A thread for my short stories, shorter stories, story fragments, story ideas, and any of the other assorted detritus that I generate as a result of my association with THP.
As with all my writing, your comments and criticism are greatly appreciated. In particular, I see this thread as being a place for stylistic experimentation, so if you find something I write here unclear or annoying to read, please don't assume that you're the only one who feels that way, and do say something about it.
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I summoned the wind to push the door up an inch or so, and it slid open soundlessly, stopping just before it reached the end of its track. Power wasn't an issue for this level of magic, but precision was, and I gritted my teeth through the pain in my hands as I quietly stepped over the threshold and closed the door behind me, letting it settle back into place before I allowed the air supporting it to disperse.
Now came the hard part. If they were out, they'd be out for the rest of the night, and I'd have plenty of time, but if they were in, there wasn't much chance for me to reach my room before I ran into one of them. For a moment, I pondered stepping back out and trying the back door after all, but common sense told me that there wasn't any way I'd be able to disable all of Lady Kanako's wards without her realizing. ('Worrywart', I'd called her when they first went up. Wasn't my face red when the first attack came.)
No, this was the only way. It wasn't as though it was too late in the day, either; as long as I acted casual, they probably wouldn't be demanding "an explanation of where you've been, young lady." (Not that they did that sort of thing anymore, anyway.) Pulling my sleeves down over my hands and folding my arms over my chest to hide the stains as best as I could, I let myself glide over the floor, my feet not actually touching the wood with enough force to make any noise.
Past the toilet on the right. Past the kitchen on the left. (I forgot groceries, didn't I? Well, it didn't really matter now.) Past the stairs into the basement on the right. Holding my breath. Past--
--the empty living room.
Phew. They must have been out on one of their faith-gathering junkets again; probably wining and dining the tengu higher-ups.
There was no reason to expend all this effort, then. I let my feet finally settle to the ground, and ignoring another twinge of pain from my hands as I unfolded my arms, I released my grip on my bloodied sleeves, letting my arms dangle once again as I walked the rest of the way to the bathroom.
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"You lost? To a human?! How d-- no, no time."
I said nothing, keeping my head bowed low as Lady Kanako paced back and forth before me, talking half to me and half to herself.
"Damage control. We have to-- the tengu. You're sure you saw that tengu lose?"
"Yes, Lady Kanako."
"We can't afford any mistakes here, Sanae," she said, stopping mid-pace to look me in the eye. "You're sure you saw--"
"Don't patronize her, Kanako," Lady Suwako said without looking up, her forehead resting in her hand as she stared down at the table. "She says she saw it, she saw it."
"I'm trying to--" Lady Kanako snapped, whipping her head towards Lady Suwako, but cutting herself short before completing her shouted reply. "Right. Okay." Murmuring to herself, she began to pace again, a little more energetically this time. "The tengu lost. Do we have access to any PR we can use to spin this with the tengu and kappa?"
"We've been here for a matter of hours, Kanako, you know the answer to that."
"Fine. A simple counter-offensive. Tenma seemed to approve of--"
"Tenma is going to appreciate your initiative a whole lot less when it means borrowing his men. We planned for this, Kanako, you know what we have to do."
"Fuck you. We move to the branch shrine, just wait this out. We can pin the loss on one of the lesser gods."
"Shut up. Both of us go out there. There's no way she could--"
"We did not fucking plan for this!" In a movement too fast for me to see, Lady Kanako's hand shot out, dragging Lady Suwako to her feet by her lapels. I gasped, gripping the hem of my hakama involuntarily, but kept my silence, knowing better than to interfere.
"Maybe not these precise circumstances." As always, Lady Suwako remained calm. "But we knew coming into this that there was a possibility that we'd be outmatched. The plan--"
"It was a stupid fucking plan from the start! After what we built ourselves up to out there, you want to risk being forced to subordinate ourselves just to--"
"This..." Lady Suwako still wasn't yelling, but then, she didn't have to; just above a whisper, and Lady Kanako's voice died in mid-shout. "...is why I can't stand you." Finally, she reached up to her collar, taking Lady Kanako's hands in her own and slowly pulling them away with a hidden strength. "Perfectly rational ninety percent of the time, and then when the chips come down, everything go out the window.
"We agreed on this, Yasaka. Sometimes, you're not the main character. Sometimes, you're lucky to get a part at all, and all the hot-blooded, hard-headed, strong-willed posturing bullshit in this world and the next will not change that."
A moment of silent tension, and I was already sure that this was going to be another one of their fights--
"Now. Get out there and do your damn job."
--and then Lady Kanako turned on her heel and stormed out of the room without another word, slamming the door shut behind her.
I shut my eyes to hold back the tears, and it was only by sound that I knew that Lady Suwako had stepped in front of me.
"Are you hurt, Sanae?"
I shook my head silently without raising my eyes.
"...You did your best, didn't you? You know that's all we could ever want from you."
I said nothing.
"Kanako, too. You know how she gets." I felt Lady Suwako's hand on my head, her fingers playing through my hair. "This is going to be a tough time for all of us, no matter how hard we work. Feeling bad about yourself doesn't help anyone." A little laugh. "Come on, let's go watch Kanako beat someone up. That always makes me feel better."
It wasn't funny at all, but I smiled anyway, and opened my eyes, rising to my feet once more and blinking away tears as the two of us headed outside.
It hurt my hands to scrub too hard, but the blood washed away before the water in the bath had warmed up. Even with the underground generators up and running, the simple, everyday tasks of life still took more time here than they ever would have back home.
But time to myself wasn't something I wanted. I busied myself with undressing, sorting my clothes into piles based on whether I would ever be able to wear them again. My sleeves looked like something out of a horror movie (Just like the rest of my life, I didn't say), and my haori wasn't much better; they both went into the corner, wadded up tightly so anyone who looked wouldn't notice just how bad they were. My hakama had one or two drips on it, but they wouldn't show against the dark blue fabric after a wash, and I folded it neatly, stripping my undergarments off and setting them atop the small bundle, putting it aside for when...
My voice echoed in the small bathroom as I stared dumbly down at the floor.
...Was I ever going to wear those clothes again?
I raised my injured hand to my face, cradling it in my other palm as I examined it. My middle finger was definitely broken; I remembered that pain from long ago, back home, when that one middle school girl pushed me down the shrine stairs to see how long it would take me to stop. (To think, I never tried to get back at her, even when I knew I'd be leaving for good. And look at me now.) There was a cut across my palm, too, just under the fingers, all the way from one side of my hand to the other, and I traced my thumb along it gently, wondering how I had managed to get that one. As I touched it, a stinging sensation bubbled up from within, and a little pool of blood welled up in the small wound. Wincing, I dipped my hand into the now-warm bath, watching the small red cloud form, then vanish as I waved it away.
Who was I trying to fool? Chuckling a little at my own stupidity, I kicked the folded bundle into the corner with the ruined clothes and turned to step into the bath.
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The two of us descended to the ground, and I tested my legs out on the porch for a moment before deciding against trying to stand and floating into a sitting position. Danmaku wasn't supposed to leave any lasting injury, but Reimu seemed to have a particular knack for bruising skin and spraining joints.
"The truth, this time. Where is she?"
"I told you the truth before," I said, hissing with pain as I flexed my legs. "I'm the only one here right now."
"Ugh." Reimu turned aside and spat on the ground. "What's up with everyone telling me the truth all of a sudden? It's suspicious."
"...Isn't that a little paran--"
"Well, whatever. So where is what's-her-name, anyway?"
"Lady Suwako," I said, frowning, "is in the village performing miracles today. She'll be gone for another few hours, if you'd like to meet her th--"
"Screw that. I'm not flying all the way back down this damn mountain."
"If you'd like to wait inside, the kotatsu's already warmed up. I can make some tea if y--"
"Eh," she grunted, walking past me. "I'll wait in the honden."
"Wha-- You can't do that!" I called, ignoring the pain in my ankle as I rose to follow after her. "I m-mean, only residents of the shrine are allowed to--"
"Meh, it'll be fine. I'm a shrine maiden, too, you know. Hey, it's through here, right?"
"Yes, but that's still not-- wait, that door is loc--" CRUNCH. "Aah! A-at least let me come with you and--"
"Oi. You lost the duel, so stay here and leave me alone." No sooner did she say it than I felt Gensokyo's magic come down on me like an iron hand on my shoulder, dragging me away from her retreating form. I instinctively struggled against the force for a few moments, but it only grew stronger in response, and I let myself fall still, just watching as Reimu disappeared into the heiden.
Well, it wasn't as though I really had any reason to expect anything else. As far as I could tell, Reimu had reached her quota with the one friend she had, and she was--
--right in front of me. It wasn't the impact so much as it was the shock that sent me staggering backwards, and I would have been able to stay upright if not for my weak ankle.
"Ah, shit!" As it was, I had barely hit the ground before Marisa was there at my side, pulling me to my feet with a single hand. "My bad, my bad, didn't mean to sneak up on you like that! You alright?"
"I'm fine," I managed, the pain in my wrist from being yanked up from the ground more prominent than any of my other aches. "If you're here for Reimu, she's in the--"
"Reimu's here?!" Apparently, this was news to her, and not of the sort she'd wanted to hear, either; her face practically flew into her palm, and she shook her head in broad, slow strokes, her mannerisms looking more like a character in a stage play than an actual, real-life person.
"Well, there goes my afternoon," she moaned dramatically, casting the hand that had just held her head away with a flair, as though to indicate the exact direction in which her afternoon had gone. "And now I gotta go all the way back down the mountain..."
"...If you'd like to warm up a little before that, I could make some t--"
"What? No!" I literally jumped at the sudden, violent refusal, and the shouts that followed set me even further off balance.
"No, I am not gonna 'just go get rid of her'!" If Marisa's mannerisms were silly with an audience of one, they were downright frightening with an audience of none -- at least, nobody that existed outside of her head.
"Because I've had the shit kicked out of me by enough people today without adding her to the list, that's why!" And then, as though remembering I was in the room, Marisa turned her eyes back to me, the anger on her face replaced with an overexaggerated look of apology.
"Uh, sorry, kinda got a... uh, thing here -- because you aren't the only person in the whole goddamn world, Margatroid, that's why! -- so, uh, what were you saying?" You could have sold seats to people who wanted to watch the rainbow of expressions that passed through Marisa's face in the ten seconds it took her to get that out, but the smile that she ended on seemed genuine enough.
There was still one thing to make sure of, though. "You're talking to..."
"Uh, long story. I got a thing in my ear--" here she pointed to the side of her head, waving her finger around a few times; a particularly apt gesture, I thought, "--that, uh, what's-her-name made. The kappa." I looked at her blankly. "You know, the one with the blue hair and the hat, that's always making stuff..."
That described most of the kappa race, but I had a feeling I knew who she was talking about. "Nitori?"
"Yeah, that's the one! Nitori!" Marisa exclaimed. "Anyway, she made me this thing that let's me talk to people from far away." Marisa made a face. "I'm kinda startin' to wish she hadn't, though... You heard me, bitch," Marisa retorted scathingly to the empty space to my left before turning back to me, all smiles. "So, anyway, you were sayin' something?"
This was getting to be a bit much. "I was just w-wondering," I started, a little of my old stutter escaping, "if you weren't doing anything, if you wanted to--"
"Agh, stop..." Clearly exasperated, Marisa brought her hand to her ear once again, turning away from me slightly. "Look, Nitori, I'm kinda busy now, do you think-- what do you mean I called you? I don't even know how to call someon-- ye gods, Alice, could you shut up for one damn minute? -- anyway, could you just hold on?" And then, for the moment, her attention was back on me once more. "Sorry, sorry, keep goin'."
I could almost have laughed. "...Never mind," I said. "It wasn't anything important."
She looked disappointed for a moment, but it passed quickly. "Yeah, sorry about, uh, you know," she said, pointing at her ear once more. "You know, we oughtta get together some time, hang out. After I get this goddamn thing out of my ear, hopefully," she laughed, an unrepentant grin across her face.
I couldn't help but smile back at her. "Maybe we sh--"
"Okay, now. Nitori, please tell me there's some way to get this crazy bitch out of my ear." And she was already gone. "Any more of this and-- that is a lie! A dirty lie that you've been spreading ever since that thing with the moon, and it is vulgar and, uh, odious, and... and fuck you!"
I let her show herself out, shouting all the way, and watched her mount her broom and take off back down the mountain, the setting sun just above the trees framing her descent. I just stood and watched, until long after she had disappeared from view, long after the sun had set, until the winter chill creeping into my bones told me it was time to head back to the empty kotatsu and wait for Lady Kanako and Lady Suwako to come home.
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I left my old clothes where they were, instead wearing one of Lady Kanako's... things; not really a yukata, but not quite a bathrobe, either. Whatever it was, it was fuzzy and comfortable, even if it was a little long for me. Pure white, too; that seemed... appropriate, somehow.
I took a short detour to make sure that there still wasn't anyone home, then headed to my room. Moving to my desk, I carefully set the photo albums and yearbooks that were spread across it aside one at a time, searching for a piece of paper that I hadn't already written on (I'd had to conserve; 120-line college rule wasn't exactly common in Gensokyo) and a ball-point pen to write with (despite my best efforts, I still dripped all over the place when I tried using a brush). The beginning would be the easy part, the part of the letter I had always imagined myself writing when I imagined myself finally writing this letter.
Dear Lady Kanako and Lady Suwako,
Back when the idea had first entered my mind, I had planned to blame everything on them. You're sorry now that I'm not here, aren't you?! Now, though, it just seemed silly. As though they weren't going to miss me after I was gone? I was doing this because it was the only thing left for me to do, not as some sort of shot at them; they didn't deserve to feel bad over this.
But they were going to, weren't they?
...This was probably a bad idea.
But I was going to do it anyway.
The pain returned, and I realized that my hands were clenched into fists. Slowly, deliberately, I uncurled my fingers, one at a time, staring blankly at my palms. The cut on my hand had started bleeding again, and I idly ran a finger along it a few more times, feeling the spot where the soft skin of my palm gave way to even softer internal tissue--
--and something hard. Had I broken it worse than I thought? Gritting my teeth against the disgust and pain, I peered into the wound, tracing two fingers over my skin now to find the anomaly again.
And there it was. I caught it between two fingernails, arcing my injured hand backwards to hold the cut open. The stark white of the object -- bone? tendons? -- sent a fresh wave of revulsion through me, but it was matched by morbid fascination, and I blinked away the tears, continuing to pull even as the blood welling up in the wound obscured my vision. Continuing to pull even as the pain grew to unbearable levels and I let out an involuntary whimper, my eyes squinting to see through the tears. Continuing to pull--
--and then, like that, the pain was gone, and a few drops of blood splashed onto the floor as my prize finally dislodged itself, trapped between the bloodstained fingers of my free hand.
...I had just pulled something out of my hand. Something--
A tooth. There was no mistaking it, even bloodied as it was. Instinctively, I ran my tongue over my own teeth, but it was a pointless gesture; this tooth wasn't much longer than a human tooth, but the pointed tip, sharp enough to prick someone, made it obvious where it had come from.
As though I didn't already know.
Hands shaking slightly, I set it gently on the far corner of the desk, where I didn't have to look at it.
I can't stay here any more.
That would have to do.
Pushing my chair back away from the desk, I moved over to the bed and dropped to my knees, running my hand over the underside of the bed as I searched blindly for the last thing I would need -- the only thing that I needed that I couldn't get from the shrine, now that I thought about it.
It was kind of ironic, really; the whole shrine was covered with Lady Kanako's shimenawa, and yet I'd had to go into town and spend my own pocket money just to get a simple rope.
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Flying is like riding a bike: just because you remember how doesn't make it any easier to start again after you've stopped for a while. I hadn't been in the air for more than an hour, and already the weariness was beginning to get to me. Of course, walking wouldn't have been any better; since I had switched to getting groceries once monthly instead of twice monthly, the fact was that I just hadn't been outside enough to get my exercise. The sun hurt my eyes, for that matter, and being this high up in the air couldn't have been doing me any favors.
I should have just refused, suggested something else I could do to gather faith. We both knew that wasn't what this was really about, anyway; here in Gensokyo, where the gods could gather faith for themselves, nothing a shrine maiden did was going to make much of a difference. Besides, even if I did intend to make a contribution, this was hardly the place to start; everything I had learned about the nature and mechanics of faith from Lady Suwako told me that chasing this treasure ship stood to produce very little of it.
But Lady Kanako had said that would do me good to get myself out of the house for a little while, and Lady Suwako had suggested that I might try talking to Reimu or Marisa again if I happened to run into them, and if the sheer improbability of those two agreeing hadn't been enough to get me to go, the fact that they were, in essence, agreeing that I was a pathetic shut-in certainly was.
And so I went, and my reward, so far, had been rats, and a danmaku battle that seemed to drain me even more than that very first one with Reimu had.
And then she came.
Five shots to the back, that quickly, was enough to fell anyone, and all I saw was a flash of rainbow zooming past me before the pain whited out my vision. Sheer terror at the speed of the wind whipping past me as I fell, and the surge of adrenaline that came with it, restored enough of my energy for me to slow my fall, but not enough to stop it, and certainly not enough to right myself in midair, and my face hit the ground first, skidding to a halt through the wet spring dirt. The terror persisted for a moment as I felt my limbs, making sure my landing hadn't broken my spine, but as that emotion left me, so did my last scrap of energy, and I didn't move from my sprawled position on the ground.
And there she was. A youkai, predictably enough; being beaten by them had ceased to be a surprise long ago. I idly wondered how much faith the shrine would lose from this most recent display. Nothing that my gods couldn't make up in a few days' work, surely; probably just enough that they would have to pretend not to be disappointed in me.
She was laughing. Something about surprises. I strained to hear, but it seemed like all I could hear was my own heartbeat, pumping furiously just behind my eardrums. I wondered if anyone would bother to hide their pointing and stares the next time I went to buy groceries.
There's a few seconds that I can't remember. I wish I could remember them. I wish I knew what had started it. If there was something she said. If there was something I said. All I remember was first lying on the ground, remembering back home, wishing that the last few years of my life had never happened, and then I was on top of her.
She was still smiling at me uncertainly, like she was waiting for the punchline of a joke, when I hit her the second time. She raised her arms to protect herself at some point, and I remember forcing them back down to the ground so I could get a clean shot at her face. At what was left of her face.
I didn't understand, at first, after I stopped. There was just blood, everywhere, and I crawled a few feet away and threw up, and slowly, my mind started to put the pieces together, like one of those mystery novels where it turns out the narrator was the killer all along, and I tried to explain to myself that this couldn't possibly be right, and that she wasn't dead, and that I wasn't one of those people that ended up on the evening news and all the neighbors said 'oh, she seemed like such a good girl', but the facts were there and she wasn't breathing and I
what would happen to the shrine after this
and then I knew what I had to do.
For the shrine. For myself. For everyone.
I had suspected it for a while, and now I knew: it would be best
if I wasn't around anymore.
My hands hurt, and it was the pain that kept me focused, giving me energy, as I wobbled to my feet and took off into the air, back towards the shrine just one more time.
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First, you make the main loop. Then, you pull the end back down, leaving a little loop at the top, and wrap it around the two strands. Once. Twice. Eight times in total. Last of all, you put the free end through the loop at top, and tug on the whole thing until it tightens up.
Picture perfect. And to think they made fun of me for joining Girl Scouts.
I was tired, so tired, and the blood loss from my hand hadn't gotten any better, but I managed to fly myself up into the rafters to tie the other end of the rope on. An eight foot drop is just right for my weight; they had a table for body weight and drop height, back in England around the turn of the century, and that's what it said. (I missed Wikipedia, but Lady Suwako's Encyclopedia Brittanica wasn't so bad, really.)
Too short a distance, and you're strangled rather than hanged, which takes much longer and has a greater chance of failure. Too long, and your head pops clean off. (Well, it's not really clean.) But just right, and the neck is broken, unconsciousness hits immediately, and it only takes a few minutes after that.
My neck is broken. I fall unconscious. And a few minutes after that, I...
I slipped the noose around my neck and took a last tally of everything. The note was on the desk. There was nothing beneath me to get in my way. I nearly said a prayer out of habit, but stopped myself just short. I--
Just behind my left ear. I jumped in fright, and
I turned to face the source of the sound, and
my right hand slipped from the rafter beneath me, and
my center of mass shifted over the edge, and
I caught a glimpse of blue hair and an impish grin, and
I slipped, and
I hit the ground
and as the other end of the rope, untied, landed gently on my chest, the blue-haired youkai girl landed with it, towering over me with one foot on either side of my body.
I didn't cry. I wasn't even sad, really. I wasn't surprised, either; the initial shock had already passed, and there was really nothing more to be surprised about. It wasn't acceptance, or even numbness; it was more like... realization. Enlightenment. All my mind held was a single, pure, complete thought.
"I'm in hell."
This was hell, my own, personal one. I had achieved my goal, saved my shrine as best as I could, and now this room, and this noose, and this girl, and me, were here, together, forever.
"Don't be so dramatic." The girl spoke, my words startling her out of the reverie of laughter she had been enjoying over my corpse. "It was just a prank." Her features lit up, and she leaned down toward me. "If you can call the best prank ever 'just' a prank."
"I killed you." A simple statement of fact, just like the last one. My brain was dead, unfunctioning; this was the only thing I could do to think about my new world.
"Yeah, that was a pretty good one!" she returned enthusiastically, crouching above me to bring her face down even closer to my level. "I never suspected a thing, right up to the end! I don't think I'm gonna be able to use it myself, though. I might get exterminated by people with no sense of humor."
"It wasn't a joke." My mouth continued the conversation, even without my brain; I tried my best to understand what I was saying, but the syllables rattled around like pebbles inside my skull. "I really killed you."
"Hm?" Puzzlement. "But you didn't even use your stick thing..."
My gohei. I had left it there. There. There where--
"I killed you." I felt a dull pain where my brain used to be. "I... killed you."
"But... I'm still here?" The girl looked down at herself, as though unsure of whether or not she was dead.
Luckily for her, I knew. "I... killed..."
I knew. I knew. I...
"...tried... to kill..." Another stabbing pain in my head.
"...Oh." The girl looked disappointed by that, scooting backwards off of my stomach to sit on my legs and pulling me into a sitting position as she went. "...Why?"
"I..." The pain flowed down, seeping through the hole in the base of my skull and into my throat, burning like acid. "...don't know..."
"So... You were really trying to kill yourself, too?"
With the pain all out of my head now, settled down in the base of my chest, my brain was slowly coming back online, and luckily, this was a easy one. "Yes."
Another easy one. "I'm a shrine maiden who can't gather faith for her gods." The liquid pain in my chest surrounded my heart, compressing it; I should have felt sadness, regret, some sort of emotion, but all that came was a muffled ache. "I have no connections, personal or professional, to anyone in this world. And what I just did to you will do more to sabotage the people I love than anything I've ever done to aid them. I have no purpose here." More pain, bubbling like boiling water in my chest cavity. "I'm useless."
"...Oh." The disappointment returned to her face, to stay, this time; already, I could feel her weight shifting, drawing away awkwardly.
I had been looking at her the entire time, ever since she landed on me, but for the first time, I actually saw her face; mismatched eyes, cast downward to avoid mine; a face with the same supernatural beauty that all youkai seemed to share, but a childish quality to it as well.
"I've never been any good at... anything I was supposed to do." She gestured up, above her head, and I noticed the umbrella for the first time; a surprisingly unassuming object, for something so strange. Tsukumogami, my brain told me, and the word bounced around my head a few times.
"So I started trying to surprise people, but I'm not really good at that, either." Her fists balled up in my lap, grabbing handfuls of my bathrobe. "All I can do is kids' stuff like this. I've been alive for this long, but..." She smiled up at me, and for a second, her smile was a familiar one, one that I'd smiled myself more times than I could count, the kind that you showed to people who would worry if you cried instead.
"Being useless..." And then she rubbed her eyes, and sniffled once, and her smile was genuine again, as genuine as anything I had ever seen for Lady Suwako or Lady Kanako. "...kinda sucks, huh?"
Yet another easy question.
But I couldn't answer.
The pain was overwhelming, now, creeping back upwards from my aching chest, squeezing my throat shut, making me dizzy from lack of oxygen. In the end, I just nodded, unable to speak, and now I was the one averting my eyes, trying to avoid her gaze.
"Hey, you know what?" And now it was as though her mood had never wavered, and she grabbed me by the wrists, thrusting her face into mine. "We should be friends! And help each other out and stuff, you know?" She was positively ecstatic now, practically bouncing up and down on my legs. "What do you think?!"
The pain in my throat was still choking me, stopping me from speaking, but I could think clearly now, and I thought it was stupid. Did this girl not remember that I had tried to kill her? And it wasn't as though I couldn't have done it, either; I could sense her power, even now, and it was nothing I couldn't handle with ease.
And "let's be friends"? Were we in kindergarten? As though it was that easy. How did she--
And now the cut on my hand was open again, probably due to all her pulling and shoving; I could feel the wetness dripping onto my palm again. I looked down to wipe it off--
--but it wasn't blood.
Slowly, carefully, I brought my clean hand up to my face, feeling the wetness on my chin, my cheeks, my eyes.
The pain was still there, but my mind was clear, now.
This time, my hands squeezed shut over my clothes, a red stain spreading from my injured palm into the fabric. I swallowed once, twice, three times before the lump in my throat went away.
"I'm s..." And then it returned, before I could get so much as two words out, and no amount of swallowing would remove it until another minute had passed.
"...sor... I..." This time, it wasn't even a whole word, and my hands were clenched so tightly that my fingernails were digging into my palms through the fabric of my robe, trying in vain to force my throat open once more. My eyes squeezed shut with effort--
--and a pair of hands came to rest just below my shoulders, pulling me in until my head rested over the girl's shoulder.
My heart hurt, worse than ever, and I let out a gasp, but it ended up as a sob, and before I realized it, my arms were moving of their own accord, wrapping around the girl, returning her gentle embrace with one of my own, tight enough that it would have hurt a human.
"Is this okay?" she asked, concern in her voice. "I always heard that humans like hugs."
My next breath was somewhere between a laugh and a sob, and I held on even tighter, practically forcing the air out of my own lungs.
"I mean it! If you want me to let go, I can--"
Another sob, and now it was her clothes that were stained red as I grasped at them anxiously, the injury on my hand forced open yet again.
"I'm--!" The pain came again, and I pulled tighter, willing myself past it. "I'm sorry I... I--"
"So..." And just as I had finally worked up the nerve, the girl interrupted, her mouth not far from my ear as she continued to pull me in towards her. "...we can be friends, then?"
That was it. The tears that had been flowing for a while now flooded my eyes, obscuring my vision; the pain in my chest bubbled out of my mouth once more in a chain of sobs, and I barely managed to nod my head into her shoulder before the strength left my body and, for the first time in a long time, I let go and cried.
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Dear Lady Suwako and Lady Kanako,
"And, and when she picked up the coin, the spring under it let loose, and it caught her right in the face! It was so great!" Kogasa was literally jumping for joy, and even knowing how much things like this meant to her, it was hard to keep a straight face. "But anyway, Hijiri said that there's still work to be done for the temple conversion, so I'm going to go back and help after dinner!"
If you're reading this, it's because I am no longer here.
"Oh?" I asked skeptically, letting a slight leer creep onto my face. "You're sure you're not just looking for an excuse to hang around that mouse girl some more?"
Kogasa reacted predictably, turning as red as her left eye and waving her hands in front of her as frantically as if she was trying to stop traffic. "Nazrin has n-nothing to do with it! I just want to be helpful, that's all!"
"Yes, I can see it now," I mused thoughtfully, slipping into a higher pitch and batting my eyelashes exaggeratedly. "'Oh, Kogasa, you're so strong, moving those heavy boxes for me like that!'"
"S-Stop it! She wouldn't--"
"'If only there was something I could do to repay you...'"
"Sanaeeee! Stop it, you big jerk!"
I'm sorry you had to find my letter like this. I hope that you can understand that it has never been my intention to hurt you.
"So you're going to have a room at the temple, once they're done with the construction?" I asked, once Kogasa was finished beating her fists against my chest ineffectually.
"I guess so," she replied with a shrug. "I told Miss Byakuren I didn't really like the indoors, but she said she insists. I guess I can put traps and stuff in it or something."
That did sound like Byakuren. What was it Ichirin had said -- "giving beyond what any rational person would accept, and completely unaware of it"? Harsh words, especially from someone like Ichirin, but she had sounded liked she needed someone to vent to, and I knew that feeling more than well enough.
But since the three of us moved to Gensokyo, it has only become clearer and clearer to me that a shrine maiden serves no purpose to her shrine in a world where the gods can gather their own faith. That I have no purpose at this shrine, except for sweeping the walkway and emptying the donation box.
Besides, I knew as well as anyone how Byakuren was; I had known from the very first time I met her, when, at her gentle insistence, I had ended up revealing my entire story to her, from my 'incident' a few months ago up to now.
And it was the offer she made me back then, before she had any idea who I was, that stuck in my head now.
"So you're not going to sleep in your room?" I asked.
"Nope. You know I can't sleep under a roof."
"In that case..." I took a breath, swallowed, prepared to take a big step, one that I might not be able to take back.
"...do you mind if I use it for a while?"
So I'm leaving.
"...Like, to sleep in?" Kogasa asked, confused, and I replied with a nod and an awkward half-smile that was slowly becoming second nature to me.
"So you're going to live at the temple?"
Back home, I had my friends at school and my shrine duties. Now, I have neither.
"...Yeah. Byakuren said that it would be good to have a human at the temple to keep things balanced, and that there'll be odd jobs to do to earn my food."
"Have you told your parents?"
I sighed heavily; half genuine annoyance, half to hide my unease. "They're not my parents, Kogasa. And... no."
Kogasa goggled at me for a moment.
"...That is gonna be the biggest surprise ever."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
I hope to return to being your shrine maiden again, someday, but before I do, I need to learn how to get by in this world as an ordinary person.
"So when are you going to leave?"
"I was thinking 'now'."
That drew another moment of silence, this one tempered by a scowl. "So you've been planning this for a while. That's a pretty big surprise to hide from your--"
"--from my very best friend in all Gensokyo, yes," I finished, pulling the shorter girl into a bear hug and planting a kiss on top of her head; I knew she hated that, but I couldn't help myself. "You've helped plenty already, and you know it. I have to do some things on my own."
If you want to talk to me after you've taken all this in, I'll be at the new temple. Please don't come and make a scene, or the shrine will lose faith and we'll all be unhappy.
"Mmrph," she retorted, using what I knew was a fraction of her strength to remove herself from my grasp. "So I suppose you won't need any help moving, then?"
"I think I've got it taken care of." And there we were, crossing under the torii and onto the shrine grounds. "You can head back to the temple and I'll meet you there."
"And then you'll take me out to the village and buy me dinner, since we aren't going to eat at your house tonight like we planned?" Kogasa intoned, looking positively cross.
"Well, then!" And like that, her usual cheery mood was back, and she skipped her way back down the first few steps before turning to wave to me. "See you then, Sanae!"
I returned the wave casually, but my thoughts were already elsewhere, and it seemed like no time at all before I was there at the door.
Above all, I hope you don't blame yourselves for this. It's not your fault.
It was a big step, even bigger for being the first step I'd taken in this new world. It still wasn't too late to take it all back.
This is just something I think I have to do.
I fingered the envelope tucked into my sleeve once more, and with a deep breath, slid open the door to the empty shrine.
I actually started this around the time The Game ended, with the goal of writing a story where Sanae visits horrible violence on Kogasa, but they still end up as friends in the end. (I think it may have been some sort of psychological defense reaction to reading a story with such an amazingly pure villain that still had very human motivations and emotions. Goddamn torture scenes still give me chills.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, this Kogasa and Sanae turned out to be pretty much diametric opposites to The Game's Kogasa and Sanae, even though I didn't really design them starting from that premise. Also perhaps unsurprisingly, that sort of lackluster motivating idea resulted in a story that strikes me as hastily stitched together in places and lacking a real driving theme that ties the beginning of the story to the end. (If you're wondering why I'm posting it: after a certain point, you've got to stop resuscitating, call time of death, and do the autopsy so at least you have a better idea of how to treat the next patient.)
I came up with the title five minutes before posting the story; I'm sorry it's so terrible.
A note to anyone out there who has thought or is thinking of killing themself: don't kill yourself.
I guess any commentary needs to be spoilered, lest we give away all the good parts, right?
I can only comment on a couple technical things. No obvious grammar or spelling flaws, nice use of art and image titles. The story's concept is sound and presents an interesting interpretation of Sanae's experiences. Characters were about as distinct as one would expect in a short story. Sanae really came to be a defined character by the end of the story; now I really want to read about her everyday life in the Myouren temple. Something I particularly like about the story is that the structure lends itself to being reread. After you understand what the italicized bits are all about, reading the story again with the context in mind, it almost reads like a different story. For example, the scene with Marisa is awkward and confusing, like it would have been for Sanae, but flows very naturally when you realize where the fragmented conversations are coming from. So, two stories in one. Kinda neat.
Lest I be too gushing, there was a moment of the story that really struck me as 'off.' Sanae was explaining herself to Kogasa, and it started fine with "I'm a shrine maiden who can't..." but Sanae's second sentence just seemed awkward and complicated.
"I have no connections, personal or professional, to anyone in this world"
This could have been something along the lines of "I haven't made a single friend since I came here." This might have made Kogasa's offer a little later on that much more poignant. I dunno, I'm not a writer.
"And what I just did to you will do more to sabotage the people I love than anything I've ever done to aid them."
What about something like "I've never been able to help them, and after what I've done to you..."? Like I said, not a writer, but I know that when I read the story the first time through, I'm pretty sure I grimaced at this part.
Needless nitpicking aside (and lack of greentext quoting because it defeats the purpose of using spoiler tags), glad to see you writing again glasnost.
>>7552 Don't worry, it's not really grimdark. Not like MiG at all.
It's really, really good, easily one of the best stories on the site. I can't say I liked the ending, but everything else was excellent.
>>7553>>7555 ...Well, I honestly gave it a try.
But looks like I am too stupid for this game.
I'll be honest, most of the time, I have no idea what going on in this threads. The language is too confusing.
I wasn't going to post until the next story was ready, but I'm tired of >>7627 being the top post of /gensokyo/, so here we go.
>>7545 I'm here, and I'm writing; this is the maximum degree of 'back' possible. If I came any further back, I'd be leaving in the opposite direction. Also, thank you.
>>7546 The funny thing is that it was originally "nice girl", and I changed it to "good girl" because I thought it was a subtle nod to the meme that might get a bitter laugh out of a few heads-up readers; looks like it may have been too much. Oh, well.
>>7548 undersold it by leaving the contractions in her first sentence and not being a little more explicit in the dialogue tags.
>>7549 I like the yurilove as much as the next guy (indeed, perhaps even more than the next guy), but it just didn't seem to fit this one.
carved on the umbrella's tongue. Every time I see it, I can't help but wonder if it's a picture of Kogasa winning the victory over herself and loving Big BrotherSister, so to speak.
>>7643 >The thing that always gets me about that picture: the ai-ai gasa carved on the umbrella's tongue. Every time I see it, I can't help but wonder if it's a picture of Kogasa winning the victory over herself and loving Big BrotherSister, so to speak.
...please don't stain my image of this wonderful picture.
...This story hit way too close to home. I mean, I liked it, but I was in the hospital not too long ago for attempted suicide, for much the same reason. I don't think I could make a proper, unbiased judgment or critique, but I will tell you that it was as well-written as I've come to expect from you, and it made me cry like a baby.
>>7643 > Are you, by any chance, not a native English speaker?
Yep, that's right.
> If so, you have absolutely no reason to feel bad about not understanding The Game
Thanks, now my mind is at ease.
Well, maybe someday I'll reread it again.
The first reading of the story took me almost a week. And my mind was seriously strained throughout this whole week.