“Hmph. That’s just what to expect when you fight with someone strong, stu~pid. Now you look like an idiot.”
“He shouldn’t be looking at all himself. Gen: go to sleep.”
“I’m sure he’s awake due to the agony in his arm, Lady Patchouli.”
“Ayaah... I didn’t get a close look at it before, but look at that swelling...”
Gen blinked while resting shirtless in a medical room within the Scarlet Devil Mansion. His Master was carefully treating his broken left arm in her hands with ointments, towel, and ice. She said he didn’t need surgery, as Yuuka had been merciful enough to not deliver on him critical injury like ripping his bone through his skin. She’d have him in a cast and get him back to work and tutelage after the rest of the damage to his body had healed. It would probably take a few days, she wagered, while the arm would take months. She next set his arm aloft with a propping medical device, and while reading up on fractured bones gently massaged his sprained thumb with her free hand to encourage blood flow.
In the room were all those of import at Scarlet Devil Mansion, along with some fairy maids. One maid was at the foot of his bed with her arms crossed on top of it. She was mimicking Mistress Remilia, who did the same thing near his face. Sakuya and Meiling stood behind the vampire looking over his beaten form with an amused, yet pitiful expression and a muddled expression respectively, and Flandre seemed mostly disinterested while sitting on a nightstand nearby. However, Flandre was there in the first place, so that meant she must be very interested.
“While you’re not listening to me and staying awake,” started his Master, “about the Rauðskinna.”
“What about it?”
“You used it, huh.”
“Oh... yes. Sorry, Master.”
“Yeah. I’m going to take it and research it thoroughly before it ever touches your hands again.”
“I am entirely fine with that.”
His Master puffed breath through her nose and smiled.
“Did you know? The book was supposed to be untitled. It’s been defaced. There were gold runes on it once, but they’ve apparently been shaved off.”
“No kiddin’,” he commented with a smirk, then winced.
“How bad does that hurt, anyway?” came a question from Flandre.
“I really don’t want to think about it, Mistress Flandre.”
“I’m gonna kick it.”
“Cut it out, Flandre,” scolded the older sister.
And the little sister stuck out her tongue, “Bleh~! I’ve never been really hurt, so I just kinda wonder about it.”
“Well... it’s basically feeling heavy and squeezed, and sometimes it feels like I’m getting stabbed.”
“Oh! Stabbed!” Flandre’s colorful, diamond-shard wings shook as she bounced, placing both hands behind herself and leaning from the nightstand. “Like with Sakuya’s knives!”
“Honestly, go to sleep already,” chided his Master again.
“But,” spoke the Scarlet Devil, “while you’re ignoring Patchy: how well did you do against Kazami Yuuka?”
The Mistress looked in his eyes expectantly. He turned them away, twisted his lips, and replied somewhat shamefully.
“I didn’t. At all.”
“When you go out, Gen,” Mistress Remilia pointed at his face, “you represent Scarlet Devil Mansion, and so you represent me. You should at least put in a show of effort.”
“I did avoid all her attacks and land many of my own on her, without a spell card in fact. That is, before she started handling me like a butcher flipping meat.”
Remilia lifted her brow and opened her mouth impressed, saying: “Ohh! Well now, for someone who can’t fly that’s pretty good, isn’t it!?”
“Sakuya~,” Flandre called the head maid while pointing at her with her shoe, “why haven’t you taught him how to fly, yet?”
“Me, Mistress Flandre?”
“You’re human, after all.”
“Why, I suppose I am,” she agreed before indicating to Patchouli across the bed, “but it is Lady Patchouli who will decide when he learns that.”
“Patchouli?” Flandre answered with a frown. She nodded ascent at the magician, “Hey, is it a pain teaching a human without wings how to fly?”
“Yes,” Patchouli acknowledged, to which Gen squeezed his mouth shut and brought his lower lip up in a comic expression. His Master continued, “but mainly I want to avoid having situations like the one that happened today happening at all. Overall the risk is calculated. I just need to keep him away from any locations in Gensokyo known for their flowers for a while, regardless of season.”
“Well, until then Gen: nice job being the David to Kazami Yuuka’s Goliath.” Remilia gave her ward a fanged smile, facing him with her eyes happily closed.
“He didn’t win, though, you.”
Remilia’s pleasant mood was drained away, which she made known plainly on her face. Without looking at her sibling, she tersely replied: “... El-der sis-ter.”
Flandre lifted her shoulders, winked, and looked to the ceiling singing “Scar-let Doo-fus~”
Remilia’s wings opened up with sudden force, and her maid stood between them facing the younger. “Now, now, Mistress Flandre,” she spoke with calm, and the little sister merely looked over Sakuya at her sibling with a smug expression. Remilia seemed to know this: she was grasping at his sheets now. Gen closed his eyes, brow twitching.
“Oi, Sir Gen, one last thing before you nod off,” Meiling spoke, noticing Gen (but apparently not noticing the rising tension). He opened his eyes and she continued, “Don’t stop coming to train with me just because of the arm. Tai chi can help you heal your body.”
“So says the sieve,” Patchouli commented. “Do it.”
“Understood,” he confirmed with a nod.
“Ah, and one last thing from me,” said Sakuya from over her shoulder, with one hand over Remilia’s wrathful face and the other on an airborne Flandre’s, “don’t forget that you’re human, Gen.” She offered a warm expression, and Gen was taken aback.
“... Yes, Miss Sakuya.”
As the two vampires got past their maid and entered into a physical struggle, Gen got comfortable in his bed and closed his eyes. Aside from the sounds of laughter and frustration, he could only feel his hand in his Master’s.
Strangely, he felt the oncoming of tears.
He slipped below the bedcovers to try to hide his face.
He muttered quietly so only she could hear: “I’m happy you won today, Master Patchouli...”
“Because you got to survive, I know,” she answered also quietly.
“No... because I’ve always been thinking there was no magic that could beat yours,” he turned his head after saying this, finishing with, “you proved it.”
“Hmph.” His master huffed with satisfaction.
There was really much for him to think about.
But... he was just glad to be home.
He was glad to be home.
--End of Chapter 6: Mortal--
New thread! I hope that chapter was enjoyable. It was a very unexpected ride for me.
1, 2, 3 chapters perhaps before the OP makes total sense.
By the way, if you were wondering about what spells Gen tried to use:
Brenddur pormum burnt gut brenndur þörmum
Dreifa augum scatter eyes
S... Sja? see sjá
Stormur fyogurra heima storm of four worlds stormur fjögurra heima
D... Drekka taekifairy? Faeya taekifairy... Drink a chance, feed the opportunity drekka tækifæri, fæða tækifæri
To the Sanzu River, that is where Patchouli Knowledge would send him next.
He was forced to rest completely for three days, drinking strange potions his Master provided to heal his allegedly magically damaged insides. Supposedly singing for a “Twisted Forest” from the Rauðskinna had dealt him an intersection of spiritual and bodily lacerations throughout his organs. She described it as semi-phantasmal, and certainly lethal if he hadn’t someone knowledgeable around to stop it. She told him it was funny: the most dangerous thing to happen on his trip to Muenzuka was his own foolish invocation. Let this be a lesson.
So next she’d send him to the Sanzu River, a place that shouldn’t exist, so of course it existed in Gensokyo. Well, according to Patchouli it was technically only partially in Gensokyo. This was a place where you could “simply” (there was a toll in this case) go from one world to another, unlike Muenzuka where other worlds would take you without your approval. According to his Master, the Sanzu River and the Road of Liminality which led to it were not dangerous places. This would be a trip purely in the name of study. After a week of one-handed research, chores, practice, and recovery through Tai Chi, Gen awoke to the day of his next departure.
“It’s autumn, Sir Gen!” Merremia, his seemingly at this point personal fairy maid declared after waking him up.
“So it is.”
“You’re going to the Sandy River today?” she asked, fluttering up above him as he got out his bed. She went for his hair, which was becoming usual.
“Sanzu, yes. It’s behind that mountain by the lake.”
“You should go up the mountain! It’s beauuutiful this time of year!” while she said this, the fairy fluffed his hair. He realized it was getting a bit long.
“Master Patchouli says that I’m one hundred percent guaranteed to have a swift death if I go up the mountain.”
She grabbed his skull. He shut his eyes with a frown. Still a bit sleepy, honestly.
“Youkaaai!” the fairy uttered in a deep voice. Then, she bent his head and uttered, “Tenguuu!”
“Yeeeess...” he groaned. He opened his eyes and glanced back at the maid. “Would you help me with my upper clothes again this morning?”
While he was dressed in his shirt, vest, and robe/coat he thought about what to do with the time he had in the morning before he would have breakfast with his Master and set off on his assignment. There was never one thing he always did for mornings, aside from honing his physical strength and balance with Meiling at the gate. While consistency certainly meant comfort, he was still forever a man who liked variety and the unpredictable. This was despite everything and his many near-death experiences so far.
When he had been properly dressed in his tops, he sent Merremia away and she threw warm wind into his face with a “boom!” before falling over the door backward in laughter. Really, every morning.
He’d now meet with the gatekeeper. What to do after?
IMO overall you guys went with the "worst" possible path of that chapter aside from how it worked out with Nazrin, who could've been a confrontation as well. I say "worst" in the sense that it resulted in the most painful consequences for our protagonist, but I'd say it was a hell of a ride
Another morning on Misty Lake, now flowing with cooler winds as summer said farewell; Gen walked along the shore until he spotted a part of it covered in weathered pebbles, and not far from a rock platform emerging from the water. There was also a somewhat large tree here with exposed roots that he’d be leaning against later. Gen reached into his robes and withdrew an oval stone with four holes bored into it and a string tied tight around it. This was a gift he’d gotten from Wakasagihime that signified his friendship to the mermaids of Misty Lake (or at least to her). It was something like a special whistle or instrument: it made no sound when blown into, but rather kept whatever sound you attempted to produce until it had been submerged. Gen rotated his left shoulder, readjusting his injured arm in its cast and sling, and then tugged the small rope ascent, jerking the rock into the air and catching it in his right hand when it fell. He next tapped on it in the points of an upside triangle with his thumb before bringing it to his lips. After “playing” a certain and silent sequence of three “notes” with the rock, he lastly dangled the stone by its string and dipped it underwater.
To Gen, these sounds coming from the rippling water were faint. According to Wakasagihime, however, under the surface of the Lake these notes resounded all around and were distinct. Not loud, but noticeable wherever you were. It was clear enough to know whether you were being specifically called or someone was just fooling around with a mermaid artifact and could be safely ignored.
Gen kept squatted to his knees and waited, spinning the mermaid whistle so that the string wrapped around his finger. While holding it, he grabbed up a stone from the ground and skipped it... attempted to skip it across the lake. It simply plunged into the water. He tried again.
Soon enough the water bubbled, and Wakasagihime was breathing air, climbing onto the rock in the lake but not yet facing Gen.
“Ah~,” she moaned, “it’s getting colder. Phew,” she lowered her shoulders, having accomplished sitting on the boulder. Then, she looked over her shoulder to see her human friend waiting there. “H’lo, Gen.”
He tossed one final stone. Nope, not this one either.
“Hello, Princess,” he answered, “how have you been?”
Noting the whistle in his grasp, the mermaid commented: “Ah! You remembered to reset it this time! Also, can’t do it?” she asked, referring to the pebble he’d “skipped” and sunk.
“I’m not certain anyone can do it. I’ve only seen it in fiction, never reality.”
“Actually, I can’t ever get proper leverage while treading to do it. Hm.”
“I believe It’s just something everyone assumes people can do... Wakasagihime, you didn’t answer my question.”
“Nmm, well... The kappa have been getting a bit pushy again but it’s nothing new...” She spoke while inattentively watching clouds, kicking her tail lightly and placing her arms behind her back. After trailing off, she suddenly remembered something and turned to look at him. “Honestly, forget about that—” she spoke quickly, asking: “What happened over a week ago!?”
Gen began to think, putting his thumb under his chin, and the rest of his hand over his lips. After a moment, he realized what she meant: “Ah, right,” he replied, then pointed at her saying, “So you saw the battle over Scarlet Devil Mansion, did you?”
“Everyone saw it! Was the Shrine Maiden there?”
“No, it was a flower youkai named Kazami Yuuka. Master fought her and won, but it got pretty intense.”
“What’s with your hand, by the way? Is that fashion?”
She was pointing at his cast and he glanced at it before answering. “It’s broken, and partially sprained. Kazami Yuuka’s doing.”
“Broken!” the princess was aghast, her hands in claws before her open mouth like she was about to bite her nails. “Gen, are you okay!?”
“Objectively speaking.” He stood up to put his back against the tree there while Wakasagihime dropped back into the lake (after all that effort getting up there...) and swam toward him.
“Objectively!?” she spat out when she reached shore and crested the water. “In whose opinion are you not alright!?”
“Hmmm... Master’s, mainly,” he answered with a finger to his lips.
“Miss Patchouli knows a lot more than you, Gen, so she’s probably right and you’re probably not okay,” the Princess chastised him with worry on her face.
“Well, I’ll admit that it’s not entirely fine, but I think I’m doing fairly well. For what it’s worth she’s sending me somewhere new today rather than having me cooped up in the library or sleeping in bed. Sanzu River! I look forward to it.”
“...” Wakasagihime was staring at him, hunched forward and still partly in the lake. No, actually, to be more accurate she was glaring at him.
“What? What are you thinking? What’s on the fish princess’s mind?”
“What else is wrong with you.” Her voice was flat and without inflection. He answered:
“Really? Because it LOOKS like there’s a little SOMETHING. You’ve got dark circles under your eyes.”
“That’s what you’ve observed? Princess, I practically live in books in a dimly lit mansion.”
Wakasagihime responded to him quietly. “They remind me of a magician’s eyes. Like, not a human magician’s.”
“Hmmm...” Gen sounded through his nose, offering no response beyond that. Wakasagihime crouched into herself and asked him:
“Did you become a magician already?”
“I can’t even fly yet; no.” He answered without any particular tone. He then added, while twisting up his face, “I don’t believe I’ve ever said I’ll be a full-blooded magician anyway. For one, I’ve only been here almost three months. For another, I don’t actually fully know what it means to be one.”
“So why the magician eyes?” Wakasagihime kept up.
Gen tossed his good hand dismissively, saying “I don’t even know what you mean by that,” even though from being Patchouli’s apprentice, he absolutely did.
“Aw, Gen...” her face was cast in disappointment, “did you drink that Devil’s blood?”
“What did he do...?” the mermaid asked herself, thinking aloud with a hand to her lips.
“Don’t try figuring something out,” he told her.
“Why won’t you just tell me, idiot?”
He lifted his eyebrows at her, lowered them with his eyes askance, then grimaced with frustration. “Probably because it’s a big enough deal I’d rather just not think about it,” he finally said.
“Are you BECOMING a magician?”
“No, no, I was just slightly corrupted by the baneful and vile will of a dead heretic priest in the form of some nigh demonic tome of the worst ancient Nordic magic.”
Wakasagihime had made her lips tight and her eyebrows pointed down. Furthermore she now had her hands and fingers before her like she didn’t know what to do with them. He wasn’t sure what this expression meant, but he decided to clarify:
“It’s been almost two weeks.”
“Trust me, I’ve looked worse.”
Wakasagihime accepted his words, but with obvious reluctance. After thinking to herself again for a while, she had a question.
“Goodness, a bad grimoire can do that to you?” she asked while putting her arms down and looking to the sky.
“If it’s bad enough, yes. This experience has reminded me why magic is often called ‘black’.”
“What would you do if your transforming into a youkai is by some evil accident rather than your choice?”
Gen did not answer her next question, instead he glowered at her and let his shoulders drop. “Seriously, Princess,” he began “why do you always speak of me turning like it’s some inevitability?”
She crossed her arms and lowered her chin into them, telling him: “Why is a human learning to become a magician from a youkai magician?”
“—’s fated to by a tiny vampire,” she finished, not looking at him. “Weren’t you only fated to become a student? Not a magician. This is how you nearly get yourself killed. You’re so dumb, Gen...”
“It was partly coincidence. Also the only two magicians I know otherwise are a puppeteer and a child, and I don’t like puppets.” He shrugged.
“I’m just saying—” Wakasagihime stretched out her arms onto the shore, lying on her breasts and still looking off to the side “—even if it’s early you should really be thinking about the difference between being human and being something else.”
“In your case of ‘something else’, Miss Princess,” Gen ventured, “isn’t it not much different from being human at all?”
“You’re right mostly, but I will live longer than humans. Much longer, in fact.”
“The length of your life doesn’t make much of a difference does it?”
“It’s an important change,” the Princess explained, “very, very important, Gen.”
“I’m still an ignorant human so I can’t see why.”
“Well, you’re going to the Sanzu River today... maybe you’ll figure something out.” And she began to swim away.
“Hey!” he shouted, “What are you doing!?”
She stopped for a moment and gave him a small speech from over her shoulder.
“What changes between man and malignant entity, what difference there is between a life as long as horizon’s reach verse a life as momentary as a fly’s; what expectations there are of both and all four are things you should be thinking about, because they’re many things and the last thing you want is to suddenly contend unready with them and meet some terrible end or consequence.”
He thought, ... It’s supposed to be “versus” not “verse”.
Wakasagihime gave him a single wave/salute saying, “Don’t meet the Yama with your pants down, dear friend; she’ll only spank you.” Then, she dove underwater.
Gen looked at the mermaid’s gift in his hand for a moment before returning it to his robes and slumping down onto his rear. Tapping his knee at an even rhythm, he considered her words and thought they weren’t very much worth considering.
He had already decided he would not become a youkai. That was all. Any possible issue was thus nonexistent.
“That Kazami Yuuka is certainly merciful in strange ways,” his Master observed while they sat at breakfast in the library.
“Why! Could you mean how she spared my dominant hand?” Gen asked, wagging a spoon of porridge for indication.
“My! Yes, that’s what I mean,” Patchouli answered, wagging a teaspoon.
“So just to confirm, she wasn’t trying to kill me when we fought?”
“It seems unlikely,” his Master said while pouring sugar into her tea. Stirring, she offered this thought: “However had you not acted so rashly when you did, there is a fair chance you would have wound up burned at Muenzuka.”
“But...” he started, but then decided not to finish. He’d thought to confirm that his Master had fought for his life afterward, but if he was wrong he didn’t want to think about it, and if he was right he didn’t want her potentially embarrassed.
Patchouli moved on without noting his interjection. “The Norse magic you used from the Red Skin, or The Book of Power, is in theory normal, but in practice pretty disgusting.”
“The Rauðskinna has been crafted and spelled so that the caster can eschew conventions and ritual to quickly use dark magic, right?” he asked.
She shook her head. “It’s not that simple. Using the book like that, without proper preparation or at least sufficient spiritual power, forges a temporary contract with a youkai... or I suppose ‘demon’ would be the more appropriate nomenclature.”
Gen dropped his spoon. “What.”
“The warlock who wrote that book practiced Nordic magics, but was himself Christian. He sought to use Norse magic, which he considered the most wicked and powerful, to subdue Abrahamic Satan, the ultimate evil of Christianity. Along his path to doing so he subdued other demons, even capturing a minor, impish one to skin it and provide the book its distinctive binding.”
He was often amazed at what his Master could bring up while they ate; perhaps removing her need for food also made her immune to nausea while consuming it. Ignoring that, he was still deeply perturbed by her revelations at the table.
“Gottskálk grimmi Nikulásson. He was a disreputable magician, but proficient far beyond his time. He had access to some texts and also some knowledge that would centuries after his passing be compiled into the Lemegeton, or the Lesser Key of Solomon: a grimoire consisting of five books on various spells, most notably detailing how to summon and control the demons King Solomon subdued.”
“A legendary wise man that was real rather than legend, at least mostly. Anyway, good Nikulásson summoned one of the seventy-two demons Solomon had captured, punished, and branded, upon which he subjugated them with his Norse magic. Thus he tied the demon Paimon to his own grimoire, and you contracted with Paimon briefly to call forth powers you would otherwise be unable to. Essentially when bid, Paimon will swift prepare any things needed for the spell invoked and allow you to use them, however in exchange he consumes first your spirit as standard payment, but then your body if your spirit is lacking. This, at the consumption of form, is when you ‘sign’ the contract. If you’d been any weaker when you invoked ‘Twisted Forest’, he’d have given you the spell and killed you for its use. Without hard feelings, of course; he only ever does as he is ordered.”
Gen kept silent in the wake of this information. He had a number of questions, starting with: “So...” and he paused to pick back up his spoon, “... so, I’ve been connected to this ‘Paimon’?”
“You’ve been. Not anymore. Funny thing about the grimoire: as Nikulásson chained Paimon, if he ever used it without ritual he actually avoided any physical payment and was just given what he needed. Honestly he must have been quite frightening to contend with while he was alive. Pity he died before chaining Satan as well.” His Master popped some teacake into her mouth, closing her eyes and chewing sweetly. Quite adorable given the current subject matter, he thought.
Gen absorbed this, and then leaned forward while properly putting his spoon back down. He put his head in his hand and asked his Master: “... Did I screw up really badly back there?”
Patchouli continued eating simply and without a care while she answered him. “What should concern you most is the most basic thing, Gen: what I warn you about whenever I set you to sorting books. You read spells from a forbidden tome, and so were subjected to inhuman changes. They were only for a little while for now, but if you continue to do that your changes will be permanent.”
He sighed long, sat back up and retrieved his spoon once more. He figured enough with reacting, breakfast’s intended temperatures wouldn’t wait for his dramatics. While properly finishing his food, he addressed his Master in a formal tone: “Master Patchouli: I know you warn me about this often, but I’m afraid you’re being too vague for this dumb human you teach. What is bad about becoming a youkai through influence rather than direct action, and what bad is there in becoming a youkai in the first place?”
Patchouli was done eating now. She set her plates and cup aside and rested her elbows on the table, hands vaguely together in front of her face. “I’ll only answer your first question,” she stated. “The simplest way of putting it is that transformation through a ‘fall’, becoming a monster by gazing into the abyss as it were, makes you pathetic. I don’t mean that to be insulting, I mean that objectively. You become something like a preta from Hindu lore. Do you know about pretas, Gen?”
“I do not know about pretas.”
“Pretas are human failures. Having died at the end of a life full of corruption, greed, foolishness, and lies to all including themselves, they are reincarnated as pathetic monsters obsessed with one particular and often ironic hunger they will never be able to sate. And indeed, there is no better word to describe these creatures than pathetic. How they attempt to assuage their hunger is often... not tasteful.” Patchouli mumbled something and pointed toward a shelf in the library. A book spine began to sparkle and glow there. “Read that while you travel to Sanzu River today. Don’t lose it.”
“I won’t. What’s in it?” he questioned, finishing off his own meal and beginning to set aside his dishes.
“It’s a bestiary of Hindu beings. Read up on pretas and engender some more fear into yourself.” The magician looked her student in his eyes and gave him this warning: “If you tamper in the forbidden arts any more than you already have, you will become a creature possessed in its yearning for dark lore, and I will have to have the Shrine Maiden exterminate you. That will be the end.”
“Can’t let that happen,” he said.
“No.” Patchouli stood and Sakuya took away their plates and all faster than they could see. “Come to me now. I should get you ready for your journey, though you don’t need much this time.”
Gen stood as well. “Master Patchouli?” he asked “Can’t you let me try my best on my own without your close guidance? I haven’t mentioned it, but I feel awfully spoiled.”
“This is not close guidance, Gen; don’t be mistaken.” Patchouli lifted her hand above herself as Gen approached her. When he was close, she rested it on his head. “I do very little for you. I assign, and you perform admirably. As far as students go, you are one I could call ideal. Now stay still and let me equip you like a good boy.”
He sighed through his nose. “Yessir, you’ve got it.”
And so, she got this boy ready to visit the place where souls passed on.
Itou Gen had stepped close to the mountain near the lake (the so-called “Youkai Mountain”) and now in a clearing at its foot gazed upon it in its entirety from below, suppressing his wanderlust.
Autumn lived in abundance on this mountain, and the warm fire colors of the season spreading over its many trees evoked unbridled natural majesty. Gods, did he want to walk one of its trails. But, he relented. He forced his head down, and carefully made his way around the mountain, on the side of it facing the Forest of Magic, intending to find the Road of Liminality where humans, youkai, and the dead all gathered in relaxation. Master Patchouli guaranteed: it was one of Gensokyo’s few utterly peaceful and safe places.
He had his attention still on the mountain, though. He would always find himself staring again and again, admiring how light wildly dashed through branches, how leaves kicked up and about joyously, how there were streams and waterfalls sometimes powerfully, sometimes gently, always gorgeously running downward. He would sometimes stop his progress to watch birds flit through it all, or little land animals climbing and resting. Distant he could even spot what must be fantastic beings traveling in leaps, bounds, and flights ascent and descending. Knowing he had little to be wary of so long as he didn’t try to go onto the mountain proper, it was the first time he was truly enraptured by Gensokyo’s unreal beauty.
He had a book in his hand all this while, and while he enjoyed being studious his attraction to these sights and paths and not-paths but walls of splendid, untampered golden-red flora was winning out over his thirst for knowledge.
“... No, no, I really need to read this.” He said under his breath, firmly, after he had stopped to watch a waterfall cast faint rainbows and produce endless, refreshing vapors as it collided with the boulders and thin river under it. The book was another assignment, after all. Patchouli would naturally quiz him on what he was meant to read once he returned. He walked and read.
... But honestly, what splendor that waterfall held. He returned to it and found himself a spot: one with a large rock to sit on beside a shielding, large and old oak. He wouldn’t want the book damaged. He put himself there, becoming tranquil to the sounds all around him, wearing a genial face while reading about the repugnant creatures known as pretas.
Deer dancing... galloping...
He stretched one leg out and bent the other. His eyes grew heavy, and soon he was sleeping without a single care in the world...
For someone trying to keep quiet, this person seemed to whisper loudly.
“He’s... definitely a magician right? Magician...! I can... Huh? What’s that book he was reading? Should I... I... I’ll check it out, quick...”
“... Hm! ... What? ... E-Ehh..? What language is that...? ... Grr... Magicians, so annoying...!”
He frowned and twitched his nose.
“Waugh! Uh—hide! Hide in the—! River!? What’s with the... It’s so shallow, what—wait, wait, where is thiiis...?”
... The sound of paper?
Gen opened his eyes a crack.
He’d been sleeping mostly pleasantly, but he had the vague recollection of an awful dream about not listening to his Master and becoming a preta, or whatever ghoulish thing he’d become if he tampered with forces beyond him more than he ought. Yeah... if he ever encountered a tome of that sort on his own again, no matter what he wouldn’t use it. That was a truly sickening dream.
Now he looked at a kappa with short, straight, dark hair and a map in her hands, fumbling with it over what seemed to be a clipboard. He knew it was a kappa because of how she dressed: they apparently all wore the same many-pocketed aqua raincoat/dress hybrid with matching rain boots and donned green caps with a ghost-like white symbol on the front. They also often had large backpacks, and this one most definitely had that. He understood that, as an outsider, he should be afraid of them. They were almost entirely harmless to those of the human village, but had no problem dragging other humans into rivers, drowning them, and extracting their souls in a most deplorable method. They were universally small and cute unlike how he remembered them depicted in the outside world, but they should always be considered dangerous.
However, his fear had yet to kick in from sleep, and this kappa was such a mess he was finding it hard to possess concern.
For one thing, she was positively soaked and looked inexorably flustered.
“GAAAHH!! THE MAP!! THE MAP IS...!”
She was wailing, because in her brilliance she had been holding this paper map with wet fingers and the consequences were immediate.
“Oh god! Oh god, I’m doomed!” She had her hands on her head now, having let the clipboard and ruined map fall into the rocks at her feet. She tugged at her hat and groaned. “This is the worst! I’m the worst kappa to ever live! Oh man, why does this always happen!? Why!?”
Goodness, Gen thought as he woke up in earnest and his vision cleared, her voice is breaking up.
She began to cry.
“I’m never gonna amount to anything!”
The kappa was on her hands and knees now, bawling openly.
“...” Gen had nothing to say. He decided...
 Subdue this youkai before she notices you’re awake.
 Escape while she’s distracted.
 ... Take a risk and console her. She doesn’t know you’re not a youkai, yet.
[x] ... Take a risk and console her. She doesn’t know you’re not a youkai, yet.
By the way, if it isn't too spoiler-y, what would have happened to Gen in the other two choices when Yuuka was breaking his arm? Would he have transformed into Super Gen had we chosen the "Use Magic" one?
>>65609 I figured going for the parasol was the correct choice, using magic was the obvious choice, and the book, well, lets be honest, that was pretty clearly not going to end well. I just wasn't sure what "hail mary" implied, nor did I think it would win.
>>65612 It's basically American jargon with etymology in American football. It refers to a last ditch effort play from that game: a long pass, usually when time is short, in an attempt to score one last touchdown.
While I hate sports, the term is widespread in America.
As quietly as he could, Gen closed the Hindu bestiary and returned it to the assortment of tomes on his waist. He stood, brushing himself off briefly before realizing he could whisper away any grass and dirt on his person. He did so, and redid the clothes-maintaining enchantment. All this while, the kappa was cursing herself and weeping. Gen cleared his throat, then hailed her.
“Little kappa, what’s gone wrong?”
“GUAAHH!!” she shrieked, picking up her head. She was facing the river, and when Gen spoke she turned to look at him, fell onto her rear, and put a hand up.
“Do you know Japanese?”
“Pardon me, Lord Youkai! I didn’t do a thing with any of your magical tomes! I’m just a foolish kappa who fell d-down the... the river—hey! Did you... Did you hear about the new rules!? Please don’t hurt me! It’s against the law now!”
“THE SHRINE MAIDEN AND LADY YUKARI!! THEY MADE THE NEW RULES!!”
His mouth, closed, squirmed as if he were being tickled.
He thought to tease her.
“Rules? What rules?”
Her face went pale, her jaw dropped, and she uttered: “Gaaa—n!”
Gen tightened his mouth, not expecting someone to actually do that sound effect from anime and manga. Laughter threatened escape.
The kappa, not noticing this, scrambled onto her knees in as formal a posture as she could with tears streaming down her face and otherwise being entirely in a panic. She raised her hands and began to explain what she meant, talking fast, “Lord Youkai, it’s perfectly understandable that you haven’t heard about the new rules, which are called ‘Spell Card Rules’! They have not been in place even half a year, and not all have realized their mandate across Gensokyo but it’s simple really if you’ll allow me to explain?”
She withdrew, moaning: “GAGAAA—N!!”
He clenched his teeth.
“Nevermind. Please explain.”
“THANK YOU!” she cried, her mood immediately shifting. She next clapped her hands and said: “The simplest way to put it is—iiiis,” she looked askance for a moment before continuing, opening her hands playfully and saying brightly “we don’t fight anymore! Okay? No fighting!”
“Okay, I see.”
She didn’t seem to expect this answer, leaning forward and blinking in confusion, “Eh? You see?”
“You do!? I mean, of course you do!” she coughed and smiled while wiping at her face with the backs of her hands. “Yeah! Can’t mess with the Shrine Maiden or Lady Yukari, right! Thank you for being so understanding...”
Her lips quivered.
And water ran down her face again while she warbled on with her speech.
“R-Really, thank you so m-much...”
Gen was fairly surprised by all this. He’d read that the kappa were cowardly, but this was just impressive. Then again, apparently they were at their most threatening when in a proper river, or at least beside one. Here, next to a stream, this kappa must have felt at the worst disadvantage. Power struggles and fighting were also allegedly common to the mountain, much worse before the new rules were enacted... He was thankful the youkai taint from using the Rauðskinna had yet to completely leave him. Most youkai could otherwise tell he was fully human. Then again most youkai didn’t sport broken limbs... this kappa was indeed quite foolish, as she’d said. He honestly just felt bad for her.
Deciding to cease his teasing, he put his hand on his hip and addressed her again. “Calm down. I already knew about the rules and I had no intention of fighting you.”
She flinched, sniffling. She looked him in his eyes. “You knew about the rules?”
Frowning, he realized that saying this was a mistake. Nonetheless he answered “... Yes.”
“Y-You knew I was lying...?” her eyes were shimmering again.
Gen shut his eyes and pressed his hand into his face as she begged him not to fight her, and that she was lousy at danmaku anyway, and that she didn’t taste any good. He sighed and then spoke again, “... What’s wrong with you?”
“Sorry.” She suddenly stopped her waterworks. He wondered if kappas’ manipulation of that element made that possible. The youkai sniffed once and kept talking, “My life has been really terrible for a while now. I thought it might get better with the new rules but I really am bad at danmaku play and I lose all the time. The others are also just better at everything than I am. They can sell better and stuff. I’m basically just a loser kappa. That’s me. Dud kappa.”
“A friend of mine said you kappa have been getting aggressive in the lake again recently. Is that the source of your problems?”
Her gaze was distant, aimed at the ground as she said “There are incalculable sources. I am the primary source.”
Kappa in Gensokyo seemed to be interesting from what he knew. They operated as a society without any leaders, and while they always worked together they functioned under a meritocracy. They were, oddly enough, a technological race and supposedly had inventions and scientific advancement far beyond how stuck in the past Gensokyo otherwise was. The kappa that were the best at inventing things, that were the best at conning others, that were the best at brokering deals, and that were the best at management took things similar to leader roles in their society, but it was never anything official. It was supposedly a chaotic ball of turtle-shelled (or rather, backpacked) creatures rolling all around underwater and forcing a way to that horizon known as “progress”. From that ball had tumbled this dark-haired kappa.
“I like to be optimistic;” Gen told her with a finger resting on his lips, “I think everyone has some talent they can focus, or at least love they can temper into skill. What do you love, madam?”
The kappa smiled meekly, pressing her hands into her lap. “I think I’m good at inventions,” she admitted, “but since I can’t explain them too well, it’s hard to get the others to test them. I have to test them myself... So, I ended up in the river and I fell.”
He looked up at the waterfall and asked: “You’re latest invention sent you down here?”
Was it a catapult? He wondered.
“Well...” Gen stepped over to the kappa and offered his hand, “... if you believe that you’re an erudite inventor: invent, and let your inventions speak for you.”
“It’s not that easy...” the kappa took his hand and let him help her to her feet. Still holding his hand, she readjusted her cap and sniffed again. She looked up at him, being quite a few heads below him. “Umm... I’m Kawaiwaya Aomu... sorry,” she apologized for the difficulty of her name’s pronunciation, “Really, thanks for being nice to me. I hope it’s okay that I’m introducing myself.”
“Certainly,” he smirked and introduced himself as well, “The name’s Itou Gen.”
Aomu squeezed his hand a bit and looked over it closely. She pouted and mumbled, “Hrm... Mister Gen, your youkai aura is pretty faint.”
“It’s because I’m very nice.” He smiled.
“You are very nice...!” she agreed, showing him a glowing face and shaking his hand firmly. “Uhh...” still not letting go his hand, she seemed to be wondering something while her eyes wandered. She locked eyes with him again and seemed to talk in a practiced tone, since she appeared to find it difficult to keep eye contact and her voice was shaking somewhat, “It’s, uh, not really normal prac... tice but, y’know, I was thinking I could pay you? And you could test an invention for me? It won’t hurt your broken arm at all, I can promise that. It’s, uh, kappa honor. We may lie, but not in business. I mean, mostly. I mean, we don’t want to lie. That’s... I mean that, is what I mean.”
The day was still young and this kappa wasn’t very threatening... but thinking back to his ordeal with Yuuka he wasn’t sure about taking chances any further than this. Well, regardless he’d have to demand that they not climb Youkai Mountain at all—if he agreed he could easily lie about that. Having Gensokyo currency was an appealing prospect... the Road of Liminality was lined with stands, and furthermore he just plain wanted money – he felt very uncomfortable without any, and he didn’t want to proposition Scarlet Devil Mansion for an allowance or pay after they gave him a room, an occupation, food, power: basically his life. But really... even if he knew that all youkai weren’t going to threaten his mortality... he was worried of Aomu finding out his outsider status, dragging him into some current, and taking his shirikodama in an effort to advance her standing in kappa society.
He didn’t want to think of her that way, but it was probably good to be wary.
Well... he thought, looking into the sky, what to do?
Who knows? Maybe if we're good with the kappa even though she thinks she's a failure, she'll actually become our friend even when she discovers we're human. And if not, well I'm sure we can put up a good fight.
My take away here is that we're growing increasingly lax and almost like... prideful, of our progress, if that makes sense?
With the discussion of the Pretas in the last update and our soon to be meeting with the Yama, the undercurrents of greed for wanting money when we're currently supposed to be fulfilling a job elsewhere...
Feels like a trap to help her, even if we gain something.
>>65632 We're prideful and spiteful to begin with, so if we meet a yama we're already going to have a lecture, at least if they bother at all (we only know of one in Touhou, but there are more). And, of course, that's if we even meet one: we're going to the Sanzu River, no one said anything about crossing it. Also we really want power more than just money, and I'm sure those that voted to help her would have done so even without the promise of being paid. In fact, for all we know we'll be paid in cucumber.
But yeah, we should do something about our pride, at least. Maybe spending some time with people that aren't really at the top of the food chain could help?
>>65637 I'm not the one that said he's lax, so maybe you meant that to the other anon. If he wasn't taking his study seriously, Patchouli would just kick him out, no doubt. In any case, he's still pretty prideful I'd say. Mind you, outside of the whole sin thing, having pride isn't always a bad thing. Not enough and your determination gets low, but too much and you won't know when to prepare and when to charge. And the experience with Yuuka didn't change the fact that he wanted to prepare by himself for that travel and Patchouli had to remind him that he should accept what she does for him, and even if she says it's not much, it's still good help. I'd say being like when he fought the kraken would be good: determined enough not to back down when someone he cares about is in danger, but not too prideful that he wouldn't call for help.
Remember, we have that spell that protects us from water, or at least gives us a little bubble. So long as this isn't obviously, stupidly dangerous, lets help the Kappa.
Kappa only consume blood and shirikodama to make up for salt deficiencies, and seem to think they have a good relationship with humans.
It isn't necessarily pride, though it is that in part, it's not that Gen is becoming used to youkai. Given where he lives and who he interacts with, that isn't too unreasonable, but its important to remember to fear youkai regardless. Sakuya told us to remember we are human. Gen is cautious and cowardly, remember how he was when he first met Alice? He's gotten more used to them, but as long as he remains fearful and wary of youkai, I think he'll be okay in most situations.
Lots of things to think about here. Rather than base my decision on threat assessment, character progression, humanity versus youkai, morality or skirt-chasing, I'm voting this for one reason and one reason only: we have one job. Get to the Sanzu and return, alive and with something to show our master.
Do you see kappa mentioned there? No. Sorry Aomu, we're busy.
>>65646 >and with something to show our master Your dedication to Master Patch is admirable, however this is actually a case where she has no object, ingredient, or artifact request. Easy to assume she would since she always has before, but nope, just a research and study field trip.
Well, I finished Master Patchouli’s reading assignment, and I’d wager it’s about eleven in the morning right now... This is probably fine.
She seems harmless.
He met her eyes again.
“Alright,” he said, “consider it a deal.”
Again her face lit up. “Wonderful!” she breathed, and she shook his hand again. “Well, let’s get started immediately! Follow me!” She pointed across the stream at her side, let him go, and began to stomp through it gleefully. He followed her while hopping over exposed stones.
“... Why don’t you just float across, Mister Gen?” Aomu asked him as he carefully balanced on a rock. He answered smoothly:
“It’s hard to concentrate on flight with my arm like this,” he lied.
“Oh, I see! Eee... Uah... ah! My map!” after going through a series of expressions the kappa ended on “shock” and dashed back to the shore to grab up her soaked map. She held it before her and bared her teeth in a despairing frown, quivering. She was about to cry again.
“...” observing her in silence, Gen hopped back to shore and looked over her shoulder.
He couldn’t restore the map, at least perfectly, without it having an enchantment on it prior to being ruined. But, destroyed paper was something his Master had experience with attempting to recover. There were a few techniques...
He fished around in the pockets of his robe for a bottle of ink.
“Aomu, find a relatively dry rock and place the map over it, face up,” he directed.
The kappa looked at him, and then the ink, and then did as she was told, finding a flat boulder near the oak tree and keeping the map in place with a stone at each corner.
“Now open this, please,” he requested, holding out his ink. While she went about opening it up he whispered a spell for air and gathered a ball of spiraling wind into his hand. He breathed in, spoke another spell, and breathed out, using a little spirit to forge “warmth” and blend it into the swirl. He crouched before the map, and began to dry it. It was a bit too chilly to rely only on sunlight, he figured.
When his air had run out he dragged his palm over the paper and confirmed that it was indeed dry. Then, he carefully traced what faded lines he could still see with his fingers spread while whispering, each digit tracing a separate line. He made sure to “connect” everything possible in his tracing, and when he was done, spoke an old word for “ink” while looking at the bottle Aomu held. The black liquid within was extracted out into the air, and as he pulled back his hand it wove into the paper, creating a facsimile of what the map should have looked like before it suffered water damage.
He blew on it a few times, huffed, and took away the stones holding it down. “Done, probably.”
Aomu plugged up the ink bottle and squatted down to see the map. She scanned it, gaining a more and more severe face while she did. She reached for it, stopped, and seeing that the ink was no longer wet lifted it up again. She returned his ink and continued to examine the map. She looked around, looked back at the map, looked around again, and back again. Finally, she folded it up and put it away, fishing around in the same pocket she’d put it in until she’d found something. She pulled that something out and presented it to Gen: money.
“Here,” she said, “payment for services. You’re a lifesaver, Mister Gen.”
They were a handful of coins. He wondered if she’d just pulled a random amount from her pocket and given that, and so he asked.
“No,” she said with a shake of her head, “I just know how to feel for the different denominations very well. I can do that much. That’s two thousand four hundred en. It’s greater than the cost of the map. Honest.”
Two thousand... is it about the same as yen? It sounds like it... He pocketed the coinage. “I’ll take it,” he said, “but I meant to do that for free.”
The kappa shook her head, putting both hands on her hips. “I can’t let the reputation of the kappa go down the toilet like that. We’re a business-like race. Maybe we’re not known for being the most trustworthy... but we keep business going by proving we’re willing to conduct it. Properly.”
Gen nodded. He’d take her word for it.
“Now!” said the kappa, raising a finger for emphasis, “we were going the wrong way! THAT way!” she pointed in the opposite direction from where they’d been headed. Convenient. This would keep him on his way to the Road of Liminality.
“One thing though...” he began to mention, “I ended up annoying one of the yamanba up on the mountain recently... I’d rather just leave her alone and not get caught up in trouble, so can we keep from climbing the mountain?”
“Ohh!!” Aomu was surprised, apparently. She brought her mouth into an oval shape after hearing his request. After a moment, she closed her eyes and grinned saying: “Roger! We weren’t going to go up the mountain anyway, and besides, I’m a coward too! I totally get it!”
Well... I guess I am a coward, but... this much of one, these days?
He smirked with defeat and a shake of his head before following the kappa around the great hill.
They walked a fair way, Aomu checking her map periodically. He still often marveled at the scenery, but he didn’t abandon the path. Eventually, Aomu stopped in front of a strange, large hole in the earth... something like a cave, but it didn’t seem natural. She moved to a pile of vines, grabbed at them, stomped her foot beside a rock wall near them, and wrenched them all away with all of her might. Doing this, she revealed that they were covering a sign. She adjusted her cap and allowed herself a complaint under her breath, muttering, “Dang fairies...”
The sign read thus:
IT’S A KAPPA DEN
Aomu swept plant matter from her hands and glanced back at Gen. “Wait here, okay?” she said, and she marched into the hole a few steps before jumping ahead, falling, and eventually splashing into what he figured must be water.
After a few minutes, she returned, shaking liquid away from her face and off of her hands. She had a white box under her arm.
Gen decided to comment: “I’ve heard kappa all work together somewhere. Why do you have a den out here?”
He knew why, but wanted her answer.
The kappa deflated. “Mister Gen...” she spoke with a sigh “you know why. I’m ashamed and don’t feel comfortable around the others.”
If there was one thing he knew from all his reading on Gensokyo, it was that “the way of things” was an absolute. Any challenges to that were a risk to existence, or were squashed by the Shrine Maiden without mercy. He didn’t know kappa society from firsthand experience, but he knew from reading that their “way of things” was to act together.
“You should really go back with them,” he said, “even if you’re ashamed. I haven’t really spoken with many kappas, but I know you like to stay together. While it might hurt to work among them, how is it for you to work apart?”
Aomu gripped her cap at its brim, trying and failing to hide her grimace. “Let me be proud of myself, first,” she said.
“Alright!” he answered with zeal, “Let us accomplish that! Show me your invention.”
“... Ah! Yeah!” She excitedly took the box under her arm into her hands, lifted it, then opened it beside her face. “Tadah~! It’s a... well, I was thinking, even we kappa can’t breathe underwater; we have lungs, not gills. Sooo, you seeee, thiiis, it... can... Think, of it this way: because we can hold our breath for hours, it’s hard to know just... how many... hours. You’re not a kappa.” Once more, she was depressed. This seemed to be a pattern.
The device in the box was a small, gray, squarish thing, a bit larger than his hand, with a screen and an attached mouthpiece on one end (and at least six other replacement mouthpieces surrounded the machine in its container). He guessed it was something for... what was the term? Spirometry. He definitely wasn’t expecting to see something like that in this land that time forgot, what’s more so compact. Machines used in pulmonary function testing were usually very large and had to be kept in a room.
“Can it work for other youkai and humans? I wouldn’t mind knowing how long I had to last underwater.”
Her mood flipped and she spoke loudly again, “Of course it does! For humans, who can be pretty frail, it can also measure a bunch of other things related to breathing and the pulmonary system! Since you’re a magician, I can even tell you how sick you’ve gotten from magic experiments!”
“So it measures lung capacity, and much else?”
“Cool...” he said, and he was honestly impressed. He held his chin and thought over Aomu’s pitch. She seemed like she could explain well... as long as she didn’t start losing faith in herself. It really was likely just a matter of confidence.
He thought to grant her some.
“Well, alright; let me test it then. I’d like to see how and if it works.”
Aomu beamed at him, set the box down, and took out the tiny machine. She examined its left side and moved a little switch there with a click! before tapping on it in a few specific places, eyeballing the screen, and handing it to the magician.
“Alright, just put the piece here into your mouth and don’t block the hole or your throat with your tongue or anything. The way it works is it gathers moisture through the air in these vents at the back, then when you press this on the right side it shoots out vapor. There’s also a tone it plays though most creatures can’t hear it. It uses the tone and the water to measure your insides.”
“All of my insides?” he asked, holding the device now, “Including my stomach?”
The kappa huffed with pride. “I can really get into it if you want, but basically it ignores your stomach and anything else unnecessary. I could use it for stomach measurements, but that’s a byproduct of my research... I’m not sure about the possible applications.”
He wasn’t sure exactly how scientific this was, but he also wasn’t good at sciences, no matter how much his Master insisted science and magic were one and the same.
He shrugged, and put the mouthpiece between his lips.
“Great, just press the button now and wait a few seconds.”
So, he did. Pressing an oval on its side with his thumb, he felt a thin cloud of water jet through him. He briefly felt like coughing, but just after felt soothed. Noting this, Aomu spoke again.
“Water in your lungs is bad even for kappa but only if it’s too much. This is like, like a humidifier is in your room, essentially. But, you probably can’t use this machine more than once in a while... for safety, just in case. Alright, I think you can take it out now. See? The display should be on.”
He saw that it was. It had several number and letter pairs (he assumed the letters to be abbreviations) lined across it now. Beside every entry was the confirmation “OK”.
“Can I see?” asked the kappa. He handed it to her, and she looked at it for a while. She fiddled with the brim of her cap again, mumbling, “Hmmnnm... Yeah... that’s... fine for a human-like body, right? These values... hmm...”
She flipped the device over in her hand so the screen faced the ground and squinted. He recalled: while he’d held it, there was a rough sensation on his palm, scraping it lightly. Had something been engraved or embossed there? Sure enough, Aomu tapped at the side of her cap and a small monocle flipped out and over her left eye. She peered through it and to the back of her invention, so he assumed it was some sort of magnifying glasses. She switched eyes and sides of the machine, comparing something, and slowly found a smile.
“Well, well!” she declared, “Assuming it isn’t just broken these are normal numbers for a healthy human or magician! Let’s see...” she flipped up her magnifying monocle and pressed a button he hadn’t noticed near its top. The thing whirred with noise and then, from below the vents at its “top”, a slip of paper was printed out. She quickly looked it over, shoved it in a pocket, and then happily chomped on the mouthpiece. Gen raised his eyebrows, and she pushed the button that jettisoned vapors.
She waited for new values to appear on the device’s screen, checked them, and found a wider smile. She shoved the machine toward Gen’s face, speaking enthusiastically. “Look! It knows it’s not the right body type!”
He didn’t understand the values of course, but they were assuredly different from his. Now beside most lines were the symbols “??”. Some still said “OK”, one said “XX”.
“It’s definitely different,” he said.
She took it from his face, looked at it, and then took the paper she’d printed back out. She explained a little of it to him, “You’re pretty much totally average when it comes to your pulmonary system, Mister Gen. It’s hard to check that, but you can try finding me again if anything seems wrong with your breathing and we can check what it might be. For now: I guess you’re a natural born magician? You must not be experimenting too much with dangerous ingredients.” He made no comment. She continued. “What I can check easy is your air capacity. You should be able to last underwater for a minute and thirty seconds! Or, about that. So...”
Aomu put the device back in its box. When she stood up, she was passing her thumbs over each other, the rest of her fingers interlocked. She didn’t look into his eyes.
“To mostly prove it I need to... dunk your head underwater and time you.”
“Do it.” Gen spoke without hesitation.
If he was being honest he still didn’t entirely trust the kappa, but he had determined that she believed he was confident. She seemed honest, and if she was dishonest this was quite the setup for a single kill. Ordinarily, if a kappa wanted a human’s life and soul, they’d take a Venus flytrap principal: wait for the prey to get close and then swallow them. He couldn’t see it, but there was definitely a well of water in her den, so he had gotten close enough to be killed and she hadn’t taken the chance. The chance could be now... but he just didn’t see it. So he didn’t hesitate. He wouldn’t give her a reason to think he had any cause for worry.
“Okay.” Aomu met his eyes again and nodded, putting a hand behind herself and reaching for the waters of her den. “Okay, breathe deep, okay? Thumb up when you’re ready and uh... make an ‘X’ with your arms when you’ve had enough.” She took a stopwatch from one of her pockets.
He raised his thumb.
She nodded, and he realized he couldn’t presently make an “X” with his arms.
She drew her hand forward and with it came water flying from the dark hole. She splashed it into his face and manipulated it so it surrounded his entire head in a large sphere on water. He simply accepted this, and held his breath.
Through the water, he heard her muffled voice. “I won’t tell you when we reach your reported limit. Just tell me when you’re done.
He decided not to count time, only wait.
After a while, he blew air out his nose as his lungs grew weak and a bit pained. He put his right hand diagonal over his chest. She pulled back the water at once, throwing it over some grass.
He gasped for air and looked at Aomu, who was looking between the stop watch and the earlier slip of paper. She face relaxed in deep relief and she said, “It’s perfect... only one second off, in a good way. You kept for one extra second.” She flicked her nose with her thumb, smirking, but also visibly shaking. “It’s really accurate...” she said “... of course, yeah.”
Wiping off and airing his head, he watched as Aomu put the paper and stopwatch back into her pockets, unbuttoning another and removing a shining metal cube with a number pad and slot. She input a code which was followed by a beep, then she input some other numbers, and out came slips of paper money. Putting away the box she next counted them, and offered them to Gen.
“Ten thousand here, four thousand here. Ten and four thousand en, for your services.”
He received the slips.
“Not bad...” he admitted, pocketing it with his coin cash.
“Don’t tell anyone I did this!” she warned, hand on hip and finger pointed up. “We kappa will get other youkai and humans to test things for us sometimes, but it’s almost never that one of us does this on our own! ‘Kay!?”
“Absolutely understood. Is our business concluded then?”
“It is!” she shouted with both hands in the air. “That was my most complicated device so far! I have to go test it with the other kappa! I can’t wait! This’ll be great for our kids, elderly, and ill! If the health stuff works! It should!!”
Oh, she’s excited, Gen thought to himself with a pleased look. He spoke next, “If you ever need me again, request me at Scarlet Devil Mansion.”
“That new mansion by the lake, huh... Sure! Absolutely! You’re good people, Itou Gen! A real upstanding guy! You’re strong and nice! I’m... I’m definitely your friend now, yeah!?” she still had her hands in the air while saying this, and was now grinning just a bit nervously.
“Yes, consider us friends, Aomu. I’m a man of magic, but science and magic are pretty much one and the same. Let’s rely on one another.” He offered his hand. She grabbed it with both of hers, standing on her heels and leaning toward him.
“Yes! You’ve got one of the greatest kappa minds to rely on, and don’t you forget it!”
He smiled. “Never.”
“Were you headed somewhere!? I’ll guide you!”
“The Road of Liminality.”
Aomu nodded, shut her eyes, let go of his hands, and put hers on her hips, grinning at him again, but now so gladly that her nose became scrunched.
Well then, Gen thought, good choice.
He bid her go ahead, and was thus swiftly led to his first destination.
>>65656 I think she might have an idea about that already. She clearly called us a magician before, but then hesitated when looking at the values, put the human part before the magician part, and seemed to question if we were a natural-born magician even as she had already assumed we were a magician anyway and being natural-born or human-turned-magician wouldn't change lung capacity, so it's strange that she would ask that when she could just ask what kind of magician we are, kind of like she was trying to see how we would react at being questionned about it. I could also be reading too deep into this, but yeah, I don't think she'd turn assthirsty as soon as she figures we're human. And probably wouldn't hold it against us, as she is a self-described coward and could understand a human trying to pass for something less likely to be attacked at the moment, just like she tried to fool us into thinking youkai couldn't fight anymore.
Gen walked from the forested mountain base and onto a wide path beneath boundless skies. At once, he recognized that this was a festival... or rather, it certainly looked like one. After Aomu wished him farewell, he stood at the start of the road and simply took it all in. Lining it entirely were food, game, and souvenir stands. There were humans absolutely everywhere. Youkai, too, were in abundance, and as his Master had told him they weren’t attempting to harm or frighten any of the humans there. Mostly, though, this place was crowded with spirits: little white orbs of the dead with wispy tails, flying through the air and in-between visitors or, seemingly, participating in the festivities... were they buying things? Well, he had heard the dead had some money... It was something about how much they were buried with, or what their families had spent, or something like that.
He recalled that many of the visitors were supposedly ghosts. His first experience in Gensokyo had been contending with a murderous ghost, but allegedly these here would all be too preoccupied to care about envying the living. It was eerie to think about there being so many thinking dead in one place... but it was not as overwhelming as the sight in the distance. That commanded his attention.
“S’that... Heaven?” he whispered to himself as he stared into the far off view.
At what must’ve been the end of the road and encompassing all the horizon was a yellowy and luminescent haze, almost like a curtain woven from souls, waving only a little as many of the spirits traveling down the road passed through it. He could tell that no wind passed out or into it, but instead a sense of tranquility reached from it all the way out to him here. It appeared to be an endless thing, a standing plane that told him this was where the world stopped. It was flat, impassive, ambivalence. He understood that this was not Heaven, but one of a person’s final stops before they could find a next world. It was assuredly the way to Sanzu River, and seeing it only at a distance, one so far he could not even see waters, he felt alive in the sense that he knew some day he would die.
He suddenly went cold and his heart thumped as he was shaken by his mortality. His thoughts began to race with ambitions, memories, and regrets, and the idea of everything vanishing. It was something that happened from time to time since he’d entered his twenties, and he knew that it was common, but nonetheless he always absolutely hated the idea that one day it would all end. He would end and that would be it. Even if he re-entered the wheel of life, “he” would disappear and be rewoven into something else, unaware he had ever lived before at all.
Gen held his head and shut his eyes, attempting to ignore these bleak thoughts. What came to mind, then, was the very real possibility he had of achieving immortality... and he opened his eyes, staring at his feet.
His question was: did he have enough attachment to life to do something so heinous as to deny nature and remove himself from the cycle? To become inhuman, and whatever it fully meant to do so? He pulled away his hand to gaze at the patterns on his fingers which belonged only to him and this body, and which would one day either decay under earth or be obscured in a furnace’s indiscriminate flames or worse: become part of a pile of gray ash among a thousand other piles at execrable Muenzuka.
He exchanged one living crisis for another and pressed his nails into the thick of his palm until he felt the skin would break, shaking his head.
He closed his eyes again and breathed long out before looking up into the sky and thinking to himself: Wakasagihime was right: I have a lot to think about.
He took a short breath and waved the stinging pain out his right hand, bouncing on his toes a few times and rotating his neck. He next put his chin in place within his hand and pushed it right, cracking nitrogen out his tendons. He put his fist against his jaw to do to same with his joints there, and after flexed his fingers a few times.
“Alright...” he whispered, “Enough of that. Let’s get going.”
He began walking down the road.
“Hey, hey!” called someone at a stand, “You there, fellow! A living sort, are you? Yes, you! Have some soul candy and reflect on your life! It’s precious... the candy, that is!”
What a line... he thought as he looked to his side to see a person who he knew was dead winking and pointing at him. He wasn’t sure from where these ghost proprietors were recruited, but he had read that they were ghosts. He walked toward the candy seller, looking over the prices of these blue and while, wisp-bearing confectionaries. They seemed to be hard candies. While thinking about buying some pieces, his face contorted in a blend of apprehension and faint disgust.
“‘Soul’ candy, right?” he confirmed. “Are they made with actual souls?”
“Made to look like souls.”
“Made to look like souls... Well, alright,” he said with a shrug, “If that’s legitimate then I’ll take four.”
“Thanks, sir; it’s very legitimate,” said the seller with a smile missing teeth. Grabbing a pair of tongs, he carried four candies into a paper bag and gave it to Gen once he had paid.
He’d wait until he could meet someone trustworthy to confirm if these had souls in them, then he’d try one and give the rest to Master Patchouli.
When he left the stand he was courted by another which advertised goldfish catching... or rather, specifically departed, ethereal goldish catching. The poi he had to use was allegedly, to quote, “special”, but it simply looked like any other thing of plastic surrounding a circle of paper, and all held with a simple handle. He attempted to scoop a fish up, it worked (but was awkward, unable to hold a bowl at the ready in his free hand), and he wondered what about it made this goldfish a ghost... fish. Another question for someone else. If it was a truly a ghost perhaps he could study it.
After being hailed by a merchant selling wards against evil spirits, and then coming across a woman making phantom taiyaki, he realized that there was a brazen theme to what was sold and presented on the Road of Liminality... but he didn’t mind it.
He had candy, a dead fish, and a spirit ward now (he’d decided against the taiyaki). He hadn’t spent or gotten much, but given the tourism angle of the place, he thought that this was enough. Still, he found some interest in a gambling sort of game. It wasn’t that he wanted to gamble, he rather wanted to test some magic and determine if there were any cheats here as he suspected. Thus he approached a rope lottery, strings and prizes dangling from the top of the game’s stand. Senbonhiki was simple enough to rig: attach strings to poor prizes, dangle great prizes with no strings to get them. In this case there looked to be a vintage koban from the Tokugawa era spinning and glinting gold over the stand runner’s head. Another kind of coin... at this point, Gen was wondering if he might seem a little greedy.
Prior to approaching this stand he had penned a glyph into a notebook on his belt for a complex spell’s framework. He whispered the invocation for it while the ghost before him put away the coins he’d paid to play. When he finished whispering, the magic circle he had written shined dimly, the book bearing it opening to that page (though Gen kept it hidden behind his coat). Next, winds came down and rode through the lottery strings, wrapping around them, and tugging every one at once. He had no real cause for suspicion of this stand in particular, but he figured he might be able to get away with this if he was wrong. As every prize but the old coin came tumbling down, but no strings were left to pull for it, he saw that he’d been correct.
“What a strange wind,” the magician commented. He then made to look at the koban, pointing at it and saying. “Well that’s odd. Why hasn’t that fallen, and where’s the string?”
The stand operator, surprisingly enough, leapt at him after this, grudge burning furious in his sunken eyes. Gen looked at the dead man with eyebrows raised and leaned back slightly, having genuinely not expected this outcome. Before the ghost could throttle the careless human, a flaming hand grabbed the top of his head, large enough that its fingers gripped eyelids. Another flew out and pulled the ghost’s cheek from its inside, and more and more grabbed his arms, back, legs, chest, throat, hair—
He was suddenly engulfed in fire, and then suddenly gone.
Gen blinked once, and then rapidly, and saw behind the stand a gorgeous young girl with pitch black hair (cropped) and eyes (cold), a white and old traditional uniform, and a small square hat on her head, also void of color. She held beside her like a staff a scythe that was far taller than her. She bowed to Gen, and made an announcement in a terribly strange voice.
“Hello, I am Houkou no Kien, a shinigami and receptionist to Hell. On behalf of the Ministry of Right and Wrong, I wish to take this opportunity to apologize for the inconvenience and distress you have suffered. Please report any fraudulence that you see here, and any violent behavior. Thank you, and please continue to enjoy your time on the Road.”
She sounded inhumanly stiff and like she was very far away, and rather than speaking to him she was speaking to his heart. Her voice was so outlandish he forgot to comment on her supposed name, which sounded absurd and ridiculous (if it was indeed written with the kanji for “direction” and “bizarre”). Before he could remember and bring this up, she stood straight again, looked to her feet, and then looked at the hanging old coin above her head. She reached for it, and in a startlingly vicious motion tore it from its rope, tearing the white line into small threads. She presented the coin to Gen.
“Please take this for your trouble.”
Is she... actually there? Gen thought to himself while looking at her hand. He went for his arguable ill-gotten “prize”, and as soon as he held it her hand disappeared. He looked up and saw the stand ablaze, but only for a second. After the second passed, a stand for phantom-refrigerated ice cream took its place, and had an entirely new runner.
Gripping the koban now, he rubbed his thumb over it and thought, What the hell? Was that really a shinigami? Did she reap that ghost’s soul?
“Excuse me, sir.”
A lightly husky, but mostly young and feminine voice came from behind him, and its carrier touched him on his shoulder. Gen pocketed his new old money and turned to see a girl probably no older than would place her in junior high, and when he saw his stare went severe.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” the girl continued in a serious tone, “are you, perhaps, a magician youkai?”
The girl had white and pristine hair cut very evenly short and mostly straight. He found her face to be too adorable, with small and slight features beneath wide and truthful eyes, resembling beryl in both color and clarity. She had a stern posture, and it seemed to be her posture alone that evoked solidity in her everything. She stood like she couldn’t, and wouldn’t, ever be moved, and her outfit which he thought might look fresh or even cute on most other girls looked on her like a powerful and staid uniform. It was a mostly green thing: green vest and dress, forest-like, white pocket at the breast and white buttons down the center. The vest had a ghostly symbol like that on a kappa’s hat over her heart, also... though the direction was different, and there were a few more along the hem of her skirt. She had a clean white undershirt with a black bow at the collar that matched the one tied in her hair... But there were four particular things about her more notable than all this:
Firstly, there was a phantom, large and transparent, swimming in the air close around her and not leaving her side for a moment. Two other things were her swords. She kept two black sheaths on her person, one short and tied to the back of her waist, another slung from her shoulder down behind her that seemed almost her size. This one was marked on the end with two red-bordered seals, and decorated with a tied flower that looked as though it didn’t belong in this autumn air, yet was nonetheless vibrant and alive. The blade’s handle bore the image of falling cherry blossoms and was wrapped with string. At the top of it, a thick plume of white waved in the breeze.
Lastly, the most significant thing Gen noted was this:
What on Earth? he thought to himself. Why is this girl so beautiful?
There were many maidens in Gensokyo that the magician’s apprentice could easily admit were beautiful. Even the shinigami who he’d seen just before was someone he could say was gorgeous. In fact, nearly all maidens in Gensokyo seemed to be, to the extent that a woman he might call homely was only so here by comparison, and was otherwise obviously good-looking. He afforded this to it being a land of fantasy, but mostly his heart and passions were never fully stirred by the women here as he thought such fancies would only be dangerous sidetracks while trying to survive day to day. Even his becoming-dear and wistfully sublime Master Patchouli who could blush his cheeks by merely touching his head was not seen womanly to the boy, but almost motherly in fact.
So Gen wondered. Why her?
This was a new sensation. Irritating. Distracting. He pinched his nose bridge, eyes fiercely shut. He wanted to keep glancing at her, as though he were fascinated. He held his mouth in a thin, taut frown.
He needed to redirect. This would be best.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “what was that?”
“Oh, um, oh,” the girl stammered.
God, he thought, pulling his head right, damn it. How horribly cute. Absurdly cute. Shit.
“I was asking if you might be a youkai magician?”
“What’s it to you?”
She spoke shortly and fired out her words with confidence of self, but none in speech. It was a bizarre type of talking only someone still growing and with much to learn could achieve. He wanted to grip at his chest.
“I should explain first. I’m just a normal half-human half-phantom who has come here to the Road of Liminality from the Netherworld. Ah, and I’m a gardener.”
“‘Half phantom’...” Gen repeated while taking his hand a bit from his face and staring down at the girl’s translucent companion. “So that’s what that is...”
Phantoms were not something he saw extremely often, since they were mainly nocturnal things and night was a death sentence for the boy. According to his studies, they were about as abundant in Gensokyo as fairies, however they were far less interesting. They were also “aspect”-based beings, but they embodied temperaments instead of concepts or elements, and therefore were simplicity itself. They gathered around depressing old places evoking “sadness”, and if they were “happy” they displayed and shared their happiness, but they did not speak and did not think. They were just a natural occurrence, almost like weather. How does one breed with the weather? That was all he could think. Though perhaps there was something else to it, some sort of ritual... At any rate, the half phantom part of a half human half phantom looked like a truly odd being... Was it half human itself? Four halves? Was it thinking?
“Your... phantom half?” Gen spoke again, “How does it...?”
“It’s nothing too crazy, I’m just double and half bodied,” she explained, making no sense.
“I see,” Gen said. Then he decided to answer her first question. “I’m not any part youkai. Any of that you sense from me is from an... accident. I’m an apprentice human aiming to become a magician human.”
“Oh, then, I was basically wondering if you could help me with something. My Mistress has a request of me that I’m not sure I can do.”
‘Mistress’... Hey, wait a second.
“Why is a resident of the Netherworld in the land of the living?” he asked her, knowing that freely traveling between dead lands and life lands was fully possible, but possibly dangerous (no matter what you were). He lowered his hand now that he seemed to have calmed down.
“My Mistress said that I had to stop asking questions and just go learn how to gather spri—...” The girl stopped here. He raised an eyebrow. She had lowered her gaze, and now she looked up at him. Finding his gaze to meet her, she yelped in surprise and some concern and said, “Oh! Did you notice that!?”
He hadn’t calmed down.
“Sorry, I wasn’t listening,” he lied.
“Oh good,” she said looking very relieved, hand over her chest. “So I was wondering if you could help me with... gardening. I want to take care of some things... out of season.”
Gen became confused, looking left and right during a good pause before asking, “... Is this some sort of code?”
“I was emphasizing,” the girl said with her hands parallel in front of her, “after all this is important.”
“Well... if you want someone to help with gardening, you shouldn’t expect a magician to be very helpful,” he said. “Try Muenzuka. There should be a youkai there with exceptional flower magic. Just... don’t upset her.”
“Oh, no, I don’t need flower magic, that’s why I emphasized... season, sir.” She grimaced, wrinkling her nose. He looked at her face openly, and found himself looking over her arms, dress, and legs before he pulled his gaze back up. It was close. He was ashamed to be so attracted. While he thought to despair in a dark corner far away from here, the girl continued to speak, “My name is Ko... Youmu, actually. My family has served my Mistress for quite a long time, but only recently I have had to take up the mantle the first gardener, Grandp... my Master, left behind. I do not know very much, and haven’t even been alive very long, and the Mistress has many strange things to say, so I’m often quite turned around. It’s very hard for me.”
He nodded, saying “I see, I see.”
“Most recently she wants me to manipulate seasons with my gardening, but I cannot do that. I can cut flowers and plant flowers; I cannot bring new air to them. But, I think, a magician...”
This Youmu presented him a charming half smile and her hands out, indicating she meant him by “a magician”. He tried to ignore the effect this had on his heart with a cough, and responded to her.
“Certainly magicians can manipulate the elements of seasons to some extent, but Y... Miss... Youmu... you aren’t a magician, and if you’ve come here straight from a land of the dead, shouldn’t you look a little farther before settling on your first opportunity?”
“Huh? If an easy answer presents itself before me, I should grab it, definitely.” Youmu did not seem like she would budge on this point. “Efforts bear fruit, but other times fruit falls from trees. Should you ignore the fruit at your feet because there is merit in climbing the tree? No. Effort has merit, but effort is frustrating.”
“Well... you aren’t wrong.” He screwed up his mouth to a wavy frown, staring askance.
You aren’t wrong, but I’m not even sure I can help you.
“... I’ll tell you what, Miss Youmu,” he finally said after a period of silence, “I’ll think about helping you, but only if you think about whether or not you want my help. If you want you can even tag along while I conduct my business. I’ll be here at the Road and the Sanzu River for a bit longer still... Maybe the answer for how a half-phantom gardener can alter the seasons for her gardening will come to you in that time.”
Youmu frowned and put down her brow, “I’ve been thinking ever since, though...” she mumbled. Then, she sighed, shrugging. “Okay,” she said, “but I don’t think I can wait very long. Please come to your decision on when I need to come to a decision on relying on your decision soon.”
He began to step away and told her, “Yes, I will do that.”
And she followed him, apparently deciding to tag along.
Gen pulled at his collar and his face was full of worry. He wanted to not think about how he wanted to see her walk. Trying to sober his thoughts with those of death, he marched toward the golden tapestry that led to the river where pyschopomps gave crossing, wondering what he’d feel when he made it there.
The Road of Liminality was far longer than it actually seemed. When he asked the half-phantom gardener why this was, she told him “What? Isn’t it somewhat shorter?”
So he formed a little and simple enough theory: something about this way, meant to be traveled by the recently departed, made its length or the time that it took to walk change depending on whether you yourself were deceased. Phantoms were a kind of “dead”, so perhaps Miss Youmu’s perception or actual distance to the afterlife was shorter. For a place as preposterous as Gensokyo, this seemed very likely to him.
The journey down felt both plodding and pulling – that is to say, every step closer to the border of life and death gave him a sense at his back like something was trying to keep him here. He did not feel like moving forward was a distinctly bad idea, but he did, of abnormally sober mind, consider the fairly high possibility that crossing the threshold into the last line before the afterlife would kill him. He knew this would not happen, however, because his Master had told him to go there.
He watched... Youmu, and the sway of her dress.
He walked more, eyes shut.
He thought about Aomu. If he met her again, she’d immediately discover his humanity. What about the other kappa? He’d have to have their second meeting alone, and preferably not near a body of water.
The Road of Liminality had an interesting, faintly flowery smell. He remembered his Master, who always smelled of books and often of lavender. He thought: it was a nice dream to sleep against Lady Patchouli again...
Long ago the stands to the sides of the road dwindled in number. Now he would only see one every few days along. After some time, there was nothing else to see.
So he walked.
... But, there was a strange sense, to be beneath, followed by, and alongside so many newly ended lives, doing what they should, and were they not thinking anything else? They re-entered the wheel as if it was the only choice. How soon after death did your “self” also die?
Considering this, the mortal walked slowly down a dead man’s road.
And now, after a month of travel that Youmu said took minutes, he was finally before the “gate”.
Standing in front of it was not too bizarre, he was interested to find. The foggy, dense, and layered thing was terribly opaque up close; from a distance, he’d swore he could see through it, but as he stood in front of these ethereal curtains now, he saw it was only shimmering and shining gold.
He touched it, and predictably felt nothing.
“What are you waiting for?” his gardener companion asked, wearing a face very expressive of her confusion. “I’m going ahead.”
Youmu walked through and he rubbed at his eyes. It felt in his head but not in his body like it had been ages since he’d started toward this phantasmal thing, this end of the world wonder, and he was a little upset he couldn’t bring excitement out because of that. He ploddingly followed after the girl, and as soon as he stepped within the ghostly folds heard a cacophony of whispers and felt he was in a flurry of sentiments. All sentiments, surprisingly. Not everyone was so sad to die.
Now Just a bit further But I’m not ready Ah to die to die It was a life I suppose Just like that Where am I What’s this Wonder what I’ll have for lunch tomorrow The sky is so clear So tired How much longer do I have These days are so peaceful Another flower viewing was On the other side there are only ever flowers That was a festival wasn’t it Not much longer But really the pain was It was painless so I’m thankful I’m thankful Thank you My dear family my love I am nothing but sorry
“Bloody hell...” Gen whispered, finding himself accosted and becoming irritable for it. He had a hand on his head and had only made one step, and before he knew it he was on the shore of the Earthly world before the river Sanzu, Shigan, and bewildered. But... he was thankful passions had returned to him.
Youmu stood in front of him. She was still, looking toward Higan undaunted.
But the sight of the other shore, and of here, was mortally daunting.
The shore of the Sanzu River was lifeless. He stood on firm sand that hardly broke under his step, and not one blade of grass could be found anywhere. Reaching out from where the shore ended was a fairly long pier, but no boat to go with it. To his right was a line of souls stretching infinitely and facing the river, and to his left was a line of souls stretching infinitely and facing the river. They all stayed and waited, and overhead the new souls went right or left to enter the lines and wait as well. To wait for the ferryman that would take them away for the last moments at Higan, and the judgement to end them and send them to Heaven, Hell, or another place. The shore of the Sanzu River was dead, dayless, nightless, and thick with mist.
Higan was not close, but could faintly be seen sometimes when time shifted and the shining mists went away. The sight of Higan was one of those that took Gen out of himself, and reminded him that he had come to another world. The souls of the dead took old shape at Higan, dressed in white gowns, motionless on their feet or on the ground, and watching the other side. He had read that not everyone knew they had passed on when they came to cross the River, but as they awaited judgement at Higan, only capable of penitent reflection, they understood their death. A million flowers, disregarding season, bloomed at Higan and were beautiful, but also still. It was a windless, warm, and wistful place. The river before it was broken in many places by rocks breaching the water, but the water itself had nearly stopped: one could barely note the river’s flow. Looking at the mosses covering those stones, and wondering whether these mosses were signifying life at all, he felt sorrowful, and was deeply compelled to leave.
“How it for you when you watch Higan?”
Gen lifted his gaze from his feet to see that Youmu had turned back to him. He thought her eyes seemed colorless. She spoke again, “I don’t think much of it, but Master told me whenever I should see it, I should think on it deeply.” She looked over her shoulder and across the river. “I’m thinking, there’s no deep meaning in this... When I die I will not go to Higan, I will not cross the Sanzu River. I will not be judged because I am not from Gensokyo, but instead a place where all are already considered dead, though I’m only half-dead.
So, Sir Magician: as a full mortal, does the sight of Higan change you or make you think?”
“My name is Gen, so feel free to call me that,” he first said. Then, looking all over this environment split between two worlds with his hand to his chin, he told Youmu: “It does make me think, quite a lot actually. I don’t have forever to live, far from it, and this place ever since I stepped on the Road of Liminality has been reminding me of the fact. Here, it’s only more sobering...” He brought his eyes back to her, finding that she was looking at him again. “How long do half-phantoms live?”
“We live for hundreds of years. Grandpa won’t be much lo... Oh...” she realized her mistake and dropped her gaze. With this fact of her grandfather’s nearing death, she did not seem sure of how to feel. She eventually spoke again saying, “Master... won’t be much longer, I guess,” while gripping at her skirt and squinting hard. She seemed to have a lot on her mind.
“How do you feel about your grandfather’s mortality while looking at Higan?” he asked.
She picked up her head with speed, wearing a wiggling smile. “Hm!?” she grunted. “Grandfather!?”
“I meant your master.”
“Of course...! Ah... Master, huh? ... Master... is very old and full of life. I’ve always thought he’d never die. I haven’t thought about it. Master dying... No way, right?” She shook her head and gripped harder at her skirt. Next, with finality, she said, “He’ll die, I suppose.”
I guess there’s some sort of cultural or racial perspective there... he thought.
“I guess... I can’t really think about death,” Youmu said, almost to herself while she rested an elbow in her left hand and lifted her right to her lips. “Maybe that’s what Grandpa wanted me to think about.”
She didn’t notice, and he didn’t bother correcting her. Instead, he looked past Youmu (difficult, she always drew his attention) because he now saw a shadow becoming a figure in the distance. It moved soundlessly, but he could somewhat hear a voice coming with it, and slowly raising in volume. It was a singing voice, not dedicated in its song.
“And with fifty more... The hare will sing... ‘Fifty more~ fifty more~... I have fifty more ‘Singing and dancing inside ‘Fifty more children I have...’
And with a hundred more... The hare will sing... ‘A hundred more~ a hundred more~... I have a hundred more ‘Singing and dancing inside ‘A hundred more children I have...’
The hare will always sing~ no matter how many more~ The hare will always sing~ when there are a hundred no more Fifty no more... Twenty no more... No more~ No more~ Yet the hare will sing...
Hm. Time for a break.”
Quietly the figure reached the pier, apparently manning a boat to cross the river. It looked to be a woman, and she stood very tall, holding a scythe like the shinigami he’d seen before (though unlike the shinigami’s, this scythe had an obviously warped blade). She attached her boat to the pier with a rope, yawned greatly, and stretched. “I’m working hard today...” she said absently, “but I wonder just what happened. So many today...” touching her sternum, she yawned again and lightly sang, “No more~” and she began to walk toward Shigan.
The ferryman of Gensokyo, Onozuka Komachi, looked tired and yet satisfied. As she approached, hands behind her head and scythe’s blade pointed down, she frowned at the pair of living and half-living standing on her shore.
“What?” she spoke loudly, “I’m not ferrying you unless you have the money for it, and even if you want that I’m not going to do it. It’s against my moral code, so find another shinigami to help you die.”
Youmu faced her and Gen looked her over. He’d come across a report that a year ago Miss Onozuka had become Gensokyo’s ferryman at the Sanzu river, and he thought her distinct appearance was actually underplayed. The woman was very tall and of exceedingly womanly figure. Her semi-long hair, cardinal in color and done in pigtails, seemed to him unreal, and how she carried herself was almost ludicrously imposing when considering she obviously kept to a very casual posture. Her outfit, too, looked to be something she wore because it was easy to move in: being a short-sleeved and wide-dress modified blue and white kimono with a great, flared, orange obi. Looking into her glowering red eyes, he wondered if all residents of hell simply instilled fear in the living through their presence, and not a fear of the unknowable as youkai often passively instilled, but fear of the inevitable end. She stopped in front of them with a stomp of her geta, kicking up a small cloud of sand and announcing herself.
“Half-phantom, human, you stand at the Sanzu River both out of place. I am the ferryman of the river: a shinigami sent from the Ministry of Right and Wrong. I ferry the dead. You, who live, please just leave.”
“Half-live,” Youmu answered without hesitation.
The ferryman stepped over the gardener – far over her in a show of obvious intimidation. She bent her head and even a little of her back over the white-haired child. “Cheeky little half-phantom,” she began, “you know, although we’re in Gensokyo, I would be well within my rights to take away that half-life of yours, Shrine Maiden or no. Do you want me to reap your two split souls, little gardener of the Saigyouji?” Saying this, with speed Gen could not see, the tall woman spun her scythe around her neck and brought it down so that Youmu stood between its blade and her body. Youmu did not flinch; she put a hand on each of her swords.
“Who said I was a gardener? Touch me and I’ll sever you, shinigami,” Youmu coolly threatened. “Don’t you have a job to do?”
And, to Gen’s surprise, the woman smirked. She pulled away her scythe and laughed once through her nose before speaking again. “I’m on break,” she explained, “and since I’m on break I don’t feel like lecturing you. Let’s not be polite and skip the common pleasantries. I’m too tired for it all – I’m just not up to it.” She planted her scythe into the sands like a staff, and slapped her free hand on Youmu’s shoulder (Youmu, who would not take her hands from her blades’ handles). She grinned and spoke again.
“Calm down, alright? Relax, relax. How about we throw that tension away and meet again on better terms some other time, alright Little Miss?” While she finished this sentence, she lifted her eyes to Gen. She stared at him for a while, and after the while her grin widened, and wickedly. “The little half-phantom has a chance, slim as can be, but I won’t ever be ferrying you, now, will I?”
Gen knew what she meant by this, and asked, “What do you mean?”
“Ah, right, right, I just said we’re still in Gensokyo...” she replied with a shrug, taking her hand from Youmu’s shoulder (Youmu, who still would not take her hands from her blades’ handles, but was now deep in thought and staring off into space before her). “Now, now,” she raised her left hand, palm to him, “don’t worry, I’ll keep your secret. In fact—come with me.”
Komachi walked over to Gen, abandoning Youmu and pulling him under her shoulder to his sudden puzzlement. She was a little taller than him.
“You’re kind of awesome, aren’t you?” she whispered into his ear, stopping him from squirming in her grasp. “You’re alive, and you boldly went to the Sanzu River. I usually only talk to the dead, but I really, really want to talk to you. Come, follow me; let’s chat out of earshot of the almost-dead boyish girl. I have got to know what this crazy human is thinking.”
“Wait,” Gen pleaded, lightly holding her arm which had settled under his chin, “I’m supposed to talk to that girl about something.”
“Talk to her later,” she dragged Gen along, “time is limited for all of us. Let us use what little of it we have left on unique things. After all...” her whisper became quieter, making the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, “outsiders like you don’t meet shinigami. They die cold, dark deaths.”
He forced a stop and glared at Komachi. She beamed at him.
“So, up and at ‘em, broken boy.”
After saying this, she ushered him down Sanzu River’s shoreline, leaving a very pensive Youmu behind.
>>65677 >“How it for you when you watch Higan?” Hm. "is it"*. It's really incredible how shit your eyesight becomes when reading what you've written yourself. And I bet there's something else, probably even more egregious, that I'm missing.
“Heh! Aha! Ha ha ha haaa...! Ah... Getting over to the edge of the Earth for such a simple reason... Itou... you should find your spine before she ties you with an actual rope for a leash.”
“I’m only alive thanks to her and her friend.”
“You’re going to die,” the shinigami snorted after saying this and poured herself sake into a small dish cup from a tokkuri, “and when you do, I’m not going to take you, you’re just going to die.” She drank, and sighed. “Sad~, sad~,” she sang.
“When death faces me and I am able, I intend to run the other way. If the end I face, too, is dead, then I’ll throw something in the face of death instead.” Gen was sure of this, as he had to be sure. Komachi tipped the bottle in her hand toward him, and he lifted his sakazuki to its mouth. Receiving a drink, he put it to his lips and sipped, adding: “Preferably magic, but a stick or whatever will also do if it comes to that.”
They sat both cross-legged, side-by-side on the Sanzu River shore and facing the river itself. They had gone quite a way from the pier. Komachi had brought out alcohol despite being on the job, and an entire sake set as well. He had chastised her for this, to which she’d responded the same way as she was doing right now:
“Funny human,” she said with a chuckle, “funny.”
He had just finished telling her the story of the last three months of his life. Apparently outsiders almost never went to the River, or if they did they found residence in Gensokyo first. Because Gen hadn’t resigned to being a human villager (he had in fact never even been to the human village) that meant he was in Gensokyo as an “other”. If an outsider became a villager, they entered Gensokyo’s jurisdiction for river crossing after death. If an outsider like him died, they were cremated at Muenzuka. He knew that already, and was getting rather disgusted with how often he was being reminded.
He made to finish his cup. It was his first try at a warm alcohol. He thought: it was pretty nice.
“How do you enjoy sake warmed in stygian waters?” asked Komachi with a toothy smirk.
“Stygian? Aren’t we at Sanzu, not the Styx?”
“And ‘stygian’ tends to imply cold, doesn’t it?”
“Man,” she groaned, “come on, I just wanted to use the word.” She frowned and he saw her face was red. She lowered her eyelids and pointed at him with her flask, taking a commanding tone: ”Answer my question, mortal,” she demanded.
“Aren’t you mortal?” his rebuttal was immediate.
Komachi pulled back with some shock. “Aren’t you cheeky?” she complained, looking back to the river and bringing her sakazuki up. “You and the half-phantom.”
“Half-human,” he corrected.
“On a roll, huh... Just answer.”
“Yes, it’s rather good, so thank you.”
Komachi absently drank, and Gen peered into the almost-still waters of the river. The woman beside him had heated her sake-filled tokkuri by holding its lower half in the water for a bit. According to her it wasn’t very hot, but would get the job done. She warned that he shouldn’t get too close to the river himself, however, as falling in would mean death. Nothing other than her boat would hang in the water rather than sink. Now, he could see that beneath the water was a vast assortment of fish, but... supposedly they were all dead. Thinking this, he unexpectedly brought up his head in a fast and flinch-like movement, and the ferryman herself flinched in earnest to this act.
“Can I ask you some questions, Miss Komachi?” He asked with frankness to his voice. “About the stands on the road leading here.”
“What’s that?” she inquired, her expression now serene while she refilled her cup.
“‘Soul candy’, ‘dead goldfish catching’, ‘phantom ice cream’... How much of all that is legitimate?”
“Ah...” she gave this sound before drinking again. She had an almost forlorn look in her eyes, running counter to her smile. “I’m not sure how much I can say about the Road of Liminality, and the stands that Hell has put on it, but... sure, I can explain a few things. The fish ARE dead. The ice cream IS cooled by phantoms. The soul candy... it’s just plain candy in a shape.”
Gen breathed in, and then sighed out long with relief. He set his sakazuki on his thigh and felt around in his robes for the candy he’d bought (the departed goldfish was in a skin on his belt), weaseled it open, and tied it back up after taking a candy out. He thought over trusting Komachi... and decided it was fine. He tossed the candy into his mouth and his lips naturally curled with physical joy to the taste. It was almost like caramel... Master Patchouli would love these. He’d have to get more.
While sucking on the thing and using his tongue to play with its “tail”, he picked back up his cup and considered drinking with the candy still in his mouth.
“Sure!” said the shinigami, watching him. “It’s a fine enough taste.”
He looked at her goading him into drinking, and shrugged briefly before doing so, mixing sweets and tepid rice wine. His expression twisted... While not bad, it wasn’t the best of tastes. Komachi at his right was smirking at him like laughter was only seconds away. He tucked the candy into his cheek and swallowed.
“So, a Magician huh...” said the ferryman, pouring more sake for him.
“A magician, that’s right.” Cup full, he brought it to rest with his hand in his lap and gazed out to Higan.
“So Itou, do you want to become immortal?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know yet.”
“Well, just, for what it’s worth...” Komachi brought up her knees and stretched her arms out over them, putting her head down and looking off to nowhere in particular “... most immortals are hunted by us shinigami.”
Gen had been lazily rolling the candy over his tongue and now nearly swallowed it to her note. Stopping a choking accident, he pulled the candy under his tongue and uttered, “Eh?” while swiveling his neck and coming to meet her eyes. She looked a bit dazed for a moment, and then offered a teasing expression.
“Escaping the wheel of life and death, that samsara, is an unforgivable crime. Hermits and Celestials, for example, are endlessly hunted until they properly die.”
Feeling a chill, he gripped at his dish before speaking again, “You know, I thought it sounded too easy.”
“For you,” she clarified, “it would be easier.”
Gen was confused.
Komachi put down her flask and pointed at him lazily while she explained, “You want to be a Magician. Magicians don’t actually break the rules, and we don’t hunt them. You might think, a Magician’s weak body, almost crippled by the poisons they breathe every day, is the price to pay for immortality, but it’s actually really simple: Magicians, earn it.”
“Hermits and Heavensmen don’t earn their long lives?” he asked, now reducing the candy in his mouth to a sliver.
“Not often enough, and even if’n they do the process is too simple. Some Celestials will simply transcend the mortal coil having not done anything. Some Hermits need to do very little to escape the wheel. All of them cheat death, but Magicians craft life. That difference means we can’t kill you...” she chuckled after admitting this, adding, “But I want to kill you Magicians. Nothing that lives should never die. It is repugnant with sin to do so.”
He stared at the tipsy ferrymen a little fogged of the head as well (but still drinking now that his candy had melted), however he could think clearly enough about what she’d said. If he became an immortal through means of magic, entirely properly, he would live out his life for as long as he wished to live it and without consequence. He had to imagine it was not easy to become a full magician, certainly, but... with how Wakasagihime and his Master had spoken, he knew there must be something more.
So, he asked.
“Komachi...” he said, “what does it mean for a human to become a youkai of their own free will, and how are they judged for the act?”
“I don’t know,” Komachi was quick to answer, “it’s Lady Eiki’s decision, based in no law, that determines how and for what you are judged. She’s the Yama presiding over Gensokyo, and she judges all its dead. The most I judge is the newly dead on whether or not they’re willing to make the crossing.” She huffed, and drained a full sakazuki, sighing afterward. With bleary eyes, she addressed him, “A word of advice: part with what you’ve got without hesitation should you ever meet me again and dead at this river. Otherwise, I’ll boot you part of the way across so your soul is eaten by old water dragons.”
“Huh...” He wasn’t sure how to respond to that.
“I do know this, though, Gen:” she continued, reaching once more for her tokkuri, “generally speaking, a human becoming youkai is considered a sin, though for an outsider like you, you would get away with turning without the Shrine Maiden coming for your throat at least. Villagers do not have that freedom.” She shrugged. “Of course, well, I don’t think I need to tell you again what danger your freedom in that world brings.”
“So... it’s entirely up in the air how I’d be judged if I died after becoming a full magician? That’s somewhat worrying.”
“Lady Eiki is—” Komachi began with a prideful smile, but it quickly went away. She now frowned at him instead. “Look at you,” she accused, “getting me drunk and trying to have me reveal the secrets of the afterlife.” She puffed out her cheek and knitted her eyebrows.
“Huh...” he answered with a look beseeching no-nonsense. Then he asked: “Must I say that you got yourself drunk?” as she bent her neck back and drank once more. She finished, and a droplet fell from her lips when she pulled the cup away.
“Well I’m done now,” she stated, and she began to gather the sake set to a large wooden box she had brought (according to her it wasn’t that she had all this on her at work, but rather she retrieved it from home in a second – whatever that meant). Gingerly raising the tokkuri, she wished it a bit and heard it was still a little full, so she looked at Gen and swiftly bent over him. He looked into her eyes, his own finished sakazuki in his hand and unmoving. She next said this, “How about a kiss of death?” and she came in to him close.
His eyes widened as she put the mouth of her flask to that of his countenance and forced him to drink. Wincing, he gulped down what was left, and breathed out quickly when it was done. She took the tokkuri from him then and turned up her lips with satisfaction at his now-reddened face, red for two reasons. “Were you expecting something else?” she said.
“I wasn’t expecting any of that...” he replied, wiping his lips with the back of his hand. Komachi reached between his legs and took her second sakazuki, causing him to withdraw from her. Humming, she put everything away and closed her wooden box. Taking it and the bottle of alcohol she’d brought up, she next stood and held them before her while facing west. Then, she reached forward. Thinking he’d gotten drunk, Gen rubbed his right eye at the sight of a candlelit room with a dining table and dark wood everywhere moving rapidly toward her. When it was close enough, Komachi put the things down on the table, and then the cozy room flew away. He was definitely out his mind.
“Pheeewww~...” the ferryman sighed, stretching her arms overhead. She playfully spun her scythe in showy motions round her arms, over her waist, between her hands, eventually brought it to rest behind her neck saying, “Ahh, not too bad. I can work like this.” She finally looked down on Gen, who was still curled away from her like a wary kitten, and talked to him. “Let’s get back to that boyish girl,” she suggested. “How much do you want to bet she’s still standing there, lost in thought?”
“... You’re quite the rude shinigami,” said Gen, bringing himself to his feet. The Earth seemed to shift a bit and he shook his head. He didn’t seem to be drunk or even tipsy after all that, but he was certainly a little affected by the alcohol.
“Everybody’s different,” she said, defending herself with a hand raised dismissively and her eyes closed. Now she shook her head and told him, “I’m me.”
“Well anyway I’m betting nothing,” he said flatly.
“I’m betting she is... Alright, let’s get moving.”
“And you get back to working?”
“Of course!” Komachi scoffed, walking ahead of him. “It’s not like I’m lazy!”
Youmu was standing before the pier when they returned. She had her large blade out and thrust into the sands, keeping it there so she could rest her hands on its grandiose plume. Gen wondered if she had indeed been just standing there and thinking this whole while.
“I stopped thinking a while ago,” she answered his thoughts, “I’ve decided: for now it’s fine if unknowns stay unknowns, so long as they don’t get in the way of what I have to do for Yuyuko-sama.”
To this, Komachi suddenly laughed, spraying a mist of liquor-tinged air and spittle as she had tried to stop it, and making Gen jerk away from her. She held her stomach and was in tears as she attempted to not roar with laughter.
Looking back to Youmu, Gen saw that she was blushing deeply. She coughed into her fist twice and said, “Never mind what I just said. I only mean... That, to do my job, I will only do what is necessary. So, Gen.” She stared straight into his eyes. He’d probably have blushed himself if not for Komachi dying of amusement at his side.
“Yes?” he responded.
“I’m sorry, but now I have two requests.”
“Two, eh? When I’m not even sure about finishing one?”
“Please hear me out,” she politely begged. “First, I still wish to ask you for help with gathering seasons, with magic or anything else. I need some method, and I need one as soon as possible. I can’t afford to waste time seeking out magicians or ascetics and hoping I can find the answer. You may be able to help me, so I need to grab hold of you now.”
“I see...” Gen replied, almost disappointed. He was the sort to try as much as he could on his own... Youmu’s reliance on him without seeking other avenues first seemed like it wouldn’t help her situation. But, well, practical mindsets were just as valid as ones focused on merits.
“Second, I wish to fight you.”
“Everyone in Gensokyo fights...” he said with a sigh, looking down at the chuckling Komachi (who was every so often muttering “Yuyuko-sama... pffha” and such).
“I realized that I can’t trust you for a parlor trick I saw you perform on the Road of Liminality. I need to know whether you have true magical ability or not. What’s more, I realized it was rude of me to openly request your help without proving myself first. While I still abide by my philosophy of taking the road traveled at all before the one traveled far less, I think I should earn at least this.”
Oh, Gen thought, that’s better.
“So, I want my second request first, if you are willing. If you win, you can request anything of me. If I win, you will help me understand the power of seasons!”
Youmu pulled up her sword and, in a flashy motion, returned it to its sheath while Komachi stared at her, giggling intensely. The shinigami eventually found her breath again and straightened up, thumbing tears from her eyes. She spoke up, “Haaah... So you want to fight on the Shigan? Watching that might sober me up.” She nodded her head at Gen. “What do you say, Gen? I’m curious about that magic the librarian taught you.”
Gen wasn’t actually sure. He was a bit worried about potentially injuring his arm further. While it sounded like this would be a proper, non-lethal spell card duel, bullets still harmed and they did not harm lightly. He had also just finished drinking, and while he judged himself largely clear-headed, it was his judgement and perception; he might be very sloppy right now. There was no real other hand to this; he was seriously worried about his arm. He wasn’t sure about possibly helping Youmu, either... Her bullheaded way of thinking probably wouldn’t be helpful to her in the long run. While he liked the sound of being able to see her more, he determined he’d rather not think about being so fond of that idea. Although Youmu was of a long-lived race, he got the distinct impression that she was actually as young as she looked (as if it would matter if she were fifty or sixty?), and he was physically attracted to a fourteen year old girl. He didn’t know he was like this.
So, when Komachi asked him what he wanted to do, he thought about it, and thought about it, and decided to tell her,
by the way, somewhat related to this story, as it's the opinion of our dearest master: >Special Prize? There's no one in particular. But... Oh, I know. Please give it to that woman who has the nerve to call herself a magician while specializing in putting on puppet shows. If she only wants to play house, then isn't that just perfect? From SCoOW 3, IaMP awards. Fucking SAVAGE. It just amuses me that the opinion I gave Gen of Alice's magic happens to also be Patchouli's. Far as I know this is the first she's said as much about Alice and her puppets, at least.
>>65692 Too bad, because we know for a fact she did wait. Is it autumn so she was to wait for, at least, four months and, at best, six. And that's even considering she will do this year (which would only be true if the SDM incident already happened
I think I'll call it then for accepting her proposal, and start writing with that option in mind lest we get another tie. You can still post a vote if you want but I'ma writan' NOW.
>>65701 Perhaps Anon meant a magician doesn't need two hands to cast spells. Also most magicians in Touhou are canonically ill or physically weak/pained in some way, and some like Patchouli are so debilitated that their poor physicality can make casting spells impossible (in her case, asthma and anemia can get too overwhelming). Broken IS a bit different though.
That's how I think of it though, and I'll probably bring that up in the next update, among other things... of course.
>>65703 Well, I guess I can understand that, and while I'm pretty sure some spells would require both hands, I don't think it'd matter much right now.
In addition though, I'd like to point out that a magician beind frail is highly dependent on the person; they are physically weak because they don't exercise and deal with toxik stuff without proper protection.
Marisa is a human magician, and was said to be around the level of strength of a regular human. Ellen has a memory problem, but otherwise nothing is said about her being weak. Alice isn't noted for being weak. Nothing is really known about Yuki and Mai's physical abilities. Byakuren is physically like a human, but uses magic to make herself stronger, faster, ... Narumi also lacks a mention about her being weak.
Really, the only known magician who's frail is Patchouli. Well, frail based on what "age" she would be as a regular human, anyway. A "child" magician in good health wouldn't be expected to be as strong as an "adult" magician in good health.
>>65704 It's really just according to Akyuu's words on the species that I say that, and specifically the reasoning for their weakness is highlighted to be their research and experiments. That Alice only works with dolls probably indicates her lack of physical ailment, though she did at least research "abandon food". Regarding at least three of the known magicians: Marisa definitely consumes a lot of poisons but has indeed demonstrated no negative effects yet. She also describes herself as developing resistances to them on multiple occasions. Narumi, on the other hand, is not a "human" type magician, but more like a tsukumogami or something. She's a Jizou who gained power/sentience like Eiki-sama. Finally we have Byakuren, who seems interesting... It sounds like her means of becoming immortal, as well as the magic she uses, are different from most magicians. She's described as being dependent on youkai to maintain her eternal youth, although magicians who have used "abandon temper" are just immortal, end point. Always figured she must be using some sort of weird ass magic. Once more this might be regarding implications Akyuu made: that there are spells to repeatedly maintain your youth rather than being immortal. I guess this is what Byakuren does, and since she doesn't dabble in stuff like mushrooms and arsenic she stays mostly healthy.
>>65705 Hoh, I actually conflated info RE physicality. Magicians have human bodies -- Akyuu's information Magicians tend to be weak due to poison -- Marisa herself, Wild and Horned Hermit chapter 3 where they were taking ghost gold. Note: Alice is indicated as a magician with a weak body there.
>>65707 Ah, seems I missed that bit of info about Alice. Thanks for pointing it out. Still, I was just saying that amongst the named characters that are classified as magicians, Patchouli is the only one that has shit health. Even if Alice is also weaker than a human, at least she doesn't seem to suffer as much from it. And Ellen might have memory problems due to her age. We don't really know a lot about most of the PC-98 cast, really. Could Mima also be considered a magician, actually? Or is she just one of the many characters that has magical powers without being one?
>>65684 There's some "sama"s here rather than "ladies". I had a feeling I'd fucked that consistency up, and of course it's with the character who regularly refers to her mistress as "Yuyuko-sama". Sorry about that, if it rattled any ~immersion~
Note - Youmu's spell card and Patchouli's warnings: it really was a coincidence. I don't remember spell card names off the top of my head!
[X] “Why the hell not?”
“Oh?” Komachi seemed pleased.
“I ought to admit something first, though,” he continued, looking over to Youmu. He tapped his skull. “I’m honestly a little out of it: had a drink with the ferryman just now so I’m probably not all together... Oh! And—” he tapped his slung and cast left arm now “—this is broken, of course. Though while I’m worried about getting hit there, my Master only let me travel today as she expected I was able to fight, and, yes, it’s true.” He shrugged and smirked, eyes closed. “Magicians don’t need two arms to fight.”
His ears perked up to the crunch of sand, and he opened his eyes to see Youmu walking at an even pace toward him. She put her left hand to the sword on her waist, and spoke, “If you’ve lost your left arm, use your right. If you’ve lost your right arm, use your left...” Nearing him, she began to unsheathe the wakizashi. She stomped down her right foot and Gen stepped back with his left. She professed: “If you’ve lost both arms...” with blinding light and speed her blade was brought out, and curved a strike that went through his remaining good limb “... kick!”
Air rushed over him and he squeezed his eyes closed. The arm he’d brought up to block the half-human, half-phantom’s blow felt a dull pain... but seemed to still be there. He looked down at it. He had a surface cut on his skin, and part of his sleeve was sliced open, but that damage was all. Muttering “What...?” he noticed that it felt like he’d just truly woken up, and without any hangover like that of the morning after he, the Princess, and the gatekeeper had drank jubilant at Misty Lake. In his belly he still felt alcohol’s warmth, but he had become utterly sober: perhaps more sober than he had ever been before.
“But indeed, a magician needs no hands or feet,” Youmu declared, eyes shut with brow and lids still. She slid her weapon back into its sheath and finished by saying: “so long as you have a tongue and a voice to use it, you are still in the fight!”
Youmu lifted her eyelids and met his eyes, showing him a face determined, proud, and satisfied. She happily explained what just had happened without him having to ask, “I have slashed the confusion from your mind with my Hakurouken. While I have no concern over whether or not you’re drunk when we duel, if you have concern over it then I have no problem assisting. With that in mind, I thank you for accepting my challenge!” She bowed and he backed away. She was a bit too close and low for his comfort.
“Think nothing of it;” he told her with his hand raised, “I thank you for giving me a clear head before I head home. My Master would’ve probably scolded me for wandering home, drunk, tipsy, buzzed, or even with that knowable scent on my person.” He blinked and reset his expression, realizing in other words he’d probably be scolded later.
“No, no, it’s my pleasure!” Youmu lifted her head, beaming, as she spoke toward his belt and zipper. His cheeks were colored and his heart beat and Komachi at his side noticed this all with a knowing, mocking grin. Youmu noticed nothing, and continued unabated, “I should explain a few aspects of our duel before we begin!”
She finally lifted herself up and began to walk back to where she’d been standing before, explaining as she’d said she would, “At the Sanzu River, one cannot fly, so our battle will be grounded. Furthermore... I am not used to danmaku! You will have to forgive any of my clumsiness!”
“Alright...” he still figured she’d trounce him, given the speed she’d just demonstrated. As for the lack of flight, it wasn’t as if he could check. He gave Komachi a look to ask her for confirmation.
The ferrymen responded by gently placing her hand on his shoulder. Having closed her eyes before doing this, she suddenly opened them with a smirk and a thumb’s up from her free hand. “Don’t worry,” she said, tipping her head toward the gardener, “it’s not a sin here.”
And she winked.
Gen’s expression melted into one bordering repugnance and indignation as she turned from him to return to the pier. He shook his head. This wasn’t the time for concerns over his tastes; this was the time for battle.
She breathed out and muttered, “Okay...” grasping the handle of the sword at her back. “Once more, I would like to express my gratitude... In respect for your bravery, I will hold nothing back!”
He reflexively touched one of the grimoires at his waist, and noticed with a tilt of his head and a lifted eyebrow that a breeze had begun to drift over the Shigan. Rapidly it became an earnest gust, and he saw that it was circling, and gathering to her. She began to draw her sword now, and as she did so the winds’ pace increased.
“But I should warn you...”
She tore the katana free and with it came an otherworldly glow, the vortex spiraling the blade with its eye at the guard. She held the shining weapon with both hands before her and seemed to focus as she entered a swordsman’s stance. Readied, she boasted with confidence:
“This Roukanken, forged by youkai... the things it cannot cut...” she bent low and raised the Roukanken so that it was beside her face, showing him a glare and giving a proud shout: “... are simply none!”
“Whoa now, what the hell...!?” Gen couldn’t help voicing disbelief. “Seriously? Like in a shounen manga!?”
From both Youmu and her sword, pale violet energy was fiercely whirling. Her hair and dress were whipped about violently, and her grip seemed intense. Sands were tossed up, and the river rippled as he felt a light rumble invading everything. He was reminded somewhat of his witnessing of Meiling gathering qi, but mostly he was reminded of absurd powers from fictional bouts. Youmu seemed to legitimately be charging her strength, and the sheer ridiculousness of that fact gave him severe pause.
“Move or be slashed!” she yelled. And with that, she made her first cut.
Carving “blue” before her and somehow severing the air in a foggy, warped display, Youmu sent forth a wave of arrow-like bullets from the resulting wound in the atmosphere. Mercifully while certainly fast, it was all slowly aimed toward him: he needed only to move aside and begin his counterattack to stop her. He’d cast directly from his spirit this time, since he’d been eager to see how strong his magic was without any element attached to it against a not absurdly powerful enemy. While he prepared and came to fire, Youmu moved in parallel to him and cleaved the air again, this time cutting “red” for more arrows, though these aimed “around” him, interestingly.
It was decent for a warmup. Somewhat more difficult to contend with was a strange pattern of hers when not distorting the sky: she seemed to summon a pair of pulsing lights near to him that bent back toward her, and with each quick pulse they “dropped” orbs of yellow and blue, or yellow and green in some sort of crisscrossing fan. His first instinct was to waver in step between it all, but he quickly realized it was simpler to move forward, and only step aside when needed. With satisfaction evident in his smile, he soon dealt enough damage to have Youmu pull a card.
“Alright!” she cried, “Preta Sword ‘Scroll of the Preta Realm’!”
Gen puffed air from his mouth, saying under his breath, “What? No way.”
Smirking with his note of the coincidence, he watched as Youmu “charged” again. This time it seemed she was focusing greater powers: the energies were shaped in body-sized flower petals now before she absorbed them. He shot at her all the while, and then something bizarre transpired.
With the sound of a shattered chime, not only did ethers distort, but “time” seemed to as well as the gardener and the flower petals gathering to her became almost blindingly white. Everything slowed down, including his own movements, and just as he came to realize the madness of this, Youmu moved laterally several meters to her right, ripping her sword through atmosphere all the while. Again this brought forth a blue arrow barrage, but his first thought upon seeing it hurling toward him was What? This is illegal, isn’t it?
There was no space. Telling someone to dodge this would be like telling them to go swim in the ocean and dodge waves. It did look like crashing waves, now he’d thought of it. Putting that thought away, he gazed into the dense “pattern” and figured there must be a way through this; he just didn’t see it yet.
Just as the bullet curtain came upon him, again he heard a broken chime, and again time slowed. Youmu’s arrows glowed with too much intensity, and he had to squint. As he squinted, he didn’t see a way through, per se, but saw a few opportunities to not be hit. So, he took them... or he tried. He was reminded of two things in these excruciatingly slow seconds: the American film Matrix, and the American video game Max Payne. It was a recent trend in cinema or cinematic style to slow footage and show the hero easily avoiding literal bullets with flair. However... this was Gen. Feeling like he was encased in molasses and had lead in his shoes, the Library’s Apprentice stumbled forward in slow motion, twisted so his stomach was put out, covered his broken arm as he noticed a charge coming near it, and so did not notice the charge coming to push into his face when he turned his head to see it. It splashed over his nose with the impact and sensation of a liquid punch, and it was a punch from a strongman. Also in slow motion, slow enough that he could observe the reflexive tears exiting his eyes from the hit, he began to fall backward like he was in a slapstick comedy. When the knockback had put him completely off his feet, back parallel to ground, time flowed normally again and he walloped into the sands below.
“Aaauugh...” he moaned, wondering if his nose was bleeding. Damn it hurt.
“Are you okay!?” he heard Youmu calling. He saw no more bullets, only the remainder from her first wave, and knowing that she was paying him a kindness he forced himself up, covering his face.
“Come on...” he spoke in a nasally voice, “didn’t you say you wouldn’t hold anything back?”
“Hmm,,,” he saw that she looked concerned, but she soon nodded and told him: “Right!”
She focused again, and moved herself right in an instant.
It reminds me of Miss Sakuya’s attacks, he speculated. Those were pretty bad, but I think this is worse. I wonder how she does it – magic? My body’s hardly used to moving a lot, let alone like that.
Youmu cut thrice more, and he was able to get through the rest without harm by seeking paths out of the clusters more earnestly. He did note, however, that it was extremely difficult to get himself across from her between waves. He had to kick wind from his feet to force himself even vaguely close to her speed, similar to how he’d pushed himself when fighting Yuuka. According to Master, flight made one faster... He really wished he could fly, though it wouldn’t help him right now, he supposed.
It became his turn to go on the offensive, but... when it did he instantly realized that at the Sanzu River, he had almost nothing to work with. He’d done his counterattack with his natural magic just out of curiosity and pride; he’d forgotten how barren this place was. While there was air there was no wind, while there was water he had a feeling it wasn’t normal considering what the reaper had told him, and while there was sand, it was unusual and he didn’t even know any sand spells in the first place – only “earth”. Furthermore this world or dimension or whatever it was seemed to lack the rays of a sun or moon, so that area of his magic was out as well. So, in short, it was looking like he’d have to rely on his spirit quite a lot in this fight. The fight would thus be quick. His reserves were still relatively paltry, and he’d wasted a bit just attacking regularly before.
He processed this situation very quickly, and saw that Youmu was holding back. She was waiting for him to demonstrate his magic rather than simply firing upon him. For a moment he was a little bothered at the idea of the swordswoman going easy on him, but he then remembered part of the reason for her challenge was to see what he could do as a magician. In fact, she was probably hoping to see his manipulation of elements as a sign that he could possibly manipulate seasons.
So with all things considered, he tried...
 to cast from the waters of the Sanzu River. It might not work, but if it did it would cost almost none of his spirit.
 to cast from the doldrum air of the Sanzu River. It would probably take a fair amount of his spirit to move it, however.
 to cast from the sands of the Sanzu River. A wildcard, really. He’d seriously have to improvise, though it might not cost much spirit, if any.
>>65712 [x] to cast from the sands of the Sanzu River. A wildcard, really. He’d seriously have to improvise, though it might not cost much spirit, if any.
The waters if they are dangerous would probably only result in a dangerous situation. Sand though.. if you take into account on how it's formed you would probably think it's risky too, but I would place my bets on there being some sort of protective effect by using it instead.
[x] to cast from the sands of the Sanzu River. A wildcard, really. He’d seriously have to improvise, though it might not cost much spirit, if any.
I really like the sand, if only because if you consider Patchy's specialty, sand is earth that has been touched by water and air repeatedly, over and over. I wonder what it's aspect would actually be at that point.
[x] to cast from the doldrum air of the Sanzu River. It would probably take a fair amount of his spirit to move it, however.
Pretty sure the water will be dangerous, or have an unpleasant effect, the sand isn't a bad idea, but Gen won't be able to do very much with it, he doesen't use sand yet, he uses earth. Air is something we know he is competent at. We probably won't get much out of this if we don't put much into it, in terms of spirit, and Youmu wants to see what he can do. Let's have Gen show her.
[X] to cast from the sands of the Sanzu River. A wildcard, really. He’d seriously have to improvise, though it might not cost much spirit, if any. -[X] Use mud to impede her movements as well.
There's both earth and water, so we should be able to get some mud going, in addition to the sand.
>>65717 Well it's definitely magic, since only a shinigami's boat and ghost fishes can touch the river without sinking. Probably some gravity magic or something at work.
>>65721 You know what sand is? Crushed rocks. Rocks might as well be earth. In fact, we summoned salt by using earth magic, so why not sand?
If Youmu wants to see what we can do, let's show her by improvising to the best of our abilities. We could force her into predictable movements if she wants to avoid the mud all around her. Then, we show her that each grain of sand is a boulder. Unlimited Rock Works.
> he didn’t even know any sand spells in the first place – only “earth”.
I'm not saying you're wrong, but it seems to me that when it comes to magic "sand" and "earth" are different enough that spells designed for one won't work as well with the other. Gen probably won't get as much bang for his buck with it. Sand would have been my next pick as well though, for strategic reasons if nothing else. Youmu is very mobile, and since she can't (or won't) fly here, I figure it'd be a huge advantage to control the battlefield.
>>65743 I know. That's part of the whole thing, actually: the choice says he can do it, but would need to improvise, and my reasoning is that improvising is what we need to do. Gen doesn't know any sand-specific spell, but the option clearly indicates that he can move it anyway, and it's not like we're trying to kill Youmu with a world-ending sandstorm here. So I stand by my choice: use mud to control the battlefield and sand as a way to attack.
“The Sanzu River is unusual!” he declared, throwing his hand up. Youmu squinted and frowned at him, still not moving though her sword was drawn and ready. He then made a plea: “if you have patience, time this pattern out and I’ll show you something good!”
Youmu’s answer was quick. She said “Fine, I suppose,” in a quiet voice and relaxed her stance. Gen then sent out a pattern that would ordinarily be considered insultingly simple: the first he’d learned when Master Patchouli began instructing him on how to cast directly from his reserves. All it was was a pair of aimed black crystal bullets that crossed back and forth toward the target, while two more were repeatedly sent out to create a kind of “hallway”, forcing his enemy to contend with the initial pair before another would be summoned. Or, this was the theory. Youmu instead dodged the “hall” and slowly walked around Gen in a wide circle, his magic never even coming close. As she marched she observed him, watching him sit cross-legged, take a small manual from his series of books, and start leafing through it with his thumb.
Gen had retrieved The Simplest Manual of Materials for Starting Magicians, a field guide that Patchouli never let him leave without, though he ordinarily found no use for it considering he could learn much more in preparation at the library rather than in the moment. It wouldn’t tell him details on strange elements or substances like the River water likely was, but it outlined common assets, their names in many languages, and how to invoke them with various schools of magic, as well as suggestions for their use. This was written by his Master a hundred and forty years ago when she was a child and learning the arts. She kept it well – it showed only a few years of that age.
“Sand... Sand...” he mumbled, “Ah... here.”
He found “S” and then “sand”, and he did a few things next. First he closed the book but kept his thumb as a placeholder, second he pulled the end of his coat forward over his lap and over the shore. He blew errant grains from the cloth, scrutinized it to check if there were any more, and finally pushed the opened book into his placemat-converted robe. He leaned forward to read, and noticed his Master had included what looked to be a rather recent extra notation, glued to the page beside the entry. It read:
For danmaku under that red-white’s rules:
It’s a pain. Manipulating sand means manipulating earth, but if you want to use it in danmaku it has to be used like water. The sand has to be used in a mass, it’s a total pain. It would be fun to make a pattern using every grain as a bullet, but since bullets have to be clearly visible under the rules ⤾
He flipped up the note, seeing that she had begun to write on the page instead.
using every grain would be cheating. It’s also a pain to control every single part anyway. Summoning it is as easy as anything else – dust, water, salt, etc. – but moving it in a complex form is SUCHAPAIN. That’s why I’ve written a helpful circle on the other side of this page. Can use this to not so much combine water and earth but understand principals of earth used as water. Similar to manipulation ofmud,//————
She seemed to have begun to run out of space and in her frustration had scrawled randomly a bit. She’d also drawn a small scribble of a despondent, weeping face. Master Patchouli did this very rarely, with notes on problems that she considered irritating to solve. He smirked and laughed through his nose, turning the page over.
“Alright, let’s see...”
He furrowed his brow. Something smelled like cut grass and recently bloomed flowers. Feeling a presence at his back, he glanced up over his right shoulder to find Youmu looking down over the same, eyebrows high and interest piqued. She was swaying every so often to avoid the few bullets he was still summoning. Her sword was plunged into the sand again, and he found the way she gazed at his book to be so terribly endearing it made his chest ache in longing. He closed harshly his eyes and forced his neck left, facing the book again. He opened them to study his Master’s inscribed glyph, wearing a grimace as he told himself internally he didn’t have time to be swooning over Youmu.
“... Brilliant stuff as expected, Master,” he announced, understanding the magic circle instantly once he looked upon it. He had about twenty seconds to come up with a spell card.
Keeping calm, and thankful that his thoughts were clear, he smoothly retrieved a blank slip of paper from an inner pocket and laid it on the page opposite his Master’s glyph. He took out his ink as well, quickly unscrewing the cap while speaking old words. When it was open his enchantment was finished, so when he pinched his fingers together as if holding a pen, ink sought a space between them and formed a point for him to write with. With seemingly jittering, but in truth practiced and precise speed, he sketched below the glyph with his free-flowing pseudo-quill three smaller glyphs that would each instruct spell cards he’d be using. He named one of the three on the paper he’d brought out, and with seven seconds left, he wrote another circle above his master’s glyph, noting on its outer ring three variations. These would be his ordinary patterns. Finally, he whipped and curled little connections from his small glyphs to the greater glyph his Master had made that would act as their foundation. He huffed with approval for his handiwork, dropping the enchantment (so the ink in the air returned to its vessel) and taking up the little manual. He met Youmu’s eyes behind him again, sporting a very slight wince and a somewhat tired smile.
“You should back off, now,” he told her.
In response, she circled about his side with a sideways jump and then leapt backward to where she’d started. She did all this faster than it took him to stand, but in credit to his own kind of speed he was now incanting so briskly and deeply it was hard to tell that what passed from his lips now was language.
Using his thumb he swished his new spell card over the page it was pressed against. He had called for a spell in only three seconds (though his round for an undeclared spell ended about the second Youmu had reset her position) and his throat now hurt. But, of course, he was pleased with himself. He brought the book and card up above his head.
“Swept Earth Sign” he professed, “‘Topsy-Turvy Roundabout’!”
Under ordinary circumstances what had just transpired would be illegal, and Reimu would have to be notified of a violation. Spell cards were supposed to be all listed out beforehand, and so agreed upon by both parties. However, because this was in the spirit of trust (even between enemies), if both agreed to the introduction of new cards within the match, everything would be permitted. Though in the first place... he thought, I’m not sure any of that even applies to me anyway.
His paper slip disintegrated, the magic began, and it was mean.
The circles in The Simplest Manual shined orange and the sands around the two duelists shook very lightly. The spell he’d created was a devious one that could only be used effectively in a ground fight. Youmu would not realize this immediately, though.
The young gardener finally began shooting at him without pause, firing strange gray and translucent blasts of magic in a very slightly wavering line at him which he received without moving. Her phantom half also fired such bullets in a smaller quantity, and she rushed toward him to increase their damage through proximity. Around the magician, and repeatedly, four very-large balls of sand shot up from the shore, falling in arcs away from him and smashing apart into the seemingly main bullets of his attack. From above one would be able to see an expanding and circular labyrinth, its walls being formed of calculated gathered sand. Youmu would have to navigate the maze to dodge it, and it was an easy enough maze to solve, but herein laid the deception.
Rounding a “corner” of approaching sand and turning to find another gap in the barrage, Youmu stepped forward to dash for the opening and instead of dashing slipped forward to land flat on her face. The wall she’d been trying to avoid smacked her and began to roll her back to where she was, and while it did so something else caused her to turn over her own head and roll forward. Then, something had her turn ass over teakettle backward, her long bloomers on full display. Gen watched her within his peripheral, having sat down again before his still-open ink bottle and begun thinking of how to name his two coming spells.
The disaster of clumsy rolling repeated three more times, until the little white-haired girl was at the border of their playfield. She put herself onto her knees, awkwardly holding the Roukanken in her right hand and touching her head with her left. Her eyes were spinning.
“Figure it out?” Gen asked in a raised voice.
“Uhhh~... Aahhhh~...” was all she managed to say at first before she realized she had to stand to get out the way of his still-coming spell card. Without shooting at him and without elegance, she hopped left and right through separations in the bullet-sand walls, and eventually there was a change under her foot. With a girlish “Kyan!” she fell onto her posterior, sword aloft and eyes closed in distress. She then wined openly, crying “What is thiiis!?”
“Strange spells happen; figure it out,” he advised, looking over the new names for his coming cards while ink spiraled his pointer finger. He nodded. They seemed alright.
Standing again, Youmu shook her head hard enough that her hair was lifted, and she slapped her face at her cheek. She looked into the sand maze determined, and reversed her grip on her Roukanken.
Gen stood too, now that his bottle was closed and his cards were ready. He watched the gardener with curiosity, but did nothing else. The way this pattern worked, he couldn’t really move about, so his staying in place wasn’t only a smug display. Youmu started shooting at him again, but was more focused on her feet. She stared at the shore below her intensely, holding her blade above it and seemingly scanning for a place to run it through. Eventually her eyes flashed, and she declared, “There!”
She stabbed the earth and saw that she was now cutting a large and undulating segment of sand that had been shaped like an arrow. It split in two and fell apart like fast melting ice. Looking up, she witnessed other arrows waving on the ground and disappearing after about three seconds. Her expression growing more severe, she realized that this was actually a spell meant to confuse and disorient her. She hadn’t been paying attention, but the presence of these arrows was announced with a little eruption of sand, and the shapes themselves were clear so long as you were looking for them. They would certainly cause her trouble as she tried to avoid the sand bullets, but now that she was aware of them she’d at least be able to defeat the magician’s spell rather than time it out.
“Got it?” Gen asked. Youmu’s answer was to vault over an incoming arrow, bringing her legs all the way up.
She dropped to a foot and skid a few centimeters, kicking off toward an opening in the sand-walls. Swiftly, she sprang and sprinted over arrows and through the maze, concurrently keeping fire steady on her enemy and approaching so she could end this more quickly. Gen was happy with this, and waited for her to wear him down.
Looking rather messy, she did. The spell wasn’t captured, but with just a few seconds left she forced Gen to move into another kind of bullet curtain. For his simple spells, he’d decided to go easy to compensate for the cruelty of his special spells. That said if he could give this variation a name he’d call it “Solitaire Victory” after the free game that came with Windows computers. He sent out three slinky-like columns of sand that “bounced” off the ground and went in random directions, jumps eventually sliding into nothing the farther they went away. You only had to step out the way of the columns, and to increase the chaos the caster would shift positions between shots. Youmu didn’t find this troublesome, and looked relieved for it. It wasn’t long before he had to pull out his second spell.
“Swept Earth Sign ‘Madman’s Conveyer Belt’.”
One of the two cards under his thumb crumbled into nothingness, and the sand between himself and Youmu burst upward a few centimeters like the precursor to his arrows from his first move. Youmu did not let this similarity go unnoticed, and immediately stopped aiming (though she did not stop shooting) in order to focus on whatever devilry Gen had in store. It was arguably not so terrible, and even a bit uninspired.
The gardener was moved backward on her own. She held up one foot and stared down to see the sand was steadily flowing almost like a river. She didn’t see the point of it, until she glanced around herself to where it was taking her and saw earth jettisoning upward in violent bursts, allowing no safe movement between the blasts. To be brought into this would sting, putting it lightly.
So, she began to jog forward, but intentionally did not run. After all in front of her was a similar wall of danmaku, sweeping over and over in front of her opponent with space enough to allow counter fire to pass, but only that. From ahead and behind, a few single, slow bullets came straight and unwavering across the sands, giving something else for her to contend with. All the while she made sure to keep her pace deliberate, for she felt it was obvious that eventually Gen would—
Yes. He changed the direction of the sand’s flow so that she began to be moved forward. The girl broke her progress, kicking sand upward and starting to hop backwards while also keeping in mind the few bullets on this godforsaken belt. She was determined to capture this one.
The speed of his treadmill wasn’t exactly fast, it was merely fast enough that it would make one worry should they ever start moving in the same direction as the flow. It was a fun spell to watch someone else contend with. He thought, I might be able to use this with air once I start flying. Could be taxing though... It’s tough to force a change in direction without a special power or at least some footing...
“Hmm...” he began to seriously think about this. He again wasn’t avoiding Youmu’s attacks beyond keeping his cast out of harm’s way (even when he’d been dropped by her first spell card his arm hadn’t felt any pain, but he was still worried over it). In any case, now he was officially showboating. He had come up with some lovely, wicked circles in so short a time, and they were working well... What satisfaction!
He switched the sand’s flow.
He switched it again for her landing.
Youmu slipped and once more planted her face in the sand.
Beside the two, from the direction of the pier, a great laugh was let loose.
Youmu had tried to stop this embarrassment by plunging her Roukanken down for use as a cane and it hadn’t worked, so instead she now had her left hand gripping at sand while her right was holding her katana for dear life. The half-human child slammed down her palm to push her head up, spitting and making miserable, livid sounds. She was still being dragged forward by his magic, and seeing this she gave a small roar of frustration. “Aaargh, jeez! Jeez, jeez, jeez!!”
She jumped back a great distance, or at least she must have jumped since she was one moment on the ground and the next ten meters away. When she landed, so did the sand she had left behind in the air by tearing away from it so quickly. She brought the Roukanken to her side and sank into a stance. He noticed a piece of paper in her hand.
“Oh,” he said, and he tried to switch the sands again so that she would be backed into the jets of the stuff behind her before—
“Human Sign! ‘Slash of the Present World’!!”
She used a clearing spell.
Youmu blinked out of existence, and when next he saw her she came with whirlwinds. She appeared directly in front of him, floating, almost like she’d teleported through his danmaku barrier, and anger became her. With her sword high as she began to descend, she was looking straight in his eyes. But he looked away from hers. He had to see what she had done to cause all these wild and assailing gusts.
Again her attack was marked with brilliant white light, but through it he could see that getting here she had ripped through his spell entirely. So easily, the sand had become dust and clouds. Before he could figure out how this was, he grit his teeth. Just as he felt something coming it came: even tears torn through space itself, and perfectly straight. They swiftly formed one pair after another until they were three, and they all started from where Youmu had been and shredded paths toward him. He held his breath, and felt it all.
Without mercy the phantom slashes carved into his body. He covered his broken arm, and was easily overwhelmed, feeling hot and slicing wounds across the whole front of himself. He closed his eyes in agony, and just as he did he distinctly felt her spell had ended. He looked again to see the ground, and marks showing that he had been pushed backward an entire meter. His shoes had dragged through the shore and dug his heels down a disturbing amount... He checked his body and outfit and noted that, presently, he looked like someone who had lost a spell card duel.
Youmu had again returned herself to her starting position. She had defeated his teasing magic, and was ready to show a counterattack. Gen was not ready. The power behind that explosion of hers went over the limitations of stamina and defense using a spell card gave him. His hand quivered, as did his legs, and lips, and arms. Really, he was in a bad way. He already felt like he was on his last legs, and in this duel it would be him contending with a final card, not Youmu. He felt he was probably fucked.
But, he smirked, and exhilaration returned to him in spite of the pain. They both looked thoroughly dragged through muck now.
Youmu’s next round was a repeat of her first, just with more density and slightly more complexity. He didn’t have much trouble with it, pelting Youmu with sand while he dodged with his aching body.
She revealed another card and loudly called its name.
“Hell Flame Sword! ‘Flashing Slash Formation of Karma Wind’!”
This one was... interesting, but mercifully not much trouble. It was similar to her first card and again utilized “time distortion” or whatever that was after a period of charging, any distortions serving as a precursor to her slashing again. In the first place, Youmu fired waves of giant violet circles, a kind of bullet he noticed seemed to be common. They were interesting in that you could avoid being damaged by skirting them: their auras of light were only there to be misleading, that was all. That aside he found himself captivated with how Youmu shot them in a kind of gentle sway; the pendulum-like swing they bore was soothing and hypnotic. However, the slashing she did when causing distortions was so that she could cut most of them asunder, and thus reveal the true intent of the spell: a several-red and purple mess of color and various sized bullets, spread without order.
So, he needed only to find a way out to survive, and keep parallel to Youmu capture it, taking especial heed of the times when the child was about to change things with her sword. The main difficulty of all this, for him at least, was how the random scarlet spheres almost bleared together when he looked through them. He found it particularly irritating to keep track of the smallest variety, which on his way to capturing the spell many times came uncomfortably close to his injuries. He struck a decisive blow on Youmu, and she went immediately into a stock pattern for the next round.
This one looked more intimidating than it actually was, though this was only because he happened to notice the easy way to dodge it. Youmu cut the air again, causing two large and ogive barrages that flanked him but did not aim directly at him, so there was a split to move through between them. She did this twice in quick succession, cutting down and then up, and also crisscrossed flying slashes in-between the salvos to try to throw him off. An extra nicety of this faded blond and blue ball pattern was that the power of the forward attack seemed to create a bursting byproduct of azure danmaku at Youmu’s back like the blowback from a cannon or open artillery. This could only be described as fantastic. Admiring her, Gen kept up with Youmu’s attack after the initial surprise of facing it, seeing that she also had a deep ruby and sapphire variant to the colors (which caused crimson blowback), and soon pushed her into taking out her third card.
“Asura Sword! ‘Obsession with the Present World’!”
Gen made a comment to himself. “Karma, preta, Asura: it’s all Indian,” he muttered. “I’ve gotta ask her what’s up with that...”
This was another red/blue spell, and the first of its sort Gen had ever dealt with. Rather than shooting at him, his opponent created bullets at the sides of the boundary of play. Blue moved from left to right, red moved from right to left, and both moved very slowly. It was most definitely at least slightly bewildering since, of course, his eyes faced front. It was interesting to look at, though, especially when red began to pass blue. He’d like to see it from above.
Like he didn’t neglect to shift sands in his cards, the gardener did not neglect to shift time and speed in hers. Again she gathered power, again she slowed movement and perception, but the results this time weren’t particularly spectacular. She struck at the space in front of her like before, and in doing so shot a minor and mildly frantic stream that gunned for him. He was fairly sure of his ability to keep aware of everything and make it through unscathed, but his worry over his crippled arm proved his damning flaw. When moving to protect it he spun very awkwardly and found his good arm hit instead, which only caused him to spin more. He soon found himself buffeted on three sides while turning round and round, pivoting on his left leg, shielding his left arm, and dangerously close to falling right on his ass. Paired with the damage from Youmu’s erasure, this spell card was wounding him horribly. He realized that despite being an exhibition match, the two opponents here were truly stomping on one another at every opportunity.
Had his mind been any less clear the dizziness from his spinning along with the hurting incurred from all his mistakes would’ve probably made him lose then and there, but thanks to his enemy’s assist prior to battle, he managed to correct himself, get into dodging once again, and at least time her spell out. The position of offense returned to him, and he looked over at Youmu before casting anything else. Both he and she were panting heavily and looking ragged. There wasn’t much left for their fight. He didn’t really care who won now, though a primal want deep within him urged him to show the girl up. Youmu huffed and lifted her shoulders, twisting her hands over the Roukanken’s grip.
“Not much longer,” he said, almost out of breath.
“No,” she agreed, sounding the same.
In a silent few seconds they came to an understanding:
Each of their last spells would give their all, and not quite be the same.
Gen brought The Simplest Manual out before him and cast an undeclared spell, this time only crafting a sheet of danmaku from sand that went from him toward her and had no aim or flair. It was just that: a bullet curtain to be dodged. A breather before the end.
They both felt they needed to be creative to deal with whatever creativity the other had in store.
Or maybe “creative” was the pitfall either was expecting.
Hearts pounding, they each decided:
 to face the last word carefully, mindful mainly of dodging.
 to face the last word normally, not letting whatever strangeness they might face psych them out.
 to face the last word boldly, prepared to take risks if it meant they might win.
“Swept Earth Sign!” he shouted, “’The Antlion Beckons’!”
And the earth spun, twisted, and sank.
Gen’s last word created a whirlpool in the sand, spinning clockwise. From the center came volleys of dirt bullets, aimed or just floating randomly over the spinning hell. It gave the impression of some beast reaching for his opponent, spitting, flailing. It was undoubtedly the cruelest spell he had ever conceived, and if Youmu fell during it, she would quickly lose.
But what Gen did not know was that Youmu had the same idea that he had.
Before the spell could even start in earnest, Youmu sprinted forward with added speed from the sand’s rotation and performed a great leap, landing as the bullets began to fly.
Gen, outside the range of the earthen quagmire, felt his jaw drop as he watched what the young girl did. When she landed, tossing a wave of sand, she sank low to slip under an incoming barrage, twisted herself, and hopped backward as a stream almost passed her by. Then, with her attention on the center of the maelstrom, she took flight.
He exclaimed “Wha—! What!?” immediately.
But it was a trick of the eye; she merely demonstrated her exemplary athletic competence. Youmu had jumped to her side and put herself like she was trying to clear a vault. She grazed a line of his bullets all the while, avoiding even the singular grain, until the air and her speed could no longer support her. She turned her focus on him then, and he reflexively took a defensive posture. Her eyes were dead set. With them she told him: I will not simply survive this spell, I will capture it. She slammed her left hand into the sand below, and began to pivot.
A bullet grazed her neck, another two went by and through her legs, and, performing a handstand, she managed to stay still as a curtain passed her by on either side. Having been carried toward him with the revolution of his spell, she was now close.
Youmu bent in on her standing arm as if to perform an exercise, but then thrust from it to push herself high into the air and begin the turn for a back-leaning somersault. Gen lost his voice to the sight, his eyes opening as much as they could to take it all in. These were feats beyond human capability. It inspired in him awe that no magic could.
After Youmu had completed a full rotation, she moved so that her feet were pointed to ground, still in motion and hanging in the air. When she landed, she would do so behind him, and though he knew that he couldn’t tear himself away. The girl put her sword to her waist, eyelids falling and calm of mien. She dropped to the sand at his back, looking at his head, and unleashed her attack without hesitation.
Gen had put in a contingency for if Youmu escaped the core of this pattern, he just hadn’t expected her to escape in that way. Orbiting the whirlpool was a circle of sand orbs that rotated fast, waxed, and waned. Their intent was to relay the message “this is too difficult to deal with, so go back into the spin”. When Youmu noticed it, she began shifting through breaks as they just barely came, moving like a blur, and still firing.
Gen sustained damage for an excruciating five seconds to just watch her movements, leaping, reversing, glancing for gaps, leaping again, turning only slightly to see where the next space came, falling into a rhythm. She did all this while also moving laterally to avoid the “antlion” bullets erupting from the spell’s center.
If he hadn’t already rated her as “numbingly honest”, he’d think to now judge her “deceptively so” for warning him of clumsiness and tripping over his first two spells, only to come out with this display. Youmu was sure-footed, he had himself made it seem like she wasn’t.
So, seeing that his spell wasn’t having the intended effect on his adversary, he himself entered the turn of the sands.
“Huh!” Youmu exclaimed, almost losing the timing for dodging the outer circle for a moment before reentering the swing. Although bullets from a spell card wouldn’t harm the caster, she still hadn’t expected such a move from him. She tried aiming at the magician as he turned, but couldn’t draw a close enough bead on him. He was moving a bit too fast, and his position was regularly obscured by bullets. She felt she had no choice. Closing her eyes (and still dodging, showing how well she knew the pulse of his attack), she determined to deliberately move back into the swirling sands and give chase. Her chase was, however, somewhat unusual.
When Youmu dove in after him, she placed herself before him. The cute half-phantom faced his position, and began to avoid his danmaku while reversing. Gen, who was spinning toward her, simply had no idea what to do in this situation.
With sands rushing all around them, and Youmu skillfully dodging everything he threw at her while keeping clear of the center whenever she neared it, the girl roughly brought him down, her phantom half finishing the spell with a bullet. The sands then burst and swelled upward, indicative of a successful capture.
Gen in his rags stared at the sand-bathed Youmu, who met his stare in return. They held this moment for a second, then rushed back to their starting positions.
“Ooh...” came the voice of their red-haired observer, “you’ve only got one chance left, Gen. Good luck, good luck~!”
I am utterly incapable of doing anything like she just did. He made this conclusion while swallowing, following it with ... Well, perhaps I won’t need anything like that...
He gripped tight his manual, and Youmu readied card and sword.
“Human Era Sword!” she called, “‘Approaching Dissolution’!”
And... to his surprise, although she “charged” her power, she didn’t alter his perception. She did something else surprising too: while shouting the name of her last word she ran in a flash to get behind him, then sliced through the ether like she had in her first spell, leaving a foggy blue scar behind her. The surprising part wasn’t this maneuver, however, it was that she had gone too far and leapt above the Sanzu River.
“Ah,” said Gen.
“Ah!” said Youmu, before screaming, “Ah...! Aaaaahh!?”
Gen reacted with immediacy. He called to the sands and swept them up from the shore down below her feet, enchanting them so that they could keep against her body weight. Youmu dropped onto his catcher’s mitt with a panicked expression and tears in her eyes, sliding down back onto the Shigan. Gen smiled with pity and sighed with relief, and then a blue diamond struck him, slowly, painfully, across the left side of his face.
“Bffwh...!” he spat.
“Oh, uh...!” uttered his opponent.
He fell onto his right shoulder, holding his Master’s manual up and out of dirt’s way. The spell ended.
And he lost.
Timeline so farKizin!3bPfzwokco2018/02/13 (Tue) 05:57No. 65770▼
File 151850142227.jpg - (354.74KB, 595x842, Lady Eiki will NOT be appearing in this chapter.jpg)
This is partly for myself, partly for anyone who thinks I've fucked this up. It's a timeline of the story so far as well as a summary of the major details/events:
2003: July 15- EoSD, Gen arrives, was chased by a ghost, swallowed red mist July 16- Gen wakes up in SDM (evening), battle with Patchouli (won), Remi and Patchy fight (Remi's loss), Remi changes fate July 18- Flan escapes (defeated by Marisa; Reimu is defeated by Patchouli), task to set up defense grid (completed!), Gen is accepted as Patchouli's apprentice, met Marisa July 19- Forest of Magic task (completed!), Gen receives his outfit from Patchouli, properly met and thanked Meiling (started Tai Chi training), Alice battle (lost), Alice incurs Master's ire with a prank August 2- SDM Fairy Rebellion "Incident" (vs. Sakuya, lost), Remi <3 (you got the blood of Remilia Scarlet in a pendant-vial and her eternal favor!), Master is amazing, gained Sakuya's respect August 11- Misty Lake task (completed!), met Wakasagihime, met ship-killer, Meiling rescue, kissed Wakasagihime, beast is brutalized by a mysterious woman(?), Gen's first real taste of alcohol, made a mermaid friend August 20? Late August- Gen formally introduces himself to Flan, almost loses an arm September 15- Patchouli decides to send Gen to Muenzuka September 29- Muenzuka task (completed!), Met Yuuka and Nazrin, gave Nazrin a gift, Nazrin freely provides services, found grimoire Rauðskinna, Yuuka battle (lost, badly), arm broken, took one step toward the abyss, Master defeats Yuuka to save her student October 10- Sanzu River excursion, met and befriended the dark-haired Kappa Kawaiwaya Aomu, met Komachi, Youmu battle (lost) (<-- you are here)
Gen had restored his clothing and was now crouched in front of Youmu, who was knelt in dogeza and bowing repeatedly as she apologized. He was forcing the dull air of the Sanzu River forward to blow the sand from her clothes and body. She continued to apologize.
“You only lost because of my mistake! I’m truly sorry!”
“Yeah,” he agreed with a straight tone, “you really screwed up.”
He sighed and turned his head to look at Komachi standing next to him. He wished he had two useable hands, so that he could rest his cheek into his left one. Komachi responded to his rueful look by shaking her head.
“Well,” she said, “I’m getting back to work.”
And she left them, calling to the next soul in line and beckoning them to her boat.
“My loss, huh...” he muttered, watching Komachi display surprising diligence.
“N... No count?” Youmu suggested in very Eastern-accented English.
He shook his head.
He told the girl, “No, I lost, that’s the end of it,” and stopped fanning the sand off of her, since there seemed to be no more (or at least very little). Then he explained, “Your danmaku bafflingly slow. Even if I was distracted over your mistake, I should’ve been able to notice itand do something as simple as ‘duck’ or ‘swerve’ or ‘move the hell out of the way’.” He stood, plucked up the back of his coat, and while shaking grains from the end of it said “I didn’t. I lost.”
Youmu finally withdrew from her gesture of submission and brought herself onto one knee, head still bowed. After staying pensive for a moment, she confessed: “I can’t accept this win.”
“Think about me accepting this loss,” he said, flicking his nose with his thumb. Then, he admitted, “Well, you shouldn’t feel triumphant at least, I think,”
“I certainly do not,” she said, glaring at the ground.
Gen looked at her, and then off to the side. He shrugged, and told her, “I suppose you did warn me about you not being used to this sort of fight.”
“It’s inexcusable!” Youmu shouted, slamming the sheath of her Roukanken into the ground.
“But, rules are rules,” he said, and he extended his hand to her, “I’ll learn what you need to know, and tell you it shortly.”
She glanced at him, then back to the sand, and finally breathed out long and forlorn. “Yes,” she eventually said, “at the end of the day, I’ve found one possible path to success. That’s what matters the most.” She looked at him again, her look now thankfully more at peace. She took his hand, and expressed her gratitude once more, “Thank you, Gen. I hope you can help me well.”
He pulled the girl up, trying to not remain conscious of the feel of her hand in his, and huffed. He wondered what time it was...
Gen would help Youmu, and somewhat regret doing so.
But what he wouldn’t regret was that on his return home (after a telling-off from his Master over smelling like sake, fraternizing with kappa, and clearly having gotten into a scuffle) he would finally, after a long time waiting, begin his lessons for flight.
--End of Chapter 7: Common Matters of Life and Death--
Some other notes before we get into the next chapter:
Not sure how well-known this is, but "Kawaiwaya Aomu" is not OC, though the name is and the personality might at least somewhat be that. She's known as the "dark haired kappa" to the west, but in Japan they just refer to her as one of the "mob kappa" (モブ河童), though she definitely seems to be the most popular. She's one of the recurring kappa that show up in Wild and Horned Hermit, often with Nitori. She rarely has a speaking role; recently she scammed Sanae by lying about the water wheel for the Moriya ropeway. For the most part she can be seen panicking or working. Much later from our current point in time, she seems to make friends with that seal that showed up in Gensokyo. Her hair color is actually a dark blue, but a lot of the art out there makes it black.
Unlike Gen’s previous adventures, his sojourn at the Road of Liminality and Sanzu River was not something with immediate effects and changes to his life. Instead, over time it became more obvious that things were different for him now. For instance, he would sometimes receive letters from Aomu like that of a pen pal, describing her slow progress within kappa society and asking about his progress in the Art. She still hadn’t visited him at Scarlet Devil Mansion, and when he asked her why she’d written:
I’m working up the courage—I’m still too afraid of that human.
Not the Scarlet Devil, her manic sister, or her powerful friend in the library, but her maid. If you were to take those titles without knowing the women behind them, you might think that the kappa was being ridiculous. However, knowing Sakuya, Gen could understand.
Beyond that, about once a month Onozuka Komachi would find time to visit him, usually at night (so, at least, he was fairly sure she wasn’t skipping work). The shinigami explained that she had become concerned about his potentially temporary status as a human. She’d keep an eye on him until he was dead, and if he decided to become immortal she said she had “schemes” in store for him. Although she always reminded him of his mortality, he found Komachi to be an interesting conversation partner, and at least she didn’t steal anything like the hoyden thief of the Forest. Still, he kept her visits secret. The other residents of the Mansion hated uninvited guests, and he wasn’t exactly usually fond of them either.
Finally, he kept secret the most significant change to his goings-on: his research into manipulating seasons and his frequent meetings with Youmu to discuss and practice their findings (as, thankfully, he’d convinced her to look into matters on her own as well).
Youmu wanted to keep her presence in the living world secret, and she would definitely not come into the library on her own as a guest or otherwise. Coupled with her regular slips of the tongue and suspicious behavior, he was quite sure he was aiding and abetting something potentially... well, something; perhaps bad. He had figured out her Mistress’s name was Saigyouji Yuyuko, but for fear of what he might find out he neglected to ask his Master about her or look the woman up on his own. Youmu seemed like an earnest, wholeheartedly good girl. He decided to believe that whatever she and her Mistress had planned would probably not be that bad, even if he was sure it wasn’t as simple as making out-of-season flowers bloom.
On this note, he hadn’t entirely come to terms with his attraction to the young girl. He’d at least rationalized it: when he was her age he was fond of girls her age, ipso facto, there was nothing wrong with being a young adult and blushing in the presence of an extraordinarily pretty fourteen year old girl. They were also not far apart in years: he was only just in his twenties. It was fine. One couldn’t deny how adorable Miss Youmu was.
... This is what he told himself without believing any of it.
And like that, autumn turned into winter, the year turned into the next, and January became February. Four months passed without incident, and it came to be the case that Gen had almost lived in Gensokyo for over half a year. And while this time was without incident, it was not without notes...
He performed experiments on Sanzu River water (that his Master already had) and discovered that it was indeed not exactly water, but some sort of “spiritual” afterlife substance.
He spent a pleasant time on New Year’s and was allowed to sleep in his Master’s lap.
He introduced Lady Patchouli to his friend Wakasagihime, and prevented the witch from taking her into the library for testing.
He had his cast removed for a complete recovery.
And, of course, he learned how to fly.
So now it was the start of February, and deep into winter. He had since December begun using his overlong scarf as it was intended, wrapped so that it went around his neck and over his mouth, able to be pulled over his nose if needed. Its colorful tassels often made him look like some sort of human-ctenophore in certain light, and he liked that. Other than this change he now often sported black leather gloves, and wondered if he should get a hat. His hair was now a few centimeters past his shoulders.
Probably more important than any other thing was that Gen had gotten stronger. While he could still be called below average, learning how to fly opened up many more possibilities for him, and bolstered his zeal for magic even more. Really he was absolutely enamored with flight, enough that often after perfecting it he would float through the Mansion’s halls rather than walk them (and if the little sister ever happened by, she’d admonish him for being an idiot). He had also gotten to the point that, unless he was in a truly desperate battle, he didn’t need to worry so much about his spiritual reserves. He still yearned to cast almost everything he could with a boost of his own power like his Master did, but he sadly had yet to reach the level where this was at all viable. Nevertheless, he had a lot more confidence, which brought him to today, and Patchouli’s next assignment.
“Go visit the Hakurei Shrine,” Patchouli had told him the previous night, after dinner, baths, and just before bed.
“... Right now?” he’d asked, worriedly grasping at the front of his pajama shirt.
“No, idiot,” she’d said, glowering, “tomorrow. Why would I send you out tonight? Was that a joke?”
“I am sorry to inform you that it wasn’t a joke.”
“Are you sleepy?” she’d asked, and lifted her hand. He’d stepped forward then, and she’d dropped it on his head. “Listen, okay?” she’d ordered, pushing his head down and still glaring. “There will be no side trips, no lollygagging, no staring off into Gensokyo’s skies with that dumb wanderlust look you get on your bushy-browed face. Got it?” and she’d poked his nose for emphasis, smushing it. “Straight to the Shrine, and don’t even dare touch a youkai book before you do.”
He’d twisted those bushy brows in confusion over this, saying “I don’t usually touch them, but why the warning?”
“I just don’t know what that red-white will do to someone like you, and I think it’s better to be careful of any possibly fatal scenarios.”
Now, having dismissed his alarm-fairy, he sat during the early morning on his bed at Scarlet Devil Mansion, still in his pajamas and still thinking over his Master’s warning.
His nose twitched with remembrance.
“One last thing,” his Master had said, “don’t head straight to the Shrine tomorrow; make sure you come to breakfast first. I’ll probably have something for you to do in the morning.” She’d then released him and bid, “Alright. Goodnight, Gen.”
Man... he thought, left hand over the bottom half of his face, and right hand massaging his forearm, Master smells incredible after a bath. I wonder what shampoo or oils she uses.
With a severe look in his eyes, he decided he would recruit some maids later to discover that.
For now, he cracked his neck and stretched his arms out, flexing the fingers of his non-dominant hand. As usual, he figured he ought to do something after seeing Meiling for his free time. So, what today?
 Have a chat with Miss Sakuya.
 Bother Mistress Flandre.
 Spend time with Mistress Remilia.
What will Lady Patchouli have Gen do before going to the Shrine?
 Retrieve stolen books from a certain thief.
 Pick something up from the puppeteer.
Man but that chapter CONSUMED this thread, huh? I actually had expected to get to why story has its title in this thread, but we've had a lot to talk about. That's nice. Welp, we'll see! This chapter included, there are two more until we see horns.
With that decision settled, he dressed himself with flair, finished the rest of his morning routine, and determined to see the other vampire.
On the Mansion’s highest floor, the Scarlet Devil slept where she could most comfortably watch the moon. Although this was her reason, and she was indeed nocturnal, she often slept through the night rather than the day.
On the Mansion’s lowest floor, her little sister slept where she could most comfortably forget everything. And, although she too was nocturnal, she rarely possessed a proper sense of time, only hardly defining days by the meals she received.
Flandre Scarlet was a particularly dangerous vampire, and she could surely rampage even worse than her elder sister if left to do however she pleased. That would be trouble in today’s Gensokyo, and that was the present reason why the other residents had taken many measures to seal her within the Mansion’s basement. It was not, however, why she stayed.
Mistress Remilia was whimsical, Mistress Flandre was a layabout.
Very rare were the occasions Mistress Flandre became curious about something, or wanted the company of others. A few days after Gen had passed into fantasy, she became curious about humans after a pair of them launched an assault on the Mansion. This was despite living over five centuries and never seeing one alive or dead aside from Miss Sakuya (unless they were “dead, and their blood processed as agreeable-looking food or drink”). And despite earning playmates after Marisa defeated her, she still remained inside now, and made no bids for guests.
Mistress Flandre spent most of her time in her room, and otherwise she’d wander the halls without any particular reason behind doing so. Gen was not sure why the girl preferred reticence, but he was curious to know why. He had realized that whenever he saw the little sister his thoughts over her were quick to become worried ones, and not only over his life. Beyond that he would frequently speculate on her situation and relationships (mainly, between herself and the Mistress). He was sincerely driven to know.
So, he liked to tease her.
He wanted to know whether her quiet and distant ways were the result of personality or something greater, and prodding at her tended to be revealing. She wasn’t likely to just open up or naturally show what might be her true colors, given how detached she tended to be. With that in mind on this winter’s day, Gen proceeded to her room.
At the end of an extensive, vaguely meandering, and red (of course) corridor quite a ways below the earth was the door to that room. It was an almost suspiciously normal door for the Mansion: not large and ostentatious like the doors to the Library, just four-sided, wooden, gilded fancily, and bearing a carving of some fantastic mural like most of the doors here. It was also standard in size, and aside from its queer location the only way to tell this was a distinct door was seeing that it was marked with one of his Master’s seals. The seal was one done to negate physical and magical damage, but ever since Mistress Flandre’s actions a few days after the Scarlet Mist Incident (where she’d escaped by destroying the doorknob and had just... pushed the door open), Master Patchouli had kept the seal deliberately broken (though it could easily be redone). When he’d first come to introduce himself to the younger Mistress, the seal had reminded him of why he hadn’t introduced himself yet. Even now he still feared this vampire; he was just able to steel himself better in her presence after getting more used to it.
Gen took a breath, and assured himself. He threw the door open, strode inside while closing it behind him, and announced “Mistress Flandre!” Then, he moved his head about six centimeters to his left.
He spoke with definite, confident boldness; one hand over his heart and the other straight out before him. Stuck in the wood of the door behind him and wobbling was a chisel which had been flung to where his head was just previously. Within the dark room and sitting atop a pile of bright sheets was Mistress Flandre, who also had her hand extended. She was surrounded by pillows thrown all over, and her bed was bare. She was still in her nightclothes, and she was not amused.
Gen looked at the tool beside his face and observed, “A chisel.”
“What?” asked Flandre, and from her tone he knew she was asking what he was doing there, rather than asking what problem there’d be with her using a chisel.
“To be wed, Mistress Flandre,” he repeated with a solemn, western bow.
Mistress Flandre folded her legs, put her hands around her calves, and slouched, staring at the man in her room and still unamused. She spread out her wings, and Gen’s teasing veneer faltered under the sight.
The younger Mistress did not have wings like her sister. They extended from her back with as much overwhelming and unanticipated span, but they – or rather, the parts of them connected with her back – looked like black bone and warped shadow rather than the membranous sort that he imagined must be common for vampires. And that was just it: they weren’t “wings” in any common sense at all. They were JUST the “upper” part of an ordinary wing, and made of very unordinary stuff. This alone gave Mistress Flandre a distinctly horrific impression, like thin Eldritch fingers were growing out her shoulders, but the rest of her wing structure was simply... terribly eerie.
Sprouting from the stick-like and burnt-seeming bone of one wing were seven shards of colorful glass, mirroring seven on the other. They weren’t a rainbow, either, and at least the first and last color – faded blue – repeated. When Gen had first seen these shards (or were they crystals?) his immediate impression was to be stunned by the unusual beauty. However, during his time in the mansion, he had discovered that he found Flandre Scarlet’s wings very unsettling. Every color—that clear blue to green, yellow, orange, rose, violet, and a darker blue before the clear variety came again, last—was cold. It was similar to a notorious ice fairy that could often be found by the Lake, but Flandre’s were cold on... well, it seemed to be an “emotional” level as well. He often wondered if her wings had some sort of constant, overpowering effect on humans just from seeing their frigid brilliance. They curved, at once looking like the prettiest ornaments and the most wicked of knives, and whenever she moved they bent in a way that inexplicably reminded him of teeth shifting within gums. They shifted, and when Flandre spread her wings like she was doing now, to stand or kneel before them always made him think she was a second away from swallowing him whole with her entire being.
The little sister lifted her right hand. He winced, feeling a bead of sweat crawl down the side of his face.
But, to his relief, she beckoned him next like she would a dog. “Come here,” she said, gesturing.
And although he was relieved, Gen quickly shook his head and answered, “No.”
“Get over here.”
“I’d rather not.”
“Come on,” ordered Flandre as she brought her wings back down and revealed a fang with a coquettish simper, “you’re proposing? Where’s your ring?”
Gen stared at her, still bowed. After a moment, he swallowed, and slowly straightened his back.
“If I reveal it, you won’t crush its eye?” he asked.
“I won’t~,” she sang, the lie obvious on her tongue.
He sighed, bringing his hand into one of his pockets to remove a small velvet box. Resting it on his palm he looked at it, and it burst into nothingness, like it was never even there.
The little sister gave a shout of “KABOOM!”, and he saw that her lifted hand was now squeezed tight into a fist.
“It was empty,” he informed her.
“This human is gutless and a kid,” the girl observed.
“One day...” Gen began, tracing over where the box had been in his hand with a finger, “... I’m going to have a real ring in one of these: then I’m going to have to demand you compensate me, Mistress Flandre.”
She dismissed his statement with a sullen “Whatever...” and leaned her back into her bedside, staring at the ceiling.
“Good morning, Mistress Flandre,” he said, finally greeting her properly.
“Morning, mroring, moaning, mumumu...” she muttered
“You look beautiful as ever,” he complimented.
“May I come in?”
“There’s an order to these things, fool.”
Flandre slouched forward again, but was looking at things other than him while she answered, “Fine, fine, come in.”
He bowed again like a gentlemen and stepped forward.
Mistress Flandre’s room was often a mess, though the maids tidied it every day. This morning it was a mess as well, but it wasn’t destroyed furniture, tossed clothes, and dolls with bursting stuffing where heads should be as it was usually. Aside from the fortress of pillows at the center of which she sat watchman, she had what seemed to be many large books, left everywhere.
She’s been... reading with a chisel? Something seemed amiss. He reached for one of the tomes.
“Oi, don’t look!” came a shout, and he saw that Flandre was diving at him.
Although he’d gotten rather good at rapid invocations, no vampire-warding spell he knew could stop her so quickly. He could only put out his arm and hope.
The little blond girl fell onto his hand, keeping afloat and reaching for him. His hand was on her chest, and his eyes moved and squinted with shock and surprise.
“H-Hey!” he yelled, “Mistress Flandre, my hand!”
He fell onto his rear, as, indeed, his feeble human strength was nothing against a vampire’s supernatural kind. He was only thankful she merely seemed angry rather than furious as he covered his face and pushed his palm against her, hoping not to feel anything particular through her thin clothes.
“Don’t... look!” she growled, and he felt her grasping at his forearm. He peaked through his left hand’s digits to see that she was bringing his right hand toward her mouth with teeth bared. She opened up, and chomped down on his fingers.
“Oww!” he roared, “I won’t look! I won’t look, listen to me!”
The little sister continued to bite, and again he was thankful. She wasn’t trying to bite them off, just hurt him. She naturally licked at his fingertips messily while grinding, and Gen cursed his heart for beating over reasons other than fear.
“Damn... it...!” he cried. “Mistress Flandre, can’t you just...! Agh! S-Stop...! Your tongue...! Shit!”
Gen grit his teeth while Flan grit hers over his fingers. He thought over this predicament, decided, and looked into her face. He declared: “I’m gonna look.”
Flandre’s face seemed to darken, and within that instant her wings flared open, riddling him with chills and making him reflexively shrink into himself. Mist began to pour out of her, and her expression told him nothing, which in turn told him she was now prepared to simply kill him. She forced him onto his back.
“Ha ha...!” he laughed, not finding any humor in this situation, “You’re embarrassed, Mistress!? Now I’m really curio—! Huh?”
He paused, noticing something was tickling his ear. When he looked up, he saw that it was a curl of shaved wood. In fact, there were quite a few shavings on the floor.
Something came to mind.
Gen began an invocation, and when it was ready he used his own spirit to cast sunlight sparks from his left fingertips that danced up his right arm. When they met with Flandre’s hands, she immediately withdrew, palms smoking. She also stopped biting him, and he took the chance to get out from under her. Barely.
Flandre had made to grab for his collar and only ripped the sleeve of his left arm instead. She looked at the cloth strips dangling from her claws, and then looked at him. She was slouched, and the mists coming out of her twisted and billowed such that she appeared to be a wraith, or Death.
“GEN...!” she started, her voice bellowing, “What do you think you’re DOING!?”
“You invited me in, did you not?” he asked calmly,
“Haaahh?” she hissed, “Are you a vampire too? Not that we need invitations!”
“Well, I do have a vampire’s blood,” he answered cheekily. He looked for the nearest of Flandre’s books.
“I didn’t invite you to look through my drawers,”
“I-I’m not looking through your drawers! What!?”
She summoned bullets: a ring of them, diamond-reds, encircling her and ready to launch.
“I didn’t invite you to look at those, either!”
“Hold it! Time out!” he shouted, stopping his hand over one of the tomes before he could grab it. He brought that same hand up to gesture Flandre pause rather than fire. “Won’t you mess up your room!?”
He was fully aware of the dumbness of implying Flan cared. She spoke to him in steps.
“I’ll mess up you first,
then the room,
then the mansion.
I’ll just break you all.”
And so, mists still swirling around her, she began to attack.
Gen dove for the book he’d been reaching for earlier, the first volley of red bullets screaming over his head and pounding into a wall. With the tome in hand he realized what he’d expected: these things were not books, they were albums.
“S-Stop it already~!” Flandre whined while balling her fists, and clusters of the bullets from before began to fill the space of the room. Gen, still on the floor, looked on in awe at the danmaku. Rather than, a bullet curtain, this was more of a bullet storm. He ran.
Every bullet in the room was aimed, and aimed horribly true. When Gen ran, they chased, and he saw that the younger sister chased as well. He tested the storm by moving serpentine and found that the bullets would continue on forward if they missed the target, but then round back, which was really quite horrible if you wanted to dodge. It was definitely something that would never be used in a spell card duel. Rounding the room (which, he realized, was astoundingly large), Gen eventually came to Flandre’s bed. He leapt onto it, or rather dropped, his socks pushing into the mattress while he fell flat and watched scarlet blur over his head. He quickly opened the album in his hands and put it, pictures-out, over his face. As he’d expected, the bullets all stopped. He glanced from behind the album’s covers and saw Flandre floating over him with a frustrated look in her eyes and on her lips.
Gen grinned with self-satisfaction and boasted: “I knew it! I knew it! You’re using references to carve something, aren’t you, Mistress!?”
“Gu... nh...” the little sister grumbled. Gen turned the album so he could see the photographs within it, and again what he expected was what was. These were all pictures of Mistress Remilia, and some of Mistress Flandre.
Thinking, How warm, Gen sat up onto Flandre’s bed, bringing his legs cross. The danmaku disintegrated into sparkling dust, and the younger Mistress descended to her bed, eyebrows knotted, lips turned into a pout, and exuding a sense of shame. Gen addressed her in her sulking.
“You can sculpt, Mistress?” he asked.
“It’s carving isn’t it?” the girl mumbled, gazing downward, “You just said carving, too.”
He was still looking through the album, now seeking out any photos of the two sisters together (and finding none), when he said: “Show me what you’ve got done so far or I’ll tell Mistress Remilia you were looking at her pictures.”
He lifted the album over his head, allowing Flandre to pounce on him without hitting the booklet. She growled again.
The young Mistress sure is slender, he absently remarked in his thoughts as Flandre tried to climb over him to get the album.
“How about I just kill you, Gen!? Then you won’t say anything!”
“I have to admit from your perspective there’s no downside to that.”
“Then—” she began ominously, raising her left hand with the palm up.
“Why are you so embarrassed about this!?” he shouted in a panic. “You were like this when I found you painting, too!”
“If I wanted someone to find me I wouldn’t do it in my room, idiot! Idiot! Stupid! Dumb, idiot human!” she began beating on his chest, and he looked down on her with his eyes wide. His expression became severe, and he grabbed one of her wrists as it went for his breast, keeping the album aloft with one hand. He addressed her:
“Lady Flandre,” he said, “you don’t have to worry, I’m not going to tell anyone about this. Not Master, the Mistress, or anyone. I honestly just wanted to see what you were up to. If I really did make you upset, I apologize.”
She continued fuming to herself in silence, but didn’t move to attack him again. After a while, he let go her wrist, and waited for her to speak.
“... I think I’m going to be the one who kills you, Gen,” she told him.
“That seems more and more likely by the day,” he agreed.
“Unless you marry me.”
He clicked his tongue before asking, “Come again?”
“Unless you marry me, I said.”
“You want me to marry you, Mistress Flandre?”
“I don’t,” she admitted, “but if you married me that would mean I married you, so we’d be in love. I wouldn’t kill you then.”
Moments like this reminded him that Mistress Flandre’s total innocence didn’t only apply to her unbound, remorseless destruction. He brought the album back down and found that he was focused on the side tail tied to the right of Mistress Flandre’s hair from his perspective. He wanted to brush it aside, and when he realized that, blinked harshly.
What the hell was he thinking?
Not even flustered like he often was around Youmu, but simply, largely, deeply confounded, Gen politely backed himself away from Flandre and set the album down between them. He let out a sigh, smirked at the girl, and asked now rather than demanding:
“Can I see what you’ve whipped up today?”
Flandre was touching her hair. She glanced at Gen while pinching it, before answering “Fine, I’ll show you.”
Something he’d discovered about Flandre Scarlet was that she was extremely talented, but practiced few things. During his half year at the mansion he’d found her playing a piano beautifully, creating immense structures with impeccable balance (often cards, sometimes chess pieces), stitching together lovely hats, painting life or imagination, and unicycling. Furthermore, piano besides, she could play the violin, viola, cello, harp, and several kinds of horns, all at a professional level. She seemed to participate in these activities with little interest, and wasn’t engaging them out of whim but rather boredom. Whenever he asked her what she was doing during these undertakings, she would almost always answer “Wasting time”. She rarely played the same instrument twice, and if she was crafting something it was never the same something. Now she had been wood carving. Moving to her pillow fort and going under the bed from there, she withdrew her latest work, and showed it to Gen with a terse “Here”.
Gen’s eyes shined upon another Flandre marvel: a striking bust of her sister in wood, still rough due to his interruption, but the skill and beauty of the carving was nonetheless evident. It was a figure of Remilia Scarlet looking askance as wind swept over her hair. Her cheeks and other features were noticeably angular, but Flandre had taken the most effort in capturing her older sister’s daring, loving, charming smile: only almost slight, clearly pleased, and with a fang peeking down from the upper lip.
“How do you even do this, Mistress Flandre?” Gen asked as Flandre passed the carving over to him for his closer examination.
“I think about what to do, then my hands do it,” she explained. “It’s like walking.”
“Some way to say you’re talented...” he remarked, feeling over the wood-Remilia’s sculpted hair. The attention to detail the little sister had been going for was bewildering. “I think something like this is beyond talent, though.”
“I wanted to—...” Flandre only began her statement, and Gen had a feeling how she’d intended to finish it.
“Were you going to put it beside your bed and have Master Patchouli provide lighting for it?”
Flandre’s mouth hung slightly open, exposing her fangs, and she blushed from cheek to cheek and ear to ear, entirely scarlet-faced. She was looking off to nowhere as usual, and twisting her eyebrows.
“These albums smell like the Library,” he explained, “and I recognize this as wood Miss Sakuya procured for Master recently. So, the Mistress keeps her family albums in the Library, huh...?” He looked at Remilia’s face in his hands and smiled a smile to reflect it when thinking of this.
Then, he suddenly frowned. Weren’t vampires unable to be reflected in mirrors? Wasn’t reflection at least a part of how photos worked? Then again, the Mistresses didn’t seem to entirely fit the myths. For instance, Mistress Remilia kept crucifixes and crosses around and used their image in danmaku almost as if to mock the idea that she could be harmed by them. And, just earlier, Mistress Flandre had told him they did not need invitations to enter homes. Accepting the nonsense, he looked up to address her again.
“So, you wanted to keep it a secret from Mistress Remilia and only told Lady Patchouli about it? Couldn’t trust Sakuya?”
“God couldn’t trust Sakuya with secrets,” she told him plainly.
“That’s true,” he agreed, handing the bust back to Flan, “but it’s a shame Mistress Remilia doesn’t know how much you care.”
Flandre recoiled in horror, “C-Care!?” she uttered, baffled, “About that girl?”
He determined she wasn’t simply in denial, so Gen asked his next question seriously.
“Why else would you want her watching over you while you sleep?”
“”I don’t care about her, I love my elder sister! Caring is thinking about someone or something forever, and love is just, like, you know!”
Flan moved with great motions while frantically explaining herself, moving the partial statue of her sister this way and that. Eventually she glared at it, then rushed over the side of the mattress to put it back under her bed. She returned to him and emphatically stated: “It’s love!”
Gen was surprised.
He understood her distinction.
Remaining unexcited in his tone, he acknowledged “I see. You love Lady Remilia.”
“She’s my older sister!” she declared this as an answer.
“Well I think the Mistress would like hearing that—”
For the third time, Flandre launched herself at him, and with this instance put him in a terrible place. The younger Mistress had locked him down in possibly the worst way she could.
Her arms were outstretched to grab a hold of his, and put them down behind his head.
She leaned in very close, perhaps unintentionally, from positioning herself like this.
And finally, she was straddling his stomach.
Her side length of hair fell down over his shoulder. He kept his gaze on her eyes.
“Gen,” said the younger Mistress, “you’re very something, aren’t you?”
“Clarify?” he requested.
“Something... clever?” he wagered.
“Not really,” she admitted, and he grimaced. “How old were you? Twenty?”
“A bit over that.”
“I’ve been alive for over five hundred years. I’m not a child.”
For a moment his eyes wandered to the place where she was sitting, and he quickly returned to meet her stare. She continued.
“Not the first time I’ve been called these things,” he confessed, and realized his voice had begun to waver just a bit.
“I really mean it,” she said, and she squeezed into his wrists. He winced as bone pushed against bone. “How does a human get this stupid in just half a year? You were always stupid, but now you stupidly think you can tell me how I should live, or how my sister should live, or anybody. When did you get so bold? Is it Patchouli’s doing? Elder sister’s friend?”
“I’m afraid it’s simply just a bad habit, Lady Flandre,” he admitted, smirking. She frowned at him and glowered, and he realized he was too close to her. Her cold touch, proximity, fragrance, and loose gown were getting to him wrongly. While he didn’t want to, reason told him to retreat.
“Kill your habit before it gets you killed. Maybe today, now...” she began to lean down closer to him, pressing her body into his. Sirens went off in his head, but before he could shout at the girl she continued with a dangerous statement: “You know,” she began, whispering beside his ear, “I’ve never drunk blood before. I’m kind of... feeling like it right now.”
At moments in life where a mortal realizes that their situation is unique, helpless, and yet they are still fully physically and mentally capable, profundity comes upon them. They don’t comically think “oh, I’m going to die” or coolly think “this moment will mean my life is changing course”, they think in white noise and can hear their heart beating in their ears. Their sensations all increase, seemingly in some attempt from the mind and body to give them all means to escape whatever is barreling ahead, and sensible retrospect is granted on everything they’ve ever done.
So Gen faced this, body cold with sweat, and he understood that if he let Flan bite him, he could very probably die. However... he was so lucid through the adrenaline and panic coursing through him now that he also understood.
This was intimate.
Mistress Flandre had drunk blood before, she just didn’t know it. Miss Sakuya always gave her tea and cakes and other things with human blood within them. She did not know humans. She hadn’t consciously bit into one’s neck and sucked from them. Gen would be the first. He wasn’t dumb to metaphors.
The mind-numbing thing about all this was that, undoubtedly, he wanted her fangs in his neck. He also really, really didn’t. While he sweat frigid with the fear and anticipation of imitate demise, parts of him were heated. Flandre put her cool cheek to his to get better access, and he grew hotter.
Through the white noise of his mind he thought only a single, crystal clear word:
Flandre opened her mouth over his neck, and he could strongly feel his heartbeat. Terrified, anxious, disordered, and aroused he
I should probably note: the risk here does not factor in "turning". I thought "that's a given", but it might NOT be, come to think of it. Anyway this is purely feeding, which is a common thing for vampires. That's all I'll add, I guess.
Flandre was at the ready and at his neck, her strength was well beyond his and kept him down physically, and any magic he could incant he could, again, probably not incant quickly enough. Even if he could cast something here the possibilities were:
• A running water spell of some kind, but with their closeness he’d have to soak her, which would cause other problems.
• A weak sunlight spell to have her unhand him... but then she’d very probably bite him regardless.
• A strong sunlight spell, which could be potentially disastrous, or at least too much of a retaliation for his liking given the circumstances.
He wasn’t sure if a garlic spell would help either, not that he knew any...
And he didn’t consciously plan any of this. All possibilities arose and were considered in a second that had been split. So, with great concern and her tongue moist on his skin, he forced his head forward and bit the vampire’s ear.
“Hyan!” she moaned, blushed, and flinched, and most importantly her hold on him weakened. He brought his arms back down and grabbed Flandre’s shoulders, swinging her left and onto her back and getting himself over the top of her. In the moment, he didn’t recall that pinning her down was pointless, and she could easily break out of any hold he put her in; his emotions were just high over the knowledge that he was no longer facing a dead end.
“Watch it, vampire,” he told her, abandoning respect, “you haven’t even had breakfast yet. Don’t fill yourself on me. A-A-And furthermore,” he proceeded, his confidence shaken, “I-I-I-I’m e-extremely uncomfortable with th-this!”
He tried not to remain conscious of his body, only unable to deny the warmth in his cheeks signifying blushing. He didn’t want to acknowledge that the little girl had turned him on. He looked into her own flushed face. She was breathing heavily and her tongue had slipped down over her lower lip. Slowly she returned it and closed her mouth, parting her lips once for a soft sigh. One of the straps of her nightgown was—
With this thought, he unhanded Flandre Scarlet and scuttled to the edge of her bed, hand over his heart and gripping through his layers of clothes. This was much too much sudden eros. Was this just how vampires were? He did know them as possessors of supernatural, mythically sexual charm, and he was only a step away from falling in love with Mistress Remilia just hearing her voice back when he’d slipped into Gensokyo. He hoped this was just an un-subtle trait of vampires, but he knew that even if it was, his reaction had not entirely been because of it.
The younger Mistress rose to her knees, looking dazed. She held her stomach, noting “I’m hungry.”
“Miss Sakuya will be by s—” he stopped, as he’d noticed her strap was falling farther, and he could almost see more than he felt he should see here (not that he wouldn’t like to). He flew over to her and quickly brought the falling thing back over her shoulder, continuing with: “will be by soon, s-so just wait.”
Bringing his hand back from her, Gen deflated, closing his eyes, sighing long, and sinking his posture. It seemed that Flandre’s vampiric instinct had passed, though if what the others said was true, it was probable that she’d kill him in the next few moments to “eat”, but would only vaporize him with her power instead, thus unable to drink his blood. He had to depart.
He went to the bedside and swung his legs over the thing, telling her, “I’ll be taking my leave now, Mistress Flandre. Sorry for bothering you.” He paused as he made to stand, and then added, “I’m also sorry for suggesting anything about you and your sister. I do know that she loves you as well, and in my naivety I often hope that I can do something for the two of you.” Closing his eyes, he turned his head to speak over his shoulder, telling the girl: “After all, I’d be dead if not for this Mansion and its Masters.”
When he opened his eyes, he saw that Flan was gone. Next he realized she was below his gaze, having crawled to the space behind him. She was looking at him with her worrying eyes, and he looked back, dearly hoping this was over.
“I accept your apologies,” she said, to his surprise, “I’m sorry for molesting you.”
His body stiffened and he refused to answer that.
“Say, Gen,” Flandre continued, “why do you propose to me so much anyway? Is it just teasing, or is there even a bit of honesty in it?”
Gen considered this in silence for what seemed to be several minutes. After that, he confessed:
>>65859 Well, besides the obvious answer, they could be a fairy, most Marisa incarnations, Remi's a possible candidate for shipping, perhaps Chen or Satori, Tewi might be possible, so might Rumia or... hang on, I've got it!
The two most fun-sized and flat-chested Touhous are Shinmyoumaru Sukuna and Kisume! And they're both related to the oni!
Flandre gave a thoughtful sound and observed him closely. He hadn’t ever considered his pestering of her in any way seriously, but examining his actions and feelings, he could tell he probably wouldn’t mind extending actual romantic gestures toward his second Mistress. He wouldn’t do so, as she was the sister of his first Mistress, somewhat the ward of his Master, and still frightening to him, but he knew that without these weights on his reasoning, he could fall in love with Flandre.
“Hmmmmm...” the vampire moaned again, leaning away from him and sitting up. “Alright,” she said with finality, “you may leave.”
“Then, please excuse me,” he returned to politeness in his address, and made to escape this lion’s den. As he closed the door behind him, a realization slowly crawled into his mind, causing him to furrow his brow. He shut Flandre’s door, put back on his shoes, and then stood still with his hand left on the doorknob. It was a poor revelation. It was not something readily acceptable.
Gen realized in silence: he had no apprehension over his second Mistress’s immature figure.
Gen had been sent here enough that he only sometimes got befuddled wandering this fairy-tampered wood. Though that was the case, he still hadn’t gotten entirely used to its thick, almost poisonous atmosphere, and was thankful that the winter season thinned it significantly.
The forest was presently a bramble of shining white, as snow had fallen relentlessly over Gensokyo. While it was indeed easier to breathe here now, it was also now easier to lose one’s way as everything was painted in this same blinding color. Furthermore those fairies that could only play during this time of year were having the time of their lives casting more snow and frigid air. With cold nipping his forehead and ears, Gen walked through the maddening chalk-shaded branch, boulder, and trunk corridors. He refrained from flight to avoid the cold of the open air and winds, and instead kept keen on the few landmarks he always knew, and aware should he ever feel that his direction was suddenly or even subtly changed.
He was here today on another assignment from his Master, but it was an unusual one for her. Master Patchouli wanted him to return to the Forest of Magic to see someone he did not see often—in fact, they’d only met once. He was to see Alice Margatroid, the Seven-Colored Magician, and receive from her a magnifying tool his Master wanted. Apparently Patchouli had, about a month prior and under a strangely giving mood, allowed the puppeteer to borrow a book from the Library for a time. Now she wanted something in return for the favor, and she imagined the other magician would be accommodating. It was only to be lent, after all.
Meanwhile Sakuya would be off to get books back from Marisa, or rather attempt as much. The head maid had taken a different path from his at the entrance of the forest, and wished him well. There was something incredible he admired about Miss Sakuya: whenever she set off to do something, she gave the impression that she would surely get it done, even if it was something as futile as making that little forest-girl return stolen items. It was more than confidence: it was certainty. While she was capable of failure, that assuredness of “self” had to be very helpful when moving through the lands of Gensokyo, defined by strife and nightmare. He wished that determination and poise in himself.
But... poise was hard to maintain when one struggled with moral distress.
“Haaah...” he sighed another time, having sighed copiously since Sakuya left him. He had too much on his mind.
Before he’d set off from the mansion, he’d had breakfast as always in the library, and during that his Master had observed his torn sleeve. He hadn’t remembered his torn sleeve. He froze up over his torn sleeve.
Flandre ruining his clothing was somewhat common. If she was in something’s presence, she tended to break it. When he explained that his outfit’s damage was due to an encounter with the little sister, his Master (and Sakuya, who was there as well) accepted the explanation. However, his Master (and Sakuya, who was observant) did not neglect to notice his hesitance to admit the cause, nor did they neglect his reddening cheeks upon his recollection.
“Mistress Flandre?” Sakuya had asked with an amused tone, in a way one might ask “her?”
Separately his Master sounded and looked disappointed, saying “The lady sister...” and pinching her nose bridge.
He’d insisted nothing happened between them, but shaking her head Sakuya informed him thus: “The little Mistress is passionate, and more direct than our elder Mistress. I can understand you catching one another’s eyes, Gen.” But, she did tell him, “I suggest you take caution with Mistress Flandre nonetheless.”
I feel there’s nothing to be cautious over, he thought now, I only care about the girl, nothing more...
That was, aside from attraction.
Now he pinched his nose bridge.
Master Patchouli and Miss Sakuya both had concerns over his being interested in Flandre as a person, or in a sense of romance. They did not think twice about his interest in her physique, and indeed never mentioned it. For the first in a long time, Gen began thinking about modern Japan again.
He had to admit it: he possessed the so-called Lolita complex. It was just something he’d never considered because he never had reason to consider it. He had been a university student of literature, he had mostly spent time on hobbies such as occult research and computer games (mostly western), and he didn’t watch anime... though he did read manga somewhat often. He had almost no exposure to children, in provocative situations or otherwise. And, to the benefit of his mind, he was not exclusively interested in young girls. Master, Miss Sakuya, and Miss Yuuka were all women regarding whom he could confidently answer: “yes, that woman is gorgeous, and I would most certainly embrace her”. He used to only think of his Master in an entirely pure sense, but in these last months he felt he could no longer deny her gorgeous, shapely, and awesomely exquisite—...
He ended this line of thought, finding himself standing still on a trail with his hands up and a smirk on his face. The smirk melted, curdling into a scowl, and he began to chastise himself. This was why he had told himself half a year ago: no entertaining of lascivious thoughts. Distracting, damning... as any man, his basic desires... were basic.
He marched on and returned from the tangent in his head. At the end of things, there were only three women he had ever been attracted to and felt something toward that was more than base desire, and they were Miss Youmu and his two Mistresses (he could claim otherworldly tomfoolery all he wanted, he nearly pledged his adoration to the Scarlet Devil during their first meeting). He had to admit it... along with muscular strength and cuteness that started fire in his heart... he liked his women petite.
His head was against a tree.
Geeeen... he thought, eyes wide, you’re a... shameless deviant and an incorrigible reprobate.
He pushed himself from the trunk with one hand and spun back onto the path to Alice’s house. The truth? All of his concerns... were trifling. But, they were concerns that kept him reasonable—“normal”, in the abnormal world. Strange as it was, it was a part of him that he felt he had to keep to know that he was not from here. He nowadays rarely entertained the idea of going home, or that he had another home at all. So, remembering his culture, so different from Gensokyo’s...
... even if it ripped him apart, he felt he needed it. At least—
“What’s with that way of marching? Planning an assassination?”
A woman was addressing him up ahead. He’d been looking only to the ground at his feet. Lifting his head, he saw her bundled up in white and blue, with four dolls floating beside her and carrying bundles of sticks.
“The target is me, right?” she asked, thoughtful, playful. “I was wondering when that Library would take revenge against me.”
“You mean ‘Librarian’, right?” he said in response.
“Have I misspoken? I meant to say ‘Library’.”
“Then... I guess you haven’t. Quite rude, aren’t you.”
“She just stays in there all day... Libraries don’t move either, right?” Alice gestured with her head for him to follow along as she went toward her home. He obeyed, stuffing his gloved hands into his pockets. He answered her while they walked.
“I wonder if Master would like being called a ‘library’...”
“It’s one of her titles,” Alice briefly noted from over her shoulder, “I was only half-teasing.”
“Really? I only know her ‘Knowledge and Shade’ title.”
“The Unmoving Great Library,” Alice told him, making her puppets nod in agreement, “Does she bathe in there?”
“Say more like that and she really will send an assassin after you... She bathes.”
“Oh? You aren’t here to kill me?” the girl asked, then she delivered to him a wicked grin, “And here I was planning to trap this little outsider and use his bones for my dolls.”
“I came on an errand,” he answered, ignoring her empty threat. Alice’s lips went from a smile to a shape of surprise, and she said:
“Oh my!” pausing, and letting him get nearer to her, “You’ve grown a spine since I last saw you!”
“I have grown three quarters of a spine,” he clarified, coming up beside the puppeteer and puffing white breath up from behind his scarf.
She put her thumb under her chin and fiddled her lower lip, knitting her eyebrows before voicing her latest thought: “I see...” she began, “she does bathe, does she?”
“It’s an old Gensokyo pastime,” Alice dismissed him with a chuckle and waved off his concern. She continued walking and explained, “I’m sure even you’ve done some banter in the seven months you’ve been here.”
“You’ve been counting,” he noted, following.
“You’ve been here for seven months,” she replied, holding her hands aloft and open, “Seven is a small number, Gen.” Dropping her hands she increased her pace. They were near her home now, and the puppeteer was openly in good spirits. She sent her wood-carrying dolls to open the front door out ahead of them, and turned to face him with a bright smile. “A belated hello, by the way,” she offered, “it’s been a while hasn’t it?”
He huffed at this, replying “You just said seven is a small number, no?”
>>65817 I'm not certain how but earlier I made some dumbass numerical error both in the filename and text here, noting Flan as having seven little thingamajigs on her stick-y wings. It's seven colors, eight shards. Hell I even noted every color bringing the count to eight here. The only explanation for this fuckup is: Kizin liked the semi-alliteration in the filename so much, he decided to wear blinders and fuck actually counting.
Alice placed a small and bronze-plated cylindrical device in Gen’s hand. They were now in Alice’s fire-warmed home, her puppets having stoked the hearth and stowed away the firewood. With a quick onceover, the Magician’s Apprentice saw that it was probably the magnifier his Master wanted.
“That’s really it,” he told her, “I guess it’s been long enough since your prank that her blood’s come down from boiling.” Turning the tool in his palm, he wondered aloud, “What exactly is this, anyway? What is it for?”
Alice, having prepared some tea, moved to a table by her window while she answered. “It’s one of my loupes,” she said, having a seat, “I have quite a few for use on dolls’ finer details but that one is special. Its lens is made of meteorite glass—not glass formed from a meteorite strike, mind you, but glass produced from a rock that came from space.” She shrugged and drank her tea, following after with “Honestly, it’s rather useless. I only have it for conversation and admiration. I imagine Patchouli must want it for some obscure fancy of hers. How exactly do you two accomplish anything when you don’t focus on anything? Jacks of all trades will ever be masters of none.”
Before answering, Gen looked through the ocular. Indeed, it was almost completely opaque glass, bearing no obvious function at all. He wrapped the thing in a cloth he’d brought with him and pocketed it before turning his gaze to the puppeteer.
“Not all trades, Alice,” he said, moving to sit across from her and take up the cup she’d set for her guest, “After a hundred years and seven months, respectively, Master and I still see little reason in applying magic to puppets.”
Alice pulled her cup away from her lips, winced, and gave a quick shake of her head. “Ach,” she said, “biting.”
Quiet came between them as they both relaxed. Gen was surprised he could relax here. Alice’s home was still a skull and limb-filled horror show, and there were silent dolls with lifeless stares along the walls, above the rafters, et cetera... He thought now, It’s still weird, but perhaps not disturbing.
He tugged his scarf down from his face and drank from his cup. Red tea this time. Allowing himself to taste it, the remark came to mind I sure drink a lot of tea these days... It’s been a while since I had any Japanese tea, though.
Sakuya’s experiments had no origin other than madness.
Alice warmed her nose with the steam of her cup and her gaze drifted to outside the window, above. Her eyebrows changed level, and she closed her mouth. He followed her eyes and saw a branch shaking snow off of itself, as if something had just leapt from it. That was probably the case.
“Right, you’re a human magician, Gen,” Alice mentioned abruptly.
“Do you remember? My gesture from before. You’re very dear to me.”
“Ah yes, the mohair of chicanery,” he acknowledged with a thoughtful nod, leaning his cheek into his knuckles, “symbolizing the sentiment: ‘I appreciate that I can mess with you’.”
Alice tilted her head only slightly and asked, “Were you disappointed?”
“I was relieved. Anyway, what are you bringing that up for all of a sudden?”
“I was wondering how much you’ve improved since we met last.”
“What, you want to fight?”
“I didn’t say that,” Alice countered, following with “I do, but I didn’t say that.”
Gen simply nodded, and Alice went on.
“What’s Patchouli taught you? What have you learned?”
Gen set down his cup.
“Many things,” he told her. “It’s gotten to the point that I don’t entirely fear lesser youkai should I ever be traveling, and I’ve defeated quite a few with no help. More importantly, aside from my skill and my power, I’ve at last learned how to fly.”
“Ohh, isn’t that nice?”
“It is,” he agreed with a gesture.
“Patchouli had a ton of spell cards last I checked. Do you?”
“I have a fair amount, yes.”
“Are any of them good?”
He opened his arms in confidence. “Would you like to find out?”
She leaned in, elbows on her table and chin in her palm. “As a matter of fact I would.”
 “Then, may I have this dance?”
 “... Actually never mind, it’s too cold.”
Tough choice. I imagine we'll be moving into a new thread with the next update.
>>65919 He has Yuuka's interest, and Alice always holds back. "Enough to beat Alice" is nowhere near enough. The quest for knowledge or power can be never-ending if the seeker wishes, and in a world of magic, they can be the same.
[X] “Then, may I have this dance?” But mostly, Gen needs to git gud. And that requires practice.
東方萃夢想 (hatsunetsu mix.) - フォーリンサウンド (hatsunetsumiko's) ラクトガール ～ 少女密室 - TOHO SKA PARADISE ORCHESTRA (EｃN エロクナイ) Frontier Village Dali - Final Fantasy IX Descendent of the Shinobi - Final Fantasy VII Full Moon Samba - TOHO BOSSA NOVA 2 (ShibayanRecords) なんてことない日 - TOHO BOSSA NOVA 2 (ShibayanRecords) 幾年月 - 悠久フォークロア eternity folklore (AQUA STYLE) Vivi's Theme - Final Fantasy IX We are Thieves - Final Fantasy IX Ambigu - Poptrick (Poplica*) 迎え火 - 幻想郷事変 (Floating Cloud) 花の映る塚 彼岸の塚 ～ Unnamed Scenery - 闡提宗祀 ～ Offering to The Sukhavati (Demetori) 散華 - 花天月地 (Hachimitsu-Lemon) 東方妖々夢でメタルっぽい何か - 特臭幻想狂 (O-LIFE.JP) Battle 1 - Final Fantasy IX Force Your Way - Final Fantasy VIII Ayakashi set 15 〜 春風の夢 - House set of "Perfect Cherry Blossom" (Kuroneko Lounge) Starting Point - (maritumix) 魔法少女達の百年祭, 四重奏 - TAMUSIC (TAMUSIC) ぽるた～がいすとの暇つぶし - Cherry Phantasm (Silver Forest) 魔女達のジグ - 東方アイリッシュ (Floating Cloud)
東方萃夢想 (hatsunetsu mix.) - フォーリンサウンド (hatsunetsumiko's) ラクトガール ～ 少女密室 - TOHO SKA PARADISE ORCHESTRA (EｃN エロクナイ) Frontier Village Dali - Final Fantasy IX Descendent of the Shinobi - Final Fantasy VII Full Moon Samba - TOHO BOSSA NOVA 2 (ShibayanRecords) なんてことない日 - TOHO BOSSA NOVA 2 (ShibayanRecords) 幾年月 - 悠久フォークロア eternity folklore (AQUA STYLE) Vivi's Theme - Final Fantasy IX We are Thieves - Final Fantasy IX Ambigu - Poptrick (Poplica*) 迎え火 - 幻想郷事変 (Floating Cloud) 花の映る塚 彼岸の塚 ～ Unnamed Scenery - 闡提宗祀 ～ Offering to The Sukhavati (Demetori) 散華 - 花天月地 (Hachimitsu-Lemon) 東方妖々夢でメタルっぽい何か - 特臭幻想狂 (O-LIFE.JP) Battle 1 - Final Fantasy IX Force Your Way - Final Fantasy VIII Ayakashi set 15 〜 春風の夢 - House set of "Perfect Cherry Blossom" (Kuroneko Lounge) Starting Point - (maritumix) 魔法少女達の百年祭, 四重奏 - TAMUSIC (TAMUSIC) ぽるた～がいすとの暇つぶし - Cherry Phantasm (Silver Forest) 魔女達のジグ - 東方アイリッシュ (Floating Cloud)