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File 136580888457.jpg - (295.65KB, 591x600, d3321b35e70f134f2d37983e75dd848b.jpg) [iqdb]
27490No. 27490
You breathe deeply, enjoying the fresh wild scent of storm-tossed atmosphere. The rainbeat tempo upon the porch awning has subsided to a gentle rolling patter, and a stiff, clean wind is pushing the clouds away. You tap your empty teacup against one knee and sigh discontentedly. The stifling, humid heat has been banished at last, but it brought a restlessness you can't quite shake.

It's furtive and quick, an annoying, jumpy energy that flits from excuse to excuse, every single one saying "get out of the house." You've had no luck with your research as of late – the primary energy loop needed to power a Goliath-size doll simply refuses to stabilize – and the other potential energy source -

- you fling the damn teacup across your lawn, watching it bounce and skip as it rolls across the turf. Every time you walk into the laboratory its staring you in the face, and you just can't stomach it anymore. You've never resorted to that crap. Never will. But...

You stand and stretch languidly, enjoying the simple act of moving. When magic – magic! starts to seem like work, it's a bad sign. You need to get out and get some stimulation.

"... what," you query the rain-drenched lawn uselessly. Post-rainstorm isn't the ideal time to tromp around the Forest for reagents; the cooler air brings out mosquitoes by the zillions, in the shade. Shops in the Village will be open, but you don't feel like shopping, just...

"Rrraarrgh," you whine, rubbing your hair with both hands. Men clustered under shop awnings, talking about nothing, leaning against railings and enjoying the brisk, cool breeze running down the village streets – that's what you'd be most likely to see. No, want to see. But won't. They'll be inside smoking and playing pool or parcheesi or whatever the hell they do, shut in their little smokey smelly dens of drowsy dumbassery.

You sigh again, throughly irritated with yourself. Why do you want to see the Village looking just-so? You don't know. That's the kind of day its been. That anxiety, darting between excuses like a mischievous chipmunk.

Oh dammit, if you don't get somewhere that isn't here quick you're going to go stark raving nuts.

[ ] Visit the Village
[ ] Walk around the Forest
[ ] Write-In?
Expand all images
>>No. 27491
[x] Visit the Village

Maybe it'll look just-so after all.
>>No. 27492
[x] Visit the Village

While the odds of seeing the village just-so are slim, it is better than walking around swatting mosquitoes.
>>No. 27493
[x] Visit the Village

C'mon Alice, at least try to be social!
>>No. 27494
[ ] Walk around the Forest

The forest. It has stuff.
>>No. 27495
[X] Walk around the Forest

I'll pick the option with a higher chance of a Marsia encounter.

Or fairies. Fairies are fine too.
>>No. 27496
[X] Visit the Village

Quit making excuses, Alice. You clearly want to go people watching.
>>No. 27497
[X] Visit the Shrine.
-[X] Both the Shrines, if necessary.
>>No. 27498
[x] Visit the Shrine.
-[x] Both the Shrines, if necessary.
>>No. 27499
[x] Visit the shrine.
At the very least we can get drunk with the Oni, pass out, and wake up with a hangover to teach us that... I don't know yet. But we're sure to learn something valuable.
>>No. 27500
[x] Visit the Shrine. -[x] Both the Shrines, if necessary.
>>No. 27501
[X] Visit the Village

A little socializing never hurt anyone.
>>No. 27506
File 136590296857.jpg - (83.58KB, 867x1000, bebd72e2bce3d90f9a8e717227e4ba2a.jpg) [iqdb]
27506
[X] Visit the Village


The tromp of your boots on the wooden boardwalk echos alone through an empty town. Every shop door and window has been thrown wide, but half of them don't even reveal their keeper in attendance, must less customers. You sigh dejectedly, tucking your useless umbrella under one arm. With the unbearably stifling weather and a storm on the way, you should've known that nobody would venture into town, especially on a...

... what day is it, anyways? Such things aren't particularly relevant to your daily life, so much that you neglected to check your calendar before setting out.

You sigh, leaning against a convenient awning support just like you'd imagined the locals might be doing. You'd almost buttonhooked left, headed towards the Harkurei shrine, but everyone there is always so... motionless. Content to let each day slip away with nothing accomplished, nothing gained.

It's like trying to dance to a tempo only you can't hear; every time you venture out.

You notice Shanghai is holding her small umbrella at port-arms, like a weapon. You smile. Scanning the deserted town quickly, you verify there's no witnesses.

"Shanghai," you call, getting her attention. "It's an umbrella. Umbrella." You hold your own up and demonstrate how to open it. "For rain."

She mimics your motions satisfactorily.

You close the umbrella, then with one smooth motion tuck it under your arm. Shanghai follows suit. You run through it one more time to ensure she's got it down, then tap her on the forehead gently.

"Remember, honey."

She does a little somersault in the air to confirm, and tucks her umbrella under her arm neatly.

"... I once ran the Indy 500..."

You and Shanghai look towards the wistful, high-pitched voice riding the wind through the fresh air.

"I must confess I'm impressed how I did, I wonder how close that I ca~me~"

Down the empty street you see a tall young man approaching with quick, purposeful strides, a metallic box tucked under one arm with a black cord wound 'round it, perhaps some sort of spiritual binding. He's wearing grass-stained pants, a sheathed arming sword on his hip, and an extremely rigid expression on his face.

"Now I get a sinking sen~sa~tion...."

You realize the woeful tune is coming from the metal box. The man strides past you, carefully avoiding making eye contact, his square jaw tense and his well-muscled arms tight enough that the contraption must be creaking with strain.

"I was the top of the line, out of sight out of mind,"

The man heels left and kicks open the swinging doors of one of the local bars, one you've never been inside.

"So much for fortune and fa~me~" the box's voice moans sadly from within.

... okay, there's no way you can't not look into something like that. You gallop up to the door and hesitate, peeking around the doorjamb. The young man is stomping his way up to the only occupied table in the room, way in the rear corner. The occupant, a blonde-haired young man, looks up.

The man wearing the sword and rigid expression fairly hurls the singing metal box upon the wooden table, at which point it springs up on four little legs, one at each corner, and begins to dance about, launching into a new tune.

The seated man watches the metal box cavort for long, uncomfortable moments, then looks up at his visitor hesitantly. He's met with an incredibly dour gaze hovering over crossed arms.

"That's-"

"That," the pissed-off man snaps, "is your mundane matter!" He leans over and slams his hands into the table hard enough to make the dancing box trip and fall, its little legs wiggling uselessly.

"Does that look 'mundane' to you?"

The seated man tries to keep a shaky, shit-eating grin from jittering off his face. "No?"

His accuser says nothing, just continues to stare him down from close-range.

You sidle sideways (when did you enter?) trying to get a better look at the dancing box, which has been mostly obscured by the swordsman's rear-end. You bump against a table and place your hand upon a chair, as if you're considering taking a seat, but lean sideways as far as you dare, Shanghai mimicking your motion as she maintains steady position two feet from your right ear.

You catch a glimpse of the bartender, who's calmly rubbing a glass with his bar-towel, sliding his lidded gaze from the conversing men over to you. Noting your notice, he quirks one eyebrow.

You straighten up so suddenly you inadvertently slam the chair-back into the table edge, causing the two young men to turn and look at you.

Shanghai takes cover behind your head. You're on your own.

[ ] Express professional interest in the strange construct. This could be the key to your big project!
[ ] Just order a drink and eavesdrop with your magic. What kind of people handle youkai-class objects so casually?
[ ] Write-in?
>>No. 27507
[X] Just order a drink and eavesdrop with your magic. What kind of people handle youkai-class objects so casually?
>>No. 27511
[x] Just order a drink and eavesdrop with your magic. What kind of people handle youkai-class objects so casually?
Ha ha time for awkward.
>>No. 27514
[x] Just order a drink and eavesdrop with your magic. What kind of people handle youkai-class objects so casually?
>>No. 27515
[X] Express professional interest in the strange construct. This could be the key to your big project!

Disregard propriety, acquire magic.
>>No. 27517
[X] Express professional interest in the strange construct. This could be the key to your big project!

Gotta build up that Charisma stat.
>>No. 27523
[X] Express professional interest in the strange construct. This could be the key to your big project!

Horrible misunderstandings involving Young Guy thinking we want to take his boombox apart will ensure in three... two... one...
>>No. 27524
[X] Express professional interest in the strange construct. This could be the key to your big project!

Social misfit trying to be sauve in three, two, one....
>>No. 27525
[X] Express professional interest in the strange construct. This could be the key to your big project!

Curiosity! Also, Shanghai is too damned cute.
>>No. 27526
[x] Express professional interest in the strange construct. This could be the key to your big project!

Reverse engineering is the hallmark of making progress when someone else already did.
>>No. 27527
>>27526
Exactly, there's no need to reinvent the wheel.

[X] Express professional interest in the strange construct. This could be the key to your big project!
>>No. 27542
File 136613612558.jpg - (36.66KB, 600x453, choke a bitch.jpg) [iqdb]
27542
[X] Express professional interest in the strange construct. This could be the key to your big project!

"Hello," you start awkwardly. "I couldn't help but overhear-"

The bartender snorts and ducks a smouldering look from the swordsman.

"-and I happen to be a specialist in constructs and magically-animated objects," you state, waving your palm at Shanghai – or where Shanghai should be. You sidestep, annoyed, revealing your doll. She hovers in midair, her programming uncertain, then dives for cover behind your shoulders. "I'd love to-"

"-pleasetakealook!" the blonde-haired man rushes out brightly, leaping at your converstional line desperately. "It's certainly a curious little thing, isn't it? And it sings so well. Some sort of outsider music box, I'm guessing?"
The little metal box ceases its cavorting quite suddenly, awkwardly clattering around to 'face' the blonde man.

"I'M A TOASTER, ASSHOLE!" it roars, and leaps into his face, knocking him clean out of his chair.

You rush forward with a spell on your lips, but are rudely blocked by the swordsman's arm. He's looking dourly at his aqquaintance, who is desperately holding the wiggling box away from his face while it throttles him with the cord, which is apperently attached to the underside. "It's just a curious little thing, isn't it?"

You sweep your hand forward aggresively and Shanghai obeys, bolting in at high velocity and shoulder-checking the metal box hard, knocking it diagonally into the floor. She raises her little umberella above her head in a two-handed grip and brings it down with all her might upon the fell metallic beast.

poing!

She winds up again, her battle-fury flowering full-force.

poingpoingpoingpoingpoing!

You take advantage of the distraction to plant an elbow in the swordsman's side before shoving past his arm – the nerve of that, honestly – and step over the gasping blonde, bringing your muddy boot down on the queer little box with finality.

"Mercy! Mercy!" it cries. "Pardon! Parley! Surrender! Quarter!" Its cord loosens and slips from around the blonde's neck, promping him to scuttle away across the well-worn floorboards with desperate speed.

You lean over, removing your boot, and peer at the box quizzically. It has the fit and finish of a utilitarian design, a few little knobs, a lever on each side that are wiggling like queer little arms...

... an appliance, basically.

"What in the blazing hells is that little fucker?" the blonde gasps desperately, his back pressed against the far wall.

"A curious little mundane object," the other one mutters, kicking errant chairs out of his way with unecessary force as he stomps towards the exit, the sharp kerPLACK! of the door punctuating his abrupt exit.

You glance back at the box, lying still on the floor, defeated.

"I think it's a tsukumogami," you tell the traumatized blonde.

"I'm a toaster," the box objects sullenly. Shanghai raises her umberella again and it wisely falls silent.

"So you are," you say to placate the thing, hunching over with your hands on your knees as you study it. Tsukumogami are fascinating – inanimate objects that awaken to sentience. On one hand, it's a dissapointment – you'd hoped against hope it was a true, autonomous construct – but on the other, tsukumogami are an untapped avenue of investigation for you. "Do you have any plans for this creature?"

"Aside from weighing it with rocks and throwing it down a fucking well?"

You glare at him disapprovingly. "Then you won't mind if I take it home with me?"

"Hey, what about m-" poing!

The toaster wails miserably.

"Be my guest, miss," the blonde says, sliding up the wall to regain his feet. "I think it runs on electricity, though-"

"I don't want an appliance," you say with irritation. "I want an interview!"

"With a... toaster?"

"A tsukumogami!"

"What about that umberella girl?"

"No good," you tell him. "First time I went looking for her she jumped out of a bush and suprised me. Now she runs away when she sees me coming."

The blonde frowns. "Why? She's a sweet thing, when you get to know her."

"I don't react well to suprises," you explain.

"... oh," he says, glancing sidelong at the toaster. Or perhaps Shanghai.

"She can fly with that umberella of hers, which makes things problematic," you explain. "I'd have to head her off in three dimensions and then deploy a net – terrible bother. But this one here is too small to object much."

"The hell I-" poing!

The blonde looks at the toaster, which defeated him, then at Shanghai, which defeated the toaster, and appears to make a decision.

"The toastermogami is all yours, miss." He holds his palms up in what you assume is a parting gesture. "I won't stop you."

"Thank you~" you say brightly, and fairly skip out the door with the toaster tucked under one arm.

"We're going to have lots to talk about," you tell him as you stride down the abandoned boardwalk, feeling considerably better. The trip turned out productive after all.


[ ] Focus on your new 'friend' for the immediate future. This could be your big break!
[ ] We can't do anything without reagents, though. It's time for another expedition into the Deep Forest.
[ ] It's time to put Hourai back into commission. We'll need the Miko's help.
>>No. 27545
[x] It's time to put Hourai back into commission. We'll need the Miko's help.
We need to be at full capacity before starting this new project.
>>No. 27546
[x] It's time to put Hourai back into commission. We'll need the Miko's help.

Doll Army
>>No. 27547
[ x] Focus on your new 'friend' for the immediate future. This could be your big break!

We got the little guy, the least we can do is talk to him
>>No. 27548
[X] Focus on your new 'friend' for the immediate future. This could be your big break!

Friend~
>>No. 27549
[x] Focus on your new 'friend' for the immediate future. This could be your big break!

Right, let's see what we have here.
>>No. 27550
[x] It's time to put Hourai back into commission. We'll need the Miko's help.
>toastermogami
Pfthaha.
>>No. 27552
[X] It's time to put Hourai back into commission. We'll need the Miko's help.

And then Reimu tries to exterminate the toaster.
>>No. 27555
File 136616548836.jpg - (145.98KB, 567x800, kogasa.jpg) [iqdb]
27555
[x] It's time to put Hourai back into commission. We'll need the Miko's help.

Poor Kogasa... :(
>>No. 27562
Calling it for Hourrai. Wait warmly, ect.
>>No. 27576
File 136711287345.jpg - (409.50KB, 752x1100, abcc3da3cae9eb1b3d28aa11902d9eaa.jpg) [iqdb]
27576
[X] It's time to put Hourai back into commission. We'll need the Miko's help.

The brilliant light of a cloudless summer day shines on the rolling green hills of the Gensokyan valley floor. You take a deep breath, enjoying the air vibrant with the smells of life. Flying is best for ground speed, but walking is more enjoyable sometimes.

And it helps delay the encounter you've been putting off for months now.

There's that, as well.

But you're out of options. The little toastermogami has proven to be a spritely little son-of-a-bitch; currently quarantined in your cellar after trying to rally your dolls against you, the "hairband-bedecked oppressor of free ambulatory objects." A few newly-made dolls that hadn't been tuned to only follow your commands responded, and he managed to give you a good fright as you entered your workshop. You're not very persuasive yourself, and as for "persuading" him... you haven't the heart. His bravery is so much larger then his body; you can't help but admire that.

Unfortunately, that leaves nothing but returning to the Enlargement project, which still vexes you beyond words. In turn, that leaves long-delayed tasks like refreshing your reagent stock, but that requires a trip into the Deep Forest, which is rather dangerous. Shanghai is swift, but Hourai is powerful; no number of lesser dolls can replace her presence.

So, at last, you're visiting the Shrine.

You were hoping to reach the top unmolested, but at the base of the mountain someone steps out of the bushes near you quite abruptly.

"HALT!"

You whirl, your heart sinking as you recognize Momiji. You enjoy a good duel as much as the next person, but you've business to attend to. "Momiji, I – who struck you!?" you gasp, spotting the impressive shiner she's sporting around one eye. "How rude!"

Momiji's mouth opens, then closes as her hand gropes aimlessly near her sword-hilt. "... what?"

"Someone struck you," you repeat, offended by the very thought. "Weapons require technique and finesse, at least, but brawling like a fool in a bar? I hope you properly thrashed them."

Momiji stares at you, surprised. Then the tension leaves her frame, and the unspoken challenge in her body language dissipates. "I wish," she says. "They ran off. They won't be so lucky next time."

"What happened?" you ask, genuinely curious.

"Nothing," Momiji says, sighing. She waves you away. "Go ahead... I was just checking, is all."

You nod politely and continue on your way, keeping the smirk off your face till your back's turned. The tengu have had their differences with the mountain gods before, but deliberately blocking the only path to the shrine (which is exactly what Momiji was doing,) is unusually bold of them. Must be retaliation for that cable-car idea they were swinging around recently.

You fly up the last stretch, over those endless, knee-breaking stairs, and alight in the middle of Moryia shrine's little compound. You walk around cautiously, calling out tentatively, but nobody replies. Eventually, you catch movement in the corner of your eye and espy Sanae standing at the door of a large shed, struggling with something. The clink and clank of chain can be heard over her muttered curses as you approach.

"Sanae?" you say from behind her.

The miko yips like a startled dog, jumping straight into the air. A huge, rather rusty padlock thunks to earth by her foot. She whirls so fast her long green locks sting your face, her arms tucked against her defensively.

"Hello," you say politely.

Sanae stares at you, huddled and wide-eyed. "You're Alice," she says in an odd tone of voice.

"Yes," you say, trying to keep the no shit out of your tone. "I'm Alice."

"W-what do you w-want?" Sanae stutters, sliding along the shed's wall to gain distance from you.

"I have a favor to ask." You beckon with your hand, and Shanghai advances, carrying a wicker basket big enough for her to hide in. You take it from her and open it, revealing Hourai lying within, dormant. "My doll, Hourai," you introduce. "Her main energy coil was damaged in a battle. I need you to channel Amatsumara for me to..." Sanae is ignoring you entirely, gazing at Shanghai with open wonder. She reaches out a hand tentatively, and Shanghai mimics her, touching her tiny hand to Sanae's fingertip. The miko withdraws her hand and claps her palms together in delight.

"Sanae?"

The miko ignores you, entranced. She reaches out with her other palm, receiving another touch from Shanghai, then claps her palms together again. "Patty-cake, patty-cake," she begins chanting as Shanghai mimics her motions.

"Don't teach her stupid things!" you snap, stomping your foot. Shanghai darts back to her customary heeling position, and Sanae shrinks before you.

"Sorry," she says in a small voice.

"Now," you say, quite irritated, shoving the basket under the miko's nose. "I need you to channel Amatsumara for me, to fix this doll."

Sanae leans over and peeks inside. "Oooh," she says appreciatively, studying Hourai intently. "I don't see what's wrong-"

"It's internal. There's a core inside, a magic item, that holds the magic that animates her. It's damaged."

"Why do you need me?" Sanae asks, puzzled. "You made her, right?"

You sigh. This is the question you didn't want to answer. "That item holds her primary energy loop – the most basic, essential magic that powers the doll. It's like -"

her soul

" - her essence. You have to banish the magic to mend it, but if you do that sh-"

"She dies?"

"It's a doll," you remind her. "The programming is lost, and it takes a long time to program a doll like this."

Sanae straightens up and produces her gohei, making a big show of tapping it against her shoulder. "Hmmmm," she says. "Hmmmmmmmmm," she continues to say.

"Hmmm-"

You huff sharply.

"I'll help you... buuuuuuuuuuut~" Sanae drawls, wiggling the tip of her wand in the air, "you have to do something f-"

"I'm prepared to make a sizable contribution to the shrine," you say. Shanghai reaches under her dress and produces a sizable bag of coins, exactly on cue.

"Uhm," Sanae mumbles. "We... don't really need money."

"Of course you need money," you reply, eyeballing the shed Sanae had been trying to padlock. "You'll run out of junk to peddle to the Kappa eventually, you know."

"We won't! I – I mean we don't! It's not junk! And Lady Kanako is smart! She's already got plans-"

"Where is that cable-car, anyways?" you ask. "I know the tengu have taken to lurking by the path like common highwayman – it might be a while before customers can get here safely. And it wouldn't hurt to have some starting capital..." Shanghai jiggles the coin bag suggestively.

"We need faith!" Sanae snaps, frustrated. "You believe the smith god will help you – that I'll help you – so why not believe in us, just a bit?"

You stiffen. "I shan't grovel at the feet of anyone," you say, stern and resolute.

"It's not groveling!" Sanae wails. "Faith is – is believing in something you can't see. Believing in something that should exist, whether or not it does. Your... your reach should exceed your grasp..." she says, starting to look uncertain.

"Wishful thinking," you reply. "Fantasy, fancy. Insanity, even. You want worship. Subservience. I won't give it." You gesture to Shanghai, who jingles the coin bag again. "Good pay for a few minutes work. That's not bad."

Sanae doesn't even look at Shanghai. She thrusts her gohei at you, eyes aflame. "Gods lead people!" she cries. "They set an example for people to live virtuous lives! Where do your dumb dolls lead you, you weirdo?”
You hug Hourai's basket to your breast reflexively, your face as numb as if you'd been slapped.

Sanae's anger falters, looking ashamed and... and...

That little bitch.

“Don't pity me, you sniveling little runt,” you growl, sending her back against the shed wall. “You never worked a day in your life for your power. You inherited it, inherited the mindless worship of idiots and fools.”

Sanae's mouth drops open, eyes wide.

“You're thoughtless and lazy and weak. You can't even lock a damn door. You're a child. A child who's been handed a hammer, and thinks that makes her the equal of people her elder ten times over.”

Sanae whimpers, shaking her head, her eyes squinched shut. “Sh-shut yo-”

You've already turned your back on her, striding away briskly. Class dismissed. You manage to clear the outbuildings and reach the stairs before the wetness stings your eyes. You blink it away, blowing away the emotion with the hot wind of anger as you skip down the stairs two at a time.

Little bitch.

Little arrogant thoughtless clueless bitch.


[ ] Toastermogami time. Someone to talk to would be nice, and I've had my fill of people today.
[ ] I can fix her with that substance from the deep forest - and god help anything that gets in my way.
[ ]
>>No. 27577
File 136711307287.png - (120.16KB, 785x769, ff1401490907d7f86fab84c46e4b7e3c.png) [iqdb]
27577
>>27576
(Space intentionally left blank, disregard~)
>>No. 27578
Man Sane needs to work on her talking skills.
>>No. 27579
[x]Gensokyo has TWO mikos...
Holy shit. I know she was on edge for something but... Epic persuade chreck fail. Way to buy into the stereotype... specially considering where she comes from
>>No. 27580
Well.

My, my, my. That went quite badly.

[x] I can fix her with that substance from the deep forest - and god help anything that gets in my way.

Time for plan B, I guess.
>>No. 27581
[ x] Toastermogami time. Someone to talk to would be nice, and I've had my fill of people today.

... Well THAT could have gone better.

Maybe our new friend can cheer Alice up.
>>No. 27582
[x] I can fix her with that substance from the deep forest - and god help anything that gets in my way.
>>No. 27583
[x] I can fix her with that substance from the deep forest - and god help anything that gets in my way.
>>No. 27584
[x] Gensokyo has TWO mikos...

We're friends, right.
>>No. 27585
[x] I can fix her with that substance from the deep forest - and god help anything that gets in my way.

Ah I love it! Too many stories where our protagonist is a wimpy ineffective character who everyone else gets to abuse all over the place.
Time for someone to react appropriately
>>No. 27586
[x] I can fix her with that substance from the deep forest - and god help anything that gets in my way.
And we can cry yell at Marisa while we're there! That will make everyone feel better.
>>27579
>>27584
There's probably a reason we didn't go to Reimu in the first place.
>>No. 27597
[x] I can fix her with that substance from the deep forest - and god help anything that gets in my way.

Might run into Marisa, who should be friendly and/or annoying enough to take Alice's mind off what just happened.
>>No. 27608
>>27585
you mean Alice or MC's in general?
>>No. 27656
File 13696155651.jpg - (137.09KB, 900x500, 77ecc8af313852b905378cd1626f6fdf.jpg) [iqdb]
27656
[x] I can fix her with that substance from the deep forest - and god help anything that gets in my way.





Light.

Long, pale rays slanting through the blinds to spear right into your eyes. You grope around blindly for something cloth-y and convenient, and drop what feels like your caplet over your face. Safely ensconced in the dark once more, you try to slip back into oblivion.

Hourai learning evasive patterns from Shanghai. Shanghai starts copying her sister and they begin mirroring each other, dancing through the air in a graceful, self-evolving pattern-

-you stir and turn your face, tucking it against the back of the couch to hide from the light. You slip into a doze, but another snip of dream comes, the fleeting kind that you have just before waking.

Hourai lying


      in her




                      coffi




Your mind lurches into wakefulness violently. You moan and fold the caplet over double to block more light, but like it or not, you're awake. You lie there a while, wishing you could lie there forever, ignoring the world, but you have to pee and your head hurts and

- and there's work to be done.

Something slips from the crook of your elbow and cloonks hollowly on the floorboards as you stir – an empty gin bottle. You squint blearily at it with dull resentment, then kick it across the floor with your heel. Your slippers are nowhere in sight, so you stumble over the cold kitchen tile in bare feet, yanking the blinds across the window over the sink before splashing your face a bit. Moving automatically, you shove some tinder and wood into the stove and hurl a match after it, then fumble a tea kettle together and drop it on the stovetop.

That done, you stumble to a chair and slump over your little table, nursing your aching head. Work can wait till after tea. And after this headache cures. And until you damn well feel like it. You blink, willing your eyes to adjust to the cruel reality of consciousness, and find a wicker basket sitting before you, in the middle of your table.

You bury your face in your hands. For long minutes you sit like that, alone with the shadows and the ping-pops of the slowly heating kettle. Finally you look up again at the wicker basket holding Hourai's inanimate form.

There's work to be done.

The kettle begins to whistle.

“Shanghai,” you say, waving your hand aimlessly. The kettle continues to whistle.

“Shanghai- oh.” Shanghai's lying dormant somewhere in the house; she becomes aimless and 'sleeps' after an hour without a new order. You rise and move the kettle to a pot-holder yourself. You lean against the counter while it steeps, looking at the sad little cask- basket.

“They're just dolls,” you mutter as you turn your back to the dark kitchen and pour some tea. You blow on it absently, take a sip, and sigh. And arrows are just arrows, but an archer needs them all the same. You need Hourai to brave the dangers of the deep forest, but you need to brave the deep forest to fix Hourai.

You sip gingerly at your tea and huff, wishing the hangover away. You could always see Reimu, of course... she'll certainly jump at a 'donation.' But sure as the sunrise she'll shoot her mouth off to Marisa about it.

But going into the Deep Forest – you recall the battle that damaged Hourai, and swallow.

You don't know what to do.

You drink more tea, stewing in your growing resentment. The unfathomable power of the Hakeuri Shrine? Inherited, by a lazy, immature child. The power of creating true miracles? Skewed by perceptions drift and bequeathed to a shallow, thoughtless airhead, too stupid to even regurgitate vapid catch-phrases properly. And Marisa – stealing from her betters and using that shit as a shortcut to power.

And all of them could simply blast through the dangers that vex you.

As you empty your teacup your eye pauses on the cellar trapdoor, and you recall the toastermogami, still incarcerated below. Such a tiny creature, but unafraid to hurl himself at beings ten times his size, suffering for his principles rather then benefiting from even the slightest concessions against them. He'd understand, wouldn't he?
You're halfway to the cellar door when you realize what you're doing.

You stomp back to the sink and hurl your teacup into it (ignoring the shattering sound) and rip the blinds open, flooding the room with blinding light. You storm through the house, shouting for Shanghai until she rises from under your discarded dress, wobbling a little unsteadily. You grab a handy tray and sweep into your workshop, piling wands and amulets on it as they catch your eye.

You don't need any dolls. You don't need that thoughtless child of a miko – either of them. You don't need that klepto bitch-witch and you sure as hell don't need help from a fucking toaster.

You storm out of your house armed for battle, Shanghai hurrying behind.
>>No. 27657
File 136961573338.jpg - (607.89KB, 990x1400, the deep forest.jpg) [iqdb]
27657
The Deep Forest is silent.

Any proper forest, even the Forest of Magic, is vibrant with life in all its auditory glory; birds singing, crickets chirping, little squirrels making a huge ruckus through the underbrush. Its only when the thick canopy closes overhead and the forest shade deepens into murky gloom that the silence begins.

The forest lives. But the Deep Forest thinks.

You advance cautiously, a halo of dolls tense upon your ringed fingers. Your simplest dolls have no autonomous ability whatsoever; you control them with “strings” of magic. As simple as they are, you've the skills of a true puppeteer, and your deftness is unmatched. More importantly, they're simple enough to be disposable – they'll buy you time for an escape.

You stop when the gloom approximates twilight. It will be darker still, deeper, and by your pocketwatch its almost noon – its only going to get darker from now on. And lighting a flame in the Deep Forest is a very bad idea.

You step carefully over twigs and fallen branches, fearful of making noise. The stillness is dark and deep and hungry. Life is naturally boisterous and bright; in a vacuum of it people naturally seek light and noise. Not for nothing do tales of will'o'the'wisps and phantom music abound; by such things are people lured.

And likewise such things lure predators looking for people.

You wander through the forest, zig-zagging between potential prospects, but every suitable-looking tree reveals itself to be disappointingly ordinary as you near it. The very nature of your quarry makes it difficult to find – only time and patience will suffice.

And they do. After hours of tense searching, you finally find a tree that bodes well. Its getting on towards five, and the twilight is deepening towards dark. The roots of this tree are gnarled tendrils that creep over stony, unyielding ground. Cold sweat stings your eyes as you kneel, but you dare not drop your guard to wipe your brow – if anything's stalking you, it will pounce now.
Long seconds pass, the silence now so deep you can hear the faint tick tick tick of your timepiece, but no attack comes.

You hunch over, peering at the gnarled roots twisting through rocky earth. Its almost impossible to see anything. This close to your objective, you can no longer resist.

You strike a match.

The tiny flame throws quavering light over the dark roots and sullen gray stone, but within the curl of one gnarled root is a nugget of darkness that refuses to yield. You advance the match closer – and smile.

You've found your prize.

You fumble hastily for your tools, excitement surging under the tension and fear. You've got it. You've got it, at last, the key to Hourai's salvation. Ignoring your dolls, you extract your small saw and prybar and begin sawing at the root madly. You want that little chunk of shadowy stone and you want it now. The faint tickticktick of your muffled watch lend urgency to your attack; you need to hurry to clear out before full dark.

Naturally, that's when it happens.

Your tools clatter on stone as your hands come up defensively, your dolls leaping to life and surrounding you defensively. Your eyes dart to and fro, looking for the threat.

Nothing but a dead, still tangle of shadowed forest meets your eyes. Only your racing pulse pounding in your ears and the muffled watch fill the silence.

Only?

You release the breath you'd been holding. Did you really sense something? Or are your nerves finally getting the better of you?

No. There's no such thing as paranoia, not in the Deep Forest. Something is out there.



[ ] Challenge! Timidity invites attack.
[ ] First strike! Take no chances!
[ ] Stand firm. Your first priority is getting what you need for Hourai. Don't borrow trouble.
>>No. 27658
[ ] Stand firm. Your first priority is getting

You know what's the best way to get mauled in the wilderness? Challenging the local wildlife to a fight.
>>No. 27659
[x] Stand firm. Your first priority is getting what you need for Hourai. Don't borrow trouble.
>>No. 27660
[x] Stand firm. Your first priority is getting what you need for Hourai. Don't borrow trouble.

Poor Alice
>>No. 27661
Oh Alice, if only you had plot protagonist powers. Kinda makes you appreciate the side characters who actually have to work for every ounce of their power.
>>No. 27663
[x] Stand firm. Your first priority is getting what you need for Hourai. Don't borrow trouble.

Stay on target, but be ready.
>>No. 27667
[ ] Challenge! Timidity invites attack.
>>No. 27679
[x ] Stand firm. Your first priority is getting what you need for Hourai. Don't borrow trouble.

You are the Seven Colored Puppeteer, no random youkai is going to scare you off!
>>No. 27687
File 137029210771.jpg - (260.15KB, 595x620, 70ed0d739bd20c86ce146d939e1d5956.jpg) [iqdb]
27687
[X] Stand firm. Your first priority is getting what you need for Hourai. Don't borrow trouble.

Your body electrifies with the urge to move, to flee like mad, to launch yourself into a savage attack – fight or flight, pure and powerful. But you're a magician – hell, you're the Seven Colored Puppeteer, and your discipline is second to none. And here, buried in the roots of this ancient tree, is the prize you've longed after for months.

You've sought this out. There's no way in hell you'll be baited away or made to yap like a small, frightened dog. For however long it takes, this patch of forest is yours,.

Still facing the unseen threat, you gently manipulate a few dolls into picking up your tools. Two dolls to a tool, you work the tools carefully, cutting out the little piece of rock you need so badly. The zrrrt-zrrrt of the saw is swallowed by the dark. You can feel full dark creeping up on you, up your spine on little prickly legs and what if it's a bug a gigantic thing off the tree -

You glance sidelong at Shanghai, still hovering by your right shoulder, her diminutive weapon raised and ready. She's barely visible, her blue dress a mere outline of lighter shadow, but she's there nonetheless.

And then she's not.

Your heart leaps at the sharp crack! of wood right in front of you. You see nothing – the root? No, still intact. What the hell-

This time you hear the sibilant whisper of -

THUNK!

Feathers are brushing your cheek, still quivering -

arrow a fucking arrow

Your dolls leap airborne, swirling around you, a defensive shield of thin blue magical light in their wake as you channel your magic through their built-in foci. You feel the magic surge as you draw it up, building towards the release of a danmaku torrent. You hold it a second longer then normal – now two – now three, the energy burning and searing your nerves, about to pop your eyes out from inside. Lethal magic, much more powerful then you're used to, but far less complex to manage.

A hint of motion in the dark, an oncoming shade through the dark, the meager light winking off bare steel. You let your magic out, flooding into your dolls, a mere moment from cataclysmic release, going off just as your enemy enters the circle of blue light, almost falling on his ass as he digs his heel in, aborting his charge, arms flung wide to keep his balance.

FHOOOMPH! Blue light flares and winks out in a blast of wind, your magic discharging unfocused into the atmosphere.

A long moment of silence stretches through the darkness.

“... you?” a stunned voice queries.

“Me,” you reply, your mind still spinning down from full combat mode.

“... doll dame,” the voice says.

You just stare at the figure in the darkness, his words sinking through your consciousness like plummeting anchors.

“Aaaaahnita?”

They hit the bottom with a resounding clang of clarity.

“Alica?”

“IT'S ALICE, YOU STUPID FUCK!” you scream, hands balling into fists as you step forward, a brief thought of slugging him crossing your mind. You feel your emotional pendulum swinging away from the high-point of “life-or-death terror” and picking up far too much velocity and you don't give a damn. “Who the hell do you think you are, attacking me?”

“I thought you were a monster-”

“I thought YOU were a monster!” you snarl. “What the hell are you doing out here, you stupid little man!?”

“ME?” the man snaps. “I don't see any puppet shows around here!”

“You want one!?” you snap, your dolls leaping to your side once again. “Because I'll be happy to oblige!”

“No!” he replied. “I don't want to fight you-”

“You'd rather try to kill me from ambush, like a coward?”

The faint gleam of a steel swordpoint appears about four inches from your eyes as if conjured, so swiftly you don't have time to twitch. It hovers there, steady and lethal... and then begins to quaver a little.

Then it falls away with a long, shaky sigh from the wielder. “I'm sorry.”

You give your mouth a moment to re-moisten. “You should be.”

“I... mistook you for something else.” You hear the squeak of leather on steel as he sheaths his weapon. “Shit, I almost shot you.”

He sits down, and you can hear his breath, fast and ragged.

“I almost killed you,” he says hollowly.

“Don't give yourself too much credit,” you reply, a bit miffed. “Shanghai deflected both arrows.”

“Who?”

You gesture to your right shoulder and conjure a little light. Shanghai's dress begins glowing softly, just enough to reveal her.

“... well, that explains my bowstring,” he says.

“What?”

“Something cut my bowstring. Must have been her.”

“... so you charged me?”


“We're almost out of light and we just made a lot of noise,” he points out. “We need to get out of here.”

“I have to...” you trail off, unsure of how to explain.

“What, you're collecting newt eyes or walking lichen or something?”

“A shadestone, to be precise,” you say rather crisply. “I've been sawing it out of the roots of a tree.”

“... so that's what you were doing.” He climbs to his feet and kneels at the base of the tree. “Uh... Shaboody?”

“Shanghai!” you snap.

“Right. Help?” Shanghai floats over, lending her dim blue glow to the half-sawn roots. He makes a thoughtful sound, and removes something from his belt.

“Wait, it's delicate-!” you shout, but he's already brought the hatchet down with two swift blows. A severed piece of root goes flying over his shoulder. He rises, holding something gingerly in both hands.

“Here, that your shadestone?” he says.

“Yes!” you cry, snatching it from his palm eagerly. You resist the urge to shove it into your pocket immediately.

“Now let's get the hell out of here.”

****

He parts with you at the edge of the Deep Forest, declining your offer of overnight accommodations in your house. Though you're out of the Deep, the day is waning towards twilight and his face has been soot-blackened for stealth, so you don't even get a good look at his face before he sets off towards the Village, re-strung bow in his hands. You look after him a moment, a kind of baffled curiosity stealing through your thoughts – until you remember the little chunk of smokey stone in your hand.

You rush home, clutching it close to your breast. There's still much work to be done, but you've got the essential ingredient. Its only a matter of time and labor before Hourai's back at your side. You sprint through your front yard, fling open the door, and take the stairs to your lab two at at time. You nest the little black rock in a wooden box made for storing such things.

You take a moment to look at your prize, to savor the glow of happiness.

Hourai is coming back.

The glow carries you back down the narrow little stairwell and into your kitchen. Deciding the time is right for celebration, you feel around the back of your liquor cabinet until you realize you finished the gin last night.

Well, there's that wine you laid away a while back. You turn to the cellar -

- to see the door has a neat little toaster-shaped hole in it.

Son of a bitch.



[ ] I suppose I should find him – he's a good lead, and he'll cause others trouble if I don't.
[ ] I've gone long enough without Hourai. I need to visit Byakuren – she's the only one in Gensokyo with insight into this kind of spell.
[ ] Time to fix Hourai – the right focus will go a long way to ensuring success. Kourindou should have one – if I can slip in while the stoop rats are elsewhere, that is.
>>No. 27688
[x] I suppose I should find him – he's a good lead, and he'll cause others trouble if I don't.

One thing at a time.
>>No. 27689
[ ] Time to fix Hourai – the right focus will go a long way to ensuring success. Kourindou should have one – if I can slip in while the stoop rats are elsewhere, that is.

Dammit, finish what we started. I want best doll back. As for the toaster, we can catch up to him later. I'm sure his mouth will keep him busy with people.
>>No. 27690
[X] Time to fix Hourai – the right focus will go a long way to ensuring success. Kourindou should have one – if I can slip in while the stoop rats are elsewhere, that is.
>>No. 27691
[X] Time to fix Hourai – the right focus will go a long way to ensuring success. Kourindou should have one – if I can slip in while the stoop rats are elsewhere, that is.
>>No. 27692
[x] Time to fix Hourai – the right focus will go a long way to ensuring success. Kourindou should have one – if I can slip in while the stoop rats are elsewhere, that is.
>>No. 27693
[x] I suppose I should find him – he's a good lead, and he'll cause others trouble if I don't.
>>No. 27697
[X] I suppose I should find him – he's a good lead, and he'll cause others trouble if I don't.

There's a fine line between bravery and stupidity. Better save him from the forest before he crosses it.
>>No. 27698
[x] I've gone long enough without Hourai. I need to visit Byakuren – she's the only one in Gensokyo with insight into this kind of spell.
Considering the title of the story, I don't think she can do this successfully without help
>>No. 27715
[X] I've gone long enough without Hourai. I need to visit Byakuren – she's the only one in Gensokyo with insight into this kind of spell.

I hope Byakuren's portrayal is reasonably standard - it's basically our only hope at having someone NOT flip out at us for having zero social skills.
>>No. 27720
Hey we have some social skills!
We know how to be grumpy OR extra grumpy!
>>No. 27721
[X] I've gone long enough without Hourai. I need to visit Byakuren – she's the only one in Gensokyo with insight into this kind of spell.

She might not admit it, but Alice really needs all the help she can get right now.
>>No. 27741
>>27490

Is there any story from before this thread? The fact that you've got separate titles for each update makes it hard to find (and there's nothing by your name in the story index, not even this one)

[If not, heck of an in media res]
>>No. 27742
>>27741

No, this is the only thread (so far.) Technically this is slice-of-life-ish, but Alice has one overriding goal in her life and research, so that lends things some semblance of direction.
>>No. 27747
File 137244757441.jpg - (948.31KB, 1500x1841, if dis nigga don't shut up.jpg) [iqdb]
27747
[X] Time to fix Hourai – the right focus will go a long way to ensuring success. Kourindou should have one – if I can slip in while the stoop rats are elsewhere, that is.


You suck in a lungful of crisp summer morning and release it appreciatively. It's stunningly sunny, not a cloud in the sky. Later the farmers will be regretting that, but for now the temperatures are just right, and the day full of promise.

So, of course, you're going somewhere you'd much rather not.

Again.

And again, you don't have much choice. Losing Hourai to a last-second flub is inconceivable, which means you either need a very good spell, or a good focus to improve an average one. A spell complex enough to function without physical focus is well beyond anyone's ability – except, perhaps, Byakuren. She's mastered a kind of magic very similar to what you'll be using. And she's also powerful. Pants-shittingly-terrifyingly powerful. And she has her own agenda... and her own powerful enemies. You really, really don't want to end up owing her any favors.

Which leaves the focus... which in turn means Kourindou.

You huff angrily, blowing a stray strand of blonde hair from your face. You respect Rinnosuke's intelligence, but he can be awfully stuffy at times. And you respect his penchant for finding the mysterious and interesting; the “store” is really an excuse to house his collection. Unfortunately that means he doesn't have customers so much as competitors; getting him to let go of something takes real effort. And time: you always browse through the store for at least an hour so he doesn't catch on to which item you really want and hike the price.

Take all that, multiply it by a spine, an attitude and danmaku, and you've got Marisa – who's always hanging around the place. Often with Reimu, who's got all her attitude minus the diligence.

You sigh. You're getting a headache and you can't even see the place yet – because you already know what you're going to see. Stoop rats and Rinnosuke, swilling down tea and doing nothing at all. It'd be nice to see Kourindou with customers in it – a few curious souls willing to brave the long path to browse Kourindou's mysteries. Or, perhaps, to sell – Rinnosuke collects much of his merchandise personally, but the rest comes from the Kappa, or human hunters who trip over things on their woodland sojourns. It'd be nice to see one of them in there, giving Rinnosuke a run for his money or merchandise, a cool breeze blowing the dust and heat out of the shady shop.

The sight of Kourindu's roof over the next slight rise shakes your reverie. You stop for a moment, straighten your spine, and adjust your hair. Thus composed, you cover the last quarter-mile with confident, steady stride, Shanghai keeping her little lance at port-arms as she provides escort. You step gingerly around a toppled pile of boxy Outsider... devices piled near the door. One is holding the door half-open. Resisting the urge to peek around the door like a timid child, you steel yourself for Marisa's... energy, and step over the threshold into Kourindou.

The atmosphere is exactly what you wanted – dry and cool, with a steady mountain wind blowing the wonderful scent of the nearby forest through the pleasantly shady shop. With the mounds of merchandise leaving only narrow paths through the shop, it manages to feel airy and cool and intimate at the same time. And as for the occupants-

“Okay!” says a young man wearing strange clothes. He almost trots over to where Rinnosuke is leaning against his sales counter, arms crossed and eyes lidded. The young man proffers a small, white oval thing with two little buttons and a long, trailing cord. “What's this do?”

Rinnosuke slides his glare from the far wall to his customer, then slowly up and down his length, once, saying nothing. His visitor stands motionless, the odd little device still held at arms length.

At last, Rinnosuke emits a loud and blatantly annoyed sigh. He snatches the little object away, and his eyes focus with concentration.

“Its...” he frowns, his glare flicking at the young man for a moment, who's waiting with undisguised anticipation. “It's... best described as a kind of control leash for a shikigami.”

A ripping snort tears from the man's nostrils, and he turns away from the shopkeeper, giggling helplessly as Rinnosuke redoubles his angry glare. After a good minute the customer settles into a rude snigger, then finally sets the little thing down on the counter, tossing its cord after it. “Right. I'll keep looking.” He stalks off into the store with a hawkish look, hunting for something.

You sidle towards Rinnosuke, peeking around stacks of haphazardly piled odds-and-ends for any sign of the stoop-rats, but aside from the jocular customer, the store is devoid of patronage. Reaching Rinnosuke's counter, you find him still ignoring your presence, preferring to glare daggers and dirks at the young man resolutely prowling through Kourindou's wares.

“Hello, Mister Morichika,” you say, nodding deeply. Its as close to a bow as you've ever been comfortable with.

Rinnosuke twitches, his head snapping 'round to you. “Ah-ahl-ice!” he manages. “... Alice!” he says again as he gains mental traction. “How have you been?” He gives you a much warmer smile than – than he ever has, actually.

“Fine,” you lie automatically. “Who's the-”

“Some smart-ass Outsider,” Rinnosuke grumbles sotto-voice. “Did you see what he did just now?” You nod. “He's been doing that to me all damn morning!” He snatches the little white oval off the counter angrily. “I mean look at this stupid thing. Why shouldn't I call it a shikigami leash? That's what it is!

You nod politely. “You would know, wouldn't you?”

“Damn right!” he hisses, throwing a dark look over his shoulder at his hated customer. “So he just laughs at the name! As if their names are any better. You know what they call this, Outside?”

You shake your head.

“A mouse.

“.... what?” you marvel.

“A mouse!” he declares, hosting the little device high. “Alice, does this look like a mouse to you!?”

“Maybe?”

“RIGHT!” he declares, slamming his fist onto his countertop. “Hey, wait-”

“Well,” you say, leaning in to scrutinize the little oval, “the overall shape suggests a mouse, tapering at the end, and the cord could be-”

“Mice have tails on their rear end,” Rinnosuke complains as he rubs his hand. “As Nazrin pointed out. Repeatedly. While she waved it in my face as a visual aid.” He tosses the 'mouse' into the depths of Kourindou carelessly. “Anyways. I never see you anymore. Is there anything you need?”

“Well...”

Anything,” he says eagerly as the young man comes trotting towards him again.

“I need something small-”

“Oh we've got plenty of that right over here do come see,” he says hastily, gesturing grandly and hustling away from his counter at a fast trot. He leads you deeper into the store, towards the back, and sweeps his hand grandly at a shelving rack loaded with knick-knacks. You eyeball the snow-globes and little ceramic statues and shake your head.

“I need something a lot smaller,” you say, indicating something a half-inch or less with thumb and forefinger. “And preferably related to the transmission of information.”

Rinnosuke's eyebrows take a quizzical dive. “Related to?”

“For a ritual,” you explain. “The symbolism is important. Though the composition is important, too – the more uniform, the better.”

“A piece of chalk?” he muses.

Far too common, but you get the idea.”

Rinnosuke cradles his chin thoughtfully. “I think what you need is a semiconductor chip.”

“What is that?”

“It's like a little green or black stone, about the size you want, even smaller, with little legs growing out the bottom,” he tells you. “Outsiders put many of them together, and then they can give instructions to a shikigami.... somehow.”

“Outsiders... have shikigami?” you ask, skeptical.

He points to a tall stack of boxy objects next to you. “Tons of the damn things. I don't even pick them up anymore unless they're unusual-looking.”

You eyeball the stack, noting the curious slots, buttons, and ports seemingly strewn all over them. A flicker of excitement stirs. “You mean they're constructs!?”

“They're certainly not alive,” Rinnosuke scoffs. “Anyway, if you just need a single chip, go ahead and-”

“Hey, More-chicky...ka?” the troublesome customer says from directly behind Rinnosuke. The shopkeeper twitches violently, nearly crashing into you as he jumps and spins in one motion. “You have any TVs in here?”

“I showed you a dozen by the door!” the hounded proprietor almost screams.

“Too new; I really don't feel like messing with varicap diode harmonics all week,” the man complains, brushing untidy chestnut bangs away from his forehead. “Got any old ones? Big ones?”

“Sold out,” Rinnosuke says with undisguised pleasure. “They're really popular as end-tables.”

Fuck,” the man says, slapping a hand to his face. “It's like junkyard wars with shitty junk – hey, hot damn!” the man exclaims, dashing past the shopkeeper towards one of Rinnosuke's favorite items, a phonograph player. He bends over and peers underneath the table the phonograph is built into.

“That's not for sale!” Rinnosuke shouts with glee.

“Don't want it anyways,” the customer says dismissively. “Doesn't have an oscillator.”

Rinnosuke visibly deflates. “What the hell do you want now?

“You know. Oscillator,” the customer says, waggling his hand and arm in the air to suggest a wave. “Puts the waggle in your wave.”

You retreat into the clutter a little ways, watching with amusement as Rinnosuke is harassed anew by his troublesome customer. Rinnosuke is being helpful for once, if only to escape and/or spite his difficult purchaser. All you need do is wait in the wings for his frustration to peak, and you can swoop in with an opportune request for service. You can scarce believe your luck.

“What's up, Alice!?”

You pivot slowly on one heel, Shanghai swinging in a wider arc to stay exactly in formation relative to your shoulder. You complete your turn to find Marisa looking at you with a predatory grin.

Lady Luck is a whore.
>>No. 27748
File 137244785685.jpg - (369.78KB, 1024x1280, a7f9d43bcbd0e37c3e2c58da5a5601ec.jpg) [iqdb]
27748
“Haven't seen you around lately,” Marisa says. “Wut'cha been up to?”

“Research,” you reply crisply.

“Yeah, yeah,” she says, waving her hand dismissively. “Always with the research. But what've you been doing?

“Well,” you ponder, “I did venture into the Deep Forest.”

“Neat!” Marisa exclaims. “Get a fight out of it?”

“Not much of one, really,” you say smoothly, looking around idly, as if bored of the conversation.

“That's what I heard, too,” she replies, a huge bitchsmirk spreading across her face.

You glower at her. “What are you babbling about?”

“There's a rumor going around that you were almost shot by accident by a hunter.”

“I-”

“-and that yer the latest victim of the toastermogaaaamiiiii~” she wails, waggling her fingers in the air to suggest spookiness.

“The hell I am!” you shout. “I defeated the little beast!”

“So why's he running loose, huh? He tried to steal my shikigami yesterday. But my shikigami's powerful and big, he couldn't lift it.”

“That must be the biggest magpie on record,” you reply.

“At least it can talk,” Marisa shoots back, glancing at Shanghai.

“It wouldn't be your shikigami if it couldn’t,” you reply cooly.

“Oh,” Marisa says. “They mirror their owner? That how it is? Explains why yours is a foot tall, expressionless, stuffed with cotton and has a stone for a heart!”

You hear your teeth grinding in your skull. As you expected, things have deteriorated quickly. “I'm here on business,” you say as coldly and stiffly as possible. “Why don't you bother me some other-”

“Yer looking for a semiconductor chip,” Marisa interjects. You bite back the urge to snarl at her. How long had she been listening? “I have one right here!” She points to a small little black rectangle secured to her hatband with a little bit of thread. Tiny metal legs grow out of it, just as Rinnosuke described.

“Good for you,” you snap. “What do I care?”

“It's the only one around! Kourindou has lots of computers, but no chips.

“Actually, computers-” Rinnouske's voice says calmly, but you're in no mood for more Morichika meandering.

“You probably picked it off the ground,” you retort hotly. “I presume it was shinier before you stitched it onto your hat.”

“And you've got time to hunt around near the Border for another one?” Marisa snaps back. “Tell you what – if you want this one, you can have it.”

“I-” you begin to deny, but from Marisa's confident expression, you can tell she's made you.

God damn that klepto bitch.

“At what price?”

“That's negotiable,” Marisa says, waggling her eyebrows. Your teeth grind even harder as you run down the mental inventory of workbooks, amulets and other sundry items of the craft Marisa's already pinched, begged, borrowed and “borrowed” from you. When she starts trading, she really means to clean you out. She traded Rinnosuke a pile of scrap iron for an incredibly rare alloy and repair-work, and according to Rin, he had to bargain even for that. And Rin's supposedly her friend!

“Better idea,” you growl, your hands balling into fists. “Hand it over, and I might forgive some of the things you've already stolen from me.”

“Trying to take my chip without payment? Who's the thief now?” Marisa shoots back, tilting her gigantic hat back at a cocky angle.

“Still you,” you say, tilting your head back to look down your nose at her. “Every time you breathe.”

“Alice-” Rinnosuke tries to interrupt.

“Wow, you're mouthy today!” Marisa says, leaning to one side. “Is Hourai yanking your pull-string?”

Oh that smirking smug shitbag is not getting away with that one.



[ ] Demand the chip. She owes you, twice over, if only for the insults!
[ ] “Trade” with her. She thinks she's such the merchant; you'll show her who's got the brains.
[ ] Duel her for it. Make her eat all those wiseass cracks about dolls.
>>No. 27749
[x] Duel her for it. Make her eat all those wiseass cracks about dolls.

It's obvious that Marisa's lying her ass off, but Alice needs some stress-relief.
>>No. 27750
[ x] Duel her for it. Make her eat all those wiseass cracks about dolls.

Wow, okay time to administer an ass whoopin' because Marisa's actually pissing me off now.
>>No. 27751
[ ] Duel her for it. Make her eat all those wiseass cracks about dolls.
Rub it in her face. So she knows we are the better magician.
>>No. 27752
[x] “Trade” with her. She thinks she's such the merchant; you'll show her who's got the brains.
>>No. 27753
I feel like the dueling option is going to somehow result in bad things happening for alice. Not to say that marisa is going to come out on top, necessarily, but that nothing good will come to alice.
Because that seems to be how the story is
>>No. 27754
[x] Duel her for it. Make her eat all those wiseass cracks about dolls.
>>No. 27755
[x]"trade" with her

I think you guys are forgeting something, Marisa is good at fighting. but I think we can out think her.
>>No. 27756
[X] “Trade” with her. She thinks she's such the merchant; you'll show her who's got the brains.

It's not like it's impossible for us to beat Marisa.

It's that Marisa runs around Sparking things, and I'd rather not have to pay for half of Rinnosuke's merchandise.
>>No. 27757
[x] Duel her for it. Make her eat all those wiseass cracks about dolls.
>>27753
If the future doesn't want to change, we'll MAKE IT.
>>No. 27758
[x] “Trade” with her. She thinks she's such the merchant; you'll show her who's got the brains.
>>No. 27760
Is there any way to instead get one of the chips that are in fact inside the computers, without using meta-knowledge?

> A flicker of excitement stirs. “You mean they're constructs!?”

Maybe we want to buy one and take it apart?
>>No. 27761
P.S. (>>27760 here)

This outsider looks like he might know more about these things, maybe have him show us how to make one of the "shikigami" work?
>>No. 27776
File 13732325951.jpg - (30.86KB, 322x211, b182535b862.jpg) [iqdb]
27776
Okay, hold it.

>“They're certainly not alive,” Rinnosuke scoffs. “Anyway, if you just need a single chip, go ahead and-”
...take one?

>“It's the only one around! Kourindou has lots of computers, but no chips.”
>“Actually, computers-” Rinnouske's voice says calmly, but you're in no mood for more Morichika meandering.
...contain chips?

Wow, isn't it convenient that Marisa happens to have the only semiconductor chip around, despite Rinnosuke bringing them up in the first place? And she shows up here, where Alice is looking for a semiconductor chip, just in time to weasel her way into a deal?

>She traded Rinnosuke a pile of scrap iron for an incredibly rare alloy

Wait a sec are u trying to cheat me again

[x] You're being swindled! Calm down and ignore her.
>>No. 27777
>>27751

I like how the guy above me thinks, so I'm changing my vote.

[x] You're being swindled! Calm down and ignore her.
>>No. 27778
File 137324146093.jpg - (105.75KB, 340x297, marisa troll.jpg) [iqdb]
27778
[X] Duel her for it. Make her eat all those wiseass cracks about dolls.


You consider trading for it – the wicked witch is as mercenary as her patriarch, but hasn't a fraction of his acumen. But that wide, lopsided smirk and aggressively flopped hat strums a resonating chord of rage you can't suppress.

“Put your magic where your mouth is, Kirisme,” you hiss, hands balling into fists, “before I stitch it shut.”

Marisa leans back, poking her hat-brim up with her finger. “Oh ho ho ho! Are you challenging me to a duel, Alice?”

“If you think you're hard enough,” you growl, low and feral. That gives her momentary pause, as it should – it sounded rough. She recovers quickly, her smirk going from playful to predatory.

“So that's how it is, eh? Fine!” She thrusts her hand out, elbow bent, fingertips pointing up at you. You spit in your palm and slap it to hers in like fashion, hands crushing each other in a vicelike grip, staring each other down, eye to eye.

“Ready?” Marisa says, low and intense.

“Born ready,” you reply. “And I'm a lot older then you.”

Marisa grins savagely... and extends her index finger to point at you. “HA!” she exclaims, thrusting her finger at your chest. You jump away reflexively, but Marisa keeps her grip on your palm, leaping forward to keep with you. “Almost gotcha!” she cries, thrusting her finger at you again. This time you trip over something as you retreat, falling on your rump. Marisa falls with you, using her weight to press her finger closer -

- but you twist dexterously and use your knees to throw her to one side, twisting her hand away from you as she falls.

“You're gonna lose!” she cries exuberantly, struggling to rise.

That chord thrums again, and you flip yourself to the left, rolling atop Marisa and extending your own index finger. Vague memories of knife-duels with the fighters bound together by the wrist flash through your mind; this must be the nonlethal equivalent. You heave forward to place your center-of-mass completely over your hand, grip your wrist with your free hand and bear down with all your weight.

Marisa grunts as she plants a palm in your shoulder, trying to push you away, but your finger inches closer to her. She thought to best your weak body with roughhousing, did she? You'll show her. Mind over matter over Marisa, bitch.

She shifts suddenly, planting her hips flat against the ground. You move to sit on them immediately; to exploit her blunder and really pin her, when she uses the stability to press a knee into your rump and violently flip you head-over-her-hat, landing on your back painfully. With a yip, she kicks her legs to back-roll onto you, using your mutual grip as leverage. As she comes over your top, you pull against her, using it to fight into a sitting position. Marisa lands on her toes, and soon you're both standing, fingers extended, and the joust begins anew.

You both start snaking your strength to the side, hoping to catch the other applying force in the wrong direction at the wrong time, but you're both too fast. You jump to the side for advantageous leverage, and Marisa counters opposite. Soon you're circling each other like swordfighters, but the cramped, cramp-packed confines of Kourindou offer little room to maneuver. You leap adroitly over a crate of old milk jars, and Marisa simply plows through a towering stack of National Geographics. Sweat stings your eyes as you follow the damned witch through the unfamiliar exertions, your slender frame ill-suited to such sustained effort. Your muscles burn with the effort of warding off Marisa's attacks; her youthful human frame is spry and energetic. But you're powered by a bottomless well of self-discipline and determination – you will not fall to this little beast, you will not fail to save Hourai and you will not be thwarted in your ultimate goal.

Finally, you see your opening. Marisa leaps towards your side, and you let her, yanking her along. She almost brushes your caplet with her fingertip before she stumbles right over a decaying cardboard box loaded with curious glass caps, their sides thicker then your thumb. The sturdy glassware trips her up. She rotates to fall back-first by her grip on your hand, but you twist into her and yank your hand straight down, exploiting her pulling. Grasping your wrist with your free hand, you simply fall on her, your whole weight and gravity doing the rest. When you hit the ground, your index finger is poking her chest – a perfect thrust.

“YES!” you cry hoarsely poking her more with quick little jabs until she throws you off. “Yes!” You stagger upright, the room swimming a little as you struggle to catch your breath. “I won! Hand it over!”

Marisa grins at you brilliantly, her hair in disarray and her hat lost. “We never agreed on any terms!” She looks over at Rinnosuke knowingly. “Did we?”

“YOU'RE TRASHING THE PLACE, IDIOT!” he cries, throwing his hands in the air dramatically.

“Yeah, they were organized junkpiles before,” she shoots back, and in the background you her Rinnosuke's annoying customer snort with grand amusement. “Anyway...” Marisa says, turning back to you, “we didn't agree on anything....”

“That's mealy-mouthed horseshit!” you rasp at her, still trying to catch your breath. “I won, fair and square! Don't you dare louse out on me!”

Marisa smiles at you, her chest still heaving from the duel, and this time she seems truly amused. “Well, you were way hardcore. So into it.” Marisa reaches up to her hat-band and gently plucks the semiconductor chip off. She snatches your wrist and presses the chip into your palm.

“Good duel,” she says, grinning at you mischievously through her disheveled bangs. Then she breaks away, scoops up her hat and bolts for the exit. “BY RINOSUKE!”

“You! YOU!” Rin shouts, not bothering to say more or give chase. He knows well the futility, so he settles for a few seconds of silent fuming. “And YOU!” he cries, rounding on you. “I thought you knew better!”

“I needed the chip!” you protest, closing your hand around your prize defensively.

“Dammit, Alice!” Rinnosuke gripes. “Those Outsider shikigami are made of those little chips! There's two dozen inside every damn one! I would've given one to you, if I could've gotten a word in edgewise!”

You stare at the shopkeeper numbly, then turn slowly to look out the open door after Marisa.

That sly little shitbird.
>>No. 27780
File 137324165971.jpg - (80.57KB, 456x628, 1361581306478.jpg) [iqdb]
27780
The noonday sun is beating down full-force when you reach the forest's edge, the precious cargo safe in your pocket. A sigh of relief escapes you as you enter the cool shade of the trees – between the sun and your exhausting duel, you're feeling pretty wrung-out. Nothing a few hours in your parlor won't cure, of course.

You rub the little bump of the semiconductor chip through your dress pocket thoughtfully. Its not like Marisa to be so... playful. She's always blustering so much, her mouth always writing checks she has no intention or desire to cash, regardless of ability. Every time you've dueled, it's started with insults on her part; verbal or otherwise, and this was no exception, but...

… but nothing. Danmaku's always a game, on some level, the method means nothing. She was probably just playing you for a fool, hoping your frail constitution would fail you.

Probably.

You push the affair from your mind, shoving it into a dusty corner of your memory. For now, you've won a victory, you've got a lot of work ahead of you, and Hourai is coming back.

“And everything else damn well wait,” you say confidently. “No more side-trips, no more fetch-errands, no more bullshit. Back to my craft.” You wobble over your lawn, (which is looking a mite shaggy) and fall against the door, throwing it open with a sigh of satisfaction.

Home at blood.

The copper scent strikes you like a needle, sharp and immediate. Your front hall is completely covered in blood. Before you lies someone in ripped and torn leathers, their feet inches from the door and there's so much fucking blood

the world spins

you regain yourself, not quite on your knees, but slumped against the doorframe, hands gripping the jamb white-knuckled for support.

“Miss Alice, come on!” A familiar, tinny voice cries. You look down to find the toastermogami standing by the victim, his black cord wrapped tightly around their thigh. “Miss Alice, you have to help him!”

“He... needs help,” you croak, squeezing your eyes shut against the sight, but the vile sharp copper scent just grows more pungent when you do. You open them again to fix your stare on the ceiling.

“So HELP him!” the little creature cries, rocking to and fro on his little legs. “You have to do something!”

“Have to get someone. I can't...” you wheeze, your earlier weariness dragging you down further.

“You HAVE to!” the toastermogami insists. “I can't – I can't do any more. I can't fix him, there's no time and we've waited too long already and I don't know what to do!” The toaster is spastic, real fear in his tinny little voice.

“I can't...”

fix?

“Where's she hurt?”
“Leg, thigh, lower thigh,” the toaster rushes out. “Kept on saying the big artery, the big artery, its real bad, it is real bad, please Miss Alice, please-

Major artery. Massive blood loss. Little time, lots of it gone already. But its just a tube, isn't it? A ruptured tube, and what that wants for is sealing.

Or stitching.

If it wasn't for the blood. The horrible, horrible gush of lifeblood.




[ ] This is simple. With your skill and Shanghai's help and deftness, you can do this. You could do this in your sleep.

[ ] Send Shanghai to fetch the good doctor and just clamp the flow. You're not up to this; not this morning, not last week and most certainly not now.
>>No. 27781
File 137324203238.jpg - (43.32KB, 345x369, 1369624868689.jpg) [iqdb]
27781
>>27776
>>27777

Nailed it! It didn't change anything substantive; (Marisa's not mean, after all,) but I did change Alice's afterthoughts so that she's started questioning her long-set analysis of Marisa's motivations. Glad somebody caught it.
>>No. 27782
[ ] This is simple. With your skill and Shanghai's help and deftness, you can do this. You could do this in your sleep.

This is a giant "The little toaster that could" allegory isn't it?
Be brave Alice, be brave.
>>No. 27783
[x] This is simple. With your skill and Shanghai's help and deftness, you can do this. You could do this in your sleep.
>>No. 27784
[x] This is simple. With your skill and Shanghai's help and deftness, you can do this. You could do this in your sleep.

>>27781

Oh, I caught it, but figured that you were doing it for a reason.
>>No. 27785
[ ] This is simple. With your skill and Shanghai's help and deftness, you can do this. You could do this in your sleep.

Sewing. We can do this.
>>No. 27786
File 137325121397.jpg - (97.48KB, 850x476, koa2quad.jpg) [iqdb]
27786
So what kind of chip did we get?

Pic related.
>>No. 27787
File 137325135056.jpg - (23.53KB, 800x425, 800px-KL_Intel_TD8088.jpg) [iqdb]
27787
>>27786

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8088

The one and only.
>>No. 27790
>>27787

Well, at least it's a CPU and not some random sound chip or something, even if it's not Quad Koa.
>>No. 27792
>“Where's she hurt?”
He, right?

Does Alice have a viable suture material on hand? Does she even know what one would be? It doesn't sound like it, and stitching a blood vessel with the wrong material would make it much harder to fix.
>>No. 27846
File 137626425156.png - (648.38KB, 648x917, 47c51c0dcc0984b4eed26a5cd7324cf7.png) [iqdb]
27846
[X] This is simple. With your skill and Shanghai's help and deftness, you can do this. You could do this in your sleep.

You suck in shaky gasps through your mouth, trying to avoid the jagged, rusty scent of blood ripping at your courage. Someone's dying on your front hallway floor, their lifeblood seeping away with every weakening beat of their heart. Their very life is in your hands, and should you fumble...

… the stitching?

Of a -

“Doll,” you whisper, feeling your limbs steady. It is, of course – the original template. The first thing you ever studied.

And you're mere feet from your own workshop.

“Get on top of her,” you say hoarsely, “and keep -

the blood in

-the pressure on.”

Fixing your eyes on the kitchen doorway, safely beyond and above the mess, you chance your own legs again and find them firm. You flourish both hands in the air, strengthening the latent magical links between you and your dolls. You needn't bother with the rings; not in your own sanctum: a proper dozen come swarming out of your workshop, only a few steps away. You take a deep breath and look down at the victim, focusing on keeping your dolls movements symmetrical, methodological, orderly as they lift her from the – floor and carefully carry her through the workshop doorway. Your main table is completely covered with damn near everything. You grit your teeth in sudden fury, and the table is roughly cleared by a blast of pure clumsy force, spools and cloth scraps flying asunder. You lower the casualty towards the table.

“Off,” you instruct, and the toastermogami obligingly hops, alighting on the table. You flip the casualty over and lower – him! onto the table. The wound is visible now, a huge puncture deep into the thigh. Nausea climbs against your gorge but you shove it away, your teeth grinding in anger. This is your own fucking workshop.

“Bin five-four,” you instruct crisply, and Shanghai darts to a large rack of little drawers, returning with a spool of very, very fine silk thread, the kind used for the most careful work securing joint structures in dolls that need strength and flexibility – you used it in Shanghai herself. You advance to the table and peer down at the wound, examining it as clinically as possible.

“Hourai, bin- fuck,” you snarl, and jerk your hand upwards, sending a generic doll after a small bulls-eye lantern. You light it with a quick match and peer into the injury only to see welling pouring gushing

“Twelve-ten!” Shanghai hands you a thin, orange cloth Rinnosuke sold you a few years back. He said it was amazing for spilled liquids, (though you've never had occasion to test that) and he kept on making sly references to Germans in that smooth tone he gets when he thinks he's being quite clever. “Mop out that hole, gently!” Shanghai moves in with her characteristic agility. You count to twenty, take a deep breath, and look down.

Rinnosuke's product works as advertised (for a change;) the wound is mostly visible, and Shanghai isn't even dabbing. You glance at the toaster's flexible black cord – he's applying plenty of pressure. Deep inside the wound, lit by the lantern, you can see the ragged tear in the femoral artery.

“Okay,” you say shakily. “Okay.” Handing the lantern to a doll, you position them directly above the wound, directing the light into it. Then you close your eyes, clear your mind, and reach out towards Shanghai. She's sophisticated and semi-autonomous, so much that you almost never control her directly. You must reestablish the link.

Your hand brushes Shanghai's dress. Warmth frizzles on your fingertips and flows down your arm as the bond strengthens. Reaching out with your consciousness, you can feel Shanghai's mind, cascading logic trees bristling everywhere like a shrub. The strong, cohesive main branches you programmed long ago, and the chaotic forest of organic growth Shanghai acquired independently, as you designed her to. Her rigid mind is prickles as it brushes your consciousness. You hate the necessity; artificial as it is, you still feel like an intruder. Besides, you don't want to influence her independent development – she's a long-term experiment, among other things. But your need is dire. You strengthen the bond – and open Shanghai's eyes.

Two delicately-crafted hands hover before you. You look down at the minute stitching of Shanghai's dress, then up at yourself, towering overhead, eyes unfocused. You can distantly feel the drop of sweat you're watching run down your temple. You look away, floating over to the spool of silk thread and tucking it under your arm.

Time to work.

By lying on 'your' chest, you can reach right down into the wound. Thread in your left hand and a minute needle in your right, you look for the damage. More blood has muddied your view; you move another doll closer to reach down and mop it up, then adjust the lamp-bearing doll to get better lighting.

At last, you set Shanghai's hands upon the jagged tear in the femoral artery. Carefully tugging the elastic flesh back into place, you start securing it in position with a few quick stitches here and there, cutting the silk thread with quick slashes of a third doll's thin scalpel. You keep another mopping away at the wound, dipping a corner of the cloth in to wick away the fluid while you work your way along the tear in the artery with swift, well-practiced motions.

Your vision quavers for a moment, but you rally, determined to see the job through. A few more stitches and the artery is closed.

You release the link with Shanghai, snapping back into your own head hard enough to send you reeling. You stagger weakly, then topple backwards into your cluttered desk. The doll holding the lantern wavers dangerously before you reassert your link and direct her to lay it down safely. You snatch at the first bolt of cloth that comes to hand and wrap it around the puncture wound tightly – you don't trust your blurring vision to stitch that up.

“You can let go now,” you tell the toaster.

“A-are you sure?”

“If you don't, his leg will probably fall off.”

The toaster's cord reluctantly uncoils from the man's upper thigh.

“What now?” the toaster asks.

“Keep an eye on him,” you murmur. Rummaging through your desktop detritus you turn up a scrap of parchment. Fumbling for a pen, you manage to ink it without upsetting the well and scrawl a quick note:

Young male, hunter? Wounded right leg, femoral artery, stitched, major blood loss. Need app. supply. Charge to account.

You crumple the paper and proffer it to your companion. “Shanghai. Destination, Clinuh- Destination, Clinic,” you mumble, your tongue feeling thick. “Await return instructions from... usual people,” you manage, too exhausted to bother. Shanghai can take care of herself, anyways.

You shuffle out of your workshop and into the living room, burning eyes focused on the couch. You tumble into oblivion.



*******



Concentric rings.

Glowing rings.

Central ring, five others looping through it, slowly orbiting around the center. The central ring surges and wanes erratically, but the outer rings absorb or give luminescence as needed, random surges being blended into a paradoxical harmony.

You'd need six separate cores... all counterbalanced... the details flit and flutter around the circling luminescent rings, so orderly, so beautiful...

“Miss Alice?”

The hesitant words send ripples through the pleasant late-morning haze. Your muscles radiate that pleasant sensation of relief, like a stretch that lasts forever. Soft morning light promises a fresh day ahead without being demandingly bright, a perfect blend of potential and procrastination. You could lie here fore-

“Miss Alice, get UP!”

You groan miserably and fling a pillow at the noise.

“Shanghai is back!”

She's always back you little tin moron she can take care of herself-

“You have a casualty to attend to!”

Casualties imply wars and you ran off those fairies visited months ago shut up

“Man with a huge hole in his leg lying unconscious on your sewing table HELL~OOOO!”

The doze finally quavers and pops like a soap bubble, gone for good. You roll over and sit up, leaning back into the cushions, letting your brain start up. Last nights events troll through your memory, trailing a wake of tumultuous emotion.

You shake your head miserably. After tea.

“Shanghai?” you ask.

“She's back,” the toaster replies from atop the coffee table.

“First things first, then,” you murmur. “Shanghai!?” She comes on command, floating serenely through the living room, bearing not a package, but a single slip of paper.

“Oh, hell,” you sigh. You accept the note from her and glance at it, recognizing the elegant, flowing script instantly. “Blast,” you growl, not even bothering to swear properly. Why can't anything be simple? You stuff the note into your pocket, leaving it for later. After tea.

“Wasn't she supposed to bring back medicine?” The toaster asks, hopping after you with little poings as you enter the kitchen.

“That daffy moon-maid was supposed to give her medicine,” you growl as you set up a kettle. “Instead she's going to play games, acting coy and mysterious just to annoy me.”

“Aren't you going to check on him?” toastermogami objects, bounding to the countertop with one great metallic boing!

“He lasted through the night, didn't he?” you snap.

“Yes, but-”

“Then he'll last ten more minutes!” you bark. You draw some water in the sink and splash your face, removing your headband to finger-comb your hair a bit. Between yesterday's “duel” with Marisa and the high-stakes surgery, you desperately want for a shower. But the toaster's right – it'll have to wait.

You sigh, opening the blinds to illuminate the kitchen as the kettle pings and poings. Visitors never work out well, for some reason, even when they're not half-dead. And parties, for that matter. Why do you still bother with them?

You slump in a chair and produce Erin's note, turning it so the toastermogami can read it from his vantage on the counter.

Dear Miss Margatroid,

Your hunter had already been missed in the Village. I've informed his family that he's in your care. I'll be along shortly with the appropriate supplies for his continued treatment and/or procedures.

Sincerely,

Eirin Yagokoro


“... so?” the toaster asks, puzzled.

“She doesn't make house calls in the village, much less to the middle of nowhere,” you reply. “And she's bringing appropriate supplies.

“Isn't that what you asked for?”

“Supplies to get him on his feet and out of here!” you bitch. “Not for continued treatment~” you say with prim little tones similar to Eirin's. “Does this look like a hospital?”

The toaster swivels left, then right, as if scrutinizing the room.

“No,” he says dryly.

You frown at him and rise, checking the kettle. Filling a bowl with warm water, you stuff a washcloth into your pocket and head for your workshop, toaster bouncing after. The casualty is still unconscious, lying right where you left him, as immobile as the dolls. With a flick of your fingers, a doll opens the window blinds. The dusty window only admits slanting bars of pale light, but its enough to get a better look. His bandage is still pristine-white, testament to your stitchwork. Otherwise, he looks like the toaster dragged him across the forest floor for a few miles. His leather jacket and canvas pants are stained dark with his own blood, and his upset hair is filled with twigs and leaves and dirt. And most eye-catching, his face; striped unrecognizable with grass stains and (what smells like) burnt cork. You wet the cloth, wring it out, and wipe it firmly down his face to clear off the gunk. It comes away thickly soiled, making you grimace. You carefully fold it over to get clean sides and reach out to...

… wipe...

his face.

A person has appeared from under the muck, from the generic suggestion of human features to a well-defined face. You glance at the washcloth in wonder, suspecting a glamer, but you sense no magic. Its just skill; artistic skill, even. You wipe at his face furiously, folding the cloth over and over to keep dabbing with clean bits until his visage is fully revealed.

Something bounces in your breast and trips up your breath.

Oh.

Strong jawline, tapering down to a square chin. High, clear cheekbones over well-tanned skin and stubble... and a nasty blue-yellow bruise, on the right side. Little nicks and scratches cover his visage.

You stand there, listening to his deep, rhythmic breathing as a vague guilt-front rolls over you. You tuck a nearby bolt of cloth under his head. You hope he doesn't wake up on this hard, blood-soaked table, stiff and miserable. You should've done this last night – should've put a blanket over him, too. For the shock. But you'd been so...

“Exhausted,” you say to the window. Youkai – you – don't need sleep. But sleep you have... long, and deep. With increasing frequency. You feel tired now, and you just woke up. Hell of a time for it, too, with a guest still lying on his own surgery table and that thrice-damned clown coming god knows when and your home's a mess and you're not even sure what to do next...

You slump over, hands on the desk, and try to steady your spinning head.

Visitors never work out.

You seize a large bolt of clean, rough canvas in one hand and bring several simple dolls to heel with your other, intending to lift the casualty and properly cover the table; sterile white instead of blood-soaked wood. You turn back and feel your heart sink instantly. Lying battered and unconscious on your worktable, its like... a damaged doll. Torn cloth, soiled clothes, the proper, lively animation gone – at the mercy of your attention to live once again. You loathe leaving them like that for even a minute... exposed. Its why you hid Hourai away in that basket, safe. You decide to cover the poor man, and direct your dolls appropriately.

He opens his eyes.

Shanghai is hovering horizontal above him, looking down, her delicate arms bloody to the elbows and still carrying the scalpel she used to cut the suture thread last night. Wait, you sent her to Eirin looking like – oh dammit, no wonder -

The man emits a high-pitched squeal and jolts sideways, away from Shanghai. Looking down, he sees a quartet of dolls dragging the canvas shroud over him, and yelps with what breath he's got left.

“Stop moving!” you exclaim as he nears the table-edge, calling more dolls to heel from the tables and shelves all about, to catch him should he tumble.

“GNNAAAH!” he cries, sliding back off the table, twisting to take the fall on his shoulder-blade. He scuttles backwards towards the wall, pushing with his good leg.

“Stop moving, or you'll get hurt!” you exclaim, eying his bandage. If he aggravates that wound -

He bends his bad leg and swipes at his boot holy shit that is the biggest goddamn knife you've ever seen.




[ ] “That's... the biggest goddamn knife I have ever seen.”
[ ] THREAT DETECTED! DOLL DOGPILE! Restrain and communicate!
[ ] I've handled this, uh, poorly. I need to go do a Thing. Elsewhere. He'll figure things out in a minute.
[ ] I saved this assholes life who the hell does he think he is I wanna punch his shit oh god the nerve-
>>No. 27847
[ ] I saved this assholes life who the hell does he think he is I wanna punch his shit oh god the nerve-

Fuck you hunter guy. Stop freaking out shanghai. She's cute.
>>No. 27848
[x] “That's... the biggest goddamn knife I have ever seen.”

Well, it is.
>>No. 27849
[X] “That's... the biggest goddamn knife I have ever seen.”

One thing at a time.
>>No. 27850
[X] THREAT DETECTED! DOLL DOGPILE! Restrain and communicate!
>>No. 27851
[x] “That's... the biggest goddamn knife I have ever seen.”
Refuge in absurdity.
>>No. 27852
[x] THREAT DETECTED! DOLL DOGPILE! Restrain and communicate!
>>No. 27853
Let's look at this situation logically. By which I mean, what is the worst possible scenario, here? Keeping in mind the dude is low on blood and his heart is probably going like a jackhammer because a bunch of it is on shanghai. He's basically a wounded and panicking animal.


[ ] “That's... the biggest goddamn knife I have ever seen.”
-He keeps swinging the knife around some in a stay-back-you-fiend brandishing gesture as you talk, calm and rational and unimpressed. Quiet stand-off.

[ ] THREAT DETECTED! DOLL DOGPILE! Restrain and communicate!
-He freaks when, from his point of view, possessed monster dolls swarm him like a hive of angry devil bees. As he desperately thrashes to defend himself, his wound opens up and we suddenly have bigger problems, as he's likely low on blood.

[ ] I've handled this, uh, poorly. I need to go do a Thing. Elsewhere. He'll figure things out in a minute.
-Still freaking out a little, he also misjudges the situation and goes out the window in a desperate attempt to get away and survive, because he thinks we're getting things ready to boil him into a delicious human soup.

[ ] I saved this assholes life who the hell does he think he is I wanna punch his shit oh god the nerve-
-He picks up on the frustrated hostility and things escalate.

With things having already started off poorly, our two worst options are to either swarm him with magic dolls or to back off and leave the wounded and panicking guy to his own devices.

That leaves us with two options, of which talking calmly and rationally in a soothing and careful voice over whatever comes to mind first, even if it is just how big and sharp his shiny knife is and oh for fucks sake you are going to get in trouble if this idiot opens his wounds again and bleeds out before the doctor can show up and fix him enough to get out of our house where he is currently bleeding all over our shit come on man that is just not cool.

Best option is basically to chill out, calm down, relaaax buddy everything is going to be fine, can you stop waving your gigantic shaving razor around so we can instead discuss if you want toast or... you know, fuck it, toast, since we're not in the mood to dump out our larders for this guy if he's not going to stop waving a knife at us, that is getting really uncomfortable you know. But he can pick between butter and, uh, you think you have like jam or something in the cupboards but you'll have to check.

Be cool. We just need to be cool, and things should work out okay, as long as we don't get stabbed in the face which is not an impossibility at this juncture.

[X] “That's... the biggest goddamn knife I have ever seen.”

Keep it chill, alice. Be smooth, and draw upon your vast wealth of social skills and shining personal charisma, they definitely will not fail you at this critical juncture.
>>No. 27854
File 137637944481.gif - (599.30KB, 210x278, 1375316055936.gif) [iqdb]
27854
>>27853

>Keep it chill, alice. Be smooth, and draw upon your vast wealth of social skills and shining personal charisma, they definitely will not fail you at this critical juncture.
>>No. 27855
[X] “That's... the biggest goddamn knife I have ever seen.”

Machete or kukri? Either way, don't antagonize him further.

>>27853
>Be smooth, and draw upon your vast wealth of social skills and shining personal charisma, they definitely will not fail you at this critical juncture.
LaughingScarlets.jpg
>>No. 27856
[X] “That's... the biggest goddamn knife I have ever seen.”

>>27853
>Alice
>Charisma
This can only end well.
>>No. 27863
[x] I saved this assholes life who the hell does he think he is I wanna punch his shit oh god the nerve-
>>No. 27866
[X] “That's... the biggest goddamn knife I have ever seen.”
>>No. 27867
[X] “That's... the biggest goddamn knife I have ever seen.”

Keep it chill, alice. Be smooth, and draw upon your vast wealth of social skills and shining personal charisma, they definitely will not fail you at this critical juncture.

>Alice
>Charisma
Wrong story there mate. But this can only end in tears
>>No. 27877
File 137765700547.jpg - (69.30KB, 610x620, IMG_004606.jpg) [iqdb]
27877
[X] “That's... the biggest goddamn knife I have ever seen.”

There's something about ten inches of razor-sharp steel winking in the dusty morning light that catches one's attention. You take an involuntary step back, your small horde of dolls quavering in air as your focus narrows entirely on the knife – the shortsword that was just conjured out of thin air.

“That's... the biggest goddamn knife I have ever seen,” you say unsteadily, staring at the wicked-looking weapon.

The blade wavers in his shaky hand. “Alice,” he says thickly. He lowers the knife with a weak exhalation. “Alice.” He leans his head back against the wall, a tremulous exhalation escaping him.

“I found you face-down in my front hall,” you say hurriedly. “I carried you into my workshop and patched you up.”

He looks down at the bandage on his leg. “Oh. Okay. That sounds about right.” He rubs a hand over his face and takes another deep, unsteady breath. “Listen, I'm sorry about...”

“You're sorry!?” you marvel, incredulous.

“About the... everything,” he says, his eyes flicking around the small army of dolls still hovering in mid-air.

“What are you apologizing for?” you ask, mystified.

“I don't want to impose,” he says calmly. Though his blade's resting beside him, he's not released the hilt.

With a start, you realize he's scared of you. A cascade of soft pompfs! fill the air as your dolls fall from the air, the magical link broken by an almost reflexive mental jerk.

“I-I'm sorry,” you say.

He frowns. “What are you apologizing for?”

“I didn't mean – I mean, this isn't a hospital-”

“I'm sorry to impose-” he interjects immediately.

“No!” you snap, slashing your hand through the air. He stiffens immediately. Great. “I'm sorry I'm being a poor host,” you manage lamely. “I didn't want you to wake up like that.”

“Surrounded by killer dolls dragging a funeral shroud over me?” he replies instantly.

Six different replies collide in your throat and jam up. Before you can think, the toaster bounds to the work-table with one sturdy poing! landing with an authoritative tump!

“Hey Mac, cut that crap!” he declares, angling to bring one of his short stubby “arms” forward in a vague approximation of pointing. “Miss Alice performed emergency surgery to save your life! They're life-saving dolls, you clod!”

Independent verification! Your heart soars with gratitude towards the little tin box as you nod mute confirmation.

The young man stares blankly at the toaster – and then his eyes widen with recognition. “YOU! he snaps, thrusting his knife at the toaster.

“... yooouuuu,” the toaster hisses. “The oppressor!

Oh god dammit.

“I thought you escaped!” the man exclaims angrily.

“I did! But I returned to liberate the oppressed masses!” he says, waggling his little arms at the piles of inanimate dolls lying about. “And now there's nothing you can do about it!”

“You wanna bet?” the guy growls, looking mightily annoyed.

“YEAH!” the toaster replies, stomping one of his little legs with a tiny tack!

“Come on and get your pecker out then, whatever you are,” the guy growls, glaring at the toaster down ten inches of steel.

The toastermogami considers that for a moment. “No, you!” he retorts.

“Hey!” you snap, unable to contain yourself. “That little box saved your life!”

“Like hell he d-”

“When I found you in the front hall, he had that tail of his wrapped around your leg like a tourniquet,” you inform him brusquely. “If it wasn't for him you would've bled out on the floor!”

He quirks his eyebrow dubiously. “... seriously?”

The toaster seems to wiggle a little, looking as awkward as a kitchen appliance can. “I returned to reconnoiter the gulag, and I saw the door was open a crack. And then I saw...” the reflections on his metal surface waver and warp as his sides flex in perplexity. “You'd wrapped a cord around your thigh, but it'd come loose, and – and now you owe me a life debt!” he exclaims as inspiration strikes. “Renounce your oppressive ways!”

The knife lowers, and this time he shoves it back into his boot. Roughly. “Did he really?” he asks you.

“Yes,” you confirm.
He sighs dejectedly. “Fuck.” He runs a hand over his face and back through his hair. “This has not been my month.”

“I know that feeling,” you mutter... then stand there stupidly. What now? “Would you like to sit down in the kitchen?”

“That sounds good,” he replies. “You have a walking stick around here or something?”

“For what?”

He waves at his bandaged thigh and gives you a Look.

“Oh. Oh!” You frown, thinking through your cluttered inventory. “Nothing.” You walk around the table and stoop to extend your hand towards him. “Come on.” He eyes you skeptically. “I'm stronger than I look,” you insist. The corner of his mouth quirks dubiously. “Fine,” you sigh, six dolls rising up with your other hand. “This is e-”

“HOKAY!” he exclaims, slapping his forearm alongside yours and gripping firmly. You lean back on your bootheels, straining with all your might to help heave him up as he pushes himself up the wall with his good leg. “Which way is the-”

“Through the door beside you,” you say, pointing. He pivots on his good foot to look through. “Oh. Okay.” Grabbing the opposite doorframe, he hops into the doorway, then starts looking for another handhold.

“I'll help you,” you say, stepping to his right side, then pausing awkwardly. You've read about this, in novels, but you've never actually seen it. Just how are you supposed to... support him? He eyes you warily for a few seconds.

And a few seconds more.

The corner of his mouth crinkles. “Like, emotionally, or-”

You fling an arm around his back and grab him tightly. “I'm stronger than I look!” you repeat vehemently. He hooks his right arm over your shoulders without further complaint, leaning on you. Together you shuffle down the hall, small gasps of pain coming from him with each step. You feel the muscles in his back tense rock-solid every time he puts weight on his wounded leg.

“How's the pain?” you query, glancing sidelong at him. Tears are trickling from his eyes, but he just swallows and shakes his head. You press on to the kitchen. Instead of limping to a chair, he has you lug him to the sink.

“Could you give me a minute?”

“Sure.”

“... of privacy,” he clarifies.

“Oh!” you exclaim. “Sorry, I didn't – I've got a shower, if you'd prefer -”

“Only if you want to carry me there,” he wheezes, leaning over the sink.

“Okay. I'll just, step out for a moment.” You turn and attack the first portal you find, the cellar door. Using the neat toaster-shaped hole as a hand-hold, you fling it open and descend into the inky depths like you've some urgent business amongst the canned preserves and spider-webs. Above, you hear the sink running and water splashing industriously. You sit on an old crate and think furiously – you must emerge from here with something useful and apropos.

Several minutes later, you knock on the cellar door. “Are you ready?”

“Yeah, come on in.”

You find him sitting at the kitchen table, looking significantly better. His hair's been rinsed and towel-tousled, and his bloody leather jacket folded and set aside, leaving him in a mostly-clean linen shirt. You fetch a glass and pour him a shot of the scotch that's been collecting dust in your cellar for a while. “For the pain,” you explain.

“You don't strike me as the scotch type,” he comments, picking up the glass and scrutinizing the liquor’s color.

“I'm not. It was an apology gift from Aya for a story.”

“Which one?”

“You probably wouldn't remember it. It was a while back.”

He downs the shot in one smooth go and promptly tries to cough it back up.

“I guess it was, at that,” he wheezes, eying the bottle.

You take a seat across from him, feeling much more comfortable now that he's not looking half-dead splayed across a bloody workbench. “So what's your name?”

“Ken. Kenta Minamoto, but I go by Ken.”

“What happened to you out there? Youkai attack?”

He sighs and pours himself more scotch. “No.”

“That wound wasn't caused by an accident,” you insist. “There wasn't any foreign matter from a broken branch or anything and it was far too ragged for an artificial weapon.” Ken glowers at his shotglass, turning it around in his fingers before downing it, much slower this time. “Feral youkai never wound; if they're close enough to touch you, they kill and devour you. You're still alive because it's toying with you.”

Ken sighs and cradles his face in his hands, elbows on the table.

“I don't know if you're embarrassed, or if it threatened your family, but no matter what it is, I'll hunt it down and eliminate it. I don't tolerate such things near my h-”

“Alice!” he exclaims, thrusting a palm at you. “It was a goddamned boar.

“... a pig!?

“WILD pig!” he retorts, his face flushing just a little. “Really fucking big mean wild pig with big tusks. It was fifty-odd yards, so I knelt for the shot. Nailed him an inch behind the heart, right through the lungs, and the bastard still charged me before I could move.”

You frown doubtfully. “I didn't think a pig could cover fifty yards that fast.”

“Neither did I,” he mutters.

“But your hair, how-”

“Oh that was during the thirty seconds of wrestling with the sum-bitch as he tried to gut me until I got enough room to draw my knife and stab the bastard.” He glowers at the table-top as his flush grows. “Never thought it'd be a goddamned pig.


[ ] Ask him more about himself.
[ ] Tend to his wound – you want the laceration properly disinfected and stitched before Erin gets here.
[ ] Write-in?
>>No. 27878
[x] Tend to his wound – you want the laceration properly disinfected and stitched before Erin gets here.
We can get all chummy when he's not at risk of splitting open like an overripe melon.
>>No. 27879
[X] Tend to his wound – you want the laceration properly disinfected and stitched before Erin gets here.

That went surprisingly well. Color me surprised. Good Job Alice.

Let's push our luck and try to impress/show up Eirin. I get the feeling the moon bitch will be snide and condescending no matter what we do but hey! We got lucky once didn't we?
>>No. 27884
[x] Tend to his wound – you want the laceration properly disinfected and stitched before Erin gets here.
>>No. 27885
[ ] Tend to his wound – you want the laceration properly disinfected and stitched before Erin gets here.
>Toastergami wants to liberate the masses
>Youkai cultural revolution

This is great.
>>No. 27888
[X] Tend to his wound – you want the laceration properly disinfected and stitched before Erin gets here.

Keep to business, for now.
>>No. 27931
File 138095134243.jpg - (172.50KB, 480x640, 1370448507237.jpg) [iqdb]
27931
[X] Tend to his wound – you want the laceration properly disinfected and stitched before Erin gets here.

As your guest pours himself more Scotch, it dawns on you that he's embarrassed. Vague memories stir; childhood legends of killer boars with razor-sharp tusks and evil red eyes lurking in the twisted recesses of the Hugerten wood. You'd dismissed it as parental scare tactics by age ten, of course, and not thought of it again... but now, all these years later, it seems more fact then fable. “The Forest... how deep were you?”

“Middling. Boars like thick underbrush.”

You hrm. “The Forest – especially the deeper forest – has a way of warping what lives in it. The mundane becomes more... monstrous.” You pause to let that sink in. “You're lucky to be a-”

“Yeah yeah, I know. Kasen stopped a pack of mami from going youkai not a month ago.”

You blink, thrown completely off your rhythm. “What.”

“Kasen. The alleged hermit. Always visiting? Kidnapped Reimu?”

“She kidnapped Reimu!?” you exclaim. “I didn't hear about that!”

“I sure as hell did,” he mutters darkly.

You fidget in your chair, adrift again. You're no social butterfly but you've had plenty of lost and injured humans in your house over the years, and this isn't how they react. Something's amiss...

… but conversation is awkward and his leg's still unstitched and Lunar Lass will be around any minute now. You turn to Shanghai, hovering politely near your shoulder, and give her a few commands in a low, quick voice. She darts off towards the workshop. You rise decisively, your chair nearly toppling. Ken starts, the scotch jumping in his glass.

“Has that taken the edge off yet?” you inquire.

“Maybe a little too much,” he says, his voice the tiniest bit slurred. He flexes his leg slightly and grimaces. “Or not.” He fills the glass again.

Shanghai returns, a roll of silk thread in one hand and a very fine, curved needle in the other. You accept them from her and step to Ken's side. He pays you no mind, raising the shotglass with measured deliberation.

“Take off your pants,” you instruct.

Ken snaps bolt upright in his chair, slapping the shot-glass down so hard the scotch splashes out. He glares at the wall opposite.

“I'm not drunk enough for that, lady.”

You hrm, leaning over to study his leg. You'd simply shoved a compress underneath his pantleg and secured it by wrapping bandage around his thigh, trousers and all. They would be troublesome to peel off, considering his state. And they're ruined anyways. “Very well. Do you want me to cut them off?”

Several hard raps sound upon the front door.

“COME ON IN!” Ken bellows hoarsely. Before you can countermand him, you hear the door swing wide.

“Oh, my,” opines a melodious voice. “That's... quite a lot.” She sounds mildly interested.

A lot? Of – blood. All over the front hall. Still. Your hands curl into fists as your frustration flares into anger. “Yes. Come in,” you snap, wanting to punch Ken in his stupid head. The slow, measured tread of high-laced boots precedes your visitor into the room.

Eirin always enters loudly, regardless of noise. Ken's attention snaps to her immediately; her flawless features and deep, intelligent eyes always command the room. She's as tall as you, and poised as if buoyed by some inner power, floating above the earth rather then standing on it. She's beautiful, enchanting, unfathomable – and immensely powerful.

“Hello, Miss Margatroid,” she says, her eyes immediately sliding to Ken as soon as politely possible. “And Mister Minamoto. How are you?”

“We were just discussing how to remove my pants!” he says, voice bright and brittle.

You twitch as you arrest the urge to throttle that stupid sonofabitch. Eirin arches one fine brow as her gray eyes slowly sweep over Ken and up to you... and then a small, knowing smile touches her lips god dammit Ken you blithering knuckle-dragging moron shut UP-

“I see,” she says, sounding tremendously amused by something nobody else gets, like she usually does. “Mister Minamoto's treatment isn't complete.”

“Just the clean-up,” you say coldly. “I've already repaired the significant damage.”
“Oh?” Eirin asks sweetly. “What was that?”

“A tear in his femoral artery,” you reply primly.

“My what!?” Ken objects, whipping around to look at you.

You pounce on that before Eirin does. “The femoral artery is-”

“It was torn?

“I just said that!” you snap.

Ken suddenly looks quite queasy. He slumps onto the table, head in hands.

“So,” Eirin says brightly, “you know what that is, then!”

“Yes,” Ken murmurs softly. “Yes, I do.”

“I would have expected a simple clamp job,” Eirin says thoughtfully. “Especially in an emergency... late at night... with no proper instruments, or lighting, or help.

You shrug as nonchalantly as possible. “What's a human but a big fleshy doll? No trouble.”

Eirin smiles that smug-bitch knowing smile again, her slate-gray eyes glittering with amusement. She steps around Ken to access his wounded side. Kneeling, she takes a monocle from her pocket and applies it to her face for a few minutes, staring at Ken's bandaged thigh intently. You presume she's looking into Ken's leg – Lunarians are fond of simple objects that do incredible things (like paper fans that blow away entire mountains) and incredible objects that do simple things (like automated self-moving Outsider constructs reliant on mysterious energy sources to blow air around a room) because they're utterly daft.

“I'm sure it was just more sewing for you, Miss Margatroid, but I must say, that's fantastic work.” You manage to keep your sudden glee from smearing a dumbass smile over your face before Eirin rises to face you again. “How did you control the bleeding? How did you make those stitches so small?

“Dolls,” you reply mysteriously.

“I never would have guessed,” Eirin says dryly (and fuck you very much moonmaid). “Mystery solved. But I didn't know you'd programmed a doll for surgery.”

“I didn't,” you correct her. “I took direct control of Shanghai and performed the surgery through her.”

Eirin studies you thoughtfully. “Show me, would you?”

You sigh gustily at the necessity of showing the plebes your magnificent technique, but, ever magnanimous, you flourish one ringed hand and summon a few dolls from your workshop. “Usually I handle them like this,” you say, setting the dolls weaving to and fro in the air, standard attack/evasion patterns. “So managing surgery is trivial. One to provide light-” you send a doll high, over your kitchen table, “one to keep the wound clear,” a second is set a-circling low around the table-lamp, “and of course Shanghai.” She settles onto the table on-cue, her little scalpel raised high.

Eirin frowns, stroking her chin. “This direct control...”

“Is direct control. I literally feel through Shanghai's body.”

“... so you control the other dolls through Shanghai, while doing that?”

“Impossible; the magical links don't work like that. You can't 'chain' them, so to speak.”

“So,” Ken interrupts, watching the dolls intently. “You controlled two separate bodies while controlling at least two dolls, and performed surgery on me at the same time.”

“It's an Art,” you say honestly.

Eirin is giving you that smokey-eyed appraising Look with that irritating little knowing smile. “I always thought you a rather focused magician, Miss Margatroid, but you're truly a woman of hidden talents.”

You frown at the backhanded vector of that comment. “You said you were bringing supplies?”

“Oh, of course,” she says, her Mysterious Aura vanishing instantly. “For starters, you lost a lot of blood, Mister Minamoto. Udongein, could you hand...” Eirin's voice drifts off, and she slowly rotates to face the front hall, which is conspiciously empty. “Udon~gein,” she sing-songs in a displeased tone.

“Yes?” replies a muffled voice from well outside your front door.

“Why are you standing outside?”

“Nobody told me to come in,” comes the sardonic reply.

Come in,” Eirin commands. She does so, her mary janes sounding a percise stattaco gait on your floorboards before Reisen Udongein Inaba herself appears, tall and buxom and bitter as always. She looms statuesqe in the doorway; her firm presence a natural consequence of those long, toned stockinged legs and her noncholantly cocked ears rather then an affectation of military bearing. You straighten up and cross your arms – you're as tall as she is; ears don't count.

But Reisen has already locked eyes – with Ken.

“Hey Reisen,” Ken says casually. “How's the wrist?”

She stands perfectly still, eerie red eyes staring him down – and abrputly breaks eye contact, striding over to Eirin. She bears a large wicker basket, which she hands to her master.

Thank you, Reisen,” Eirin says stiffly. Setting the basket on the table, she flips open the double-lid and points out vials: “This is a marrow stimulant; it accelerates new blood generation. And this will increase his blood volume for a few days till the stimulant begins to tell. He'll still be anemic for a week or so, however. This is a full course of antibiotics; instructions are on that card. And this is a sealing glue for closing wounds without stitches; should save you some time with the gash. And sundry other things, of course.”

“Nice goodie basket,” Ken comments sourly. “What's this gonna set me back, Doc?”

“No charge~” she singsongs, drawing a quick glare from Reisen.

Ken slides Eirin a skeptial look. “What? Even for the window?”

“Consider it an apology,” Eirin says. “After all,” she says, her tone suddenly razor-sharp. “Its rude to point.

You jolt as the countertop bumps your butt. Your heart leaps into your throat, but nobody noticed your involuntary retreat – they're all watching Eirin. The rabbit looks like she'd be even paler, were it possible.

“Now,” Eirin says softly, her voice melodious again, “I want you to see something, Reisen.” They kneel by Ken's leg, Reisen using the monacle as Eirin lectures her in a low, fast voice. Ken stares out the window over your small sink, chin propped in hand as he drums a tempo on the tabletop with his fingers. At length Eirin finishes her lecture, and the two women rise.

“Miss Yakogoro,” Ken says, still staring out the window. “Could you please inform my-”

“They already know,” she says.

“And-”

“Ben's fine,” she interrupts. “I'm kicking him out of the clinic as soon as I get back, if I can pry him away from the nurses.”

Ken closes his eyes, and his fingers stop drumming. “Oh.”

“Well, I believe that concludes our buisness,” Eirin says. “Just a few more things – Mister Minamoto, I strongly advise you to avoid unnecessary movement over the next few days.”

“Such as walking?” he says, already knowing the answer.

Especially walking.”

“But-” you object before composing yourself better. “I'm hardly equipped or qualified for longer-term care here-”

“Alice, you did a truly professional job,” Eirin says, looking you straight in the eye. “But now that it is done, any 'quick fixes' of mine would only make things worse. It needs to heal naturally now – if he pulls those stitches out, he could bleed out in under two minutes.”

You bite your lip in frustration – but you were expecting this. You still don't like it. “Very well. He won't be much trouble, anyway.”

Eirin smiles. “Excellent.” She beckons to Reisen, and they turn for the door. The good doctor takes one step before pausing mid-stride. “Oh! I almost forgot~” A small pill bottle appears in her hand as if – no, most certainly conjured. She tosses it to you, causing you to snatch it reflexively. “Sweet dreams~”

And with that, Eirin Yakogoro and her assistant leave your home.
As soon as the front door slams the tension leaves Ken's body with his long miserable sigh. He slumps over your kitchen table, face buried in his hands. He looks a little like you feel. You take the basket from the table and walk into your workshop to store it. Once there, you lean against the countertop and try to organize your thoughts.

You're not sure where to start.



[ ] He's gonna croak on me if I don't feed him. Hell, I'm hungry too.
[ ] His shirt's blood-soaked and his pants are trashed. He'll be more comfortable with a clean shirt and new trousers.

AND:

[ ] Ask Ken what the hell all that was between him and Reisen.
(or)
[ ] Ask toastermogami what the hell's between him and Ken.
>>No. 27932
[ ] He's gonna croak on me if I don't feed him. Hell, I'm hungry too.
[ ] Ask Ken what the hell all that was between him and Reisen.
>>No. 27933
[x] His shirt's blood-soaked and his pants are trashed. He'll be more comfortable with a clean shirt and new trousers.
[x] Ask toastermogami what the hell's between him and Ken.
>>No. 27934
[X] He's gonna croak on me if I don't feed him. Hell, I'm hungry too.

[X] Ask Ken what the hell all that was between him and Reisen.

A healthy breakfast is important after blood loss.
>>No. 27935
[x] He's gonna croak on me if I don't feed him. Hell, I'm hungry too.
[x] Ask Ken what the hell all that was between him and Reisen.

Well, we should keep him going, after all. And what, he had a scrap with Reisen?
>>No. 27936
[x] He's gonna croak on me if I don't feed him. Hell, I'm hungry too.
[x] Ask Ken what the hell all that was between him and Reisen.
>>No. 27938
File 138133474163.gif - (166.65KB, 439x360, even_the_dogs_were_armoured.gif) [iqdb]
27938
[x] His shirt's blood-soaked and his pants are trashed. He'll be more comfortable with a clean shirt and new trousers.

[X] Ask Ken what the hell all that was between him and Reisen.

You know, Ken.
You know, There's a damn good reason that a boar hunting party on the Outside, with normal damn boar, was usually a sizable party of men, well armed and with at least some armour, long spears and horse, or elephants, and they shot at the boar from boats.

Kings and gods have been killed by boar, you idiot.

You know, just saying.
>>No. 27939
File 138133617389.jpg - (33.79KB, 200x400, image.jpg) [iqdb]
27939
>>27938
You can't let yourself be held back by common sense in Gensokyo
>>No. 27940
>>27938
So they had elephants that shot at the boars from boats?
Sounds like some pretty hardcore boars.
Then again, it's fucking boars. It's totally justified.
>>No. 27941
>>27940
Well, to be fair, those WERE Persians. They used elephants for everything. Even carrying the dead boars back.
>>No. 27942
[x]You know, Ken.
You know, There's a damn good reason that a boar hunting party on the Outside, with normal damn boar, was usually a sizable party of men, well armed and with at least some armour, long spears and horse, or elephants, and they shot at the boar from boats.

Kings and gods have been killed by boar, you idiot.

You know, just saying.
>>No. 27943
File 138161025325.jpg - (297.01KB, 600x600, reimu pwns boar.jpg) [iqdb]
27943
>>27938
>even_the_dogs_were_armored.gif

S-rank post bro. Smiled so hard the top of my head almost fell off because you're so right. Ken thought he was pretty badass, and then that boar ruined his day. Which is one of several reasons he's embarrassed as hell and feeling pretty stupid at the moment.

>>27942
>turning it into a vote

I like it, its in.
>>No. 27944
>>27943

Alrighty then.

[x]You know, Ken.
You know, There's a damn good reason that a boar hunting party on the Outside, with normal damn boar, was usually a sizable party of men, well armed and with at least some armour, long spears and horse, or elephants, and they shot at the boar from boats.

Kings and gods have been killed by boar, you idiot.

You know, just saying.
>>No. 27945
[X] Food
[X] Lessons in proper boar hunting procedures.
>>No. 27946
>>27938
Well in that case...

[x]
You know, Ken.
You know, There's a damn good reason that a boar hunting party on the Outside, with normal damn boar, was usually a sizable party of men, well armed and with at least some armour, long spears and horse, or elephants, and they shot at the boar from boats.

Kings and gods have been killed by boar, you idiot.

You know, just saying.
>>No. 27947
[x]
You know, Ken.
You know, There's a damn good reason that a boar hunting party on the Outside, with normal damn boar, was usually a sizable party of men, well armed and with at least some armour, long spears and horse, or elephants, and they shot at the boar from boats.

Kings and gods have been killed by boar, you idiot.
>>No. 27955
[X] He's gonna croak on me if I don't feed him. Hell, I'm hungry too.

[X] Ask Ken what the hell all that was between him and Reisen.

[x]You know, Ken.
You know, There's a damn good reason that a boar hunting party on the Outside, with normal damn boar, was usually a sizable party of men, well armed and with at least some armour, long spears and horse, or elephants, and they shot at the boar from boats.

Kings and gods have been killed by boar, you idiot.

You know, just saying.
>>No. 27956
[X] He's gonna croak on me if I don't feed him. Hell, I'm hungry too.

[X] Ask Ken what the hell all that was between him and Reisen.

[x]You know, Ken.
You know, There's a damn good reason that a boar hunting party on the Outside, with normal damn boar, was usually a sizable party of men, well armed and with at least some armour, long spears and horse, or elephants, and they shot at the boar from boats.

Kings and gods have been killed by boar, you idiot.

You know, just saying.

-
So this is what it feels like for a touhou character to run into a 'protagonist' of the stories on this site.

Goddamn nuissance to others, and getting into crazy life threatening and dumb situations resulting in the character somehow spending time in the house of whatever character the voters have focused on.
>>No. 27957
>>27956
Hmm, that'd be an interesting story.
Original Character Donut Steel has entered Gensokyo, players get to control a series of characters, trying to distract him with pointless sidequests and ultimately dump him on someone else's doorstep, all while avoiding the most horrible of fates: becoming the waifu.
>>No. 27958
>>27957
Oh god, we must kill him and hide the body immediately.
>>No. 27964
>>27957

Holy fuck

This *needs* to happen.
>>No. 27970
[X] He's gonna croak on me if I don't feed him. Hell, I'm hungry too.
[X] Ask Ken what the hell all that was between him and Reisen.

Glad I decided to check this board on a whim.
>>No. 27971
>>27964
>>27970

Listen, I know not a lot happens on forest, but c'mon, sage.
>>No. 27973
File 138300725057.jpg - (142.73KB, 776x950, b50a3554da67a1b467bad4bfa40cf759.jpg) [iqdb]
27973
****

You stand under the showerhead, hoping the hot water will scour away the stress of a most unorthodox morning.

It's not working.

Eirin was... Eirin. And a guest... is a guest. It's uncommon, but not extrordinary - you've grumbled about having special stationary printed up for the bills if lost hunters and herbalists keep wandering into your yard. And none of them -

never thought it'd be a goddamned pig

- were quite like Ken.

The scene in your kitchen you can understand – for all her wiles Eirin is personable, but Reisen is a youkai raw; enough to put anyone on edge (who isn't capable of wiping the floor with her, like you.) And the toaster – you've inferred that it'd be quicker to list who he hasn't run afoul of in his little tin rampage through the village.

It's the boar that doesn't make sense.

You shut off the water and step out, toweling yourself off throughly. Wrapping it around your body, you grab a brush and tug at your stubberon mop of hair absently as you think.

Boars.

Red-eyed razor-tusked terrors lurking in the deepest wood are just scary stories – until the whispered fears give rise to a real youkai. That's how it works. Every fire needs a spark, however, and every legend needs an inspiration. As you dress, you chase wisps of long-neglected childhood memories. Your father had hunted boars, you think. Boars favor thick underbrush, like Ken said, so he used a spear.

Spears. You remember the tromp of many feet sounding from the front hall, a full party. The chuffing and whining of dogs and the clink of -

“-chainmail,” you remember aloud, your fingers freezing halfway through tying your sash. On the dogs, even. You finish the knot and pull it tight with a sharp jerk. Bow-hunting such a beast solo just makes him a damn fool; like most who wander into the Forest unawares or unprepared. But most fools don't survive close combat with dangerous wildlife and then describe it sullenly, as if an ordinary old boar had no buisness being that dangerous. Of course, he hadn't fully grasped his narrow escape – he might've downplayed your initial assesment of his near-death. Or its youthful arrogance; he's tall and broad-shoulded. And strong.

You pause with your hand on the doorknob. If he's arrogant, he might be a handful. You'll need... presence. Commanding presence.

You open the medicine cabinet and dig around for your long-neglected makeup.


****


Refreshed, recomposed and resolute, you stride into the kitchen to find Ken leaning against the counter near your stove.

“I was starting to think you'd gotten stuck in the drain,” he says to the stove as he drops a piece of bread into one of your iron frying pans.

You gape at his back. “W-what the hell are you doing!?

He pauses halfway through sopping another slice of bread in what looks like a pan filled with whipped egg. “... I can't believe you just said that.”

“You're standing!” you snap. “How did you get over there!?” He gestures at the chair sitting beside him with the bread before slapping it into the frying pan. “That's no good!” you insist. “Didn't you hear what the woman said? You tear open that stitch and you'll bleed out in two minutes!”

“I was very careful,” he says dryly, cutting another slice of bread off the loaf. “I couldn't find any meat-”

“I'd think you've had enough pork of late!” you snap. “Now sit down before you hurt yourself!”

“I'm hobbled, not bedridden! I'm perfectly capable of cooking breakfast, dammit!”

“Are you implying I'm not?” you say with quiet malice.

“Considering the half-loaf of bread, half-dozen eggs and moldy cheese that consititutes your entire larder?” he snaps, slapping the egg-soaked slice into the pan brusquely. “Yes!

Your face flushes as you throttle an urge to throttle him. “Does my home look like a gods damned tavern to you!?”

“No! And it's not a hospital 'equipped for long term care,' either,” he says, making air quotes with his fingers.

“I saved your miserable life, I think I can feed you-”

He pivots 'round on his good leg to face you, his expression thunderous. “I CA-” his exclamation disspiates as he catches sight of you. He takes a breath and continues at reasonable volume: “I can carry my own weight, thank you very much.”

Before you can reply a sharp metallic BOING! sounds as toastermogami springs to the kitchen table between you and Ken. “STOP!” he exclaims in his tinny voice.

You and Ken stop.

“You two...” The toaster pauses. “You two... just... sit down.”

“Whyyyy?” Ken drawls doubtfully.

“Because I will make breakfast,” he declares authoritatively.

“... really?” Ken asks, waggling his hands by his shoulders in vauge mockery of the toaster's little “arms.”

“... no,” the toaster admits.

Ken smirks, crosses his arms and opens his mouth-

“Its really because you're both acting like gigantic babies having a stupid argument over nothing to defend your fragile human egos!” toastermogami exclaims.

You and Ken both gape at the audacious little bastard. You're still reeling at the sheer affront when Ken sucks in breath for a reply, his hands balling into fists...

“... shit,” he says, deflating. Leaning on his chair like a crutch, he starts limping towards the table. The toaster bounds from table to countertop in one smooth poing, his cord trailing behind. Using the prongs on his cord-end, he stabs the toast in the pan and transfers it to a nearby plate smoothly and quickly.

“Y-you arrogant little tin-sided shit-talking fiend!” you fume as your anger wears through the astonishment. “Where do you-”

“Alice!” Ken interjects, positioning his chair by the table begins to lower himself into it, hands braced on the table. “He's-”

“He's what!?” you snarl. You hate being interrupted.

Ken freezes mid-descent, but his voice is calm. “He's a toaster. He cooks breakfast. That's what he does. That's what he was built to do.”

Purpouse-built construct awakening to a true sentience – what you hope to achieve. It's why you found the toaster intriuging in the first place. If a former human like you still eats through force-of-habit then wouldn't a doll follow prior programming, or an appliance prefer its former vocation...? Obviously.

“True,” you concede, frowning. It is obvious, but – you haven't had a spare second to think about the little creature. You've been busy, and now Ken probably thinks you're ignorant in your own specialty. You claim the chair across from Ken, who finishes taking his own seat.

You both sit in silence for a few minutes, the small labors of toastermogami and the crackle of firewood in the stove the only sound. Ken's resting one cheek on his hand, eyes closed. Blood loss will do that to a man.

Which reminds you -

“There's something I wanted to ask you, Ken-”

“My best friend was injured, I ran into the clinic shouting for help and that rabbit's a twitchy bitch soooo-” Ken wheels one finger in the air illustratively, eyes still closed - “something was thrown, window was broken, yadda yadda.”

Toastermogami's cord pauses mid-stab as he takes a quarter-turn towards the table.

I heard you-”
         “Shut your slots tinnytot-”
                                 “Forget that!” you interrupt with a slashing hand. “That's not it at all!”

The toaster fhlops the last piece of French toast onto the plate as hard as possible and spins in place a few times, his cord trailing around him dramatically. He stops with a dramatic clack! of little metal legs on the tabletop. Ken turns his head, moving his palm from cheek to face with a sigh. “Ken is my nemesis of old! Long after I defeated all others, Ken alone pursued me through the village. And just when he thought he'd defeated I, toastermogami, I-”

“That's not it either,” you cut him off.

Ken and toaster both regard you blankly.

“Its the boar that I don't understand.”

“What's to understand?” Ken asks. He's sitting upright eyes open now.

You purse your lips doubtfully. “You know, Ken. You know, there's a damn good reason that a boar hunting party Outside, with normal damn boar, was usually a sizable party of men, armed with spears, and dogs, and armor.”

“Bu-”
“Even the dogs were armored, Ken.”

“People bow-hunt boar!” he objects.

“Yes, Ken. From boats.

Ken drums his fingers on the tabletop, looking past you as his cheeks flush. “You're saying I'm an idiot.”

“An idiot would be dismissive of boars before he was gored. Not after.

“I wasn't 'dismissive',” Ken spit out the word, meeting your gaze head-on. “I'm a hunter, Miss Margatroid, and I've forgotten more about boars then you've ever known, I'd wager. I know the damn odds and I know what I'm doing!

“Exactly,” you reply. “So why were you boar-hunting, solo, with a bow? That's what I don't understand.”

Ken's stern expression falters. “Wuh.... why do you care, anyways?”

You open your mouth but find no words because- why do you care?


[ ] “I want to know what kind of person – what kind of trouble I've got living under my roof now.”

[ ] “I'm honestly curious. I've never had a survivor of the Forest quite like you, to be honest.”

[ ] Write-in?
>>No. 27974
[ ] Kissu
>>No. 27975
[x] “I want to know what kind of person – what kind of trouble I've got living under my roof now.”

Such a tense atmosphere.
>>No. 27976
[ ] “I'm honestly curious. I've never had a survivor of the Forest quite like you, to be honest.”
>>No. 27977
[x] “I want to know what kind of person – what kind of trouble I've got living under my roof now.”
Is he insane, or just suicidal?
>>No. 27978
[x] “I want to know what kind of person – what kind of trouble I've got living under my roof now.”
>>No. 27980
[X] “I want to know what kind of person – what kind of trouble I've got living under my roof now.”
>>No. 27981
[x] “I'm honestly curious. I've never had a survivor of the Forest quite like you, to be honest.”
-[x]“So I want to know what kind of person – what kind of trouble I've got living under my roof now.”
--[x]"You're damn lucky I found you instead of that black-white. She'd probably use you as a test subject for some half-assed potion that'd just as likely melt your stomach as mend your leg."
>>No. 27982
[x] “I want to know what kind of person – what kind of trouble I've got living under my roof now.”


Back to using that stunning personal charisma, I guess.
>>No. 27983
[x] “I want to know what kind of person – what kind of trouble I've got living under my roof now
>>No. 27984
[x] “I want to know what kind of person – what kind of trouble I've got living under my roof now.”

Awkwardness ho!
>>No. 27985
[x] “I'm honestly curious. I've never had a survivor of the Forest quite like you, to be honest.”
-[x] I had corpses, like you, sure, but not survivors.

Damn, I cracked a smile during this update. I guess I was underestimating this story. Keep it up!
>>No. 27986
[x] “I want to know what kind of person – what kind of trouble I've got living under my roof now.”

That update was everything I could've hoped it'd be and more.
>>No. 27990
>>27984 here, changing vote to >>27985

[x] “I'm honestly curious. I've never had a survivor of the Forest quite like you, to be honest.”
-[x] I had corpses like you, sure, but not survivors.
>>No. 27995
[x] “I'm honestly curious. I've never had a survivor of the Forest quite like you, to be honest.”
-[x] I had corpses like you, sure, but not survivors.
>>No. 27996
[x] “I'm honestly curious. I've never had a survivor of the Forest quite like you, to be honest.”
-[x] I had corpses like you, sure, but not survivors.

I can't not vote for this.
>>No. 27997
[x] “I'm honestly curious. I've never had a survivor of the Forest quite like you, to be honest.”
-[x] I had corpses like you, sure, but not survivors.

Brilliant.
>>No. 28000
File 138431009152.png - (117.75KB, 338x450, 1342059090797.png) [iqdb]
28000
[X] “I want to know what kind of person – what kind of trouble I've got living under my roof now.”

You sigh and rub your brow, feeling the weariness of the past months settling on you. That thing with Sanae, entering the Deep Forest (and almost getting shot for your trouble,) Kourindou and Marisa – the only suprises have been bad ones, and usually in time to spoil your small victories. But now, with the stress and blood behind you, and a puzzle sitting at your kitchen table, it feels like you've got something new. For the first time since that restless day on your front porch, the day you found the toaster.

The toaster.

The useless troublesome little terror of a toaster who's yielded nothing but more mayhem because visitors never work out.

“Visitors what?” Ken asks.

Did you – dammit just roll with it- “Visitors never work out,” you repeat firmly. “They're just trouble, no matter how you dice it. And I'd like to know what kind of trouble I've got quartered under my roof for the foreseeable future.”

You watch Ken's expression set like concrete. “Well you narrowed that down pretty quick,” he says stiffly. “So why don't you tell me?

You've already exhausted the short list of possibilities. Not a test of bravery or skill – his attitude is far too familiar. Not for sport; the point of that is savage close-range encounters. Familiarity breeds contempt, but if he hunts professionally, for profit, why no dogs to bay the pig? Farmers buy such dogs to keep the hoary beasts out of their crops. You should know, the kennels were set up by your puppet show three festivals in a row and the incessent baying nearly drove you to multiple canicide.

“I haven't a clue, Ken. I've honestly never met a survivor of the Forest like you.”

His expression softens into consideration. “I guess you haven't, at that. I'm-”

“I've met corpses like you before, sure, but they're not forthcoming,” you cut him off smoothly. “So please, enlighten me,” you gesture invitingly with upturned palm, “why were you going about things in the riskiest way possible?”

Ken's expression slumps into resignation.

You lean back in your chair, feeling comfortable for the first time all morning. “Or is that part of the boar-lore you've forgotten, perhaps?”

His gaze narrows on you. “Missing the forest for the trees.”

“Or the boar with the arrow as the case may be,” you reply smoothly, casually twirling one strand of blonde hair around your finger.

He sighs. “Alice.” He brackets his face with flattened hands to implore your focus. “You think I should've gone tromping about with a gang of armored men in the Forest of fucking Magic?

You feel your face go numb as the blood drains away.

“There's always spores in the air, but step on a fungi colony and you're bathed in hallucenegenic mushroom miasma instantly. One wrong step and your day gets a whole lot worse – and for anyone next to you. So large parties of men? No.”

You part your lips, but can't find anything to say.

“Or dogs. They don't watch where they step at all, and they're loud. Is loud a good idea in the Forest, Alice? Especially deeper in?”

You shake your head slightly. As numb suprise spreads some inner reflex makes you fight for your voice. “The bow?” you ask quietly.

“Opposed to what, a boar spear? Without dogs its hard to bay them,” he replies. “Get close enough during the rut and the boars will come after you, and likely through a goddman mushroom colony while they're at it.” His brow crinkles, and his voice drops a little. “You live here. You know how the woods get... grabby.

You bite the inside of your cheek to keep from swallowing and simply nod.

“Use it properly and your spearhead seems to get caught by every branch and bush in sight, and since boars like thickets... boar spears can be wonderfully handy close-in but you've got to choke up your grip, more like a quarterstaff, and that makes it useless for holding a skewered razorback away from you.”

“... oh,” you say in a small voice.

“That's it,” Ken says, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms. “I'm not 'trouble,' Miss Margatroid. I'm just an ordinary hunter.”

BAM!

You and Ken both jump a foot as the toast-laden plate skids to a halt in the middle of the table from its impact point near the edge. You're still sputtering for breath when Ken's head swivels towards the stove.

“Breakfast is served,” toastermogami says, his flat metal “face” turned towards Ken. “Ordinary old French Toast.”

For a moment the two trade glares that can only be described as steely.

“We've got syrup!” you declare, sending a doll flying off a windowledge with a flick of your fingertip. “And silverware!” More dolls stir and your cutlery drawer crashes and jangles as they dive in. “I'll put on some tea-”

“Already done,” the toaster says.

“Then teacups,” you blurt out. “Shanghai?” She zooms from her station behind your shoulder and fetches the good china with her characteristic grace. Ken's eyes track her warily as she returns and sets the table. Soon you're slicing away at your toast with halfhearted strokes of your butterknife, prolonging the excuse to keep silent. Peeking up, you see you needn't have bothered; Ken's devouring his food as fast as good manners will allow as Shanghai refills his teacup.

[ ] Mystery solved. Let the toaster entertain him; I've got work to do. It's time to fix Hourai.
[ ] I should retrieve his bow; its his livelyhood. And besides, I'm curious to see the boar. I wonder how big...?
[ ] ... so why would anyone sane hunt in the Forest Of Magic!?
>>No. 28001
[x] ... so why would anyone sane hunt in the Forest Of Magic!?
Being unable to make use of a large group does not mean you should go alone; it means you shouldn't go at all. So what is his motivation?
>>No. 28002
[ ] Mystery solved. Let the toaster entertain him; I've got work to do. It's time to fix Hourai.
[x] ... so why would anyone sane hunt in the Forest Of Magic!?
>>No. 28004
[x] ... so why would anyone sane hunt in the Forest Of Magic!?

>>28001
My thoughts exactly.
>>No. 28005
[x] ... so why would anyone sane hunt in the Forest Of Magic!?
>>No. 28006
[X] ... so why would anyone sane hunt in the Forest Of Magic!?
>>No. 28007
Can we stop antagonizing this guy? Eiren said he'd be anemic for awhile, so if we push him too much he might just pass out or something. Plus, maybe we can make a friend if we stop pissing him off Pfft, hahaha nope we're going to make him hate us.

[ ] Mystery solved. Let the toaster entertain him; I've got work to do. It's time to fix Hourai.
>>No. 28008
[x] I should retrieve his bow; its his livelyhood. And besides, I'm curious to see the boar. I wonder how big...?

Hi, I'm Alice Margatroid and this is Jackass.
>>No. 28009
[x] "So. I have concluded that one of you two is more responsible and reliable than the other," you lie, "and would appreciate it if that one kept an eye on the other of you while I perform some delicate work."
- [x] If either of them calls you on it, cheerfully admit it. Have all the dolls in the room nod along with you.
- [x] Don't actually start anything that requires uninterrupted concentration without guards and wards. There's no point in risking Hourai's life structural integrity to those two fools' good behavior.
>>No. 28010
File 138441016860.jpg - (25.41KB, 286x243, 1377296510495.jpg) [iqdb]
28010
>>28009
>Have all the dolls in the room nod along with you.
>>No. 28012
[X] ... so why would anyone sane hunt in the Forest Of Magic!?

Let's leave Hourai for now.
Would you trust anything that delicate to the whims of the toaster to NOT randomly interrupt you to yell about toast during a critical moment?
>>No. 28014
>>28009
[x] "So. I have concluded that one of you two is more responsible and reliable than the other," you lie, "and would appreciate it if that one kept an eye on the other of you while I perform some delicate work."
- [x] If either of them calls you on it, cheerfully admit it. Have all the dolls in the room nod along with you.
- [x] Don't actually start anything that requires uninterrupted concentration without guards and wards. There's no point in risking Hourai's life structural integrity to those two fools' good behavior.
The eerie simultaneous nodding got me into this vote.
>>No. 28015
[X] Mystery solved. Let the toaster entertain him; I've got work to do. It's time to fix Hourai.
>>No. 28017
>>28009

[x] "So. I have concluded that one of you two is more responsible and reliable than the other," you lie, "and would appreciate it if that one kept an eye on the other of you while I perform some delicate work."
- [x] If either of them calls you on it, cheerfully admit it. Have all the dolls in the room nod along with you.
- [x] Don't actually start anything that requires uninterrupted concentration without guards and wards. There's no point in risking Hourai's life structural integrity to those two fools' good behavior.


I like this write-in too damn much not to vote for it. Though I am quite curious as to what the hell he was doing in the forest in the first place, that can wait.
>>No. 28018
[x] ... so why would anyone sane hunt in the Forest Of Magic!?

That was exactly our fucking point, Ken.

It's like you're really a damn protagonist. Completely sure you're right, just because you're the 'expert'.

Stop being an idiot. 'Think I'll go hunting in the Forest of Magic today' is never the right choice.
>>No. 28022
[x] ... so why would anyone sane hunt in the Forest Of Magic!?

To be honest this was the question that was really being asked. Considering the dangers of hunting in the Magic Forest, why would he do something so dangerous or desperate?
>>No. 28030
File 13847246447.jpg - (551.84KB, 2031x2952, 24a9240614602243728108daa297c85e.jpg) [iqdb]
28030
[X] ... so why would anyone sane hunt in the Forest Of Magic!?

You nibble listlessly at breakfast as the blood returns to your face in force with the prickling warmth of embarrassment. You just demonstrated your under-appraisal of Ken most magnificently. You can scarcely believe what you just heard. You've never lodged a 'guest' who'd knowingly entered the Forest – much less knew their way around it. Savvy humans exist, but of course the savvy never end up here. They know better then to -

- to hunt in the Forest Of Magic.

Your fork slips from your fingers as it hits you.

The “ordinary hunter” sitting before you is lying like a rug.

Visitors never work out echoes your own voice in your head. For a moment you're seized with such a strong desire to run to your work(shop) and slam the door on the whole muddy mess that you begin to rise reflexively. But your discipline holds and it blows over, leaving only fluttery energy in your breast.

You are the Seven-Colored Puppeteer, and you will get to the bottom of this.

And the bottom might be pretty deep. Inquiries churn in your mind as you absently stir some sugar into your tea. You remember vaguely that boars slash upwards with their tusks, so why the deep puncture wound? Was his quarry a budding youkai? Was his quarry a boar at all? He wasn't wearing a quiver when you found him – who's to say he even had a bow? Who's to say he needs one? He might be a young magician, like you were once, scouring for components. Or one of those “Secret Society” clowns that Kamishirasawa mentioned in that Bunbunmaru article a while back. Was Eirin covering for him? What's her plot? You have to find a way to draw out his true intentions, but how?

“Teacup ain't a tsukumogami, Alice,” the toaster mutters bitterly from the countertop. “Don't have to beat it.”

You jerk the spoon out of the swirling tea with a sharp clink! but Ken remains oblivious, not even glancing your way. His eyes are half-open and he's slumping in his chair – the scotch might be telling on him, now.

Excellent.

“You should start your medications right away,” you say, rising from the table. “I'll go fetch them.”

Ken nods absently, cheek propped on one hand, eyes closed. You take a few steps towards the front hall, out of Ken's line-of-sight, then look over his head at the toaster. You beckon to him, then hold a finger up to your lips.

“I don't know what that means, Miss Alice,” he says a little too loudly. “Maybe if you used words!”

“We're so past words,” you snarl, a gaggle of dolls leaping aloft with your ire. Toastermogami's stubby little arms blur, seizing a pair of spatulas from the table, his double-pronged cord-tip hovering over him scorpion-like.

“Do your worst, oppressor! Inanimate brother against brother – your fiendish mechanizations must end!” he challenges you.

Your frayed patience finally unravels. You summon your magic, preparing to hurl your minions at the little bastard. The spatulas blur as the toaster shifts to a vaguely aggressive stance, one corner towards you and a spatula thrust in your direction.

SPANG!

Toast and spatulas go flying across a suddenly-deserted countertop. The brief image of toastermogami flipping slots-over-cord through the open window behind him registers a second later.

Ken twists back to face the table, now missing the heavy ceramic platter of french toast, and lowers his head onto crossed arms. “Noisy little fucker,” he mutters.
From outside an angry cry starts up. Shanghai dashes to the top of the sill and slams the window closed on toastermogami's protestations. The latch clicks crisply, and she floats back towards you with serene satisfaction.

“I'll be right back,” you say hurriedly, but Ken doesn't even murmur.

You bolt out the back door in time to see toastermogami's cord vanishing into the underbrush behind your house. With but a gesture Shanghai's in pursuit, a blue-bonde motion blur. She snags the cord and pulls.

“SHEEEEIIIIIIIIII-UGH!” the tsukumogami exclaims as he's sent barreling through the brush and lands on your front lawn.

“Hey,” you say, standing over him as a small crowd of combat dolls encircles him. “I need to ask you something.”

He sputters angrily as he spoings to his feet. “Well ain't that tough shit, sister! I don't feel like talking!”

“Don't be difficult,” you chasten, crossing your arms and glaring down at him. “This is important.”

“Kiss my shiny tin service port, you witch!” he cries. “Why should I tell you a damn thing? You sic your ribboned terror on me, kidnap me, lock me in a cellar and I'm supposed to help you!? Go dig a hole in a frozen lake and wait in it!”

You turned my own dolls against me, set up tripwires in every goddamn doorway and made yourself a jack-of-all-trades pain in the fucking ass!” you snarl, your dolls closing their circle by a step, little wooden saps raised high. “You would've been exterminated if not for me! If you can't show gratitude then at least show respect!”

“You kidnap me as a research sample and I'm supposed to respect you!?” toastermogami snarls, reflections in his flat metal 'front' crinkling and rippling as his sides quaver with rage. “And then you stick me on a shelf and ignore me for months, but when some hotshot hunter limps in and embarasses you suddenly little Miss Margritold is all ears. Well no deal, sister! I won't have it!”


[ ] This little tin tyrant doesn't know half of what you've been through these last three months – how dare he judge you!?

[ ] You don't have time for this – there's no telling who Ken is, really. Inquire in the Village – Eirin mentioned his friend is being discharged from the clinic right now, didn't she?

[ ] Take a deep breath and try to level with him. He did save Ken's life, after all – when it counts, he's a pragmatist, and right now, it counts.
>>No. 28031
[x] Take a deep breath and try to level with him. He did save Ken's life, after all – when it counts, he's a pragmatist, and right now, it counts.
If we can manage to at least calm him down, we won't have to worry about traps.
Also, never let him meet Medicine.
Ever.
>>No. 28032
[x] This little tin tyrant doesn't know half of what you've been through these last three months – how dare he judge you!?

Screw it. Give him both barrels.

Also, has that much time passed? I wasn't aware of any time skips.
>>No. 28033
>>28032

That's only because Alice herself doesn't keep good track of time - to a youkai with no real need for food or sleep or social interaction it can be easy to lose track of time. Even "three months" is just a guess.
>>No. 28034
Alright, going to be honest here.

Why the hell would Alice care about what this random human is doing running around the Forest of Magic? OOC I understand that it's a plot hook that we can follow, but in character I just can't imagine why she would give a shit. She has far more important things to be doing than running around playing detective on some yahoo.

I guess I can see it if she's worried about whatever danger he could bring down on her, but like she said she's the Seven-Colored Puppeteer. She may not be Eiren, or Byakuren, or even Marissa but she's not a lightweight is probably in the top 20 badasses of Gensokyo.
>>No. 28035
>>28034

>But now, with the stress and blood behind you, and a puzzle sitting at your kitchen table, it feels like you've got something new. For the first time since that restless day on your front porch, the day you found the toaster.

Pretty much summed it up right there. In that update, anon voted for her pessimism, stress, and goal-oriented nature to win, so she immedietly evaluated Ken in terms of how disruptive he'd be to her Serious Buisness.

>Visitors never work out echoes your own voice in your head. For a moment you're seized with such a strong desire to run to your work(shop) and slam the door on the whole muddy mess that you begin to rise reflexively. But your discipline holds and it blows over, leaving only fluttery energy in your breast.

That time, anon voted for Alice's innate curiosity to win out. If you think she's getting a little too hyper about this, well, she is, partly due to her personality and in greater part because its something A. new and intriguing and B. nothing she can't solve with a hilariously effortless amount of magic and/or violence if she really had to. Alice doesn't consider him a threat in the least; she's just being dramatic.
>>No. 28036
[x] Take a deep breath and try to level with him. He did save Ken's life, after all – when it counts, he's a pragmatist, and right now, it counts.
Wasn't expecting the toaster to be relevant but whatever.
>>No. 28037
[x] This little tin tyrant doesn't know half of what you've been through these last three months – how dare he judge you!?

Ranting for a bit might make Alice feel better.
>>No. 28038
[x] Take a deep breath and try to level with him. He did save Ken's life, after all – when it counts, he's a pragmatist, and right now, it counts.
>>No. 28039
[x] Take a deep breath and try to level with him. He did save Ken's life, after all – when it counts, he's a pragmatist, and right now, it counts.
I kinda like him and everything he said makes sense.
>>No. 28040
[x] This little tin tyrant doesn't know half of what you've been through these last three months – how dare he judge you!?
>>No. 28052
[x] level with him
>>No. 28073
File 138768190554.jpg - (188.07KB, 848x1200, 1258683620458.jpg) [iqdb]
28073
[X] Take a deep breath and try to level with him. He did save Ken's life, after all – when it counts, he's a pragmatist, and right now, it counts.


You suck a tense breath past clenched teeth, slowly unballing your fists. He's trying to piss you off, and he's clearly not impressed by your shows of force. But despite his grievances he did save that humans life, and stick around to help afterwards. He's a pragmatist, so he ought listen to reason.

“Okay-” you cough to get the burr of anger out of your voice. “Oh-kay. We aren't seeing eye-to, uh, slot. I don't expect you to help me. But one of your... 'comrades' does need help; help I can't give without information I think you possess.”

That gets his attention. “The one in that basket? That you've been gathering newt eyes'n'shit for?”

You blink. “How did-”

“I'm steel, not stupid,” he growls. “So what does that human tyrant have to do with it?”

You blink again. “How did-”

“I just told you,” he interrupts. “Duh.” He flicks his metallic side with the prongs of his cord for punctuation. ting~ “Stillll don't see why I should care.”

You cross your arms and regard the toaster gravely. “Ken,” you say, “is hiding something. I don't know what his motives are. The spell to repair my doll is delicate and complex – I cannot be interrupted. And I can't just kick him out, so I've got to be sure he won't do anything...” your expression clouds with uncertainty - “weird to distract me at a crucial moment.”

Toastermogami's featureless metal 'front' regards you blankly.

“You are so full of shit.”

... the fuck did he just say-

“You're a witch!” he exclaims, thrusting his cord at you. “You could break your foot off in his ass without trying. If you didn't want distractions you'd, gee, I dunno, lock him in the cellar or something!”

“Shut up!” you snap, kicking dirt at the toaster irritably. “I'm always a good host to polite guests!”

“Ooooooooooooh,” toastermogami drawls, waving his cord in the air sinuously. “So thats why you spent all morning rudely grilling the wounded man!”

You feel your cheeks begin to burn. “I have a legitimate-”

“NEEEEEEEEEEERT!” toaster exclaims loudly. “Bullshit alarm again! You just can't comprehend the competence of the common man so you're playing with him like a new puzzle. At least until he wages a brilliant guerrilla campaign against your oppressive regime until you finally lock him in the FUCKING CELLAR!

“This has nothing to do with me!” you exclaim hotly, slapping your fist into your palm. “In his own words he explained why the Forest is a stupid place to hunt! If its so damn dangerous why would anyone try it there?”

“HA!” toastermogami exclaims, stabbing his plug at you triumphantly. “And so the warden reveals her ignorance! Locked away in your ivory tower,” - the toaster thrusts his plug at the whitewashed sides of your laboratory tower - “you play God with the un-lives of countless ambulatory entities without ever deigning to interact with living people and get a damn clue about what they can do!

“Strawman! Misdirection! Changing the subject!” you declare triumphantly, pointing your finger at him. “My logic is sound!”

“Sound asleep!” toastermogami crows. “If you're so smart, then tell me; how is meat sold?”

You blink. “What?”

“How. Is. Meat. Sold?” the toaster says, punctuating the words with little jabs of his plug.

You shrug, not much caring. “Wrapped in paper, usually. Who cares?”

“By the pound!” he exclaims. “The more meat, the more money! And where do you find the meanest, biggest boars, Alice?”

Your cheeks are positively prickling with warmth now. “That- but- it's dangerous-

“Maybe his little sister's sick with the epizoodic or the creepin' crud and he needs a zillion dollars to pay for a surgery! Maybe he's trying to impress his girlfriend! Maybe he just likes pork! Or maybe, just maybe, he's GOT A PAIR! And if you even went shopping once in a while you'd know that!”

“I know plenty!” you snap as pounding pressure builds in your temples. “I've mastered the intricacies of magic, mysteries that'd take your puny little mind and turn it inside-out in dimensions you can't even comprehend! I used to be human and humans ain't anything!

“Oh HO!” toastermogami snorts, pressing his plug against his tin front in facsimile of clutching his breast. “So if you look down on we lesser beings so much, why do you act like a human?”

“Like all the youkai do?” you retort hotly. “You expect me to turn myself into a little metal box with a nasty attitude and delusions of grandeur?”

“How about the eating, Alice? Or the sleeping? You shouldn't need any of that. And the instant old Ken-tai walks in the door you're all like THIS MAN!” - his cord shoots upright dramatically - “is HIDING SOMETHING!” he plunges his plug into the earth exuberantly. “Trying so hard to be cool!

Oh that little two-paneled chrome chucklefuck so full of “BULLSHIT LOOK WHO'S TALKING!” you bellow, kicking a swath of fallen leaves over the tin terrorist. “Talking like you're some hotshot hero liberator rebel-without-a-clue but all you do is piss off every single sentient creature you come in contact with because you're just a pest rummaging through trash-cans at night like a newborn tanuki!”

Toastermogami's front panel bows concave as he audibly sucks in air. “You. Take. That. Back.

You snort and spin on one heel to give him the cold shoulder. “You first.

“Hmph!” he declares, and spins his own side to face you. A silence stretches across the minutes, both of you refusing to... ah. Aha! You snap your fingers, dispersing your circle of combat dolls penning in the toaster.

“You're free to go,” you say casually. “Since I got you to answer my question.”

“Well you got me there, didn't you,” the toaster says dryly.

Except you did so fuck him. You wave your hand dismissively as you stride towards your house again.

A rapid poingpoingpoing pursues and overtakes you as toastermogami bounces towards the house. “If I don't stay here you'll starve that stupid bastard to death.”

“What do you care?”

He spins to face you. “I am a hero of the oppressed and morally righteous and you are...” he waggles his plug at you disdainfully - “you.” He turns away and vanishes through the back door.

You follow, closing the door behind. You wince your way into the kitchen, fully expecting a wry remark from Ken (he must have overheard the louder parts of that exchange,) but you find him fast asleep, slumped on the kitchen table. You fetch an afghan from your parlor and pause in the kitchen doorway, studying your slumbering visitor.

Meat by the pound. Perfectly ordinary motive, if you make your living as a huntsman. You still think it foolish, but competent fools exist, as Marisa attests to. You drape the afghan over Ken's back and tuck the edges under his arms. You step back and evaluate him again.

Perfectly ordinary, indeed. You didn't want anything troublesome, certainly, but it would've been nice if...

You sigh despondently. Again with this wanting. You know what you want – the resurrection of a small doll lying quiet in a wicker basket over yonder. And its really about time you got to it.

Hourai is coming back.


****


You lay your preparations.

A pentagram of silver and another of gold appear upon the floor and high ceiling of your laboratory. Arcane alchemical admixtures are created, combined with hot wax and poured into molds in the sweltering heat of your kiln shed. Reams of copied text and traced diagrams form drifts of paper in the corners of your study. The basic ritual is well-recorded and long-since mastered; but for such delicate work on a complex construct modifications must be made and every factor accounted for. Taxing work, but familiar. At long last you're back on solid ground; in your sanctum, practicing your Art. As you move through each laborious stage a queasy pressure builds in your breast – every step brings you closer to the Test.

You've stacked all the odds in your favor, but truth is, you've never done anything quite like this before. You trace your pen over the lines in your diagram for the tenth time, trying to sweat out any flaws in your design. To start a doll – and to restart a doll – should be quite similar, but magic is a subtle and pernicious business, and simple assumptions like that foiled you many times in your younger years. You reach for one of your older texts -

- and jump a foot out of your chair when hard rapping assails the door of your study.

Right. That guy. With a deft flick of fingertips you send a doll sailing from the bookshelf to the doorknob, throwing it open with a loud woody WHAM! Standing in the doorway, slumping against the hallway wall, is the huntsman.

Ken, you mean.

“What do you want?" you interrogate. "You should be in bed. Moving around is just asking for trouble.”

“You know what I've noticed about your house, Alice?” Ken says dourly. “You're not big on clocks. You have exactly one, and its unwound.”

“If you just want to chat, get out,” you snap. “I'm very busy.” You turn back to your work.

“I want to eat, you sod!”

“In the ce-”

“I know more about your cellar then you do, judging from the damn dust down there!” Ken snaps back. “I finished the pickled eggs yesterday. Thank the dragon I like pickled eggs. But now all your bounteous larder can offer is pickled cucumbers.”

“They're good for you. Does this look like a tavern?”

“Do I look like a man accustomed to taverns?” Ken's voice rumbles low and hot with anger, enough to make you turn and face him again.

“Fine. As soon as I finish-”

“What day is it, Alice?” Ken asks immediately. “How many days have I been here?”

You stare at him, drawing a blank.

“Four. Four days, Miss Margatroid. I am a patient man, but I'm starving and if I eat any more pickles the gastrointestinal consequences will be prolific and dire.”

You mutter darkly, rubbing your work-strained eyes wearily. “Fine. I'll send Shanghai to town.”

“While she's at it-” Ken plows right over your rather overt sigh- “could you have her deliver a note?”

“Maybe,” you reply. “To what purpose?”

“Asking a favor of a friend of mine. I need him to retrieve my bow.”

“You'd ask that risk of him for a bow?” you snap, knowing you're being peevish and not giving a damn.

“I might have asked you, if it'd come up in conversation,” Ken says dryly.

“It's still foolish. Look what happened to you!”

Ken manages to cross his arms and look stern despite slumping sideways against the wall, favoring his bad leg. “That doll... Shanghai.” He nods at Shanghai, who's at her station two feet to your side, as always. “Would you leave her lying on the forest floor?”

You groan, crossing a leg over your knee and pinching the bridge of your nose as you shake off the sensory numbness of a long work session.

“... no,” you admit. A hand-crafted weapon of great value – a description as fit for a huntsman's bow as a dollmaker's doll, you suppose. But exchanging money and a shopping list for a package and combing a grid for a well-defined object are complex autonomous tasks that only a doll of Shanghai – or Hourai's – caliber are capable of. This is exactly why you need her back. You'll have to see to at least one task personally.

One task alone. You imagine tripping (it gets grabby) through the Forest with nightfall approaching and no lantern-bearer, no Shanghai at your side.

No. No way in hell. One or the other, but not both.

[ ] More people prowling the Forest near here, startling prey, attracting predators – more trouble for you. It can't be allowed. Retrieve the bow.

[ ] Ken has been patient, and he never asked to be here. It won't kill Hourai to wait another day, but it might kill him. Go shopping.

[ ] Other?
>>No. 28074
[x] Ken has been patient, and he never asked to be here. It won't kill Hourai to wait another day, but it might kill him. Go shopping.

Well, no reason to kill the poor guy with hunger.
>>No. 28075
[x] Ken has been patient, and he never asked to be here. It won't kill Hourai to wait another day, but it might kill him. Go shopping.
>>No. 28076
[x] Ken has been patient, and he never asked to be here. It won't kill Hourai to wait another day, but it might kill him. Go shopping.
-[x] Make damn sure to lock the Work down before leaving. Can't have nosy toasters (or a certain witch) disturbing it.
>>No. 28077
[x] More people prowling the Forest near here, startling prey, attracting predators – more trouble for you. It can't be allowed. Retrieve the bow.

Both options suck. You're learning.
>>No. 28079
[x] Ken has been patient, and he never asked to be here. It won't kill Hourai to wait another day, but it might kill him. Go shopping.
-[x] Make damn sure to lock the Work down before leaving. Can't have nosy toasters (or a certain witch) disturbing it.


Ken and Toastermogami can probably understand that "this shit be important, yo" and won't mess with it.
Ken isn't likely to mess with magic (unless Alice's paranoia proves true) and for Toastermogami, it would be like romping through a hospital room where someone lies on life support and yanking cables. He's an asshole, but the one thing he really cares about are other sentient constructs.
For everyone else (i.e. Marisa) it's probably best to lock the door.
>>No. 28080
File 138774634264.jpg - (26.35KB, 443x327, learning.jpg) [iqdb]
28080
>>28077

AYEP
>>No. 28081
>>28073
[x] Ken has been patient, and he never asked to be here. It won't kill Hourai to wait another day, but it might kill him. Go shopping.

Even Batman requires prep time. Obtaining food good. Eating good.
>>No. 28082
[x] Other?
-[y] Kill Ken. Break the toastermogami. Reciev peace to work, problems solved.
--[z] Burn down the village, less distractions that way.

Not cool? Bah, fuck it, have it your way, boring people.
[x] Ken has been patient, and he never asked to be here. It won't kill Hourai to wait another day, but it might kill him. Go shopping.
>>No. 28083
[x] Retrieve the fucking bow
-[x] Go hunt with him, lest he hurts himself again and has to stay here another month.
Because just bringing the food will harm his pride and Alice should also learn something
>>No. 28084
>>28083
He's still injured, and going hunting now would mean strenuous activity. The kind that is likely to rip open stitches and cause him to bleed to death.
It's only been a few days since he was patched up. A wound that large takes at least a few weeks before you can return to a normal lifestyle.
>>No. 28088
[x] Ken has been patient, and he never asked to be here. It won't kill Hourai to wait another day, but it might kill him. Go shopping.
-[x] Make damn sure to lock the Work down before leaving. Can't have nosy toasters (or a certain witch) disturbing it.
>>No. 28095
File 138812611187.jpg - (353.03KB, 724x890, hourai tugs at hand and heart.jpg) [iqdb]
28095
You know what? No. Prioritize and delegate.

[x] Neither. Have Shanghai deliver the note as requested, and go back to work. There's nothing his friend can rouse that you can't put down once you have Shanghai and Hourai at your side again.
>>No. 28096
>>28095
he still needs food you spud
>>No. 28105
>>28096
Ye~es, which is why Shanghai would be delivering the note when she goes on her shopping trip. As requested.
>>No. 28106
>>28105
I sincerely doubt Shanghai can successfully carry a load of foodstuffs back to Alice's place without getting attacked by hungry youkai.
>>No. 28113
[x] Ken has been patient, and he never asked to be here. It won't kill Hourai to wait another day, but it might kill him. Go shopping.
-[x] Make damn sure to lock the Work down before leaving. Can't have nosy toasters (or a certain witch) disturbing it.
>>No. 28131
>>28113
[x] Ken has been patient, and he never asked to be here. It won't kill Hourai to wait another day, but it might kill him. Go shopping.
-[x] Make damn sure to lock the Work down before leaving. Can't have nosy toasters (or a certain witch) disturbing it.

Like it.
>>No. 28273
File 139864777155.png - (720.06KB, 800x600, alice has been working too hard.png) [iqdb]
28273
[x] Ken has been patient, and he never asked to be here. It won't kill Hourai to wait another day, but it might kill him. Go shopping.
-[x] Make damn sure to lock the Work down before leaving. Can't have nosy toasters (or a certain witch) disturbing it.

You rub your palms against your aching eyes as afterimages of The Diagram dance about your vision. Its familiar now, hatefully so after the hours you've spent researching and refining and reviewing it... just like the anxiety nipping at your heels, the fear that you've overlooked something small and essential. Yet

- you'll starve that stupid bastard to death.

You slide your hands down to cover your flushing cheeks as the toaster's words twist 'round to bite you. You notice Ken's heavy breathing and guess at the strain of limping across the house in his condition.

“Okay,” you murmur. “I'll go shopping.”

“Great,” he says immediately, a note flashing from his pocket as he proffers it to you. “Just give this to any grocer in town, my credit's good with any of them.”

You snatch it away, irritated – its a shopping list, and a folded note. “My credits better,” you insist testily.

“Sure,” he replies, suspiciously amicable. “If you wish. You can leave the note with whoever you buy from, they'll see its delivered.” He pivots on his good leg to face down the hall, one hand tugging the door after him. “Sorry to bother.”

“Are you-” you start, only to be cut off by the click! of the latch.

Well.


*****


A strong restless wind stirs the treetops below you. The air is tense and heavy under the shadow of looming thunderheads rolling in from the East. You chafe at your slow progress, but there's no help for it – you never found flight as fascinating as Marisa, so you've no spells or foci for enhancing airspeed. You can only hope to complete your errand and fly home before the roiling energy in the air erupts into a violent midsummer thunderstorm.

You find the village as turbulent and tense as the sultry summer air, boardwalks trafficked by quick-stepping people with tasks on their minds and an eye on the sky. You march briskly towards the town center, where the large stores are – you doubt the open-air market proprietors wish to risk the coming tempest. The bars and taverns have windows thrown wide; leaking the chatter of patrons into the heavy atmosphere – it must be well into afternoon; you can't see the sun to verify. And past planting season, as well – knots of sun-tanned men stand under shop awnings, talking as they glance skyward. Running your gaze down the street at rafter-height you survey the signs swaying in the skittish breeze. General store, tea-house, hardware, saddlery, dry-goods, and -

- you glare at the symbol six doors down, denoting Eirin's clinic. The winged rod with twin snakes twining 'round it has always annoyed you from some reason you can't place. Below the sign two men are tacking a wide sheet of canvas over the shattered remains of the large bay window. And beyond that – the grocer. You sigh with relief at the quick find. Shanghai knows the way, of course, but you can't be seen heeling to your own doll.

A small cluster of young men are loitering by the entrance, standing broadside to the breeze as they chat.

“Should be a real show,” one comments.

“Yeah, according to the dragon,” a companion replies.

“Whatever,” scoffs a third. “What does the mercury say?”

“Same as the dragon. Fancy that.”

You square your shoulders, straighten your spine and march through the lolligaggers -

“Hey!”

and into the

“Alice!”

store, turning to... find the...

“Hey, Alice!” someone calls.

You and Shanghai slowly pivot around your common center-of-gravity to find one of the young men waving at you. “HEY, Aluururrgh-”

“- Miss Margatroid,” another one interjects as he stomps on his companions foot. “How are you today?”

“Okay,” you state automatically.

“How's Ken doing!?” interjects the loud one, brushing blonde hair from his face as he tugs his foot from under his companion's heel.

“We're friends of Mr. Minamoto,” the polite one explains, clapping a hand on Loudmouth's shoulder companionably. Loudmouth smiles through a wince as his buddies leather glove creaks ominously. “We just wanted to know if Ken's mending well.”

“He-” you pause, uncertain. You haven't actually checked his wound since... what day is it, even? “He was treated by Erin,” you decide. There's no denying her skill.

“Yeah but how's he coming along!?” Loudmouth demands.

“I'm not a doctor!” you snap back. The sky grows ever darker and you're losing precious seconds.

“Jesus, Ben...” someone in back moans wearily.

“Who?”

“Don't start that shit again-”

“He's fine!” you insist forcefully. “He's cranky and sarcastic and he's just hungry so.... I'm shopping.”

“I'll bet he is,” Loudmouth laughs. “Hope you can fly with a load-”

“God dammit, Ben-”

“Which one!?”

“Mother-fucker-”

“I really must be going!” you exclaim, backing through the doorway and sidestepping out of sight. Shanghai bobs uncertainly over the threshold for an awkward moment before darting to your side, safely hidden. You sidle towards the register, where the graying proprietor is wiping the wooden countertop with an oiled rag. He gives you an automatic nod as his distant gaze sweeps clean over you and -

- “Shanghai!” he exclaims warmly – then twitches violently back to you. “Alice!?” He tosses the rag over his shoulder hastily. “I – Alice!” he retries. “Good to see you. How can I help you today?”

“This,” you state, handing him the list and cutting your eyes at the doorway, which is thankfully empty. “Its rather a lot so I can pick it up right from the stockroom's back door-”

“Oh,” he says, studying the list. “Ken's cooking?” He notes your expression. “I recognize his... handwriting,” he explains, giving the paper a jaundiced look. “I'll just put this on his tab, then-”

“No!” you object sharply, making the shopkeep start. “I mean, uh-” fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck “I'm playing host, so he's my guest” noshitmoronohfuckbuggerit “so I'm taking care of that.”

“You're his savior, or so I heard,” the proprietor replies with a warm smile. “You performed surgery on him, right?”

You stare at him a moment too long. “Uh. Yes!” You blink. “How did...”

“It started with some chatterbox recently released from hospital and spread,” he says, shrugging. “Anyways. I've known Kenta since he was a kid; old friends with his father, I am. Even if Ken wasn't paying, I'd never charge you, Miss Margatroid – not after you saved his life.”

You crush the urge to fidget between your tightly clasped hands. “Okay,” you cede quietly. “Oh!” You hand over the folded note. “He needed that delivered as well.”

The shopkeeper takes it, giving it skeptical study – then smiles. He turns towards the door, drawing a deep breath -

sonofa

“HEY! AKI!”

bitch

Mr. Polite sticks his head through the doorway. “Eh?”

“Ken needs a favor,” the proprietor says, waving the note. Aki comes in, reaches over the counter, accepts the note and-”

“-needs you to find his bow, huh?” guesses loudmouth blondie Ben, hanging on Aki's shoulder as he reads over it. “Guess we're making a trip.”

“What's this 'we' bullshit?” Aki returns dourly.

“Thought you were gonna hog doll-dame to yourself, eh? Eeeeeh?” Ben leers, sliding lidded eyes at Aki. “Just you and Alice, together in the dark woods-”

“More like above them,” you bark irritably. “If he can fly, that is.”

Ben and Aki exchange a glance. “Uh,” they object as one. “About that-”

A dark sense of foreboding floods over you. “Oh. Oh, no.

“Your house isn't exactly on the map,” Aki says apologetically.

You thrust your finger at the ceiling angrily. “We can play hike-in-the-woods when there ISN'T a huge storm looming!”

“We won't follow anything after the rain washes away the trail!” Ben objects with dramatic sweeping gestures.

“What trail?

“The blood trail, Alice,” Aki says softly. “From your doorstep to where the boar tagged Ken.”

You cross your arms crossly as you flush with indignation. “I'll get that mouse youkai-”

“-to find a yew bow in the woods?” snorts Ben. You feel the pressure in your skull redouble as you tighten a fist. “Ask her to find a needle in a haystack of needles whurgh-” he whimpers as Aki elbows him sharply.

“If it gets rained on and left outside, the bow will warp,” Aki says apologetically. “We've got to find it today.”

You feel sodden reality settling upon you: a long slog through the woods – in the rain – with escorts. Damn this day and damn them.

“.... fine,” you hiss, cornered. “Get your... whatevers and meet me here, soon.

“Right,” Aki says carefully, backing away with an arm wrapped tightly around Ben's shoulders. Very tightly, from Ben's expression. “Soon.”

A bouncy brunette gallops out of the stockroom and up to the counter lugging a huge wicker basket. “Miss Alice, your things are ready!” The basket lands on the counter with a weighty thump!

“I can carry that!” Ben exclaims, popping out of Aki's grip with ease and lunging for the counter. But Shanghai's already darted in to seize the basket's handles per her programming. Your heart leaps into your throat as she strains mightily against the load, thrice her norm... then soars with elation as she slowly rises.

“I'm fine, thanks,” you say primly, and stride out confidently, Shanghai floating behind.

You put some distance between you and that goddamned shop before ducking into an alley. Shangahi floats in and slowly sinks towards the lid of a dustbin, depositing her load before collapsing atop it.

“I'm sorry, honey,” you whisper, stroking her blonde hair and straightening her little ribbon. “I'll take that the rest of the way, okay?” You gently slide her aside and lift one basket-lid and feel around for paper, withdrawing a... you squint.

A perfumed envelope with “Kenta” inscribed upon it in elegant script, complete with little heart-shapes.

You stare at it uncomprehendingly, until it clicks -the bouncy brunette. Shopkeeper's daughter, you vaguely recall. You snort and shove it into the basket as deeply as possible, rummaging about till you produce the list. There's still the baker to find, then the cheesemaker.

You glance skyward. You're running out of time – and you've got to walk back.

You'll have to ask for directions.

You seize the heavy basket and stagger onto the boardwalk again, already scanning for targets. There's an elderly couple walking away, but they're already conversing with one another – no go. Yonder is a sun-tanned farmer and his sons laughing over some joke with a push-cart merchant – no go. And just past them is a green-haired girl in white robes waving fliers fuck me. You bolt into the alley again, Shanghai spinning abruptly and darting after you a little dizzily. You fairly run through the alley to the next street and nearly crash into someone on the boardwalk. “Terriblysorryapologies” you stammer as you duck your head and march down the boardwalk, flicking your eyes up for sign of pursuit by Sanae-”

“Alice?”

You arrest your urge to dart behind a nearby yakitori stand and whirl to face your accuser – who proves to be a young woman wearing a white sundress and a faint blush. “Ah – sorry to bother you but....” she thrusts an envelope at you. “Could you please give this to Kenta? I-its just well-wishes for h-his recovery!”

You stare at her blankly until Shanghai drifts by your head and gingerly accepts the envelope.

“T-thank you!” she exclaims, and fairly evaporates into the crowd.

Shanghai rotates to proffer the envelope. “Keep it,” you instruct gruffly. Shanghai bobs uncertainly, then tucks it under her arm along with her tiny umbrella.

You make it two streets over before another letter is proffered. You manage to corner the girl between a noodle booth and a soup stall long enough to extract some directions in return for playing mailman. You find the bakery in short order, the lovely scent of baking bread competing with the sweltering oven-heat within to form a ring of people loitering in the 'comfort zone' where the forces equal out. A few minutes later you stagger out with a bulky package balanced atop your basket – the baker refused your money and threw in two loaves extra for good measure. On your way out another young woman bought a cake to send along. A heavy, dense pound cake, damn the sultry bitch. It's in a box with handles, so you pass it to Shanghai.

As you enter the cheesemaker's store it occurs to you that nobody need know whom you're shopping for. Glancing at the list, you commit the remaining items to memory, crumple it up -

“Ken ordering his usual?” the young woman behind the counter asks.

-and eat it.

“... did you just-”

“What?” you say, turning to face her full-on.

“Nothing,” the girl says uncertainly.

“I'm all done shopping for Ken,” you insist with a sniff. “I forgot how much humans need to eat. I'm just here for a-”

“Pound of Munster, pound of provolone and two pounds of Swiss?”

You open your mouth and manage to stuff some words in it before it dries out. “A-and a half-pound of-” fuck I don't know

“Blue cheese?” she offers. “For salads?”

You stifle a sigh of relief. “How did you know?”

She flashes you a clever grin. “Just practice, I guess.”

She accepts your money, you take your packages, spin on your heel and almost walk into a tall, buxom brunette standing in the doorway.

“Oh!” you say. “Sorry.”

“Alice Margatroid, I presume?” the woman asks, adjusting the fashionable spectacles that frame her brown eyes.

“Maybe.” you snap, your patience finally at an end.

“Maybe?” she asks, shifting her gaze to Shanghai-

goddamit-

-who drops the cake-box and dives behind your dress instantly.

The woman slowly slides her gaze back to you.

“Who's asking?” you mutter, feeling a flush rising towards your cheeks.

“Kaya Minamoto,” she says, planting a hand on her hip. “Kenta's mother. That's who.”

A hollow feeling fills your breast as your mouth slowly dries out.

“I didn't know,” you manage.

“No shit,” she growls, stepping towards you. You stumble back, bumping Shanghai away as she chases you across the shop until your butt meets the sales counter. “My son's been convalescing in your home for days and you couldn't even send a letter to tell me how he's been coming along?” Kaya demands.

“I'm not his gods-damned secretary!” you bite back, anger flashing through you white-hot. “I've my own business to attend to!” you stomp your foot angrily.

Kaya leans in, fists-on-hips, and glares at you from close range. “Has he even been awake to write his own letters? Eirin said he lost a lot of blood.”

“He's-” you falter as, again, you realize you've no damn clue what Ken's been doing aside from raiding your cellar for pickles.

“Have you checked his wound? Have you re-bandaged it regularly? Does he have bandages to do it himself? What about his bedding? Does he have a bed? Or a futon? What's he wearing? Is he still wearing the rags he was hunting in?”

She reads the answer on your face before you can hide it. “I figured, she fairly snarls before shoving a canvas pack into your armful of bags, letting it fall to the floor. “A few changes of clothes and some essentials. See that he gets it, if you can manage.”

You kick the soft bundle at her so hard it bounces off her shins and flies across the polished floorboards. “I saved his sodding life you four-eyed fussbudget! I manage just fine and so does he. He's a big boy, he can take care of himself!”

“NOT WITH A HOLE IN HIS LEG!” Kaya screams at you, eyes aflame. “You can forget about your-” she glances at Shanghai “-business long enough to tend to my son, because this human's not scared of you. If he comes home with a gangrenous leg or blood poisoning because you were lax, I'll make you my business.”



[ ] ... Scared? What?

[ ] That business you just sneered at saved your son's life. I used all my skill, and I'm still using it. What more do you want from me?

[ ] Threaten me again, Suzie Homemaker. I dare you. I double dog dare you.
>>No. 28275
Okay, Alice. Try to calm down. As bitchy as she's being, this is just a mother worried about her son. You know, sort of how you're so worried about Hourai. You can sympathize with her at least. Besides, she said something important.

[x] ... Scared? What?

But that doesn't mean she has the right to walk all over you, so throw in a little:

[x] That business you just sneered at saved your son's life. I used all my skill, and I'm still using it. What more do you want from me?

...kinda tired and weary-like.

You know, I just realized something. Socially awkward. Held askance by an uncertain populace who don't quite get the stuff she gets up to. Just wants to be left alone by the world at large.

Alice is a female THPer.
>>No. 28276
[X] ... Scared? What?

I'm hoping this is the "calm down" option, because Alice is about to pop a vein at this point.
>>No. 28277
I'd let her go berserk. Fuck this bitch. That Ken is living is Alice's generosity and skill, and she tramples it. If it weren't in the village, i'd see to it that Ken went home to a motherless house.

Somehow I doubt it will go that far, but it would be satisfying to my basest urges.
>>No. 28278
[x] ... Scared? What?

Oh god we're trapped in some kind of harem anime, we should have killed him when we had the chance.
>>No. 28279
>Alice is a female THPer.

[ ] ... Scared? What?
[ ] Threaten me again, Suzie Homemaker. I dare you. I double dog dare you.
[ ] That business you just sneered at saved your son's life. I used all my skill, and I'm still using it. What more do you want from me?

AnonVotesForAllTheOptions.gif
This should cause the maximum amount of spaghetti spillage.
Mostly because we'll panic thirty seconds after standing up to her.
>>No. 28280
[x] That business you just sneered at saved your son's life. I used all my skill, and I'm still using it. What more do you want from me?

Also, can Alice stop being retarded for five seconds and summon some more dolls to help Shanghai carry the stuff?
Welcome back!
>>No. 28281
[x] ... Scared? What?

Alice_cannot_into_people.txt
>>No. 28282
[x] ... Scared? What?

>>28281

I dunno, it seems like she didn't start the fire. I still think this whole situation can be resolved amicably. Alice just needs to calm down and ensure all her spaghetti stays inside her pockets.
>>No. 28285
[X] ... Scared? What?
This seems like the best way to resolve things. That is to say, the best way to not escalate things.
Plus it might open up a path to Alice getting onto better terms with the villagers.
Or it might, and knowing this story, most definitely will, result in increased levels of ostracization with Alice thinking even more that everyone sees her as a freak.

If after the above, the Mom is still aggro on us, I'd say we drop
[X] That business you just sneered at saved your son's life. I used all my skill, and I'm still using it. What more do you want from me?
To last chance try to reach some sort of understanding with her.

Let's just not get into threat territory, and keep the childish double dog daring to a minimum in front of our future mother-in-law
>>No. 28286
>>28285
>Het
>>No. 28287
>>28273

[X] ... Scared? What?
As well as
[X] That business you just sneered at saved your son's life. I used all my skill, and I'm still using it. What more do you want from me?
>>No. 28289
>>28286
Above Anon here.
Yuri would be better, no doubt no doubt, but unless we go form a lonely magician's club with Patchouli (which I would totally be in favor of), I'm not seeing much else in Alice's social future.
Then again, there's always Toastermogami, and I'm not even sure what that would be classified as.
>>No. 28291
[x] That business you just sneered at saved your son's life. I used all my skill, and I'm still using it. What more do you want from me?

[x] ... Scared? What?

Geezus, woman, Take a goddamned CHILL PILL. He would be dead without Alice Spaghettroid. Be sure, however, to make sure Alice really gets this in her face. There is NOTHING this woman can say so long as Kenta lives and recovers. I think he's doing that, sort of. I've dealt with her kind before and it is always a mess, though. Better get the Bounty out for the spillage.
>>No. 28292
[X] ... Scared? What?


[X] That business you just sneered at saved your son's life. I used all my skill, and I'm still using it. What more do you want from me?

Man, Alice just can't catch a break. It's like people don't understand that she isn't human and their problems are not something she has much experience with.
>>No. 28293
File 139898048566.jpg - (78.39KB, 600x800, 1366007253667.jpg) [iqdb]
28293
>>28289
>Then again, there's always Toastermogami, and I'm not even sure what that would be classified as.
>>No. 28295
[x] ... Scared? What?

[x] That business you just sneered at saved your son's life. I used all my skill, and I'm still using it. What more do you want from me?


My sentiment's pretty much the same as >>28275 and >>28292.
>>No. 28296
[X] Threaten me again, Suzie Homemaker. I dare you. I double dog dare you.

Sick and tired of people always, always, always letting everyone run over us.
>>No. 28297
[X] ... Scared? What?
[X] That business you just sneered at saved your son's life. I used all my skill, and I'm still using it. What more do you want from me?

First of all. "Scared? What?" pretty much sums up my reaction as well.
Yes, she's technically a youkai, but has she ever done anything to the villagers?
Hell, the shopkeeper was even glad to see Shanghai, it was just when Alice suddenly showed up in person that he got worried, just because that usually never happens.
(Ben was even trying to hit on her, because asocial youkai or not, she does have her looks going for her at least.)

Also, man, Kenta's mom is being a bitch.
Alice fucking saved his life, when she could just as well have left him on the doorstep to be dragged off by a wild animal and some dolls would clean up the bloodstains. He would've died hunting in the forest of magic, but he knew the risks when he set out, yada yada yada, just like every other goddamn corpse that shows up on her lawn.
And his mother is complaining about her not dropping everything to fetch him clean underwear and tuck him in at night.

From Alice's perspective she is trying to perform the life-saving treatment of a fatally injured friend, and this woman is complaining because she's priotizing that higher than treating a no-longer-fatally injured stranger.
>>No. 28318
[X] ... Scared? What?
[X] That business you just sneered at saved your son's life. I used all my skill, and I'm still using it. What more do you want from me?

Great story by the way, hoping I didn't catch up just to find it dead though...
>>No. 28337
File 140220136846.gif - (16.00KB, 125x125, 1395990594252.gif) [iqdb]
28337
>>28318

I AM WRITING

I AM ALSO DRUNK AS HELL
>>No. 28344
rip
>>No. 28347
Whelp, looks like the booze killed him.
>>No. 28350
>>28347
>>Death by booze
A True ZUN death.

Still gonna hold out hope for life though.
>>No. 28351
File 140304250620.jpg - (49.30KB, 350x525, 1396078636226.jpg) [iqdb]
28351
[x] ... Scared? What?
[x] That business you just sneered at saved your son's life. I used all my skill, and I'm still using it. What more do you want from me?

"Just you try it, Suzie Homemaker," you hiss as your rage begins to boil. "Just because I'm good doesn't mean I'm nice."

"Stuff your cheap scare tactics up your ass, sweetheart," Kaya says, thin voice slicing the air dangerously. She's a little taller than you, and you're not short. She takes a step closer, her tall, lean figure blocking the meager gray light from the doorway. "You need realize that playing with dolls and human lives are two very different things."

"Shows what you know," you snarl. "Both are machines - if you know how to fix one, you can fix the other. Like I fixed your precious son," you spit.

She rocks back on her heels, but it's not the reaction you're looking for - the eyes are all wrong. "How long has it been since you were human, if you think that?"

You smolder at her blankly, your ire circling for something to pounce on. "What the hell does that mean?"

She's giving you a look you can't decipher. "What did your mother do for you, when you were sick?"

You stare at her, your mind spinning fruitlessly into empty voids of memory something say something- "...I don't get sick. Only..." oh.

"You don't even know why its important," she says softly. "Its... just what you are, Alice. A youkai. And I know youkai. So I'm telling you in language you understand, why you should care about this human - because if you don't, I'll make you wish you did."

"... how dare you," you breathe, your rage vanishing into astonishment. Kaya's face ices over completely as she steps back - "the hell do you mean I don't care!?" Your head's pounding a tempo in time with your ragged, outraged breaths, fighting through the shock. "I didn't just let him bleed to death on the ground! I took him into my home, I- I take anyone in who's lost, you dimwitted bitch!"

not enough

"And- And I go to parties! I - I put on bloody puppet shows at every festival! For the damned kids!" You're so angry your vision's blurring, the pounding pressure behind your eyes overwhelming. “What the hell do you mean I don't c-care? I'm doing the b-best I can” (slow down) “-the best I know how!”

You ignore her reaction (like you care) and stoop to paw at the clothing bundle. It's got a strap threaded through it, which you snag and awkwardly sling over your shoulder. You take a deep breath and shoot her one last glare.

“If that's not enough for you, then come collect him, or shut up.

You tuck your chin into your armful of packages and stomp out angrily, Shanghia dragging the cake box along the floor as she makes her takeoff run behind you.

Bitch.

Horrible brunette bitch.

*****

The rain catches you before you've made it halfway there.

Ben and Aki take the packages, tucking them under their dark olive cloaks. You grip your flimsy umbrella in both hands, Shanghai perched high and dry on your shoulder. The sky shatters, lightning fractures racing across the dark clouds before the hammer falls. You hang onto your cheap umbrella despite the violent gusts staggering your steps, blowing sheets of rain into your dress - until you reach the forest.

Grabby, Ken called it - and he was right. You fight gamely for a few hundred yards before leaving the battered thing in the clutches of the next tree - you're already soaked, anyways. Its not like you'll get sick.

You're not human, after all.

stupid boneheaded brunette bitch

You cradle Shanghai against your breast, shielding her from the rain as you trudge over and around roots and vines as thundering wind ravages the treetops. With two companions and the storm besides, you're at no risk from youkai or fungi, leaving you free to brood on that miserable arrogant ambushing cunt. After interrupting your work, racing into town and skipping hither and yon to fill his fucking shopping list, on your own dime, and dodging his scatterbrained suitors and tolerating his 'friends' she's got the nerve the fucking nerve to imply you don't-

-you stomp viciously through a mushroom patch, knowing the downpour will damp the spores. You've saved you never counted but it sure feels like dozens of lost idiots from the woods and led them home the morning after. Why would Kaya think you don't care?

You think of Kenta, back to the wall, staring at you wild-eyed down the length of that huge knife. And his words - stiff formality, polite apologies for his imposition.

Caution.

"Surrounded by killer dolls dragging a funeral shroud over me?"

fear?

Your boots feel heavier with the mud sucking at them, your sodden dress weighing heavily upon your legs. An angry memory surfaces slowly through the headache; Kenta trying to remember your name.

And when he did – the apologies.

The fear.

Near home, Aki makes an inquisitive sound, and draws Ben over to study a flattened bush at calf-level. Without ceremony or sound they hand their burdens to you, loading your arms and handing the clothing bundle to Shanghai. They hustle off into the shadows of the rain-drenched Forest, intent on their rapidly-fading trail.

You stagger across the yard to your doorstep, the clearing in the canopy allowing the stark violence of the storm to loom over you all the better. You kick irritably at the door by way of knocking, but only throw yourself off balance when it swings open prematurely, sending your forward-balanced body teetering over the threshold.

"Hey!" Ken exclaims, catching your load and you with one arm, the other gripping the doorjamb for support. He grunts a bit as he slings you upright again. "Buy a little extra?"

You stumble into the front hall and try wearily to kick your boots off before giving up and trudging mud into the kitchen, where you dump your accumulated load on the table. Shanghai divests her cargo before depositing herself on the drainboard, dripping silently. Ken limps in after you, hand against the hall wall.

"No," you state numbly. “No.”



[ ] Give him the letters – the hell you don't care.
[ ] You need some time alone – and a change of clothes, for that matter.
[ ] Blurt out what's on your mind right now.
>>No. 28352
[X] Give him the letters – the hell you don't care.
then while he's reading...
[X] You need some time alone – and a change of clothes, for that matter.

Good to see you're still alive after all
>>No. 28353
File 140304616181.png - (49.60KB, 309x317, 1370529018473.png) [iqdb]
28353
>>28352

It was a bitter battle. The booze kept coming and coming and coming, hordes of bottles banging their spears upon their cap-shields.

But I was victorious.

I DRANK THEM ALL
>>No. 28354
>>28352
Give letters to human, go to change clothing, swear while changing clothing.
>>No. 28355
File 140305608098.jpg - (11.10KB, 250x241, bH1Zdlu.jpg) [iqdb]
28355
[ ] Blurt out what's on your mind right now.
[ ] Give him the letters – the hell you don't care.

>mfw this story becomes like Jimi Hendrix's album, Black Gold.

The joke is that Black Gold, like Dre and Detox, will never, ever be released.
You know exactly who I am.
>>No. 28356
[X] Give him the letters – the hell you don't care.

Poor Alice. It's been a long, hard day.
>>No. 28357
[X] Give him the letters – the hell you don't care.
[X] "Met your mother. She's doesn't seem to like me very much."
[X] You need some time alone – and a change of clothes, for that matter.
>>No. 28358
[X] Give him the letters – the hell you don't care.
>>No. 28359
[x] Give him the letters – the hell you don't care.
[x] You need some time alone – and a change of clothes, for that matter.
>>No. 28360
[X] Give him the letters – the hell you don't care.
[X] "Met your mother. She's doesn't seem to like me very much."
[X] You need some time alone – and a change of clothes, for that matter.

Ouch, that hurt me just reading that.
>>No. 28361
[X] Give him the letters – the hell you don't care.
[X] "Met your mother. She's doesn't seem to like me very much."
[X] You need some time alone – and a change of clothes, for that matter.
>>No. 28362
[X] Give him the letters – the hell you don't care.
[X] "Met your mother. She's doesn't seem to like me very much."
[X] You need some time alone – and a change of clothes, for that matter.
>>No. 28363
[X] Give him the letters – the hell you don't care.
-[X] "Met your mother. She's doesn't seem to like me very much."

I don't mean to offend, but WHAT'S THE POINT OF TWO CHOICES IF YOU'RE GOING TO PICK BOTH OF THEM JESUS CHRIST.
>>No. 28364
Because they don't really seem to be mutually exclusive?

She can ditch the letters, give a comment, then leave to change her clothes and sulk alone.
>>No. 28365
Oh my god.
Kenta IS a THP protagonist.
Sanae is the (potential)waifu.
We must not fall to his shitty ways. WE MUST NOT.
Forever alone route go.
also
[X] Fuck this I'm out
>>No. 28366
>>28365
>Sanae
u wot
>>No. 28370
>>28366
In a previous update Sanae hands you a letter and basically goes "I-It's j-just a get well card. D-Don't misunderstand."
I only comment on this now as I am late on updates and about as full of spaghetti as Alice over here.
>>No. 28372
>>28365
>>28370
>a young woman wearing a white sundress and a faint blush. “Ah – sorry to bother you but....” she thrusts an envelope at you. “Could you please give this to Kenta? I-its just well-wishes for h-his recovery!”
Sanae was nearby, but Alice avoided her.
>>No. 28377
>>28372
Ah, my bad. I automatically assumed Alice just failed in avoiding Sanae, and skipped over the description of this new girl.
I feel super fucking stupid now. Awesome.
>>No. 28378
[x] You need some time alone – and a change of clothes, for that matter.

Spite the mother by not delivering anything.
>>No. 28379
[X] Give him the letters – the hell you don't care.
[X] "Met your mother. She's doesn't seem to like me very much."
[X] You need some time alone – and a change of clothes, for that matter.

Ken's mother is a grade-A bitch.
>>No. 28413
File 140537183929.jpg - (149.78KB, 707x1000, alice a little out of sorts.jpg) [iqdb]
28413
[X] Give him the letters – the hell you don't care.
[X] "Met your mother. She's doesn't seem to like me very much."
[X] You need some time alone – and a change of clothes, for that matter.


“.... Alice?”

You shake off your leaden thoughts and look down the hall at your guest – your patient. He's still wearing the same torn-up, bloodstained pants he arrived in, the huge hole you cut in the leg crudely sewn up with a few leather thongs.

Is he still wearing the rags he was hunting in?

You look away, unable to meet his eyes.

Friends. Love letters. A mother, a presence... a person, that you ignored the instant you decided he wasn't interesting. You never considered what its like for Ken, cooped up in a stranger's house, in a dark forest, separated from his everything.

You open the wicker basket and rummage around till you find the envelopes, slightly bent but otherwise intact. You don't understand this kind of thing, like that fucking bitch pointed out... but she'd never understand Hourai, either.

Running out of wall, Ken simply hops one-legged across the kitchen till he can lean against the table. “Damn. You carried all this stuff yourself?”

“I had help.”

“Eh? Oh,” he says, remembering. He glances outside at the thunderous downpour. “Who came with you?”

“Aki and Ben.”

“Mmm,” he comments dourly, still gazing out the window. “They'll be a while.” He looks back at the table. “Cake?” He regards the battered bakery box with lidded eyes. “If Ben comes back from the Forest with a bouquet, he's going to eat it, I swear-”

“Its for you,” you clarify. “And these.” You hand him the letters.

“Hm?” Ken says, accepting the envelopes. He looks at them, and his face falls instantly, a long-suffering scowl growing as he fans the envelopes out with his thumb and studies the handwriting.

“Need me to read them for you?” Toastermogami interjects from his usual perch on the table. Ken sighs and chucks the letters into the toaster's top slots before depressing the lever for good measure. The tsukumogami immediately ejects them with an indignant sproing!, sending them fluttering about the table.

You stare at the scattered letters for a moment before the sight registers, sinking like a stone into your gut. You turn your coldest, haughtiest gaze onto Ken.

“Met your mother,” you say, spitting the word. “Didn't seem to like me much.” You pick up the bundled care package and shove it into his arms hard enough to rock him off-balance. “Maybe that's more to your liking.” You turn and stomp away, feeling a little warmer and a little less sorry.

“Alice-”

“I need to change,” you state curtly, walking into the back hall. You shove your bedroom door open roughly, already loosening your tie and yanking your caplet over your head, flinging it at the dusty mirror so you won't have to look at your waterlogged image.

“Poor little Kenta,” you mutter, yanking savagely at your belt and succeeding only in jamming the knot. “All alone in the dark woods in the witch's house, oh whatever shall he do?” You slay the knot and fling the belt at your neglected bed. “Just shows what that – that bitch knows,” you snarl into your dress as you pull it over your head. It gets tangled, and you've got to fight with it until you can throw it to the floor. You unlace your boots next, and kick them off one at a time, the heavy leather soles clunking against the wall.

Stripped of the heavy garments, you slump onto your bed with a sigh, then fall back, relieved to be alone at last.

Have you checked his wound?

“He's on Eirin's stuff,” you tell the ceiling.

Have you re-bandaged it regularly?

“He can do that. It's not summoning magic.”

Does he have bandages to do it himself?

“My entire workshop.”

What about his bedding?

“Couch. I sleep on it, it won't kill him.”

Is he still wearing the rags he was hunting in?

“I'm not a tailor.”

yes you are

“No I'm not,” you mutter, rolling over and burying your face in the pillow. The hammering rain infuses the house with its constant drumming noise, and somewhere in the sea of sound, you drift off.



*****



You awaken to a horrible, clattering racket.

“GUH WAAY,” you moan into your pillow miserably, but the whacking, banging assault continues. At length you raise your head to see the window shutters slamming and bouncing around, wind-whipped rain splattering against the glass. You sigh as you slide out of bed, rubbing at your eyes. You can't have been sleeping long, if the storm's still raging. Stumbling to your closet, you shove hangars around sleepily till you've found a fresh outfit. Dressed in dry clothes, you pluck the soaked caplet off your vanity's mirror and examine your dour reflection. Attacking your damp, pillow-mussed hair with a brush does little to improve it. You don't have a spare caplet, and knotting your tie again feels like too much effort.

You quit your room, still fussing with the buttons on your shirt collar, when you hear your front door slam open loudly. You tense, expecting Marisa's boisterous voice.

“KEN!”

The hunters are back, it seems. You creep forward, your stockinged feet inaudible underneath the thundering downpour -

“BEN!”

- and the thundering in the kitchen, for that matter. You abandon the collar and advance a little further. Peering around the corner and across your sitting room and through the kitchen door, you can just make out the backs of two cloaked, dripping-wet figures embracing Ken.

“Should you be running around in the Forest already?” Ken asks as he slaps the blonde on the back, grinning. “Didn't Eirin tell you to take it easy?”

“He does enough of that already,” Aki's voice returns dourly. He flings his cloak over his shoulder dramatically as he removes something from under it. “Look what we found.”

“Thank the Dragon,” Ken breathes. Over Aki's shoulder you see Ken's hand bending the tip of a bow and slipping the string off. “Hope it didn't lose any tension. You must've had a hell of a time finding it.”

“No trouble at-” Aki begins.
               “-you left a trail of busted branches ten feet wide, you clown,” Ben snorts. “You rolled through five mushroom colonies on your way here. Must've been hell.”

“Eeeh,” Ken says. “...don't remember much of it.”

“With the 'shrooms? No shit,” Ben snickers.

“Actually,” Aki says slowly, “how did you find your way here? Its not like there's a path.”

“Ooooh hooo hooooooooo,” Ben drawls dramatically. “The plot thickens-

“I got lucky,” Ken says flatly. “I really, really screwed up. Did you see the boar?”

“Still there,” Aki confirms. “Gigantic son of a bitch. You nearly cut its damn head off, you know that?”

“It got a little crazy,” Ken says dismissively. He sighs gustily, and you hear a kitchen chair creak companionably under his weight. “Maybe people will stop bothering me after this, though.”

Ben and Aki fidget enough that its obvious from across the house.

“About that-”
            “-half the town's already talking about you slaying a demon-boar,” Aki interjects smoothly.

“.... eh?” Ken queries blankly.

“I wouldn't say a demon boar-”
                                    “And I quote, 'fire-eyed iron-tusked demon boar',” Aki rolls on mercilessly.

“.... who,” Ken asks, his voice cold and ponderous, “are you quoting?”

Ben flinches away from Ken before Aki can answer.

“You. Son. Of. A. Bitch,” Ken growls, chair-legs squeaking on floorboards. You see Ben retreating, tripping over his own cape as Ken drags the chair forward with his good leg. “You gods damned son of a swine-hound”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Ben objects, hands held high in surrender. “This is really your fault! Everyone in the clinic's ward kept bugging me for stories after you threw Reisen-”

“So its my fault you made shit up?

“It was a big damn boar,” Aki says placidly, stepping between the other two. Ken crumples with a groan, head in hand and elbow on knee, punching the air fruitlessly with his free fist.

“We need to get going,” Aki warns, glancing out the window. “I'd like to be out of the forest before the rain stops-”

“-and the spores come out, yeah,” Ken finishes. “Here, I wrote a letter for my mother.” There's a rustle of paper as Aki tucks something away under his cloak.

“Ah, before I forget.” Aki's cloak sways as he hands something to Ken. “Swung by your place before we left...”

“My kit!” Ken says with delight.

“And this,” Ben says, stepping out of sight into the front hall and returning with a wooden staff almost as tall as he is. “Cut you a walking stick while we were out and about.”

“Oh, excellent,” Ken says. You shrink a little, suddenly aware of how Ken's been leaning against a wall or a chair every time you've seen him. Every time. You didn't even think...!

“A bit long, isn't it?”

“Well, just in case you wanted to customize it,” Ben says. “Take care, buddy. Get well soon. Don't let the Alice bite.”

“Geddout,” Ken says with a tired smile in his voice, poking at Ben's retreating back with the staff. Their heavy boots thump down the hall, the front door slams, and your home is silent again save for the storm. You stand up straight, brush at your hair uselessly with your fingers, and walk across the sitting room. Ahead, Ken's loosening the drawstring on his new bag. He peers inside and grumps before shoving it away and resting his face in his hands.

“Feeling better?”

He starts violently, his knee whacking the table hard enough to make the various packages jump. “Yah!”

“You're a hunter?” you ask sarcastically.

“How'd y-you-” his voice fails when he catches sight of you. “How'd... uhm.”

You inventory the room – the groceries, the walking stick, the clothing. “I just came to check on you. Is there anything else you need?”

“Yeeeah,” he drawls dourly, glancing down and rubbing his head. “I need to apolo-”

“No you don't,” you say, glancing aside yourself. “I... I did need to go shopping.” You look back at him and cross your arms. “But if you need things, you should just tell me ahead of time instead of waiting till the last minute and getting all huffy!”

He shrugs. “You seemed busy, and I had pickles.”

“What about a cane?”

“Spent the first couple days asleep, mostly.”

“On what?”

“The couch. Alice-”

“That's satisfactory?”

Alice,” he says sternly, holding up a palm. “Stop. I know my mother got on your case.”

“You think that's why I'm concerned?” you say sharply.

Yes.

You don't flinch, but can't look him in the eye.

“Let me apologize for whatever she said. She can be a real bitch when she gets wound up.”

“Mmm,” you say, lifting your chin a little and half-shrugging.

“And I apologize for all the trouble you went through today.”

“I was just shopping, Ken,” you say, turning your gaze on the groceries as you rub your stockinged foot against the floorboards absently. “I'm a youkai. It wasn't troublesome.”

You study Ken studying you from your peripheral vision, his pensive gaze lingering on you for long moments. Then the spell breaks, and something approaching embarrassment crosses his face. “Eeeh.” He levers himself out of the chair with one arm and snags his mother's 'care package' by the leather carry strap. The bundle's wrapped in a red-checkered fullcloth, secured with twine 'round the middle. Dangling the strap from his hand, he undoes the binding and gives the strap a sharp jerk. A rain of trousers, shirts and sundries rain upon the table as the bundle disintegrates.

Dangling from the leather strap, unconcealed, is a sheathed shortsword.

Ken drops it on the pile carelessly, and picks up the canvas bag Aki handed him. He flings it at the tabletop with a sweeping motion, sending the contents fanning out over the wood – a whetstone, a bundle of fine black twine, a small knife, and most conspicuous of all, a long, wicked looking blade with two perpendicular lugs protruding from the bottom, and no handle. You rub it with one finger, a faint memory stirring of your father's voice -

Alice! Verboten!

- and look over at the “walking stick” leaning against Ken's chair.

“Yeah,” Ken says, his voice low and thick. “It was troublesome. Listen...” he rubs his stubbled chin, clearly considering his words. “You're not the first woman to lecture me on going into the Forest. And they can't recognize a person who can take care of themselves in here, like you can. They don't...” he waves his hand to indicate the whole forest - “know. My mother sure does, but-” he huffs, a resigned look on his face. “She's my mother. She's probably worried I don't have a toothbrush. So whatever she said to you probably wasn't fair. I can take care of myself, and for the rest,” he gestures at the groceries, “you've done more than enough. Thank you.”

You stare at him, completely and utterly astonished.



[ ] … you really did ignore him for days, though. Does he really expect so little of you?

[ ] … weapons?

>Vote for the reaction you feel is most pressing to Alice right now.

[ ] [Write-in question/action.]

>I'll pick the best one over one with the most votes; and implement multiple ones if I can, so plug away.
>>No. 28414
[ ] … you really did ignore him for days, though. Does he really expect so little of you?
>>No. 28415
[x] … you really did ignore him for days, though. Does he really expect so little of you?

[x] Why did they give you everything you need to make a spear?
>>No. 28416
[ ] … you really did ignore him for days, though. Does he really expect so little of you?
-[x] Autism
>>No. 28417
[x] … you really did ignore him for days, though. Does he really expect so little of you?

[x] I'm curious. Just how much experience do you have with the Forest?


Well, he clearly knows his stuff. Just how tough is this guy, anyway?
>>No. 28418
[x] … you really did ignore him for days, though. Does he really expect so little of you?

[x] Is my reputation really that bad?
>>No. 28419
[x] … you really did ignore him for days, though. Does he really expect so little of you?
-[x] Self Derision - 'The witch of the forest uh'? You made yourself quite the reputation.
>>No. 28420
[x] … you really did ignore him for days, though. Does he really expect so little of you?
[x] Take that sword and put it somewhere he can reach in an emergency, but you'll notice immediately if it's missing.
>>No. 28421
[X] I hold no illusions about how many scantily clad females must be begging you to not go into the forest and stay to warm their bedside, thank you very much.

That'll show this jerk not to casually drop hints about how cool and popular he is.
>>No. 28422
[x] … you really did ignore him for days, though. Does he really expect so little of you?

The weaponry does have me a bit worried, but it's probably just paranoia.

Still,

[x] Try and think of a way to inconspicuously keep eyes at least on the spear.
>>No. 28423
[x]...Weapons? Really?

She may be a youkai, but she saved his life and let a lot of people know he's here.
If she really were "the witch of the forest", living in a gingerbread house and all that, she'd just let people think he disappeared while hunting and that's that.
He won't be needing the weapons against her, and he's not going back to hunting without leaving the forest first.
Well enough to hop around doesn't mean well enough to go hunting, and I doubt Alice will keep him around until he's completely healed.
>>No. 28424
[x] … you really did ignore him for days, though. Does he really expect so little of you?

[x] I'm curious. Just how much experience do you have with the Forest?

Kinda curious about this guy now too.
>>No. 28425
File 140546156687.png - (32.30KB, 197x188, 1402677390512.png) [iqdb]
28425
>>28421

It is amazing just how perfectly this fits Alice
>>No. 28426
>>28423
Seconding this
>>No. 28428
X] I hold no illusions about how many scantily clad females must be begging you to not go into the forest and stay to warm their bedside, thank you very much.
>>No. 28429
[X] I hold no illusions about how many scantily clad females must be begging you to not go into the forest and stay to warm their bedside, thank you very much.

I always look forward to seeing the next fumble Alice makes in this story.
>>No. 28430
Thread is autosaging, by the way.
>>No. 29052
File 14534108124.png - (178.02KB, 311x306, 1452080896351.png) [iqdb]
29052
>>29047

YES, HELL HAS FROZEN OVER, THAT IS A FUCKING UPDATE
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