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File 149800945850.jpg - (2.65MB , 1500x2121 , strutting her stuff.jpg ) [iqdb]
64718 No. 64718
[x] You can’t really refuse this level of desperation. Looks like it’s tea time at Miss Margatroid’s home for all of you.

There’s no reason not to go with Miss Margatroid. She hasn’t proven herself to be dangerous in the slightest — and even if she is, you have Mori and Hina with you. Hina does seem hesitant, but you get the feeling that if she really didn’t want to have tea with Miss Margatroid, she would say it bluntly like she does everything else. Instead, she’s relying on you for some reason. It’s possible that she could be conflicted between following you or Miss Margatroid, since you had something for her to do first. If that’s the case, then there’s no reason for her to prioritize Hatate over anything else. Whatever damage could be done by the indignantly lazy crow tengu being in your apartment has likely already happened, and then some. You just want her out sometime today so you don’t have to sleep next to a shut-in birdbrain.

However, since you don’t feel like going back home to deal with Hatate yourself, you might as well accept Miss Margatroid’s invite— even if it was only out of politeness and/or desperation. It would be interesting to see how a magician lives, anyway. “I’d like to accept her invitation,” you tell Hina, “but I don’t know why you’re letting me decide. If you want to drink tea with her and chat, you should drink tea with her and chat. If not, then refuse.”

Hina wavers, glancing away from you. Maybe your direct approach lacks tact, but Hina acting so troubled over a pleading invitation is surprisingly ordinary for her. She didn’t seem like this at all when you invited her over. “I would not want to be a nuisance on any one or any household susceptible to misfortune,” she says. “However, I feel that ignoring an opportunity to converse with someone who shares my craft would be a mistake. If you are with me, PI, it should be enough of a buffer to prevent any calamity from befalling Miss Margatroid’s home.”

Wonderful, more misfortune talk. “A buffer? So the misfortune will only affect me, then? I can’t say I feel comfortable about that.”

Hina smiles. “That is why I have something for you.” She reaches into the familiar basket dangling from her left arm. After feeling around a bit, she produces almost an exact replica of the doll she gave you before. “This is a little sturdier than your last one,” she explains, “but I must admit, it is likely I will have to keep making these for you. Fortunately, I will not run out of material any time soon. Ever since you moved in, I have been retrieving and saving the clothes you throw out.”

Putting the disturbing recycling aside for now, it doesn’t comfort you to know that you’ll be constantly ruining dolls that are suppose to be able to hold misfortune. “I find it hard to believe I’m that unfortunate,” you mention, before quickly adding, “all the time.”

Hina’s lips curl upward and her whole face becomes alight with joy as she replies, “You are, I assure you. Misfortune runs through you like blood. I’m continuously fascinated by it.”

Her hungry eyes make you grimace more than her words. This misfortune stuff may have been concerning before, but now you can’t even bring yourself to worry about it. After all, your fate is your fate. It’s not like the idea that your life is shit has been elusive; you caught on to that pretty soon after moving out here. It’s Hina herself that is starting to worry you. People who cling to abstract ideas like “sense of self”, “history”, and yes, “misfortune” tend to be dangerous in your experience — and they always have some bullshit in store to back it up.

But before you can hazard even a word to Hina, Miss Margatroid takes care of it for you. The tall blonde suddenly pops up between you and Hina, her eyes dazed and fixed on the tiny cloth replica of yourself. “Is this… an original? It’s even better than your other works! To so accurately reproduce the unremarkable nature of his apparel, the wrinkled darkness of his eyes, and his particular scowl… I should have expected nothing less from an expert of the needle!”

This is insanity of a different sort. “Is my scowl that particular?” you remark dryly.

“Of course it is,” Miss Margatroid insists. “Half the challenge is finding a proper model. The other half is representing it.”

Hina watches the excited dollmaker’s pale lips curiously, and then turns to you. “PI, would you please accompany us for some tea? I would like very much to learn more of dollmaking from Miss Margatroid.”

“Fine, fine,” you relent. “I’ll be your buffer, if only for both your sakes.”

Hina claps her hands together lightly. “Then it is decided. I would be honored to accept your invitation, Miss Margatroid.”

“Truly?!” she squeals, before taking a breath and restraining herself to a composed smile. “Thank you very much. And please, call me Alice.”

You can’t help but feel like you’re going to be the third wheel here, but at least you have Mori — if you can shake her out of whatever funk she’s in. “Lead the way then, Alice,” you tell the giddy blonde.

Alice turns to you, her blue eyes staring blankly as if you were nothing in her sight. “I was speaking to Hina. Please continue to address me with the proper honorifics, Mister Tsurugi.”

Hopefully the tea will be warmer than she is.

###

You’ve followed Alice into what you recognize as the Forest of Magic, though it’s different from the path you take to Kourindou. Your guide walks with Hina ahead, chatting about something — with the former doing more talking than the latter. The distance they’ve put between them and you offers a chance to address something that’s been going on for a while now.

“My hand’s getting sweaty,” you remark.

Mori glances down at her hand, still attached to yours since you first saw Alice, and finally releases. “Oh. I didn’t even notice. I just kind of… did that.” She forces a laugh. “See, you’re totally fine with holding hands! It’s almost like we’re actually—”

Even her misdirections are suffering. “Knock it off. What’s wrong with you and Alice? You’ve been quiet ever since we met her today.”

Her smiles fades, and she heaves a sigh. “It’s nothing, I promise.” Under your disapproving gaze, she clarifies: “It’s a personal problem. Instinct, I guess you’d call it.”

That’s a curious explanation. “Instinct? You mean something to do with—”

She lightly shoves you to cut you off. “No no no! Don’t worry about me.” Then she grabs her face, stretches her cheeks out hard, and lets go in order to psych herself up — or something. “I’ll get over it! It’s stupid, I promise. You should stay focused on Hina and Alice. Aren’t you curious about them?”

“I do want to make sure Hina’s not going to get wrapped up in anything even more ridiculous than she usually is,” you reply, “but for better or worse, you’re my number one responsibility. If you ever need to use my hand again, just don’t make a scene about it.”

Mori stares at you, and then smiles. “Thanks. You’re actually a sweet guy, aren’t you?”

“There’s nothing sweet about it,” you mutter, quickening your pace to flee before she gets back into the swing of things.

However, she catches you and wraps her arms around your lower back, squeezing against your side. “There isn’t much I would change about you, PI. Really.”

“Then you don’t have very high standards.”

You feel her laugh. “I know.”

###

It almost surprises you when the forest gives way to a prim-and-proper cottage. Despite being tucked away in the heavy, gloomy air of the forest, it’s a well-kept building: the grass is trimmed, the paint looks fresh, and the windows would surely sparkle if there were any noteworthy amount of sunlight that could make it through the thick canopy of trees. A small stone well sits adjacent to the home as a source of water, with a wooden bucket hanging on it.

“This is your home?” Hina asks. “It’s lovely — like something out of a fairytale book.”

Alice laughs nervously. “Thank you. Maintaining it provides an excellent exercise for my magic.”

You’re not really sure you would learn magic for the sake of landscaping, but you’ll keep it in mind. “Come to think of it, we’re deeper in the forest than I thought,” you mention. “Shouldn’t I be getting sick?”

If it’s possible to shrug with only the face, then Alice just did that. “Humans differ in their tolerance to the magical spores the local flora emit,” she explains, as she steps up to the door and rummages through the pockets of her dress. “If you made it this far, you should be fine.”

That begs the question of what would have happened if you had not been fine, but you’ll let it go unasked. Instead you turn to Mori, who smiles back. “Don’t worry PI,” the goddess says, “I know you’ll be fine.” Then she winks. That means she must be responsible somehow.

Alice unlocks the wooden door, and then holds it open gingerly for Hina — much less so for you and Mori. The interior is just as tidy as the exterior, and very Western in an old-fashioned sort of way. Unlike Hina, she actually does have furniture and utilities: a couch and coffee table, wooden dining table and chairs, and an iron stove. If it weren’t so dark because of its location, it would be a nice, cozy home for a human.

The door closes behind Alice, and she strikes a flame inside a droll lantern hanging on the wall — properly illuminating the room and providing a meager source of heat on a crisp day. “Please be at ease in my home,” she says, as she moves across the room. “The door to your right is the washroom.” She stops in front of a door on the other side of the couch. “Here is the door to my workshop and study. Follow me, if you will.”

“I thought we were just going to have some tea?” you speak up.

Alice doesn’t even bother to face you. “Yes, and what’s inside my workshop will make that happen,” she responds. “It’s not worth explaining to you. Just follow and watch.”

You and Mori exchange nervous glances, but Hina seems unfazed. “After you,” the fortuneteller insists, as she walks into the darkness without hesitation.

The first thing you do when you enter Alice’s workshop is recoil backward instantly from the sight of at least twenty pairs of tiny eyes, all lined up along the wall. All of them belong to small dolls sitting on wooden shelves, and you can’t help but notice that they have blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin like their creator. Do all dollmakers like to use themselves as a model?

“There are so many,” Hina remarks in amazement, as she approaches the dolls, “and they’re all so well-made. My own materials pale in comparison to yours.”

“I consider them like children,” Alice replies proudly. “However, I can’t help but feel like they lack something. In your own works I see heart — something I may have lost long ago.”

Hina stops, and for once she frowns sadly. “A heart, you say? How ironic,” she murmurs.

Alice must not have heard her, because she walks to a desk and flips open a large tome. Mori stays still, but you approach the wall of dolls beside Hina. “I wonder what it is they’re made of,” you ponder out loud, as you reach out and pluck one of the dolls off its shelf. It’s a lot heavier than one of Hina’s rag dolls, and its black frock, white apron, and pink bows seem tailor-made for this particular doll. You don’t quite understand what Alice meant by “heart,” but it does feel rather cold compared to Hina’s more homey cloth dolls.

You feel Mori tug lightly on the back of your shirt. “Um, PI. You might want to put that back.”

“Why? I’m not doing anythi—”

Then you notice the pressure of all those beady little eyes staring directly at you, and freeze. At first you think it’s an optical illusion, but when you step back every single one of them follows, staring down at you emotionlessly.

The doll in your hands blinks. “Unhand me at once,” she sa— it says in a high-pitched, yet indignant voice.

You immediately release the doll, only to be even more surprised when it doesn’t fall. It rises slowly into the air, gradually accompanied by the others. You notice that they’re fairly similar in size and appearance: all have long blonde hair, blue eyes, and some kind of of dress. Then, they all soar out of the workshop like a swarm. In the other room, you hear cabinets start opening, dishes being set, and the sound of fire.

You turn to Alice for some kind of explanation, only to find her in a trance. Staring down at the open tome on the desk, her hands sweep through the air like a conductor — but not just her hands: her fingers too are pushing and pulling so quickly and precisely that you can’t even track their movement.

A doll floats back into the workshop, stopping in front of Hina. “This way, please,” it tells her.

Hina nods to the doll and steps back into the living room with it. After one last look at Alice, you follow her, with Mori tagging along behind.

The cottage now has a completely different feel to it than when you first walked in — a mayhem of organization, is what you would call it. Dolls float around nearly every spot in the house with a blank smile, all doing some kind of chore: dusting, beating the curtains, wiping the windows, fluffing the pillows. However, the majority of the dolls seem focused on preparing for the tea party. A whole squadron of them places the tablecloth down and begins setting the saucers and cups, while several dolls emerge from outside carrying a bucket of water. Three more dolls carefully heave small pieces of wood into the fire, while another group carefully places the kettle on top of the stove.

“A puppeteer,” Hina remarks with awe. “Incredible. It must take a peerless amount of skill to handle this many at once.”

However, Mori doesn’t seem nearly as impressed with the display. “Is this really what that girl sold her soul for?” she murmurs.

“I can’t even imagine that one person is controlling all of this,” you say. Yet, as you look closer, you start to see the signs. Every task they do is perfectly coordinated and flawless — more like little machines than people. Watching a nearby duster in particular, you notice she even blinks at specific intervals. The only thing that throws you is the lack of strings connecting Alice with her puppets. Strictly out of curiosity, you use one finger to lift up the hem of her dress and inspect—

—nothing, because two other dolls fly into your face and scare the shit out of you before you can get a good look. Their rigid smiles contrast sharply with their shrieks. “P-pervert! What do you think you’re doing?”

The voice comes from all three dolls, but now you recognize its source. “That sounds like Alice, doesn’t it?”

“Well, yeah,” Mori answers matter-of-factly. “Did you think they actually talked? She must be using ventriloquism. You know what that is, don’t you?”

You sigh. “Yes, I know what ventriloquism is. I just didn’t even think it was possible on that level.”

With their innocence guarded, the three dolls get back to work. The kettle on the stove starts whistling, and you notice dolls steadily finishing their tasks and returning to the workshop. A group of dolls lifts the kettle off the stove and begins filling the teacups on the table, while another distributes small cookies on each saucer.

It’s at this point that Alice emerges from the workshop, looking a little red in the face but standing tall and smiling proudly. “Unabashed lechery aside, I hope you enjoyed a little of what myself and my children are capable of.

You and Mori just stare at her, while Hina offers some light applause. “I enjoyed it very much,” the fortuneteller comments. “I am far too clumsy for puppeteering, but even I can recognize mastery when I see it.”

Alice bows, showing the slightest amount of humility toward her object of affection. “Thank you. Now, I believe tea is served.”

Even though Alice is out of her trance, a few dolls still hover around her. Looking closely, you can see her fingers still moving, just not nearly as vigorously as before. A doll floats to each chair and pulls it out graciously, and you approach the chair closest to you cautiously.

“Miss Margatroid, I have to admit that I haven’t frequented many tea parties. What’s the etiquette?”

She looks at you, which is a plus, and tilts her head in confusion. “I’m afraid I don’t practice much etiquette, besides simple hospitality. I… never learned as much.”

Sounds good to you, so you sit down and examine the steaming cup of tea in front of you as the others follow suit. The tea is incredibly dark — almost black — which is way different than what you’re used to.

“Is this European tea, Alice?” Mori asks, just as curious about the tea as you are.

Miss Margatroid,” she corrects her, before answering, “and not quite. It is a unique kind of leaf I brought with me into Gensokyo. I’ve been trying to cultivate it here, but with little success.” Then she gives a long sigh. “As I should have expected.”

Trying to grow tea leaves in the Forest of Magic does sound like a lost cause. Worst case scenario is that you end up growing a tea youkai or something.

Then you hear the distinct sound of sipping, which is strange, because the tea is still boiling hot. Of course, it’s Hina who has casually raised her cup to her lips. While the rest of the table gapes at her, she sets her tea back down and smiles at Alice. “It is bitter, but rich with a distinct flavor. Might I have a cookie to go with it?”

Alice blinks a few times, clears her throat, and then shifts her fingers around. “Of course! Here you are.”

A doll brings a cookie to Hina, who happily accepts it. “Thank you,” she says to the doll, which bows and returns to orbiting Alice.

Since Hina is munching on a cookie after drinking boiling-hot tea, Alice is shocked into a state of awkward silence, and you and Mori are just along for the ride, it seems that this tea party is off to a fantastic start. It might be prudent for you to try and begin the conversations, and hopefully Alice will carry it on. After all, you’re curious about both of them, and they seem to be curious about each other.

Of course, something will have to interrupt this tea party eventually…

[] MARISA INCOMING

[] There’s a doll here that cough isn’t like the rest cough.

[] Alice gets a message from home.
Expand all images
>> No. 64719
File 149800976987.jpg - (446.32KB , 800x817 , after.jpg ) [iqdb]
64719
Meanwhile, Hatate Himekaidou is perched on PI’s bed, exploring his browser history with a nefarious plot in mind. Alas, she finds naught.

“Dammit,” she mutters to herself, “I bet that bastard clears it every night now that the kid’s with him. Or maybe he doesn’t even need porn anymore?” She sighs, but an idea swiftly comes to her. “Wait, I bet he saves it all in some secret archive. He seems like the type.”

The dark-eyed crow tengu opens up the file explorer and begins digging through folders. It doesn’t take long for her to find a one with a padlock on it, and her eyes light up. “Password protected? This has got to be it.”

She toys around with some guesses, but all her attempts fail. “Come on, think,” she urges herself. “He said that he changes his passwords all the time, so what’s something recent that he would make into a password?”

After a few moments of thought, she types in “notapedophile” and the folder opens. She laughs. “Of course! I’m a fucking psychic, after all. This kind of security is no match for me!”

In reality, it was a lucky guess, and PI doesn’t care that much about his passwords. That’s about to come back to bite him, though.

“It’s just a bunch of documents,” Hatate grumbles, “and none of them are smut. I could’ve sworn he’d have some lewd manifesto in here.”

However, Hatate’s eyes fall upon one particular document — with her own name on it. She doesn’t hesitate to open it. “Now what do we have here?”

After reading through it, she smiles. “Oh, I see what he’s done. These are all dossiers on the people he’s met, and what’s been going on.” After closing out of her own, she starts opening up other files at random. “Doesn’t look like they go back very far, though.”

As Hatate scrolls through all the files in the directory, she sighs and pops her neck. “I was going to masturbate in his bed to pay him back for all the shit he’s said, but I guess I can look through these files instead.” Then she grins. “I’ll masturbate after.”

###

PI’s files have been unlocked!

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B3yTr6zUKvDYM1p1WDllYkk4MnM
>> No. 64721
Fuck, almost forgot something.

Thread 1: >>63343
Thread 2: >>64075

Awesome: >>64680
>> No. 64723
Damn. All of these are tempting vote options.

[x] MARISA INCOMING

I think this would be the most entertaining, though. And I'd want to see if there's any sort of love triangle possible. Will look at the files tomorrow, should be interesting.

(Minor quibble, but I would have expected Alice to have learned some etiquette from mother dearest, assuming no major twists in her background. You might have a different idea of her upbringing, granted.)
>> No. 64724
[X] MARISA INCOMING

Kinda want to close the side quests before starting new ones.

Also, I slightly hyped myself up on the corrupted file on the drive. I thought it was an encryption of some kind and was ready to start throwing programs at it when I just saw it was just a highlight.

Still nice nonetheless.
>> No. 64725
[X] There’s a doll here that cough isn’t like the rest cough.

Man this story is nice.
>> No. 64726
[x] Marisa incoming!

We still have to lead her to Mima AND lead Mima to Rinnosuke so...

Also, it's pretty bad for us that someone with no respect for privacy and a hypocritical desire to expose all secrets but her own just read up all about Mori.

I hope we won't end having her shot.
>> No. 64727
[X] MARISA INCOMING

THIS OPTION IS IN ALL CAPS. I MUST VOTE FOR IT.

SIGHTS. SIGHTS GET BACK HERE I THINK I'M SUFFERING WITHDRAWL.
>> No. 64729
[] MARISA INCOMING
>> No. 64730
MASTER SPARK!!
>> No. 64731
[x] There’s a doll here that cough isn’t like the rest cough.
>> No. 64732
[X] There’s a doll here that cough isn’t like the rest cough.

One of these things is not like the others.
>> No. 64734
>>64724
>just a highlight
What do you mean by this? I don't want to spend hours going through the ciphers that I know if it's a waste of time.

Also [X] There’s a doll here that cough isn’t like the rest cough.

>>64727
;_;
>> No. 64735
>>64734
It might be hard to pick all of them out, but every capital letter should spell out the answer. Not very creative, I know, but I wanted something fairly accessible that would fit.

Please don't waste time throwing ciphers and decryption at it.
>> No. 64736
Well I wasn't expecting this to get meta.
>> No. 64737
[x] MARISA INCOMING

Witch party crasher detected.

Also, I bet Hatate uses anal stimulation when getting off, the dirty little crow.
>> No. 64738
>>64734

I meant that all you had to do was click and drag and highlight the document all the way down.

Although what the author just said afterwards just now leads me to believe there is more to the document than the hidden text.
>> No. 64739
[X] MARISA INCOMING

I finally decided on picking this. It'll be interesting seeing Alice react so much more animatedly with a fellow magician considering her chilliness toward PI & Suwako.
>> No. 64740
>>64735
>>64738
I'm fucking retarded. I spent three hours going through all the WWI & WWII era ciphers I know, and some older ones, before I highlighted the rest of the damn page
>> No. 64741
I'm going to go ahead and call it for adding another magic-user into the mix.

>>64737
You're tempting me, anon. I still need to write that Keine lewd.

>>64740
I deeply apologize. I might change that file up a bit to prevent such misunderstandings in the future.
>> No. 64742
>>64741

Hey, if you're tempted don't hold back. I'm just saying that a girl with an ass like Hatate's can probably appreciate some (not so) tender care back there.
>> No. 64743
I hope Pi, Suwako and Hina will kick out Hatate from the apartman soon. Because she did a mess already while they are in Alice's house.
>> No. 64745
File 149921131422.jpg - (2.31MB , 2000x2673 , two mad hatters.jpg ) [iqdb]
64745
[x] MARISA INCOMING

You clear your throat, and hopefully the air, before speaking. “If I may broach the subject, Miss Margatroid, you mentioned that you brought Hina here because you were interested in her dolls. What do you hope to gain by studying Hina’s technique?”

Instead of reacting coldly, Alice tilts the question around in her head for a moment. She glances at Hina, who is staring straight at her, and then clears her own throat. “I overheard you speaking with that child about those dolls carrying misfortune. Of course, I had determined something like that to be the case before, but hearing it confirmed only strengthened my resolve to speak with Hina.”

Alice reaches out and beckons one of her dolls, which touches down on her palm like a bird. As she strokes its head, she continues talking. “I love my children, but I only call them that for my own benefit. As you might have noticed, everything they do is by my hands. I even speak for them.”

“And that is exceedingly impressive,” Hina mentions.

“It is,” Alice replies shamelessly, “but it also isn’t enough. I’ve been researching for a way for my children to act on their own — to cut the strings and let them think their own thoughts, voice their own feelings.”

You’ve never heard of a puppeteer who wants her creations to be out of her control. “To have life, then?”

Alice stares at you, then the doll on her hand, and smiles. “Yes, I think that is correct. My most sincere wish is to give my creations life.”

Hearing her is like listening to a little girl’s wish on a shooting star — except this is an adult magician. For all you know, she could be capable of pulling it off. Regardless, neither Hina nor Mori seem very happy about Alice’s declaration. Hina looks concerned, while you notice Mori gripping her cup tightly as she ducks down and blows on it.

Alice’s eyes probe Hina in particular, until the latter finally musters a suggestion. “Why not have children through natural birth, Alice? It would fulfill all your wishes in the same manner.”

“Hina, not every woman can have children,” you inform her darkly. Barren women can be desperate and just a little detached from reality, as you know too well from a past affair.

“I can have children,” Alice says, quickly dashing your assumption with a tinge of red in her face. “I would just rather not bother with a m—a mate. I want my children crafted from my own hands, not the smelly orbs of some brute.”

You let out a sigh of relief. “So you're not insane, just a lesbian.”

Mori’s tension breaks with a snort, as she tries desperately to hold back laughter.

Alice flushes even more red, and the doll on her hand floats away — a little stiffly. The puppeteer clears her throat again in an attempt to maintain her composure. “I—I really don’t know about that. Even as a man, you would admit the female form is more attractive, wouldn’t you?” Her eyes move to Mori. “Even if your tastes may be a bit more… petite than my own.”

She has you there — the first part, anyway. “My ‘tastes’ are totally normal,” you assure yourself, avoiding Mori’s glance. “More to the point, have you considered adoption, Miss Margatroid?”

Unlike the idea of reproductive sex and its aftermath, she isn’t immediately repulsed by the suggestion. “I must admit to some sympathy for the abandoned and otherwise orphaned children of Gensokyo,” she says, “but surely you’ve seen the lot that run around the slums. They’re far too rowdy and dirty. The fairies have been an especially negative influence on them, and I couldn’t imagine what manner of nonsense would occur if I took one into my company.” Her eyes shift to Mori, and she clarifies, “No offense to present company, of course.”

“Um, none taken,” Mori replies, looking less than pleased regardless.

“This would all be assuming,” Alice continues, “that I lived in a place suitable for a child in the first place. Even with the proper treatment, the toxins of the forest would have a severely negative impact on their health.”

Mentioning the forest should have been enough; she really didn’t need to go into that little rant. You thought you didn’t like kids. “Uh, at least you’ve thought it through.”

She shakes her head. “It’s not that I ever had to think it through. I always knew I wanted to create life with my work.”

“But why go so far?” Mori speaks up. “Why play god?”

Alice falls silent as Mori and Hina’s eyes bare into her. It’s not like you aren’t curious, but there’s something very targeted in the way they’re pursuing this conversation — or interrogation. After a few moments, Alice finally answers, “There’s someone I respect very much. I would like to stand beside her with my own children. That is all.”

“That’s all?” Mori repeats back to her, unconvinced.

“That is all,” Alice affirms.

“I think this discussion is meaningless,” Hina intervenes grimly. “I do not consider my dolls to be my children, or even my creations. They are merely extensions of myself. Your creations would not be able to fill your heart, just as their own hearts would not exist. No matter what your reasons, you would be inflicting a grave cruelty onto them by giving them life.”

Alice trembles under the reproach of her peer, but doubles down. “What are you talking about? My children would be perfect! I would shower them with love and adoration! What could possibly be cruel about that?”

“I know for a fact that they would linger between life and oblivion, wishing for either,” Hina declares, her face rigid as stone. “One of which they could never truly have, and the other they would never allow themselves to have.”

Alice’s dolls hover around her, all staring blankly at Hina while their master’s voice escalates. “Th—that’s not how it is! Lady Yumeko, Yuki and Mai, Miss Louise, they all—”

“I know exactly how it is,” Hina cuts in with a heavy finality.

The two women continue to stare at each other, unblinking, while you and Mori watch. The tea’s barely cooled, and the party’s already ground to a halt. Out of curiosity, you raise your cup and take a sip. The bitterness slides down your tongue and throat, leaving a trail of numbness that your saliva has no effect on. Not that you mind too much — Lucky’s sake has a similar effect — but you’ve never experienced it in such a condensed form. It takes some fortitude not to gag, but you are still trying to maintain the bare minimum of politeness, especially after that conversation.

Then the door pops open, and in strides someone who couldn’t give less of a shit about any kind of politeness. “Hey hey, Alice, how about we go find some—”

Marisa freezes and takes in the scene. The sudden commotion breaks Alice and Hina’s eye-lock with each other, while Mori cringes and you relax. If that dirty witch costume wasn’t so instantly recognizable, you might have pulled your gun on her for barging in like that.

“A tea party?” Marisa continues. “Well, never mind then. Magic can wait. I’ll just grab myself a cup.” Without any feedback from Alice — who seems entirely occupied with cooling herself off at the moment — the bold witch marches to the kitchen and stands on the tips of her toes to reach the cabinet with the cups. Almost begrudgingly, a doll floats over and grabs a cup for her. Marisa grins as she tells the doll, “Thanks. I see the Shanghai Squadron is still in top form.”

The doll emotionlessly drifts back toward Alice, while Marisa sits in the last, empty chair between you and Alice at the table. “Awesome,” she remarks, as she pours a cup for herself and then sits down. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had your tea.”

Marisa doesn’t seem to have any problems absorbing the silent attention from everyone at the table — including the dolls. Judging from her remarks, the only reason you’re seeing her in this coherent a state is because she’s lacking mushrooms. Her untended hair is barely contained by her giant witch’s hat, her eyes are weary and wrinkled, and the mix of sweat and earth overpowers even the smell of this ridiculously strong tea.

She turns to you. “Didn’t expect to see you here, PI.” Then she looks past you, with a big grin. “And mini-me, too!”

Mori laughs nervously. “Whatever you say. You aren’t going to grab me again, are you?”

Marisa shrugs. “Maybe later. So, what are you two doing around these parts?”

‘What does it look like?” you answer dryly. “We’re here for the tea party.”

“I guess I coulda figured that,” Marisa responds, “but what I meant was: how do you guys know Alice?”

“I met her the day I carried you back to Kourindou,” you inform her. “I don’t think you were in the state of mind to remember it.”

She laughs without shame. “Yeah, probably not.” Her eyes fall on Hina. “And who is this? A friend of yours, PI?”

Hina has watched Marisa curiously, and her eyes light up when Marisa looks at her. “My name is Hina Kagiyama,” she says. “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Hina stands up to bow, but Marisa doesn’t hesitate to speak against it. “Don’t be so formal for my sake. I’m just an ordinary kind of girl, y’know? Treat me like family.”

“Because that’s how she’ll treat you,” Alice finishes, having steadied herself. “Marisa. I don’t recall inviting you to my tea party, though I appreciate you not breaking anything this time.”

“What, you think I have to crash in here to make myself welcome?” Marisa laughs under Alice’s cold gaze. “I’m like a mainstay, right? I can just pop in and there’s always a spot for me. Besides, the more the merrier.” She takes a sip of the tea, and then exhales with satisfaction. “Good like always. So, nobody has a tea party just sitting in silence, right? What were you guys talking about before I showed up?”

Alice’s eyes flash coolly from Hina back to Marisa. “Nothing worth discussing any further, apparently. Please, Marisa, take the initiative — like you always do.”

Marisa looks at Alice, then slowly at everyone else, like she might finally be realizing that she forced her way into an awkward situation. But, all she does is smile. “I dunno. I was kinda hopin’ you’d have some news.”

Alice sighs and takes a sip of tea like it’s her only solace in this world, which is probably right.

If Marisa is sober, and there’s nothing else to talk about, then this is probably the best time for you to bring a certain ghost up. “I actually do have some news that might appeal to you, Marisa,” you begin.

“Ooooh,” she replies with gleeful curiosity. “If it’s you, then it can’t be anything good. What, is my old man looking for me again or something?”

It’s not very surprising that Marisa might have problems with her father, considering her lifestyle. You mentally file that away as information that might be useful later and continue. “No, not quite. But, I have become acquainted with someone who is looking for you. Would you have any business with a ghost?”

“A ghost?” Marisa repeats back to you, bewildered. “No, I can’t think of anyone I know who’s kicked the bucket recentl—”

Then she comes to a realization that jolts her out of her chair. “H—hey now. You aren’t talkin’ about Lady Mima, are ya?”

You never thought you’d hear Marisa address someone with that kind of respect. “Yeah, it’s Mima,” you tell her. “She’s been looking for you for a while, it seems. For the moment, she seems to be traveling with—”

“After all this time, she’s still lookin’ for me?” Marisa mutters in a panic. “I thought she would be done with me forever after last time. What could I do for her? I haven’t been studying or training. Ain’t done much of anything, really.”

You’ve never seen Marisa so bothered in the time that you’ve known her, and judging from Alice’s reaction, she hasn’t either. “Marisa?” the taller blonde says. “What are you doing?”

However, her concern is lost on Marisa, who continues to ramble to herself. “She’ll be very upset with me for not unsealing her myself.” A smile breaks out on her face. “But isn’t this a good thing? Lady Mima is free! Even if I have to prostrate a million times, I can learn from her again! We can finish our goal of exterminating the humans of Gensokyo, starting with that Hakurei bitch that sealed her up in the first place! Yeah, if I take care of her, she’ll definitely forgive me.”

“Excuse me,” you interject, “what?”

Marisa snaps out of it, and then grins sheepishly. “Ah, sorry about that. It’s the uh, drugs. Y’know. Don’t worry about it.” She stands up and beelines for the door, talking quick. “Well, that was some great tea, Alice. Good seein’ you again, PI and kiddo. And nice meetin’ ya, weird smiley lady. So long!”

Then she’s out the door and gone, practically leaving behind a dust trail.

Alice sighs wistfully. “In like a storm and out like a storm. I would have actually gone hunting for mushrooms with her, had she stayed.” Then she glares at you. “This… Mima woman. Is she dangerous?”

You’re still in a bit of shock, because you know what you heard. “She said she wants to exterminate the humans in Gensokyo,” you tell Alice. “That sounds a little dangerous, Alice.”

The puppeteer only blinks, unfazed. “And? I’m more concerned about what kind of relationship they have.” Then she adds, “Also, please address me as—”

You turn to Mori. “Shouldn’t we do something about this — now?”

Mori seems more amused than worried, and shrugs. “You’re the guy with the gun. Personally, I’d prefer not to get involved until they make a move formally. It’s not really good optics for me to bust her up before she even does anything.”

“I mean, Marisa said that’s what she and Mima were going to do,” you argue. “Shouldn’t that be cause for at least a little concern?”

“What, are you willing to chase her through the forest?” Mori argues back. “Because I’m not. If Mima really wants to exterminate all humans, do you think she’ll have any more of a chance of doing so with Marisa’s help?”

“Not likely,” Alice answers.

“I cannot see it,” Hina says, reminding you she’s there.

You lean back, sigh, and admit defeat. “I guess you’re right.” Then you think back on what Marisa was mumbling about. “She mentioned something about the Hakurei. The only one we know of with any connection to them is Reimu. Should we be worried about her?”

“Marisa wouldn’t stab someone in the back,” Alice explains. “She’s far more likely to eat a mushroom and charge in like a hooligan. At the very least, this ‘Reimu’ you speak of will see her coming.”

You picture Marisa with rainbows in her eyes, flailing at Reimu like a madwoman and chanting about marching humans into mass graves. “Then we should be worried about Marisa then,” you decide. “Reimu will kill her.”

Alice pours herself another cup of tea. “Are you so sure, PI? Marisa may be at the level of an apprentice, but — as loathe am I to admit it — she is still a practitioner of magic. What gives you so much confidence in this girl?”

It isn’t lost on you that Alice has picked up on your name. You watch her as she calmly sips her tea, and decide there’s something you’d like to try out. “Actually,” you remark, “please address me as Mister Tsurugi.”

Alice takes a breath, then another sip of tea, before replying, “Yes, of course. Mister Tsurugi.”

That was satisfying. You continue. “Reimu is pretty strong. She’s human, but beats up youkai fairly often. Since she’s usually around Mima, that means that if Marisa finds Mima, she’ll find Reimu too. I don’t know why Mima lingers around someone who’s supposed to be her enemy, though.”

“Might be some kind of misunderstanding on Marisa’s part,” Mori says, “or things could have changed since they last met.”

“Maybe,” you respond. “It would be nice to clear things up, but it’s tough to know where Reimu and Mima will be at any given time. I don’t even know where that shrine of theirs is.”

Mori turns to the fortuneteller. “Hina, what’s the likelihood that we’ll get wrapped up in it no matter what we do?”

Hina wastes no time answering. “It is certain that you will be caught in the middle, eventually.”

“Fantastic,” you remark dryly. “In that case, we might as well just go on with our lives. No use in seeking out trouble when it’s going to find us sooner or later. We can help Marisa then, if there’s anything left of her.”

Mori nods. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

“I don’t know the half of what you all are talking about,” Alice speaks up, “but I’ll wish you good luck. Marisa should count herself lucky she has Mister Morichika and yourself looking after her.”

You stare at the nonchalant puppeteer. “Excuse me? I don’t recall signing up to be her babysitter. Aren’t you her friend? Shouldn’t you be more worried than us if something’s going to happen to her?”

Alice thinks about it, then shakes her head. “Marisa is like a stray cat. You take care of it while it’s around, maybe invite it in occasionally, and possibly feel a little… envious when you see someone else getting along with it — but when it ends up dead in the road after being hit by a cart, there’s no surprise.”

You’re starting to see what Mori was thinking when she mentioned something about Alice selling her soul. “Right. Youkai logic. How could I forget?”

###

With little else to discuss, the tea party came to an end. Alice drank most of the tea and Mori put a large dent in the snacks. While the dolls cleaned up, Alice whisked the three of you out the door, to the relief of just about everyone involved.

“That was certainly something,” you remark after leaving the house behind. “We can get out of this forest ourselves, can’t we?”

“The path is pretty clear, and most of the scrubs lurking around here during the day aren’t a threat to Hina and me,” Mori boasts.

Satisfied, you turn to Hina and figure you should attempt some level of consolement. “I’m sorry things didn’t really work out for you and Alice. She’s definitely a weird one.”

Hina smiles, unperturbed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. During the tea party, I decided that Alice and I will become great friends.” Then her expression fades into something more determined. “She must see the error of her ways.”

Oh no. Of all the times for Hina to become indignant, it has to be when dealing with a cold-hearted youkai magician. “You mean bringing her dolls to life?” you say. “I think she was pretty adamant about it, and I don’t really get why you’re so against it in the first place.”

Hina frowns. “I am against it because it is impossible. Alice may not have much misfortune, but her hands could weave it all the same. I do not understand it myself, but for the first time I feel like I should prevent such a calamity.” Her fists clench. “I am the only one who can.”

You look to Mori, who only has a shrug to offer.

[] That doesn’t sound like a good idea. Tell Hina that Alice should be left alone, or else things could turn ugly.

[] Support Hina. You may not comprehend everything that’s going on, but it’s good that she wants to take an active role in helping, instead of waiting for the misfortune to occur.

[] Try to convince Hina to see things from Alice’s perspective. It sounds like the puppeteer has her reasons for doing what she’s doing.
>> No. 64746
[x] Support Hina. You may not comprehend everything that’s going on, but it’s good that she wants to take an active role in helping, instead of waiting for the misfortune to occur.


Isn't preventing misfortune the same as bringing fortune...?
>> No. 64747
[x] Support Hina. You may not comprehend everything that’s going on, but it’s good that she wants to take an active role in helping, instead of waiting for the misfortune to occur.

Let's not question an expert on misfortune about her specialty.
>> No. 64748
[x] Support Hina. You may not comprehend everything that’s going on, but it’s good that she wants to take an active role in helping, instead of waiting for the misfortune to occur.
>> No. 64749
[x] Try to convince Hina to see things from Alice’s perspective. It sounds like the puppeteer has her reasons for doing what she’s doing.

Curse you, writefag, for bringing up the only character who can make me vote against Hina.
>> No. 64750
[] Support Hina. You may not comprehend everything that’s going on, but it’s good that she wants to take an active role in helping, instead of waiting for the misfortune to occur.
>> No. 64751
[x] Try to convince Hina to see things from Alice’s perspective. It sounds like the puppeteer has her reasons for doing what she’s doing.

I vote this. Maybe Alice can find another means to give them life instead of something from Hina's curse dolls.
>> No. 64752
[X] Support Hina. You may not comprehend everything that’s going on, but it’s good that she wants to take an active role in helping, instead of waiting for the misfortune to occur.

Hina's experience and wisdom outweighs Alice's, so he should support her.
>> No. 64765
File 150059578340.jpg - (405.75KB , 707x1000 , dead or alive.jpg ) [iqdb]
64765
[x] Support Hina. You may not comprehend everything that’s going on, but it’s good that she wants to take an active role in helping, instead of waiting for the misfortune to occur.

“I say go for it,” you tell her. “Honestly Hina, I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen you bothered.”

The word gives Hina some pause for consideration, and she stops in the middle of the trail. “Bothered?” she repeats curiously. “Is that what it is, PI?”

You and Mori both stop and face her. Leave it to Hina to ask for a confirmation of her own emotions. “Seems like that to me. You took what Alice said real personally.”

Hina continues thinking, and then nods. “I see. I believe you are correct. I am bothered. I wish for Alice to become my friend, but she is already on such a dark and fruitless path.”

“Don’t worry, Hina!” Mori says. “We can help you.” You’d like to interject with something besides blind optimism, but Mori keeps going. “After all, you’ve already helped PI so much. It’s the least he could do.” Then she turns to you with a big grin. “Isn’t it?”

Mori’s right, but damn her for being so smug about it. “Even I can admit that much,” you respond. “Hina, I would be glad to repay the favor.”

Hina bows lightly to you. “Then I humbly accept.” When she looks up, she’s smiling. “Thank you, PI.”

“But,” you continue, “there isn’t much I can do when I’m not sure what’s going on in the first place.” You aren’t in a hurry to see Hina become so deathly serious again, but it’s about time for you to address something that you’ve been dodging for a while now. “If I may ask, what are you, exactly? It seems that on some level, you sympathize with those creations Alice was talking about.”

Sure enough, Hina’s smile fades. “That question should be so simple, yet it is not.” She sighs in a manner that is more like opening her mouth and letting the air drift out on its own. “The best answer I have come up with is that I am an idol of misfortune.”

In no way is that an answer to you. “An idol? Like those performers on television?”

She tilts her head. “I am afraid I am unfamiliar. I do not watch television.”

You should have known better. “Nevermind, sorry.”

“What I refer to are sacred objects of worship,” she goes on. “The people — long ago, at least — believed me to be the harbinger of all misfortune. And so, I drew all of their anger, sorrow, and hope. Slowly, I gained power from it.”

Now this is starting to sound more familiar to you. “Does that mean that you’re a goddess too, Hina?”

She shakes her head. “Gods are living beings. I am not.”

You haven’t really had the chance to study Hina’s anatomy — unfortunately — but you do know some things. She’s a bit stiff, but she breathes. When she embraced you, she was warm — and soft. Sure, Hina may not blink often and you’ve never seen her eat anything, but that just puts her on the same level as a youkai. She’s still alive. “I don’t understand. You’re standing right here, talking to me. How can you say that you’re not a living being?”

“I was not born into this world naturally,” she answers. “I was only a doll, created by a human for the Nagashi-bina festival.”

Then Hina would know exactly what Alice is trying to do, because she’s the product of something like it. However, you still find it difficult to believe. “The Nagashi-bina festival is what you told me about the other day, right? Humans sending dolls down the river to get rid of their misfortunes? How did it… change you like that?” This identity crisis seems to be one of the only things Hina is sensitive about, so even you want to try and pick your words carefully.

Recalling the tale brings a frown to her face, and not the kind that comes from painful nostalgia. It’s something far more bitter and frustrated. “My creator was an artist. He sought to craft the perfect doll for the festival, but when it came time to send me downstream, he refused.” She looks down with shame. “I only existed to be sent down the river with his misfortunes, but he denied me my purpose. And so, I continued to amass misfortune while he paraded me about the village. Accidents — and later, outright calamities — came to the village, but my creator still would not send me down the river. The villagers began creating small imitations of me for the Nagashi-bina festival and sent them down the river, hoping that might alleviate their troubles, but it offered them little solace knowing I was still around.”

You wonder if this has anything to do with the fact that all of Hina’s dolls are modeled after herself, but it isn’t worth stopping her to ask.

“They tried exiling my creator,” Hina continues darkly, “but by that time he was elderly and stubborn. In the end, they burned down his home, and he still did not leave. Only I remained in the ashes. The villagers called me a symbol of misfortune, built a small shrine at the foot of the mountain for me, and began holding their Nagashi-bina festivals there. Then villagers started seeing me in order to plant curses on each other, or evade curses themselves. As the generations passed and the traditions continued, I became able to move and speak on my own. The villagers always avoided interacting with me directly, but I still watched over their festivals from afar.”

You remember the place Hina led you to when you were searching for Shizuha Aki. If it was built for Hina like she says it was, then that would explain why its size and lacking decoration for a shrine. “You’re talking about the shrine where we found Shizuha Aki, aren’t you? That was your shrine?”

Hina confirms with a nod. “Yes. Many of the gods here in Gensokyo visited me in that shrine — mostly out of curiosity. Shizuha Aki was one who visited me frequently. I had a hunch that was where she might seek shelter if she was evading her sister.”

A chill wind creeps through the trees around you, freeing leaves from their branches as if mentioning the autumn goddess was enough.

You find it difficult to comfort Hina. In the past, you’ve had to offer some level of counseling to humans and youkai — but this kind of metaphysics is beyond you. “I just find it difficult to believe that humans can do such a thing,” you remark eventually. “Those villagers had enough superstition to turn you into some kind of avatar of misfortune. Shouldn’t you hold them accountable for what happened to you, as well?”

She shakes her head. “I understand the villagers. Their actions were rooted in logic. However, I cannot understand my creator. Why not send me downstream when that is what I was created for? Why trouble himself and the villagers for the sake of a worthless doll?” Her green eyes peer straight into yours, solemnly pleading. “Do you think I am alive, PI? Do I have a soul? What will happen when I’m destroyed?”

The barrage of questions rattles your brain as you try to think of delicate answers, but then you realize that you shouldn’t be the one thinking this hard. “Will it really help if I answer all that for you, Hina?” you respond.

“I believe so,” she replies bluntly. “That is why I asked.”

“I could stand out here and theorize about it all day,” you tell her, “but nothing will come of it. The only way you’ll feel better is if you reach your own conclusions.”

Hina tilts her head back and forth a few times, before answering in a defeated tone. “Perhaps.”

###

Hina remained silent for the remainder of the walk back to your apartment, probably lost in thought. If you addressed her she would respond, and she was paying enough attention to know where you were going, but otherwise she had nothing to contribute in terms of conversation.

Of course, Mori knows how to fill the dead air in her own way. “In my opinion, it comes down to two choices,” she proclaims. “Either you really gussy up with a colorful suit, or invest in a dark trenchcoat and a hat.”

“Your opinion is stupid,” you tell her flatly. “Both of those will stick out like a kappa out of water around here. And how would I afford a trenchcoat, let alone a suit? In case you haven’t noticed, I have problems just feeding myself sometimes.”

“You would get more work if you dressed the part!” Mori argues.

“If I looked the part, then I wouldn’t be good at my job,” you argue back.

Mori thinks for a moment, and then snaps her fingers. “I got it! Maybe I] should dress up. I could be the adorable mascot character. There’s a pretty famous kid detective in the outside world, y’know. It’s proven!”

You know by now that the only way to win is to stop playing. “We’re here,” you announce dully in front of your apartment’s building. You look back to Hina, who is still distracted. “Hina, if you need a bit of time before we confront that bird, I would completely understand.”

The fortuneteller focuses at the sound of her name. “I am fine,” she assures you. “Please, continue.”

Getting this over with as soon as possible is also perfectly acceptable. You walk up to your door and start unlocking it. “If we’re lucky,” you say, “she’ll be passed out and we can just pick her up and drop her on the street somewhere.”

The final latch clicks and you push open the door, letting pale light flood into what would otherwise be your still and dark living room.

This isn’t how you thought it would be. You were expecting Hatate to be in her underwear on the couch, watching television and stuffing her face with whatever she could find in the kitchen. Or, she would be tearing apart the walls themselves trying to find your secrets. Instead, everything is exactly how you left it. Your apartment is completely quiet. Did she really pass out after you left? There’s no way you’re lucky enough for her to vacate herself.

Mori pops up behind you. “Uh, everything alright?”

“I don’t know,” you answer, before calling out. “Hatate? You here?”

“Still in the bedroom,” she calls back.

Of course. You lead Mori and Hina back into your room, where you discover not Hatate, but only your laptop sitting open at the foot of your bed. However, your bathroom door is shut and locked. You march around your bed to the door and beat your fist against it. “You better not be clogging up my toilet with your rancid, white bird shit! The plumbing barely functions as it is!”

Then you hear the bedroom door slam shut behind you, and you turn around to see Hatate standing behind the three of you, blocking the only sensible means of escape out of your bedroom. She must have been hiding on the other side of the open door when you walked by. “Okay!” she declares with a malicious grin. “Now that I’ve closed off your only avenue of escape, we can get down to business.” While you cock your eyebrow at her, she adds, “Oh, and for your information, my shit is the same color as yours.”

You roll your eyes. “That’s fantastic to know. Now, why are you doing whatever it is that you’re doing?”

“That’s a goooood question,” she responds, taking a few menacing steps closer to you, Mori, and Hina. “Why would I want to corner you?”

You look at Mori, who shrugs, and then at Hina, whose smile is just as blank as usual. Then, you turn back to Hatate. “You’ve lost your last marble?”

“No no no no,” she replies. “I didn’t lose anything. I found something. Why don’t you take a look at your laptop?”

You might as well indulge her, since it doesn’t seem like she’ll be cooperative otherwise. You walk up to your laptop, bend down, and look at the document she has—

This is Mori’s file.

Oh fuck. This is going to be annoying.

“Looks like you’ve been having some interesting adventures after all,” Hatate continues. “When were you planning on filling me in on all the pesky little details?” Then she turns to Mori, while still addressing you. “Or did you think that having a goddess from the outside world as a companion wasn’t such a big deal?”

Mori, who wouldn’t know anything about the files you keep, stares curiously at you. “Did she find your diary or something?”

“Something like that,” you mutter.

“Extensive files on most everyone you’ve met,” Hatate explains to Mori for you. “There’s one for me, one for you, and even one for Hina.”

Hina blinks a few times in surprise. “Even me? Do you say many nice things about me in your diary, PI?”

“It’s not a—” you start to clarify, but then give up. “Look, it’s just a record. A private record, in case I happen to forget anything that’s happened. Detectives do that.”

Of course, that isn’t the real reason you keep those files. They’re for preserving the events themselves. It might sound strange, but you’re a first-hand witness of just how ridiculous the powers in Gensokyo can get. Your files are an important backup in case someone like her were to ever go out of control — and not in your favor like last time.

“You know what detectives don’t do?” Hatate fires back. “They don’t hide the truth from their employers.” Then she turns to Hina. “And you, Hina. You knew all along, didn’t you? I’m disappointed.”

“Leave Hina out of this,” you tell Hatate, even though Hina herself seems pleasantly indifferent to the whole thing. “How many secrets have you tried keeping from me?

Hatate brushes off your rebuttal with an annoyed frown. “Those were totally different. I was lying to you in pursuit of the truth. You kept a foreign goddess from me in order to conceal the truth.” She frowns and glares. “You two are plotting something. You’re going to sweep this whole operation out from under me, aren’t you? Maybe that’s what you were planning all along, since I was getting too close.”

Each sentence sends a rush of heat into your skull. “Hatate, I like to think I’ve developed a tolerance to you, but even I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about any more. What does Mori being a goddess have to do with anything? Why do you think that means we’re in some nefarious scheme together? And finally, what could you possibly be getting close to? Oh, I know. You’re just being paranoid, surprise surprise!”

Mori rests her hand on your arm. “Calm down, PI. Getting into another fight with her won’t solve anything.”

You take a breath and try to smother your temper. Mori’s right, but you hate it.

Since you stopped, Hatate turns her attention to the little goddess. “So what’s your endgame? Were you planning on using me to strike at my superiors, so you could monopolize the faith of the humans and turn Gensokyo into a theocracy?”

“Nope,” Mori answers. “I tried something like that once, and it didn’t turn out very well. I don’t want to rule anything.”

Hatate laughs. “So you’re trying to tell me you don’t have any angle in coming to Gensokyo?”

Mori shrugs. “I didn’t have a choice coming here. All I really wanna do is help PI out and goof off for as long as I can.”

Hatate’s grin fades, and she stares at Mori harshly. “Bullshit. Every goddess has an angle. They mastermind even more than the tengu.”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” Mori replies, “but I’m just going with the flow. Becoming a full-time goddess again would be too much work.”

“So you’re going to be difficult,” Hatate stubbornly pushes on. “Okay then. There’s a couple things that PI has been keeping from you as well, if you want to reach some sort of agreement.”

You grimace. “Hatate, you—”

“I’m not interested,” Mori says, bringing you and Hatate to a dead halt.

The devious crow blinks, recoiling from the hard refusal. “What?”

“I don’t want to hear it from you,” Mori reiterates. “If he wants to tell me, then he’ll tell me. He has his secrets, and I’ve also neglected to tell him things. I’m still earning his trust, just like he’s earning mine.

Some of the heat in your head moves down to your cheeks. That sounds familiar — probably because you told Kotohime something very similar when she wanted to give you the dirt on Mori.

Hatate looks from you, to Mori, and back again. “There’s no way you two believe in each other that much, so quickly.”

“I think it is certainly possible,” Hina speaks up with a smile. “After all, was there not someone you believed in so much, long ago?”

A heavy shadow falls over Hatate’s face. “Yeah,” she mutters, “and it ruined me.” Then she lets out a long sigh. “Fine. I’m getting a headache. I’ll cede the victory to you two — for now.” She opens the bedroom door and stands in the boundary with her back turned to you. “I’m moving in next door. I already called in a favor to Q to help me move my stuff down from the mountain. I don’t want to share what little space there is here with some goddess, especially if I have to hear you two believing in each other so much.” She shivers with disgust at the very thought of it, though you have a feeling she’s just hamming it up now to cover her ass because she was wrong. Finally, she marches through your apartment and out the door, and you heave a sigh of relief.

That woman has some fucking issues, and being a tengu is probably the least of them.

Hina moves to follow after her. “There are still some blood stains I need to clean in that apartment, so I will also be taking my leave. I am glad everything has worked out.”

You wouldn’t say it’s worked out, since your employer has barged into your privacy once again and will likely continue to do so in the future.

“Please try to understand Hatate,” Hina continues. “She is odd, but she has many reasons for being the way she is.”

You were wondering if she was simply born so messed up in the head, or if her manic paranoia had been acquired over time — not that it’s an excuse for her either way. “I’ll try to keep that in mind,” you weakly assure Hina.

Before leaving, she bows to you and adds one last thing. “Thank you for accompanying me today. I will continue to think about what you told me, and how I might go about finding my answers.”

“Just don’t think too hard,” you tell her. “Go at your own pace, Hina.”

She turns around, flashes you another smile, and then goes out the door.

With Hina gone, it’s just you and Mori. You’re free to collapse onto your bed and heave a gigantic sigh. “I’m glad that’s over with.”

When Mori doesn’t immediately respond, you glance up to see her sneaking over to your laptop. With great haste, you rise up and slam it shut. “What was all that about believing in me and waiting until I was ready to tell you?”

“I wasn’t really going to look,” she says none too convincingly, “but I can’t help being curious about what you wrote. Did you take note of my measurements? Maybe some lewd thoughts or dreams?”

You frown at her. “No.”

She giggles and sits down next to you on the bed. “Sorry, just trying to loosen you up after all that. I think you were about to pop a blood vessel.”

“I’m surprised I didn’t,” you remark.

Suddenly Mori hops off the bed, stands in front of you, and then jumps into you. Her arms wrap around your back, and she murmurs into your chest. “I really meant what I said, y’know.”

You look down at her, and smile — since she probably can’t see it. “I know you did. And if it weren’t for what you said, I probably would have made things a lot worse between Hatate and me. What I mean is, uh, thank you. I appreciate you.”

She squeezes harder, which is kind of difficult to bear but you let it happen. After a few moments, she breaks the precious silence. “I was thinking maybe I’d earned a hug back.”

You relent easier than you’d think, and close your arms around her small shoulders. Her warmth spreads through you instantly. It would be ludicrous to think that inside this ridiculous child dwells a divine power as old as the earth itself, but you know it to be true.

“And maybe we could take a nap in your comfortable bed?” she continues.

Getting some rest does sound nice. Walking around all day and putting up with many different levels of nonsense is more than enough of a reason to shut your brain off for a couple hours — and this cozy moment certainly isn’t making you hostile to the idea, either. “Fine.”

“And maaaaybe I could cuddle with you some?”

You pull back and frown at the smug grin of hers. “You’re pushing it.”

###

Your eyes jump open at the sound of something bumping into the wall. You peel a still-snoozing Mori off of you, get up and stretch.

Another bump against the wall. That would be from Hatate’s new apartment, if you’re not mistaken. This doesn’t exactly bode well for the bird’s adjacent tenancy.

While you listen for any more noise, your nostrils pick up a raunchy smell. After a few sniffs, you isolate the area of origin to a patch in the center of your bed. Now, you don’t exactly go out and do laundry often — so your bedding never smells like roses — but this reeks.

“I noticed it too,” Mori comments suddenly, giving you a start. She must have woke up while you were ruminating. “Smells like sweat, lust, and a little bit of ass.”

You narrow your eyes at her. “You aren’t responsible for this, are you?”

“Nope!” she answers. “It’s just, you know, hormones and stuff are technically natural, so as an earth goddess I’m somewhat familiar with them.”

She lost you. “Hormones? What does that have to do with this?”

Mori stares at you — with a little more pity than you like to see. “Nevermind. I don’t think you want to know. Needless to say, I would recommend washing your sheets when you get a chance.”

That would be a good idea even without the smell, but the closest laundromat is the “abandoned” one a couple blocks down, and its owner has a bad habit of trying to scare the shit out of her clientele.

One more bump against the wall. “I hope that isn’t going to become a thing,” you mutter.

“Didn’t Hatate say she was getting kappa to help her move in?” Mori mentions. “That’s probably what it is.”

You’ve never met a kappa before, but you’ve heard they’re pretty small. They couldn’t be lifting furniture or anything, so what’s making all that noise?

Your thoughts are interrupted by a painful groan from your stomach. “Hungry,” you remark.

Mori stretches. “Yeah, we kinda skipped lunch. You sitting on any ideas for dinner?”

You could always make some fried rice or something, but you’re craving something a little more. “We could go out for some food,” you offer.

Mori's face lights up. “Are you asking me on a date?”

You immediately regret your suggestion. “Why would it be date? We go out all the time. It’s just that this time, we would be going for dinner.”

Of course, she’s having none of that. “Oh geez,” she murmurs to her stupid hat, “this is so sudden. What am I going to wear?”

“It wouldn’t be a date,” you tell her once more. “You could wear what you have on.”

She sighs and pouts. “Can’t you even pretend to indulge me?”

“No,” you answer quick, before glancing at the clock. It’s a little past five. You’d never find a proper restaurant in the slums, but this is actually the perfect time to catch a food stand before it gets dark and the bulk of the youkai come out.

You have a list of options. The only thing you’re lacking is the time in which to do them. You can always wash your sheets another time, ignore whatever’s going on in Hatate’s room, or cook here in the apartment. It’s just about choosing how to indulge yourself this evening.

[] Yeah, that smell is starting to worry you. If you’re going to the laundromat, you should go before dark.

[] You’re kind of curious about the kappa. If you check out Hatate’s new place, you might even find out more about Q.

[] Fine, you’ll take Mori on a “date” to whatever food stand you can find.

[]
>> No. 64766
>Your files are an important backup in case someone like her were to ever go out of control — and not in your favor like last time.

KieneI assume did what now?


[X] Fine, you’ll take Mori on a “date” to whatever food stand you can find.
Mori is more important than whatever sick masturbation fantasy Fats McCrow is getting up to.
>> No. 64767
Argh, too many awesome-sounding options. What to choose, what to choose...

> its owner has a bad habit of trying to scare the shit out of her clientele

[x] Yeah, that smell is starting to worry you. If you’re going to the laundromat, you should go before dark.
>> No. 64769
[x] Fine, you’ll take Mori on a “date” to whatever food stand you can find.

This isn't fair, I want all three.
>> No. 64770
>>64766
Wrong. She is another character.

Look it up again if you want. As they say, the truth shall set you free. Or her, in this case.

[X] Date
[X] Make a note to punch Hatate in the face for risking Gensokyo for the sake of her curiosity. If she asks, it was for messing with your stuff after you literally picked her up from the streets.

It's not like she'll feel it, right?
>> No. 64771
[X] Fine, you’ll take Mori on a “date” to whatever food stand you can find.
>> No. 64772
>sweat, lust, and a little bit of ass

yesssssssss

[]Date
>> No. 64773
[x] Yeah, that smell is starting to worry you. If you’re going to the laundromat, you should go before dark.

I'd want to meet the proprietor, if >>64767 's (implied) guess is on the money.
>> No. 64774
[] Fine, you’ll take Mori on a “date” to whatever food stand you can find.
>> No. 64775
She is a goddess just she doesn't know it right? She is a living being. Why she thinks she isn't?
>> No. 64776
She is goddess of misfortune. She was born from a nagashi bina queen doll. But she isn't doll anymore.
>> No. 64777
[x] Fine, you’ll take Mori on a “date” to whatever food stand you can find.

Mori option is the only option.

I'd assume the one Hatate trusted is Aya. It would explain the magnitude of her hate. I wonder if she's even considered that Aya is lying to her to pursue the Truth?
>> No. 64778
I think the reason why the creator kept her because he loved her.
>> No. 64779
>>64778
Who can blame him?
>> No. 64780
File 150163845992.jpg - (631.56KB , 992x1403 , undercover mori.jpg ) [iqdb]
64780
[x] Fine, you’ll take Mori on a “date” to whatever food stand you can find.

###

Ten minutes after she shoved you into the living room so she could get changed — despite your bitter protests — Mori erupts from your bedroom and skids to a halt in front of the couch. “What do you think?”

You turn off whatever garbage was on the television and give her your full attention, since you’d like to get this over with and eat.

It would be simple to say something halfhearted and then be on your way, but you can’t help but closely examine the outfit she’s put together. A brown mantle covers nearly her entire torso, under which are a white shirt, blue shorts, and navy leggings. On her head is a replacement for her hat that is only slightly less strange: a black beanie with what appears to be the eyes from her old hat glued on.

Mori adds a grin to her appearance. “Feel free to stare all you like. Your face tells me everything I wanted to know.”

Damn it. Just when you were thinking of saying something nice, she has to mouth off. “Do you think it’s going to be freezing?” you remark flatly. “I didn’t think there were any winter clothes in the stuff that Hina gave us.”

“I don’t mind being warm,” she responds, “and there was plenty of stuff in that pile. You’d be surprised.”

Beyond that, you can’t help but focus on the hat. “Did you just rip the eyes off your old hat and stick them on that one?”

She grins sheepishly. “Well, y’know. I can always put them back.”

Unbelievable. You had to fight her to put a strap on her old hat, but tearing the eyes off it is just fine, apparently. Not that you’re complaining too much — this new hat is definitely an improvement no matter which way you look at it.

“I was thinking that if we go out, I should be undercover,” she continues. “We have a tengu living next to us now, so that means this building is going to be on their radar, right? I should always be incognito.”

Given Hatate’s relationship with the other tengu, they would only fly by to heckle her or something. But, Mori definitely has a point. “That’s good thinking,” you tell her, “especially if more tengu are going to be snooping around here like we theorized.”

Mori grows a big, childish smile. “I know, right? That’s why you should treat me to something good as a reward! I was thinking, there’s gotta be seafood in Gensokyo, right?”

Your smile vanishes, as you foresee plenty of bartering this night.

###

The city is always more crowded than you like around this time, so you lead Mori around the outskirts. However, even from a distance you can feel the buzz of energy swirling about as the day shift arrives home and the night shift departs.

Mori takes it upon herself to start up some conversation. “I’ve picked up bits and pieces here and there, but what exactly do most of the people do for work?”

“Many are laborers,” you explain. “They work in the kappa factories, to be precise. For them, the relief of returning home is always short-lived when another day is just around the corner. Some devote themselves to their families, but others try to party with the youkai that come out at night and end up dead.”

She frowns. “Factories, huh? I saw some of those in the outside world. Sounds like a rough life.”

It’s a kind of life you can’t even imagine living, and have never really had to thanks to Hatate providing more-or-less consistent work and some very frugal living on your part. Of course, even if you wanted to, it’s not like there’s any place for you in normal society any more, whether it’s in Central or here in the slums.

“Working in a factory gets you a paycheck so you can buy food,” you tell Mori, “and it’s not like it costs a lot to live out here. It may be rough, but it’s stable — that is, until an errant piece of kappa machinery takes a limb off or you get jumped by a desperate youkai on the way to or from work.”

Mori whistles dimly. “Dang. You sure know how to set a fun mood.”

You shrug. “You’re the one who asked.”

She grins. “I’m just messin’ with ya. I appreciate the knowledge, really.”

You refrain from smiling back and return your attention to the streets. All this time you’ve been watching the sidewalks for anything good — or dangerous — and nothing has caught your eye. Then it comes into view: a tiny food stand that looks like it’s just about finished setting up. The sign reads “lamprey” — in simple characters that have been sloppily painted over something else, interestingly enough.

You turn to Mori. “Ever had lamprey eel before?”

She thinks. “It’s been a long time. How about you?”

“No,” you answer, “but it can’t be any worse than the ‘mystery meat’ they serve at some stands.” You try not to think about what you may have been served over the years here in the slums. “Anyway, lampreys are seafood, right?”

Mori smiles. “More or less! Sounds good to me.”

The two of you approach the stand. It looks like the owner is busy checking something underneath, so you sit down at the center stool while you wait for the owner to stand back up. Mori takes the one to your right. The stand itself reminds you of a traditional yakitori stand, and the hot grill in front of you offsets the crisp evening air.

Mori looks at you and smiles. “I’m kinda excited, y’know? It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten out with someone.”

“We went to the soup kitchen together a couple of times,” you mention.

“That was business,” she retorts. “This is pleasure.”

The owner pops back up and heaves a great sigh. Then she notices both of you and gasps. “Ah! Customers!” She immediately bows and almost smashes her face into the grill. “Welcome to my—err, the food stand of—um, Mystia Lorelei’s lamprey stand!”

Your heart skips a beat, and not just because she’s cute. Her pink hair, long ears, and small, pink wings are very familiar to you. Even though she’s wearing a homely kimono now, you still remember the sight of a rugged brown dress torn open — and her rent flesh and guts splayed out on the forest floor.

She’s the bird Mori was devouring the night you first met her.

You glance at Mori out of the corner of your eye, and notice that her smile is a little less gentle than it was a moment ago. As far as she knows, you still have no clue what really happened that night. She might think seeing this youkai will jog your memory — even though it was already done when she drew upon that Mishaguji monster again during the fight with the bug youkai.

“Good evening,” Mori replies steadily. “Do you have any specials today?”

The owner, Mystia, looks at Mori like she asked her to do calculus. “Well, I—I don’t know about any specials,” she replies. “All I have is grilled lamprey… but it’s good!”

Mori continues to stare at the birdgirl, who becomes increasingly confused. Finally, Mystia breaches the subject. “Um, do I know you from somewhere?”

“Nope,” Mori replies instantly. It doesn’t seem like Mystia remembers her, but that still isn’t enough for the goddess to relax.

You force something that isn’t a frown and chime in, hoping to get this over with soon. “How much?”

“How much?” Mystia repeats, with the same puzzled look. “Oh, um, for the lamprey? How about… 200 yen each?”

That’s pretty cheap, and you get the feeling that it’s because she doesn’t really understand the value of money. It sounds like she just came up with that price off the top of her head. However, it’s her loss and your gain. Maybe you’ll tip her if it actually turns out to be good.

“One lamprey for me,” Mori orders suddenly.

“And also for me,” you add.

Mystia looks at both of you and thinks. “Alright, so, uh, two lamprey, right? Coming right up!”

She reaches down, pulls lamprey out of a bucket, and throws them on the grill. “Ah! Don’t worry, I know the slime is poisonous to humans, so I cleaned them off beforehand! I made sure I wouldn’t forget that much, at least!”

The food may not kill you, but hearing her say it like that doesn’t exactly instill any confidence of her cooking skills. “I didn’t even know about that,” you remark, “but uh, thanks for remembering.”

Mystia continues smiling as she ducks down once again. “Alright, now what can I put on these to make them taste good…?”

While Mystia works, Mori turns to you to chat — though she never takes both eyes off of the sparrow. “So, PI. How many youkai own food carts around here?”

She didn’t bother using your fake name, but it doesn’t really matter for a youkai like Mystia. If she doesn’t remember who chewed on her a couple weeks ago, she probably won’t remember a customer whose name is just two letters. “There’s quite a few who are like Mystia here,” you answer. “Even youkai want money to buy stuff, so they’ll offer goods and services to humans brave enough to wander outside at night.”

“Services, huh?” Mori thinks in that devious sort of way that puts you on edge. “Any youkai prostitutes?”

That’s remarkably tasteless considering you’re in front of a youkai right now, but Mystia doesn’t seem to be paying attention to your conversation. “Yes, there are,” you answer. You would leave it at that, but you know that once her curiosity’s been sparked, you’ll have to satisfy it at some point. “Some of them will just mug you when they’ve got you alone, but other than that they genuinely have uh, something special to offer. Not that I would know from experience.”

Mori’s frowns at you warily. “Uh huh.”

A melodious humming draws your attention back toward Mystia, who is happily sprinkling something on the grilling lamprey. You waste no time in changing the subject. “Miss Lorelei, what is it that you’re putting on the lamprey?”

“Spices, I think,” is her cheery response.

She resumes humming. Again, she has failed to assure you of her culinary expertise. It could be rat poison, for all she knows.

Mori must notice your concern, because she smiles and says, “Don’t worry, I’ll try it first. I have an iron stomach.”

You’re certain she means that literally. “Thanks,” you respond. Then you take a whiff. “It doesn’t smell too bad, though.”

Mori watches Mystia some more before breaching another topic of discussion. “So, Mystia. You would never hunt any humans around here, right?”

Another racially sensitive topic. “Not so much anymore,” she answers, without losing her smile. “For some reason, a week or so ago I just lost my taste for humans. I don’t really remember what it was.” She pauses and thinks. “Come to think of it, it was about the same time that I moved out of the youkai forest. I just started getting really scared all of a sudden.” She laughs in a not-so-healthy kind of way. “Ain’t that funny? A youkai being scared of its own home?”

You can guess what spooked Mystia, and she’s sitting right next to you. “Don’t think about it too hard,” Mori tells Mystia. “I was just wondering how you ended up with a food stand.”

Mystia thinks back, noticeably taking her eye off the swiftly-cooking food in front of her. You end up watching the food as she recounts her story. “You know, a couple nights ago I was flying around the city late at night,” she begins. “I saw this yakitori stand and I got so mad. How dare they cook birds? So, when the old man who owned it closed shop one night, I knocked him down and ran off with it. I thought a lamprey stand would be much more bird-friendly.”

Mori frowns at her. “So assault and theft, is what you’re saying?”

“He was barbecuing my kind!” she argues, her temper flaring with the smoky heat of the range. “Aren’t the lives of those birds worth more than some old man’s stupid grill?”

As a debate between the bird and the goddess begins, you stay focused on the food.

“I can’t tell which you’re planning to cheat on me with: the goddess or the lamprey.”

You recognize that voice, which is why you don’t bother acknowledging it.

Kotohime sighs. “Playing hard to get, huh? Don’t you remember all those years ago, when we made that beautiful promise?”

That’s funny. Your promise died shortly before she did.

“You really cannot let go, can you?”

That’s rich, coming from a ghost who’s been haunting you for more than a decade.

“Do you still think that? Okay then. Forget about me. What are you doing with her?”

You glance at Mori, who’s arguing some point that you’ve lost track of. Then you turn to the stool on your left, where the redhead princess is perched with her long, violet kimono. What does it matter to this monster what you do with Mori?

She giggles. “Who’s the monster, here? Have you forgotten what manner of creature you’re dealing with? She’s a goddess with a demon inside of her. Face it, you have a history of being attracted to monsters. That goddess aside, let’s not forget the werewolf you played around with for a while, and of course we have to mention that annoying childhood friend of yours.”

Let’s not mention her. In fact, let’s not discuss any of this because it’s nonsense. They had their issues, but they weren’t murderers.

She smirks at you. “Kagerou was killing pets, you know from firsthand experience that cow isn’t stable, and one of the goddess’s victims is right in front of you. How many youkai do you think that little girl has vanquished like nothing? If the roles were flipped during the fight against the firefly, would she be sorry about erasing it from existence? Would it even register in her mind?”

The mad princess has zero room to talk about that. Listening to her hypocritically ramble is almost as bad as listening to Hatate. You miss the times long ago, when she would imagine stealing bunnies from the bamboo forest to keep as pets, or how she would become the greatest mother ever, or how—

“I should join the police and become your partner?” she finishes your thought for you. “That’s why I have to warn you: there’s such a thing as ‘blind faith.’ It was a lack of will, not a lack of insight, that ruined Takeo Yamaguchi’s life.”

Just fuck off, already.

“Are you alright, PI?”

You glance up. Both Mori and Mystia are staring at you. When you look back at Kotohime, there’s no trace of her. “Food’s done,” you announce to cover your behavior.

Mystia looks down at the shriveling, browning lamprey, and then panics. “It’s done! Um, okay, now I gotta get it off the grill and cut it up.”

While Mystia finishes preparing the food, Mori continues to stare at you until she finally says something. “Are you okay? You were zoned out pretty hard there.”

“I’m fine,” you assure her. “Just starving.”

Mori stares at you a little more, and then breaks out into a giggle. “Well, I guess that’s to be expected. We haven’t been eating much recently, and even the great detective must get hunger pains some time.”

You groan. “Great detective, huh? I’m strictly average. I just don’t have much competition.”

Mori snorts. “Cheeky bastard.”

Like she’s one to talk. Mystia sets a plate of lamprey in front of you, another in front of Mori, and then a pair of chopsticks each.

“We should probably pay before we eat,” you inform her.

The rookie shop owner blinks. “Pay?” Then it hits her. “Oh! Pay! Yeah, do that, please.”

You’re going to assume the total is 400 yen, so you hand her some coins that equal up to that. She doesn’t even count them before closing her palms and smiling bright at you and Mori. “Thank you very much! Enjoy your meal!”

You aren’t sure what Mystia’s goal in running a food stand is when she doesn’t seem to care about the money very much. Then again, youkai have a habit of just trying things sometimes since they lack the societal responsibilities of humans — or gods.

“Huh. Not bad!” Mori comments with a mouth full of chewed lamprey, having dove right in. “I can’t really explain what the taste is, but it all adds up to something good.”

That’s a suspicious recommendation if you’ve ever heard one. However, the smell is driving you mad, and you have to eat. You snatch up a grilled chunk of lamprey with your chopsticks, stick it in your mouth, and chew.

Then you chew some more.

Having never eaten lamprey, you’re surprised by how meaty the eel is. It’s firm, but not chewy, and the flavor is some kind of mix between curry and peanuts — with the typical oily, fishy flavor you’d expect. Like Mori said, it all comes together. It was probably an accident, but you have to hand it to Mystia: it’s good. It doesn’t look too good compared to yakitori, but you’ll take what you can get for 200 yen.

In no time, the meat is gone, as are the pains in your stomach. Mori finishes hers up pretty quick too, and lets out a big sigh that can only come from a heavy gut. “Dang,” she remarks. “I didn’t think one fish would do it, but I’m pretty content with myself. How are you feeling, PI?”

“The same,” you answer, before turning to Mystia. “You did good work.”

Mystia, who has spent her time staring at one or both of you while you eat, shines. “Thanks! Y’know, I wasn’t too sure how it would turn out, but I’ve always had a knack for making things edible.”

You glance around. The whole time you’ve been sitting here, nobody else has even walked close to the stand. “Seems like you picked a spot that’s awfully out of the way though,” you continue. If you hadn’t been actively trying to avoid the crowd, you would have never noticed her stand.

Mystia smiles confidently. “That’s because of my business sense,” she boasts. “I thought that all those other places already had a bunch of food stands, so I should go to a place that doesn’t have any! That way, I could soak in all the customers!”

“If no customers are walking by,” Mori replies flatly, “then there won’t be anyone to ‘soak in.’”

Mystia reacts with shock to this line of thinking. “Eh? You think so?” She thinks. “Maybe I could move it closer to all the people, I guess.”

“It’s also pretty early in the night,” you add optimistically. “We could be your first two customers out of a hundred. You never know.”

With that, you and Mori finish up and bid the ditzy bird farewell. Since it was good, you give her an extra 500 yen — though she seems infinitely perplexed by the gesture. You have no desire to really explain the whole concept behind “tipping,” so you leave quickly to return to your rented hovel.

Mori walks in front of you with her arms crossed — you think, since they’re pretty much covered by the mantle. Her cold shoulders alert you that you have made some kind of mistake — in her eyes. “You didn’t have to tip that youkai, y’know.”

“She surprised me,” you respond. “And you were right: she probably isn’t going to have any more customers if she stays there. Might as well make her night somewhat worthwhile.”

“You gave that youkai a second thought, when you’ve hardly even talked to me,” she complains. “I wanted something a little more from our ‘date.’”

“I’m not really sure what you were expecting out of me.”

“Not spending our limited funds on a garden-variety youkai that probably won’t remember your face tomorrow.”

Mori keeps walking, leaving you paused. She isn’t wrong, but does she really feel no compassion for that youkai whatsoever? Especially after what she did to her?

You move again. Surely there’s youkai that feel — or don’t feel, rather — the same way about eating humans. Yet, they also have to care for humans because humans are their livelihood. Youkai don’t kill indiscriminately unless they’ve really lost it. They do what they can to preserve their image, and that usually means preying on the outliers of human society every once in a while, whether it be figuratively or literally.

Yet you can’t help but be irked by Mori’s disregard for youkai. Shizuha fought youkai in a desperate attempt for faith, but Mori was outright devouring one. Is that what happens when a god goes insane? Humans die and are reincarnated, but what about youkai? They keep living. They keep being devoured over and over again until nobody even remembers what they’re supposed to be. You’ve seen it happen. Do gods just keep eating until they can get some semblance of identity left? Is that what would have happened if you hadn't intervened that night?

Is that what you were trying to do back then, Kotohime?

Hey.”

Mori’s hard tone snaps you out of it. You didn’t even realize you were in front of your apartment, and Mori is blocking the door indignantly. “You zoned out again, didn’t you? I’m not letting you in until you tell me what you were thinking about!”

Inviting her into your thoughts would only make things worse. You can’t help but think that monstrous form might come out again. Maybe she is the monster. The dripping chunks, the sad wail, the sounds of fangs chewing and slimy with blood — you can remember it so clearly now. That’s why you’re afraid.

Damn Kotohime. This is what she wanted you to think. Her trip to hell couldn’t come soon enough.

Mori takes a step towards you, her deep eyes piercing into yours. “Is your head giving you trouble? You’ve had a rough week, after all. Maybe some things are… mixed up, still.”

She’s suspicious, and rightfully so. There has to be some way to defuse this situation. Maybe you could take advantage of the fact that it's supposed to be the end of your “date.”

[] Assuring forehead kiss.

[] Distracting mouth kiss.

[] Caress her hands with your own.

[]
>> No. 64781
>>64780
[x] Just spill it.

Let's not go lolicon route just yet.
>> No. 64782
[] Caress her hands with your own.
>> No. 64783
>>64781
I agree, but I think that forcing it with a write-in leans too much toward "blind faith". I think we need to pick the option that Suwako will see as a distraction and cause her to press for more info. Unfortunately, I have no idea what that is yet.
>> No. 64784
>>64783
It's us believing in her, it works without making her do any stupid reacharound to prod us for info in a specific way. Besides, we don't have to spill anything about Kotohime, so it's all good.
>> No. 64785
[X] Assuring forehead kiss.
>> No. 64786
>>64781
I sure hope you meant to spill your concern with her attitude, right? Because letting her know of kotohime is akin to reviving her. That's why she sticks with him: he's the only one who remembers her.

I'm guessing OP played Eternal Punishment.

[X] Assuring forehead kiss
>> No. 64787
[X] Assuring forehead kiss
>> No. 64788
>>64786
>Because letting her know of kotohime is akin to reviving her.

Well then we're already completely screwed because Patchy and Koa both know about her from their trip inside PI's dream. Pretty sure Kotohime was in the middle of torture/raping Patchy when we woke up, so I doubt Patchy will forget about her any time soon.

I wonder if Koa will bring it up next time we log into the chat room.

[x] Just spill it.
>> No. 64789
Is "it" the whole Kotohime thing, or is it the "we saw you eating Mystia" thing?

[X] Assuring forehead kiss
>> No. 64791
[X] Caress her hands with your own.

Lets go the lolicon route.
>> No. 64792
[X] Caress her hands with your own.

This seems more in line with PI's personality.
Also, Mori route.
>> No. 64793
I'm going to call it for assuring forehead kiss since I forgot to and the vote got close enough to worry me with half the update already written.

>>64791
>>64792
Don't worry Mori lovers, you'll be happy.
>> No. 64794
File 150247942034.jpg - (90.57KB , 715x1000 , cue hatate REEEEEEEing.jpg ) [iqdb]
64794
[x] Assuring forehead kiss.

You take a step toward Mori, who stands her ground. There’s hardly a foot between the two of you. Her body is tense — it has been since she saw Mystia.

Her eyes remained warily locked onto yours. She’s the type that’s most comfortable with an x-ray view into everyone’s head, and now you’re wearing a lead helmet. “Come on, PI. Tell me.”

Kotohime said she was a monster. She might be. However, this is still Mori you’re talking about. You don’t want to be blind to danger, but she’s your partner. You remember what she said to Hatate, and the promise she made to you.

“I’m not going to say a word about it,” you tell her, “because I want you to tell me when you’re ready.”

Gloom darkens Mori’s expression. “Then you—” she starts, but bites her lip. After a breath, she continues. “You still trust me?”

You squat down, leveling your face with hers. Her eyes don’t waver, but they’re softer — meeker. This isn’t a goddess questioning your faith indignantly. She’s uncertain and prodding you for assurance, and words aren’t going to be enough. So, you open your arms.

Mori’s stare goes blank. “What is this?”

You look at your arms, and then back to her. “I’m told it’s called a hug.”

She sighs. “Very funny, PI. This is seri—”

You reach around Mori and pull her into you, resting your chin on her head. “There’s a lot I don’t understand,” you tell her, “but I’ll believe in you because I want to understand you. I may not like everything I find, but we can work together to set things right.”

The tension in her body seems to melt away as she presses herself against yours. When you pull away from her slightly, she looks up at you — tenderly. Before she can muster any words, you take advantage of her moment of weakness by pushing her hat up and pressing your lips lightly against Mori’s exposed forehead. The scent of dandelions growing in wet soil fills your nostrils. “My faith comes with many difficult questions,” you continue, “but it’s yours if you trust in me as well — partner.”

For a split second you think you see her cheeks flush red, but she quickly throws herself into you and hides her face in your shoulder. “You can’t get all sentimental on me all of a sudden,” she speaks softly into you. “That’s not fair.”

It seemed like a pretty good time to return the favor from earlier. “I thought that’s what was supposed to happen at the end of a date,” you tell her.

Her giggle warms your shoulder. “You’re actually supposed to kiss me for real, y’know.”

You pull away from her, stand up, and frown down at her. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, you cheeky brat. This is a special case — because I felt like it.”

Mori seems to be back to normal with a big grin, though you notice her eyes are a little moist. “Sure, sure,” she remarks, refusing to take you at your word. “But y’know, I can’t believe Hatate’s just stood there and watched this whole time.”

You don’t believe it, but sure enough you hear a familiar-sounding huff and turn to see Hatate standing in front of the door to her new apartment, watching you and Mori with disdain. “Fucking normalfags,” Hatate grumbles. “If you have enough time to put the moves on a pedobait goddess, you should be on the chatroom.”

There’s nothing “normal” about any of this. On one hand it’s embarrassing that Hatate witnessed you and Mori’s little moment, but on the other it seems to have ruffled her feathers a bit — which is fine by you. “Are they still moving you in, Hatate?” you remark to her. “I can’t imagine you being outside for any other reason.”

“For your information,” she begins, averting her eyes. “I was installing some fun things around the building. If you two stop fucking each other in public and ask nicely, I might show you sometime.”

Mori beams a smile at the crotchedy Hatate. “Do you want a hug and a peck on the forehead too? Maybe some sweet nothings in your ear to help you sleep?”

Hatate shudders and retches. “From him? I’d rather become a human so I can get cancer and die.” Then she pauses and thinks — never a good sign. “Of course, cancer is all just another tool of oppression used by the tengu up high. You never heard one bit about cancer before everyone started eating kappa food. It’s the growth hormones they use that—”

You unlock your door while she begins her rant. “I’ve heard this one before,” you tell her, cutting the crow off as you coax Mori inside. “I’ll see you on KRC, Hatate.” You quickly shut the door and relock it. “That rant is a particularly long one,” you explain to Mori. “We’re fortunate to have escaped.”

“I can still hear you!” Hatate yells from outside. “These walls aren’t thick!”

It must be those long ears of hers. “I stand by what I said,” you say for her to hear.

The sound of Hatate groaning is barely audible, and then you hear her open and shut the door to her apartment. Footsteps can be heard on the other side of the wall, but then she goes silent.

“She isn’t wrong,” Mori comments. “You think we’ll be able to listen to her getting rough with herself?”

You stare at her — and she’s dead serious, of course. “For a goddess, your mind sure is in the gutter.”

She shrugs. “When you watch humans being lewd for so long, it kind of rubs off on you.” Then, she grins. “You didn’t answer my question.”

You can admit to yourself — though not to Mori — that listening in on some of Hatate’s self-petting might be interesting. “I sure as hell won’t be putting my ear to the wall to hear it,” you claim.

She rolls her eyes. “You know I can tell when your soul is darkened by a lie, right?”

Oh shi—

Mori watches your reaction, then laughs. “Just kidding! I mean, I could, but it would take some intensive probing that I really don’t wanna do.” Her expression settles into something more sincere. “Besides, I’m supposed to trust you. It doesn’t really say much for that if I can’t keep myself from poking around in your spiritual innards.”

You breathe a sigh of relief. “I thank you for that.”

“So you do want to hear Hatate masturbating?” she continues.

Damn. You fell for her trick. Your reaction may have given it away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hopelessly double down. “I’m not answering that,” you tell her before walking away from the conversation and towards your bedroom.

“Don’t tell me you’re going to bed now!” Mori calls after you. “It’s not even nighttime proper yet!”

“No, I’m just grabbing my computer,” you call back.

###

*** reconnected
*** now talking in #kakashi
*** topic is Official Channel for Kakashi Spirit News THE TRUTH | SEND NUDES TO psychicreporter@tengu.com | PI’S LUST FOR YOUNG ASS IS APPARENT
*** set by ~internethatatemachine on Fri Oct 5 17:38:45 2008
*** channel #kakashi mode is +nrst
*** channel created at Sat Jul 23 23:31:01 2005
<~internethatatemachine> so he was outside my door making out with this little girl
<~internethatatemachine> probably got a finger in too
<~internethatatemachine> oh here he is
<Lucy> Hi PI~!
<AgentQ> Hello, PI.
<PI> Very funny, Hatate
<PI> That didn’t take you long, did it?
<~internethatatemachine> im a pro, what can i say
<PI> More like internetpaparazzimachine
<~internethatatemachine> booooooooo
<Lucy> Are you two playing nice again?
<PI> Eh
<~internethatatemachine> eh
<~internethatatemachine> same as always
<Lucy> Good! I’m glad mommy and daddy are getting along. <3
<PI> Gross
<~internethatatemachine> GROSS
*** Lucy (faustianfucktoy@little.lasts.longest) has been kicked by ~internethatatemachine (Reason: SERIOUSLY GROSS)
*** Lucy (faustianfucktoy@little.lasts.longest) has joined
<Lucy> Rude! >:(
<~internethatatemachine> justified
<Lucy> Methinks the lady doth protest too much.
<~internethatatemachine> ugh
<PI> I don’t want to be the target of Hatate’s misguided affections
<PI> Let’s switch topics
<~internethatatemachine> die
<Lucy> Oh please, let’s discuss something else.
<Lucy> For example, the goddess that’s been hiding under our noses, stealing you away from us. >:(
<PI> I take it you’ve all been informed then?
<AgentQ> It was quite a shock, although not entirely outside the realm of expectations given recent events.
<Lucy> She was already a worthy opponent, but now I feel totally outclassed. :(
<Lucy> It’s not fair! If it wasn’t for this stupid contract, I could make this a proper love triangle.

You lean back on the couch and sigh. Mori is trouble enough; adding Lucy into the mix would be disastrous for your peace of mind. It’s a good thing she’s shackled by whatever is keeping her at bay.

The aforementioned goddess divides her attention evenly between the game show on the television and the chatroom on your monitor. “She’s awfully dedicated, isn’t she?” she speaks up, after glancing your way. “Why don’t you just go visit her?”

It isn’t the first time you’ve thought that. “I entertained the notion once to see what she would do, and she told me there was no way. Hatate agreed. Wherever she is, it’s not easily reached.”

Hatate also mentioned that Lucy belonged to a small group of outsiders. They could have some good info, and Mori might appreciate their perspective on Gensokyo. However, you already have enough to worry about for now; it’s best to lighten the load before jumping headlong into another investigation.

<PI> If that’s all you’re worried about, I’d say you guys are taking it pretty well
<AgentQ> I think she will make a good partner for you, as long as you keep an eye on her.
<~internethatatemachine> both eyes

Mori idly flips through the channels while the commercials are running on her show. “I guess I shouldn’t expect any faith from some people on the internet led by a paranoid tengu.”

<PI> Don’t worry, we have an understanding
<PI> But I’m still vigilant
<~internethatatemachine> vigilantly getting into her pants
<~internethatatemachine> face it luce
<~internethatatemachine> youre old news
<Lucy> ;_;
<~internethatatemachine> maybe if you were a little kid like Q you would have a chance
<AgentQ> Please leave my stature out of this.
<~internethatatemachine> cant you change your body to suit the need luce
<Lucy> I’m not one of those. >_<
<~internethatatemachine> couldve fooled me
<PI> How about the autumn goddesses?
<~internethatatemachine> havent mentioned much yet
<AgentQ> Though I am interested.
<PI> Yeah, this has to do with what you asked me to do, Q

You proceed to fill KRC in by more or less repeating what you and Hatate discussed this morning.

<Lucy> More goddesses?
<Lucy> Are you fingerbanging them, too? ._.
<PI> No, I’m not fingerbanging any goddess
<AgentQ> Seems like the gods are going to make a reappearance in Gensokyo one way or the other.
<AgentQ> I didn’t think the Akis would have enough power left to hold another festival.
<AgentQ> That might be distressing to our superiors, Hatate.
<~internethatatemachine> then its an opportunity for us
<AgentQ> Agreed. Only, I’m uncertain of how much of a leash they’re going to give the Akis.
<AgentQ> I don’t think they expect much, but if it ends up creating too much of a blip on their radar, then they’ll reign the goddesses in quick.
<PI> So helping them out too much may end up having the opposite effect?
<AgentQ> Most likely. Unfortunately we can’t be certain.
<AgentQ> There’s also the matter of this Kanako Yasaka.
<AgentQ> I didn’t know she was a goddess, but I’m almost certain she’s been meeting with some of our chiefs.
<~internethatatemachine> why would she be meeting with the kappa?
<PI> If it’s kappa, I can’t imagine it would be anything other than some kind of construction, or maybe swapping outside world tech
<AgentQ> Exactly.
<AgentQ> Unfortunately, I’m not privy to the specifics. If she wants something built, then I’d have to be assigned to the project to know what it is.
<~internethatatemachine> is that possible?
<AgentQ> Hard to tell. If word gets out that she’s a foreign goddess, then the competition will be fierce. Everyone around here goes crazy at the idea of outside tech.
<~internethatatemachine> the brat goddess is watching right PI?

You turn to Mori, who isn’t hiding her fascination with the current topic. “What do you think?”

Mori ponders. “I have no idea. In terms of outside tech, our shrine didn’t have too much. Just basic stuff like a generator, a heater, some appliances, and Sa—err, our shrine maiden had a cell phone and a computer. I can’t imagine the kappa being interested in any of that, since it seems that most of it’s already here in Gensokyo.”

“Then she probably wants to build something,” you assume. “Maybe another shrine, in the city?

Mori sighs. “Could be. I just don’t know. If the tengu are oppressing gods, wouldn’t they disapprove of that?”

An idea comes to you. “A puppet goddess, maybe? If the tengu could parade around this foreign goddess who sings praises to them, wouldn’t it bring them that much more in favor with the city? It would practically legitimize any ideas of their divinity.”

This gets Mori thinking even harder. “It’s hard to imagine Kanako playing a puppet,” she says, “but she’d probably do anything if she felt like she was backed into a corner.”

You turn back to your laptop and summarize yours and Mori’s thoughts for the chat.

<AgentQ> I see.
<AgentQ> As plausible as that sounds, the one weakness in that theory is that kappa wouldn’t build a simple shrine. It’s much too boring.
<AgentQ> The tengu would be asking the human workers in the city to do it.
<~internethatatemachine> so it has to be something else?
<AgentQ> Most likely.
<Lucy> Geez, there’s nothing we can be sure of, is there?
<~internethatatemachine> such is life
<~internethatatemachine> thats why we have PI
<Lucy> Yay!
<Lucy> It’s the Gensokyo ace detective, it’s PI! :D
<PI> I’m not a Saturday morning cartoon
<PI> I can’t do anything about the kappa, but I can stick close to the Akis to help them
<~internethatatemachine> good
<AgentQ> Don’t worry about the kappa; I’m on it.
<Lucy> Hatate loves PI! :P
<~internethatatemachine> good
<~internethatatemachine> WAIT SHIT
<~internethatatemachine> i meant good to Q
<~internethatatemachine> son of a bitch
*** Lucy (faustianfucktoy@little.lasts.longest) has been kicked by ~internethatatemachine (Reason: tricks and slander)
*** Lucy (faustianfucktoy@little.lasts.longest) has joined
<Lucy> >:)
<AgentQ> Oh, and PI.
<AgentQ> I’ll have a payment shipped to you shortly so you don’t starve.
<PI> Anything is appreciated
<PI> Thank you Q
<AgentQ> I imagine budgeting for a goddess isn’t the easiest thing in the world.
<~internethatatemachine> you should have her turn tricks to pay you back

Mori nudges you with a shit-eating grin. “Just out of curiosity, how much would you pay for me? You do like young ass, after all. The Internet told me so!”

“It’s Kappanet,” you correct her, “and shut up.”

You direct your annoyance through your fingers and into the keyboard.

<PI> I’ll knock you out again birdshit
<~internethatatemachine> im just on the other side of the wall
<~internethatatemachine> bring it bitch
<AgentQ> It seems they’ll be able to work out their frustrations physically now, at least.
<Lucy> One way or another. <3
<~internethatatemachine> gross
<PI> Gross

###

After that, #kakashi descends into its usual trite madness that you can easily tune out.

You’re glad that Lucy and Q took the news about Mori well enough. Compared to the conspiracy crow, they both seem fairly well-adjusted — not that such a thing would be difficult.

Then another KRC window pops up on your screen.

*** Lucy (faustianfucktoy@little.lasts.longest) has started a private chat with you
<Lucy> Hey.
<Lucy> Seriously.
<Lucy> Is everything okay?

Maybe you spoke too soon. You glance at Mori, who is staring a little too intently at the television. It’s obvious she’s going to side-eye this conversation, but you aren’t going to censor yourself for her sake.

<PI> I won’t say it isn’t stressful
<PI> but I’ll pull through it like I always do
<Lucy> Are you sure?
<Lucy> Since you have to deal with this goddess and Hatate, I’m worried about you.
<Lucy> If there’s anything wrong, you can tell me.

There’s a lot wrong even beyond Mori and Hatate, but nothing that Lucy can fix over a computer screen.

<PI> I’ll be sure to keep that in mind
<Lucy> Alright.
<Lucy> Do you hate women with red hair?

Talk about a random question. Red hair makes you think of Kotohime and everything that entails, since it isn’t a particularly common hair color here in Gensokyo. Then again, there was that woman in your dream. She had red hair, didn’t she? Nothing about that made any sense. It was probably your exhausted mind conjuring a meeker, sexier version of Kotohime for some reason. You aren’t really into analyzing dreams since they mostly fall into two categories: useless or Kotohime being bored, which might as well be useless.

<PI> Not because of their hair
<Lucy> Huh.
<Lucy> Have you ever loved a woman with red hair, then?
<PI> Maybe
<Lucy> I see.
<Lucy> Well, anyways, remember that scoop I mentioned before?
<Lucy> It’s happening, and I think you’re going to be a part of it.
<PI> What is it, exactly?
<Lucy> A surprise. ;)
<Lucy> You get letters at your apartment, right?
<PI> If Hina doesn’t lose it and Hatate doesn’t swipe it
<Lucy> Great!
<Lucy> Then keep an eye out for it. It’s a very special invitation! :)
<PI> Will do
<Lucy> Stay safe, PI.
<Lucy> Take it easy and rest if you need to.
*** Lucy (faustianfucktoy@little.lasts.longest) has disconnected from the server

Weird.

“Weird,” Mori vocalizes your thought for you. “Is she usually like that?”

Come to think of it, it’s a little odd that Lucy would go out of her way to shoot you a private message that isn’t a request for cybersex. Maybe this maternal play is some new kink she’s figuring out.

You shrug. “Maybe. I don’t know her like I do Hatate and Q, remember? She’s relatively fresh.”

“Fresh for the taking?” Mori assumes.

You sigh.

###

The night brings nothing new, just a lot of Mori laughing at goofy shit on the television. Hatate doesn’t make any noise. You end up nodding off around eight or so.

Rest is nice, because the days aren’t going to get any easier.

[] It’s time to revisit the Aki sisters.

[] You’re a little worried about Marisa trying to assassinate Reimu.
>> No. 64795
Both are pretty important, but I'd say ensuring the safety of the fucking Hakurei Shrine Maiden is a top concern, even if PI doesn't know how important she actually is.

[X] You’re a little worried about Marisa trying to assassinate Reimu.

Also I had thought AgentQ was a Akyuu reincarnation, but her working so closely with the tengu kind of nixes that theory.
>> No. 64796
[] You’re a little worried about Marisa trying to assassinate Reimu.
>> No. 64797
[x] You’re a little worried about Marisa trying to assassinate Reimu.
>> No. 64798
That was nice of Lucy. I feel like PI may have sent her the wrong message, though. I wonder what it'll take for him to realize how much of the dream was real.

[x] You’re a little worried about Marisa trying to assassinate Reimu.

I'm not actively worried about this one, personally, but I'm more interested in the cast of characters it's likely to involve us with.

>>64795
I was pretty sure of her identity from early on, but she does speak (well, type) a lot like how I'd expect your suggestion to talk. The handle could've been a pun, too.
>> No. 64799
[X] You’re a little worried about Marisa trying to assassinate Reimu.

So who was Q again?
>> No. 64800
A(gent)kyuu(Q)


[X] Worried about Marisa...

Didn't we JUST read about how giving too much attention to the goddesses WILL backfire?

Good thing too, because I'm all about helping them. I'll hold myself just this once.
>> No. 64801
Thought AgentQ was nitori
>> No. 64802
[x] You’re a little worried about Marisa trying to assassinate Reimu.

Every time I read an update to this story it smacks me upside the head and reminds me why I keep coming back. There's no one thing that makes me go "wow", it's just an incredibly well put-together world. It feels alive.
>> No. 64803
>>64801
Akyuu is a nice play on words but her name comes from the Bond movies, as the 'gadget inventor' Also, the inspector notes says she is 'Another Youkai in the mountain, but not a Tengu' and 'A long-time friend of Hatate'
She is definitely Nitori. Hell, she'd have to go and help if the mountain needed to build something, how much obvious can it get?
I could confirm it with her mail but she never, ever, disconnected from IRC.

Lucy (Koa?) makes sense with her mail (Faust's story is about him making a deal with the devil to gain knowledge and seduce a girl) However Lucy's meaning escapes me. The girl was named Gretchen. Maybe's it's a moniker for Lucifer and yet another hint at her demonic nature? Maybe.

As for who 'Internet Hatate Machine' is... that will forever remain a mystery. My money's on Yuuka.

[x] Help the gods

You promised.
>> No. 64804
[X] It’s time to revisit the Aki sisters.

Agent Q> Agent Cu> Agent Cucumber
plus as the previous anon pointed out Q branch in Bond are the armorers and inventors.
>> No. 64805
Thank all of you for reading and voting! I feel like I don't say that enough. Even after a year and then some, it still tickles me that you guys still like what I'm doing.

There seems to be a large enough majority for checking up on Reimu and Marisa, so I'm going to go ahead and call it now. Writing begins.

>>64803

internethatatemachine: Yuuka, who long ago skinned Hatate alive and has been wearing her flesh as a disguise in order to fight back against the tengu.

AgentQ: Akyuu's secret daughter, my hyper-competent OC and a quirky yamato nadeshiko who PI falls in love with immediately and ends up with in the end after beating up every girl in the story at the same time.

Lucy: A bookish fairy pretending to be Koakuma since her sexual curiosity was awakened after being murder-raped by Flandre (which will of course receive a graphic sidestory in /at/).

But in all seriousness, I think I saw correct guesses for everyone in KRC by the end of the first thread. I just refuse to outright confirm them until they physically appear in the story since I still like seeing what you guys come up with.
>> No. 64806
Raftclans I am sorry but I don't get what you talked about AgentQ

I mean I get the Akyuu's daughter thing and the other girl who will be PI's love interest but I don't get this part:

"ends up with in the end after beating up every girl in the story at the same time. "

Can you explan me please?
>> No. 64807
>>64806
It's a reference to an old Spanish folklore hero called "Chiste" who was famous for defeating every opponent by jumping over them.
>> No. 64808
>>64805
Everything in the spoilers for that post was a joke (bad/silly tropes, to be specific).
>> No. 64809
>>64805

>The Lucy story

I called it, I knew all along!

I hope you actually do write that story, I've been looking forward to it ever since I brought up the fairy maid as a joke
>> No. 64810
>>64809
We could always use more fairy tales, so to speak.

It would make a nice "what-if" sidestory.
>> No. 64814
File 150352002425.jpg - (226.97KB , 800x792 , perfectly innocent and adorable young ghost.jpg ) [iqdb]
64814
[X] You’re a little worried about Marisa trying to assassinate Reimu.

###

After fixing yourself a meager breakfast and dragging Mori out of bed, the two of you take to the streets once again. You don’t make it out of your apartment until later in the morning, so the only people you see are vagabonds, groups of housewives, and gangs of errant children — with fairies — trying to make the slums into their playground.

Mori yawns and rubs her groggy eyes. “Why are we going back to Kourindou, again?”

It was pretty obvious she wasn’t paying attention when you explained it earlier. “You watched television all night, didn’t you? I’m going to have to impose a strict bedtime from now on.”

“It wasn’t all night,” she counters weakly. “Would you just answer the question? I thought we were gonna start helping Shizuha.”

“Me too,” you reply, “but you saw what they were talking about on KRC last night. We can’t draw too much attention to the Akis or the tengu will shut them down. While I think about how to get around that, there’s something a bit more pressing we need to address.”

Mori thinks for a bit, which is longer than it should take. What did she even watch that kept her up so late? Television after midnight is mostly just bad advertisements from the tengu and kappa. “You mean Marisa?” she finally says. “Are you that worried about her?”

“It’s just a little unsettling,” you admit. “The one time Marisa acts coherent since I’ve known her, and it’s about eradicating the human race. There’s something up with Mima, and I want to get to the bottom of it before someone gets hurt.”

Mori takes the opportunity to pick dirt out of her ear while she walks and talks. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but I remember you said you didn’t wanna seek out trouble.”

“I’m not entirely selfish,” you respond, “but I’m not selfless either. Mima promised a reward for Marisa’s whereabouts, and it would be nice to have Reimu and Marisa indebted to us somehow. If they don’t pay me back, then I can at least get something out of Morichika.”

She flicks whatever she pulled out of her ear away and then grins at you. “Alright, I’m relieved. That’s the PI I know.”

You aren’t sure you like what’s she’s implying. “I do want to help, but I have to be pra—practica—”

Suddenly you stop walking, wind your head back and sneeze hard, spraying a mist of saliva and mucus ahead of you.

Mori winces and recoils backward. “Uh, you alright? I’m not really the type of goddess that blesses sneezes, y’know.”

You sniff a couple of times and shiver as a ice-cold puff of air works its way into your clothes, up the back of your spine and through your torso.

Wait a minute. This feeling is familiar. You pat the cold spots on your body. “Mima? Is that you?”

The cold creeps up your neck and into your ears. “Shh,” her voice whispers into your ear, or from your ear — you don’t really know. “Just play it nice and coooool, my detective friend.”

Mori watches you warily. “What’s she up to now? She isn’t going to possess you, is she?”

“I’m not opposed to the idea of becoming one with you,” the ghost croons in your ear, “but more urgently, I need a place to hide.”

“Hide?” you say out loud, for Mori to hear. “Hide from what?”

Mori’s face brightens with realization. “Okay, I think I see what’s going on here.”

You frown at the enlightened goddess. “Well, I sure don’t—” you start to say, before someone grabs you from behind and spins you around by your shoulder. Suddenly, you’re looking down into the face of a very dour — and close — Reimu.

“Hey,” she grumbles. “You.”

It would be nice if she called out to you before getting physical, but obviously Reimu doesn’t give a shit about that. You frown at her, though nothing you muster could compare to the sheer amount of weariness and contempt Reimu seems to wear every waking moment. “Reimu. Good morni—”

“Yeah yeah,” she says, keeping a firm grip on your shoulder. “You see Mima float by here? She ran off to duck out of work, and it can’t be a coincidence that I found you while chasing her.”

Reimu has some pretty good intuition. In fact, if you’re remembering correctly, she suspected pretty quickly that Mori wasn’t telling the whole truth about who she was — and that she was no little girl. Reimu is definitely someone you wouldn’t want against you.

Therefore, you’re going to sell Mima right out. “She went up my ass, through my body, and is wiggling around somewhere between my ears right now.”

Reimu blinks, but her expression remains hard as stone. “I should have figured as much.”

Mima slowly floats out of your skull, fogging your vision temporarily before she halts above you and Reimu. “You traitor,” the green-haired ghost cries at you theatrically. “Have you no honor, Shinichi?”

With Mima out of you, the chill instantly leaves your bones and the small hairs on your body begin to relax. “None,” you answer her without hesitation. “However, I do have news for you.”

The ghost flips around and lays on her stomach in midair, smirking widely at you. “Ohhhhh? Please, do tell.”

Reimu’s hand on your shoulder gets a little heavier. “Yes,” she says, “do tell.”

“Take it easy,” you tell the shrinekeeper, prying her fingers off your shoulder. “This concerns you as well.”

Reimu sighs. “That’s just what I need: something else to be concerned about.” Then she glares at you. “Well? Out with it.”

“I found Marisa,” you announce plainly.

Mima flies right in your face with a big smile. “You did!? That’s wonderful! I was worried that kid might have went off and gotten herself killed.”

“Hold on,” Reimu cuts in, waving Mima aside. “What does this have to do with me? Is Marisa one of your goons, Mima? You wouldn’t be thinking of getting out of our little arrangement, would you?”

Reimu tenses up, like she’s ready to pounce — and not in a good way. This confirms that Reimu had no idea about Mima’s little task for you. If Mima would’ve told you that, you would have waited until the ghost was alone before breaking the news.

Now on the spot, Mima quickly explains herself. “No no no! Marisa is merely a child who was with me when I was sealed away. I was curious since I hadn’t seen her since being graciously allowed my limited freedom.”

That limited freedom must have something to do with the agreement that was mentioned. Unfortunately, Mima’s words do little to calm Reimu. “You mean she’s one of your students!” the shrinekeeper remarks. Then she turns her rage on you and Mori. “And you two were in on this, too?”

You step in front of Mori. “We don’t even know what’s going on. Mima just asked me to find some blonde girl who gets into trouble, and it turned out to be an acquaintance of mine.”

There’s no reason to bring up what Marisa said — yet. Baby steps. If you laid it all out at once, Reimu might really start throwing punches.

Reimu stares at you, and then lets out a long sigh. “Okay. I should’ve known that — after I loosened her grip on my leash — she would set out to find someone who could take care of her dirty work without asking many questions.”

Mima floats upward and crosses her arms with a huff. “I only wanted to check up on her, Reimu. You can be so untrusting sometimes!”

The shrinekeeper aims a wicked glare at Mima. “I have every reason to be.”

Mori pops out from behind you and raises her hand, drawing their attention. “Excuse me, but it sounds like we have a lot to discuss with each other. Maybe we should find a venue that isn’t in the middle of the street? Perhaps even somewhere that serves food?”

If she’s hungry, then she should have been awake to eat breakfast with you this morning. However, Mori does have a point. The streets aren’t safe for a conversation like this; standing around for any length of time makes you stick out as a target, and you’re still trying to avoid the tengu.

Reimu nods. “Fine by me.” Then she walks ahead, but not before turning back to you and declaring, “You’re buying, private eye.”

Damn it.

###

“Please have a Kapptastic day, honored customers.”

The familiar-looking purple-haired employee sets the large tray of food on the table and then bows deeply.

Didn’t she serve you last time? It’d be a lie if you said her over-politeness wasn’t cute. “Thanks,” you tell her, since it’s likely nobody else will.

She raises her head and is about to turn away before her gaze halts on Reimu, and her dark eyes widen. “P-pardon me, but do you not belong to the Hakurei?’

“Fuck off,” Reimu replies without even looking at her, focusing all her attention on the King Kappa® she ordered.

The poor girl winces with the sheer force of Reimu’s rejection. “I—I apologize, it’s just, your clothing, I—nevermind. I beg your forgiveness for my transgression.” She forces a nervous smile and gives another bow before swiftly retreating.

“Ouch,” Mori remarks, as she sorts her food from the rest. “A little harsh, don’t ya think? I think the poor girl’s going into the bathroom to cry.”

Reimu doesn’t even give it a thought as she tears into the wrapper of her burger. “I’m not a shrine maiden,” she explains gruffly, “and I’ve got no business with some random fast food worker.”

She proceeds to fill her mouth with a bite of the gargantuan King Kappa® — sans pickles, if you recall her order correctly. Meanwhile, Mori dips a Kappa Nugget® into some Kappa Sauce®.

You and Mima, on the other hand, didn’t get any food. The ghost leisurely floats on the other side of the table from you, and your eyes end up meeting as you sip on your Dr. Kappa®. “How is she?” the ghost suddenly speaks up. “Marisa?”

You aren’t sure how you should answer that. “I think she has all her fingers and toes still,” is what you decide on after a moment’s thought.

Mima chuckles. “That means she hasn’t been practicing enough, then.”

Remiu glowers at her. “I thought you said she was just a girl?”

“She may not have been a student proper, but I did mentor her somewhat,” Mima replies smugly.

“And what exactly did you teach her?” you continue.

“Oh, some sparkles here, and some flashes there,” Mima explains lightly. “Nothing too advanced. She was a child, after all.” Then she thinks. “Come to think of it, she must be close to your age, Reimu.”

“Not interested,” Reimu responds coldly — with a mouthful of food. Then she turns to you. “Are you gettin’ at somethin’ here? I’m still not convinced I need to be around for this.”

Yet, she seemed perfectly content with the situation while you were in line to order. You clear some of your syrupy beverage from your throat. “The girl Mima had me find is named Marisa. She stays at Kourindou most of the time.”

“That weird store?” Reimu remarks. “I’ve heard about it a couple times, and seen it once, but never went in.”

Mima thinks. “I recall the building, but I never saw Marisa around there.”

“She has a habit of wandering,” you continue explaining. “Mostly in the Forest of Magic, looking for mushrooms.”

“You might say she has a problem,” Mori adds.

Mima furrows her transparent brow. “I see. With that type of magic, addiction to the ingredients is an unfortunate inclination among its users.”

Reimu clicks her tongue. “Boohoo. All kinds of people are addicted to the drugs that madwoman in the bamboo forest is peddling through the rabbits. At least this Marisa’s using something remotely natural.”

You aren’t sure if that’s the right attitude, but you push on. “She is also friends with another magician: Alice Margatroid. They have a… complicated relationship. It was while I was meeting with Alice at her home about an unrelated matter that Marisa barged in.”

“It wasn’t a very good tea party anyway,” Mori interjects.

Both Mima and Reimu give you a curious look, but you want to get this over with as soon as possible. “I informed Marisa that you were looking for her and she seemed excited, to put it lightly.”

Mori clarifies for you. “I believe it was something like, ‘I can’t wait to kill all the humans, starting with that Hakurei bitch.’”

If ghosts could sweat, that’s what Mima would be doing right now. “Damn that brat,” she mutters. “I respect her dedication, but—”

Reimu swallows part of her Big Kappa® — which is already over halfway gone — and then turns to Mima. “I see. So what he’s saying, Mima, is that you’ve left a wonderful little mess for me to deal with.”

Mima floats out of her seat and lies across the table in front of Reimu. “D—don’t worry, Reimu. I can straighten her out, I swear.”

“We’re dealing with someone either ignorant or stupid enough to try and kill the one person holding this shitshow of a place together,” Reimu argues. “And don’t lay on the food — you’ll make my fries cold.”

“May I ask what happened to start all this in the first place?” you interrupt them, focusing on Mima. “There has to be some kind of history involved for Marisa to say something like that, not to mention whatever’s going on between you and Reimu in the first place.”

Reimu groans, as if there were nothing she would hate more than retreading the past.

Mima, on the other hand, is more nonchalant about it. “About a decade ago, I heard that the Hakurei Shrine’s power was waning. I thought it was as good a time as any to attack and take the shrine for myself.”

Somehow you aren’t surprised Mima was that kind of woman. “And you were alive then, correct?”

She shakes her head. “Just as dead as I am now.”

That surprises you. Normally, ghosts don’t have that much power or ambition. “Why take the shrine, then?”

“I wanted to become a divine spirit,” Mima answers. “I knew there was a vacancy at the Hakurei Shrine, so I thought that conquering the shrine would be the best way to gain the requisite faith.”

You almost turn to Mori to ask if that’s possible, but catch yourself. Instead, you ask Reimu. “Can that really happen?”

“I dunno and I dun care,” she mumbles through her food. “There’s no vacancy at the shrine, and I’m not going to let some ghost take it over even if there were.”

“I’ve heard of things like that happening before,” Mori speaks up inconspicuously, to actually answer your question. “There are born gods — native gods — and then there are the divine spirits who have ascended to godhood as a result of collecting faith. Usually while they’re still alive, though.”

“Correct!” Mima responds with a grin. “The little girl knows her stuff. Anyway, I attacked the shrine, so the shrine maiden and the priest came out — lil’ Reimu’s parents.”

Reimu cringes noticeably, and you aren’t sure if it’s at the mention of her parents or Mima’s tone — or both.

“They had the legendary Yin-Yang Orbs,” Mima continues, “but it turns out they had grown awfully weak over the years. They both ended up giving their own lives to seal me in a dinky little birdhouse in front of the shrine.”

The story became heavy all of a sudden. You look to Reimu, who is focused on her fries. When she catches you staring at her, she responds with a glare. “What? That better not be pity you’re looking at me with, or I’ll jam the rest of my french fries into your eye sockets.”

You get the feeling she cares a little more than she lets on. “Sorry,” you reply, “I think I’m just starting to fill in the blanks. Please continue, Mima.”

Mima nods, slowly drifting in front of you as she speaks. “Right, so I was sealed in the shrine for a few years until suddenly I’m free. It turns out some outsider tore a big hole in the barrier with their fancy mansion, and the tengu were riding Reimu pretty hard to patch it up. She had been doing okay with basic upkeep, but the advanced stuff was still out of her reach, and she needed me to assist her. I couldn’t help but be moved by her sincere and humble request.”

“It wasn’t anything like that,” Reimu argues. “I pulled you out of that thing and slapped enough seals on you to pin down Amaterasu herself. Then I asked you for a little help with some minor tasks that I hadn’t been taught how to handle, because you were directly responsible for the deaths of the people who would’ve taught me. And you didn’t agree to help at first — if you could kick and scream, you would have been the whole time I dragged you to Misty Lake.”

Mima clears her throat — obviously to move things along, since ghosts have no sinuses or vocal cords that you know of. “Regardless,” she continues, “Reimu and I eventually made an agreement that some of my seals could be removed if I continued to assist her with the barrier.”

“And here we all are — because you tried to ditch work,” Reimu mentions gruffly. “Again.”

“I think I understand,” you say, before they can get into another back-and-forth. “However, I’m still not sure where Marisa got the idea to commit genocide — against her own kind.”

Mima floats away from the table, turning away to hide her face. “Well, that may have been something my followers believed.”

“Because it’s what you told them,” Reimu grumbles.

Mima turns back around and shrugs. “Well, that’s how the game is played. You have to attract minions somehow. I didn’t have any intention to actually follow through on it.”

Mori sighs. “Politics, huh?”

The ghost brightens up. “Exactly! That’s all it was! I didn’t want to call for the extermination of the human race, but I needed to provide a simple and nefarious doctrine to attract all the ne’er do wells dwelling outside of society.”

“So Marisa believed you and still does believe in you, which is why she’s going this far,” you conclude. “And it was all just something you made up to gain followers.”

Mima smiles bashfully. “When you say it like that, it makes me sound like I’m a villain or something.”

“You are a villain,” you and Reimu respond in flat unison.

Mima gasps, then gives up and sinks back down into her original seat. “I know, I know. Look, I offered to talk to Marisa. Wouldn’t that make everything better?”

You’re starting to doubt that. “So you would admit to lying to her and explain that you’re currently serving the Hakurei Shrine to make up for attacking it?”

Mima thinks. “Hmmmm, well, you know. Maybe. Probably. Something like that.”

At least she’s somewhat honest in her dishonesty.

“I have an idea,” Mori speaks up. “Why don’t you hire us as bodyguards? Marisa knows us, and we can make sure the situation is clearly and properly communicated to her before there’s any violence.”

That sounds like a lot of work and trouble on your part, but admittedly it’s the best solution that you can see. You exchange weary looks with Reimu. “I reluctantly agree with my associate’s suggestion.”

Reimu continues staring at you for a moment, then looks down and emits a resigned sigh. “I guess there’s no harm in letting you two follow me around for a while as long as you don’t piss me off. It’s not like I want to beat up some brainwashed girl, even if it would be self-defense.”

Mima sports a proud grin as she floats higher into the air. “Great! Since that’s settled, you two can help Reimu out instead of me! I’ll just be leav—”

Reimu shoots Mima a look that can freeze even a specter. “Not a chance. I’m not going to let you out of my sight again. If you have a problem with that, I can always reseal you.”

Mima dejectedly floats back down to the table. “Yes, Reimu.”

“What were your plans for today?” Mori asks Reimu with a smile, obviously excited to trail the shrinekeeper for a day. It’s entirely possible that, given her curiosity about Gensokyo, Mori set this deal up with that in mind.

Reimu stands up like the world is on her bare shoulders, though she leaves her trash. “Well, today I was going to go—”

[] —back to my shrine, to write up some talismans. There’s someone there who can keep you company, though.”

[] —to Muenzuka, so I can study the barrier’s weaknesses there. You might want to be ready for a fight, because there’s a lot of ‘em around there.”

[] —into the Central District for some routine maintenance. What’s with that look, Shinichi? You don’t like the only nice part about this city or something?”

[]
>> No. 64815
[x] Central

This is the story that keeps on giving. I wonder if we'll ever reveal the phenomena that destroyed Faith. I thought it was the Tengu plus you know who shenanigans, but it doesn't explain why were the Hakurei weakened so much.
>> No. 64816
[X] —into the Central District for some routine maintenance. What’s with that look, Shinichi? You don’t like the only nice part about this city or something?”

I'm curious what central is like.
>> No. 64817
[X] —to Muenzuka, so I can study the barrier’s weaknesses there. You might want to be ready for a fight, because there’s a lot of ‘em around there.”
>> No. 64818
>>64815
They were weak because they were old. And this Reimu doesn't seem weak at all

[x] —to Muenzuka, so I can study the barrier’s weaknesses there. You might want to be ready for a fight, because there’s a lot of ‘em around there.”
>> No. 64819
[x] —to Muenzuka, so I can study the barrier’s weaknesses there. You might want to be ready for a fight, because there’s a lot of ‘em around there.”

We can go to Central any time.
>> No. 64820
[X] —into the Central District for some routine maintenance. What’s with that look, Shinichi? You don’t like the only nice part about this city or something?”

Given we have a limited pool of ammo which we have to refill out of our own pocket and we don't seem to have blatant supernatural powers or qualities like the others, this feels more manageable as a choice compared to Muenzaka, while giving us more firsthand insight into the capabilities of Reimu and what her job entails compared to going to the shrine.
>> No. 64821
[x] —back to my shrine, to write up some talismans. There’s someone there who can keep you company, though.”

Token vote for taking it easy.
>> No. 64826
[X] —into the Central District for some routine maintenance. What’s with that look, Shinichi? You don’t like the only nice part about this city or something?”

I don't think we're quite prepared to slum around the entrance to the underworld
>> No. 64827
Looks like PI is returning to Central.

The next post will be rated /at/ for lewd content.

I'll link to it here when I post it.
>> No. 64828
You can find a very relevant side-post and look into PI's concerns about going back to Central here: >>/at/38308

The real next post will be posted (here) very shortly.
>> No. 64829
>>64828
Fuck that's brutal. I wouldn't even enter the city if that happened in my own past.
>> No. 64830
PI is just a bundle of tragedy isn't he.
>> No. 64831
File 150605511624.jpg - (51.62KB , 600x619 , surrounded by idiots.jpg ) [iqdb]
64831
“Is it true, PI?”

You stop and glance down at the diminutive goddess, before you realize she couldn’t possibly be addressing what you were thinking about — that last night you spent in Central so many years ago. Whatever Mori’s asking about, you lost track of it quite a ways back. “Is what true?”

“Mima said there’s lots of geishas in Central,” she repeats. “Is that true?”

You sigh. “What’s with you and sex workers?” Then you turn to the ghost who’s pretending to have her attention elsewhere. “And stop giving her weird ideas.”

Mima responds with a smirk. “You didn’t answer her question.”

You frown into Mori’s bright eyes. “I wouldn’t know,” you tell her grimly. “It’s been a while.”

“Are you three finished?” Reimu addresses all of you harshly. “The gate’s just up ahead.”

She’s right. Down the way you can spot the giant wooden barricade that divides the slums from the pristine origins of the city: the Central District.

“Wow!” Mori remarks as the lot of you approach, sufficiently distracted from her former question. “That’s a big wall!” Then she stares at it a little harder. “But really, the traditional architecture kinda clashes with all the concrete and asphalt around here. How long ago was it built?”

“When the village was first founded,” Mima answers for you, “however many centuries ago. I forget.”

You glance at the ghost. “Were you around for that?”

She shrugs nonchalantly, but her eyes are notably sharp. “Maybe. Trying to get a feel for my age? There’s so many other things about me I’d let you feel, you know.”

Mima’s as forward as always. “No thanks,” you tell her. “I felt enough of you earlier.” Ignoring the dejected ghost, you turn back to the curious goddess. “As for the wall, it’s really only a symbol. Long ago it represented the divide between humans and youkai, and now it represents the divide between the poor and the rich.”

“How socially-conscious of you,” Reimu mutters from a few paces ahead.

Mori giggles.“You really are Hatate’s better half.”

Gross. You ignore them and look ahead to the gate, which is manned by at least two officers who are undoubtedly armed. “The real concern right now is how we’re going to get in. Guards at checkpoints around the wall ensure that the only people who get into Central are either sponsored by someone important enough or have enough money to cover the hefty ‘processing fees.’”

“Sounds like bureaucracy at work,” Mori remarks. “What a shame.”

What you left out is that this policy was implemented only after the murders, since it’s widely believed — thanks to the efforts of a certain someone — that the murderer came in from the slums and then retreated back into them when the trail became too hot. They would never suspect one of their own was the culprit, after all. As expected, the change was met with little resistance from the frightened populace.

You hasten your steps to catch up to Reimu. “How do you plan on getting us in?”

She doesn’t even look at you. “I pass on authority from the tengu, and all the guards know that. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t do anything stupid.”

Unfortunately, you can’t be relieved just yet. “Are they still going to search me?”

“Who knows,” she responds, clearly annoyed. “If you’re worried about it, throw whatever it is away. I don’t have time for this.”

Your Hatate-provided fake ID should pass muster, but there’s no excuse for your gun — and you can’t just give that up.

Suddenly something very cold drapes itself across your shoulders. “Leave it to me!” Mima declares, having wrapped her arms around your neck. “I can help. ”

That’s right: Mima’s magic would be incredibly useful here. “Will you turn me invisible?” you request of the great ghost magician.

Mima floats ahead of you. “”N—no, not quite,” she says, “but I can smuggle whatever it is in by flying over the gate.”

“Isn’t invisibility supposed to be magic 101?” Mori remarks to the ghost magician. “C’mon, just make us both invisible.”

Mima deflates. “That kind of low-key magic isn’t really my forte.” Then she adds with a wary look, “And how would you even know what ‘magic 101’ is, girl?”

Mori shrugs. “Eh, y’know. It’s common knowledge, isn’t it? Like uh, poof! That kind of thing.”

You aren’t sure if Mori’s acting dumb or she really is that ignorant about magic. Either way, you’ll just have to trust Mima. “Take my gun,” you murmur to her.

Mima’s face lights up. “Ooooh! Now I see what the trouble is. Y’know, I’ve never held one of these before.”

“Just be absolutely certain not to squeeze the trigger,” you warn her. “You may not be hurt by a bullet, but it will cause a huge riot. These things aren’t exactly common or tolerated.”

“I know that much at least,” Mima assures you haughtily. Something cold in your pants lingers for a bit too long before relieving you of the feeling of your gun. Then Mima floats upward, with your gun floating in her semi-transparent body. “It’s safe with me. Nobody else can see it. I’ll find you on the other side!”

With that, the ghost floats ever higher into the air, until she’s high enough to go over the gate and out of sight.

Your eyes catch Reimu’s glare. “If that’s resolved,” she says, “can we please get moving?”

“It’s almost like you’re excited to go to Central,” Mori guesses.

Reimu turns away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Hurry up.”

Because the work rush is already well over, there isn’t a line to pass through the checkpoint. Reimu leads you and Mori into the gate, not acknowledging anyone or anything as she goes by. The nearby guard completely ignores her, but approaches you. “Hold there you two,” he says. “State your business.”

He’s middle-aged, short with his words, and quick with his eyes. The idea of the “blanket” resurfaces in your mind and instantly weighs on your nerves. You don’t recognize this officer, but he’s certainly a veteran of his post and was likely on the force during the murders. You don’t know if you should even talk to this man, lest something switch over in his mind and undo over a decade’s worth of hiding.

Fortunately, Reimu steps in. “The man and the girl are with me,” she informs him sternly. “They’re helping me out, and I’m kinda in a hurry.”

The guard stares at her hard. “Lady Hakurei, I didn’t think the tengu allowed you to bring guests.”

However, Reimu is completely unfazed. “Do you really want to take it up with them?”

The guard doesn’t even consider before answering, “No.” However, he turns back to you and Mori. “I will need to check both of you, though. Just to be sure.”

“No problem,” you respond with an amicable face. Quickly, you reach into your wallet and show him your ID. “Here you are.”

The guard looks at it, then you. “I see.” Then he glances at Mori. “And who’s the girl?”

“My—”

“His partner,” Mori says, cutting you off. “Mori.”

You were going to say “niece,” but you should’ve known she would jump on that after what you told her last night. Fortunately, you can improvise. “That’s right,” you affirm, nevertheless. “We work together to help people like Miss Hakurei, who suffer so much from the shackles of poverty and sometimes have trouble meeting even day-to-day necessities.” Then you peer into the guard’s steely eyes. “Would you care to give a donation to help our organiza—”

“No,” the guard answers preemptively. “Just be quiet and let me search you.”

Being felt up by a man is a fairly new experience, and one you hope to avoid in the future. After about a minute of thorough patting, he steps back. “You’re good.” Then he turns to Mori. “Now, for you.”

Mori holds out her arms and legs in obedience, but it surprises you that he only checks her pockets and her shoes before hesitating, and then stepping away. “Alright, she’s good,” he claims. “You two can go.”

Once you’re relatively out of earshot, you turn to Mori. “Are you alright?”

Mori tilts her head. “Huh? Uh, yeah.” Then she looks at you a little harder before catching on. “What, you mean the pat-down? Don’t even worry about that. He didn’t touch anything delicate.”

You sigh. “Unlike me, who received the full treatment. He must have a daughter around your age at home or something. One day that kind of weakness will kill him.”

“I don’t think you should be worried about me or that guard,” Mori says, pointing at Reimu.

The shrinekeeper is noticeably shaking, and her fists are clenched tight. “Damn that idiot guard,” she mutters to herself, “calling me that. Fucking smug piece of garbage.” Suddenly, she spins around to face you and jam a threatening finger in your face. “And you! Call me ‘Lady Hakurei’ one more time and it’ll be the last words you say with a full set of teeth!”

By this point you’re getting used to Reimu’s temper, so you’re more confused than anything. “Sorry, I was just going with the flow. I thought you’d be more upset about the implication that you’re a charity case.”

Her anger dies down into an annoyed frown. “Yeah, well, I do beg around here sometimes. All the rich housewives and sleazy old men like to throw coins at me as they walk by.”

Of course, that’s why she would be excited to go to Central. Remembering the kind of people who would give Reimu money stirs a pessimistic bitterness within you. “Anything for them to feel good about themselves while ignoring the real problem, right?” you remark.

Reimu shrugs. “As long as they’re giving me money, I couldn’t care less how they get their sense of self-satisfaction for the day.”

That kind of attitude doesn’t help the situation, either. “Yet you have enough pride to get offended by being called ‘Lady Hakurei,’” you mention.

She shoots a wicked glare at you. “There’s a nekomata I strangled a couple days ago that could give you some sound advice on curiosity.”

There’s no use in outright provoking her. “Fair enough,” you concede, before turning to a quiet Mori. “Any quips you want to add before we move on, Mori?”

However, the small goddess is already stunned by the sight of Central — very different from that of the slums just yards away. “This is so weird.”

For her, that’s an appropriate reaction. Stepping through the gates is like passing back in time, at least so far as the architecture is concerned. The traditional aesthetic is still valued highly in the birthplace of the city — though mostly as a novelty which its citizens can actually afford, compared to those on the other side of the gate. However, the modern culture the tengu introduced has caught on, openly clashing with the traditional. Someone walking down the street could be dressed in an elegant floral kimono, a flashy t-shirt and jeans, or anything inbetween. Ramen stands are parked next to ATMs, the bazaar is populated with an extreme variety of kappa vending machines, a nearby inn has flashing neon lights advertising karaoke, and there’s a convenience store right across from a feudal manor.

“Hasn’t changed much in all these years,” you remark. “It’s still a clusterfuck — probably even moreso now than back then.”

“You’d think they would be building up because of the limited space, but they’ve kept all these old buildings around,” Mori says. “How do they keep fitting people in such an isolated part of the city? Is the birth rate bad here, too?”

Apparently there’s some kind of birth rate crisis in the Outside World. “Not so much,” you answer. “Last I heard, they were talking about expanding towards the mountain.”

“There’s still too many youkai prowling about,” Reimu chimes in. “Instead, they’re becoming stricter about crime. Now a kid could shoplift once and end up getting his whole family exiled to the slums. Then they sell off the land to whoever’s looking to build another home.”

“That’s one way to keep a law-abiding populace,” Mori remarks dryly. “Y’know, I didn’t think you would pay much attention to politics, Reimu.”

“The person we’re going to meet likes to talk my ear off about that kind of stuff,” the shrinekeeper explains. Then she looks at you for a moment before adding, “I get the feeling you’re going to like each other.”

Reimu usually has good intuition, but you still aren’t going to get your hopes up. “Sorry if I keep my guard up anyway.”

Suddenly, Mima’s triumphantly spectral form swirls in front of you. Your gun hangs very conspicuously inside her, past her bosom. “Special delivery!”

You frown at her. “Are you serious?”

She plays dumb. “Serious about what?”

You sigh and then stick your hand into her chest, quickly wrapping your fingers around the cold steel and pulling it out of the cold mist.

Ahn,” Mima moans as your hand leaves her.

“Give me a break,” you mumble to yourself as you quickly shove your weapon into your waistband. “By the way, nobody can see or hear you, right?”

Mima giggles, but then answers you more or less seriously. “If they have good senses then they might pick up some vague creepiness, but I get the feeling we won’t have to worry about any of the schmucks around here. They’re all sheltered and weak, like cattle.”

You glance around, taking note of the people walking by. They sip from kappa-produced beverages and chat leisurely about their jobs, or what shows they’re going to watch tonight, all without any semblence of wariness — not even as they pass by or even through the ghost floating ahead of you.

“The humans in the slums are the cattle,” you comment. “These people are all sheep.”

###

The schoolhouse comes into view, and your stomach drops. It’s hardly changed since you were young — looks like there’s only been some basic upkeep to keep it in line with its surroundings. Because the elites were homeschooled, this small schoolhouse became a quiet place reserved for the children of less-wealthy families who could still afford to live in Central. You remember seeing the pressure for your peers to make the leap from middle-class to upper-class — and the pressure started early. Only you and one other person — who had both swiftly abandoned any idea of getting into the upper-class — were exempt from that kind of pressure, which naturally brought the two of you closer.

In that way, this school has far too many painful memories.

“Why are we going to a school in the middle of the day?” Mori speaks up. “Doesn’t seem like the kinda place you would go to for checking on the barrier.”

“Oh, woe is her!” Mima cries out. “Poor Reimu, lost to the throes of naive passion as a mere girl, and forced to concieve! And here, sheltered in this schoolhouse, is the product of her forbidden love!”

Reimu snorts. “Like I’d have such a melodramatic background. There’s a teacher here who hears a lot of weird stories. If she hears something particularly strange and credible, she’ll tell me. Sometimes a tear in the barrier will be the cause.”

“She also makes tea!” Mima adds.

“Her tea is awful,” Reimu says, ‘but it’s still tea, so I’ll take what I can get.”

There’s plenty of female schoolteachers who aren’t good at making tea, is what you tell yourself. However, the very idea that you might have to meet her fills you with a rare sense of absolute dread. You don’t think you’re ready for this. “If it’s all the same,” you begin, “I’ll just wait outside. All you’re going to do is drink tea and chat, right?”

Mori cocks one of her slender eyebrows at you. “Skipping out on a chance to talk with a source? What’s wrong with you?”

You play it off like normal. “I’m just not much for tea parties, especially after the fiasco last time that put us in this very situation.”

However, Reimu cuts to the chase. “It’s suspicious for a grown man with your looks to stand outside a schoolhouse in the middle of the day. You aren’t planning on kidnapping any of them, are you?” Then she glances at Mori. “Is that how he got you?”

Even though you can’t admit it, she hits you right where it hurts. In the first place, you’re being stupid. There’s no way Keine still teaches here. In fact, she might not even be teaching at all anymore. “Fine, fine, I get it.”

As you follow Reimu inside and she has a brief conversation with the groundskeeper, you continue to convince yourself that there’s no way you’re going to meet Keine. She probably found a loving husband who tolerates her condition and has given her a litter of children that will continue to procreate and dilute the wild blood inside them to a negligible amount. Keine herself will have long since forgotten about you — just like all the others. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Reimu leads you, Mori, and a carefree Mima by some classrooms, towards an office. Although the building itself is traditional on the outside, the interior has been updated. The classrooms have hard floors and tidy rows of desks, dominated by the teacher’s podium in front of a chalkboard. Those rigid chairs and tedious assignments remind you how far you’ve come since those days. Maybe you’re even a little nostalgic. Things were definitely simpler back then.

The teacher’s office is a little more laid-back. A cozy atmosphere is nurtured by shelves stuffed with literature and articles, a plush-looking office chair, three wooden stools, and a kettle in the corner. A basic-looking computer, monitor, and keyboard sit on the desk, with numerous yellow sticky notes visible.

“She’s probably getting her lunch,” Reimu remarks. “She likes the lunchboxes from the convenience stores.”

Easy now — there’s probably plenty of teachers who do that. To take your mind off Keine, you browse the old books on the shelf. A collection of volumes belonging to the same work sticks out to you — The Gensokyo Chronicle, written by Hieda no Aya.

Mori pops up beside you. “Is that some kind of encyclopedia about Gensokyo?”

“Maybe,” you say, looking at the cover of one of the volumes. There’s no other information besides the title, the author, the volume number, and a date — which isn’t even from this era. “The name Hieda sounds famil—”

“Oh my, visitors. I hope you weren’t waiting long?”

Your heart skips a beat, and you feel the color drain from your face. The voice coming from behind you is undeniably familiar.

“Nah,” Reimu replies. “Perfect timing, actually. I came to talk business.”

The woman sighs. “Of course you did. Gods forbid you clean yourself up and start showing your face around here more often. You do represent the Hakurei Shrine, even if you aren’t a proper shrine maiden.”

Reimu clicks her tongue. “Spare me the lecture, I’ve heard it all before.”

The woman gasps lightly. “Ah, I’m sorry. I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Keine Kamishirasawa.”

You don’t know why you bothered trying to convince yourself it would be anyone different.

Out of the corner of your eye, you see Mori smile at the woman behind you. “I’m Mori. Nice to meet’cha.” After a pause, she looks up at you. “Uh, hey. Are you paying attention, Shinichi?”

You plaster a smile on your face and turn around. Maybe she won’t recognize you if you act cheerful. “Hello! I’m Shinichi Tsurugi, and—”

When you actually see her, your voice runs out. For a woman who’s supposed to be in her thirties, it sure doesn’t look like she’s aged a day over twenty. Her light blue hair is still as thick and straight as ever, and her skin still looks smooth and pale. The only place her age shows is in her eyes, with a hint of redness that suggests a persistent dryness and bags underneath that can’t be totally concealed by make-up. What really stumps you, though, is her large, ornate hat. You aren’t sure what it’s supposed to be — possibly some kind of temple.

“—I’m, uh, we’re assisting Reimu with her barrier duties today.”

You ignore the strange looks Mori, Reimu, and Mima are giving you.

Keine, on the other hand, smiles politely. “I see. That’s excellent, then.” She sets the convenience store lunchbox down on her desk and offers you her hand — her nails colored a plain, light pink color. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mister Tsurugi.”

You notice her finger isn’t burdened by a wedding band. There’s no pictures in her office of any family or potential lovers or even friends, either. When her eyes meet yours, you notice the way they open just a little too wide. Her mouth, subtly touched with some lipstick, curls upward just a little too genuinely.

You swallow your feelings and shake her hand. “Likewise, Miss Kamishirasawa.”

It’s the worst possible outcome.

###
>> No. 64832
File 15060552052.jpg - (353.51KB , 942x986 , seeing you again.jpg ) [iqdb]
64832
Keine sets a cup of tea in front of you first, then Reimu, and finally Mori. Mima floats idly behind you, creating a slight chill that makes you grateful for the warm tea despite the woman serving it.

“I do hope you’ll forgive me for eating in front of you,” Keine says as she sits down at her chair. “There isn’t much time left before the children are back from physical activities.”

Reimu takes a loud slurp of tea, and then sets the cup back down with little delicacy. “Yeah, yeah. Just let me know if there’s anything specific I should be looking out for.”

You take a sip of your own tea, and swallow it down. She’s a little better at making it than she used to be, but it’s still too bitter — and that’s something, coming from you.

“I haven’t heard much that would be of use to you,” Keine begins, “but I suppose you know that there’s been an incident on the mountain recently? It seems the barrier might be affected as a result of something incredibly large being shoved through it.”

Surprisingly, Reimu doesn’t outright incriminate you or Mori, but her attitude does get even rougher. “Yeah, I’m well aware. How would you have learned about that, though?”

“There’s a woman from the bamboo forest I’ve become acquainted with,” Keine explains. “She picks up a lot of hearsay from youkai.”

Reimu laughs dryly. “They’re probably having a good chuckle at my expense. Bastards.”

You look away from Keine and end up locking eyes with Mori. It’s no surprise to you that your little partner would be suspicious. However, you don’t plan on confirming whatever suspicions she may ha—

“So, Mister Tsurugi,” Keine formally yet gently addresses you. “How did you end up helping Reimu? I didn’t think she could tolerate anyone besides that ghost.”

“I don’t think she can even tolerate me, honestly,” Mima remarks.

“I don’t tolerate anyone,” Reimu answers for herself. “They’re annoying, but it would be more annoying if they aren’t around in this particular instance. I always choose the lesser of two annoyances.”

Reimu’s attitude aside, it interests you that Keine can see and interact with Mima after all. She would have a heightened spiritual sense, if you’re not mistaken. However, the two don’t seem very friendly towards each other.

Unfortunately, Keine’s attention is still on you. She’s likely trying to subtly figure out what you’ve been up to since leaving Central. “Reimu and I have conducted business together in the past,” you explain vaguely. “We have similar methods and interests.”

Reimu snorts, but Keine seems to ignore her. “I see, I see.” Then she turns to Mori. “And how do you fit into this, Miss Mori? Forgive me for saying so, but you look like you should be one of my students.”

Of course, she knows the only way she’s going to get any answers is by picking on whoever seems to be the weakest link. However, what Keine doesn’t know is that Mori is a goddess, with centuries of wisdom and discreti—

“I started living with him after he got wasted one night and took me in off the streets,” Mori answers shamelessly. “I’ve been sleeping with him ever since.”

Damn you, Mori.

Keine stares and smiles blankly at you, and then at Mori. Something has obviously short-circuited under that ridiculous hat. “Excuse me?”

You ignore Mima’s barely-restrained laughter and hurry to clarify. “What she means is that I’ve been letting her stay with me to keep her off of the streets. And we sleep separately.”

“Not all the time,” Mori adds, much to your detriment.

“You don’t have to worry about them, Keine,” Reimu speaks up. “They’re just being idiots.”

Keine snaps out of it and laughs awkwardly. “I—is that so?”

Reimu stands up. “If there’s nothing else, I should get started with my rounds.”

Thank you, Reimu. You waste no time in standing up with her, despite there being some tea left in your cup. “That’s absolutely true. Nice to meet you, Miss Kamishirasawa. Good da—”

Keine stands up. “Wait please, Mister Tsurugi. Why don’t you stay and eat lunch with me? I think I’m somewhat interested in your business. I’m sure Reimu doesn’t need to be accompanied by all of you.”

You glance at Mori, and she returns a particularly nasty grin. “I don’t mind,” she tells Keine. “I’m more than enough to follow Reimu around. Shinichi can stay here and talk business with Miss Kamishirasawa.”

Mori doesn’t know what she’s just sentenced you to. As a last effort, you turn to Reimu.

“Fine, take him,” Reimu says, damning you. “This will probably go quicker without him, anyway.”

it was foolish to assume that Reimu would actually help you. Reimu and Mori leave, with Mima drifting behind them. Keine sees them out and then slips back into the office, shutting — and locking — the door behind her.

At this point, you’ve resigned yourself to the inevitable reunion and confrontation.

“I never thought I’d see you again,” she remarks, staying in front of the door. “I thought you might have gotten yourself killed.”

“Not for lack of trying,” you mention.

“Is that really your new name?” she continues. “Shinichi Tsurugi? It sounds like something you pieced together from the comic books you read when you were a kid.”

It’s not like she’s wrong. “It’s a fake name I use with clients. Most everyone knows me as PI.”

She giggles. “Short and sweet. I’m not surprised.”

You don’t say anything, and neither does she. All you do is watch as her face slowly comes apart. She backs against the door, and then slides down to the floor, holding her knees in close to her so she can wipe her tears on her dress. “I don’t even know how to process this. It’s all bubbling back up to the surface. I hate myself. The first thing I should have done when I saw you was apologize. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“I know you are,” you tell her, “that’s why I did what I had to, back then.”

She looks up at you with her watery eyes, then reaches up and pulls off her hat, revealing a white scalp blemished with grisly scars visible even through her hair. “My wounds never did heal right,” she explains. “All night I kept tearing at them so they wouldn’t regenerate properly. I think I was worried I would try to conceal the history from myself. I don’t know if that was a brilliant idea or an awful one.”

The sight of those scars makes your throat tighten. No matter what she may have done to you, it doesn’t change the fact that you ran away and left your friend bleeding and miserable. “It was a bad situation for both of us,” you say. “I shouldn’t have exposed you to any of it.”

Keine stands up, face now red, and eyes now indignant. “No!” she tells you. “You should have been able to rely on me. I was your friend.”

You swallow the lump in your throat. “It was a long time ago. We all made mistakes. Things have changed.”

She steps closer to you, which causes you to tense up. However, she continues walking past you and sits down in her chair, wiping her eyes. “You’re right. Things have changed, haven’t they? Even if it’s only a little bit.” She frowns at you. “Who is the girl, really? She isn’t your daughter, is she?”

You sigh. “No, she isn’t. I really did get drunk and pick her up off the street. We’ve made things work ever since.”

She frowns. “I didn’t know you drank. Did that start after you left?”

“I drink because I get bored,” you assure her. “I’m not the kind of guy who drowns my sorrows, if that’s what you’re about to lecture me about.”

“Of course you aren’t.” She smiles. “Have you moved on?”

You don’t like her tone. “Moved on how?”


She laughs. “Dating, I mean. Have you met anyone special since… your last?”

“Do you really want to know about stuff like that?”

Keine frowns again, and leans forward on her desk. The whole time, she hasn’t taken one bite of her microwaved lunch, and it’s probably starting to get cold. “Of course I do,” she assures you. “I can still worry, can’t I? You’re all alone in the slums, taking care of this girl and probably getting involved with all kinds of dangerous work to make up for the case you could ‘never solve.’ Surely you aren’t letting the ghost of that woman prevent you from moving forward and finding someone else?”

There’s no way she could actually know that’s literally true, but it still sends a shiver down your spine regardless. This little question is all a terrible act, but you’re not going to be the one to pull down the curtains or play along willingly. Instead, you’ll mess with her script. She wants you to say that you haven’t found anyone yet, but instead you’ll say…

[] “Her name is Hina. She lives in the same apartment complex as I do. She likes to sew.”

[] “Her name is Hatate. We work together, and she recently moved in next to me.”

[] “It’s Reimu. Be sure to keep quiet about it though, since she gets embarrassed about it.”

[]
>> No. 64833
I know I said "very soon" like two weeks ago, but I ended up writing two posts instead. Whoops.
>> No. 64834
[X] Odd girl named Lucy, head over heels for me but we haven't had much personal contact. It's a long distance relationship but we somehow make it work.

Seems to be the option that's less likely to blow up in our faces. Keine wouldn't be able to do a surprise visit on us in the future with the excuse to 'see' our girl.

Hatate and Reimu would just fight us all the way, the former probably making it worse for us as it is for her.

Hina would most probably be confused as to what's going on or take it extremely seriously to the point of no return.

Koa just maintains plausible deniability- oh shit Keine has a computer.

Do not let her know about the KRC
>> No. 64835
File 15060614674.png - (185.04KB , 800x1600 , MFW.png ) [iqdb]
64835
>filename

i can't choose. help.
>> No. 64836
Fuck me I can't pick either. I don't suppose we could just tell the truth? Kiene is being open with us, it's the least we could do
>> No. 64837
[x] Odd girl named Lucy, head over heels for me but we haven't had much personal contact. It's a long distance relationship but we somehow make it work.

Technically doesn't even contain any lies, and I want to see more Lucy.
>> No. 64838
[X] “Her name is Hatate. We work together, and she recently moved in next to me.”
Seems to be the option that's most likely to blow up in our faces. That's so close Keine is bound to check it out and start some drama.
>> No. 64839
Almost missed this vote. Though it almost doesn't matter as I don't know what to fucking pick.

The Lucy angle is good and hard to disprove, but imagine the fallout if that got out to the KRC.

Any other ideas?
>> No. 64841
File 150608023056.gif - (18.65KB , 261x241 , 148832381636.gif ) [iqdb]
64841
[X] “Her name is Hina. She lives in the same apartment complex as I do. She likes to sew.”

If she asks, it is one-sided love. Hina can't be grilled for information because she doesn't know about it yet.

Hope this is enough to make her give up- but I suspect nothing will be.

>>64835
I just KNOW she is hearing us from the other side of the door.
>> No. 64843
[x] Odd girl named Lucy, head over heels for me but we haven't had much personal contact. It's a long distance relationship but we somehow make it work.

I feel like the Reimu angle could work out as them both knowing he was BSing, but this seems generally safer. I also wouldn't mind telling her the truth but can certainly see why PI wouldn't want to.
>> No. 64844
[x] Odd girl named Lucy, head over heels for me but we haven't had much personal contact. It's a long distance relationship but we somehow make it work.
>> No. 64845
[] “Her name is Hina. She lives in the same apartment complex as I do. She likes to sew.”
>> No. 64846
[x] “It’s Reimu. Be sure to keep quiet about it though, since she gets embarrassed about it.”

PI keeps buying her food, the least she can do is pretend for the sake of screwing with an ex.
>> No. 64847
[X] “Her name is Hina. She lives in the same apartment complex as I do. She likes to sew.”

I think she's the best for a cover up like this.
>> No. 64848
[x] "...Mori wasn't entirely joking about us sleeping together."

Let the forehead destruction commence.
>> No. 64849
[X] “Her name is Hina. She lives in the same apartment complex as I do. She likes to sew.”

I want to see her reaction.
>> No. 64850
[x] Odd girl named Lucy, head over heels for me but we haven't had much personal contact. It's a long distance relationship but we somehow make it work.

Aside from this being the hardest for Keine to confirm, Lucy seems like a good enough sort to go along with this if it comes down to it, albeit with an almost-guaranteed effort to turn it from a facade to a reality. But that in itself isn't a bad thing from my point of view. The second best option would be Mori, aside from the implication of pedophilia for people who aren't aware she's a thousand-year old goddess.
>> No. 64851
[X] “Her name is Hina. She lives in the same apartment complex as I do. She likes to screw.”

You guys really wanna pick the nameless touhou we've never met? Please.
>> No. 64852
[x] Odd girl named Lucy, head over heels for me but we haven't had much personal contact. It's a long distance relationship but we somehow make it work.

When word of this gets to Lucy, fun shenanigans will be had by all.
>> No. 64853
It's been neck-and-neck, but I'm going to call it here. Lucy will be PI's cover story, for better or for worse.

>>64835
>lead girl smugly enjoying the sorrow of the downtrodden
How poetic.

>>64851
Nice try.
>> No. 64854
Damn missed the chance to see Hina's reaction... And there are some feelings there.

At least, now we get to see Lucy's... Oh, wait.
>> No. 64855
>>64854
I'm feeling the same thing and I'm sad as well, but it seems more people want to know who is Lucy finally
>> No. 64856
>>64855
I'm pretty sure it was Koakuma.
>> No. 64857
File 150646732751.jpg - (33.91KB , 512x384 , 129237809332.jpg ) [iqdb]
64857
>>64855
Koakuma. Why is that a question?
>> No. 64858
>>64856
>>64857

We've already been through this and it was confirmed by Raftclans himself. Lucy is a SDM fairy maid pretending to be Koakuma.
>> No. 64859
File 150696008378.jpg - (385.89KB , 720x960 , 128968911688.jpg ) [iqdb]
64859
>>64858
You mean the post that said that Yuuka was wearing Hatate's skin, AgentQ was a super powered MC and that Lucy was a fairy murder/raped by Flandre? I think that was a joke.

Also, updates when?
>> No. 64860
File 150717744910.jpg - (103.37KB , 525x660 , forever alone.jpg ) [iqdb]
64860
You let yourself heave a resigned sigh as you take a seat across from Keine. “Her name is Lucy. She’s head over heels for me, but we haven’t had much personal contact. It’s a long-distance relationship, but somehow we make it work.”

It was inevitable that you would decide to use Lucy. You never tell a lie without assuming that it will be tested, and she’s easily the most convenient co-conspirator. Hatate or Reimu would extort you for it, Q would probably feel uncomfortable, and Hina would likely misunderstand and truthfully assume the role of your girlfriend — which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but you would feel bad for taking advantage of her nature. Mori is completely out of the question, since that would only escalate the situation. That leaves Lucy, who should be both able to understand the situation and extremely willing.

Keine’s eyes narrow. “A long-distance relationship in Gensokyo, where most everything in the city is within walking distance? That doesn’t sound at all suspicious to you?”

“At first I had my doubts,” you admit, “but after talking to her for a year or so, I think she’s really a sweet girl.”

Her brow furrows, like she’s thinking hard about what she should say. Then, after letting a few tense moments pass, she decides to drop it. “I see.” Then a forced smile. “I’m happy you feel that way about her. How do you two keep in contact? By phone, or by computer?”

It takes every good thought you can muster to keep the color from draining noticeably out of your face. Your genius plan has backfired. There’s no point in telling her you have a phone, since that’s so easily disproven.

“By email,” you lie. “It’s like writing letters.”

Keine’s eyes light up. “So you have a computer? That honestly surprises me.” She glances at the boxy computer on her desk. “The tengu gave a lot of these out a few years ago. Hand-me-downs, I heard. I’m still not very good at using it.”

That sounds about right. Hatate did the same with you, but you ended up with something newer than Keine’s computer. It doesn’t look too ancient, but it’s definitely an older model, with a bulkier monitor. “I’m the same,” you reply. “Someone sent me a laptop without any instructions. I eventually learned the basics, but that’s it.”

Keine sighs. “It’s a lot different from how I thought it would be. I’m always so scared I’m going to mess something up. They want to move all our records to the computers, but that sounds like a such a hassle.”

This is good. Small talk is good — whatever can distract her until the kids come in from outside, or Reimu gets back, or the schoolhouse catches fire and you need to evacuate. Anything works.

“So, you’re still a detective?” she continues. “We should exchange email addresses. Some more eyes here in Central would be useful, wouldn’t they?”

You planned for this proposition. Your neglected inbox is a great barrier between Keine and your personal space, when compared to a phone or — gods forbid — giving her your address for snail mail. She would skip over the letter entirely and show up at your door herself. “It’s PI at kmail dot com,” you tell her.

She smiles as she commits that to memory, not that it’s particularly complicated. “Okay, great! Mine is kkamishirasawa at gensokyo dot edu.”

It’s fascinating that the tengu are reigning in the schools to such a degree. From what Keine said before, it seems like they’re prepared to make education entirely dependent on technology and resources that they provide. Hatate would probably have plenty to say on the subject.

“I’ve never really written any emails that weren’t for work,” Keine mentions. “What do you usually talk about with your girlfriend?”

Sex would be your first answer to her question, but there’s no way you’re going to breach that subject with a nosy Keine. “Mostly each other’s work,” you answer lightly. “How our days went. How much we want to see each other.”

All of that is technically true — but that last bit might have been too much, as evidenced by the gloom that darkens Keine’s face. She can’t even force a smile this time. “That sounds nice.”

There’s your chance to flip this around. “My intuition is telling me you haven’t had much luck with dating.”

The sulking expression on her face brings out the shadows under her eyes. “You know full well that I’ve never had any luck with dating. All sorts of men pester me. I can’t count how many of my student’s fathers have tried persuading me into being their mistress. It’s sickening.”

You’re painfully familiar with that element of society. “Some things never change. I think everyone in school asked you out at least once, and a lot of them were already engaged.”

“And of the few I accepted, they would leave once they realized how much of a hassle I am,” she adds. “Not to mention all of the girls who despised me for it.” Then she smiles bitterly, and purposely avoids your eyes. “Out of all those boys, there was only one I could call a friend.”

“He was an asshole,” you assure her sternly. “You’re better off.”

Your attempt at self-deprecation only deepens the hole you’ve stepped into. Keine’s head sinks lower, as she stares into her own hands. “Am I? My coworkers and neighbors are starting to distance themselves from me. They’ve noticed I stopped aging in my late teens.” Then she eyes her untouched lunch with disdain. “I rarely eat any more, and if I do it can’t be garbage like this. I just buy something and throw it away to attempt to keep up appearances. Even then, it won’t be long before the accusations start to fly. I might have to use my powers just to stay here.”

Her condition has certainly accelerated; it sounds like she’s more youkai than human at this point. There’s a possibility that it’s natural, or it could have been exacerbated by the way she used her powers back then — for your sake. The very idea of you being even slightly responsible creates a sinking feeling of guilt in your stomach. “Then why not leave?” you offer. “There’s people like you out there, people I can introduce you to—”

You’re cut off by a cold glare from Keine. “That’s the difference between you and me. You always wanted to run away and quietly handle everything yourself. I can’t do that. These students need to learn, and with my… abilities, I feel like I have to be the one to teach them. If I don’t pass on my knowledge to the new generations, then why do I even have these powers in the first place?”

She isn’t wrong about you, but you don’t agree with how she sees her power as a duty. If all these years in Gensokyo have taught you anything, it’s that reason and meaning are hard to find. You aren’t inherently a pessimist, but you can consider this: an outsider wanders in, a youkai devours them, the youkai eventually fades away, and nobody ever realizes any of it ever happened except maybe an apathetic Reimu when she cleans up the remains. It’s just something that happens, and it’s the same with Keine’s power: anyone could have been cursed by that beast, and she never asked for it. There’s nothing stopping her from living outside the city except her vain idea that she’s obligated to help fix the people in this city — and you know that’s how she sees her teaching. In your opinion, her time would be better spent on those who suffer like her, who could truly use a helping hand.

But you know none of that will convince her. This isn’t a new conversation, and the years apart from her have only dulled your interest in arguing. What you’re looking for now is an out.

Keine’s eyes idly find the analog clock sitting on her desk. “Ah, I apologize. My lunch break is almost over.” Then she stands up. “I really should be getting back to the classroom.”

There it is. You waste no time in standing up, though your eyes fall on the full lunchbox in front of Keine. “You want me to get rid of that for you? People might ask questions if they see a full lunchbox in the trash.”

She laughs. “Still looking out for me? Whether it’s the woman who tried to kill you, the woman who erased you, or a homeless girl off the street — the only thing that changes about you is who you’re willing to stick your neck out for.”

“Yes, I’m sure I’ll always be criminally oblivious,” you assure her dimly. “Are you going to hand it over or not?”

Keine walks around the desk and places it in your hands directly, staring into your eyes gleefully. “Thank you, PI. Please keep in touch this time.” Then she unlocks the door, causing you to nearly sigh with relief.

Outside her office, you tuck the convenience store lunchbox under your arm and bow slightly. “So long, Miss Kamishirasawa.”

With one last smile, she turns and walks away.

You find your way out of the school easily enough, and curiously enough, walk through a pocket of cold air as soon as you step outdoors. “You weren’t eavesdropping, were you?”

“Me?” Mima replies, her spectral body descending from above. “Never! I stayed behind to guide you back to Reimu and your little partner after you were finished speaking with that teacher.” She pauses while she reads your face. “That chat took longer than I thought it would, since you seemed so eager not to be there. I suppose you wouldn’t be willing to share what your relationship is with that woman?”

“I have no prior connection to Keine Kamishirasawa whatsoever,” you state truthfully. “She was only interested in getting my contact information and learning more about what I do.”

Mima shrugs. “Fine, fine. You wouldn’t fault a ghost for wondering, would you?”

“As long she stuck to wondering and didn’t make the leap to interrogating,” you tell her, before changing the subject. “Where are Reimu and Mori?”

###

Mima leads you a short distance away, where Mori and Reimu are standing on the street corner. The former holds a small paper cup with both tiny hands, while the latter watches with a faint amount of interest.

“Can’t ya please spare sum change, sah?” Mori calls out to the scant passersby. “My sistah and I need just a few yen to get by, or else we’ll hafta mule drugs for the rabbits! I don’t want butterfly dust crammed up my bum! Please, anythin’ will do!”

You approach the two girls quickly, and stop in front of Mori. “This is an interesting way of helping Reimu.”

Reimu comes up behind Mori, looking more protective of the money in the cup than her accomplice. “What are you, a cop?”

Mori parrots her fake sister with a saucy grin. “Yeah, what are ya, a cop?”

You were, which means this isn’t the first time you’ve had this sort of encounter. That might be why you don’t have any inclination to play along. “If you’re done investigating,” you tell Reimu, “we should leave.”

“Not until I get money to feed mysel—” the shrinekeeper begins, before her dark eyes fall on the lunchbox in your hand. “Wasn’t that Keine’s? What, was she not hungry or something?”

It doesn’t sound like Reimu knows anything about Keine’s condition. “No, she let me have it because she bought the wrong one,” you answer.

It isn’t the best lie, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. “Are you going to eat it?”

“We ate like an hour ago,” you mention.

“So that’s a no,” she continues. “If you hand it over, we can leave now.”

You thrust it into her hands. “Good. Let’s move.”

Reimu swipes the cup from Mori and then walks ahead, with Mima following close behind her and laughing. That just leaves Mori, who’s staring up at you with big eyes. “Are you expecting something?” you remark.

She beams a smile. “Did’ja like my accent? I tried really hard to get into character like Big Sis told me.”

You leave her and start walking, not making it three steps before she follows alongside you and grabs your hand. “What gives? Are you upset I left you with that woman? If it bothered you so much, you could have just left.”

It would have been nice to have this conversation at home so you could have some time to collect your thoughts, but you might as well vent your frustrations on Mori now if this is how she’s going to be. “I really couldn’t,” you begin, doing your best to keep a level tone. “I know it’s easy for you to act like you know everything, but you don’t. It’s unfair for me to get angry at you for something I haven’t even told you about yet, but this wasn’t exactly a planned trip and it’s going to be a huge pain in the ass for both of us if Keine decides to nose her way into our lives.” You take a deep breath before concluding. “Just promise me you’ll stop screwing around, especially when you know you aren’t supposed to.”

Mori blinks a few times, then sighs. “I guess I wasn’t acting like a very good partner, huh? Especially after everything you said last night.”

You’d rather not think about that embarrassing little moment. “You weren’t,” you tell her, “but I’m not exactly the best partner either, which is why I’m willing to call it even.”

Mori smiles at you. “Okay! From here on out, I solemnly swear that I will act only in good faith!”

You chuckle and end up grabbing her hand back. “We’ll see how long that lasts.”

She tugs on your arm. “Hey, it would be a big problem for me if you thought your faith was misplaced, y’know. I have a duty to follow through on my promises.”

That could have gone a lot worse. You’re happy that Mori can be considerate — at least when she wants to be.

###

There’s no problem getting back into the slums — if anything, the guard is almost eager to let you through. The somewhat-populated streets near the gate give way to solemn paths that you recognize as being somewhat close to your apartment.

You direct your concern to the leader. “Where are we going, Reimu?”

“Back to the shrine,” Reimu responds. “You’re waiting for me to get jumped, right? If someone’s going to get me, it’ll be on the way back home.”

That’s sound reasoning. “Okay. Honestly, I’m a bit curious to see what the Hakurei Shrine looks like.”

Reimu groans. “Hopefully we don’t make it that far.”

Mima chuckles and floats in front of you. “She’s embarrassed because she keeps the place so tidy and clean. It’s just plain out-of-character for her.”

All you can read on Reimu’s face is the desire to reach out and choke the ghost, but unfortunately for her, that would be impossible. “I really will seal you away again,” is all she can come up with.

In that tiny moment, you feel for Reimu.

###

The familiar itch of cooled sweat doesn’t even bother you any more. By the time you reach the many steps leading up to the Hakurei Shrine, your legs are aching and you’re short of breath from trying to keep up with Reimu’s brisk pace. “There’s no way you walk that overgrown path every day,” you say to the shrinekeeper after catching up. “Not to mention these steps.”

Reimu doesn’t seem fatigued at the slightest. She has, however, opened what was supposed to be Keine’s lunch and started greedily inhaling handfuls of food while waiting on the bottom step for you. “My daily life keeps me in shape and my metabolism fast,” she responds with a mouth full of food, “unlike yours.”

You can’t exactly say she’s wrong when you’re panting like you are. “Yeah, yeah. Once I catch my breath I’ll be good to head up those stairs.”

Mori, who has been effortlessly hiking beside you, stretches. “Don’t worry,” she tells you, “I can always carry you up the steps if you need it.”

You’re the only one who knows she isn’t joking. “I appreciate the sentiment, but I’ll have to decline.”

As you recover, you take the opportunity to soak in the forest around you. Unlike the Great Youkai Forest with its large trees, or the Forest of Magic with its toxic spores, the path leading to the Hakurei Shrine is calm and quaint — more like stroll through the woods than a proper forest. If the path leading here wasn’t so ill-maintained and Reimu’s pace wasn’t so quick, it would have been a pleasant walk. When you asked Reimu why she didn’t take care for the path leading to the shrine as well, she simply replied that it wasn’t in her job description. That would certainly explain why so few people even know where the Hakurei Shrine is.

What’s more important is that there’s been no sign of Marisa. There’s always the possibility she ate some mushrooms and forgot about it, but Mima’s been looking a little wary ever since you left the city. You watch the ghost as she floats casually between you and Reimu. “Mima, do you think Marisa would ambush us here?”

Mima perks up, and grins at you. “I think I can imagine what she’s planning, and it’s not nearly as elaborate as you might think it would be. If she learned anything from me, she’ll probably make some kind of bold—”

Hakurei shrine maiden!"

Marisa’s somewhat-husky voice travels down the stone steps and through the trees. Up at the top, dwarfed by the large, red gate, is the small blonde girl you’ve been expecting—

[] —standing on top of a floating broom.

[] —holding a bag full of mushrooms.

[] —surrounded by a gang of fairies.
>> No. 64861
File 150717851752.jpg - (374.89KB , 850x1068 , 147407031032.jpg ) [iqdb]
64861
[X] —standing on top of a floating broom

Shit just got real
>> No. 64862
[X] —standing on top of a floating broom.

These Keine/PI interraction is so melancholic.
>> No. 64863
[x] —standing on top of a floating broom.

In b4 it's hanging from the torii on wires.
>> No. 64864
[] —surrounded by a gang of fairies.

It's would be great funny looks
>> No. 64865
[X] —standing on top of a floating broom.
>> No. 64866
File 150721644252.jpg - (78.37KB , 461x614 , 147139659888.jpg ) [iqdb]
64866
>>64862
Why couldn't he go out with her? All I could find is him saying that it is too "tempting"?

>Writefag confirms that Hina would have become PI girlfriend for real just to fit with his lie.

I hate you so much, Koakuma voters.
>> No. 64867
[x] —surrounded by a gang of fairies.

C'mon, faeries are great.
>> No. 64868
File 150724461654.jpg - (471.06KB , 1000x1000 , 1412550891172-2.jpg ) [iqdb]
64868
[X] —standing on top of a floating broom.

Come on, she's a real magician, right?
>> No. 64869
File 150725948313.jpg - (278.55KB , 566x800 , why oh why did I shitpost.jpg ) [iqdb]
64869
>>64866
> Writefag confirms that Hina would have become PI girlfriend for real just to fit with his lie.

Where was this said and WHY WASN'T I INFORMED.
>> No. 64870
File 150726180338.jpg - (111.15KB , 500x567 , 1412207907183-1.jpg ) [iqdb]
64870
>>64869
>It was inevitable that you would decide to use Lucy. You never tell a lie without assuming that it will be tested, and she’s easily the most convenient co-conspirator. Hatate or Reimu would extort you for it, Q would probably feel uncomfortable, and Hina would likely misunderstand and truthfully assume the role of your girlfriend — which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but you would feel bad for taking advantage of her nature.
>> No. 64871
>>64869
>[...]and Hina would likely misunderstand and truthfully assume the role of your girlfriend — which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but you would feel bad for taking advantage of her nature.
>> No. 64872
[X] —standing on top of a floating broom.
>> No. 64873
>>64870
>>64871

> but you would feel bad for taking advantage of her nature

Ah. Okay, glad I did vote for Mori then. Carry on.
>> No. 64874
[x] —standing on top of a floating broom.

Poor Keine.
>> No. 64875
[x] —standing on top of a floating broom.

I bet this is some wuxia-style wires and pulleys. Either that, or Marisa's finally consumed enough psychadelics to pierce through the veil of mundanity and achieve arcane consciousness.
>> No. 64876
Calling it for the broom as I start writing, just in case there's any freak upsets.

>>64866
>>64870
>>64871
PI's 0 for 2 when it comes to understanding women on the most basic level. Do you really think he's entirely reliable?
>> No. 64877
File 150765149624.jpg - (193.99KB , 567x439 , 128083423733.jpg ) [iqdb]
64877
>>64876
With the cute and charming Hina he's oblivious, sure. Im sure what she said about Alice replacing her,her stalking and constant good predisposition can be reasoned out to be just kindness.

But what is going on with Keine? Why is he so adamant in avoiding her obvious attraction? Does he think he's bad luck and the world is best without him on it? He doesn't want to live in central? He doesn't want to be 'mind controlled' if she loses it again?
Wait that last one made sense.

Fuck it, Keine route go.
>> No. 64878
>>64877
>Why is he so adamant in avoiding her obvious attraction?

Would you want to date someone that tried to rape you?
>> No. 64879
>>64878

Hell, that's only a part of it. Would you want to get into a relationship with someone who not only raped you to try and prevent you from leaving, but also tried to end it in forced impregnation so that you would remain out of a sense of guilt and obligation to the kid?
>> No. 64880
>>64879
It kinky.
>so that you would remain out of a sense of guilt and obligation to the kid?
If I'm not mistaken, Keine was about to rewrite history so that PI and her has always been married, with no one but her knowing the truth. So not forcing him to stay because of obligation to kids, but making him stay because they've always been married all along. Which might be worse.
>> No. 64881
[x] —surrounded by a gang of fairies.

Because every boss encounter needs a some flunkies.

Just powered my way through this story, its been quite a ride.
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