic or overly eager. Either seems out contrary to the mood. “Thank you for taking me in,” you add with a smile, nothing that your left hand has also been bandaged. It’s been at least a few hours. With an overcast sky limiting the light outside, it’s hard to tell, but you think it’s very early morning still.
“...” it feels like she acknowledges your presence without looking at you. She leans back further in her chair and raises her arms behind her head, providing a makeshift headrest.
“Like I said, I was lost and I needed a bit of help,” you tell her, trying to form some sort of connection, “I’m Moroboshi, just your average villager.”
“...Fujiwara,” she says, adding nothing else.
“Well, Ms. Fujiwara, thanks again, I feel that I owe you my life.”
You clear your throat, and do your best to say the words engraved in your memory, “it may not be much, but I feel it’s appropriate…”
“Enough,” she interrupts your recitation before the end of the stanza, “you won’t please me with either waka or kanshi.”
“Oh, but… alright,” you slump your shoulders, feeling a little dejected. You thought for sure that the a poem by the princess would do the trick.
“Lie still, before you empty what remains of your insides on my floor again.”
“I feel fine now,” you say, feeling very embarrassed, “it won’t happen again.” None of that heat or those wonky feelings that assailed you last night are at all present. In other words, you’re as fine as you’ve ever felt.
“...” she doesn’t say anything else. Instead, she rocks her chair back and forth some and then flicks a strand of her long hair off of her face.
 Lie in bed quietly. Let the shame sink in.  You need her help, tell her about your mission.  Imposing any more would be rude, leave and be on your way.
It's been over a day, and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of additional activity. It's probably safe to say that waiting for more votes is futile. I will flip a coin to break the tie and write.
It easier to relax, to reflect and survive the silence inside of Fujiwara’s home with your thoughts elsewhere. The alternative is to succumb to the cheek-brightening shame of having inconvenienced a stranger in such a spectacular manner. You did enough of that, agonizing about the fact that she had to clean the sick you spewed all over her floor and then move you to a bed. Showing up somewhere unexpectedly, looking for help for something selfish was something you felt would be frowned upon in the best of times in polite society.
The steady rainfall outside provides a convenient focus for your thoughts. Late spring showers provide the already-blooming flowers and abundant grasses with more than enough water to keep on growing for a while yet. In the village, farmers would be thankful for extra water for the warm-season crops as long as the downpour isn’t too excessive. Floods around this time of year are rare enough but, if they happen, they can wash away topsoil and sometimes the still-growing plants.
“Drink,” Fujiwara commands, ripping you away from your thoughts about crops and rain and gruffly shoving a leather canteen in front of your face. You were so resigned to looking up and letting your mind wander that you didn’t even hear her move.
“Thanks,” you grab the canteen and help yourself to a drink. Fujiwara returns to her chair casually, not bothering to watch if you follow through with her order. You’re pretty thirsty. No doubt all the vomiting you did last night has something to do with it. Though you pace yourself, drinking only tiny sips, you manage to finish off all the water within what you think is a half hour.
And then it’s back to silence and meditation. Mainly in the form of staring at the ceiling and listening to the rain. This once again ends in another interruption.
“Eat,” she commands again, this time around shoving small bowl in front of you. You nod and take it, once again watching her return to her chair silently. It contains some rice and a pickled bamboo shoot along with a pair of chopsticks. You eat it gladly, finding that your hunger is easily stimulated by the sight of food. You eat with such relish that you start to question whether or not you were even sick to begin with.
After you finish eating, you place the bowl next to the empty canteen on the small dresser with the candle on it. Then you sigh and sit up fully once and for all. It registers no response from your host, who continues to stare out her window silently. Emboldened by her massive indifference, you eventually find the rest of your strength and stand up. This elicits no further response, which in turn, makes you take a few steps closer. And grab a chair. You place it next to hers and join her in staring out the window.
“The ceiling got boring,” you say quietly, feeling that you ought to justify yourself as pointless as it may be. As expected, there’s not much excitement going on outside either. A grey sky, light rain and green bamboo as far as the eye can see. The real benefits to sitting by the window is that a steady current of air makes its way past you, seemingly taking away any lingering feelings of illness that may have had.
Some time passes. It’s hard to say how much. Everything seems so unchanging, so static. By your reckoning, it’s at least an hour of rain watching before she speaks up. It just as easily could have been only a few minutes. “More water?” she asks.
“Not yet,” you reply. Neither of you looks at the other, continuing your aimless vigil of the world beyond.
The complete lack of temporal awareness does strange things to you. As ridiculous as it may sound, just sitting there, an arm’s length from Fujiwara, gives you a sense of companionship. Camaraderie. Peace, even. It may be speculation from an idle mind, but it seems like it’s possible that she feels the same way. It’s something that would be ruined by any other complications.
So it’s somewhat surprising that she breaks the silence again. “Are you afraid of dying?” she asks, her head tilting slightly in your direction.
It’s a question that takes you aback. Her tone isn’t hostile or dark or anything, she simply put the question forward as casually as one would ask about liking a type of food or color. If you were to ask her to repeat it or clarify what she meant, you feel that she would pretend as if she had never asked it in the first place. And you’d go back to the silence.
 Sure, but probably no more than the average person.  You’ve never really thought about it.  No, it doesn’t worry you at all.
>>27736 I'm not against write-ins per se but I'd rather avoid them if possible because it can make tallying votes messy. Just saying what you'd like to happen in a comment is enough. If it's appropriate and people want it, I'll try to have it in there.
That said, your write in is more of the first choice than the third. And also the kind of thing the protagonist would just say anyhow based on previous things and choices made.
He went into the forest fully knowing the risks, got all buddy-buddy with a youkai and didn't even mind getting bitten that much. And he's only a common villager following his obsession, that's something.
“You’re an idiot,” she states plainly. Without malice and maybe even without particular judgment. It’s a plain fact: one that you should already know. Her tone leaves room for no other interpretation.
“I don’t see why I should be worried,” you repeat in hopes of getting an explanation.
“That’s beside the point,” she mumbles, more to herself than to you.
Then it’s back to quiet. For a while.
The rain begins to thin out some time later. The sun is still hidden behind a ceiling of grey but it won’t be too long before it starts to poke through the thinnest parts of the cloud layer. The constant current of air coming in weakens as the temperature gets warmer. You lean back in your chair, propping yourself similarly to Fujiwara.
“...what about you?” you ask, as if it hadn’t been a lifetime since your last words.
“All I’m worried about is you not shutting up,” she says brusquely. With a swift move of her hand she tips your chair further back, almost past the point of no return. “Lose your concentration, and you can crack your skull wide open.”
“How scary,” you force a laugh, letting her play with your chair willy-nilly. If it tips and you lose your balance, it’s on her.
“Doubt you’ll let me die just like that,” you say, “you saved me last night, would be a waste of effort, don’t you think?”
“How boorish, assuming what other people will and will not do,” she pumps her fist, shaking your chair up suddenly. “Is every kid in the village as conceited as you these days or am I lucky to only have to suffer you?”
“I like to think I’m pretty grounded and reasonable, actually,” you say, “if something can’t be helped, it can’t be helped. Like dying, why worry?”
“Sure, whatever,” she lets go of your chair and lets her chair come to a safe rest on the floor. You chance a quick glance at her – there’s a clear manifestation of emotion on her face. Irritation. Subdued, simmering possibly towards anger. It doesn’t seem like it’s directed at you, necessarily. What caused it and if it can become overt is something you can’t say.
You sigh and lean back, letting the chair tip precariously. “Maybe it’s not my place to say, since I barely know you, but it’d probably be easier for the both of us to get along if you talked just a little bit more than you do.”
“If I had anything interesting to say, I’d talk more,” she says, playing at modesty. But you know it’s something else entirely. With the way she carries herself about, the deliberate deflections…
“Thank you for keeping me company all the same, I suppose,” you state dryly, not wanting to externalize your thoughts. You haven’t annoyed her on a more personal level yet. But bringing up the scores of topics that come to your mind, including what she’s even doing in the woods to begin with, without being intelligent about it seems like a recipe for disaster.
“Moroboshi,” she interrupts your thoughts.
“Sure,” you answer.
Fujiwara gets up unceremoniously from her chair and moves to the stove behind you. You keep watching the rain outside as she lights a fire and sets a kettle. Soon enough, she hands you a cup. She is light on her feet and efficient at her work. You sip at the green tea leisurely, waiting until she returns to her seat. Then it seems like it’ll be more of the same.
 Relax until the rain lets up.  Ask more about her even if she doesn’t like it.  Freely talk about yourself instead.
The mellow flavor of the tea agrees with the mood. You savor it, pausing between sips at times, while watching really nothing of note happen. Fujiwara remains as taciturn as before; whatever irritation she just barely allowed to show is gone. She is quiet and drinks from her cup with the same lack of urgency as you. The rocking and tipping stops altogether and both your chairs remain firmly planted on the ground. The only noise you can distinguish beside the soft sound of rain is your own breathing.
There is no second cup of tea offered. Nor any excuse for conversation.
So you think. Think long and hard about anything and everything. You still have a clear purpose and intend to follow through on it. But it’s hard not to spend a portion of this idle moment thinking of home. You didn’t exactly say goodbye and it’s not like you to be gone all night. There will be some worry and maybe some recrimination but it seems unimportant compared to all that you stand to gain.
The rain eventually does let up. Sometime past midday. At least, so you reckon. The sky is still overcast, though the clouds are lighter in color. It may rain again later but, for the moment, things seem fine. It doesn’t take long for the lack of rain to translate into action.
“Let’s go,” Fujiwara instructs after continuing to stare outside for a while. Likely to make sure it wasn’t just a brief stoppage. She stands, tends to some of her possessions and then waits at the door. She doesn’t put on a coat, despite the risk of renewed rainfall later.
You join her and she leads you outside. The ground is soft, the earth dark. Fortunately not to the point of getting boggy. Before leaving, she gives you a few minutes of privacy behind her home, at a small structure that’s detached from the rest of the place. You hadn’t even thought of it, but feel great relief when you emerge to face her again.
The journey forward isn’t too hard. The bamboo has done a remarkable job of drinking up all the rain, so the forest floor feels firm. Before you get too far, you make sure of your destination, stating, “I don’t want to go back to the village.”
“Yes, I figured,” Fujiwara comments, absolutely no surprise in her voice.
“So you know who I’m looking for?” you ask, trying to recall if you talked to her at all about what you were doing yesterday. Unless you talked in your sleep, you don’t think you ever mentioned it.
“No and I don’t care,” she grunts, motioning for you to stay close. There is no clear trail and no landmarks, so you have no idea how she’s navigating the bamboo maze. “I do know where you want to be.”
“No other explanation,” she says, “though I do have a half a mind to find that troublesome youkai and push you onto her again. Then again, her kind tend to be feckless.”
“From last night… you mean...?” you’re uncertain who she’s talking about exactly. Fujiwara has a knack for knowing what you’re thinking even before you say it.
“...quickly, before it starts raining again,” she silences you, picking up the pace. While definitely not grueling, the faster movement forces you to concentrate on not crashing into bamboo.
Fujiwara only slows down some time latter when you come upon an actual path in the middle of the woods. It begins to drizzle again and she shows a complete lack of concern about the fact. She sticks her hands into her pockets and adopts a more casual gait. After walking the path for a while, she stops suddenly and then turns to you.
You scan her face and divine her meaning. “Thank you for helping me out, sorry for imposing so much.”
“I’ll send you the bill later,” she smiles wryly. “It’s just a little ways down this path, you can’t miss it.”
“I...” you try to think of something more to say. Being nursed from ill-health is something that still has meaning to you.
“I know a little rain doesn’t bother someone so fearless, but I’m sure that you wouldn’t want to catch a cold all the same,” she hurries you on. With good reason. You’re just a little bit moist right now but if the rain returns in earnest, you’ll be drenched.
You nod, ready to move on but thinking of how to best leave things.
 Promise to drop in some other day, to watch the rain together again.  If she’s ever in town, she should come visit.  Don’t say anything.
I don't like the 'promise to drop in' option. If you consider it vs telling her to come by with nothing as the neutral option, the big difference is clearly that one happens on her terms, and one on ours. You don't invite yourself to someone else's house, especially someone clearly as private a person as Mokou.
Besides, we've already promised to visit someone else, and I don't want to pile more stuff on to that.
“I’ll be seeing you around,” you tell her, “if I get the chance, I’ll pop by and watch the rain with you again.”
“Sure, kid,” she says, punching you lightly on the shoulder. Fujiwara turns with some finality, leaving you on your own. You can’t help but feel that she expects to never see you again.
With the risk of heavier rainfall in the back of your mind, you don’t dwell on your thoughts for too long. Instead, you get moving and follow the narrow dirt path. This part of the bamboo forest feels quieter – not that there was much noise to begin with. Something like the splash of a large raindrop against a leaf resonates louder than what you’d expect. You hurry, somehow feeling that you ought to get indoors as soon as possible.
Your destination isn’t too far away. Though left unsaid, Fujiwara had more or less promised you that you were almost there. There’s no way that you would have found it by yourself, you feel, so strangely nestled in this endless sea of green.
At first all you see is the wall that encloses the area. Made from bamboo, it blends in with the surrounding are seamlessly. It stretches for as far as your eye can see, for whatever that’s worth in this forest. Then, as the path gets closer, you see that behind the wall is a building, a house maybe not unlike something seen in the village. Save for its scale. Its clear even from this initial view that it’s quite stately and large, something which would put the traditional important families and their homes to shame. With a second floor and maybe a few detached buildings within the compound, it seems like something so ridiculous to have in the middle of the woods.
As you circle around towards where you think the entrance is, you note that it’s hard to tell just how long the building has been here. Given its imposing tiled roof and steady wooden walls, it’s reminiscent of the older buildings you see in the village. A lot must be spent on upkeep, you think, since there are no blemishes, decayed tiles or anything else that’s normal in the average home. And in a forest where the bamboo can grow anywhere nearly overnight, that’s an impressive feat.
As you near the entrance, the dirt path becomes paved and bamboo rails on either side. With the rain, the stones have become slick and so you run your hand along the rail just in case. This leads you to a gate, made from a combination of flexible bamboo and hard wood. Just beyond it, you can see through gaps that the path extends to a single-storied part of the main building.
Before you can knock and get out of the rain once and for all, you notice that someone is watching you. Or has been, rather. A brown rabbit showed up at around the time the paved path began. It kept its distance, skulking in the bamboo opposite the wall but otherwise kept up with with your movements. You make brief eye contact with the plump, remarkably large, rabbit. It would put a fair number of cats and some dogs to shame with regards to size. It stares at you, unafraid, holding its position just a few steps to the side of the gate, near where wall and bamboo meet.
You smile at it. It stands on its hind legs for a moment, brushing its front paws against its face. Doesn’t seem like the rain is bothering it much, either. It’s atypical for a wild animal to be so unafraid of a human. Then again, not a lot of what’s happened to you thus far is very typical.
 Knock and announce yourself as is proper.  Bid the rabbit closer with a treat.
There’s not much that you have on your person. You weren’t expecting to be gone from home for very long. So not only is it difficult to imagine what it is a rabbit would enjoy as a treat but, searching your pockets, you find that your more optimistic projections to be baseless. A pouch with some medicine in it and a coin purse isn’t going to interest it.
Wrinkling its nose, it stares at you idly, seeing just what you’re up to. You try to keep smiling while rooting around for something, anything, that you can offer it.
“Here, have this,” you say at last, finding that there is something after all that you can offer. You squat, extend your arm and open your hand flat, palm-side up. There’s a single piece of hard candy in your hand. White and chalky, you urge the rabbit to take it before it gets wet, “hurry up and take it, before the rain ruins it.”
It stares at you, possibly not understanding what the gesture means. You keep your voice steady and soft, trying to entice it closer. It’s probably something of a ridiculous scene – a man squatting outside a gate in the rain, trying to endear himself to a simple rabbit.
Maybe it’s the wiggling of your fingers or maybe it’s your trustworthy face but, eventually, it decides to come closer. It stops next to your arm and sniffs, its long whiskers brushing up against you as it sizes you up. It doesn’t take the piece of candy; it ignores your offering altogether. You can’t blame it. After all, it’s not really the kind of stuff you like either. It’s probably something that was given to you by someone a long time ago and you stuffed it in your pockets and forgot about it completely. You lower your hand even more and bring it closer to the rabbits face, only to find that it take a half-hop away, towards your body.
It’s then that it acts. You don’t know how it divined the location of the pouch, but it goes for it with a decisive movement. In its mouth is its prize and it wastes no time hanging around. It hops away before you can reach out or even stand up.
Panic threatens to overwhelm you. You spring into action, giving chase to the fleet brown rabbit. For all of its size and earlier lethargy, it now eludes you, running along the exterior wall much faster than you can hope to go.
I have to get it back! you can’t think of anything else. The terrible excitement that’s taken control of your mind and body is so intense that you feel like your heart is going to burst. Or that if you stop you’re going to vomit again. It seems almost too cruel that the one thing that could make you feel better is precisely the thing that that damn rabbit stole from you. “I need that medicine!” you cry out, to no avail.
The chase takes you far from the gate. You’re somewhere around a corner and through some boggy spots by another wall. It’s there that you trip, splattering yourself with water and mud. The rabbit finally escapes you, darting through a nearby hole in the perimeter wall.
You stand, simply swatting away the thickest globs of mud from your chest and arms and scramble towards the hole. It’s dark. Not a simple hole in a wall. With your heart pounding loudly in your ears you look around and see the reason: there’s a building immediately on the other side. Not part of the main structure. You’ve wandered far from the main entrance. This is something remote and detached. A tiny window is located near the roof – much too small for a person to go in and out through - it’s just for ventilation.
The hole is quite large, you realize. The entrance is a bit snug, but beyond is maybe the area under the floorboards. You can’t really see much inside, save for the occasional glint or maybe glimmer of something on the far end.
You need to get your miracle powder back. To forget about it would be tantamount to spitting in your true love’s face.
 Crawl into the hole  Climb the wall and look for another way in
You try to crawl into the hole. It’s not easy going at all. You have to twist and contort yourself as best you can. The sad fact of the matter is that your frame is much larger than a rabbit’s. You curse your shoulders for getting in your way and then you curse again when you hurt yourself by stretching your arm out in an unnatural position. The pain doesn’t stop you. Nor does the cold, wet earth beneath you. It’s only due to sheer willpower that you finally manage to get most of your body through the opening.
What greets you isn’t much to look at. It’s dark and, though your eyes begin to adjust, you still can’t really make heads or tails of much of anything. But at least the ground beneath you is drier and, as you wiggle the rest of your body through the hole, you take a moment to just simply breathe. You still can’t calm down. You’ve no idea where the rabbit has gone. Only that there’s not much space between your head and what you assume is the floor above you.
So you crawl.
Aimlessly, really just anywhere that feels like the right direction. There’s the occasional twinkle of light somewhere ahead but it’s never enough to really guide you. If this dark, cramped space has anyone else in it, you’re oblivious to their presence. All you can hear is the soft background sound of rain that’s interrupted by your various grunts and groans as you grope your way around in the dark. More than once you smack your hand or head into a wooden foundation that holds the floor above up.
Sweat blurs whatever faint shades of dark your eyes are beginning to distinguish. Wiping your face involves bringing your head almost into the dirt and basically nuzzling your own hands. It’s an action that upsets you. It reminds you of the rabbit swiping its paw across its face, idly watching you from a distance. You begin to move again, determined to make it out and get your property back.
The glint, glimmer—or whatever the hell that thing is—is close. You catch it out of the corner of your eye and adjust your heading accordingly. You wish you could just roll around but due to the restricted space, you have to change heading little by little. But your persistence pays off. There’s a definite light source. Something faint, something almost ephemeral. It disappears from time to time.
You realize what it is as you reach it. A hole in the floor above, letting in the light. If not for your exhaustion, you would have let out a sigh.
Instead, you find that you are skewered. Or, at least, it feels like it. Light envelops you, a loud noise and movement above you ushers it in. You’re blinded by the suddenness of it all. It is then that you are skewered, with a heavy force landing square on your back. It is blunt and pins you down to the ground. The surprise nearly knocks the wind out of you.
“A trespasser, huh?” a voice above is forceful and stern but does betray just the slightest hint of amusement, “or, perhaps, a thief?”
“I’m...” you wheeze, finding it hard to speak with all the weight being pushed into your back.
“A no-good worm,” the voice mocks you, “the lowest of the low.”
Perhaps there is something to that thought. As you struggle to break away or, just maybe turn over to face whoever it is, a familiar face appears off to your side. The brown rabbit, its nose twitching, examines you from just outside of your arm’s reach. You can’t tell if it’s got your pouch but you’re certain it does. The bastard. Almost as suddenly as it appears, the rabbit is gone, retreating back into the shadows.
“So, are you even going to make an excuse or are you just going to writhe around uselessly until I put you out of your misery?” the voice asks, just maybe a little disappointed that you aren’t really giving her much attention given the circumstances.
 Make no excuse and yield since she’s already made up her mind.  That damn thieving rabbit was to blame for the misunderstanding.  Ignore it all, you can still get to the medicine if you can just break free.
“...the rabbit!” you gasp, finishing up one of the many broken sentences you’ve been blurting out ever since you found yourself stuck. A part of your mind wishes that you had enough composure to offer a sound, nuanced and polite explanation. Instead, a mix of half-curses, half-explanation and vague allusions to why you’re even in the forest to begin with are all that you can offer.
For what it’s worth, you think that the person holding you still has shown a remarkable degree of patience. The pressure on your back loosens some, Maybe it’s a quiet assurance for you to calm down and take a deep breath. Still pretty hard to do when your belly is flat against the hard earth.
“Those are very many excuses,” she says quietly after you stop thrashing about quite so much. “Sounds very fish. I’m not very easy to fool, you know. Am I really to believe that you’re hate a rabbit so much that you’re practically frothing at the mouth? But not really because you’re also… something about love?”
“It took my stuff!” you complain again, narrowing your eyes at the darkness around you. That bugger’s watching, you think, sure of the conclusion.
“Alright then, Mr. Thief,” the voice adds, “you can tell me all about how rabbits are evil if you promise to calm down. I’ll decide what to do with you later.”
“I am calm,” you say very unconvincingly.
“Sure. Listen carefully. I’m going to let go,” she instructs,”you’re going to turn around, real slow like, sit up and then climb up to where I am. Any funny business and you’re going to be in a world of pain.”
There’s nothing you can do but agree. The pressure on your back disappears. And you follow instructions. You roll onto your back, finding that you are blinded momentarily by a lamp shining down through the hole. You wince but sit up. Slowly, as the voice told you to. The hole above is a hatch that leads directly into the building. You climb, well, more like stand up.
You find yourself in a very crowded room. The smell of dust and old wood fills the air. Chests, boxes and all sorts of storage containers are stacked and arrayed as far as the eye can see. And sitting, standing and otherwise occupying every vacant spot is something else entirely: a legion of rabbits. Dozens of pairs of eyes are staring at you, their faces expressionless as far as you can tell. Most are white but there’s a few other colors mixed in here and there but you can’t tell if your brown betrayer is around at a glance.
A heavy wooden stick is poked into your side. “Take a seat, let’s get to the bottom of why you’re here.”
You turn to face the voice. It belongs to a girl. A short girl. One with short dark hair that seems to be messily draped every which way from the top of her head. Atop the head, there’s a sign that she’s not quite human—large white ears that flop to either side of her head. Rabbit ears. It’s a rabbit youkai. Not like your love but similar. Smaller, but somehow commanding all the same.
There’s no choice but to sit on a nearby stool. A short girl in a pretty pink dress isn’t very intimidating by herself. The scowl on her face, the heavy-looking rod in her hand and eerily quiet assembly of rabbits together are another thing entirely. Perhaps saying all those mean things about the rabbit that screwed you over wasn’t such a good idea?
It feels like you’re in for a painful experience. Granny did say something about your expectations being the most important thing you can control. Maybe that’s sage advice that’s somehow relevant to the situation.
 If death by angry rabbit throng is your destiny, so be it.  There’s nothing to fear: she’s cute and a cute rabbit like her can’t possibly be mean!  Be uncooperative. That damn rabbit won’t get the last laugh if you can help it!
You brace yourself for a painful experience. Death by rabbit isn’t exactly the way you imagined it would end. At least not in a mysterious bamboo forest where there’s plenty of more dangerous youkai. A wolf, one meaner than your friend, seems like a more logical candidate.
The pressure from all those pairs of eyes has you on edge. You try to ignore them, focusing instead on the girl with the stick. She’s let one end rest on the ground and is leaning on it, eyeing you with clear suspicion. She leans forward some and you feel that all the other rabbits are as attentive to her motions as they are to you. You notice that a small necklace hangs around her neck, a small carrot of all things. Rabbit pride at its finest.
“You broke into our home, badmouthed a fellow rabbit and generally are acting like a crazy person,” she says, a light smile appearing over her lips. “It seems like you’re a pretty dangerous sort of guy. The kind that rabbits would do well to stay away from.”
“If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with,” you say, holding back a sigh. Not the greatest way to end a day but it is what it is.
She raises an eyebrow, “why would I want to kill you?”
“Anger? Boredom? I don’t know, some reason. No idea how rabbits think,” you say with a shrug. The rabbit that stole medicine did so without an explanation. And even now, it’s probably mocking you from somewhere in the shadows.
“Maybe you should just shut up then,” the girl’s smile becomes a damnable smirk. “If you don’t know how we think, then let me enlighten you.”
The girl shakes her head, her white ears flop around as easily as her wild hair. She removes her weight off of the stick, lifting it back up and pokes you lightly with it, “come on,” she says, “be a good sport now.”
“Put yourself in my shoes. Finding some guy wiggling around under a building, ranting and raving isn’t exactly a good first impression. What am I supposed to make of you?” Doesn’t seem like she intended for you to give an answer. With an exaggerated flourish, she waves an arm around to the rabbits, “more importantly, what are they supposed to think? Humans aren’t really nice to rabbits, you know. They have a disgusting tendency to want to turn us into stew.”
There is some commotion among the rabbits at the suggestion. A few of them move around, some of them excitedly twitch their noses and ears at you. The girl shakes her head again and forces a sigh, “deplorable, right?”
“So what’s your point?” you ask, still not sure what’s going to happen to you. It’s looking less and less likely that you’ll be ripped to shreds by a fluffy group of rabbits.
“That you make amends for trespassing, making a fuss and all the other bits of nastiness,” she suggests, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
“Return what was stolen to me first,” you say.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she looks you straight in the eye, giving a perfect look of honesty. If she’s lying, there’s no way of telling.
“You’re a rabbit and a rabbit took my pouch with medicine. It’s important to me. I want it back.”
“Just because I’m a rabbit doesn’t mean I automatically know what another rabbit does or not,” she explains, looking around the room, “any of you guys know what he’s talking about?”
Silence follows. And the rabbits remain stationary.
“Don’t take me for an idiot,” you complain, “you rabbits know what’s what.”
“Wow, that’s a pretty rude assumption. I was going to ask the guys to try to find out if what you’re talking about is true and help out if they can help but you can just forget it now,” irritation creeps into her words, “doesn’t seem like you’re a good person anyhow.”
“I want my property back.”
“Doesn’t seem like you’re getting it back anytime soon,” she says, the irritation transforming into conviction, “with your attitude, it’s best if we just kick you out. You’re not welcome here anymore.”
“I- but I have things to do and-” you try to think of the words to explain why you came in the first place but her lack of further interest in you leaves you at a loss.
“If you come back, the rabbits will defend themselves. We may not look like much but together, we’re pretty tough. Go make trouble elsewhere,” she says, striking you with the stick on your shoulder. It hurts a little. All the rabbits around you are chittering excitedly.
Maybe she has a point. You’re not calm by any stretch, but you can see how things would look suspect from her perspective. Or their perspective, rather. Desperate as you are for your sacred medicine, you’re willing to be flexible.
“I can’t leave!” you blurt out finally, finding no other words. “There’s… got to be someway I can get my stuff back and move past this incident. Look, I’m sorry for insulting you, I mean it.”
“Hm...” she bites her lower lip, as if thinking things through. She looks around the room as if asking for permission to proceed. The rabbits seem to calm down. “Well, maybe, but we need a show of good faith from you. To make up for the trespassing and all the insults.”
She presents you with a pair of alternatives for compensation.
 Donate your whole coin purse so that every rabbit can buy a tasty carrot.  Promise to help the girl out with an important favor when the time comes.
-- >>27846 >>27852 This is exactly why I'd rather not have any write ins. They're often messy and make no sense in the context. How the hell would the protagonist even know what a lunarian is? If you guys really have a strong opinion or insight, just add a comment and it may be worked in if appropriate. Hell, I encourage you to talk and discuss all you want. Just, please, no more write-in votes. Not to mention it pointlessly fragments the voting process. I don't want to slow down the story any more than is necessary while waiting for votes. Still aiming for at least once every day, so make sure to check in often as you can.
[x] Donate your whole coin purse so that every rabbit can buy a tasty carrot.
I got a feeling she'll screw us up with some "important" favor later. Might as well pay our dues now and be done with it. Plus, buying them all carrots seems like a more sincere apology than some vague promise.
Delaying any update until several hours from now because life was a bit busier than I would have liked today, sorry. not calling it or anything but I think that it's clear where the wind is blowing right now.
The girl smiles, her eyes sharply focused on you. The other rabbits seem subdued, uninterested even in what’s going on. It wouldn’t surprise you if a pair of them started nuzzling you lovingly given how quick they seem to change their emotional state.
You reach for your coin purse, undoing the string that ensures it won’t just fall out or get snatched easily. The bag is heavy in your hands, representing most of the money you have to your name in this world. A few coins clink together as you stand up and extend your arm towards the girl. You offer the purse in the same way you offered the candy to the brown rabbit—a situation that you’re altogether too painfully aware it parallels. Once again you offer goodwill and friendship.
“As General Secretary of the Central Committee, and plenipotentiary in matters of rabbit welfare, I graciously accept your indemnity,” the girl speaks formally, her tone solemn and practiced. With those words recited, she takes the purse from your hand and stashes it away in an otherwise invisible pocket in her dress. She gives you a firm nod, letting you know that you are once again in good standing.
“So, what happens next?”
“Normally we would form a committee to assess the merits of your case and then that recommendation would be sent to the all-Union Council of Ministers whereby action could be decided there or, more likely, at the next general congress,” she explains not skipping a single beat.
“Oh… that sounds like it might take a while,” you observe.
“It’s important that the voices and concerns of all rabbits be heard and taken into account,” she tells you. It’s the kind of answer that could mean anywhere from “a few hours” to “when you’re grey and old”.
“What am I to do until then?”
“As Chairman of the Council of Rabbit Commissars,” she explains, casually adding another title, “and plenipotentiary in matters of rabbit welfare, I believe that there’s sufficient cause to take expedited action. In the interest of better relations between the rabbit community and yourself.”
At that statement and with a subtle look from her in their direction, a pair of rabbits detach from the main host, disappearing into the shadows.
“That’s good news,” you nod.
She smiles at you, “let us do our best to put behind this ugly incident, resolve it in a timely fashion and create strong bonds of solidarity and friendship.”
“Sure, sounds good to me,” you find yourself smiling back. Maybe it’s because the room full of rabbits also seems to be happy about the turn of events. Though they don’t speak, their energy is infectious. “I don’t think we’ve introduced ourselves properly,” you say with a sheepish grin. It’s kind of awkward not to know who you’re talking to. “I’m Moroboshi, from the village.”
“Tei,” the girl says, chuckling, “just an ordinary rabbit that’s been lucky to serve my fellow rabbits in my limited capacity. I’d introduce you to the rest of the gang, but I’m afraid we could be here all day.”
“That’s alright,” you say, looking around the room, “all that matters is that they know there aren’t any ill-feelings just because of the action of one rabbit.”
“Yes, good,” Tei agrees with the sentiment, “in time, I’m sure we’ll all look back at this and laugh. More importantly, how to best celebrate our new friendship?”
“I’m not sure...”
“It’s a good thing that we both understand how to best advance our interests, right?” she asks, interrupting your thought. “While things are being sorted out, it’s important we lead by example and show all the rabbits that humans are good, after all.”
“I guess, what did you have in mind?” you ask, feeling that there’s no point in pressing harder. The only realistic hope you have of getting your medicine back is with her help and goodwill.
She grins—an expression that states I thought you’d never ask—and makes a gesture at another nearby rabbit. A bottle of sake materializes and Tei grabs a pair of cups from a nearby chest. “A little toast to set things off on the right foot,” she tells you.
The cups are poured and she hands you one. The rabbits seem to all be intently watching the both of you. They crowd in closer, coming out of the shadows to the area around the lamp where you and Tei are standing.
Tei looks around the room with a knowing look, the very vision of mirth. “To friendship!” she exclaims, raising her cup.
It falls upon you to say something, you realize. “To rabbits!” you start, raising your cup, not quite sure where the thought will end.
 “A friendly and understanding bunch!”  “And their gracious and wise representative!”  “And to mutual respect and benefit.”
Tei takes your compliment with a convivial smile. It’s a moment for joy, sure, but it’s also one that she doesn’t care to make too much about herself. She sweeps her gaze around the room, making every rabbit there feel included in the celebration. You’re not exactly an expert on rabbit expressions but you think that maybe, just maybe, they are all thinking, yeah, she is pretty great and wise.
You lock eyes with her once again and then drink. The sake feels aged, and is little quick to sting your tongue with flavor. As you swallow you feel more complex flavors work their way through. It’s light and makes your throat feel comfortably warm. Not bad, maybe? It doesn’t make you want to retch; your knowledge of what makes sake good or bad is limited by your lack of experience with the stuff. Grandpa loved the stuff but you haven’t really had any outside of festivals and special occasions.
“Not bad, huh?” Tei chuckles, sitting unceremoniously on the matted floor. You follow suit, figuring that informality is a hallmark of friendship. She pours out another cup for you. “To your health!”
“To yours,” you reply, drinking up.
She pats you on the shoulder with a laugh, “I’ve got a good feeling about you.”
“I’m glad,” you tell her, noting that she’s pouring yet another drink for you.
“Life seldom offers the opportunity to relax like this, don’t you agree?” she asks, not really expecting a reply, “always so caught up in what we have to do or what we should do that we never stop and just take a breath.” She motions to your cup, “or appreciate the small things, like a good drink with good company.”
She raises her glass and you match the gesture. You drink more while she seems to have a sudden revelation. The rabbits have been reveling with you as well, playing with one another and generally bouncing around, looking… happy you think it’s safe to say. Tei puts down her glass and signals at a rabbit, making it respond by coming closer.
It’s a white little fellow, who hops along until it reaches where you’re sitting. It looks at Tei expectantly, twitching its long ears.
“This is Hiroyuki,” Tei states, nodding at the fellow rabbit.
“Hello,” you greet, as is the decent thing to do. The rabbit turns its head towards you and you think it nods. Even if it didn’t, the thought of it brings a slight smile to your lips.
“Hiroyuki is a close associate of mine and a smart little guy,” she explains, pride in her words. The other rabbits takes the praise quietly, eyeing you instead. “I am usually very busy and I can’t be everywhere at once. So while we’re tracking down the other rabbit and you’re conducting business here, it’s probably best if you have someone with you at all times that can offer help if you need it.”
“Sure, sounds reasonable,” you nod, finding nothing wrong with such a cute helper. Whatever hostility you were feeling earlier has faded due to the comforting atmosphere in the room now. Not to mention the inner warmth that is now cradling your mind delicately.
“To Hiroyuki, a good and diligent rabbit,” she toasts.
You’re exchanging a warm look with Hiroyuki as you bring the latest cup of sake to your lips. You down it all, wishing him all the best. Though he doesn’t talk, you’re sure he’s thinking the same thing about you. He comes closer, sitting down next to your leg where he sniffs you a little before staying quietly out of the way.
“I hope that rabbit hospitality has made a good impression on you,” Tei says, keeping your cup perpetually full of sake. The small girl is happy to let the good times keep going, encouraging the other rabbits to dance around and frolic. You’re not sure who is doesn’t it or when it started exactly, but there’s also singing. It’s a happy melody, easy to hum along to. Or clap along to, as the case seems to be.
It’s then that you notice that a few of the rabbits that were sitting in the shadow also have human-like bodies and are mingling with their tinier counterparts. Some of them are dancing, wildly hopping around and taking each other hands and spinning around. A lot of the boxes and storage containers have been pushed away, clearing an area for the rabbits to go as wild as they like. They really do seem to be enjoying themselves.
You’re mesmerized by it all, your thoughts getting a little slower and more disconnected. You pet Hiroyuki, something which the small rabbit doesn’t seem to mind at all, twitching its ears happily as you rub its head. You drink to yet another toast, this time not really sure what it was for. Then again, it doesn’t really matter. Worrying is for suckers. Tei is right; the here and now is important to appreciate.
 Why not join in? Grab Tei and dance.  Tell Tei that you’re having fun but wish that your true love were here to share the moment.
The next thing you know, it’s really hot all over. The air feels dense and moist. A lot of your skin feels like worn leather, insensitive and tough. The world of singing and dancing is no longer there. Instead, it’s remarkably quiet, with only the sound of dripping water reverberating with undue loudness.
You open your eyes and things are blurred. Your head is trying to escape your body, seems like, loudly pounding to be set free from the otherwise heavy corpse. Light is such a bother, giving more energy to the struggle happening behind your eyes, inside your head. It takes a moment for things to come into something approaching focus. Once you stop wincing, you start making sense of your surroundings.
Tile, steam and a bathtub. And you’re in it. Hot water is about neck high and your naked body is casually sprawled, with its legs spread open underwater. It would be relaxing if it weren’t so damn hot. The unfamiliar ceiling is the least of your worries, the fact that you don’t remember even getting into the bath seems more pressing.
With some effort, you get your arms to cooperated. You lift them out of the water and grope around for the edges of the tub. Naturally, you don’t have the strength to lift yourself out of the water just yet, but it’s something of a start. At the very least, it stops you from feeling like the world is spinning around. Just a little.
The temptation to close your eyes again is great. But if you do, you’re sure that you’ll happily nap away for a while longer. And that’s not helpful. What is helpful is wiggling your toes and keeping your body from feeling like it’s going to dissolve away in the hot water at any moment.
“Oh, you’re here,” you say, finally noticing that not alone. By a door to your left, past a small stool and much tiled floor, is a familiar face. Small and cute, his fur seems a little less fluffy because of all the steam. “It was...” you try to organize your thoughts; it’s something akin to trying to wrangle angry chicken into a pen. But the answer comes eventually, after a very awkward pause, “it’s you, Hiroyuki.”
“What’s that?” you furrow your brow. Couldn’t be, you heard another voice.
And there it is again.
“...are you talking to me?” you ask.
There is no one else present, the words just pop into your mind. In reality, all you see is a small white rabbit wrinkling its nose and moving its mouth quietly, as if nibbling the very air.
“Wait, I can understand you?” you feel like maybe your throbbing head is playing tricks on you.
Get out of the bathtub, or you’ll pass out again, Hiroyuki advises, his ‘voice’ a calm contrast to the cacophony of your mind.
“I’ll try,” you tell him, making the effort to gather strength to your extremities. Easier said and done. The weight of the water and the weight of the steam upon your body seems like the weight of the world. You’d rather not dwell upon all your failed attempts so, after a while, you managed to stand up and get out of the tub, puffing and heaving like a man 60 years older.
Dry yourself before you catch cold, he says, turning his small head away from the full display of your naked body. Doesn’t seem like he cares but you can’t help but feel just the least bit judged.
There’s a towel by the bathroom door. You lurch towards it, finding that steadying your walk is a lot more trouble than it normally is. A similar scene played itself out not too long ago. That… yes, Tei, she was consoling you about your love. She was very interesting to hear what you had to say about her and how your heart belonged exclusively to her. Rabbit solidarity, perhaps, but there was something else too it… something that you can’t really recall because your head is still trying to murder you for getting carried away with the merriment.
How could she have kept up with you? You think of the girl in the pink dress. She was just full of surprises. Empathy, tolerance and leadership—these were undeniably part of her own extensive talents. She seemed like she had a lot to say about your situation btu was more than happy to hear you blather and babble on and on and on and on and on. It was an unnatural level on interest, maybe. Eh, that’s probably a rude way of putting it, given that you probably made a complete fool of yourself and ruined the spirit of the impromptu party.
You’re not even thinking too straight. You’re just piecing together random thoughts with fragments of memories. Confessions, acceptance and then losing control of yourself. Your cheeks flush and it’s not just because of all the steam. You may have gone a little beyond socially accepted norms when whining about your love. Not that you were called out on it, but perhaps you should have been.
Hurry up, Hiroyuki looks at you with what passes for impatience in a rabbit’s eyes. There are hints of irritation there too. He’s by the door, waiting for you to open it. There is little time, he emphasizes.
 Trust him, it's urgent.  There’s a lot of gaps in your memory that you’d like to fill first.
You secure the towel around your waist. It’s as much for your modesty as it is for comfort. With all the rain during the day, it’s bound to be cool beyond the walls of the steamy bathroom. Though his face is inscrutable, at least as much as you can humanly tell, it feels like Hiroyuki is on the verge of sighing. Easy for him to judge—he’s naked all the time.
Once you slide the door open, the rabbit bolts immediately, underscoring just how little time there is to waste. You follow, finding that there’s little to keep you around. You clothes are nowhere to be seen and you can’t even find a pair of slippers to wear. There’s no doubt that your steps are ungainly and, more than once, you feel like you are going to stumble. The wooden floor is as about as flat, smooth and stable as it could be, so the problem is your body.
The corridors are long and somewhat dark. It’s hard to make sense of where exactly you would be in the building. The frantic pace you’re forced to adopt doesn’t help things; every time you pause to catch yourself before you trip, Hiroyuki turns and spurs you on with his gaze. With your head pounding as hard as it is, it’s hard to hold a thought for a very long time. Any excess willpower is being used to keep your legs sturdyish and the contents of your stomach from rising back up through your throat.
It’s only when you’re led through the door to a room that you realize just how cold you feel. Water continues to drip from your body. Stay, Hiroyuki commands, wanting you to slide the door shut behind you.
“What are we doing?” you ask, overwhelmed and short of breath.
Staying alive, he gives a non-answer. One that, combined with the strange vibe you’re getting from him, you take to mean that you should dry yourself off properly. He does not look away as you pat yourself dry, making you feel somewhat weirded out. Apparently rabbits don’t care too much about modesty or privacy.
Once dry, you try to get your bearings. The room is small, looks like an unused… you’re not sure what. There’s a few chest and things that make it seem like it’s a storage room but there’s also a bedroll. But it doesn’t look lived-in at all. So not a bedroom. You do discover, however, clothes that have been left neatly folded upon the bedroll. There’s a note as well. You read it.
“Your broken heart won’t remain broken for too long. Get dressed, I’ve arranged a compatibility interview -T”
“Do you know anything about this?” you ask your companion.
... he stares at you like you’ve just asked something incredibly stupid. Maybe you have. Feels about as stupid as asking where the light is coming from, all you know that there’s a faint light coming from the ceiling, but you can’t see a lamp or an obvious source.
You get dressed, finding that the clothes are a little too big in places. Not to mention way fancier than what you’re used to. The thread count feels finer and the pattern is something subtle, something in good taste. It’s something that maybe an elder from an important family would wear, a dark blue fabric that exudes subtle confidence in its own quality. The closest thing to this that you’ve ever worn was when you became of age and your whole extended family came together to welcome you to adulthood.
You look terrible, Hiroyuki tells you, but no longer stink.
“Mmm, thanks, I guess?” you take the compliment with good humor, sighing as you allow yourself to sit down and rest. “What now?”
 A little more waiting can’t possibly hurt.  Too much time has been already wasted just waiting.
>>27967 Sure. I'm still ignoring everything else, but at least the first part is clearly one of the choices. in general, if you want something in, just state it like a normal gosh-darned comment. If it makes sense and others agree, it'll be worked in.
Can't call votes yet since I don't really have the time to write. Sometime tomorrow when I have free time, probably. Still, I suspect that things probably won't change. I find the past few votes to be hilarious, it's the most blatant tone deafness I've seen in a story in a while. The other choices are there for a reason, y'know. Can't hurt to think about what characters are doing and why a little more before jumping the gun. It's still fun for me to write either way, but maybe not as fun for you to read if you keep at it.
The rabbit proffers no more instructions. You’re left sitting, legs and arms crossed, wondering just what the hell comes next.
It’s a wait that pulls no punches, leaving you idle for too long. The dull throbbing of your head isn’t helped by the stray thoughts that force themselves upon you . The most disquieting things are the random flashes of memory that come with some of these thoughts; Tei is listening, the rabbits dance, you drink more because it would be impolite to refuse. There is sympathy. You talk a lot. About life, about the village. About your love.
You wince as you struggle to recall more, feeling that there’s something key that you’re missing. You tug at your sleeves, fidgeting with the excess fabric. Whoever the clothes were made for had longer arms and probably a wider frame. There’s no way to make the clothes stay fashioned on properly without doing some adjustments. If you had a sewing needle… perhaps you could do something about it.
Still, it’s not like it’s too shabby. Better than your mud-and-rain-soaked clothes, definitely. You’re thankful to Tei for providing them. Heaven knows what sort of impression you’d make on your love, showing up disheveled, dirty and wet. Sure, she’d likely understand your ordeal because she’s just that great but you’d still feel a little guilty about it. You’re sure she’s the type of person who tries her best in all circumstances, so you have to endeavor to do the same.
Hiroyuki is ignoring you entirely, being sat in a dimmer part of the room. It doesn’t seem like he feels like humoring you. You make attempts at conversation, but get nothing in return. If he’s upset, you have no clue why. Hard to tell what rabbits are thinking. Or so you keep telling yourself. It’s useful to have something to obsess about, keeps your mind from reminding you just how sick and out of sorts you are.
At some point, however, your rabbit companion perks his ears up. You ask what’s up, but get more of that annoying silence in reply.
“Fine, be that way,” you scowl at Hiroyuki—a small show of defiance you allow yourself—as you anxiously try to figure out what’s going on.
Luckily, it doesn’t take very long for you to find out.
The near-preternatural silence of your surroundings is interrupted by the sound of movement. Footsteps. Doors opening. More footsteps. Wood creaking. Louder footsteps, hurried ones. Closer and closer. Hiroyuki’s nose twitches. Maybe in anticipation. You feel like yours does the same.
Then the door is slid open.
A familiar face full of frustration stands at the threshold. Sharp eyes glance around the room. They find Hiroyuki. And then they find you. The expression hardens into a scowl. She crosses her arms and growls softly to herself. But there’s also a hint of uncertainty in her eyes, as she continues to scan the room.
But you’re happy to see her. Even if she’s not exactly returning your feelings. And looks a bit scary, in fact. Ah, but that might just be posturing. Despite her long, sharp nails and teeth, she’s a good girl. She may have bit you once before but she also helped you out when you were in a jam. A sure mark of a compassionate heart. Plus, no one with fluffy ears like hers can be a bad person.
 Greet her with all the enthusiasm you can muster  Wait and see if she does something else first
- Updates so fast, you have to factor in time dilation!
The indifference shown stings. And yeah, it’s hard not to wonder why she hasn’t greeted you as soon as she saw that you were there. But that’s all the more reason to show her the error of her ways. It’s not your intention, not mainly at least, to embarrass her by being so lovely. If she so happens to feel self-conscious about her lack of manners, that’s on her.
You scramble to your feet. Not the best of ideas given how sensitive your body seems to be. Still, it’s necessary. You’re a man on a mission, a man with a clear destiny. Unsteady legs and the dull throbbing in your head are shut out from conscious thought.
“It’s been a long time,” you say, with what you hope is the right amount of friendly charm in your smile. Too much would seem forced; too little, ineffective.
She looks past you, whatever thoughts she’s having keeping her brow furrowed.
Undaunted, you keep at it. You take a few steps towards her, saying, “come on, I know you missed me, too. I was wondering when I’d see you again.”
There's a sigh as she places her hands on her hips. It’s not that she’s ignoring you, as such, but that she seems to want to ignore reality as a whole. At least for the moment.
Unfortunately for her, there’s no ignoring friendship.
You clamp your arms firmly around her. It’s a bear of a hug, so it’s more than enough to keep a wolf-y girl in check. “I really am glad to see you,” you tell her.
She growls and moves her arms around your back. Instead of clasping you as firmly, though, her long nails make a point of stabbing into your flesh. It’s oddly relaxing, actually. You get that she’s supposed to be upset but maybe she’s hitting all the right pressure points to relax you. What a good girl.
“I could kiss you,” you say with a laugh, letting her go. There’s an urge to scratch her behind her ears, but a dull throbbing on your hand, where she bit you, keeps you from going too far.
“With a breath like yours, I’d end up disemboweling you,” she cautions, snarling and baring her teeth before shoving you back. It’s a mild shove, nowhere near the full force she could muster, so you count it as a mild victory for friendship.
“Oh,” you frown, realizing that, while you bathed, you haven’t washed out your mouth. “There was a party earlier and… well, sorry.”
“Seems that you’re quickly becoming my burden,” she says, little humor in her tone. “At least you’re not asking me where you saw me last this time around...”
“Say, now that you mention it...”
Her lips flash a toothy warning, “say anything more and you’ll be finding out what your own liver tastes like.”
“Isn’t this great?” you chuckle, “we’ve got our own inside jokes and everything.”
“Damn rabbits...” she complains.
 What’s so damnable about them? They’re friendly, helpful and cute.  Scratch behind her ears without fear. Friendship is magic.  You know she isn’t exactly the affectionate type, but is she really not happy to see you?
>>28012 No write-ins means just that. Ain't gonna count it, lest we get the typical thoughtless copy paste. 'sides you have no leg to stand on being sarky, given how every single rabbit-related choice has been overwhelmingly in favor of trusting them and following their lead. Even in a silly story, choices gotta have some consequences. Wanna change that? Vote for the appropriate options when you can, convince others to do the same.
You stare at her hard, almost as if you believe that if you do it for long enough you’ll be able to see past those sharp eyes of hers and into her mind and thoughts. Naturally, it’s technique to help you figure out what’s really going on. Keeps your thoughts from wandering. And, most importantly, is a very unsubtle way to get her attention.
Anyone would feel a little uncomfortable at being stared at so intently at close quarters. Your wolf-y friend is no exception. Despite muttering something else about rabbits under her breath, her gaze can’t help but fall upon your unflinching stare. Her lips tremble and look about to emit an annoyed complaint, but you preempt her, saying, “I’m a bit disappointed, I have to admit.”
“W-what?” she’s taken aback by the suddenness of it all and can’t find any other words, likely thinking you were going to go along with her own thoughts.
“I said, I’m disappointed,” you repeat, pause and then add, “I know you’re not the kind to show how much you care, open affection doesn’t come easy, but it’s still disappointing to see you act like this.”
“Um...” she begins.
But you interrupt, “you have to realize that even though I like you and can see past posturing all the time, it still hurts to be treated so poorly. I mean, come on, are you really not happy to see me?”
“Happy to see-?” she scrunches up her face and raises an eyebrow, possibly pondering the question. Almost immediately, she sighs and replies, “I don’t have time for this.”
“Don’t be so cold,” you admonish, “you’re being hurtful for no good reason. Don’t you think it’d be better if we got along more?”
“You’re just some guy I met the other day,” she snaps, wagging a finger right in front of your face. “Just because I didn’t kill you doesn’t mean that we’re friends.”
“You bit me but took me to a safe place afterwards, that’s kindness. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t have done it,” you say.
“That was a mistake,” she hardens her expression, “I should have left you out there to die.”
“Oh,” you droop your shoulders, feeling dejected, “is that really how it is? I really thought you were a good person. And that we got along well. I thought that when you came in… well, that maybe you were looking for me.”
“I’m only here because I was forced here, you idiot,” she doesn’t hold back at all, “if I had known you were here, I probably wouldn’t have come… even if it meant dealing with all that annoying harassment and those threats.”
“...I thought that youkai and humans could get along just fine, guess only rabbits are interested in friendship,” you say, feeling a lump in your throat. Thank goodness your love was the kind and understanding type. It’s thoughts about the bond that you have that keep you from completely giving into despair.
She snarls, exasperation central to her words, “don’t be so damn naive! We met once, for the briefest of moments. We didn’t form a bond. I bit you, you moron! I’m not proud of it, but how did you ever think that was a good sign? Hell, we never even exchanged names! We’re basically strangers! If you died right now, I wouldn’t so much bat an eye!”
Her face comes close to yours, and you get hit by more than just a small amount of spittle from her short rant. Your heart is racing but likely no less than hers. The tension in the air is unbearable, stifling; both her breathing and yours become ragged and uneven. She mouths something but doesn’t vocalize. There’s still outrage there but perhaps not a desire to push further. It feels like anything could happen if either of you do anything else.
 Quietly accept that she wants nothing to do with you.  Push back against her unacceptable behavior.
- daily-ish updates again with the new thread, maybe! Hopefully!