You rouse yourself, focusing your attention as something approaches. It takes you a few moments, as you stare, to realise just what it was that woke you - a pair of girls, snared by the forest, and led astray.
Led to this place, alone. Something follows them, in the darkness, but as you turn your attention towards it, it fades away, into the darkness of the forest. ...At least some of these newcomers know respect.
It's a simple effort of will to lead the two onward, through the darkness, drawing them to the heart of your power, the start of your domain -- The Trailhead.
It's the least you can do for them. They'll be safe here, for a time.
It's just as your torpor is overtaking you once more, just as your attention drifts, that you can feel the thread of power, granted to you.
You shake yourself awake once more, eyeing them carefully.
"Come on, Renko!" The purple girl tells her companion. "We're lost, and it's only polite." Her companion grumbles something you can't catch -- the doubt around her is too thick.
Despite this, it's both of them who leave crackers at your shrine, before withdrawing to argue about which way to go.
Experimentally, you take one of the crackers, nibbling at it curiously. You're not familiar with these, but they're sweet. Tasty. And you could swear that the purple one was smiling at you, just then. But of course, that's impossible.
There's a thread of power, of faith, that you consume hungrily as well. Yes, these will do. They will do well.
You'll let them walk the Path, yes. And you'll see them safely to the end of it, at that.
It's no effort at all for you to manifest, not anymore, and as you do, you draw forth the Path, allowing them to see where to go from here -- the trail that will take them to their destination, where ever that may be.
They seem like bright girls. They do not need a guide for what is to come. They do not need to be taught the rules.
They need a protector.
So that is what you shall be. A mighty guardian. You shall watch over them from the forest, and see them safe to the end. Strong, mighty limbs. Long, fast legs, yes.
You shall stay on the side of the path and stop that which would harm them before it can violate your path, your protection. You follow as they start off down the trail, lighter-hearted than when they arrived. They move slowly down the trail, stopping several times to glance around.
"How did we miss this?" The doubtful one says, her words carrying clear to you now.
"I wonder?" Her companion replies, glancing around. She seems to be looking at the underbrush, looking for something. You're careful never to move when either of them are looking right at you, and with your longer limbs, it's easy to stay with them on the trail.
Several times, you... dissuade youkai and monsters from their plans. Sometimes, with a simple revelation of your presence -- most of them are aware enough to know you. The rest... well, fear and pain are a kind of belief, in the end. And they will remember it well.
As the three of you cross the first boundary on the path, passing the first of the markers laid down to show the way, the girls that you have taken under your aegis pause, whispering together about the border between the head of the trail and the first true leg of the Path.
Their chatter is minor, and you don't pay it much heed, in the end. Instead, you look ahead. What lives on this part of the Path, these days? Temptations? Fears?
...Hrm. It should be a fairly simple trial, you reflect, as the girls cross the first border, and commit themselves to walking the Path to the end.
The first ones always are.
"Do you feel like we're being watched, Mary?"
You watch, with consternation, as a figure steps from behind a tree, right at the side of the path. It's not the disrespect -- the being knows enough, you see, not to set foot within the Path, but simple annoyance with your own failure to detect it approaching.
"Good evening, girls." It says, its aspect that of a young man as it leans against a tree. "Having a nice walk?"
"Oh, yes." The purple one replies, amiably. "It's such a nice day, after all." The other simply stares at the man. You can't remember what that expression means...
"You're going the wrong way, you know." He advises them. The trees around you rustle, resentful of his implication. "You'll never get there on this path." He continues, smoothly. "If you just cut through the woods, here, you'll arrive much sooner." He waves an arm behind him. You'd remove him, but... The girls must make their own choice, in the end. You can't interfere with this directly. Not with the role you've chosen, not here.
You're disappointed as your favourite steps forward.
"Oh...?" She asks, dreamily. Her friend catches her by the shoulder.
"Hey, what are you doing?" She asks. "You can't be serious." The purple girl sways, confused.
"What? But... it's quicker, right?"
"Of course it is." The man murmurs, "Just this way, follow me." And the dark one, the doubter, she's not nearly enspelled enough by his words to miss the fact that he doesn't actually move, as he changes positions.
A human once described that sort of motion as surreal, you recall, and the girl is clearly disturbed by it.
"What the...?" Her tone wavers. "Merry, come on." She tugs her along, trying to continue on the path. "This isn't right."
"But he seems so trustworthy...?" Purple mutters, sounding disappointed.
"You can't be serious." Doubt seems to be at an impasse.
[ ] Encourage them to move along. [ ] Warn it off. [ ] There are things in the woods.
You cannot allow them to follow the creature. Maybe if you simply...
Maybe if you simply... gave them an idea of what lives off the Path.
You lean, slowly, around a tree. Not near the being. But... within sight. All you really have to do is...hide badly.
Not interfere, no, no. Never.
But...It's not your fault, that the doubter is observant. That her eyes go wide, and she stops breathing.
"We need to go." She says, to her friend, who has just spotted you, herself. "Now."
"Y-yeah." And they turn, only to discover something new about the Path: You cannot turn back.
The Path only goes one way. And it's too late for them to change their minds now.
The dense trees and brambles mere feet behind them explain it as well as any words could. Just to drive the point home, you allow them to claim just a bit more of the path, even as they're watched. The girls step back, away from this unusual growth, and finally flee the right way -- down the path they go, and it's encouraging to learn that they have enough sense not to scream. Not to draw other predators to them, even as they escape this one.
The being sighs, just out of the reach of your immense arms.
"...That's very nearly cheating, you know." It scolds, "We're terribly hungry, you know. They would have been so wonderful..." You don't much care, to be honest. It's a simple effort of will to be where the girls are, and you follow as they run.
They flee until they no longer can, visibly sagging -- it's just far enough to cross the second border, into the next leg of the Path.
As they continue down the trail, the Doubter pulls a bottle from her bag.
"This is the last water bottle." She informs her companion, as they finish the contents.
"Well, I'm sure we'll find our way out eventually." The Purple one is optimistic. "There's this lovely path, after all." You have a moment to feel proud, before you sense the next trial, ahead.
The soft chuckling of a clear, cool brook reaches you after a few hundred more feet. The girls hear it shortly after. They exchange some words about the sound, before hurrying along.
You insert yourself into this trial much more easily, hanging a simple, handpainted notice from a treebranch right on the edge of the path. You can hear the tittering of the Fairies as they discuss your own contribution to the scene. It's all a joke to them, and one that you could appreciate, as well, were the girls not under your protection.
You are much closer to humans than the fae, and you certainly have a better understand of what they'd consider harm -- it would be terribly unfortunate if the girls were to fail here.
[ ] "Please stay on the path." [ ] "The water is not free." [ ] "If you are reading this, you are blissfully unaware of what creeping up behind you."
Since it looks like I won't actually be able to finish it tonight (delaayyys) I'll update once in the morning, then I should be back around 0230 or so, site time, for another few updates. Let's at least end this this week.
Seeing your first clarification post, I was skeptical that this story would work out. Given the usual pace of voting on the site, 15 minutes seemed very, very brief. I'm glad to see that there is actual activity and that this is more or less working out so far. Hopefully we can finish this together~
"...Look!" Purple tugs on her friend's arm. "There's the water!" The two of them hurry over, stopping only when confronted by your sign. Purple is the one who considers it the most seriously, even as Doubter digs several empty bottles out of her bag. When she starts toward the brook, Purple stops her. "Wait." She instructs, drawing her darker friend to a halt.
"What's the matter?" The doubtful girl asks, cocking her head to one side in a curious gesture. "What, the sign?"
"I don't think it's a good idea to ignore it." The blonde says, simply. Her friend just shrugs, rolling her eyes. Your favourite of the two girls steps forward, clearing her throat. "Excuse me." She says, clearly, to empty air. "But could we have some water?" There's a long moment of silence. Purple holds her friend back patiently.
"...You cooouuld..." A voice answers her, at last. There's another silence. The doubter frowns, stepping back again, suddenly mistrustful. Purple simple waits, mildly. When it becomes clear no more is forthcoming, she speaks.
"And what would it cost?" There's a tittering in the trees that most definitely isn't coming from birds. The darker-haired girl frowns at the canopy.
"Wellll..." There's a thoughtful hum. "We could take your voice?" It suggests. There's a flurry of whispers, before it quickly corrects itself, several of the fairies in the trees clearly aware that the girls aren't quite that thirsty. "Ah, no, the twinkle of your eye?"
"Not acceptable." The purple one declares. "I'll give you..." She roots around in her purse. "Ten yen!" She declares, triumphantly.
"Muuu, Borrrriiiiing." The fairy complains. "Ummm..." It thinks for a little while. "How about, we'll take a virgin's kiss!" It declares. Doubter sputters at that.
You wonder why.
"One kiss for one bottle of water." Purple bargains.
"Wait, Merry, you can't be serious." The other girl complains. "That's ridiculous." They back up to argue quietly. The fairies, meanwhile, are having a great time. Several are openly watching the girls now, and their chatter and laughter is clearly audible.
As long as the deal is clearly made, and the girls don't leave the Path, it should be fine. ...You still don't like it, though.
[ ] Give the girls a gift. It'll take a bit of power, though. You still have three crackers. [ ] Let them deal with the fairies. They have this under control. [ ] Change the Path a bit. No need to risk anything.
The girls are going to be fine. Just fine. You reassure yourself that they're bright girls and nothing bad will happen.
It's just the Fae.
After a few moments, the girls return to their negotiations with the Fairies.
"One kiss in exchange for one full bottle of water, delivered immediately upon receipt of kiss." The Doubter rattles off the terms and conditions of the exchange, seeming a bit grumpy about the whole concept. "No further compensation shall be implied, sought, requested or taken by either party, and each transaction shall be discrete and immutable." She folds her arms, her annoyance split between her companion and the Fae in the trees.
"W-what?" The spokesfae seems a bit put off by this. "...Um, one moment." There's another outbreak of whispering amongst the Fairies, as they argue about what to do now -- and, more importantly, what several of the words she used mean. "Okay, deal." The Fairy decides, eventually. "How much are you gonna want?" The girl has a quick answer for this question.
"Two bottles." The dark-haired girl produces the empty bottles quickly, setting them on the rocks near the water.
"Hmmm~" The Fairy considers, "Okay." A pair of small fairies, not much bigger than the bottles themselves, flutter down to fill them from the small pool. The spokesfae herself flutters down, larger than the others, with a grin on her face. "I'll take the first kiss, then~"
"A-Alright." The Doubter hesitates, but not for very long. "Fine, then." She reddens, as she eyes the Fairy in front of her. "...So..."
The fairy puckers her lips.
"Come on, then~" She taunts, "Give it here~" Gathering up her courage, the girl reaches out, cupping the Fairy's face in her hands and kissing it. The Fairy doesn't hesitate to deepen the kiss, tangling its small hands into the girl's hair and holding it for, by her reations, longer than she's really comfortable with. A soft "Oh, my..." comes from Purple, as she watches, hands over her mouth.
Finally, Doubter breaks the kiss, almost throwing the fairy from her.
"There!" She declares, almost defiantly, as she regains her breath. The fae all around laugh, enjoying their game as they tease her.
"Hmmm~" The Fairy doesn't seem discouraged, as she runs her smal tongue over her lips. "...Yup." She nods. "Vir~gin~" She laces her hands behind her head, and reclines in midair. "But that was just one, you know."
"...Th, Then get over here, an-" The Fairy interrupts her,
"Nah." She waves a hand dismissively. "I already have one, now." She says, affecting disinterest. "...Hmmm~" She puts on a show of thinking about it. "So what should I do with the second one..."