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[X] “Go check it out a little closer, tell us what it is.”
“Geh.” With this noise, she made an appropriately upset face to match. She slowly turned her gaze to where, presumably, the other in the forest was, and muttered, “Fine...”
She vanished, leaving a flurry of leaves spiraling upward from where she’d stood.
Marisa began to speak up, and he looked her way as she did. She said, “What do you think it i—”
Hatate returned with a panicked stare, standing before both of them pale-faced and shaken. Gen already knew her to be a jumpy youkai, so he was not particularly concerned by this appearance. Marisa, on the other hand, was simply bolder and so was similarly unconcerned.
Hatate parted her lips, her jaw trembling slightly. In a wispy, whispered voice, she said, “It’s a god of misfortune!”
Marisa stood up. Gen froze.
“Y-You saw it!?” Gen hissed, trying to keep his voice low. He got up as well, though kept down to Marisa’s height.
Hatate, with a sorrowful face, nodded.
“For now, go over to the Shrine Maiden and have her bless you,” Gen instructed, giving his potions, papers, and poultices a once-over. “You’re fast, aren’t you? Go! Don’t waste time! She’ll listen to you, especially if you pay her!”
Hatate disappeared once again.
“Dang, just what we don’t need...” muttered Marisa, checking her things in her hat and dress as well.
“I have a way to contact the tengu, but...” he trailed off, frowning. She didn’t want him to use that means to contact her concerning the Mountain. Would she be able to find them again...? He closed his eyes and thought. Most likely, she’d wager where they were given where people weren’t, and it wouldn’t take her long to search for them at least. It was risky to move on without their guide, but it was more risky to have a cursed guide guiding them.
A god of misfortune... huh?
Sometimes benevolent, sometimes malicious, in either case inherently dangerous through mere presence; it was in the name, gods such as these brought on ill fates. Disaster, plague, accident, folly, tragedy of any kind could be caused by witnessing them or being too near to them. Obviously, humans sneaking up a mountain of youkai wouldn’t want any encounters with gods such as that.
We need to be able to hear if anyone’s coming so... let’s keep away from that river, enough that its noise is gone.
He looked at Marisa, who looked back, and he moved his head toward the direction he thought best. She nodded in agreement, and spread her arms. Gen slanted his mouth and drew his eyebrows together. Lifting her up from her waist would be cute, surely, but they’d make too much noise as he tried to maneuver her onto his shoulders. It wasn’t a bad idea to carry her, however: there’d be fewer footsteps, and Marisa was light enough that the weight of his steps wouldn’t change much from having her on top of him. He slouched and pointed his thumb at his back. Getting the message, Marisa moved onto him, he secured one of her legs, and they rose—slightly taller and ready to continue.
He carefully made his way, though irritatingly he had no way of knowing where this way would lead. That was what a Mountain-bred companion would have been for... In fact, maybe he could head back and toward the Genbu Ravine...? It could work, but the knowledge that it could not work (via stumbling across some youkai wandering what paths they’d taken to get here) gave him pause. For now, he’d take a page from Marisa’s book and be a little brash. Hatate wouldn’t be away long, he was sure of that.
To speak of Marisa though, she was now entirely at the ready. Her broom was firm in her left hand and her magical furnace was poised in her right. Though Gen could not see it, she was keeping an eye on wherever he wasn’t (or at least, she made her best guess based on where his head turned). Gen continued to keep the child sat against his neck safe with his hold, while his free hand was ready over the latch of his most versatile spell book.
They did as he’d planned, Gen walked on an incline, keeping quiet and keeping aware. Keeping an eye out, hoping to avoid any unfortunate surprises.
Just once, he thought, let me have an outing somewhere new without encountering something mad.
He smirked to himself.
Well, my first outing to the Forest of Magic largely went well, though.
... Hm? Something smells nice... It’s not Marisa is it? The girl usually just smelled like wild grass and the Forest.
Before he entertained the notion of checking, something lightly pushed into his face. And Marisa’s. They both scrunched up said faces, and flinched.
It’s too damn dark in here! How’d I miss uh—whatever this is?
He put his hand to whatever it was from beneath and tried to examine it. It felt weak, loose: quite strange indeed. He could tell at least that it was definitely a plant of some kind.
... Willow? No, that doesn’t make sense, not the right biome.
Is’t wis... wisteria...?
He pushed ahead, moving aside the foliage, and he stepped onto what seemed to be an actual path, trodden very well into a soft floor of patted earth, crushed twigs, and mashed leaves. Though he still found it rather difficult to perceive much in the dark forest, he was able to discern that there indeed seemed to be wisteria here, and quite a lot of it at that. Mauve, and hanging all throughout the place, nary a spot without a vine. It formed what seemed to be a natural tunnel... assuming it wasn’t being maintained by a youkai.
Then again, Gen was quite certain that this road was what the tengu had been referring to earlier: the road of flowers youkai did not care for. Thinking about that, he stood still and simply looked the place over. Marisa didn’t bother him to hurry on, and he imagined it was for the same reason he had stopped:
To explain: wisteria wasn’t the most classic of wards against youkai, but by association with a certain legend, there was some faith in the plant as a sort of “evil’s” bane. The flowering vine, from which his family took part of its name, was used to defeat a god of curses in ancient times. A single branch of it instantly rusted the iron weapons of that wicked god’s army, and they were forced to surrender. Now, particular if used in certain spells, the flower could be effective against “malicious” entities. Indeed, with the right magic and mixture, wicked hearts would find the plant to be pure anathema.
Gen found it very hard to not start gabbing on and on about this to Marisa. Little did he know, Marisa was also eager to speak of the plant’s benefits to him. Thus, in silent excitement, they waited and wondered if they should gather some of this now, or if there were any landmarks close-by to identify this spot quickly for later. During flowering season for instance.
During flowering season...
... was not in September.
With this realization, a chill ran up Gen’s spine.
He took a step back with his right foot, and looked to the right as well.
To the right...
... were they not near kappa now?
No. What was the layout?
These flowers are out of season! Hell, these are flowers in the first place! No youkai around, but one misfortune god is—Get the hell out of here, Gen!
He stepped left, holding on now to Marisa’s other leg and ready to run. She finally noticed his urgency.
Some bane or ward wouldn’t matter, not if Kazami Yuuka is here—!
“Oh my, as I thought” spoke a terribly pretty voice. Hearing it, Gen froze. “You shouldn’t be here, but if you’re here here, then here isn’t so bad a place to be.”
Gen looked upward, meeting the eyes of the green-haired girl before him. She spoke again, the sound of her words strangely evocative of wind chimes:
“All things considered,” she said.
[ ♫: http://listenonrepeat.com/watch/?v=94_nslnEhHQ ]
[厄神様の通り道 ～ Dark Road - フォーチュン・ライン (xi-on)]
A plate-pale girl, festooned with bows and wrapped with ribbons—over her hair, over her arm, and over her dress—was floating, draped all in crimson and lined with white lace, beyond the wisteria veil.
Looking into her eyes, their color a misted green bright beside the lush forest hue of her well-groomed hair, somehow he knew at once what this person was. Knowing that, he decided to do something uncharacteristically Japanese for him.
Slowly, he took his hands from Marisa’s knees. He put his index fingers below their middle neighbors. He opened his mouth cautiously, and he shouted.
Marisa hopped with surprise on his shoulders, exclaiming, “Gen!?”
Pass this curse to her...! he thought, with his fellow magician in mind. It was merely superstition to do this in the outside world, and ancient superstition at that. But here, to be superstitious paid dividends.
Marisa had followed suit, skillfully managing the same hand positions while keeping her broom and Mini-Hakkero in the three fingers that remained to each.
He was quick to respond with, “Engacho!”
“Please cut that out,” the plainly more mature amidst the three said. The misfortune god, the one wearing a sympathetic face before them, slowly landed on the path to their right—where Gen had meant to head before he chose to turn another direction. With this, he noticed that she was wearing very distinct, very tall, black-leather and red-laced boots. “So, you know what I am?” she continued, standing now with her hands politely rested on the front of her dress. Their placement had Gen notice the peculiarly large green spiral sewn onto the left side of the skirt. “Well, that doesn’t matter. You should leave the Mountain.”
“I’ve got something to do here,” said Gen, no longer hiding his motivations. His finger remained crossed. “I guess I could try again another day, but this is a bit of an aligned-stars moment, ironically enough. Despite the current circumstances, this was my most fortunate day to try until now.”
“You’re hoping to continue on after coming face to face with a god of misfortune? That’s foolish.” The woman was right, this was foolish. He already knew, however: he was a fool for his Master. This assignment of hers wouldn’t be finished with inaction. “Sorry,” the girl kindly apologized, explaining, “I may be a god of misfortunate, but I’m still a god. I am a friend of humans. As a friend, I cannot allow you two to wander into danger.”
That, Gen found, was rather an odd thing to say.
As he thought so, Marisa promptly voiced that thought.
“Oh yeah? Yeah... then, why would you come out in front of us like that? A god of misfortune... You’ve screwed us over just by showing up.”
“Were you two not ‘screwed over’ the moment you stepped onto this mountain?” asked the misfortune god, tilting her head as she asked.
Gen uncrossed his fingers and lowered his hands back onto Marisa’s legs. “A lying god, huh...?” he said, finding enough confidence to smirk now as he winced, looking aside. “No matter how you try to spin it, there’s no way you’re making sense. You’re either our enemy, willfully subjecting us to danger or...” he met her eyes, “you’re no danger at all.”
“Hm...” was the only “answer” she deigned to give.
“I’m not taking that last engacho back,” Marisa informed him. His lips turned down.
“Keep it,” he replied. “We can probably move on from here without any trouble. Watch... our guide will come back soon and prove that the superstition is just that.”
“You’re too confident. Lemme just beat the hell out of her just in case.”
The goddess frowned, lowering her brow with motherly disappointment. She judged Marisa, in a word, “Barbaric.”
“Well if she’s our enemy like she says she isn’t, she wouldn’t care whether we were on the mountain or not, and would have cursed us deliberately besides—no need to even show herself. If she’s our friend like she says she is, then she wouldn’t want to expose us to any more problems, especially not the misfortunate sort that she should be very familiar with.” Gen allowed himself some smugness now. “Did you notice?” he asked Marisa. “When we ran into this goddess, she said ‘like I thought’. She knew humans were here, and still chose to contact them on her own.”
“I said, ‘as I thought’,” corrected the divinity, “You;re a human with a quick wit. hm. For faith reasons, I choose to remain mysterious and neither confirm nor deny your proposition.”
“Sounds like you’re spot on, Gen,” Marisa determined. He was rather sure that this was the truth. Well, if it wasn’t, then they were on Youkai Mountain while cursed. Escaping even from here, from the foot, while under curses meant terrible incident would likely meet with them regardless. He preferred to have faith in something hopeful.
“If you won’t be afraid,” said the woman, lifting her ribbon-wrapped left arm toward them, “I will share your barbarism, and force your fear.”
“Sounds youkai-like...” said Gen a bit quietly, and with a dry laugh. Grinning, Marisa brazenly aimed her furnace.
 Ask what she was up to.
 Explain your quest.