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File 13894175517.jpg - (289.58KB, 1000x670, A Wayside Shrine.jpg) [iqdb]
60113 No. 60113
Life on the road is harsh. I’m good at a number of things, sure, but improving my stamina was never a real priority, so I tire easily. The fights I’ve been in never lasted long enough to need it. Cooking and finding shelter were never things I even had the chance to learn. Hunting is yet another thing I neglected to take up.

To be honest, being bad at things reminds me of… never mind. I was miserable then, too.

I’ve been travelling for three weeks, now. Beyond the fact that I’ve been headed east, I don’t even know what kingdom I’m in at this point. I hope father is taking my disappearance alright. When I left, things were… complicated.

A sudden downpour of rain interrupts my thoughts. The weather has been like this for a few days, all hot and humid and rainy. I can’t help but shiver as the rain soaks into my clothes. Temperatures stopped bothering me a while ago, but I can still catch something from staying drenched for a while. I need to find some shelter very soon.

Seeing as I’m already pretty far from civilization, heading deeper into the forest couldn’t hurt. The shade of the leafy canopy helps a little, but it isn’t going to keep me anywhere near dry. The forest is quiet as I trudge onward.

A ways off the beaten path, I find an old building of cracked stone, overgrown with vines and trees. I’d guess it’s a shrine of some sort. I have no idea to who or what, but it’s a shelter, at least.

The inside is dark, but I can see clear as daylight. There are traces of magic here, the cracked and broken wards having long ago run out of power. After making sure they aren’t dangerous to me, I renew them with a bit of my own inner light. This way, I don’t have to worry about wolves or anything happening upon me.

The rain continues uninterrupted for a few hours. I remember how, when I was very young, I was afraid of thunder. Mother would hold me and tell me that everything would be fine. Things were simpler back then. I’m sorry, mother. I must be such a disappointment to you.

When I awaken, it isn’t where I went to sleep. I’m on the shore of an ice covered lake. Judging by the falling snow, it now seems to be winter. I feel cold for the first time in months. Cold and weak. I can barely even call upon my light. The air is filled with a magic far different than any I’ve encountered before.

Once again, I have to find shelter. Hypothermia is hardly something I’m looking forward to experiencing. I’m not dressed very warmly, having grown reliant on my light to keep me comfortable. On top of that, the sun is setting, meaning it’s about to get a lot colder.

There looks to be a massive, walled off mansion almost on the lakefront. I don’t see any other options, so I have to go with that. It will take me a while to get there, so I should get walking.

I may have underestimated the size of the mansion. It seems to grow and shift as I get closer. The outer walls, dyed red by the setting sun, would be fit for a castle. The mansion itself, from what I can see of it, could also potentially be a castle. There’s something odd about it, though. It looks like a castle one moment and a mansion the next. There must be some very strange magic at work.

Once I get closer, I notice and am noticed by a woman who I presume to be the gatekeeper. She’s a tall, fiery-haired woman in something akin to a green tabard and white pants. While she seems comfortable in this weather, she’s less warmly dressed that I am. Her cool-blue eyes and relaxed posture make her seem non-threatening. Despite that, I’m sure she’s more dangerous than she looks. Guards are rarely for show and the fact that there’s only one means she must be formidable, indeed. She doesn’t have any visible weapons, but some could easily be concealed.

As I approach, she addresses me in a language I don’t understand. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Seeing my confusion, she switches to another, different language. At least, I think it’s a different language. There are some similarities. Naturally, it doesn’t help in the slightest. She sighs heavily, shaking her head to indicate that she only speaks those two languages.

I think I can try to do something about this. My instructor went over a magical workaround for just this situation, if only in passing. It was a way to understand intent and meaning without actually breaking the language barrier. Even if it doesn’t actually translate things, it’s better than nothing.

When I try to draw from my inner light, I get almost nothing. Even forcing it as much as I can, I only get a small trickle of energy. It’s like trying to lift a mountain. Apart from the tearing feeling in my side, I can barely tell that I’m managing anything. This tiny amount will have to do.

The enchantment brings some warmth back into my freezing ears. It’s a weird prickly-fuzzy feeling, but anything is fine if it takes my mind off the pain. I just wish I had some sort of incantation to go through, if only silently. My instructor laughed at me when I first started making up words to go with my spells. Sure, it’s childish and unnecessary, but she didn’t need to mock me about it.

In any case, I get it to work. The gatekeeper woman waits for me to speak. She seems to have picked up on what sort of enchantment I’ve just put upon myself. Well, sort of. I can’t speak in a way she’ll understand without either casting the enchantment on her or using another enchantment that I never actually learned. Of course, even then, I’d rather not try talking. I haven’t been able to speak for several weeks.

I gesture to her to speak.

“Are you lost?”

I can tell it’s a question from her tone, but not much else. I think she’s asking if I know where I am. I shake my head, honestly having no idea.

“You can understand me now, right?”

Do I… oh, understand! Yes. Sort of. Not really.

The woman sighs. “Close enough. Seeing as you don’t understand a word of Japanese, you must be an outsider.”

I didn’t understand a word of that.

“In any case, I can’t just leave you out in the cold. Come and follow me! My gatehouse is nice and warm.” The woman beckons me forward.

She’s going to let me come in, then. I’m half-tempted not to follow her. If there’s one thing I’m exceedingly bad at, it’s making a good first impression. When it comes to dealing with nobles, that problem gets multiplied by about ten times. The lord of this manor will likely want me gone within minutes of our meeting.

Alternately, I can freeze to death. That seems much more certain. Following it is.

Crossing the threshold gives me a hollow feeling on the inside. It’s that weird sort of vertigo where things are alright but you’re still afraid of what’s to come. It’s possible that it’s an omen that I’m going to meet my doom here or something. Or it might not be. I don’t actually know anything about divining and I’m too cold to care either way.

The gatekeeper is housed in a small building built partway into the wall, just inside of the gate. If I had to pick one word to describe her residence, it would be… well, warm, obviously. The heat comes from a few metallic box things with weird black tails that go into the walls. I don’t know why the fireboxes would need tails, but maybe they work like chimneys.

Once I have my gloves and boots off, to better warm my extremities, I take a proper look around the room. An entire wall is covered in all manner of weapons, most of which look well used. Most of the room is fairly messy, with a few books and assorted cutlery scattered about. There’s a fireplace tucked into a corner, making the fireboxes seem excessive. For someone who can stand out in the cold and be unaffected, the gatekeeper certainly likes to keep her home hot. I wonder why.

While I wait for the feeling to return to my hands and feet, the gatekeeper checks a pot that’s hanging over the fireplace. The smell of cooking meat is positively mouthwatering. I’m suddenly reminded that I last ate at midday, yesterday.

“Here, this should kick the cold out of your bones. It’s a great help on days like this.” She offers me a bowl of some sort of stew.

The fact that the stew has an even higher concentration of magic than my surroundings gives me pause, but hunger wins out. Despite the fact that my own traumatizing attempts at cooking with magic are stuck fresh in my mind, the stew is wonderful. And spicy. Brutally, painfully spicy. It heats my body like liquid fire. I kind of want more.

“Still hungry? The stew isn’t half as filling as you’d think. Kind of a problem, seeing as eating too much of it will cook you alive. I don’t really have anything else on hand at the moment, seeing as I wasn’t expecting a guest. I guess that, if her workload isn’t too high at the moment, Sakuya should be willing to whip something up.”

All I caught of that was that eating more would be a bad idea. The why wasn’t clear, but I figure that there’s something poisonous in the stew that is helpful in small doses.

“Once you’re properly warmed up, the mistress will want to see you. It’s just after nightfall, so she should be in a welcoming enough mood.”

Now I’m to go and meet her lord, then? I’m really not looking forward to this. Still, I don’t have a choice if I want to continue not freezing to death.

The area contained within the outer walls is much larger than the outside would suggest. I find myself looking around at the buildings built into the walls and at the towers spaced evenly throughout the wall. Anything but the looming mansion I’m walking toward.

“Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.” The gatekeeper gives me a reassuring pat on the head.

As I work on calming my nerves, the gatekeeper has me wait outside while she goes in. Fortunately, that stew I had earlier makes the cold feel more like a breeze.

The gatekeeper reappears a minute later with another woman. The woman is tall, though less so than the gatekeeper, and has dark blue eyes and braided silver hair. Her clothes identify her as a maid, no doubt one of many who work here. If I had to guess, I’d say that she’s around four years my senior.

The maid’s gaze is slightly unsettling. Her smile doesn’t quite seem genuine. Then again, it isn’t particularly false, either. I can’t read her at all.

“Seeing as you don’t understand a word of Japanese, how about English?”

I didn’t really understand that, either, but I recognize the language, at least. The invaders spoke this language, so I can’t say I like hearing it. Even so, it’s better than nothing.

You recognize English, but don’t speak it? Do you, perhaps, speak French?”

I do! Well, at the moment, I can’t really speak at all, but I will be able to when I’m feeling better. It’s a relief to know that at least one person speaks the same language I do. It would get very frustrating if no one did.

“Very interesting. I take it you haven’t spoken for a reason.”

I make a point of massaging my throat. It still hurts, of course.

“I see. We don’t often get travelers around here, but the mistress enjoys getting to entertain guests. There’s just one thing before I bring you to her. That sword. I feel it unwise to let you go before milady armed, even if she herself doesn’t care. I ask that you surrender it, fr now.”

Normally, I’d be happy to comply, if only as a gesture of goodwill. The sword itself is unremarkable and doesn’t hold any particular sentimental value. Right now, the problem is that I can’t access my magic, meaning the sword is my only defense. The fact that my hostess is apparently unconcerned about security breaches must mean she believes she has some way of killing me before I can draw my sword. I very much doubt that, myself.

Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I’ve stared death in the face dozens of times in the last year. Every time, I had something I could do to hold it off, if only just.

[] – Surrender the sword.
[] – I think I’ll keep it.

***
Something familiar, yet different. Hopefully, this will be interesting.
Expand all images
>> No. 60114
[x] – I think I’ll keep it.

Never surrender your weapon.
>> No. 60115
[x] – I think I’ll keep it.
>> No. 60116
[x] – I think I’ll keep it.
>> No. 60117
[x] – I think I’ll keep it.
Tempted to duel her for it. Maybe if she indicates that she herself is also armed?
>> No. 60118
[x] - Surrender the sword.

It's not going to do that much against Danmaku anyway.
>> No. 60119
[x] - Surrender the sword.

A good civilised Frenchman should respect his hosts
>> No. 60120
[x] - Surrender the sword.

I'll go for the good first impression.
>> No. 60121
[x] - Surrender the sword.

It is a polite thing, that and I doubt Sakuya would have allowed him in if she was planning on attacking him.
>> No. 60133
I wasn't expecting this to go from 4-0 to tied.

Can I get a tiebreaker, please?
>> No. 60134
[x] - Surrender the sword.
>> No. 60135
Called for:

[x] - Surrender the sword.
>> No. 60139
File 138988629626.jpg - (128.62KB, 1200x1600, Lady Scarlet.jpg) [iqdb]
60139
Maybe a minute passes as I mull it over. After much debating, I decide to give up my sword. As it is, I’m probably going to horribly botch my first meeting with the local baroness or countess or whatever she is. I need to minimize the damage and going in unarmed should be a sign of trust. Or something. I don’t remember much in the way of dealing with nobles.

I unclasp the blade from my side and hand it to the maid. She accepts it with the utmost care and a slight smirk. I take a step back when she slowly draws the sword. Is she going to kill me here and now?

The answer is no. She simply examines the sword, looking it over and testing the weight. I can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief.

“Hmm, well balanced and practical. The steel is of fine quality as well. I take it you rely on finesse rather than strength.”

I have to. Every opponent I’ve ever faced has been stronger than me. I’ve stuck to speed and trickery to survive. That and my light. But hurting people with that is…

While I try to shake off my queasiness, the maid hands the sword off to the gatekeeper. They’re speaking that other language and I’m too distracted to process what’s being said.

“Are you alright?” the maid asks me. “You look like you’re going to be sick.”

I’m fine. Just recalling something I really shouldn’t be thinking about. Yeah, I think I’ll manage.

“If you’re certain. Please, come in. Enter freely of your own will.”
That’s a rather odd phrasing, but maybe it’s just the custom here.

As I go in, the gatekeeper gives me a parting wave. I return it with the best smile I can muster.

The maid leads me through what feels like it must be half the mansion. She doesn’t say much of anything during the walk, so my attention wanders. Red seems to be the dominant color of the carpets and walls. There are a lot of chandeliers, but most of them are unlit. The shadows that result are eerie, so I make sure to stay close to the maid.

We stop before a door that isn’t noticeably different from the rest. The maid has me wait outside while she goes in, presumably to announce my presence and explain my circumstances as she understands them. About a minute of muffled voices later, I’m let in.

The room is a small office. I don’t really pay much attention to what it looks like, my attention being drawn to the girl seated at a desk. The girl is small, slim, and pale, no doubt a sickly sort. Her eyes glow crimson, her hair the color of morning fog. I can’t really guess an age, but I doubt of age. Even so, the absolute confidence in her expression makes it clear that she is the mistress of the mansion.

“Would you care for a seat?” Her voice is friendly despite her formal tone.

An invitation rather than an order? I certainly wasn’t expecting this. The chair I’m offered is really quite comfortable.

“Sakuya tells me you’ve come from a faraway land.” The girl gestures to the maid. “She also mentioned that you don’t speak and that Meiling told her you were a magician.”

Things are as she says.

“You would greatly appreciate food and shelter, no?”

I really have nowhere else to go, so yes.

“Sakuya, please bring some tea for our guest and myself.”

“Right away, mistress.”

As the maid leaves the room, I hear a strange hissing noise. It’s probably just a weird mansion thing.

“Seeing as you surrendered your weapon to Sakuya, you seem to be a respectful and honorable sort.” She sounds disappointed, somehow. “I invite you to stay until I feel you can safely survive outside of my area of influence. This place is likely much more dangerous than the one you came from and you do not seem to understand the common language here.”

I’m not so sure it’s any more dangerous in this country than my own. I faced some pretty grueling trials back home. But I had my light for most of those.

The part about language I have to concede. That’s a serious problem with no easy workaround.

“Your inability to speak is a problem. I’ll have someone look at your throat and see what’s wrong with you. In the meantime, I presume you can write.”

She goes through a few of the desk drawers, digging out a pen, inkwell, and paper. The paper is covered in some strange symbol language. Is it really okay for me to be writing on this?

“Don’t mind that, it’s just an old trade statement. Feel free to flip it over and write on the back.”

I guess it’s fine then.

(Thank you for your hospitality. I don’t wish to take it for granted and be a drain on your resources.)

“If it eases your heart, you could help some of the members of the mansion with their duties from time to time. In truth, I don’t feel the need to ask anything of you. Things have been rather dull of late, so your presence should at least make for an interesting change of pace.”

(I see, Lady…)

“Scarlet. Remilia Scarlet. No need to address me by a title. You aren’t a servant and a title carries no weight on paper, anyway.”

Lady Scarlet… Remilia, pinches at something in the air about level with my shoulder.

“You’ve broken a whole lot of ties to come here, I see.” She says, idly twirling her finger.

She shouldn’t know anything about my past. This is worrying.

(Explain.)

“Your fate is harsh and full of suffering. You will be worn down until you die.” Her expression is deadly serious now.

(E X P L A I N)

“Just a little ability I have. I can change the course of your fate a bit, if you like. It’s up to you whether you see it through.”

(How?) If she means to scare me, she’s very much succeeded.

“You simply discard the remains of your old life. A rebirth, if you will.”

(Again, HOW?)

“I’m sorry. I’m really not very good at explaining things, am I?” Remilia fidgets in her seat. “You have three ties that bind you to your old life. Those are your responsibility to release. The other thing is a name. Your birth name must be given up.”

(What does that mean? Must I pick a new name?)

“If you pick the name, it changes nothing. I can give you a suitable name.”

I have been trying to distance myself from my identity of late. It’s only been making me dwell on things more.

(If you insist.)

Remilia thinks for a few minutes, idly twirling an imaginary string.

“Write your birth name on that paper.”

I do so, letting her take the paper afterward. The edges of the paper start to smolder.

“Your new name is…

[] – Feminine Name (Default is Ellie)
[] – Masculine name (Default is Uriel)

***
This is really more of a gender choice than a name choice. I would appreciate name suggestions, though. Surnames are appreciated too. Ideally, the name should be meaningful in some way.
>> No. 60140
[x] – Feminine Name
As always, I'll pass on the naming choice.
>> No. 60141
[X] – Masculine name Anderson
>> No. 60142
[X] – Feminine Name
>> No. 60143
[X] Feminine Name - Celestine

Dunno why, but it just sounds right to me.
>> No. 60144
[x] – Masculine name (Default is Uriel)

sounds good.
>> No. 60145
[X] – Feminine Name
>> No. 60146
The Flame of God, huh? I was about to suggest the Mercy of God in its place, but then I realized that could get confusing.

[x] Feminine name: Raphaëlle ("Ellie", for short)
>> No. 60147
[X] – Masculine Name (Lambert)
>> No. 60148
[X] – Masculine name (Emilien)

Because close consonance with Remilia.
>> No. 60149
[x] Masculine name - Uriel

Actually like the default name, so I'll stick to it
>> No. 60150
[x] Feminine name: Raphaëlle ("Ellie", for short)

This one is nice. And we haven't had a female protagonist within the SDM in a while, so yeah.
>> No. 60151
[x] Masculine name - Uriel
>> No. 60152
[x] Feminine name: Raphaëlle
>She sounds disappointed, somehow.
Knew we should have duelled Sakuya for it.
>> No. 60153
[x] Masculine name - Uriel

Very angelic.
>> No. 60154
[x] – Feminine Name
>> No. 60155
[x] – Masculine name (Default is Uriel)

Kinda just want a male protag, not for any good reason though.
>> No. 60156
[x] Feminine name: Raphaëlle
I'll never be rid of this preference for females in stories...
>> No. 60157
Oh wow, I wasn't expecting to get half this many votes.

Before this gets into a sequence of ties and tiebreaks (which it seems to have already done somewhat), calling it for:

[X] - Feminine name: Raphaëlle ("Ellie", for short)

I quite like all the suggestions that you've all given.
>> No. 60158
[x] – Feminine name

My best guess is that this protagonist is from southern France in the middle ages (~1200), and speaks Occitan as their first language. It's one of the places the English could be considered invaders, as they controlled a large chunk of territory there in that time period.

Alternatives could be Wales or Ireland, but knowing French would be more of a stretch then.
>> No. 60159
>>60158
If we were Welsh we'd spend all our time bitching about those bastards who live in the village down the road
>> No. 60160
>>60159

At least during the times we're not balls deep in our sheep.
>> No. 60161
>>60160
Going for the low-hanging fruit, eh?
>> No. 60162
>>60159
>>60160
Lleyg oddi ar y jôcs defaid.
>> No. 60164
>>60162
Lay off the Google Translate.
>> No. 60206
File 139101016131.jpg - (103.18KB, 1200x1200, Mysterious Maid.jpg) [iqdb]
60206
“Your new name is Raphaëlle.”

The paper with my old name on it burns away. I feel a bit lighter, if only in the symbolic sense. I kind of doubt that this actually changes anything, but I haven’t discarded so much of my idealism as to dismiss it entirely.

“Welcome Raphaëlle, to the House of Scarlet.” Remilia does a wide, sweeping gesture around her.

It feels a bit silly. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a certain charm to it. I’ve done similar things before. You have to make your own fun sometimes.

“If you’re to live here for any length of time, there are things you need to know. This mansion is not always safe. Sometimes, she can be temperamental or taunting.”

Remilia gives me another paper to write on.

(How so?)

“You could say that the mansion is divided into territories. Meiling, she’s the Gatekeeper if you did not catch her name, watches over most everything between the outer walls and the mansion proper. Sakuya holds sway over all of the upper floors and Patchouli, our magus, controls the library. I oversee all of them as well as hold some power over the surrounding lands.”

(Where does the danger come in?)

“There are areas outside my will. Most notably, the basement is labyrinthine and has never been properly mapped. Past the entrance to the library, I cannot guarantee your safety.”

(I’ll keep that in mind. Anything else particularly?)

“Generally, you should avoid areas that are unlit. The mansion grows traps and rooms at times. We have patrols to sweep out the problematic ones, but they’re mostly on the fringes.”

At this point, the maid arrives with tea. My throat is feeling pretty dry at the moment, so it’s much appreciated. It has honey in it or something, so it soothes my pain some.

“Will that be all, mistress? Guest?” The maid has another unreadable smile.

“She has a name, Sakuya.”

“It would be strange if she lacked one.”

“She is Raphaëlle.”

“Has she, ah, been Raphaëlle for long?”

“Time is relative, Sakuya.”

“Right.” Sakuya extracts a silver pocket watch from somewhere on her person and studies it intently.

“Would you kindly bring Raphaëlle a writing pad? I have no doubt you have a fair few for keeping track of your duties.”

The pocket watch snaps closed. “Right away, mistress.”

I can’t help but feel like I just missed something in that exchange.

Remilia and I finish our tea in silence. It feels weird to just be sitting still after what feels like years of constant motion. I have a hard time sitting still, but fidgeting too much might be seen as be rude. It really is an alien feeling, as if I’ll be pulled under if I ever stop moving for too long.

Sakuya reappears at just about the perfect time. “Here you are.”

(Thank you, Miss Sakuya.)

“Yes, thank you, Sakuya.” Remilia says.

“Will that be all?”

“Not quite.” Remilia looks back at me. “Apologies if I’m being rude, but might I get you to go with Sakuya? I have some business I need to attend to, so I thought this might be a good time to get you settled with a room.”

(I don’t mind.)

“If you happen to still be awake shortly before sunrise, I invite you to dine with me.”

(It would be an honor.)

“Thank you, Raphaëlle. May your stay here be a pleasant one.”

Once more, it’s off through the halls. It’s a bit too dark for me to actually write out any of my questions for the maid and similarly hard to do so while walking. I just do my best to keep up. The hallways almost seem to stretch as we walk, buy I try not to think about that too much.

After a short walk, we stop in front of a door. It seems like we must have either gone up a floor or down one. I can’t actually tell which.

Opening the door, Sakuya flicks a switch just inside the room. There’s a bright flash for a moment and she sighs heavily. “How inconvenient. I’ll have to fetch some spare lightbulbs along with a set of sheets.”

(I don’t mind waiting if you need me to.) ‘Lightbulb’ is an unfamiliar word, albeit an easy enough one to figure out.

“I’m sorry about this. The lighting in this part of the mansion can be temperamental. But I can’t just leave you here in the dark now, can I? Perhaps you would care for a bath? It looks like the road has not been kind to you”

(That would be wonderful.) I realize she’s probably insinuating I smell and look filthy, but it’s true enough.

The bathroom is near the room I’ll be staying in. The lights work in there, but I’m not really sure what the deal is with all the faucets and handles and such on things. Once Sakuya is satisfied enough in her explanations that she doesn’t think I’ll flood the room or drown myself, I’m left alone in the pristine white-tiled room.

I have to wash myself several times before I start to feel clean. It’s been such a long time since I had a bath. After letting the tub drain and refilling it, I lie back and close my eyes. Letting the heat soak into my skin feels nice. It really has been too long since I had the chance to do this.

A knock at the door rouses me from my brief moment of contentment. “Are you alright in there?” Sakuya calls.

I can’t exactly answer aloud, so I muster the energy to get up. I do my best to quickly dry off and wrap a towel around myself.

“Sorry if I disturbed you,” says a slightly relieved looking Sakuya, “I brought you something to wear until I get the chance to wash and mend your clothes.”

I smile and nod. These look a bit big for me. Maybe they’re her clothes?

---

Normally, I wouldn’t let anyone help me fix my hair. Of course, normally it wouldn’t have several weeks of knots and neglect to make it an agonizing task. Sakuya is patient and helpful enough to make the process as painless as possible.

“I’m sure you’re wondering why you’ve only seen all of three people in such a large place. The staff has the week of the Winter Solstice off. It’s something of a holy day for them.”

(But not for you?)

“Some of us hail from lands far away.” Sakuya closes her eyes, “We have different customs.”

Things were different back home for me, too. I’m really far from home, aren’t I? But right now isn’t a good time to dwell on that. Things will be different here.

“Do you mind if I call you Ellie? Lady Remilia’s naming sense can be a bit… Well, many of the locals will butcher your proper name. It’s very different from what they’re used to.”

(I don’t mind at all.) Ellie sounds like a good name. I like it. Ellie. Ellie.

“Well, your hair is all done. You should probably think about getting it cut or tying it back at some point, but I suppose the natural look suits you well enough for now.”

---

The room I’ll be staying in is rather bare at present. It’s just a bed, a wardrobe, and a nightstand. It’s nothing really special, but a proper bed is like a priceless jewel to me after so long without one. I store my meager assortment of possessions in the wardrobe and go back out to see Sakuya again.

(Thank you once again! I really appreciate the hospitality!)

“I am only doing my duty. Is there anything else you happen to need at present?” It seems that she’s gone back to being formal again.

[] – Nothing right now, I think I’ll sleep for a bit.
[] – I’m am feeling a bit hungry.
[] – Remilia mentioned something about a magus and a library.

***
I hate flu season.
>> No. 60208
[x] – Remilia mentioned something about a magus and a library.

Might as well meet everyone
>> No. 60209
[x] – Remilia mentioned something about a magus and a library.

if there's time after meeting with Patchouli:
[x] Sleep

Sleeping early to so that we can dine with Remilia sounds like a good idea too.
>> No. 60210
[x] – I am feeling a bit hungry.

More Sakuya time!
>> No. 60211
[x] – Remilia mentioned something about a magus and a library.
>> No. 60219
File 139107965133.jpg - (116.61KB, 428x867, Not that kind of Devil.jpg) [iqdb]
60219
(Remilia mentioned something about a magus and a library. Could you direct me there?)

“Ah, certainly. Please, follow me.”

Once again, we travel the twisting passages of the mansion. I think I see something moving in one of the shadowy corners, but it’s gone when I squint.

“A few words of advice,” Sakuya says as we start descending a large staircase, “Patchouli is very particular about where things are placed. If you take a book from a stack or a shelf, make sure you put it back when you’re done with it.”

I’ll keep that in mind.

After what feels like an hour of going downward, we come to the bottom of the staircase. It’s very cold down here and other than a pair of those lightbulb things to either side, the hall stretches out into the darkness. Sakuya opens a door on the left and I follow her in.

The library is positively enormous. Surely it must go up to the top floor of the mansion. And all around the perimeter and in countless rows are bookshelves. Most of the shelves seem to be filled, as well. Why, this one room probably holds more stored knowledge than every noble library back home combined!

“Quite the reaction.” Sakuya says, “I take it you like to read?”

I guess I do, sometimes. I mean, I loved studying medicine. It even saved my life a few times. But then I learned about magic and swordsmanship and those took priority. Mortal wounds tend to reshuffle your priorities like that…

No, stop thinking about that! It’s time to read something, not mope around.

Sakuya moves to leave. “If you happen upon a sleeping Patchouli, I suggest you don’t wake her. She’s been sick recently, so she will probably be sleeping off her cold.”

The door clicks shut, leaving me alone in the vast room. Well, I might as well get looking for something to read.

Naturally, a large part of the book titles are in languages I can’t hope to comprehend. Who even writes in symbols, anyway? It’s weird.

Near what I think is the center of the library, I find a section with readable titles. Let’s see… Ley Lines of Eastern Europe, Naval Battles of the Second World War, Makai Metaphysics

Okay, no. These are about as comprehensible as the symbols. I haven’t got a clue where Europe is or what a Ley Line is. I definitely would have heard about a world war, let alone [u]two[/i]! And that last title probably isn’t even the same language. These books are sorted terribly.

Hmm, how about these? Twelve Principles of Alchemy could be interesting. And this one is WORDS OF POWER. That sounds like it would have some big magic stuff in it.

“I wouldn’t recommend that one.” A voice comes from right above, “You’ll go blind, if you’re lucky.”

Resisting the urge to jump out of my skin, I look up. A woman is stretched across the top shelf of the bookcase, reclining on a few old tomes.

“Evenin’.” She swings herself upside-down, covering me in her mess of cherry colored hair. It’s hard not to sneeze.

(And you are?)

“So, you’re the torch, eh? Kind of scrawny and haunted-looking, but I’ve seen worse.” The woman smiles, parting her hair with the wings on her head why does she have those?

I gesture to my writing pad again. I’m starting to get used to weird people not answering my questions the first time I ask them.

“Me? I’m no one special. Just a stagehand in the mansion’s play.”

(Really, now?)

The woman smiles, revealing a few too many teeth. “I’ve had many names over the years. Right now, I’m just a little devil. Koakuma, if you prefer, though just Koa is fine.”

This woman is obviously some manner of demon. I’m not really sure what to do. My experience with demons has always involved things like killing sprees and explosions.

“Surprised?” such a smug expression.

(You aren’t going to, you know, eat me, right?)

“Nah. You’re Scarlet’s guest. I’d be a fool to pick a fight with you in her territory. Besides,” she licks her lips, “I haven’t felt like draining someone in decades.”

(That’s good, I guess.)

“So, introductions done. Care for a proposal?” The demoness drops from her perch, flipping in the air and landing gracefully. She’s dressed in a rather wrinkled suit, the shirt mostly unbuttoned. On the ground, she’s only a bit taller than me.

(What sort of proposal?) I don’t think I’m going to like hearing this.

“You being here will shake things up a bit. Probably for the best, considering just how boring the day-to-day gets. So, what I want is for you to socialize a bunch. Change the facts. Come talk to me from time to time, break the monotony.”

This sounds mostly like what I would be doing anyway. I’m not sure what it is she wants, exactly.

“Sound good?” the demoness extends a hand.

(What do I get in return? And what’s your price?) There has to be a price. Nothing is truly free with demons.

“I know a lot about the people here. I’m willing to share a few insights, assuming I get compensated. Maybe I’ll ask for help with some practical joke or a slice of pie, or whatever strikes my fancy at the time. Nothing big. Not like I want your firstborn kid or anything.” She gives her best unconvincing smile.

(Right.)

“The first one is free, you know! No strings attached!”

[] – I suppose it won’t hurt. Tell me about (Name).
[] – I suppose it won’t hurt. Are there any other notable parties here?
[] – I’m here to read right now, not get pulled into demon contracts.
[] – I don’t deal with demons.

***
Down with the sickness, up with the updates.
>> No. 60220
[x] – I suppose it won’t hurt. Are there any other notable parties here?

We already know the basics of everyone we've met (and Patchouli). I'm curious if she'll mention Flandre.
Plus, demon contracts are interesting.
>> No. 60222
[x] You have a notepad. Write out a simple contract, making sure the terms are clear and airtight. Or at least soul-tight.

I wrote one up, decided it was too long and specific to justify as a write-in, and stuck in a pastebin instead.
http://pastebin.com/tc6wBq3X
>> No. 60223
[x] I'm here to read right now, not get pulled into demon contracts.

As nice as demons are, I'd rather not deal with one. They tend to twist any kind of contract that you don't check and double-check a hundred times. Besides, we can still learn more about people at the SDM with experience, or by asking them about each other.
>> No. 60224
[x] Confirm that taking the freebie doesn't obligate you to assist her in the future
[x] Any other notable parties, specifying who we have already met

If the information is useful
[x] Agree to her proposal

Let's try to get some information and not get drained.
Although I wouldn't mind being drained by Koa, if you know what I mean
>> No. 60225
[x] – I suppose it won’t hurt. Are there any other notable parties here?
>> No. 60231
File 139116424895.png - (621.36KB, 1135x1219, Suffering~.png) [iqdb]
60231
(If I accept just once, I’m not obligated to do this in the future, right?)

“Hardly. I mean, I could, but it’s cheap and doesn’t exactly foster good working relationships. You catch more flies with honey than with a flyswatter covered in glue, you know? Well, not necessarily, but then the glue dries and what the hell am I supposed to do with a gummed up flyswatter?” The demoness shakes one of her hands, looking at it like it has something gross on it.

That went somewhere weird. But I guess I’m not getting wrapped into any demon contracts right this moment.

(Well, who else is there that I don’t know about? I’m already aware of Remilia, Sakuya, Meiling, and Patchouli.)

“That just leaves Scarlet’s sister. Well, I’ve never really figured that they’re actually sisters sisters. More, ah, how should I put this? Scarlet’s blood flows in her veins, but they were probably born to different parents.”

(Cousins, you mean?)

“Eh. You’ll probably run into her when you least expect it. She’s usually pretty quiet, doesn’t do much socializin’. Most of the big names here don’t, but they at least pay attention to each other.”

(I’m not seeing how any of this is useful.)

“I’m getting to that part. See, the kid’s sort of a non-element within the household. Unless you make a point of asking about her, you’ll never hear anyone mention her. You could live here for a year and never find out she exists at all. Well, maybe you’d bump into her by chance.”

(Why don’t they talk about her?) I never heard of the nobles back home doing this sort of thing. I suppose that not hearing about it is the point, but it doesn’t sit well with me.

“There are a few explanations, but I’ll be nice and just give you the easiest to digest. The kid isn’t officially part of the Scarlets for political reasons. Her magic is unstable and poorly understood, the girl herself much the same. It’s mostly not her fault. Mostly. She usually can’t help it.” The demoness’ tail swishes back and forth as she talks. I can’t help but think she’s trying to distract me with it.

(Have they tried getting the girl help?) I know how dangerous magic can be as an untrained, reactive force.

“That’s quite the loaded question, likely to upset people. They aren’t going to look for help outside the mansion. Around here, that would be like admitting the Scarlet faction is weak. Maybe it’s true or maybe it’s false, but it means land disputes and profiteering. It’s too much of a headache.

Plus, they’d still have to admit the younger Scarlet is their responsibility. It’s easiest on everyone to pretend she doesn’t exist, regardless of what everyone knows off the tables. They also get to be sure that this way they won’t go up against the kid in a fight, unless someone decides to attack the mansion directly. And if someone were dumb enough to do that, no loss if they die.” swish swish

(So people know about her, then. Before, you made it seem like it was just the people living here that knew.)

“There are a few newer groups that haven’t heard, but most know. At the very least, the temple doesn’t. Otherwise, Youkai Jesus would be stickin’ her tits in our business in a naïve attempt to help. The mountain folk probably understand things the best, not that they care. If they did, Miracle-Gro Miko would’ve wound up as a modern art piece by now.” swish

(?)

“You know, painted all over the walls. Ugh, my sense of humor is totally wasted on you.” The tail droops.

I wasn’t aware demons were even capable of humor. I still stand by that judgment.

“In any case, try to avoid upsetting the girl if you run across her. If she’s mumbling to herself and barely moving, she’s probably having an episode and you shouldn’t approach her. Other than that, just be nice and don’t show fear. If she wants to play, you should probably comply. Usually it will be something benign like tag. If she wants to play Danmaku, quickly suggest something else. Hide and Seek usually means she’s out for blood, so running like hell is your best bet.”

(I see.) It sounds like the girl is stable enough to interact with, for the most part. I should be able to manage now that I know the warning signs.

“And that’s pretty much it. See, I know things.” She’s a bit too far into my personal space.

(Yes, thank you.)

“Now then, you’re here for a book, hmm? I’ll find whatever subject you’re looking for…”

---

Sure enough, the demoness knows her way around the library. She even directs me to a circle of comfy chairs and gives me some space once I have my book.

I wind up reading an old book on medicine. It’s hardly what most people would consider an interesting read, but I might as well start with something familiar. I feel like I need familiar right now. The good kind.

I don’t know how much time passes, but I’m roused from my studying by a rumbling stomach. It’s probably still a few hours before sunrise, so a snack shouldn’t hurt my appetite. I just don’t know how to reach the kitchens or find Sakuya. I guess I’ll have to ask the demoness.

“Well, the kitchen is usually on the ground floor, so that should help some. Other than that, just follow the lights. You’re bound to run into the maid eventually.”

(What if I get lost?)

“Scream for the maid. I guess you’re screwed, then. She usually appears when she’s called for, but that only extends to the big names here. Maybe it would extend to you too, but definitely not me.” That and a half-hearted shrug are all the help I get.

I exit the library not feeling especially confident. Immediately, I head left toward the torches and

Wait.

Okay, stop.

Back up.

I distinctly remember that the torches should be on my right. But they’re to my left.

This is somewhat difficult to casually ignore.

[] – Left. I know I need to follow the light.
[] – Right. Even if it’s dark, I’ll follow my intuition.
[] – Back. Not dealing with this weirdness right now.

***
Making up for lost time. Koa is fun to write.
>> No. 60232
Assuming we haven't walked that far yet:
[x] Point out the discrepancy to Koakuma
otherwise
[x] Left. I know I need to follow the light
Since we were warned not to go into areas that are unlit, wandering into the darkness doesn't seem like the best idea
>> No. 60234
[X] – Left. I know I need to follow the light. 
>> No. 60236
[x] – Left. I know I need to follow the light.
Lady Remilia was kind enough to give us a warning. It would be wise to heed it.
>> No. 60239
>>60231
>Koa is fun to write.
She's fun to read, as well. I'm starting to like this Koa...

[x] Left. I know I need to follow the light.
>> No. 60242
[x] – Right. Even if it’s dark, I’ll follow my intuition.

The lights seem like a trap.
>> No. 60248
>>60242

Yeah, and I've learnt to trust intuition when the protagonist makes note of it. At least when Koishi isn't involved anyway.

[x] – Right. Even if it’s dark, I’ll follow my intuition.
>> No. 60249
[x] – Left. I know I need to follow the light.

When given advice by the residents of the shapeshifting mansion, follow it.
>> No. 60250
[x] – Left. I know I need to follow the light.

They know their mansion better than we do. Follow their advice.
>> No. 60290
File 139176806439.jpg - (416.79KB, 850x1206, Sakuya please.jpg) [iqdb]
60290
You know that dropdown thing when you're scrolled all the way up? The one marked "Styles"? I feel like this story looks best with the one labeled "Darkish". If you don't want to change it to that, that's fine too.

***

My intuition nudges at me to go right, but the mansion’s residents have given me the impression that darkness is dangerous and trap-filled. Left should be right according to them. I hope.

The hallway seems to be doing that stretching thing again, meaning it takes forever to reach the end. But reach it, I do. I’m slightly surprised that the stairs are actually there.

When I get about halfway up the stairs, I feel a cold wind coming from back down below. Looking over my shoulder, I can see the torches at the bottom sputter out. And then the first set up the stairs. And the next.

The fact that I’ve never been much of a runner stops being a thing for a few seconds.

The door to the basement creaks closed behind me on its own. Once I feel like I’m a safe enough distance away, about halfway down the hall, I collapse against a wall to catch my breath.

Okay, that was awful. I’m very much happy to now be elsewhere.

As for what happened, I’m going to choose to believe that there’s a draft with very bad timing. The direction thing was probably me getting turned around and wandering out a different exit to the library. They can’t just have one, right? I mean, what if someone drops a candle or something and the entire library goes up in flames? Yeah, that has to be what happened.

Once I’m calm and collected, I wander the halls looking for either Sakuya or the kitchen. She might well be in there. That would simplify things quite a bit. Now, if only these halls didn’t all look the same…

Something touches the back of my neck.

Mid-dive forward, I realize that the sword I’m gripping for isn’t there and hasn’t been since I got to the mansion. Not good. If I’m being attacked by one of those suits of armor I’ve seen in a few places, I’m doomed.

Lucky for me, my assailant is…

a giggling Sakuya?

Despite the crushing, room-darkening weight of my resentment, it takes Sakuya a bit to stop laughing.

“Sorry,” she says, not looking nearly sorry enough, “I couldn’t resist.”

(WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT!)

“Just making a bit of fun for myself. I didn’t expect you could move so quickly or that you were so high-strung.”

I just stare at her.

“Don’t worry, I won’t make a habit of startling you like that. Often.” She says with a smirk.

Okay, that’s it. I will get you for this, Sakuya. You will rue the day that you messed with Ellie of House… Ellie. RUE IT!

“You’re trying to do the Charisma Thing, aren’t you.” Sakuya says, stifling a laugh. “It won’t work on me or anyone who lives here. You see, Remilia loves doing the Charisma Thing. She’s really good at it, too. Years and years of practice. Yours is alright, but it kind of loses its effect when you’re breathing heavily and red in the face.”

Hey! I worked hard to learn that!

“In any case, I assume you got lost. The halls do look pretty similar, but you’ve passed this spot three times now.”

(You were watching me?)

“You’re managing pretty well, all things considered. You would’ve probably found your way out of the loop in another two trips around. What exactly were you looking for?”

(You. Or the Kitchen. I’m hungry.)

“Ah.” Sure, now you look guilty. “Right this way.”

Naturally, she leads me to a spot I’ve already passed several times. I’d swear that door wasn’t there before, but I just don’t have it in me to deal with this right now.

The kitchen is huge and well stocked, befitting the mansion. The scent of fragrant herbs is in the air and something is baking in one of the ovens. There are a fair few things different from the kitchens back home, but it has that same sort of wonderful smell.

“So, what can I get for you?”

(What is there?)

“Well, we had an especially good harvest of apples this year. We have an abundance of preserved apples. The honeyed apples make for a good treat.”

(That sounds good.) That was always a favorite treat of mine as a child.

“Just a moment,” Sakuya says, making her way into an adjoining pantry. “Here they are.”

Ooh! How I’ve missed you, messy childhood snack.

“It’s funny,” Sakuya says, closing her eyes and smiling, “you have the instincts of a warrior yet you’re still such a child.”

I can’t exactly write a response with my fingers covered in honey. I’m still going to get you back for earlier, Sakuya.

“Ah, don’t mind me. I’m just drawing a few parallels.”

After I’ve eaten and washed up, Sakuya helps me find my way back to my room. I really could do with a nap.

---

I wind up tossing and turning a lot. It’s not nightmares this time, just that I’m not used to the bed yet.

The room does have a window, so I can kind of see it getting lighter out. I’m supposed to go have breakfast or something with Remilia, I think.

Once I’ve made myself fairly presentable, I go looking for Sakuya. She’s a lot easier to find when she isn’t actively hiding. She leads me to the dining hall.

The dining hall is the biggest room I’ve seen in the mansion so far, excepting the absurdly large library. I think it could comfortably fit two, maybe three hundred people. Right now though, it’s terribly empty. It’s just Remilia, seated at the lords’ table, Sakuya, and myself.

“Good morning, Raphaëlle.” Remilia says as I take a seat across from her. Sakuya departs to get our meals, leaving the two of us alone.

(Good morning.)

“I trust that your accommodations are adequate? Please, do not hesitate to tell me if there is something you are unsatisfied with.”

(The mansion is unnerving.) If things keep up at their current rate, I’ll be jumping at shadows within the week.

“That is,” Remilia looks downcast, “I don’t know what I can do about that. How can I make it up to you?”

(You don’t need to do anything. I’ll find some way to adapt.)

“Hopefully, things will improve after the solstice, at least. The mansion isn’t so eerie when there are people around.”

That would be a relief.

Sakuya soon brings out our food. I have an odd breakfast of eggs with sausage and cheese cooked into them. It’s really quite good. Remilia, by contrast, is having dinner. I’d guess that’s venison and some sort of vegetable with wine.

As we eat and talk, our conversation drifts to the topic of…

[] – the surrounding country. I’m curious what it’s like here.
[] – regional politics. It would be good to know the big names.
[] – the other Scarlet. I shouldn’t be asking about this, but…
[] – (Write in topic.)
>> No. 60291
>[] – regional politics. It would be good to know the big names.

also
>(You. Or the Kitchen. I’m hungry.)
Aw, you almost implied something amusing.

also also
>Darkish
Wow, that cured my headache! Like, instantly!
>> No. 60293
[x] – the surrounding country. I’m curious what it’s like here.

No use in asking about the "big names" if we have no idea where we are in the first place.
>> No. 60296
[x] Surrounding country.
- [x] Regional politics.

I feel like these two can segue well.
>> No. 60297
[x] Surrounding Country
- [x] Regional Politics

[x] Remilia, considering we don't know much about her yet.
- [x] Sakuya, as it would hardly be polite to ignore her

Hooray for walls
>> No. 60321
Update forthcoming for:

[X] – the surrounding country. I’m curious what it’s like here.
[X] – regional politics. It would be good to know the big names.
>> No. 60323
File 139241677913.jpg - (176.00KB, 582x763, A chat with Remilia.jpg) [iqdb]
60323
(What is it like around here? I imagine the country is very different from home.)

Remilia sips her wine. “This land is called Gensokyo. It’s a sealed land, one of the many border worlds. You might think of it as something of a nature preserve for creatures of legend. We keep the old ways alive, the ones the world has largely forgotten.”

Nature preserve? I’m not familiar with the concept, but it sounds like the land is a haven for monsters. In my weakened state, I doubt I have the strength to…

Maybe it’s better to not think about that right now.

(How does humanity survive with monsters breathing down our necks?)

“Dogged persistence and cutting deals helps them along. The fact that many of the natives can trace their ancestry to old youkai hunters means that they can defend from the lower order ones.”

(Youkai?)

“The catchall term for the supernatural. Ultimately, the humans’ survival comes down to the fact that their fear sustains a large portion of the youkai.”

(We’re cattle.) My stomach churns from fury and disgust.

“It’s not as though people are being snatched from their bed and devoured. The last decade has seen a great reduction in hostilities. The temple on the village outskirts is even pushing for integration. They’re succeeding, albeit very slowly and far from perfectly. She doesn’t really have enough public support to push for full integration.”

(Why would people integrate with monsters?)

Remilia stares into her wine for a moment before downing the remainder of the glass. “What do you picture monsters to look like?”

(Wolves that stand as tall as men prowled the mountains. The forest shamblers, whose touch brought death within minutes. The hookmaws which dwelled beneath the lake of glass and their dozen-faced master who dwelled in the sunken palace.) Those stand out among the horde.

“You are used to nightmares given flesh?” Remilia seems surprised by my answer.

(Flesh can be killed.)

“Sometimes. Around here, only the most animalistic of youkai wear the shapes of nightmares. They look very similar to humans. Many can shift their forms to a degree. Only a particularly observant or blessed individual would be able to tell at a glance.”

(They infiltrate rather than terrorize from the shadows?)

“Some do. In some cases it’s that running into what looks like a girl of eight eating an arm is more upsetting than if it’s a creature made of coal.

The important thing is that youkai are in no small part shaped by belief. Creatures that look like humans start to behave like humans, if not necessarily think like them. They can have hopes and dreams and aspirations, just like anyone else.”

I don’t think I buy into that. It’s hard to sort through my thoughts without recalling those weeks of fighting. Maybe it would be better to change the topic to something I won’t lose sleep over.

(What groups around here hold power?)

Remilia stretches, shifting her postore to be more leaned back. “Well, I suppose there are a fair number. Supposedly, Gensokyo’s land was granted in a dragon pact, but that has no measurable basis in reality. The dragons do not see fit to deal in the affairs of earthly creatures. Even if a dragon is the de facto ruler of Gensokyo, it has had no actual presence since the sealing.

In practice, the forces that sustain the Borders might be said to be the rulers, but they usually administer with a light touch. The House of Yakumo predates the Border’s creation and is very powerful. The Border Witch is one of the oldest and mightiest youkai in Gensokyo, as well as the most frustratingly unpredictable.”

It sounds as if Remilia has a particular dislike for this House Yakumo.

“The other leading party is the Hakurei Shrine. The Hakurei are a line of youkai hunters, either born or selected for potential, who keep the peace. Reimu, the current Hakurei, is a much more laid back sort than her predecessor. She’s an almost peerless warrior when she wants to be, but rarely has the motivation to deal with anything less than a serious calamity. She treats everyone, human or otherwise, roughly equally. Most find her likable enough, if rather strange and shameless.”

(What of the other groups?)

“We, the Scarlets, mostly trade in apple products and less common alcohols, as well as a bit of fish from our arrangement with the lake dwellers. Most of our influence comes from our knowledge and, to a lesser extent, outsider technology.

To the north is the Youkai Mountain. While we trade some with the human settlement at the base and some of the more liberal kappa, the mountain is largely territorial and isolationist.

Near the top of the mountain is the Moriya Shrine. They advocate rapid technological advancement and are rather invasive and expansionist. Kanako Yasaka is the head of the faith and often butts heads with other leaders. She has probably changed Gensokyo more through her failed power grabs than anyone else has, even Reimu. She has power and commands respect, if nothing else.”

That sounds like the sort of person who led the invasion of my homeland. I know I shouldn’t make judgments about the character of a person I haven’t met, but some things are hard to let go.

Remilia blinks and leans forward. “Are you alright? You just had such a dark expression.”

(Sorry, I’m fine. Please, feel free to continue.)

“You’ve made a few particularly uncomfortable expressions now.”

(It’s nothing.)

“If you’re sure.” Remilia looks like she doesn’t believe me very much, but drops the issue. “The most important area is probably the main human settlement near the center of Gensokyo. It’s a ways on the opposite side of the lake. There are other human settlements, but that one is the real center of trade. The village itself only has a few notably powerful people, but some of the newer factions have set up nearby.

The Myouren Temple is the group that preaches coexistence and a modified sort of the Buddhist faith. They have a lot of powerful people as members and are well liked by some of the more moderate and liberal youkai. Like us, they produce most of what they need. They have a fondness for public outreach programs that don’t always work out.

The Taoist faction is something of an oddity. They are few in number do not treat with youkai if they can help it. Their leader is flashy and usually overt, but out of touch with the times. So far as anyone can tell, she seems sincere in her motives, but she surrounds herself with treacherous advisors.

And last among the organized factions within Gensokyo proper, Eientei. The Moon Sage lives there, far to the northeast. They produce all manner of medicine, from hangover cures to madness or nightmare suppressors. Their sprawling manor is hard to find, meaning they rarely have visitors and don’t often accept medical patients. I’d call them paranoid, but they have enough issues to make their precautions seem reasonable.”

A center of medical knowledge? That would be worth visiting. I really do like learning the arts that actually help people. Maybe I could take a trip sometime in the future. Spring might be a good time.

“Well now, your expression is lighter. I take it you’re thinking about something more pleasant?”

(Just a few idle thoughts. Thank you again for your hospitality.)

Remilia rests her cheek against her knuckles, softly smiling. “It really is no trouble. Sakuya is the one you should be thanking.”

(Where did she disappear to, anyway? Does she not take her meals with you?) I suppose that she wouldn’t, seeing as Sakuya is a servant, but eating alone is a dreary prospect.

“We eat together sometimes, when she can spare the time.” Remilia stifles a laugh. “She had food to deliver to the library and to the gate guard. I imagine she ate with one of the others today, if she even remembered to at all. She can be very distracted at times.”

Keeping the entire mansion running on your own would get pretty distracting, yeah.

Remilia yawns, showing off noticeably pointed teeth. “I’m sorry for seeming like such an unsociable hostess, but I really ought to get some sleep.”

(I’m not offended. There’s no need to go without rest on my account.) She really does have that tired, drooping posture. With her paleness and somewhat sickly look, I wonder if she doesn’t have some sleep related condition.

Remilia excuses herself, saying not to worry about the dishes.

I’m not sure what to do now. I suppose I’m pretty much free to go where I please.

[] – (Write-in.)

***
I thought I'd give you guys a fair bit of freedom with this one. Spending time getting to know someone and exploring are the big things, as interactions are important and you'll find interesting areas mostly by looking. Of course, there are other things you could do as well.
>> No. 60324
[x] Attempt to find the magus Patchouli once more.

Aside from Flandre, she's the only resident we haven't met yet. Why not try to introduce ourselves and maybe learn more about our "inner light"?
I don't think that's been explained yet.
>> No. 60325
>pale
>sickly
>goes to bed at dawn
>all this speak of monsters that look human
>particularly, like young girls
>there's a friendly demon in the library
Uh. Are we sure that was wine that Remilia was drinking?

[x] Go speak to Koakuma about Relimia.
>> No. 60326
[x] Attempt to find the magus Patchouli once more.

I had to go back and check to see if Remilia's been hiding her wings this whole time.
>> No. 60327
[x] Attempt to find the magus Patchouli once more.

May as well finish meeting everyone
>> No. 60344
[x] Attempt to find the magus Patchouli once more.
>> No. 60345
Called for:

[x] Attempt to find the magus Patchouli once more.
>> No. 60437
Dude?
>> No. 60463
File 139748131929.jpg - (776.79KB, 850x1169, where do you think she`s from anyway.jpg) [iqdb]
60463
Maybe I’ll be able to see that magus now that it’s day. Patchouli, I think her name was.

The mansion doesn’t have many windows, so the lighting hasn’t really changed much from night. Still, the atmosphere feels different somehow. It’s not so creepy now. If anything, it feels lonely. Just a barely inhabited manor, filled with dust and memories.

Huh, that was almost poetic. I bet I could’ve pulled off the whole cultured knight thing.

The halls don’t do anything weird like looping this time, so I manage to find my way back down to the library. Going down the stairs, I watch the torches closely. They don’t go out this time.

The library is still disorienting on a second visit. I hope I get used to it soon. The vertigo I get just from looking up is awful.

After a bit of searching, I happen upon the demoness. She’s got a stack of books balanced on one palm that she seems to be in the process of shelving. She twists her neck impossibly far to glance over at me.

“It’s awfully early for a kid like you to be up. Do you rise with Apollo or something?” she says, flashing a toothy smile.

(I’m here to see the magus. Is she awake?)

“Aye, that she be, lass. Scarlet is the only one what sleeps daily, you know.”

Why does she speak so strangely? She changes speech patterns on a whim. Additionally, I’m beginning to suspect she’s speaking a different language than I’m hearing.

Whatever, at least I got my answer. (Could you point me toward her?)

“Over yonder, towards the center. You’ll know it by the way the ceiling slopes upward.”

Ah. Nodding to the demoness, I make my way toward the middle of the room. I really hate having to look up to find my way. The ceiling seems to recede if I stare at it for too long and it’s giving me a headache.

When I find the magus, I’m a bit surprised. She doesn’t look terribly impressive. She’s no taller than I am and looks to be just a bit on the heavy side. Her dark purple hair goes to just below her waist, her bangs tied with differently colored ribbons to keep them out of her eyes. Her eyes are a bit lighter than her hair and her face would likely be quite pretty, were she not busy concentrating on an incantation.

At the moment, she’s levitating several tiny globes of some liquid and one larger one. The smaller globes are being merged with the large one. She also has a book floating at eye level that she glances at occasionally.

I think I’ll wait until she’s done. Interrupting a delicate spell could have hideous consequences.

When all the smaller orbs are integrated, a crystal starts to grow upward from the floor, gradually enveloping the sphere. Once it is completely enclosed in the crystal pedestal, the magus slumps back into her chair, breathing heavily. The book falls onto a desk with a clap that echoes throughout the room.

“Koa,” she wheezes out, “note the test results.”

Suddenly, the demoness is there beside me. She flashes me a grin before she begins speaking. “Time is eight hundred three seconds to completion. Efficiency holding steady at eighty-six percent. Your energy levels are relatively low, just below half your maximum.”

The magus doesn’t even look our way when she responds. “I’m not getting worse any faster than usual this year. Might you get me a drink, Koa?”

“Certainly. One more thing. Your peripheral awareness seems to be slipping. You have a visitor.” With that, the demoness departs.

Turning to face me, the magus briefly looks surprised. She quickly assumes a more serious expression, studying me intently. It’s hard not to fidget under her gaze.

I feel briefly sick and then she says, “You are Remi’s guest, then?”

I nod.

“Swordswoman, mute, with an interest in the medical arts. And quite possibly a very strange magician.”

(I am all of those things.)

“Why have you sought me out? If you sought formal permission to browse most of the library as you please, you have it, so long as you return things to their proper places.”

(I wanted to meet everyone here, as I’ll be here for some time.)

“And?” Her stare is unnerving, but I can deal with it.

(My light doesn’t work here. I don’t understand why.)

“I see.” She passes a hand in front of me and, for a moment, I can taste poisonous death on my lips once more.

(What did you just do?) I shudder, recalling the memory with that taste.

“Koa,” she calls out again, “bring something a bit stronger for our guest, if you please.”

I do need something to get this half-remembered taste out of my mouth.

“You are not a magician like those of Gensokyo, including myself. We take in the ambient energy of the elements and transmute it to change nature.” She starts noting something down as she talks.

I’ve never heard of that. (And me?)

“You seem to produce your own energy, independent of your surroundings. It seems to work more like a youkai’s power than a magician’s.”

What? That doesn’t… (Why can’t I use my light?)

“The ambient energy is trying to flow into you, but you already have your own power source. It is suffocating your innate magic, or light, as you call it. From the name, I suspect you have something akin to a Sun affinity or perhaps Moon.”

(Can you do something about it?) I can barely force magical effects and most of my abilities don’t work.

“Tell me,” she says suddenly, “what happened to your throat? If my hypothesis is correct, your inherent abilities include some form of regeneration.”

(I don’t remember.) I wish.

She looks guilty for a moment, probably almost as much as I do. “I won’t try to make you give me the details. All I ask is how long ago it was and how magically active you were in the preceding months.”

(About six weeks ago. I think that the longest I went without using my light during the last half a year was three days.)

“And you used it heavily during that time? How long have you been a magician?” She’s grabbed another paper and is scratching something down.

(Near constantly. I’ve had the power for half a year.)

Her eyes narrow. I instinctively cringe, reminded of one of mother’s lectures. “This is you.” She holds up a rough sketch of a person. A large diamond shaped crystal occupies most of the person’s torso. “Or rather, this is how you ought to be normally.”

(What do you mean?) I’m not going to like this…

Marking the paper some more, she continues, “This is you as you are now.” The crystal has a number of cracks in it and several smaller pieces have broken off of the main one. She drew cracks on the body as well.



The demoness returns. “Tea for Patchouli and hot spiced cider for Ellie.” She nudges me with her tail a few times until I take the drink. Afterward, she wanders off once more.

I spend the next few minutes slowly sipping the cider, staring at it as if I could see my reflection. I think it’s better that I can’t.

When I’m about halfway done, Patchouli speaks up again. “I would very much like to study your magic. It could help my research along greatly.” She sighs, looking slightly cross. “Enough beating around the bush. Your light is damaged from being continuously overtaxed. You may have already caused some permanent harm to your abilities, though I can’t tell for sure with just a quick scan.”

No. No way. I threw myself into my training, sure, but I had to. It can’t have done that. Even most battles I’ve been in were too short to wear me out, so…

“I could probably make you something to disperse the ambient energy and allow you to use your powers again, but I will not.”

But.

“If you continue to force magic through your system, you will permanently damage your being to the point you can no longer cast anything. That is the best case scenario.”

(There must be something you can do!) Anything.

“The safest thing would be for you to give your powers a rest and pray to whatever god or gods you follow that you haven’t already crippled yourself. Less safe, and what I expect you will pick,” she sighs again, “there are a handful of people who could attempt to fix you. The Moon Witch is the best doctor Gensokyo has ever seen and could certainly do it, but I trust her as far as I can throw her. Since your light is an actual semi-material crystal, I could theoretically repair it. Lastly, a colleague of mine lives near the village across the lake. Her magic is likely a bit like yours and she knows more about youkai than almost anyone else, so she ought to be able to do something for you.”

The best option is probably…
[] – trying to recover naturally.
[] – getting Patchouli to do it.
[] – the Moon Witch.
[] – Patchouli’s colleague.

***
Ellie is kind of a mess, isn't she? Still, she could be doing worse, all things considered.

I'm so sorry for all the delays.
>> No. 60464
[x] – getting Patchouli to do it.

She's already at the mansion and ditching so soon after getting through all the introductions seems a bit off. I'm sure she'll have other opportunities to go around the other locations of gensokyo.
>> No. 60465
[x] – getting Patchouli to do it.

Just to get something done quickly.
>> No. 60466
Patchouli implies that this is very much not her specialty. This suggests that having her do it is the most likely option for complications - or for something to go catastrophically wrong. Also, Ellie has no pressing concerns at the moment, so there's no reason to try and force anything.


Therefore,
[x] – try to recover naturally.
>> No. 60467
[x] – getting Patchouli to do it.

Patchy route go!
>> No. 60468
[x]- what about Koakuma?
Just curious. Demons can do crazy stuff with contracts, and with Patchouli there to keep things under control, we probably won't end up selling much of our soul.
Your Koa is just so much fun oh my gosh.

But really,
[x] – getting Patchouli to do it.
would be best. She can study us all she wants, and maybe create some kind of limiter to prevent this sort of thing happening again.
>> No. 60469
As Patchy said, she could theoretically do it - that implies a lack of confidence. Maybe it'd work - just as much chance it'l fail catastrophically.

Besides, there's been more then enough Patchy-focus lately. If there must be route-bitching, how about Remi instead? She hasn't had anything since Sanguine Disorder.
>> No. 60470
>>60469
The others are theoreticals too.
Well, Eirin 'could certainly do it', but Patchy seems to be implying certain drawbacks on relying on her help.
I don't wanna be an experiment!
>> No. 60471
>>60470
And you completely ignore the point that the other options are implied to be more likely to have positive results.
>> No. 60472
>>60471
That is not implied anywhere.

>The Moon Witch is the best doctor Gensokyo has ever seen and could certainly do it, but I trust her as far as I can throw her.
Success all but guaranteed; unforeseen costs as well.
>Since your light is an actual semi-material crystal, I could theoretically repair it.
With study and research this will presumably cease being theoretical and move into practical.
>Lastly, a colleague of mine lives near the village across the lake. Her magic is likely a bit like yours and she knows more about youkai than almost anyone else, so she ought to be able to do something for you.
'Likely', 'a bit', 'ought to' and 'something'. Not particularly confidence-inspiring.
>> No. 60473
>>60472
>The Moon Witch is the best doctor Gensokyo has ever seen and could certainly do it[...]

Patchy believes Eirin would be able to fix the problem. That she doesn't trust her is a different issue entirely. No ambiguity here.

>Her magic is likely a bit like yours and she knows more about youkai than almost anyone else, so she ought to be able to do something for you.

This says that the associate's specialty is closer to the issue, and therefore more likely to have relevant experience.

>With study and research this will presumably cease being theoretical and move into practical.

Researching something new and then going off that is not the same as working with that same thing on a day-to-day basis. E.g., an oncologist is going to have much more experience dealing with cancer then a general practitioner, despite both being medical doctors.
>> No. 60474
[x] – trying to recover naturally.

Or, and this is an absolutely shocking idea here, we can try just resting as Patchouli herself very heavily recommended, rather than going for the various options that, other than Eiren, have no guarantee of working.
>> No. 60480
>>60473
I'm not sure why you're even arguing about this. From a narrative standpoint, all the options are equally likely to succeed; that is, no matter what we choose, it WILL succeed. The actual choice is just for who we get to see do it.
>> No. 60493
Called for:

[X] – getting Patchouli to do it.

>>60473
Has the right of it.

>>60480
Not necessarily.
>> No. 60512
File 139999418517.jpg - (454.56KB, 1024x816, there are references in here somewhere.jpg) [iqdb]
60512
(If you can fix me, please do so.)

Patchouli stares silently. I can’t tell what she’s thinking, beyond the fact that she expected me to take this option. It did seem to be the quickest.

Finally, she speaks. “It may be very painful. Prepare yourself for that.”

(But you’ll do it?) Pain is something I can handle.

“I need at least two days to prepare everything necessary. Longer would be ideal.”

(Why not now?)

Patchouli sighs heavily. “Truly, you are an impatient child. I have no energy at present. I need time to rest and prepare.”

(Oh.)

“For the moment, I need a blood sample from you, for testing purposes.”

(A what?) This is hardly a standard medical practice.

She coughs a few times before she calls out, “Koa, come here a moment.”

The demoness almost seems to materialize beside Patchouli. “Yes?”

“I need you to draw a sample of the girl’s blood.”

“Right away.” She advances toward me, pulling from somewhere a needle attached to a sort of hollow tube.

(What’s this about taking blood, now?)

“It is a normal practice in modern medicine.” Patchouli says. “In this case, I need it to test how your body reacts to my magic so I may determine how to counteract any negative reactions. I expect to learn other helpful things as well.”

“Hold still, now.” The demoness says, brandishing her needle tube.

---

I hate needles. They hurt and seeing my blood come out is scary.

“It was just a prick and less than half a minute of drawing,” the demoness says. “You’re making a face like I smacked you.”

I wasn’t scared or anything! I took an arrow once and this wasn’t nearly as painful. I didn’t freak out or anything then.

She flicks her tail. “Well, I guess most kids are afraid of needles. At least you can hold still.”

(I’m not a child!) That ever present voice in the back of my mind says I’m not wise enough to be an adult. I try to ignore it, like usual.

Right, right. Candy?” She holds out something small in a bright wrapper.

I’m not in the habit of accepting candies from people I don’t trust, but I probably won’t get away with saying that to her face. She wouldn’t get away with poisoning me or anything and doesn’t seem the type to try to anyway. Still, it’s the principle of the matter! I pocket the candy, determined to not forget who I got it from.

“Hey, no hard feelings, right?” The demoness stretches her hands back behind her head. “Just doing as asked.”

(You say that as if you didn’t enjoy taking my blood.)

“Who knows?”

Not interested in dealing with her right now, I find somewhere to read. If medicine is different here, I need to know how.

No one bothers me during my reading, but I don’t make much headway before I feel stiff and frustrated. I need to go do something other than try to puzzle out funny words and wish more books were in a language I understand. It’s driving me up a wall.

[] – Wander the mansion. (any particular area?)
[] – Have I been here long enough to miss lunch? I’m sure Sakuya would get me something if I asked.
[] – Maybe some sword practice will help clear my head. My blade must still be with the gatekeeper.

***
Not half as long as I'm used to writing, but this update felt uncooperative to the extreme. I guess it's just that part of my update cycle.

Fun is to come, as well as hopefully much more frequent updates.
>> No. 60513
[x] – Maybe some sword practice will help clear my head. My blade must still be with the gatekeeper.

Update was okay. Koa remains best.
>> No. 60514
[x] – Maybe some sword practice will help clear my head. My blade must still be with the gatekeeper.

China~
>> No. 60515
[x] Sword practice
>> No. 60516
[x] – Maybe some sword practice will help clear my head. My blade must still be with the gatekeeper.
>> No. 60517
File 140009188960.jpg - (45.34KB, 600x600, 1324582956658.jpg) [iqdb]
60517
[x] En garde.
>> No. 60519
[x] Sword Practice

Doesn't look like my vote really matters at this point, but I suppose it can't hurt.
>> No. 60521
Rather late calling this for:

[X] – Maybe some sword practice will help clear my head. My blade must still be with the gatekeeper.
>> No. 60523
File 140111709576.jpg - (1.54MB, 1221x1175, snow based pun.jpg) [iqdb]
60523
Practicing my swordsmanship ought to help some. I usually feel a bit better after I do that. Standing up, I’m once again made aware that I don’t actually have my sword with me. It’s only been gone for about a day, so I expect that the gatekeeper is still holding onto it.

I should be dressed warmly enough to go out, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Now, if I could just find where the entrance was, I’d be good.

About five minutes more walking than reasonable, I reach the mansion’s front door. My boots are here and have been cleaned and even fixed up a bit. I wonder if that means my clothes got the same treatment. Regardless, I should thank Sakuya when I next see her.

I switch from my wonderfully comfy but sadly impractical slippers to my boots and head outside. The glare of sunlight off of snow assaults my eyes. Blinking until my eyes adjust, I can make out the gatekeeper leaning against inside wall. She’s talking to Sakuya, actually. Sakuya should be able to translate between us, so that’s nice.

It looks like they’re taking a break from their duties. Both have steaming hot drinks. The gatekeeper gives a sort of half wave as I approach, prompting Sakuya to notice me as well.

“Hello Ellie, what brings you outside at this hour?” the maid asks.

At this hour? I guess she’s used to people being active at night. (I wanted to practice my swordsmanship a bit.)

Sakuya frowns and says something in gibberish to the gatekeeper. “Is that okay? Patchouli said she ought to rest.”

The gatekeeper grins at Sakuya. “I don’t think she’s the type to rest when she can still move. Much like a certain someone else I know.”

There’s that strange hissing noise again before Sakuya returns her attention to me. She doesn’t quite look happy with whatever the gatekeeper said.

“Meiling seems to think you’re fine to practice.” The maid says.

Ah right, that’s her name. Meiling. Meiling.

Meiling sighs. “Needing Sakuya as a translator is kind of inconvenient.”

“Maybe you should’ve learned French or at least English before it became a problem.” The maid snaps something in response.

“I’ll get to work on it soon. Does the girl usually practice alone?”

Sakuya acts as a translator between the two of us. (I haven’t had anyone to practice with for quite a while. Are you offering?)

“I’m honestly pretty rusty. It’s all Danmaku around here, rarely any real fighting. I’d be happy to spar any time.”

She’ll train with me? Great! (Practice weapons to start? I’m fine with real ones as well.)

Meiling grins. “Whatever you like is fine. I doubt you’ll beat me either way.”

Sakuya just shakes her head as she relays what was said.

She’s the competitive type, is she? This is going to be fun. (And if I win?)

“For one, I’ll give you your sword back. It’s pointless to give it to you if you can’t beat one of the strong people here in a practice match.”

(That’s mine! You can’t just keep it from me.)

“If you want it, come and take it.”

I don’t need a translation for that. A smile creeps over my face, matching her own.

After we stretch and warm up a bit, we’re ready to begin. We stand across from each other, both holding practice swords. She has a clear reach advantage.

Sakuya counts down to the start, having chosen to extend her break to referee. I have to quickly decide how to do this.

[] – Stay mobile, strike any openings with blinding speed.
[] – I’m at a disadvantage here. There’s no such thing as playing fair in battle.
[] – My light would be a great help here. No, that’s guaranteed to hurt me at this point.
Qgt si tiy ewauar?

***
Bleh, I hate catching random illnesses.
>> No. 60524
[x] – I’m at a disadvantage here. There’s no such thing as playing fair in battle.
NO HONOR
NO MERCY
>> No. 60525
[x] – Stay mobile, strike any openings with blinding speed.

I'm fairly certain we won't win this, but playing dirty in what's supposed to be a friendly spar is anything but friendly. I'd rather have fun and possibly lose than be a jerk and possibly win.
Plus, if we start playing dirty, Meiling probably will too, and then we'll really get our asses kicked.

>Qgt si tiy ewauar?
I just checked and this doesn't appear to be a Caesar cipher. Unless it's keyed, but I have no idea what the key might be.
>> No. 60526
[x] – Stay mobile, strike any openings with blinding speed.
>> No. 60527
[x] – Stay mobile, strike any openings with blinding speed.

>>60525
It doesn't appear to be keyed, either, as far as I can tell. (The correct translation is almost certainly Why do you resist? but I don't see any pattern in the letter-assignment.)
>> No. 60528
>>60527
... and three seconds later I realize I'm a bloody moron: it's just shifted one letter leftwards on a US keyboard.
>> No. 60530
Oooo, that was mean. I too went and cycled through ever ROT# attempting to decode it.
136posts omitted. First 100 shown.
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