Reposting this in a new thread since the last was autosaging. And big thanks to Pygmalion for this new thread opener!
>[x] "Trust? Yes." >[x] "Respect? Yes." >[x] "Terrified of? Apparently also yes." >[x] "Just give me a bit. I think I pulled a worldview muscle." >[x] You want me to try to combine my magic and melee?
I look up at her, seeing the hurt in her eyes. I heave a sigh, even through my heart thumping out of my chest. "Meiling, of course I trust you."
"I absolutely trust you. Trust you, respect you...and you just scared the living daylights out of me. I'll be fine, I promise. just... give me a minute. I think... I think my view of you just shifted without a clutch."
Meiling starts to get up. "I'm sorry. I'll give you some--" She stops short as I reach out and take her wrist. I know she could pull free if she wanted (or pull my arm free of its--nnnnot doing yourself any favors, Applepicker), but she lets me stop her. She looks back at me after a moment and manages a smile, before sitting back down beside me. That's one less thing to worry about, at least.
Now for the whole 'mortal terror' thing. I'm feeling a little better already, but I still want to take a moment to calm my nerves. Okay, a few deep breaths, eyes closed, head back. With a little effort and patience, my pulse finally stops screaming through my ears and feel my skin getting a little cooler. I open my eyes and look to my side, managing a sheepish grin at Meiling. She still looks concerned, so let's put a stop to that.
"Okay, so," I start. "I want to ask you something, too. Do you trust me, Meiling?"
"Of course," she says, sitting up. "But--"
"Then look me in the eyes." She does, of course--she never was one to back down from a challenge like that--and I look back up at her, still holding her wrist. "You know me better than anyone. I trust you, Hong Meiling. Am I lying?"
She smiles again--more fully, this time--closing her eyes with a relieved sigh. "No," she admits. I give her arm a light squeeze before letting go and relaxing a little more myself.
And now that the important part is out of the way, time to deal with the awkward slog through an explanation. "Okay, so--" I said that already. Too late, keep pushing forward. "I'm a fairy. I know you knew that one, shut up." She giggles. That's a start! "And for a long time, you know... a lot of things..." I sigh. "Okay, there's no polite way to say you triggered my 'oh gods something is going to eat me' instincts."
She balks, just a little. "Was that a concern?"
"Of course not! But...I don't know if you know this, but you're pretty strong. The last time I was grabbed like that was... probably Rumia," I admit. "And plenty of close calls beside. It wasn't just being touched, it was... I don't know, everything. You moved fast, you surprised me, your scent..." I redden a bit. "Bad memories, that's all."
Meiling looks troubled again for a moment, silent, lips slightly pursed. Finally, she manages "I see. I'm sorry I provoked that."
"You didn't know! I didn't either. It just kind of...you can't really control smelling like a youkai."
"But I'm not--" she starts, before cutting herself off.
"I know," I say. "I know. But... a dragon is still a dragon, you know? Kind of super powerful and scary. Plus, in the heat of the moment, I didn't really think about it. So...I guess I'm sorry too."
"You have nothing to..." she trails off, then smiles again. "Thank you, Kazuki."
"Come here, you big scary dragon." I reach over and pull her (well, myself) into a hug as she giggles. "So what was that about me combining my magic with your lessons?"
"You should talk to Miss Patchouli--Oh come now," Meiling says, noticing the look on my face. "She isn't so bad."
"She blew me up this morning," I grumble. "And every time I'm in the library, she chases me out with spellcards or grump."
"She's only as grumpy as you are," she replies.
"I am not grumpy," I huff. Meiling starts laughing. "Fine, fine. She's still mean."
"I think she's just...well, talk to her more. You know, she actually has a great deal of respect for you." What. "Probably moreso, after the tongue-lashing you gave her." What. And how did she know about...? "Just trust me. She--well, it's not my place to say." Guh, trust. We're throwing that word around a lot today.
"I promise nothing," I grouse. "For now, though."
"For now..." her expression brightens. "Kazuki, would you like to help me with the girls?"
"What, like train this basement brigade? I'm not much of a fighter."
"No, but until a few months ago, you had an unbroken record at the most important thing I teach them. Staying alive." She beams at me, the last of the gloomy atmosphere lanced through by bright blue eyes. "I can show you more about your magic. What do you think?"
[ ] I should probably be going, honestly. -- [ ] Maybe I'll go see what this garbage with Patchy is about. -- [ ] I was thinking of seeing Stalkuya about those clothes. -- [ ] Speaking of grumps, I could go drop in on Reimu at the shrine again. Spread the cheer. -- [ ] You were right about finding some of my old friends. My other old friends, I mean. I'll do that. -- [ ] Speaking of magic, maybe I'll go fly to Marisa's again now that I can. -- [ ] I haven't seen Remi since last night. Kind of curious about it. -- [ ] Write-in [ ] I... all right, fine, as long as Reveille doesn't get her sparkles on me. [ ] Write-in
And while I'm multiposting like a damned fool, I wanted to link prior threads and the Q&A. Have the update picture that went with the post in the last thread. PRIOR THREADS: >>30207>>30613>>32046>>45724 THE Q&A: >>/words/966
[x] I... all right, fine, as long as Reveille doesn't get her sparkles on me.
[x] ...What sort of things should I be doing? -[x] Drill sergeant? I can shout people into shape. --[x] Hell, you've seen me do it. ---[x] I think I got an award for it, once. -[x] Or I can just fill in specifics when you cover generalities. --[x] You lay out a concept, and I'll illustrate it. -[x] Or I can just occasionally offer nuggets of wisdom from the sidelines and serve as a monument to the terrible price of failure.
I'll be honest. I really just want to see K. Zuki Ermey.
"What color is that hair of yours, young lady?" "Ch-chartreuse, sir!" "Chartreuse?! I didn't know shit came in colors that bright!"
[x] I should probably be going, honestly. -- [x] You were right about finding some of my old friends. My other old friends, I mean. I'll do that. As Redcloak said, what do we (and fairies) have without our fight/flee instinct? Fight and fight some more?
[x] I... all right, fine, as long as Reveille doesn't get her sparkles on me.
[x] ...What sort of things should I be doing? -[x] Drill sergeant? I can shout people into shape. --[x] Hell, you've seen me do it. ---[x] I think I got an award for it, once. -[x] Or I can just fill in specifics when you cover generalities. --[x] You lay out a concept, and I'll illustrate it. -[x] Or I can just occasionally offer nuggets of wisdom from the sidelines and serve as a monument to the terrible price of failure.
>[x] I... all right, fine, as long as Reveille doesn't get her sparkles on me.
"Well..." I look past Meiling to Reveille, bobbing back and forth on her heels, hands clasped together, positively beaming. Beaming. "...yeah, okay, but if Reveille gets any more cheerful I will probably just curl up and die."
Reveille gets more cheerful.
I don't manage to curl up and die.
Her exuberance practically radiates off her as her wings flit up and down, up and down, while Meiling leads us back to the small cadre of maids drilling.
"Gatekeeper on deck!" Reveille abruptly barks from behind me, making me jump about a foot.
"At ease," Meiling replies with a faintly amused voice. I suspect she's done this song and dance before. "Girls, as you can see you'll have a little outside help today. I think you're all familiar with Kazuki?"
Oh dear gods, they're all sparkling. Why? Why, gods, why?
Meiling clears her throat to reclaim their attention, and continues. "To be honest, he'll only be offering advice as it comes to him. Mostly, he's here for a special session with me." They...are they disappointed?
When did I become a vampire mansion celebrity? My world is changing, and I don't--right. Change.
Meiling moves to one side, motioning me after her. "Start your warmup drills, then we'll commence the lesson."
I follow her with a bemused expression. "Special session, huh?"
"Well, most of them aren't practitioners of combat magic."
"I should probably do some warmups as well, shouldn't I?"
Meiling smiles at that. "Good on you, Kazuki. All right, start with some stretches. I'll have to think of something easy on your leg after that..."
She takes me through some mild stretching, arms, legs, waist and shoulders. I try not to enjoy the view (though not that hard), but nonetheless I swear I catch Meiling's eyes twinkling as she follows my gaze. Behind us, the fairies split off into pairs, bowing alternately, palm-to-fist, and beginning routines they've clearly drilled into memory. A cycle of slow, pantomimed strikes that target points across the whole body, met and countered by blocks to each area. Then they split off and trade roles.
"What do they do about their wings?" I ask.
"Not much," Meiling admits. "I teach them not to show Flandre their backs until they're safely away. She might..."
"Take it badly?" She nods. "I see where you're coming from, but..."
"I do teach them some evasive moves. Mostly for use in confined spaces underground," Meiling reassures. Not a bad idea, but... I'll have to see how they work. For now, though, I have my own knitting to keep to.
"So what did you want to start with?" I ask.
"Well," she says with a wry smile. "I thought I would punch you."
"Gently!" she laughs at my dismayed expression. "But really, I want to see the extents of your magic. I was thinking I could throw a lone punch at you, which you would block. I would gradually increase the force behind each hit until you began to feel it. If that wouldn't be too tiring?"
"I..." Well, I did just say I trust her. "Yeah, all right. But--hang on."
I motion for Meiling to move aside as I note the Basement Brigade training. They're making evasive maneuvers, using a quick burst of speed and a flit of their wings to twist out of reach from a lunge.
"Hold on, over there," I call. Instantly, somewhere between ten and a million pairs of eyes are on me, and I have to force myself not to shrink back reflexively in dismay. "That last move there," I continue, sounding more authoritative than I feel, "have you ever had to use it?"
"Er," says the other fairy, probably feeling about as put-on-the-spot as I do, "N-no."
"Any of you?" I look around. No one speaks up, suddenly looking very chagrinned. "Well, no offense, but it shows. Meiling, you remember what I've told you about flying?"
"How different it feels, propelling yourself versus using wings?"
"Right." I turn to the first, luckless maid who caught my eye. "I'm going to try to grab you. Try to use that dodge, the same way you just did." She swallows and nods, taking a ready posture.
I take a breath and then dart forward, hands snaking forward, lashing out almost blindly. Almost. Sure enough, she twists away and takes flight, a quick burst of speed carrying her body out of harm's way--
But not her leg. I snare her ankle as she gives a surprised shriek, pulling her back down in an eyeblink. I let go of the surprised maid, her hand to her chest, eyes wide.
"That," I offer, "is how I got caught in the forest, once upon a time. You can't just leave your limbs dangling out like that. And you're turning your side--try the same thing again, but pull your legs in like you're making a high jump, or--" Or they might not ever bother with high jumps, because they can fly. Right. "--Or like you're cannon-balling into the lake," I try. "And fly straight back. You won't go as far, but you can re-angle in the air to either direction with one more flap. Come on, again."
Despite her nervousness (and probably pounding heart), she nods and squares off again. She meets with a lot more success this time, curling up close and pulling her legs out of harm's way. The other maids cheer and clap as she smiles nervously, turning a little pink. Meiling folds her arms and nods approvingly.
"It's something that doesn't really come naturally," I explain. "It feels a lot more comfortable to stretch out in the air, and it's more aerodynamic, cuts down on resistance. Remember, your whole body is your..." I almost said 'tailfin,' but I doubt anyone here knows airplanes. "...rudder," I settle on. "Steer your motions with your whole body, just remember it's out there. Okay?" They all nod. "Good. Back to it."
"Not bad, Kazuki," Meiling says. "I should have caught that."
I shrug. "You don't really fly with wings. And besides, you're more about teaching them to protect themselves, not escape, right?"
"Something like that, I guess," she nods. "Still."
"Well, they wouldn't have picked up on that until personal experience."
She frowns. "Was that when...?"
"Rumia, yes." Inwardly, I feel glad my leg is covered by my pantleg. I would have felt much more self-conscious if all the girls could stop and see it. "Right, no sense dwelling. You were about to punch me?"
She laughs. "That I was. Start without magic, let's get a baseline tolerance. When it starts to hurt too much, try your enhancement."
It doesn't take many--a pulled Meiling punch still echoes across the courtyard with a sharp slap. Finally, I almost bounce off one of her strikes as my blocking arm moves me against her as the fulcrum, diverting nothing. Her curled fist quivers half an inch from my nose, reminding me pointedly that I've seen her impact so hard the ground cracks without so much as pausing midstride.
"I think," I note, shaking out my shocked arm, "that's my physical limit."
"Better than I thought," Meiling reassures me. "You're very strong for your size. Are you ready to try it again with magic?"
"Yeah," I say. "Can you match that level of force to start with?"
We square off again as I try to focus my mind. Meiling lets fly again, the fabric of her dress snapping audibly as it whips taut in an eyeblink. This time, her arm meets mine sheathed in a crackling cloak of blue. I step forward resolutely with my raised arm, and this time, Meiling moves against me, fist sailing wide and away as I turn her body with the force of my deflection.
"Beautiful," Meiling declares. "Again!"
And we go again, and again, her strikes coming faster and harder. Soon it's almost all I can do to catch blindingly fast impacts, and turn them away. The pressure increases as I pour more energy into my heightened strength, only barely keeping pace with Meiling. I can feel the impacts through my arm now, faint and muted, but present. Somewhere in the back of the head I remind myself that she's still restraining herself. Still, her smile is infectious, a broad, proud grin on her face as she takes a step back after her last meteoric impact.
"What? Is my form slipping?" I pant.
"No," she replies, "but I want to show you something. Take a quick rest, I'll be right back."
With that, Meiling unceremoniously departs into the air, leaving me with a gaggle of fairy girls...most of which, I realize now, have been watching us. Erk.
She doesn't leave me hanging long (mercifully), touching back down as quickly as she left. With her arm behind her back. "Kazuki," she says, "I'm going to throw an overhand strike. I want you to block it just the same as you have been, okay?"
"...Okay..." I feel like this 'trust' thing is perhaps a double-edged sword. What is she about to do to me?
"Ready?" I retake my stance, take a moment to steel myself, and nod.
An explosion of movement. The grass ripples as I throw everything I can muster into the enhancement. My arm rises to meet the attack as Meiling's descends like a thunderbolt.
There's a sharp, resounding crack, a terrible crunch and something shattering. For a gut-wrenching moment, I'm sure it's my arm.
In less than an eyeblink, it's over, Meiling looking at me over the top of a weapon. A broken weapon.
"That," Meiling says, her eyes aflame, "was a length of rosewood. Look." She points behind me, at the other piece, currently lodged in a recently-broken window.
"I, uh," I manage, still almost dazed, "I'm sorry. I can try to fix--"
"Sorry? Don't be sorry!" she exclaims. "You just broke a club! Kazuki, that was--was--" discarding the broken cudgel behind her, she attacks with something no one could block--a tackle-hug. "That was fantastic!"
I try to take back the breath she just knocked out of me as she continues, gushing about how fast I am to keep with her, and that it was a proper deflection, not just letting it break against me, which means it was even faster and stronger, and I'm not even at my limit yet, and--
"And Meiling," I wheeze. "You just tackled me to the ground."
"Oh. Oh!" She blinks. "Sorry!"
"...In front of the entire Basement Brigade."
Well, that gets her off. She leaps backward like she just bumped a hot stove, starting to flush a little pink herself, still beaming at me. The maids, for their part, say nothing, simply looking on in varying degrees of fascination.
[ ] Well, uh, I have to, um. Flee. [ ] ... I didn't say you had to stop. [ ] I should probably go see about that window. And maybe meet... someone. (Who?) [ ] Write-in
[x] "...I didn't say you had to stop." -[x] Say that quietly, if it's possible to do without the other fairies hearing it. [x] (to the other fairies) "So that was a little bit of Meiling's non-standard training. The end results were great; I'm proud to have gotten that far."
Leaves it completely ambiguous; the fairies would think he meant the blocking and stick-breaking, whereas Meiling will be unable to unhear the secondary meanings laced into it.
...That's also about as far as I would want to push things in this particular instance: teasing and embarrassing Meiling is great; making her feel awkward and nervous about her conduct in front of her subordinates is something that should probably be avoided (not only if Kazuki is even partly serious about chasing the dragon, but in general as well), especially if we want any future innuendo (or actual romantic gestures) to not get politely shut down.
[x] "...I didn't say you had to stop." -[x] Say that quietly, if it's possible to do without the other fairies hearing it. [x] (to the other fairies) "So that was a little bit of Meiling's non-standard training. The end results were great; I'm proud to have gotten that far."
[x] "...I didn't say you had to stop." -[x] Say that quietly, if it's possible to do without the other fairies hearing it. [x] (to the other fairies) "So that was a little bit of Meiling's non-standard training. The end results were great; I'm proud to have gotten that far."
[x] "...I didn't say you had to stop." -[x] Say that quietly, if it's possible to do without the other fairies hearing it. [x] (to the other fairies) "So that was a little bit of Meiling's non-standard training. The end results were great; I'm proud to have gotten that far."
>[x] ... I didn't say you had to stop. >-[x] Say that quietly, if it's possible to do without the other fairies hearing it. >[x] (to the other fairies) "So that was a little bit of Meiling's non-standard training. The end results were great; I'm proud to have gotten that far."
I'm not sure I've ever really seen Meiling react that way, a faint but noticeable bloom rising in her cheeks, all the way up to her ears. I allow myself a slight grin as I hold an arm out, inviting her to help me to my feet. She quickly does so, hauling me upright with about as much exertion as I might have lifting a fork. Still, no time to marvel at her strength (again)--as she pulls me up I lean in and whisper faintly, so that the fairies behind us won't catch me.
"I didn't say you had to stop," I murmur softly into her ear.
Warmth blossoms in my own as her lips softly brush the tip, accompanied by the lightest touch of a sharp tooth. Her voice is a hot, breathy whirlwind that dances into my brain, leaving me weak-kneed as the dragon breathes fire into my chest. "I didn't say I was done."
She draws back, two dazzling blue flames glittering just above an impish, knowing smirk only I can see. "So!" Meiling calls to the maids, who missed ... everything. "As you can see, Kazuki listens. He pays attention to what I say to him, and you can see the results." (I certainly hope they can't.)
"Er," I finally manage, "yeah. That wasn't exactly standard training, though."
"Oh, not at all. I won't show my special techniques to just anybody," she replies blithely as I feel my face flush crimson.
Still, I struggle to continue on and try to recover my footing. "Anyway, the results were, uh, great. Fantastic, really. And I'm proud that I did as well as I did."
"I'm sure he could go even further, too," she replies, pressing in hungrily for the kill. "He would just need to spend more time with me refining his technique."
The girls look from Meiling's face to mine, her to me, but fortunately recognition doesn't seem to dawn. I hope. I might explode on the spot. Mercifully, they accept the exchange without question and, with one last prompting, return to their duties. Meiling's eyes slide back over to me, still alight with mischief. "I win," she whispers.
Yes. Yes she did. But--was that just another word game, another verbal spar to her, or...?
The training continues like that, but I find that Meiling is much more quiet, almost distant now, only making me wonder more. She walks among the fairies, adjusting their posture and stance here and there, providing advice and instruction, having them demonstrate a certain movement or technique. I can't help but notice that every now and then her eyes meet mine sharply, unflinching and studious. In the mounting gloom as dusk falls, they nearly glow, two glimmering pinpricks of intensity cutting across the courtyard.
Finally, though, it just gets too cold to continue, a few of the maids shivering in their petticoats. I can feel the sweat on my forehead play up the bite of the wind. Reveille reassembles the Brigade in formation, makes a ninety-degree pivot on her heel to face Meiling, bows, and then turns sharply back. "Basement Brigade... dismissed!"
They all bow as one and begin to split off into twos and threes, all making their way for the inside of the mansion and the fire-warmed halls within. All except its headmaster, who turns to me. "Kazuki," Meiling asks, voice devoid of any innuendo, "would you like to come home with me?"
"I, uh," I can feel my face burn a little again just at the memory of... what she did to me, with just a few words and her hot breath and-- "Y-yeah. Sure."
Inside, as warm and cozy as ever, Meiling opens the door and stands away to let me through, closing it with a hand on the edge over my head. The tip of her nose has reddened cutely from the winter chill, her cheeks pink as she exhales one last puff of fog before shutting the door. She puts the kettle on, same as ever, but doesn't pull out a chair at the table. Instead, she breezes past, motioning me to come with her, past the small dividing wall and...
And onto her bed behind it. She sits on the edge, beside a large, stuffed panda plush, and motions for me to hop up beside her. Chest thumping in... anticipation? Excitement? Curiosity? Sheer nerves? I swallow and nod, clambering up onto the surprisingly soft mattress. It sighs and creaks, Meiling's scent filling my head from the place she sleeps, and the woman herself beside me.
"I can hear your chest pounding again," she says with a warm smile.
"I'm a little, uh," I mumble, promptly failing to grasp a word to describe what I'm feeling a little of.
"I know," she replies simply. "And if it needs to be said, I'm sorry for teasing you." She pauses, before smiling again. "But not that sorry."
"It's all right, but this is all so--sudden."
"It is. So I wanted to talk to you first, before... well, anything at all." She turns and looks at me.
"I'm nothing if not direct, Kazuki, so I'll speak plainly. I want to know if you want this to be anything more than just simple playing around."
I... don't have anything to say to that. I just nod dumbly, looking up at her in quiet disbelief.
"And I want you to know that I'm willing to do... whatever you're comfortable with," she continues. "Even if that's nothing."
"Are you saying--"
She holds up a hand. "But. There are things you don't know about me that I would want to tell you first, if we did decide to pursue this. And I don't know how many of them I'm comfortable sharing with you yet. It's not trust," she adds, noticing my expression fall (and my stomach drop), "It's--well, I hope you'll understand if and when I tell you. I've always meant to, if that's any consolation."
I nod. "A little. I guess I understand."
"That's good," she nods sternly, "because there are also things I would want you to do, if this is something serious. If you need more time, I understand, but don't take too long. But, if you're comfortable, then, well..." She fidgets a little, shifting her thighs as she readjusts. "I was thinking maybe we could try to go out one evening." She scratches her nose, actually looking a little nervous, and not like the column of muscle and fire I know her to be. "I don't keep much pocket money on hand, though, so it might not be anything really impressive...I would need to get something to wear, too..."
She clears her throat and looks back at me intently. "I'm rambling. What do you think, Kazuki? Do you want to try?"
[ ] Write-in.
Side-options: Multple-choice if you'd like. [ ] Me? What do you want from me first? [ ] WHY me? What makes me worthy? What even caught your eye? [ ] This is how you ask? This is ... direct! [ ] Can you tell me one of these secrets? [ ] ... What's with the bear? [ ] Write-in? (heavily encouraged)
[x] Yes. Of course. [x] Me? What do you want from me first? [x] What even caught your eye with me? I'm just a regular fairy. and, finally [x] ... What's with the bear?
The "WHY me?" vote sounded a bit too much like denying that he has a chance even after she straight up said she'd be interested. I agree that if it leads to introspection (and self-improvement) it's a good thing, but the wording just felt like "I'm not good at anything so you shouldn't even look my way". (I almost added something like "I'm just a fairy while you're [gushing about Meiling], but that felt a bit... Cliché I guess.)
[x] Excuse yourself for a moment. -[x] Check behind the dividing wall for sneaky tengu reporters. -[x] Check the closet, too. --[x] Remember that there is no closet. --[x] Also that despite the shit people give her, Aya isn't like that. --[x] Also that you are nervous and trying to distract yourself with bullshit. ---[x] Sit down and man up, pussy. [x] "I'm ...still trying to process this all. Lotta things I'm having trouble grasping." -[x] "First and holy shit foremost, yes. I don't get why you actually asked. Asking means there's other answers I could give. I don't see any other answers. Do you? Hell no you don't, because I don't have them." --[x] "Really, though, do you actually look at yourself at all? Huge, scary-hot amazon goddess asks me 'Hey, so, you wanna go out?' Saying 'no' ain't on the menu anywhere." [x] "I'm actually pretty surprised you're responding to this seriously. And pleased; not gonna lie." -[x] "You came up with all this pretty quick, though... Too quick for something on the spot. Have I been the... ugh. ...The Applepicker of your eye for a while without knowing it?" --[x] "That's the part of all this that I can't grasp. I mean, what's the Kazuki appeal? Aside from his rugged, chiseled good looks, dazzling smile, and perfectly manicured hair. Everyone knows about those already. I'm not trying to be too self-deprecating, but seriously, what's the draw for someone like you?" -[x] "And what sort of 'things' are we talking about, exactly? The Twelve Labors? The Five Impossible Requests? Killing three individuals to be named at a later date?" -[x] "Or is it more just 'hang up the bathmat when you're done in the shower, and give me a kiss in the morning'?" [x] ...Wait, bear?
It's the last item that concerns me most, quite honestly.
[X] I don't know. This is going so fast that I haven't had time to sort through my feelings. [X] WHY me? What makes me worthy? What even caught your eye? -[X] You're a dragon, I'm a fairy, how would this even work? [X] ... What's with the bear?
Sorry to be the dissenting voter, but I want to see what happens with Kazuki's crush on Daiyousei.
>[x] Yes. >[x] Me? What do you want from me first? >[x] What even caught your eye with me? I'm just a regular fairy. >[x] ... What's with the bear? >[x] Kiss her.
I... can't believe what I'm hearing. I find myself floating somewhere between disbelief that she's asking, and disbelief that she thinks I could answer anything but yes. My heart is jumping up into my throat and my cheeks are burning red, and Meiling is looking down at me almost hesitantly, biting her lower lip just a little bit with that same tooth that teased across my ear and--!
And I need to give her an answer. I want to shout it or jump up and shake her or be cool and suave or say something, anything, but I can't manage it.
So I kiss her.
It's not much--all I really have the nerve for is tilting my head up and gently pecking her on the lips.
I'm halfway to managing a "yes" when she snatches it out of my mouth. My eyes widen as she cups my chin between her finger and thumb and hungrily presses down into me. Her tongue slides across my own as I go stiff, too startled to even think about resisting (or giving back). She practically holds me up even as I go slack, cupping my face as the second kiss of my life utterly crushes the first.
After what feels like years, our lips finally part and I gasp for breath. Meiling looks back down at me, licking her lips. She wins again. How do you beat an opponent who can do that to you...?
After a moment of--smoldering, blazing lust in her sultry eyes and her predatory smile, it vanishes and the same Meiling I've known for hundreds of years giggles cutely. "I'm sorry, Kazuki, that was mean of me."
"I-if that was mean," I stammer, "What does it look like when you're being nice?" She smirks and opens her mouth to answer, but I hold up a hand before she answers. "Never mind. I, uh... yes."
"I noticed," she replies, amused. "And good answer. I'm proud of you."
"But, Meiling... why me, anyway?"
She frowns. "What do you mean?"
I struggle to find a word. "What even... made you think about it? With me?"
She leans forward and my heart leaps back into my throat, but she doesn't, erm, challenge me again. "Questions like that, for one. Do you really want to know?"
"Yes, I--of course!"
"This." She gently reaches for me and taps me on the chest. Her expression changes again, more resolved than playful. "You are the most courageous fairy and one of the bravest men I have ever met in my entire life." I--what?
She continues. "To be honest, I'd thought about it, off and on, for a long time. But... how do I say this?" she muses. "Kazuki, you're an exceptional liar." Except where she's concerned, of course. "But have you ever known you could lie to someone and make them do something, and chosen not to?" I nod. "I guess it's a little like that. I knew I could..."
"Do this to me?" I ask, motioning vaguely at the shaken, stirred, sweating wreck the last five minutes have left me.
She smiles. "Something like that. I didn't know if it was right for you--or for me. To step in and interfere, and perhaps change the course of your entire life, just because I could. Maybe for a brief dalliance, or maybe something more. I wasn't sure it was right. Or that I had the right."
"That's... a strange way of putting it, Meiling," I admit.
She smiles at that. "Well, I'm a strange girl."
"No arguments here. But, what changed?"
She hasn't moved her finger from my chest. She gently glides it across my chest, eventually giving way to her palm as she tenderly massages my heart. "Flandre. Do you remember?"
"I can't forget," I murmur.
"Kazuki, listen to me." Her sharpness makes me look up into her eyes, as steely as her tone. "So much of this world is outside of our control. You could no more control Flandre than turn back a typhoon. But... you went in after Marisa. And you didn't hesitate. You were the only one in any shape to get there in time, and you probably saved Marisa's life."
"At the cost of my own," I mumble, looking away. With nothing more than her finger and thumb, she turns my head right back.
"Yes! Exactly! Don't you understand, Kazuki? That matters! They--" her voice goes quiet and she lets go. I think she doesn't want to scare me again. "They won't let me see her, Kazuki. I can't make her feel better, can't help her with her mood swings. But your--your sacrifice," she manages, tears beginning to sparkle at the corners of her eyes, "It doesn't detract from the courage you showed that you came back. And--and at great pain, you kept her from causing more permanent harm. She's suffered enough without a death on her conscience."
And all at once, she's pulling me into another one of her world-righting hugs, clutching me tightly to her breast--and for once it might be more for her sake than my own. "You risked yourself against someone infinitely stronger, and you did it without question. You're--" she pauses again and swallows hard. "You're so brave in the face of this world. And I cherish you for it." She lets go to look me in the eyes again, this time a much more noticeable blush in her cheeks, though I'm happy to see the tears are gone as swiftly as they came. "I'm sorry. I'm not doing a very good job putting it into words."
"I think I get the idea," I say sheepishly. Her hands find their way to my own and we sit there like that in quiet for a long, quiet moment. I'm content to just sit there like that, but I also have to ask. "So, what did you want me to do if--if we're going to do this?"
She smiles, already recomposed after the outburst. "I'm glad you asked. First and foremost, I want you--" she gives my hands a little squeeze. "--to work on becoming comfortable around me."
"...Meiling, I am comfortable around you."
"Normally, yes," she counters, "but you're not the only one who got scared today. When I surprised you, I thought--I thought I had really hurt you. I almost couldn't hear your heart pounding over my own." I--really? I knew she was worried, but... "So!" she continues, retaking momentum, "I want you to become so familiar, so used to me, that I won't set you off even if I startle you."
"I--Meiling, I'll try, but you're talking about hundreds of years of ingrained--"
"I know!" she pouts at me (argh, stop doing things to my heart), frowning hugely. "But promise me you'll try. I don't ever want to scare you like that again, Kazuki."
"Okay, okay," I relent. "I'll do my best. I... don't really know how, though."
Meiling sighs, relieved. "That's all I can ask. But I believe in you. I've seen what you can do with yourself. And besides," she adds wryly, "I have an idea or two." Sitting fully upright, she adjusts her legs and pats her lap invitingly. Getting the hint, I scoot around and rest my head against her, letting her warmth and soft scent envelop me.
We sit there like that in another long silence, all my questions driven away by this deep, encompassing feeling of... good. Peace. Contentment. Meiling seems content to sit there with me, lightly running her fingers through my hair for some time. I stretch out and heave a deep, slow breath, feeling... well, loved. The only thing I can see from here as I half-open my eyes is... that panda.
"...Meiling, what's the story about the stuffed bear?"
"Oh, that?" she giggles. "That was a gift from Sakuya, years and years ago. I'm very fond of it. In fact, I usually sleep hugging it to my chest, but..." She leans over, looking upside-down at me from above. "If you'd like, I don't think he'd mind if you took his place tonight."
...Wait. Wait, does she mean--
"Not like that!" she adds hastily, "And only if you wanted. But I think it would help you get used to... well, me."
"I...maybe," I mumble, feeling my face warm up again.
"Although..." her voice trails off. Uh oh. Abruptly (but gently), she slides me off her lap and stands up, turning to face me with a smile (uh oh), hand on her hip. "Kazuki," she asks, her tone carefully measured, "How comfortable are you feeling after that kiss?"
[ ] I don't think I'm ready to spend the night anyway. [ ] I'm not sure my heart could take any more tonight, Meiling. [ ] ... I'm all right, why? [ ] Write-in
Way I see it, this is just another step to trying to feel more comfortable around her. It's fast, yes, but just because you stay one night doesn't mean you have to stay the next. And on a night like this...Well, I don't know about you, but I'd want to stay as long as I could.
>[x] I'm the most comfortable fairy in the world. Why?
I grin. "Meiling, I think right now I might be the most comfortable fairy in the world. Why?"
Meiling smiles back grandly, saying nothing as she slips out of her shoes.
Instead, she begins unbuttoning her top.
Her fingers work fast and nimbly, skillfully untying the clasps on her vest. She practically slides out of it, ignoring my widening eyes as she begins unbuttoning her white undershirt. She doesn't stop as the last button pops free. She doesn't stop as she pulls her shirt open, revealing bare, soft skin and firm, toned muscle. After a moment's pause to look at my reddening face, her eyes glimmer with mischief and she disrobes, throwing her overshirt over my head like a blanket. By the time I've pulled myself free of the still-warm garment, she's just slipping her trousers from her ankles, presenting me with a profound lack of panties. Her legs, just as defined and strong as the rest of her, stretch past eternity and finally terminate in flared, fairy-like hips, and a small, controlled flame of red hair between her thighs.
"I sleep in the nude, Kazuki," she says by way of explanation, standing radiant before me, naked and unashamed. "I always have, and I probably always will." With her hand on her hip, she smiles wider again. "Now come here."
I open and close my mouth a few times, trying to make sound come out, until finally I settle on a faint "yes'm."
I find my head resting against her soft, warm breasts, my back resting against her firm, toned abdomen. Sure enough, she wraps her arms around me, pulling me even deeper into her embrace. After a moment, she giggles.
"I told you I always get what I want, Kazuki."
"I guess I had better hope we don't argue much, then," I return, nuzzling into her. I breathe deeply, letting the scent of her body overtake me.
I take back what I said--now I'm the most comfortable fairy in the world. ...Or I would be, if she wasn't so warm. "Meiling," I mumble, "You're a furnace."
"Am I?" she asks. "I haven't slept with someone else for--a long, long time," she settles on. "But I learned a trick that might help you. Here."
She gently scootches me up further (making me shiver as I feel her chest glide down my back) and turns my head up for a kiss. I melt into her again as our lips meet for the third time tonight. Once again, it's a new experience--it's not timid or meek, and it's not lusty and intense--instead, I almost feel us running together in a slow, passionate buildup. Her arm massages my chest, popping the clasps on my overalls (good riddance; I never went and grabbed my pajamas) as I feel her breathe some of herself into me.
I feel blue air fill my lungs and spread through my body with a strange, alien tingle, and suddenly Meiling's body is the perfect temperature. I can almost feel her energy within me, comfortable and at home atop her. She breaks our kiss slowly, resting her chin on the top of my head.
"Better?" she asks.
"Better," I murmur serenely. "Was that...?"
"I imparted some of my chi into you," she answers, letting me slink back down to ideal position.
"I still feel a little silly, being clothed, with you...you know," I mumble.
"Don't be. Whenever you're here--with me, in this home--I want you to feel..." Her fingers brush my thigh. "Comfortable. We can go and get your pajamas tomorrow." She pauses. "If you want to spend more nights here," she adds.
"Tomorrow is another day," I shrug. "Right now I'm happy thinking about the here, now, and the breasts I'm laying on."
She pokes my side at that with another giggle, before reaching over and dimming the lantern beside the bed.
[ ] ... And I dream. [ ] ... But I can't sleep.
The latter option is a vote for what you think it is. If (and only if) the readers desire, it will probably become a canon /at/ short.
When I started writing FoSL I wanted to set a relatively sensible pace for romance. This has been, of course, anything but. As I wrote and Meiling became the audience's interest, I realized that of all the cast members, she (and probably she alone) would be most comfortable with this breakneck pace. She's known Kazuki longer than even other fairies by virtue of outliving them all (as he has), and her personal level of comfort and experience. The end result is that as long as Kazuki is ready for it, she likely is too. The decision, made available by the writein for Kazuki's comfort level, is yours, as always.
All right, I'm going to call it here. I'm going to write both Can't Sleep and the write-in, because A, they're nearly neck-and-neck, and B, it's entirely likely I could write the update and wind up coming back to see the other option had pulled ahead.
Carefully extricating myself from Meiling's embrace, I tiptoe as quietly as possible across the room, over to the small but well-appointed liquor cabinet. Pouring myself a quick nightcap of brandy, I down it in one gulp before I return to bed, and before long I'm drifting off to sleep without any further problems.
Soon, comfortable and happy in Meiling's arms, I have a peaceful, dreamless rest, sleeping deep until the morning comes.
We giggle in the dark, tired and happy. I'm much more, well, comfortable with her body now, to say the least, more than happy to touch and cuddle in close. Even despite the leaden feeling in my limbs (I'm sure I'll feel it tomorrow), the last of my nervous energy keeps me awake. Meiling seems content to stay awake with me, none the worse for wear. She lounges across her bed like an empress, resting turned on her stomach while I lie on my side.
"I guess in the future, I'll try sleeping facing you," I say quietly, hushed by the dark of the room.
"That invites its own problem, you know," Meiling replies with another of her wry smiles. "One I'll be very happy to solve with you, if and when it comes up."
"'Comes up.' You're awful, with your word games."
"The best you've ever had," she retorts, resting her head on her elbow.
"Yeah, and with a total of one time, you're also the worst. You're incorrigible, Meiling."
She leans forward. "We could increase that sample size, you know."
"But I just bathed," I mock-protest, drawing a breathy chuckle as our lips draw close and we kiss lightly. It takes a moment, unhurried and not at all unwelcome, before I break off to continue. "For all the good it did, anyway. We both smell like each other."
Meiling pulls me closer again, her warmth and scent overtaking me. "I think I like that. Everyone will know. Can't you just imagine the maids talking? They'll be scandalized."
"Like I said, you're the worst," I murmur into the nape of her neck as I feel myself blushing at the thought of--being caught.
"The absolute worst," she agrees, slowly slinking forward and straddling over me. I look up at her as she licks her lips, the glittering blue flame of her eyes taking on that familiar smolder--
--And with a crash, four fairies tumble out of the armoire opposite the bed on the other side of the room. I bolt upright, almost smacking my forehead into Meiling's nose in panic, thrashing around for--sheets, clothes, anything.
"Er," comes a familiar voice I haven't heard in ages, "Hello, Kazuki."
Of all the--"Clover?!" I almost yell in disbelief. "And--"
Dusting themselves off are three other girls I've met at least once before--
"H-hi, Kazuki," mumbles Luna Child, flushing bright enough red for me to see even in the dark. Behind her, Sunny Milk (She of the Unfortunate Name, I will always call her) actually throws a cheery wave. Staying behind the two, quiet and eyes averted, is the third of the trio, Star Sapphire.
"May I ask," Meiling interjects, completely calm (and failing to completely mask a hint of amusement in her voice), "What you are all doing in my house, in the dead of night, in my clothing cabinet?"
"I, uh," Sunny stammers. "Not breaking in!"
"Smooth, Sunny," Luna moans, burying her face in her palms.
"I-I-I'm sorry!" Clover stammers, pointedly ignoring Meiling's question. "I didn't know you were--like this, Kazuki!"
"I wasn't," I protest nakedly, feeling my cheeks burn, "Not until tonight! I wa--how long were you in there?"
"N-not long!" squeaks Luna. "Not long at all, I promise!"
"What she means to say," murmurs Star quietly, very visibly mortified with the situation, her friends, or both, "Is that we were trying to sneak into the mansion."
"This is not a mansion," Meiling helpfully observes, openly smirking at the chaos.
"We thought we heard a guard patrol! So we hid in here! Honest! Please don't eat us!" Sunny cries pleadingly.
"Not to worry," the gatekeeper replies, nonchalantly snatching her beret from the rack nearby and planting it on her head while still completely naked, "I think I've eaten my fill toni--"
"Meiling!" I yelp, blushing harder than any of them.
"Kazuki?" Clover asks.
Luna and Star look away. Sunny looks confused.
"It's, er," Clover's eyes drift down (eek!), and then back up to mine, fingers curling in her long green hair nervously. "Nice to see you again." Eek!
"So, you're all caught. May I suggest you have a proper reunion in the morning?" Meiling says, her tone of voice not making it a suggestion at all.
"Yeah," mumbles Star. "Yeah. Come on, guys. Let's go."
Meiling calmly leaves bed to escort them back out the door, ignoring her nakedness as she herds the quartet of interlopers along. Luna trips over my overalls (augh) on her way out, but finally they're gone, and Meiling closes the door with an audible thump. Muffled through the oak, I hear a voice brightly proclaim "So! I think that went pretty well!"
"Shut up, Sunny." Three voices call in unison.
Meiling settles back into bed beside me, letting me crawl under the covers in an embarrassed sulk. Suddenly getting caught by all the fairy maids seems much less fun. We sit there like that in a mortified (well, I'm mortified) silence, Meiling rubbing my head reassuringly.
After a moment, her cheshire cat grin returns. "So, I think that went pretty well."
She laughs as I fume, just the two of us again in the otherwise unbroken quiet of the deep night.
"Kazuki," Meiling calls, gently touching my shoulder. I roll over at once, awake if groggy, happy to be turning over into her warmth and beauty. "Do you remember that sparring partner I lined up? She's here, she came along with Aya this morning."
"Whuff," I mutter thickly, "Wha'time izzit...?"
"Early," she answers. "The sun's not up yet. You've only been asleep for a few hours. If you'd like to go back to sleep, I'd understand."
My muscles do ache with the... exertion of last night, and my eyelids feel heavy. Still, I've done more on less.
[ ] She's waited this long, she can wait another day. I want to sleep. [ ] Well, if she's here, it would be rude not to at least meet her. [ ] Other?
So I wonder how long it will be until Remilia starts to tease him about getting caught? I also wonder how some of the fairies treat him differently, especially since they will know that he is "human sized"
Might have to take another slight delay in my new, hopefully sustainable update pace. The cats somehow got fleas, so I have a new and exhausting side-project cleaning out my things so I can vacuum and spray the everything.
>[x] Well, if she's here, it would be rude not to at least meet her.
I force myself to sit up before I can be lulled back by the siren call of the sheets. It's actually not that hard--somehow, without Meiling on it, the bed has lost a lot of its charm.
We dress together, Meiling helps me find my clothes, scattered across the furnishings. I try to resist temptation as she bends over to collect my shirt, still in her "pajamas." No time for that sort of thing right now. Plenty in the future, right?
Meiling chooses not to tempt me or fate by continuing to flirt (though let's not lie, she could have me with just one more swing of those--no no better not) and instead dresses herself again.
I crinkle my nose as she tosses me my shirt. "Gah, I still reek of sweat and--you know."
"I think you smell wonderful," she replies, "but if you're worried, I'm sure you could take a quick dip."
I shrug. "If Aya's out there already, she has rounds to make. Besides, I don't have much else to wear."
"I could call Sa--"
"You could," I interrupt insistently, "but you shouldn't."
"What," Meiling giggles. "Are you shy?"
"I don't know what I am! But--"
"Okay, okay," she relents, still amused. "Maybe I'll have to talk to her about scaring you."
I could protest further, but I get the feeling this is just one more game for me to lose at. I try not to sulk as we dress, straightening out the creases in my clothes as best I can while Meiling squares her beret.
Finally, she heads to the door, pausing before she opens it. "And, Kazuki?" She leans down and kisses me on the forehead sweetly. "I'm sorry for teasing you. You're welcome to come share my home any time you want."
With that, suddenly my morning seems a little bit brighter, lack of sun be damned.
Aya looks the same as ever, neat, prim, orderly, and of course excited on seeing us approach. Beside her is a taller girl, more more reserved and sedate. Aya throws a cheery wave through the dark--tengu apparently have good night vision. Wonder if it's better than fairies?
"Good morning!" she calls with way too much exuberance for this time of day.
"Good morning," Meiling replies, as even and mellow as ever. "Momiji, you're looking well as ever."
The other girl bows deeply, more fully revealing a set of fuzzy ears around another of those silly tokin hats. "Miss Meiling. And you must be..."
Meiling pats me gently. "Kazuki the Applepicker." The tengu--Momiji--bows to be as well, just as deeply.
"It's an honor to meet you, Mister Kazuki. I've heard a great deal about you. My name is Inubashiri Momiji."
"I, er--just Kazuki's good. And good things, I hope. Glad to meet you, Miss..."
"Momiji is fine, thank you," she says warmly.
As fingers of sunlight start to claw over the hills, I can make her out more fully--white hair and ears. White longsleeved shirt, matched with a red-and-black pleated hakama that looks both practical and functional, and, more notably, a sword and shield. The shield is some kind of buckler or the like, white (of course) and crested with a red maple leaf. The sword is a long, broad blade, a single piece of steel with a curved edge, and with the hilt included, probably taller than me.
"Momiji is a cadet with the Wolf Guard," Aya mentions. "And I'm her sponsor. G'morning, by the way," She adds as an afterthought.
"Sponsor?" I ask.
Momiji nods. "Yes, Miss Aya is my sponsor. A position with the Wolf Guard requires an investment of time and resources for training and equipment. Any wealthy citizen can contribute the resources and put forth a candidate."
"And Momiji passed the tests handily," Aya says, patting her companion on the back goodnaturedly. "She made it look easy."
"Hardly," Momiji smiles (a bit sheepishly), "but I did pass, and thanks to Miss Aya's patronage, have secured a posting once I finish my training."
"Which is where you come in," Meiling explains. "She's good, but inexperienced. Most of her sparring partners are other tengu. And you... well, I think you'd benefit from learning to fight someone stronger and larger than you, while closer to your own level."
"Honestly, that's most of Gensokyo," I reply, "but I take your meaning. Most of Gensokyo isn't looking for a fairy to partner up with."
"Their loss," Meiling says, and I find myself grinning at that. "At any rate, I think Momiji will take the early rounds, but you'll start learning fast. I think it will be good for you." She looks back at me. "That is, if you're still interested? I don't want to volunteer you."
[ ] I appreciate that, Meiling, but don't worry--still interested. [ ] Well thank you, because I'm not. One strong woman in my life is enough. [ ] I'm interested, but maybe not right now. I'm still pretty sore because--because reasons.
>[x] I appreciate that, Meiling, but don't worry--still interested.
"Well, no worries," I reply. "I'm game if you are."
"Good! Now then..." Meiling looks out. "How's your flying?"
It's still hard to make Momiji out in the night, but her voice sounds hesitant. "Not exceptional. Intermediate to advanced combat training doesn't start until next year, and..."
"And most of the best academies are crow only," Aya adds, with a very noticeable hint of bitterness.
"Just as well," Meiling says. "I think Kazuki would have too much of an advantage."
Huh. I don't hear that every day. "Really. I'm still getting the hang of magical flight, you know."
"Even still. ... Although, I think the opposite would hold true on the ground."
"Plus, my legs hurt from--" Erk. "From yesterday."
Ruthless satisfaction in my dear dragon's tone. "I bet." I try not to cough, yelp, or glow cherry red from embarrassment in response, until-- "I have it."
I can only just see Meiling turn and point to the east, where the barest hint of sun is finally cresting just above the gate. "There's your battleground. You fight atop the wall. You'll be grounded, but your smaller size will give you more maneuvering options."
I shield my eyes, leaving only its dark silhouette. "If you say so."
Even without looking, I can hear the grin in her voice. "I do. Go get your jian."
A quick trip in and out reminds me that this is about as quiet as the mansion gets. The maids operate at all hours, but I don't see a single one. Remilia must be just going to bed, and Sakuya--well. Sakuya's Sakuya. She appears when and where she wants. I wouldn't say her name three times. Hell, unless I was looking for her, I wouldn't say her name once. It's spooky.
I emerge back out into the cold, breath fogging in the now brighter light of daybreak. I can feel the jian start to chill at my side as I make my way back over. Momiji has removed her hat and overshirt, leaving only her wrapped chest, geta sandals and hakama. She seems unfazed by the cold, talking quietly with Aya while stretching her arm across her front, limbering up. I should do the same--Meiling beckons me over to the side as I start to roll my shoulders.
"I'm glad you decided to push yourself," she says softly. She takes my arm and helps guide my stretching--I don't need the help, but I'm not complaining. We both know it's simply to enjoy the moment of contact. I feel her warmth across my side as she turns my waist and massages some of the ache out of my arm, her head close to mine. "How's your leg?"
"A bit sore," I admit. "I can shore it up with my magic."
Meiling nods, leaning over to adjust my posture, her long hair brushing across my cheek as she does. "Momiji's got you in both size and reach even without her sword. She'll probably come in fast and then try to keep you at the end of her guard."
"I know. I'm not expecting to win." I know she said so, but I hope she isn't expecting me to either.
"The practice will do you good. It always does. And besides," she adds, a little amused, "It'll help get you in shape for us."
"Now would be a bad time for me to draw my other sword, Meiling," I reply with a grin.
She giggles, looking me in the eye--hers are bright and warm, matched to the slight tinge of pink in her cheeks and glowing cutely at the tip of her nose from the cold. "I'm not teasing, you know. Not this time." Pretense of stretching forgotten, she pulls me into a hug, pressing her furnace of a body in close and driving out the cold.
...And that's when Aya kills the moment with a loud, rambunctious hoot. I thought owls hooted, not crows. Meiling looks about as irritated as I am, squaring her beret on her head and turning to look at the bird--er, catcaller. "Keep warming up, Kazuki. Let me go have a word with Miss Shameimaru."
Funny enough, it's a little harder to warm up in the dead of winter without a dragon hanging off of you, but I manage. Meiling stalks off and pulls Aya over to the side. Her voice isn't raised, and her body language isn't tense, but I can see mortal terror in Aya's eyes even from here. I'll have to ask what she said later. For now, though...I've kept Momiji waiting long enough.
Soon, Momiji and I stand on opposite sides of the gate, the wall stretching out around and behind us in either direction. Her posture seems somewhat stiff, restrained by the few feet of stone that serve as the ground beneath us. I'm not nearly so inhibited--my mobility and balance will definitely come easier. The wolf tengu bows deeply to me, almost to my eye level, and then takes up a ready stance, hefting that massive broad-bladed sword. I return it, feeling the light perspiration of my warmup routine already catching the biting cold of the morning as the sun climbs higher and brighter.
[ ] Fight aggressively. She won't expect it, and she might overextend her reach. [ ] Fight defensively. This is about learning as much as possible.
So after a long while of feeling really good and positive and cranking out progress with ease and great frequency, everything dried up and the last two weeks have been a complete creativity boneyard. I'm still going to be trying to complete an update--maybe not a giant one, but some--per day, though I don't fancy my chances. Wish me luck. Maybe we can actually get the next major arc going before another year.
>[x] Fight defensively. This is about learning as much as possible.
A big part of me wants to jump right in, see if I can surprise her, and maybe--just maybe--impress Meiling.
But I think better of it, and quash the impulse. I think Meiling will be more impressed if I fight smart, and show what I've learned. With that in mind, I cool my heels and size Momiji up again.
She's tall, toned, and sure to be fast, especially if Aya's any indication. She's experienced with that sword by the way she holds it, though the buckler is small by comparison--either she doesn't block much or she uses the sword to defend as well as attack. Given its heft and the broad, thick blade, that would make sense. Speaking of, she's sure to be strong. Even as far as the lake we hear stories of tengu might. If I stay on the outside edge of her strikes I'll be able to avoid or redirect the majority of that. I somehow doubt she'll hedge--most youkai try to leverage their muscle. I expect she'll do the same, but with a measure of discipline. Now that's scary.
And here she comes. Momiji opens up with a broad swipe from the edge of her range, a probing strike. Like Meiling taught me, I redirect the force, rather than take it myself. My weapon comes up and pushes her aside in a clean deflection, immediately followed by the tengu taking a step forward and pushing. Rather than letting her move me, I let the tip of the jian slide free from her blade, darting in and past her. She turns on her heel, but for her, the top of the wall is almost like walking a beam. I can't exploit the opening with my sword out of the way, but I make it around her.
And just as quickly she's moving back in for more, pressure keeping her on the attack and me on my back foot. I spring backwards as she turns her pivot into a thrust, catching the tip of her blade on my jian (in terribly improper fashion) across my chest. The blow pushes me backward, and I only just catch myself. Momiji follows up aggressively, leaping into the air, blade coming down in an overhead. Once again I dart beneath her, taking the spot she just occupied as she comes down where I stood. We both wheel around to face each other again, ready for another exchange.
This isn't working. I mean, I haven't taken a hit, but if I just stand back and defend, she'll either work out a way around me, or I'll lose on technicality. I can already see the gears turning as she looks me over, appraising me. She raises her sword again, and I do the same. Aside from a light sheen of sweat on her muscles, she's none the worse for wear. I'm fine too, but I can only stand up to her strength by burning magic--and my leg will start to drag on me, too.
This time, I'll attack.
She comes in fast and hard, and I step in to meet her charge--both of us trying our ploys at once. As she tries to pin down my steel with hers, the shield arm comes up and she tries to snare me with her off hand. At the same time, I crouch even lower and slip my sword toward us, not away, ducking under her blade as it sweeps overhead without resistance.
Momiji doesn't widen her eyes or panic, instead smoothly transitioning her grab into a block. My jian slides off the white rim of the shield as the red leaf is thrusted forward into my face. I roll with the motion, landing and tensing, pouring more magic into my legs before I land badly. I crouch and spring, once again only barely avoiding a swordstroke I feel more than I see as I twist 'round in midair and come back down on her from above. Her shield comes up to meet me, this time my palm touching the maple as I mix up my timing and throw a burst of magical energy through the buckler. Inefficient and impractical, but if I don't knock her off balance, I'm stuck in the air and at her mercy.
Surprisingly, she vaults backwards a good twenty feet, looking at her shield with a grimace and lowering her sword. "First touch to you, Kazuki."
I blink, flexing my leg to keep it cooperating in the downtime. "But I didn't hit you."
"You struck the maple. We're not supposed to let that happen. I'd like to accede a point to you, I should have been more careful."
"Er, okay," I nod. "Thank you."
She simply shifts her weight from left leg to right, thus far not troubled with balance in the least--not outwardly, anyway. I take up my own stance again with one last glance to Meiling watching from the side.
She gives me a nod.
I try not to grin, feeling a faint flush of excitement. Instead I focus on the last exchange. Momiji is fast--faster than I expected, even--and even her probing strikes were strong enough to throw me around. If I block one of her hits straight-on, I'm as good as gone. ...Which makes me not want to think about what would happen if she actually slipped my guard completely. Or if this was a real fight instead of a spar. Or--she's attacking again.
I leap backwards as that blade arcs down, then back off again as the rim of her shield sings through the air a moment later, leaving her free to step forward and follow up with another stroke of her sword. Her swings are angled downward now, broad, lateral strokes that keep me from slipping forward past her again. Rather than backpedal until I stumble, I sidestep her last stroke and return to try to break her momentum, and we enter a running battle along the wall.
It falls into a rhythm as her long, loping strides cross the wall and close on me in a few bounds, she comes up for a melee attack, I turn and address it, giving me more breathing room until she closes for another strike. We cross around to the back of the wall like that, and once again I realize I've gotten myself into the same situation--I either get harried until I make a mistake, or I have to counterattack.
As she closes on me again, I pivot on my heel and spring back into her this time, aiming a snap kick for her side as I deflect her swordstroke with both hands and all the magic I can muster through my jian, barely able to mitigate her brisk slash with all my might...
...Leaving me open for her hand to snare my ankle and jerk me up through the air and slam me back down to the wall, knocking the breath out of me as she turns and falls atop me, knee pinning my chest as her sword traps mine. Still stunned from the impact, I look up at Momiji straddling me, puffs of breath fogging the little air between our faces, and I realize she's blushing.
...Oh, gods, wolf tengu have a sharp sense of smell, and with all this running around, after last night--My turn to redden as the two of us realize what the other realizes.
"Point to me," Momiji manages quietly, scrambling back off me, tail down and ears flat.
Well, for better or worse, one round to the both of us. [ ] Keep on the defensive. I'm learning what will and won't work. [ ] This isn't going to hold up. Try aggression. [ ] Suggest opening it up to danmaku. [ ] Write-in (strategy, tactics, plans, ask about something, anything!)
We've learned a lot from being on the defensive, let's switch it up and go offensive instead. Hopefully Momiji will notice and go on the defensive. Switching positions for the sake of keeping this "an educational spar", or whatever you might call it.
>You struck the maple. We're not supposed to let that happen.
I.. Huh.. That's.. What? >Shield >Not supposed to let people strike it. Tengu fighting rules are weird.
Maybe since the shield isnt that big they are not really supposed to block with it, more of a decoration thing or something than for the actual fight. Or it could be that hitting the maple and thus forcing them to actually block the attack fully is kinda telling them "that hit would have seriously wounded or killed you otherwise" and showing some kind of weakness or inexperience to actually let something like that happen in the first place.
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>[x] This isn't going to hold up. Try aggression.
As much as I've learned about Momiji, she's learned just as much about me, and she has the experience to back it up. I need to change my strategy. My leg is still okay, for now, but that fall made some of the ... exertion of last night flare back up, to say nothing of the, er, evidence. Well, maybe it's put her off her game more than it's put me off mine. Probably not.
Shaking the last of the cobwebs out of my senses, I focus again, taking another deep breath, trying to center myself. Momiji's swordtip twitches just barely an instant before she springs forward. This time I move forward to meet her myself, committed to the attack.
It goes better this time--she swings low, I jump high, twisting in midair around her shield arm as she tries to bat me away, bringing my jian forward for a strike--
She turns in, sending me rolling across her shoulder and back, already working towards a counterattack. Rather than come to my feet, I hit the ground for the second time, letting her swordstrike pass high overhead as I sweep her leg.
It's like slamming my ankle into stone, even with as much magic as I can muster bolstering my kick. She doesn't move, though I feel her stagger as she fights to keep her balance. I, on the other hand, end up pushing against her and sliding myself to the edge of the wall, which is just as well, really, as the flat of her sword comes down where my head was a moment ago.
I grab her ankle as I nearly tumble straight off the wall, her sword flashing as I deflect a downward thrust with my own. I pull as hard as I can, channeling energy into my arm as I spring up to her eye level--
And catch a geta in the stomach for my trouble as she wheelkicks me out of my jump. I sail through the air, knocked senseless again, tumbling across the top of the wall and collapsing into a breathless heap a good few yards away.
"Second point," a half-dozen tengu echo in my swimming vision. "...Erm, are you all right?"
I try to mumble a yes, and it comes out a no. Still, I manage to drag myself back upright before she can assist me, rubbing my freshly-bruised chest with one hand.
"I'll, er," she mumbles, looking chagrined, "give you a moment."
"Yeah, thanks," I wheeze, plopping back down on my rear to catch my breath. I look up and wince a little to see Meiling walking over, plainly concerned. Oh well, I wasn't using that ego anyway. "So," I ask, mostly to distract myself, "what...what was that about the maple?"
"Ah," Momiji says, showing me the buckler again. "It's a tradition specific to the Wolf Guard. We're trained to guard with both our sword and our shield. As we progress, our shields get smaller and the maple stays the same. I have one of the largest shields, fit for a novice." A novice, she says. "The white along the rim is fair--any blow struck there is easily deflected. Hitting the red anywhere is considered shameful. If it happens in practice..." Her ears flatten back again in rueful memory. "Well, the extra disciplinary practice is the least of your worries."
"Sounds rough," I admit.
"It keeps us honed. In real combat we use our whole shield, of course, but it trains us not to rely on blocking when we should never have been in a position to be struck at all."
"And Meiling thought I'd be a good fit for you?"
"You are!" she exclaims quickly (and a little loudly). More subdued and slightly embarrassed, she continues. "While I should have been more wary, you managed to strike my shield's red. And you're very..." she searches for a word. "Very quick. You nearly had me, last time."
I'd reply with some gripe about 'nearly,' but just talking has me winded again. Even in a spar, Momiji hits like a battering ram--and I have a sneaking suspicion that she's still holding back. By now, my leg is throbbing, shot through with ache after that failed kick, and having the air punted out of my lungs--twice--has me still reeling and trying to recover. On top of that, Meiling's nearly here.
[ ] Concede the spar. I'm in no shape to keep this up today. [ ] Suck it up, come back for more. Real fights don't stop for aches. [ ] Get a once-over from Meiling. And I could use the TLC after that. [ ] Write-in
>[x] Suck it up, come back for more. Real fights don't stop for aches.
Urgh. Yeah, it hurts, but I'm not going to give in. Besides, it's not like the match point is going to take her very long to get.
...I need to work on my optimism.
Resigned, I pull myself back to my feet, rolling my shoulders and flexing my bad leg. I look at Meiling before she can say anything, and after a moment, she nods silently and gives me a warm smile.
Momiji doesn't ask if I'm sure I want to continue--probably doesn't want to offend--instead lifting that massive sword of hers again and taking a ready stance. I raise the jian and consider my options.
I'm not sure I can get away with any high-flying tricks like that again, and my reflexes will probably be a bit more sluggish. Anything relying on footwork is going to be painful and won't hold out for more than one or two exchanges. Magic...magic, I'm fine on, just a little tired. I'll have to try that.
Momiji moves first again, and this time, I hold my ground. The tip of my sword bobs to one side, and then I swing it back across as hard as I can, taking a two-handed grip as I push. If I time it right...
I do. I catch the very tip of her weapon and divert it with all my strength, my arms taking on a visible glow with the exertion. I take a step forward into her guard and drag my weapon across and down, sparks flying between our blades from the high friction. Unfortunately, while I slow her enough to keep her blade out of play, she still raises her shield and catches my sword--on the white, this time. She quickly traps the jian between the rim and her sword and pushes, driving me back with her. I manage to twist the jian free and disengage, jumping back and landing on my back leg, badly.
It actually buckles on me that time, slowing me as I force myself back to standing, looking up in time to see Momiji lunging for a jumping thrust. This time, I grab the jian midway down the blade and twist, batting her aside again and stepping in. Blue-green power courses through my sword as I deflect her shield follow-up and go for the knee. She jumps, clearing over my head and coming down far and away out of reach. I don't have the energy for a pursuit.
Third time, unfortunately, is the charm. With my options so limited, she simply stops holding back, surging forward and crushing through my block with raw strength. She pushes me back until I upend, falling and hitting my head against the top of the wall, vision coming back just in time for her sword to waver a centimeter in front of my nose.
"Match," Meiling calls. "And well done, both of you." She hops up and fills my senses with her presence again, gently helping me upright as Momiji bows.
A few minutes' recuperation finds the three of us sitting atop the wall in a row, Momiji once again dressed in her full outfit and inspecting her sword for nicks and scratches. I should do the same, but without the adrenaline, the second I stopped fighting my aches breezed in and set up shop in all my limbs, making me feel leaden and woozy. Meiling looks me over, carefully inspecting my chest from that dizzying, ensandaled kick. "So," she asks, "what did you learn? You first, Momiji."
"Fighting such a small combatant was interesting," she says. "It's almost impossible to keep him on the outside of my reach, and he very nearly slipped my guard every time. If he tried for grapples or holds...well, he could at least bypass concerns of reach."
"Surprising. I could power through, but I had to fully commit to do it."
Meiling nods, and turns to me. "What about you, Kazuki? What did you learn from this?"
...What DID I learn from this? Something tells me Meiling wants a proper answer. >Write-in
I know writein votes are harder to work within, especially with a 24 hour limit, so it doesn't have to be enormously complex if you don't have time. Go ahead and just give the basics.
>>59539 She had more stamina than us since we're constantly burning magic just to keep up, more strength than us by far, and we didn't have a decisive speed advantage either. I didn't feel like we were being particularly clumsy with our technique, but we couldn't stay at a distance because she'd just wear us down and we couldn't close without getting our ass kicked. I honestly have no idea how we could have won without resorting to some kind of magical bullshit trickery or managing to play headgames until she made a serious mistake we could exploit.
We didn't even deserve the one point we got; no matter what the tengu traditions, a strike to the shield isn't a strike that's going to disable or kill you.
[x] My stamina and physical condition are too weak to consistently fight for more than a few minutes. -[x] I had to burn my meager magical reserves just to keep up and I used the boost that should have been my trump card just to stall a little longer. --[x] It is obvious that I need to focus on my good attribute (speed) and empower my worst (stamina) ---[x] Lastly, we're not fighting under tengu rules so I'd appreciate if we do not count points just for using a shield for its intended purpose.
His biggest weakness is that he really needs to work on his stamina, both physical and magical (to compensate for his bad leg and smaller body, which limits his strength). His biggest advantages are speed and size making him a tougher target to nail down, especially since a small object is harder to catch than a large object even if both are moving at the same speed. And as an added advantage, when you're attacking a larger opponent it's easier to hit them, as you have a larger hit area than if fighting someone your own size. The downside of his size is, of course, that they have better reach and often more raw power due to the extra weight behind their swings. He is also slightly easier to injure, meaning he can't really trade (non-lethal) blows with someone and hope to come out on top. (To use an extreme example to illustrate what I mean. Smack your friend over the head with a rolled up newspaper, then do the same to a fly. The same attack has different results depending on the target.)
All in all, I'd say it would suit him better to use a fighting style that places emphasis on quick and precise strikes (e.g. fencing), rather than one more reliant on power.
>>59543 Keep in mind that he wasn't even in peak condition when it started. I'm tempted to say that the assessment wasn't exactly fair under the conditions.
[x] My stamina and physical condition are too weak to consistently fight for more than a few minutes. -[x] I had to burn my meager magical reserves just to keep up and I used the boost that should have been my trump card just to stall a little longer. --[x] It is obvious that I need to focus on my good attribute (speed) and empower my worst (stamina) ---[x] I could better understand my limits.
Knowing when to conceed/run is just as important as knowing how to fight. Neglecting to do that may result in a Pyrrhic victory.
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>[x] My stamina and physical condition are too weak to consistently fight for more than a few minutes. >-[x] I had to burn my meager magical reserves just to keep up and I used the boost that should have been my trump card just to stall a little longer. >--[x] It is obvious that I need to focus on my good attribute (speed) and empower my worst (stamina) >---[x] I could better understand my limits.
"Honestly, I feel like I didn't deserve the point I got. Tengu rules or no, Momiji safely blocked my attack." Meiling looks at me studiously, but doesn't say anything yet, motioning for me to on. "Well, my stamina is terrible and I can't keep up for more than a few minutes. I had to burn magic just to keep pace. All I was really doing by the end was stalling."
"There's value in that," Meiling says. "Sometimes the objective isn't victory, it's time."
"Maybe," I admit. "It was about all I could do. She was too fast to keep away, and too strong to get in close. After the first points, it was really just a matter of time. I need to work on my endurance. My speed was all right, I guess."
Meiling turns and shoots a look at Momiji, who returns it. "...What?" I ask.
"Kazuki, do you remember when Aya was taken aback by your flying knowledge?" Meiling asks.
Eyes twinkling, she continues. "Do you think Momiji was underestimating you like that?"
"I...don't know. It was kind of hard to tell."
"I most definitely wasn't," the tengu girl insists. "Nothing would be more disrespectful--to either of you."
Meiling pats my shoulder gently but chidingly. "It was a fight well lost. And besides, this is practice. How much of that have you gotten?"
I cringe. "Not... much."
"Around a year in the Guard, daily runs, flights, drills, combat regimen and conditioning. Four years of sparring and practice before going in. And a lifetime of getting into scraps at home," she adds with a wistful smile.
"You kept up with a tengu in her prime and you could get inside her reach almost at will. You don't think that's worth something?"
"Okay, okay, point taken," I mumble, turning a bit red.
Meiling gently cups my face and turns my head back, brushing her forehead against mine. "You did well. Accept a compliment, silly, you earned it. How's your leg?"
"Could be better," I admit quietly, not really struggling against Meiling all that much. Who would? "I'm feeling pretty sore all over."
"I bet," she replies, guiding my foot over onto her lap and rolling up the pantleg to inspect it. "I'll do what I can with it. And maybe later..." her eyes flit over to Momiji, and I realize that she's flushed red again, her ears pulled back flat to her head and her tail swishing vigorously.
I hadn't noticed how close Meiling had gotten, turned in close to me, fingers gently playing around my ankle as she treats it. And of course, by scent...
"Er," the flustered tengu murmurs, looking away over the wall. "You two are... like that, are you?"
They're not exactly trying to hide it (or, if they are, they're doing the worst job ever of it), so no reason to deny it. And if Momiji knows she might have a chance to keep her, ahem, over-enthusiastic friend from putting 2 and 2 together to reach 11 and spreading half-truths all over Gensokyo before they can reveal it themselves, to their friends and "family" at least.
>>59550 Don't worry, that's already been dealt with.
>...And that's when Aya kills the moment with a loud, rambunctious hoot. I thought owls hooted, not crows. Meiling looks about as irritated as I am, squaring her beret on her head and turning to look at the bird--er, catcaller. "Keep warming up, Kazuki. Let me go have a word with Miss Shameimaru."
>Funny enough, it's a little harder to warm up in the dead of winter without a dragon hanging off of you, but I manage. Meiling stalks off and pulls Aya over to the side. Her voice isn't raised, and her body language isn't tense, but I can see mortal terror in Aya's eyes even from here. I'll have to ask what she said later. For now, though...I've kept Momiji waiting long enough.
"Er," I share a quick glance at Meiling, who opts to let me explain on my terms. "Yeah. It's a recent thing."
"A very recent thing," she agrees. "...A very, very, very rece--"
"I--I think I get it, thank you," Momiji says, her face brightening even further red as her tail curls in on itself.
"I'm sorry," Meiling says, pulling me in closer again. "I can't help it. He's just too cute when he's embarrassed."
I balk. "What?"
She just grins. "That's what I was telling Aya."
Momiji's turn. "What?"
Meiling continues. "Just that he and I only just hit it off, and that this is his first major relationship, that there are some complications, and I don't want her to tease him." She turns and her grin widens, simultaneously warm and bubbly and feral and predatory. "Because that's my job."
Momiji and I share a glance, our expressions united in mild embarrassment tinged with mortal panic. Meiling just starts laughing. "What did you think would happen, Kazuki? A dragon made you an offer, and you took her up on it." She pulls me up onto her lap, voice a razor whisper. "And I am going to eat you alive."
"Momiji," I declare faintly, "I think I might be doomed."
Meiling giggles and pulls me closer, as Momiji looks away respectfully (and still somewhat flushed). "Er, I suppose I had best get moving, then." The tengu stands, resheathing that massive sword.
"Oh, don't let me chase you off," Meiling insists. "Just a little more teasing. I wouldn't want to make you..." She pauses a moment. "Uncomfortable." Damn it, Meiling.
"No, no, I really should. My duties--I've incorporated these spars and the trip from the mountain into my routine, but I have to report. It was, erm, interesting to meet you, Kazuki. Thank you again for the spar."
"I'll look forward to more," I reply. "And, uh, sorry I wasn't in proper condition to receive you."
"No, no, I understand," she insists, turning a little pink again. "These things happen, and... and I'm not really making this any better, am I." She grins nervously, and I do too. "Meiling, thank you as always for your time, and you are an incredibly wicked woman."
"See you next time, Momiji," Meiling replies, still clearly having the time of her life. The tengu nods and takes to the air, throwing a last wave to us as she makes for the mountain. Meiling waits until she's out of sight and then lets go of me. I stand up gingerly, and she doesn't miss it. "Still sore?"
I nod, massaging my thigh. "Yeah. Really feeling it now that I've sat down for a few minutes."
She pulls herself up into a crouch, at my eye level. "Well, now that Momiji's gone...Come here." She pulls me into a slow, deep kiss, and I feel her breathing more of her warmth into me. It's like my chest is puffing up from inside. I feel myself standing taller and straighter, the aches and pains becoming light and distant.
Our lips part, leaving my mouth abuzz with an almost spicy burn. "Is there anything you can't do with that?" I ask, as soon as I can breathe again.
She giggles. "Plenty. I just buoyed you with some chi."
I experimentally flex my leg, and find the familiar throb of overuse is faint and hollow. "Thanks. But really," I ask with a wry grin, "aren't you supposed to be toughening me up?"
"I can teach you how to do it. It's just a matter of meditation and balance. Although," she adds, returning my smirk, "This has its own benefits, don't you think?"
I snort. "Not going to argue. What I want to know is--yesterday, with the Basement Brigade, when you pinned me--I thought I was teasing you. I mean, you jumped right off me in a hurry."
"Oh, that? I didn't want to embarrass you," Meiling says with a laugh. "I was right at home."
...I probably shouldn't delve too far into that one. At any rate, with sparring done, I should probably get cleaned up, and maybe get something to eat.
[ ] Hey Meiling, want to get breakfast? We can make a day of it, maybe, get some clothes before the date proper. [ ] Clover wanted to meet up with me. I should really get caught up with her this morning. ...Especially after last night. [ ] Write-in.
>[x] Clover wanted to meet up with me. I should really get caught up with her this morning. ...Especially after last night.
It's been a nice cooldown after the intensity of the spar, but after a few minutes, I guess I really should get my day started if I'm going to at all. And at the top of the list of things to worry about...
"I guess I had better talk to Clover," I say. "Last night was... well, a reunion."
Meiling lets me up with one last tap on my chest. "You had better take a bath first," she chides.
She's right. I could have used one before the spar, and after all the running around and fighting... "Er--yeah, probably."
"If you'd like, you can use mine," she offers. "Although you'll need some fresh clothes."
"Oof, yeah. I ... didn't really plan this at all."
She laughs. "I know. Isn't it wonderful?"
"A little," I have to admit. "I still don't really have much in the way of other clothes. Just some new pants from the clothier in town--Although, I could go back to my room and ask Sakuya about those clothes she was making."
Meiling nods. "That makes sense. She'd be able to scrounge up a spare shirt that would fit you, if nothing else."
"I'll do that, then. I'll see you later, Meiling."
She gives me one last peck on the cheek. "Come see me any time. My home is always open to you. Oh, and that reminds me," she adds as an afterthought. "Make sure you see me again before you go off with the Hakurei and her friend. I'll have something for you."
"Huh. All right, I'll make sure to come by." I turn and head back toward the mansion proper.
"And don't feel like you have to wait until then!" She calls after me as I depart. "I'll be very happy to receive you any time."
The mansion is almost too warm after being outside for so long--still mostly quiet, but the fairy maids are starting to mill about. I double-time it--a few salute me in the halls, getting a polite nod in my hustle. Mostly, I don't want any more rumors or scandal. Not just yet, anyway. I make it back to my room, make a beeline for the bathroom, and peel off my sweaty clothes, depositing them in an ungraceful pile on the floor as I clamber into the tub.
I don't exactly have to hurry--it's still early, earlier than I normally wake up, even. Plus, it's probably best to take it easy, rather than over-exert myself any further. The novelty of human showers has worn off over the last few months, but I still enjoy taking my time with a long, slow, thorough cleaning. And let's face it, I could use it after a long, slow, thorough...something else.
I still can't really wrap my head around that. It all happened so fast. I'm happy, it just doesn't really seem real. For the first time in my life, I have a girlfriend. Until recently the thought had never really crossed my mind--not for more than a few brief instants, anyway. And then Meiling comes along and... Meilings me. A Meiling, directly to the face. The Meilingening. Heh.
Okay, enough of that. I have a warm bed and warmer company to go to, whenever I want, and that is a hell of a thing. For now, I need to go and see Clover. Toweling off, I throw on the pajamas Sakuya found me, examining my overalls and shirt with wrinkled nose.
...Heh. Clover and I used to do laundry day together. For a moment, I actually consider asking if she'd be up for that, just like old times. Maybe I will. I could also go find Clover and invite her to breakfast in the mansion--I bet she hasn't had that kind of meal in a long time. Or maybe we could go out to the human village...
Well, in either case, I need to find Sakuya for clothes. She's probably in the kitchen, making breakfast for the maids.
[ ] Maybe I'll get some breakfast. Keep my strength up, and all that. [ ] I'm not too hungry. Better to keep my options open if Clover wants to eat. [ ] Write-in.
>[x] I'm not too hungry. Better to keep my options open if Clover wants to eat.
I have to admit, those big mansion breakfasts are tempting, especially after an early-morning workout. But... no, I think I'll hold off, at least for now.
Still, the smell that hits me as I walk into the dining hall makes me regret the decision, but I hold fast. The fairies are bustling again, getting another of those western plates of eggs and bacon. Most look up as I walk in, a few wave, and one I recognize from the Basement Brigade yesterday even throws me a salute. I grin nervously and nod back, wondering if they're already gossiping about Meiling and I. ...Well, they will be, if she has any say in the matter. What have I gotten myself into?
Bah, less fear, more clothes. ...Oh wait, I'm getting them from Sakuya. More fear! Still, she looks nonthreatening (as many ambush predators do), almost motherly in her kitchen apron and hair kerchief. "Good morning," I greet.
"Good morning, Master Kazuki. And I suppose some congratulations are in order?"
Erk. I freeze up. "H-how do you mean?"
She laughs. "Nothing sinister, I promise. I saw you and Meiling on the wall while washing the windows on the eastern wing."
Oh. That's...probably one of the better places to have seen us, then. "I see. And, uh, speaking of windows, about the broken one in the back courtyard..."
"Think nothing of it," she replies. "Now, what can I get you?"
"Actually, nothing to eat this time. I was thinking of seeing a friend of mine today, and--well, I wanted to ask about those clothes."
"I see. I have not done the sewing just yet, though I could certainly do so."
"Oh! No, you don't have to do that, if you're busy."
Sakuya smiles enigmatically. "Master Kazuki, if there is one thing thing I will always have enough of, it is time. Though, if you would be willing to wait until I have finished making the morning shift's breakfast..."
"Sure, sure, no hurry. And thank you."
"As I said, think nothing of it," she replies. "Although if you would do me the kindness of your company for that time..."
She hums cheerfully as she works, leaving me to look around the dining hall. "I don't see Patchouli today," I observe.
"No, you probably sent her off to sulk," Sakuya chides. "I'll be delivering her breakfast to the library for weeks."
"Heh, sorry about that," I chuckle. Not really all that sorry, I have to admit.
She adds some eggs to a pan and begins slicing up some boiled potatoes. "Quite worth it, if I may say. I haven't seen a thrashing like that in some time. Though I think she came away from it with a better impression of you."
I fold my arms and lean against the wall beside the food line. "You know, you're the second person that's said that to me."
"She's really not so bad. Of course, we've had centuries to get to know her. Maybe you will, too."
"Not likely," I huff. "She wouldn't let me in in the first place."
"Most of the fairies the mansion employs are very young, you know. We instill some measure of discipline in them, but...well, picture two hundred young ladies rampaging around her precious library, and, well..."
I blink. "Did that happen?"
"Once. And only once." Oof. "Still, she is a friend of the mistress and an essential part of the mansion. Maybe some day, the two of you will grow on each other. You have a lot in common."
"I keep hearing that, too."
Sakuya giggles again. "It's true. The two of you could sit opposite each other over tea, arms folded and grunting in annoyance. It would be precious."
It seems like she's going to be busy for a little while more, yet. Not that this chat isn't too bad--she's not scaring the daylights out of me, at least.
[ ] Hey, Sakuya, you know Meiling pretty well, right? [ ] So how is Patchouli an essential part of the mansion? [ ] I could tell her about Clover, see what she thinks about where to go. [ ] Sitting in here is making me too hungry, I really don't want to stick around. Maybe I can just scare up a stray shirt? [ ] Write-in/other questions?
So, we're a week into this daily update shindig, and I'm posting these with very little in the way of quality control. How am I doing? Is the story content too sparse, or too rough without a bit more time to cook, so to speak? Or are things going well enough?
Give me some feedback, if you've got it. I'll try to keep it in mind.
[X] I could tell her about Clover, see what she thinks about where to go.
>Most of the fairies the mansion employs are very young, you know. Well that explains why Patchouli was impressed by Kazuki's age. She's got a very unbalanced sample of fairies that she's been using to judge the entire race.
>[x] So how is Patchouli an essential part of the mansion? >[x] I could tell her about Clover, see what she thinks about where to go.
Mulling it over, I guess curiosity overcomes curmudgeon. Heh, good way to sum her up, maybe. "So what's so essential about Patchy, anyway?"
"Well, for one thing," Sakuya answers, pouring a copious amount of flour into a sizeable bowl, "she brought the mansion here."
"Here? To the lake?"
"To Gensokyo. I remember being so confused as a girl, hearing them talk about it. I thought they were going to take it apart brick-by-brick and reassemble it somewhere else."
"So, they... transported the building magically?"
Sakuya nods, cracking a half dozen eggs into her mix in neat succession. "Not they--Miss Patchouli." From what little I've learned so far, that would require an incredible amount of skill--and raw magical power. Okay, so that's a little impressive. "She also helped erect the outer wall."
"Wait, that wasn't part of the building already?"
"The mansion had a wall, but it was rather more mundane," she explains. "Simple stone masonwork topped with a wrought iron fence and gate. Certainly well-made, but nothing like what we have today. I understand the creation was even more difficult than transporting the estate."
"Is there something special about it?" I ask.
"I don't know the particulars, but I would guess so," Sakuya replies. "When Miss Kirisame and Miss Hakurei made entry, I recall nothing making her more livid than seeing the damage to the wall. Meiling had to help calm her." Yeesh.
"So Patchouli has invested a lot of time in this place." I have to admit, I can respect that.
"She drew a contract with the Lady for her services. The original terms were one hundred years of residency, and uninterrupted access to the library. But the two of them had been close friends for some time. No one particularly minded her overstaying--a talented mage is rather helpful to have around. Since then, she's been as much a part of this place as anyone. The size of the library collection has quadrupled in the intervening years, as well. Miss Patchouli put down roots here, just as we did."
And just when you did, by the sound of it. I guess that's fair. I mull that over a little as Sakuya adds a few more pinches of this-and-that into her mix and aggressively whips it before leaving it to rest, loading a plate full of hot, crispy bacon. "Are you quite sure you don't want anything to eat?" she asks, offering a piece.
I hold up a hand. "Yeah, but thanks. I'm holding off. Going to be meeting an old friend of mine later today, maybe going out to breakfast or lunch."
"I see. Tell me about them."
"Her. Her name's Clover. She's ... I don't know, a hundred-sixty by now? I met her when she was in her thirties. She's... well, kind of a lush. Much more social than I am, not that that takes much. Really likes parties. She can drink me under the table." I find myself smiling a bit wistfully. "It might be a year or more since I've seen her."
I shrug. "Well, for fairies that's not terribly long. We tend to have our own comings and goings. I've reconnected with friends after thirty years."
Sakuya nods, carefully lifting that bowl and spooning out even portions of batter onto the flat cooktop behind her. "So what were you planning to do? Certainly not drink so early in the day."
I chuckle. "I dunno, maybe if Clover has her way...but no, not really. That's not all she does, she's very playful and... fun, I guess. Aside from eating, well... to be honest, I was thinking about going out to a river and washing some clothes."
Sakuya looks perplexed at that one. "That hardly seems... fun."
"It's another old fairy thing--we'd buddy up on laundry day so we had someone to look out for us. Over time it got less dangerous, and it was a convenient excuse to gather and pass the time while doing something boring. Sometimes you'd see a few in the stream and go get your own, and soon it became a little event. Twenty or thirty fairies washing their clothes."
Sakuya laughs a little. "That sounds chaotic."
"Yeah?" I ask with a grin. "I'll do you one better. A lot of fairies only own the one set of clothes."
"That's part of why I came by today," I admit. "My old things could... use a wash."
"I see, but we could certainly do that for you."
I shrug again. "Eh, I still feel strange about this whole mess. And besides, Clover and I used to do our wash together all the time. It might be kind of nostalgic. It certainly won't take all day."
"Well," Sakuya says, "Might I suggest you invite her in first? The two of you could have a late breakfast here, and discuss your day beforehand."
"I was thinking of something like that, actually," I reply with a nod. "Plus, the mansion is very... mysterious? To fairies that have never seen it. I remember how I felt before I started living here. She might enjoy the tour."
Sakuya pulls off her kerchief, evidently done with the kitchen for now. A handful of kitchen staff fairies swarm in and start collecting pots and pans for her. "Thank you for waiting, Master Kazuki. Let me go and tend to your new clothes, it will be just a moment."
She... well, she wasn't kidding about 'just a moment.' I blinked, she was gone, I looked away, she was back, with a small bundle of clothes in hand--the finished outfit she made me. I am never going to get used to that.
"Here you are, Master Kazuki. I hope they are to your liking."
"Er...yeah. Yeah, thank you, Sakuya," I reply. If I do lug Clover in here, I hope the head maid behaves.
[ ] All right, I'll take a chance and invite Clover to come see the mansion with me. [ ] Silver maids are too scary. I'll just go out to the village with Clover. [ ] Write-in.
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This one's a bit short, sorry. Big day with some very important real-life stuff to worry about.
>[X] All right, I'll take a chance and invite Clover to come see the mansion with me.
Trying to recover my stride, I accept the clothes from Sakuya.
"If the two of you opt to eat early, please you can take your friend right back here," she says. "Later in the day, you might wish to make for the larder."
"Uh, sure," I nod, turning the clothes over to inspect them. "Thanks again, Sakuya, for everything."
"Think nothing of it, Master Kazuki. It's what I'm here for. Although you may not wish to change right here." SPFFFFFT.
"I--I wasn't planning on it!" I sputter indignantly.
Expression unchanging, she simply points over my shoulder. "Then you may not wish to get their hopes up."
With the slow, heavy dread of a rich man taken the wrong turn down a dingy alley, I peer around behind me. A dozen sets of eyes immediately look away as their fairies turn back to whatever they were doing.
Sakuya just hums cheerfully behind me as I retreat at all speed, back to my room.
The clothes are lighter than my current ones, though the layers helps make them just as warm. The material on the shirt and pants feels soft compared to the old denim, though it seems just as durable. Light, sturdy clothes for getting work done. I can appreciate that. I throw an experimental jab or two, getting a feel for the unencumbered mobility, and hear the satisfying snap of cloth going taut with each punch.
Okay, sometimes, just sometimes, I can see why Meiling likes fighting so much. Cinching up the sash on the waist, I give myself a once-over in the mirror. With one last appraisal, I tuck my weapons--that knife from the store, and Sakuya's silver one--into the outfit comfortably. I opt to leave my jian, though I'm still getting used to carrying these at all. The last thing I need is my flight goggles--now those come with me, everywhere I go.
Now...how best to find Clover? [ ] Meiling did tell her to try a 'proper' visit today. Plus, I can show off the new clothes. [ ] Try the old haunts. A quick morning flight is a great start to a day anyway. [ ] Write-in.
>[x] Try the old haunts. A quick morning flight is a great start to a day anyway.
I mull it over for a moment. It's still pretty early, yet. I doubt Clover's here (and a quick flight over the gate would tell me). Plus... Meiling might have scared her off, at least a little. Then again, Clover is brave. Or...bah, no sense second-guessing. I'll just head out and try the usual places.
I'm just opening the window when I hear a knock. "Master Kazuki?" Sakuya again. "There is one more thing." I open the door and... she's gone.
At my feet are a pair of shoes, sized properly for a fairy, along with a few sets of socks. They look home-made. No Sakuya. I pick them up and turn around, promptly bouncing off of her apron.
"Shall I lace those up for you?"
"Gaaaaahhhhyes thank you."
Reduced to a vague sulk, maid already having had her fun, I let her help me get the shoes on.
"The girls tell me they're uncomfortable at first," she explains, putting the laces through as I pull the (warm, itchy) socks on. "But they adjust quickly--and I've had many years to refine my technique. These should feel quite natural by the time you set out on your investigation."
Oh right, that. "...I get the feeling that you also wanted to tell me something in private," I reply.
"I did." She looks up at me, uncharacteristically serious. "While I'm sure you find the notion laughable, please take good care of Meiling."
It... is kind of laughable, I admit. How am I going to look after her? "I'll, uh. I'll try."
"She isn't fragile, but we all love her here. I'm happy that the two of you are together. But she's a handful." I noticed. "And I worry after her. I know you would never do anything to hurt her, but every now and then, even she needs help."
I remember--I once overheard Sakuya arguing with Meiling, this battle over Flandre. For a moment I have to wonder which of them is right. Maybe both. "I'll do my best," I manage. I can at least do that.
She nods. "That is all I can ask. Thank you again. If not for making Meiling happy, then for indulging the fears of a silly girl."
I'm about to respond when she vanishes again, leaving me clad in these new shoes and talking to myself.
Never going to get used to that.
The weather outside is like a cold slap in the face, almost making me pull my goggles down over my eyes as I take to the air. I wave to Meiling as I pass high overhead--no Clovers yet. She waves back as I float on ahead, the countryside around the Lake blossoming beneath me. My feet are hot and my nose is cold.
Now where, exactly, should I look first?
[ ] The riverbed. [ ] The open field. [ ] The treestand. [ ] Mysti's.
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Another smallish update, but this one's dense and actually sort of spelled itself out for me spontaneously. Hope you like it, nonstandard or otherwise.
>[x] The riverbed.
Maybe it's just because it was on my mind already, but the first place I want to try is the old river, where we would do our laundry. Of course, it's a misnomer--there's two. One small stream that's run for as long as any fairy can remember, and one empty riverbed that's been dry just as long. When I was young, the old fairies called it "Thousand Heads," but they could never tell you why.
From above it looks like a mismatch with the rest of the area, and in a way, it really is. There are strange trees that grow around that riverbed that I've never found anywhere else I've been--twisty, gnarled trunks, stout and squad, with small, thin leaves hanging in lines off narrow stalks, and glitter a silver-green in the light. Their fruit is even stranger, horribly bitter and green with a seed that feels like biting down on rock. Youkai won't touch it, and the only time I ever tried was when Summerfree dared me. Heh.
Still, they're pretty, either down among them or up above. They have a sort of romantic feel to them, as does this entire place, with the mysterious, ever-dry riverbed that never changes. And now that I'm more in tune with my power, I can feel the buzzing remains of something incredible done. Change came through here like a storm, a long, long time ago, and refuses to nestle down and lie still beneath the rock. Maybe that's why no rain will wash this riverbed flat, no seeds will take, and no sun will crack the silty floor.
Aside from the flyover, though, my business is in the much more lively stream just a short jaunt away. Not nearly so wide across, the water is usually clear and runs all year, barring exceptionally cold winters. Sometimes you had to look out for human hunters tracking game to water, but not very often, especially not any more. Youkai were always a possibility, but we tend to travel in groups, and again--not so often, any more.
Unfortunately, though, there is a distinct lack of Clover in the area. The field is probably most likely, unless I just missed her completely on her way to the mansion. Well, Meiling would let her know I was out looking for her, if she did. ...Though heaven help her if she tried to sneak in again.
...Though on the other hand, heaven help me if she and Meiling strike up a conversation.
[ ] Retreat! Back to the gate! Head off the gossip! [ ] I've already gone out this far, hit the field by the road. I probably should have checked there first. [ ] May as well check the trees--the Three might know where she went off to after last night. [ ] It's chilly up here. Take a rest at Mystia's on the pretense of searching for Clover before heading back out into it. [ ] Other?
[X] I've already gone out this far, hit the field by the road. I probably should have checked there first.
Whether we go back or not, there is no way we can stop the ladies from sharing news and gossip. It's a sort of a telepathic osmosis once they meet. Let's just hope she hasn't gone there and keep looking.
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>[x] I've already gone out this far, hit the field by the road. I probably should have checked there first.
Well, it was worth a look. I crush the urge to flee back and make sure no untoward, salacious, and probably very true stories are being told about me, instead resolving to carry on the search. Clover, I'm pretty sure, lives somewhere in that field, or at least near to it. If anything she's probably like me--keeping little stashes and caches so she has someplace safe and warm to curl up wherever she is in the area. I should check on some of those sometime.
My flight drifts over toward the roads--it's generally safer, occasionally patrolled by humans, and you'll usually see at least one trader or traveler if you wait around a little while. It's still early, yet--not a lot of anything. The field is covered in a thin blanket of snow, and the surface of the lake is thinly frozen beyond it. The road remains clear and well-kept, as always, twisting and bending loosely far below me.
"Kazuki!" a familiar, not-Clover voice booms. "Think fast, hungry youkai, coming up on you from under!"
"Lakeside or treeside?" I ask, turning to meet the challenge. Apparently, this is turning into a reunion tour.
"Then you," I reply, pointing a finger at my 'attacker,' "are already dead."
"Argh," Summerfree says. "What'd I do this time?"
I jerk a thumb at the sun behind me, high and bright, over my shoulder. "Can't catch what you can't see, Mister Youkai. How's it going, 'Free?"
Summerfree is just a hair taller than me, with bright blue hair and a big grin, making his wings--butterfly wings, no less--stand out all the more, speckled bright red with white accents around the tips. They stick awkwardly out of a cut-up, oversized, and hooded jacket (apparently, it's a 'windbreaker' and he's always on people about calling it that), black with light blue sides, closely matching the denim of his pants--shorts for a human, sort of like my beige-y pocket-y ones.
"I'm doing all right, but...damn," he stops midsentence as he gets the sun out of his eyes, looking me over. "Nice duds. But I guess what they're saying about your wings is true. I'm sorry, man."
"Yeah. What have they been saying?"
"You know, the usual rumor mill stuff--lost them vanquishing a demon in the night or something like that."
I snort. "It was a crazy little girl, and I didn't vanquish anything. She killed me."
"Damn!" 'Free exclaims again. "That's a first, isn't it?"
"Don't remind me," I grumble. "I just came out here looking for Clover."
"Yeah, I heard her talking about you the other day. Worrying that you'd changed. I guess you did. But hey," he adds, tone brightening, "Doesn't look like it's been for the worse. What have you been up to, man?"
[ ] Another time. I need to meet up with her due to a really awesome, really awkward night. [ ] We can get caught up on the way, help me go track her down. [ ] Write-in.
This one's a little hurried, I need to go run some errands and be back in time to cook dinner. Sorry!
>[x] We can get caught up on the way, help me go track her down.
Rather than answer him straight away, I pause and look him over appraisingly. "Do you have someplace to be today?"
"Uh," he falters. "Not...really?"
"Good. You're drafted."
'Free blinks. "What?"
"You heard me. Come on, help me find Clover and we'll catch up."
"...Alright," he says reluctantly, settling in beside me on my wing. "How are you flying, anyway?"
I tap my goggles. "Magic. I'm doing that now."
"Yeah. It's weird--the flying, I mean. It's totally different."
"I know you could get into it--"
"Damned right I could get into it! For one thing, the top speed is--"
"--But you're not going to have a massive rant when you're just meeting up with a friend for the first time in years, right?"
Whoops. "Er. Right. Sorry."
"Save it for passing a bottle around," he replies good-naturedly. "Those are always a good pair. Though I know how important flying is to you."
"Yeah. It's been ... weird."
"Speaking of weird," he replies, searching in one direction as I look the other, "What's with those clothes?"
"Brand new. I just got them today," I reply.
"You smell like a perfume store," Summerfree jibes.
"It's called soap," I shoot back. "You should try it sometime."
"Oh ha ha, yes, very good," he says with a grin. "This coming from the guy who once lectured me about using too much because youkai could smell it?"
"They can! And besides, that was a long time ago. The youkai were more dangerous, and the only soap was made from animal fat..."
He laughs. "Sure thing, old timer."
"This is why I left, you know," I joke. "No respect for your elders."
"Yeah, yeah. So what else?"
"Well, I'm carrying weapons, so I can shut you up,"
"Oh ho! And next you'll tell me you've actually gone and made some spellcards."
I don't reply, instead smirking at him in silence until he turns around and notices.
"Holy crap," he mutters. "You have changed."
"That's the best part. I finally figured out what I can do. Surprise, it's change."
"Change, comma, power of," I nod.
"What does that even mean?" he asks, bewildered.
"Hell if I know. Sounds cool, though, doesn't it?"
We laugh at that as the ground passes by far below. We canvased the trees, and are coming around now to one of the forest clearings.
"I smell smoke," 'Free says. "Looks like Mysty set up here last night. We should pop in."
I snort at that. "You just want to ogle pretty girls."
"Yeah, and you want to hide behind the bar in case she decided to eat you. Besides, don't you appreciate a little eye candy?"
"Oh. Oh right," I reply, smacking my forehead.
"I was wrong, that change thing wasn't the best part. Not even close."
"What?" he repeats, genuinely curious, joke barbs and digs forgotten.
[ ] ... Eh, never mind. Let's go check Mystia's, she's still open. [ ] Speaking of pretty girls, all we did was fly over the forest, she could be down in it. [ ] SO THERE'S THIS GATE GUARD... [ ] Write-in.
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>[x] SO THERE'S THIS GATE GUARD...
I can't stop the wild grin from creeping up and overtaking my features. "So," I say with glee, "there's this gate guard..."
Summerfree's wings flit at double speed. "Wait, what? What?"
I don't answer, instead making a show of peering down at Mystia's. "She's problably just about ready to start closing shop," I hum.
"No. No no no no no. No way, Applepicker," 'Free sputters, grabbing me by the vest. "You don't get to drop a line like that and not explain. Do you mean that tall redhead who's always out front all day? She's like, twice your height!"
"And very flexible," I add helpfully. Summerfree shakes me in maddened desperation.
"You didn't. You didn't."
"I did. I really, really did."
"Yooooooou magnificent little bastard!" he whoops. "Come on, details, details!"
"It happened last night. I kind of still can't believe it," I admit. "She's basically my oldest friend, and with all that stuff with Fla--the basement girl, well, we ended up hitting it off."
"Kazuki. Those are not the kind of details I mean. Come on, man, give me something!"
"Okay, okay, fine," I reply, my cheeks a bit flushed high up in the air. "Have you ever had a really well-aged liquor? When it gets all smooth and mellow, but it's still spicy?"
"Picture that in makeout form."
I grin. "Dragon."
"You're a right bastard, Kaz," 'Free says gravely, letting go of my shirt. "And gods' speed. The hopes of fairykind everywhere go with you."
"To the Welsh lady's bed?" I ask, still entirely too smug for my own good.
"Don't push it," he warns. "...She's Welsh?"
"Reference. She's Chinese."
"You and your references. You and your... Chinese... dragon... gate guard ladies. Have I mentioned I hate you?"
"Only as much as you love me, Summerfree, my friend," I cheerfully reply. "Now, where should we look next? We're burning daylight."
"Well, she's obviously not down there, or she would've seen us by now," he says. "Mystia may have seen her. They both tend to..."
"...Drink like fish at the slightest provocation," I nod. "Right."
[ ] We're here, may as well have a look. Though this is only going to make me more hungry. [ ] Nah, if they did meet, Mysty's probably snoring over the bar counter. Let's go check with the three fairies, I know they saw her last. [ ] Hell with it. Come on back to the mansion, we'll wait for Clover there. I'll introduce you to my GIIIIIIRLFRIIIIIIIEND. [ ] Write-in.
[X] We're here, may as well have a look. Though this is only going to make me more hungry.
>"Mystia may have seen her. They both tend to..." >"...Drink like fish at the slightest provocation," That doesn't necessarily mean if one's drinking, the other is too. Given what Clover saw last night, she may have needed a stiff one. And maybe a shoulder to cry on?
>[x] We're here, may as well have a look. Though this is only going to make me more hungry.
"We may as well take a look," I decide. "Not like she's more than a dive away."
"Race you," Summerfree says.
I grin, looking at him in midair for a moment before I deactivate my goggles and promptly fall like a stone. I hear him wail 'that's cheating' above me as I plummet. If not for the surprise he could beat me easily by flapping his wings instead of his lips, but he was a bit too flustered to think of that. Heheh.
I catch myself a good few feet above ground just to be sure and lightly touch down, 'Free on my heels a few seconds after, fuming mildly at me.
Mystia is a friendly night sparrow youkai who, some time back, opened up a business. It mostly caters to youkai, but some time decades ago, a bold, hungry fairy decided to rub shoulders with the hunters and killers of the forest. Since then it's gradually become a more open spot. A traveling one. Mystia runs a lazy circuit of the forest clearings in walking distance, pulling her cart behind her, and unfolding it into her little grilled eel stand in a new place every night.
As for me, I have a little history of my own with Mystia. It's a long story that involves Clover, myself, and a human baby. Since then I've made occasional ventures here, usually with Clover. I can't deny it, no one grills like Mysty does. Inside the cart, up on the elevated stand, Mystia Lorelei rubs her eyes, smiling sleepily after a long night of work (and drinking). "Good morning," she says. "And how are you two today?"
"Can't complain, can't complain," Summerfree says smoothly, adopting the suave persona he takes up for pretty ladies. "Truth be told, we're here for this guy."
Mystia turns and smiles at me. "Kazuki," she greets.
"Hey, Mystia. Actually, we're looking for Clover..."
"Ah! She was here last night."
Well, that's a start. "Do you know where she was going?"
"She was saying she was supposed to meet up with you today," Mystia explains, resuming a washup of some used glasses. "She was... a little flustered."
"Er. Yeah, I think that one's my fault," I admit. "Long, private story." I hold a hand up to pre-emptively shush Summerfree as he opens his mouth.
"I think...yes, she left this," Mystia says, sliding a slightly waterstained newspaper over the counter. It's a copy of Aya's newspaper--the one with the interview about me.
"That'd explain why she wanted to go find you again," 'Free contributes.
"I guess, yeah."
"She left some time ago," she continues, holding up a glass to the sun. "To go sleep it off. She'll probably want to get cleaned up before she goes to see you."
"She wasn't distraught or anything, was she?" I ask, worried.
"No, no," Mystia reassures. "Perhaps just a little nostalgic and melancholy. A very little." I'm reminded of when Marisa was talking about her history with Reimu.
"So unless we want to go peeping around the lake, we're probably not going to find her," Summerfree offers.
[ ] Maybe she crashed with the Fairies. To the treehouse! [ ] Well, it sounds like she'll be coming to the mansion. Back home we go. [ ] Thank you for your help, 'Free. ... you may go now.
>[x] Well, it sounds like she'll be coming to the mansion. Back home we go.
"I guess our best bet is to head back to the mansion," I say. "Thank you, Mystia."
"Any time, boys," she replies sleepily. "Be sure to come by now and then."
"Yes ma'am, I most certainly whurk!" I tug Summerfree along by the hood on his jacke--windbreaker--and drag the shameless flirt after me.
"Come on, Romeo," I grouse, "this is no place for a Montague."
Mystia simply giggles and waves before resuming cleanup behind us, likely ready to pack up her stand and curl up to sleep.
"You never let me have any fun," 'Free complains.
"You never have any fun," I point out, "You just like to act like you do."
"Okay, guilty," he admits, shoulders slumped as he flexes his wings, practically slouching into the air.
"Relax," I reply. "I'll introduce you to Meiling."
"The gate guard?" he asks.
"Yes, but I'm not going to call her 'the gate guard.' ... though maybe she would like that..."
Summerfree laughs. "Oh man, Kaz, what have you gotten yourself into?"
"You have no idea," I reply, starting to laugh with him despite myself. "I guess you'll find out."
My heart sinks when we fly low and see two figures in front of the gate. Clover's here already. Meiling, fortunately, is on her best behavior--and, I'm relieved to note as we close, she clearly caught a bath while I was out. "Hello," she purrs. "Your friend was just telling me all about you."
Erk. I share a slightly terrified look with Summerfree, before both Meiling and Clover side-eye one another and burst into giggles. "You're right," Clover says, "he is cute when he's flustered. Hi 'Free, hi 'Zuki."
"Er, yeah," I mutter, trying to will down my embarrassment. "Hi, Clover. You doing okay?"
She nods. "Yesterday was just... a surprise. A big surprise."
"Wait, what, exactly, happened yesterday?" Summerfree asks, looking from face to face. Clover giggles, I turn red, and Meiling is a sphinx.
"Oh yeah," I mumble, "I'm doomed."
"It's not like I haven't seen you naked before anyway," Clover notes.
"Well, yeah," I protest, "but that was doing laundry! It doesn't count!"
"I recall whipping you in the rear with a rolled-up shirt while you were trying to change in a bush," she adds impishly. Summerfree cackles.
"And I recall your friend here," Meiling adds, "spying on me out in the treeline while I did my morning stretches."
Summerfree abruptly chokes on his own laughter, turning beet red. "I--I did not! I mean--not like that! And Clover was with me!"
"It's true, I was," Clover says, "We were curious about the mansion."
"What about the other three times?" Meiling asks, smiling wickedly as Summerfree shrinks under her blazing eyes. I turn to stare at him and he shrinks further into his windbreaker, trying to find shelter from my pitiless gaze.
"Oh, don't worry," Meiling reassures me, "It was decades ago. And besides, lots of fairies do it. Some of them even live," she adds as a delicate afterthought.
After a moment, Summerfree turns to me and lays a hand on my shoulder. "You really are doomed, Kaz," he intones gravely.
That gets a laugh out of all of us--I guess when everyone's been a little embarrassed, nobody is. Not counting Meiling. I can't seem to get a rise out of her.
[ ] This is a pretty fun get-together, to be honest. Why not just keep the four of us together? [ ] Clover wanted to talk to me. I guess I should get some privacy. [ ] ... Take a gamble. Try to embarrass Meiling. [ ] Write-in.
>[x] Clover wanted to talk to me. I guess I should get some privacy.
While I'm sorely, sorely tempted to try to get Meiling the same way she's gotten us, I can't really think of any way to do it that isn't mean-spirited. ...Or doomed to failure as she, inevitably, turns it around on me. Someday, perhaps. But the tension has, admittedly, been broken. Clever work on Meiling's part. Now I just have to worry about what she's been telling Clover. Or what Clover's been telling her.
"I guess now that I've found you, we should probably get going," I say. Clover nods. "Want to get something to eat? I've been flying around looking for you all morning."
"Sure," she says.
You look to Meiling, who nods, and with one hand, pushes open the gate. "Welcome," she says simply.
"Thanks, Meiling," I reply. "Could you take care of Summerfree?"
Her face splits into a wicked grin. "Gladly."
"Be gentle," I tell her sternly, before turning to Summerfree, more quietly. "Be careful."
"I...what? What? Kaz...!" Summerfree's protests vanish as I lead Clover hesitantly back through the gate. She looks up and around at the mansion as she crosses the grounds, now under the light of day.
"Why so hesitant?" I ask. "You broke in last night."
"It's just strange, and interesting," she says.
Clover is just a little shorter than me, with bright blue eyes and brighter green hair, long and pinned up in back, with bangs that frame her entire face and a stray curl on top that's persisted stubbornly over the decades. She favors a pale green sundress that matches well, worn over a white longsleeve shirt (we actually found ours at the same time and split them between us). Long socks go up to her knees, and she is one of the few fairies who wear shoes, which are simple, flat, and unadorned. She looks very plain, with the one exception being her clover-leaf hairpin. At her back beat four small green wings, unattached, and very plainly shaped like the clover leaves from the field she was born in.
We reach the front doors, and I pull one open for her. She hesitates a moment, looking inside. "Come on," I insist. "It's fine, I promise."
"I know," Clover says. "But it's still... kinda weird."
"Yeah, I remember," I agree. It's only been a few months since I started coming and going myself. "It's strange and a little scary sometimes, but most of the stories are just stories."
She hesitates a moment longer, before stepping through the door into the mansion proper. "Feels a little funny," she says. "All this time, all I had to do was ask."
"Well, I doubt they'd let anyone in that wasn't looking for work," I reply. "I'm apparently a 'friend of the mansion,' so... what?" Why is she laughing?
"When I was working with those three to get in here, one of our plans involved stealing maid dresses and sneaking in. I think they still have theirs. You should watch out."
I laugh at that as I lead her down toward the larder. "Why didn't you go with that if you had them, then?"
She grins. "Barely fit into the thing. I popped a button on it."
...It's a little bit of a trip down to the kitchens. What should we talk about? [ ] Talk about Meiling. [ ] Talk about the mansion. [ ] Talk about the three fairies. [ ] Talk about the frozen seasons. [ ] Write-in.
>>59681 Not that strange since the maid uniforms are probably custom-tailored. Even if you're not very busty it might be trouble fitting into a uniform that's a few sizes too small. Besides, she never said which button popped. Just that a button popped.
File 138481887834.jpg - (332.52KB, 627x885, how every fairy sees Sakuya for the first time.jpg)
>[x] Talk about the mansion. >[x] Talk about the frozen seasons.
We're quiet for a moment while I ponder what to say, finally deciding to just try to give her something of a tour. "To be honest there's a lot of places in here I don't go," I explain. "I got in through an upper window the first time, and then I... got caught."
Clover grins. "Did you pretend to be the floor again?"
"I pretended to be the carpet, thank you very much," I reply with an embarrassed laugh.
"You really don't handle stress well, 'zuki."
"I'm working on it!" I huff. "Now let me give you a tour."
"It's not that big," Clover retorts, giggling. "I'm not going to get lost."
"Well, that'd be true," I admit, "if only the mansion weren't bigger on the outside than the inside."
She pauses in her tracks. "Wait... What?"
"The head maid can do some interesting tricks. Speaking of which--Sakuya?"
Instantly, true and perfect to form, the head maid appears...behind Clover. Oh, Sakuya, you aren't so bad after all. "Yes, Master Kazuki?"
Clover leaps about to the maid's head height. "I just wanted to introduce you to my friend!" I say brightly. "Clover, this is Sakuya."
The maid curtsies low and then bows politely, seemingly ignoring Clover clutching her chest, eyes wide. "It is a pleausre to meet you, Mistress Clover."
"I...yeah," she pants. "Yeah. Miss is--Miss will be fine."
"Sure you don't want me to give you the tour?" I ask lightly.
Sure enough, being introduced to the basic aspects of the freaky vampire manor is enough to get Clover following me. I point out a few of the long hallways, the path up to the clock tower, the path to the dining hall (and the other to the larders, where Sakuya vanishes to, promising to make us something for lunch), and finally to the basement door.
"And this... well, I can't really say. But this is where I died. This is where I lost my wings," I add quietly.
"'zuki..." Clover pulls me into a hug.
"I'm okay," I mumble. "I promise."
"I know," she says. "But still, after all this time, seeing you like that... I didn't want to say anything. It's just--"
"I just missed you," Clover finishes, letting me go. "And now you've gone and found a girlfriend--a youkai girlfriend--and you're learning danmaku, and your power, and getting interviewed, and...everything's different."
"It's been crazy, but I'm happy," I say. "I'm really happy. Even with everything that's happened."
"Just don't forget about us," she mumbles, rubbing her nose. "Don't leave us all behind."
"I won't," I reply firmly. "I promise." She nods, a little bit embarrassed now. "Now come on. Let's go get something to eat."
Sakuya prepared a lunch, all right--more than two fairies could possibly eat if we tried. Another roast turkey (is that just a mansion favorite or something?), two or three kinds of greens (one of which I don't even recognize), bread with butter, pitchers of juice, milk, and water...
"Do they always eat like this?" Clover asks.
"Sort of. Not this much for two, but this kind of stuff, yeah."
She loads up her plate with a drumstick. "A girl could get used to this. Maybe I should be a maid."
"Yeah, but then you'd have to be a maid," I point out.
She laughs. "True. Hey, Kaz, what was that in the interview?"
Two-handing the water pitcher, I carefully pour myself a ... cup? Goblet? Chalice? Stupid crazy human dishware. "What thing? The shrine maiden set me on fire--"
She shakes her head. "No no, the thing about the weather. The article didn't say."
"Oh! Right. Uh...the Winter's stuck."
"The Winter's what now?"
"The season isn't turning. Everything's unchanging."
"Things have gotten weird," I admit. "That shrine maiden--"
"The one who set you on fire?" she asks.
"She's all right, once you get to know her--stop looking at me that way--her and her friend, a witch, and the head maid are going out to check it out in a few days. And...I guess I'm going with them."
"...What?" She repeats.
"Is that the word of the day?"
"Okay, fine. Why? Why are you going with them?"
I shrug. "I got volunteered, and I guess I don't mind. And...well, I figured it out myself right about when Marisa did, and she's done more magic than I have ... changey stuff."
Clover grins, resting her head on her hands as she leans in over the table. "'Changey stuff.' I'm glad spending all your time with a nose in the book has paid off, 'zuki."
"Quiet, you," I shoot back, "or I'll brain you with my copy of Hamlet. Besides, I don't know how to describe it to other people. It's like having a sense no one else shares."
"You know what might help you explain it, and me understand it?" she asks. "Some wine."
[ ] Oh no. Ohhh no. Not happening. No way. [ ] ...Why not? How better to get caught up with the Lake's biggest lush? [ ] Write-in
>[x] ...Why not? How better to get caught up with the Lake's biggest lush?
"...Yeah, all right," I agree. "Sakuya!"
Clover's eyes widen. "Wait, don't ju--"
Swoosh, instant head maid. "Yes, Master Kazuki?"
I suppress a smirk. "Could we please have a bottle of wine?"
"I'll make it two," Sakuya replies and winks out again. A moment later, the table has been neatened and a pair of glasses and a basket placed in its center. A pair of red wines rest within, still cool from the cellar.
"Thank you!" I call, and promptly start wrestling one open.
"I'm never going to get used to that," Clover gasps.
"I know, right? Welcome to my world," I reply with a grin.
I'm a bit out of practice drinking, but I wasn't really expecting to keep up with Clover anyway--she's drunk youkai under the table, and I'm a little dizzy after two glasses. Clover's on her fourth and before long we're good and drunk by midday.
"I can't believe," I rasp between laughs, "you tried to break in."
"It was for you!" Clover exclaims, a little loudly. "I was half-scared you went and turned recluse!"
"Nahhh," I insist. "Far from it. I've just been so busy."
"You hate busy."
"Yeah, kinda," I admit, "but I kinda hate everything."
"See, this is what I missed," she replies wryly, "your boundless enthusiasm and sunny disposition." I swear she gets more clever with some alcohol in her.
"Speaking of Sunny," I interject, "Is she really that..."
"Dense?" Clover asks.
"I was going to say naive," I giggle.
Clover snorts. "Nahhh, she's not dense. She's night-blind."
"Really. She couldn't see anything. When she put two and two together, she was mortified."
"Well, that's good... wait, does that mean that you..."
She giggles. "Yup. I'm very happy for you. And from what I saw, I'm betting Meiling's even happier."
"Clover!" I sputter, laughing despite myself.
"Luna's taking it pretty well," Clover muses, mostly to herself. "Dunno what Star's issue was."
"Wait, Luna? How d'you mean?"
"She's a bit sweet on you, 'zuki."
That's news to me. "Aw no, really?"
"She'll get over it," she reassures me. "Though speaking of, what about you and Dai?"
I frown. "Probably the same kind of thing. I always kinda knew it was something I could either... act on, or just let go."
She tops off her glass again, steadying herself against the table as she does. "Does that mean I can start telling you all about her dirty little secrets now?"
"Better not," I declare. "I should be thinking about Meiling. I'm gonna have my hands full--not like that, you little perv."
"You were thinking it," Clover trills.
"I meant," I stress, "I have a date with her coming up."
"A date? Oh, man..." She looks up and away, eyes going to the distance as she lightly bites a knuckle.
"Clover? I know that look. Clover. No. No!"
Clover grins lopsidedly, taking up her wineglass. "Quiet, you. You are no longer in charge. I am taking control of this discussion."
"Oh gods..." I bury my face in my hands.
"Okay, lover-boy, where are you going to take her?"
I shrug. "What's around? We were probably just going to take a trip to the human village."
"And what then?" She presses in.
"I don't know! Maybe get something to eat?"
"You need some help. You need...more wine." She flutters over the table and tops off my glass, still surprisingly adept, controlling the pour and keeping the sediment undisturbed and out of the glass. "Now drink."
I grumble and heft the glass. "Yes, ma'am."
"Good boy. Now then!" She turns and jabs a wavering finger at me. "You're going to wine and dine and romance that dragon. What's your plan when you get to the village?"
Oh man, put me on the spot, Clover... [ ] I was going to keep it sedate. Walk around, see the sights, have a quiet meal... [ ] I was going to go big. Find bars, find musicians, find martial arts dojos. Something out of my comfort zone and appealing to her. [ ] ...I got nothing. Help me, Clover! [ ] Write-in
We should try for a write in on this one, but I don't have anything definite. I'll throw some ideas out, and if people like them, they can put it to a vote.
A nice lunch in the village A show of some sort (Prismrivers, Mystia, random OC character) - maybe with dancing (or learning how to) sparring A bar I want to end with a picnic dinner under the stars, though.
Just ideas, though. Fallback vote: [X] ...I got nothing. Help me, Clover!