Disclaimer/warning/author's notes: this story is a tie-in Tainted Bonds, on /th/. It presents a new Gensokyo after it receives an influx of a few hundred high level adventurers from a plane that more or less runs on D&D 3.5 mechanics. If you're looking for a ?vanilla? Gensokyo, then this may not be the story for you.
This story is meant to explore a side character that Sai will soon be meeting, and also to get some ideas and history about my new, changed Gensokyo out into prose, instead of mere notes. Also, to satisfy my burning desire to write when I still want to keep votes open on Tainted Bonds.
This story is in /shorts/ because I don't intend for there to be any votes; Gand's story is already ?established?. Don't worry about losing the opportunity to vote in Sai's story; that'll still be up to the will of Anon.
There is also (intentionally) far less ?neckbearding? planned in this story, for those of you who hated that about Tainted Bonds.
Feel free to comment, discuss, ask me questions, or make suggestions in this thread, so long as you keep the shitstorms out.
Oh, and most importantly: have fun.
Laughter isn't always a sound of joy. Sometimes it's the sound of displacement, that halting chuckle you let out when you're not sure if you're the butt of the joke. Sometimes it's the sound of fear, puffing yourself up and out to deny that you're scared. Sometimes it's the sound of mockery, a noble's laugh of derision at some disgusting sight, like you once heard from the Scarlet Devil as she took a rare tour of the village.
And sometimes, it's the sound of the end, where there's nothing left but amusement at all your failed dreams.
You've only heard that last laugh once before now, from an old, childless youkai hermit. He'd lost all his family one by one as they had bucked against what they considered a battle for their homes against the humans They'd launched themselves headfirst into the patrols of combined youkai hunters and Travelers, their unfamiliar bestial true forms no match for years of experience of putting down the far more dangerous feral youkai. After he'd lost his last son, he had nothing to live for - when you checked up on his home in the forest the next week, plants had already begun taking over the rooms, vines and ivy slowly but surely strangling the walls while leafy groundcover had already spread over the entire dirt floor. Within the next month, the shack was completely gone, not even the dug-out cellar remaining.
Only a month later, that same hollow laugh is echoing upon your lips as well.
"Geez, you'll scare away the customers, sounding like that," the cook admonishes you, her winged ears flicking nervously as she puts a second plate of grilled eel on top of the now-empty first in front of you, Mystia Lorelei; night sparrow; youkai turned professional singer turned food stand owner and manager, which is to say the establishment is too small to support more than one worker. She has a voice to die for; one you used to live for, a few years before the Travelers came. The two of you had a strings-and-voice number, you lending harp and tenor vocals to back her sweet, soprano melodies. You were also lovers then, as musician couples often were, but as your musical tastes drifted, so did the romance, and both of you decided to break the relationship before it soured completely, parting ways with nothing more violent than a stiff, awkward embrace.
"I can't help it," you chuckle, ignoring the sizzling eel to grab the bottle of wine beside it; Mystia's treat, a relic from the time you spent together. Supposedly the grapes were stamped by the bare feet of fairies themselves, but right now you care less about that and more about its alcohol content. It certainly tastes magical enough, although you waste it by taking a large, gulping swig instead of sipping it properly. Hell, you're not even bothering to decant it; Deion would be aghast.
You couldn't give two shits if your life depended on it.
"And besides, there's no one else here, is there?" You motion broadly to either side, pointing out the clearly vacant seats.
"That's because this is a dinner establishment and it's bedtime," she says sharply. "The only reason I'm open at all this late is because you came by." Right as she was closing up, in fact. The shadows underneath her eyes glower at you as if blaming you, yet the eyes themselves are surprisingly soft and concerned. "Come on, Gand," she says softly, using your old pet name. That irritates you, just a little bit, but you protest with anything louder than a soft grunt of displeasure. "I stayed open for you, but you've refused to open up all evening. What's eating you?"
With a sigh, you put the wine bottle down and reach down to the base of your seat, finding your bag - your harp bag, to be precise, not the rucksack of necessities that accompanies it. "The same that always is, Mys," deciding to use her own shortened name just to continue the atmosphere. If she wants to refer to you like that? "Music. Music is eating me."
"Play it for me," comes the ritual response. She puts down the metal brush, meant for scrubbing the wires of the grill, and comes up to lean on the opposite side of the counter.
Unfortunately, this time, you won't answer in the traditional way.
?" there isn't a song anymore. I can't compose.?
Mystia still understands you, as her first response is to gasp like you'd just declared you had a terminal illness; seeing as composition is what you used to live for, you might as well have. You unzip the bag and pull out the harp from inside it, balancing it on your knee. About the size of your torso, it's an old instrument, but those are often the best; its maker said she'd carved from a fallen tree from the Forest of Magic, and you believe it, as the wood lends it a timbre the likes of which you've never heard before, not from Gensokyo nor the outside world nor any of the instruments the Travelers managed to bring with them. Being unique doesn't mean anything, though, especially here in Gensokyo of all places.
Your hands and ears still know the habit of tuning the instrument, plucking the feral youkai gutstrings that have stayed strong and taut ever since you started playing, through years of frenzied plucking and strumming, hundreds of concerts and years of accumulated playing time. A few knob turns later, you strum a few arpeggios up and down. Not to check your tuning, for you already know that it's perfect, but just to hear the voice of the instrument again.
That's the best you can manage. Your melodies are dead.
An arpeggio. A scale. A couple of basic cadences. Mystia stares at your fingers as they work the strings and reaches out towards them, keeping a respectful distance so as to not block your movements. "Your hands," she murmurs. "What happened to them?"
You pat the strings with your palms to quiet them. The action feels foreign; you have calluses there now to accompany those at the ends of your fingers. Even if you haven't been able to string a melody together, you've been keeping your playing muscles in shape. "Harping doesn't keep a roof over my head anymore," you sigh. "No one wants to hear a silly human strum and sing when there are so many other, more interesting sounds to be heard, more skilled players to be found." Youkai have always been better mechanical players, and anyone with magic relating to music or sound will enthrall a listener more deeply. There's a reason Mystia always sung lead in your duets, after all, even if you wrote most of them.
"Farming? Hunting? That's not scribework, right there, and you're not one of those newfangled magewrights."
"We both know I have no patience for farming, and I'm not brave enough to hunt for my livelihood." You do still keep a kappa-made folding carbine in that rucksack, a relic of those times when you used to travel through the forest on a regular basis, but the company you kept on those walks was always sufficient deterrent to whatever feral youkai might have considered you a meal, so you've never had to fire it before. Hell, if it wasn't kappa-made, it probably wouldn't even be functional by now - it's been two years since you've last slung it under your arm.
Two years since the Travelers came.
The night sparrow pointedly takes a stick of eel and bites into it, despite her earlier assertions that working with food all night causes her to lose her appetite; it's a gesture that informs you should be eating more as well. You've lost any fat you once had before you and Mystia broke up, a combination of poor diet and your new job. "I'm working on the lightning rail now. Only thing left for a talentless man like me to do."
At the mention of the lightning rail, Mystia's lips purse in distaste. "That thing is going to be the root of a great deal of problems to come, and we both know it. We all remember the riots when that? thing? was announced."
The village has been overcrowded ever since the mass immigration, after two years of settling in, marriages, and children; really, it's no longer a village, but at the very least a town. If the lightning rail manages to see completion, it might even deserve the title of city. You learned during the announcement that the massive, far-reaching structure, threading all throughout and around the village/town/city, is meant to facilitate transport of goods and passengers quickly via ?bound-elemental powered cars?, which was hastily translated as a sort of very fast spirit-powered vehicle. That ?spirit-powered? part offended many of the youkai in the audience, even the generally technologically-welcoming kappa, but that was hardly the biggest contributor towards the rising unrest.
As the speaker - you remember she was described as a former hermit and Taoist who was elected to office as a ?prefect? of the village, whatever that meant - went on elaborate on how the rail would benefit all, a riot broke out, seemingly organized by a few of the more strongly-spoken anti-human youkai in the audience. There were casualties; you remember fleeing with your harp cradled underneath your arm, shielding it with your body from the storms of bullets both danmaku and lethal flying overhead, praying that a ravening youkai wouldn't cleave through the man beside you and claim you as a meal. The casualty number only increased after the Hakurei maiden identified those responsible and exacted an equal punishment, the first ?extermination? with fatalities for as long as any of the humans could remember. Supposedly the harsh retribution was because for once the deaths were not due to youkai hunger and miscommunication, but actual, deliberated malice against the humans of Gensokyo. Terrorism, she had declared it.
You've reflected on what the prefect said. The rail will obsolete the youkai teamsters, yes, the strongmen who haul goods from one end of the village to the other. In the short term, there'll be a sudden dearth of jobs amongst them; while the she and Traveler artificers insist that this is a ultimately a good thing, as they find ?more educated? occupations, the rail's completion will undeniably bring with it a short vacuum of unemployment. That vacuum will be eventually filled when new commerce and industry starts up, also facilitated by the existence of the lightning rail ?
That's the problem. New residence, new buildings, new roads, new people. Mostly humans, as they reproduce and expand. The population of the human village - which includes you - once kept a stable population, births and immigrants from the Outside balancing out natural deaths, keeping in mind that wanderers and adventurers travelling through various hotspots like the youkai-dominated mountains and forests directly contribute to the latter. In all reality, it's not the Travelers? magic, technology, or culture that's the problem. it's just them: the people, who live, love, and have families together - families that are as often as not with the very same youkai that complain about the Travelers? expansionist tendencies.
Gensokyo is changing, and there's very little anyone can do about it.
"I'm a hungry man, Mys," you sigh. She offers you a stick of eel, dangling it in front of your mouth, causing a pang of nostalgia to rise up within your chest. You shake your head, though. "Sorry, I'll feed myself. Can't accept that much charity, after all," you chuckle, carefully putting your harp back into its semi-rigid bag and securing it before you dare to pick up a grease-slick bamboo skewer yourself. Never mix food and instruments; one of the first rules of a musician.
She doesn't look at all offended, only understanding and sympathetic. "When we broke up? you said you'd be fine. Said you'd landed yourself a job that would keep you fed, said it was a fun job to boot."
"Well, you said that you'd practice your singing more and more, until you became a star," you riposte, a wistful smile crossing your own face. "Instead, we're both? here."
"Hey, now, it's not my fault the Hakurei maiden took offense to my style!" she whines. "She said I couldn't perform such music for a living because ?deceiving men for your livelihood sets a bad example?. I can't help it if they love my voice so much!"
You chuckle. This is one of those youkai advantages that you'll never be able to bridge, and it's very much like a youkai that Mystia refuses to accept it as anything but natural. "You know, I listened to a recording of one of those performances, before you got closed down."
"Oh, how was it?" she suddenly demands, eyes wide with anticipation.
?" it was awful."
That eager expression shatters too dramatically to be anything but affected. "Bah, you had to be there!" she declares airily, deliberating closing her eyes and sticking her nose into the air. Of course you had to be there - Mystia's magic doesn't record and playback on a phonograph, after all.
"Precisely. Music that can't travel without its performer is not music at all." You used to pride yourself on the music you wrote? the music that's suddenly dried up like a rain-fed spring during a drought.
"You're just saying that because you don't have any charisma."
"I don't," you agree readily, taking the wind out of her play-argument sails. She visibly deflates and reaches for the fairy wine, taking a swig straight from the bottle just as you have been without any complaint. Maybe you're both just too tired - or tipsy - to care about pouring a proper glass or even a mug, but you'd like to think that even after years of not keeping in touch, you're still close enough friends to share a bottle, and just the bottle.
?" also, apparently my nightly practices were luring youths off the safe roads and into the jaws of ferals," she admits sheepishly, still nursing the bottle. You have to wave your hand and beckon with your fingers until she relinquishes it back to you.
"I hear that you're continuing those road performances still, except now you're back to making noise."
"Oh, that!" she laughs, waving a hand as if to dismiss the claim. "Kyouko liked a lot of what I had started to come up. She was the one who got the idea to use those instruments from the Outside, though. She's better at writing music than me, but I do most of the vocal lead work, so we pitch in about even, I'd say."
Just as she had with you; although unlike you, it seems this Kyouko never studied music a day in her life. "She sure is talented," you say carefully, letting sarcasm figuratively drip off of your chin.
"She sure is?" Mystia starts to agree, before seeing your cheshire smile. "Hey! You're mocking me again!"
"No, no," you insist, patting the air around her, earning yourself a playful swat as she reclaims her personal space.
"If you're feeling like you can't compose? you know, maybe it would help you to come to one of our concerts," she offers. "Take a load off. Vent some frustration. Look at life afterwards. A lot of our fans say that listening to our music helps."
You know she's only trying to be helpful, but you shake your head. First of all, staying up as late as you are right now is something you can't make a regular habit of. You're counting on that grilled eel to keep you full as you sleep in tomorrow - today?" as you certainly will miss the work shifts tomorrow. Even if you had the energy to spare, you've heard about the music from your fellow laborers and coolies, and there doesn't seem to be anything of musical value there; just raw expression of dissatisfaction with life in general, accompanied by amateur shredding on those misshapen lutes they call ?heavy metal guitars?. You still can't imagine how anyone could think an intentionally distorted sound like that could sound good. Maybe they value it as a metaphor for the anger they feel or something.
"Well, at least you learned your lesson."
"Eh?" She raises an eyebrow, uncomprehending.
"Well, you're still luring youths off the road, but this time you have the decency to scare away the ferals first, with all that noise."
That comment earns you another playful swat, this one on the shoulder. You press on. "Come on, I know you wouldn't hurt the hair on a fly ? ?
? ? I have to swat those things on a regular basis, you know," she interjects sardonically, waving a hand over the few remaining sticks of eel as if shooing one away. "Hygiene and all that."
? ? as I was saying," you continue, "I know you don't have anything against us humans, but you need to be a little more aware of your abilities."
"I'll take it then that you'll not want a sample performance, then?" she pouts, although her eyes dance with mischief.
"I may not be able to compose, but I still keep soft wax in my bag. Don't make me pull it out."
"Art! We, the creators, are so often misunderstood." That mischief spreads to her smile as she beckons back for the bottle, which you sullenly pass back, reluctant to relinquish your source of oblivion. But when she receives it, she doesn't immediately take a swig, instead holding it around chest level and swirling it in circles. "But seriously, Gand? what happened to you? Surely you didn't also have the maiden breathing down your neck, telling you to ?stop that noise?."
?" they just disappeared.."
The swirling stops mid-tilt. "Excuse me?"
"My employer. She just? disappeared, when the Travelers came. All she did was leave me a packet of ?severance pay? at our normal meeting place and a note that basically said ?sorry, going to be really busy now?. To be fair, it was a lot, more than I deserved? but I wasted it," you sigh, angry at yourself. There had been enough money to live comfortably for a few months in that packet, but you managed to blow through it in a mere few weeks. First you purchased a new harp in an attempt to change your sound to something that would appeal to a wider audience - you'll be the first to admit that the timbre of your current and only instrument can occasionally grate on one's ear, if purely due to the difference between the expected and actual sound. You almost immediately became disillusioned with the new instrument, though, eventually reselling it at a huge loss.
Then later, there was the lightning rail riot; a hunter saved your life that day but lost his own for it, and you gave most of your remaining money there to keep his wife and children afloat. Maybe you should have kept in contact with them, but you wouldn't have accepted any charity from them anyways - and it would have been too awkward, you feel.
To cap it all off, your spending habits became looser and looser as you slipped into depression over losing your ability to compose, and before you knew it you were living a hand-to-mouth existence, paid by the day doing hard labor on the lightning rail, unable to compete effectively without either youkai strength or magic and therefore earning a mere pittance, only enough for the day's food and a bed; sometimes not even the latter, turning your supply-pack into a pillow and your cloak into a blanket. This eel and wine that Mystia's providing is a much-needed change of pace, and while you feel guilty about not paying for it, from the looks of things she can afford the hospitality, if only barely.
Mystia doesn't ask what you mean by wasting it, though, so you don't have to regale her with any of that. "But what did you do?" she asks instead. "You never did tell me, but kept it a secret. Heaven knows if you were anyone else, I'd have suspected you of two-timing me somehow."
You flush slightly. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."
She smiles, nudging your elbow with her own. "We were that close, at least. Tell me," she repeats.
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?? children's entertainment," you confess.
The sparrow blinks, as if her ability to instill night blindness suddenly backfired on her. "Wait, you mean ? ?
"Yes, exactly. That puppet show that Alice start up to raise money for charity? Yeah? I composed and played for it."
?That hermit? You were playing for her?" Her face twists for a second; as you stare at it, it breaks into a gaping grin, and then a drop-jawed laugh as she throws her head back, pounding the counter with a fist so hard the sticks of eel jump up and threaten to roll to the ground. You snatch up one that's about to fall and tilt the others so that they won't slide away, quickly devouring the meat to disguise your embarrassed expression.
"Shut up," you mutter around your full mouth. it's deliciously salty, a perfect counterpoint to the sweet wine.
"Gand, the children's musician!" Mystia whoops, grabbing the bottle and thrusting it into the air in a mock-toast. "So that's why you were too embarrassed to say!"
You sigh, pinching the bridge of your nose between two fingers. How to explain this? "Well, Alice doesn't seem to have very much need for money, because I know how much we made, and I ended up with almost everything she didn't donate. That being said, she did donate most of it, but the amount she paid me was certainly was enough to live comfortably and then some." You lick around your teeth to gather the last shreds of eel before swallowing. "Come on, it wasn't just children's stuff. If you'd have watched, you'd have seen that Alice and I buried a lot of sophisticated adult humor into the scenes and words, stuff the kids, who only saw the dolls and effects, wouldn't get."
"You helped write the stories?" Mystia raises an eyebrow even as she takes a small sip of wine to moisten her throat after her outburst.
"You know I always enjoyed telling them when I write songs."
"And I always preferred singing about something more abstract," she sighs. That had been the smaller of your problems together; that alone wouldn't have been enough, but combined with the drifting musical tastes it had been too much to maintain a relationship based around music. Suddenly, she gives you a suspicious glance. "So you spent that much time together? You're sure you weren't tempted by her?" she playfully digs.
"Well, I say ?Alice and I?," you admit, feeling yourself turn even redder. "But I didn't actually spend that much time with ? Alice herself. Actually, right before she disappeared on me, I was writing the entire show, and Alice was nothing more than the special effects and the female voices."
"And who worked the puppets, then?" Mystia continues interrogating you.
?" if anything, it was her dolls that kept me there," you admit, deciding that answering the question would be a bit misleading as she currently understands. "Alice was always aloof, if kind; like a doting grandmother, almost."
"So you gave me up for mere mannequins!" the sparrow gasps, holding the bottle to her brow like a swooning maiden.
You glower at her antics; she always was a silly drunk. "Gimme that," you growl, reaching for the bottle and simultaneously her face with fingers crooked into mock claws. "And can you please stop implying I was cheating on you?"
Her smile flattens out, and she puts the bottle back on the counter. "Sorry," she apologizes, and you can tell she knows she went over the line there.
You grunt. "Wine, and I'll forgive you."
A swig later, you continue explaining to a very amused Mystia. "Okay, we both know that Alice is supposedly a puppeteer, right?" you check.
"Youkai magician. Specializes in manipulating dolls, also a practitioner of black magic," Mystia adds. "Marisa visits her often. You know more?"
You look to either side as if confirming that no one's been sitting here this entire time before leaning in closer over the counter; Mystia leans in as well, tilting one feathered ear towards you. "Thing is, I don't think she's the one controlling the dolls," you whisper.
"She's controlled by them?" she gasps, rocking back into her chair, a hand flying over her mouth in shock.
"No, birdbrain," you dare, using an old joke name of hers before you became lovers - you know she hates it, and you have the pleasure of watching her squirm in distaste and regret at having pulled out of slapping range. Satisfied that that ridiculous idea is out of her head now, you continue, "No, but at least two of those dolls think for themselves."
Her earlier annoyance evaporates, replaced only by curiosity. "Go on."
"At first, I thought she was just eccentric. She'd have her dolls do some menial task, and then thank them when it was complete. As if she were commanding an actual person."
You lean back, taking another small sip. "Then one day I caught Shanghai and Hourai making a bouquet behind her back, unprovoked."
Your ex-lover looks skeptical. "So? She probably doesn't have to vocally command them."
"But you didn't see how they leapt up like a pair of children caught red-handed with a secret, or how they spun around me, waving their arms in flustered panic, until I reassured them that no, I wasn't about to say anything to Alice. They couldn't talk out loud, you see, although we did communicate in writing later," you explain hastily. "You didn't see their look of satisfaction when they snuck into Alice's cabin and put them on top of the pillow, or how Alice was honestly surprised upon finding them. She ushered me out of the cabin upon finding them, as if she didn't want me to see what had surprised her - but of course, I already did."
"She could be faking?" Mystia says slowly, although now she looks as though she doubts her own words. When you shake your head, she speculates, "So what's the point?"
"I think that that is what Alice was spending all her time studying," you proclaim proudly, mimicking Mystia's earlier toasting pose of triumph. "I think she's trying to create artificial life, in the limbs of a doll!"
Silence passes, and then Mystia bursts out laughing again, only able to silently beckon for the wine bottle, choked by paroxysms of laughter.
"So that's what caught your interest?" she eventually chuckles out, only able to calm herself after a long draw of tranquilizing spirits.
"Incidents like that, yeah. Heavens know that every time Alice sent me and the dolls out on errands, I'd be besieging them with questions about their life, and what they thought, and they'd be asking me various? philosophical questions about my life." You start to feel your eyes glaze over with nostalgia.
"They made me promise to never leak a word to Alice - but those two: Shanghai and Hourai. We spent hours together, just talking about all sorts of things. Sometimes I'd be writing the next show's music or script at the same time, but as often as not we were just? shooting the breeze. It was? having any other two friends." you realize belatedly. "We were friends. I lived for those performance days. Even at home the only thing I'd be thinking about was how much I was going to enjoy the next performance day. Hell, I'm not even sure how I managed to write at all, but apparently whatever I created was a hit success, because the crowds got larger each passing week."
Yes, those days. Those were the best days of your life; yes, even better than your time with the girl currently in front of you. Even with Mystia you had to work part-time and do the occasional odd job, but with Alice and her dolls you could fully concentrate on your art. Hours, days even, just spend lazing around the house - well, not necessarily lazing, as most of the time you were working on something or the other - or running errands in town with the dolls, laughing over the smallest of jokes. There was a happiness to that time that apparently came through your compositions during that time; you can recall people of all walks of life, human and youkai, rich and poor, young and old, all coming by after a performance to thank you ?
For making their own lives just a little bit happier.
What you wouldn't give to have your younger self play the current you one of those songs right now.
? you can't even remember any of that music from those days. Now it's all muzzy, anger and sadness, angst that you know is completely pointless and self-defeating and yet still won't go away, even when you try and think about other things ?
"I really should have come by while the show was still running," Mystia says slowly; carefully. Not a tone of speech that you'd expect, which catches your attention even through your depressed stupor. "I wondered what the big deal was."
You shake your head, dispersing the last bits of mental fog. "Something wrong, Mystia?"
She gives you a long, strange, look, then picks herself up off the counter. Somehow she manages to walk unsupported out from behind the counter, and you slide off your own stool to your feet as she passes you. You follow her to the side of her stand, where a motley assortment of advertisements and notices are pinned to a bulletin board. You'd already checked it for any job openings that someone like you might qualify for, but there hadn't been anything of note ?
? or so you thought, until she lifts up an oversized poster advertising a Kourindou special to reveal a neatly pasted square pink paper note, written in a scrolling, almost flowery script that's too creative to be print, yet too regular to come from human hands.
it's Coming Back!
Alice's Doll Wonderland
Starring: Timbuktu and Orleans
Effects: Alice Margatroid
Voices: Shanghai and Hourai
Admission: Free for children of any age - rates start at 300 yen
Location: Youkai Quarter Square, near the fountain
Time: All day Saturday
Proceeds go towards charity
Mystia's voice seems to be a million miles away as you touch the paper, brushing it softly with your fingertips as if you're afraid it would break, or somehow turn to mist, some mischievous fairy's illusion.
"Hey, what are you ? ?
You whip out a penknife and carefully thread it into a gap where moisture has caused the paper to wrinkle, and focus on neatly slicing the flyer off the board. ?" you know," she says jokingly, "think of all the people who won't see that now, all the people who won't go and all that money that won't go towards ? ?
"Yes sir, shutting up now sir," she says quickly.
Carefully folding the paper and slipping it into your pocket for safekeeping, you bend down to retrieve your bags, your intoxication and any rules of etiquette about thanking a host for her hospitality forgotten. "Gand, you're not going to Alice's house now, are you?" she asks suspiciously.
You freeze, thinking fast. Damn it, sometimes Mystia is an airhead, but other times she's remarkably astute, and usually right when you don't want her to be. You've never been able to outright lie to Mystia; she's always seen through any deception of yours. Just think of it? this way?
"I'm not stupid, Mystia," you chuckle. "I know the forest is dangerous at night." That's not a lie - that's actually the first thing that Alice drilled into your head when she first showed you the way to her home. You finish shouldering your packs. "Thanks for the eel and wine, Mystia; and your lovely company. But right now ? ?
? ? I really need to go home."
And right now, you firmly believe that that's what you're doing.
>>462 perhaps a mix of this and showing the end result of the change.
I can't say I like the change much. For all the praise people say about modernization, it often brings about the death of old charming things. And while there's still youkai, it appears that the balance has tipped in humankind's favor.
The timeframe of this story is only a few days; far too short to cover the conclusion of the human/youkai balance. The "present time" of this story is actually before that of Tainted Bonds; actually, its ending should happen before Sai ever gets dunked into the Sanzu.
It is very much intended as a romance story. Specifically, Dolls Route. Yeah, I'm serious.
>I can't say I like the change much.
You're not supposed to. I'm attempting to portray this modernization with a very tragic attitude - that it may be impossible to stop, and perhaps there's a brighter future at the end of it, but a lot of people are going to suffer for it, both youkai and humans, and a lot of traditions are going to die away. It's actually... kind of depressing to write.
>>467 Hmm, any chances that somehow the humans manage to fight against Yukari in even terms?
Because that's the only way I can see this fic going.
>You're not supposed to. I'm attempting to portray this modernization with a very tragic attitude - that it may be impossible to stop, and perhaps there's a brighter future at the end of it, but a lot of people are going to suffer for it, both youkai and humans, and a lot of traditions are going to die away. It's actually... kind of depressing to write.
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The pistol-grip of the carbine sits uneasily in your right hand as you march down the path, holding up your left to light your way with the string of daylight beads strung around your wrist. Others prefer the solid glow and construction of an everburning lamp, but you prefer the brightly shining bracelet for being far less bulky, saving space in your pack, and for not fully occupying the hand its own - for example, if you were to suddenly need to shoot at something.
Most important of all, the light doesn't carry any further than a few yards out in any direction, and stays as nothing more than a dull glow, only really there to illuminate the path when the moonlight is blocked out by the overhanging trees. There are plenty of patches along the cleared footpath through which the silvery light shines through. Even a human eye can pick out a bare flame, the likes of which an everburning lamp imitates down to the way it dances back and forth, from miles away, but this dull glow disguises itself within the moonlight, more subtle and therefore safer than the brighter, spell-powered lantern. A feral would have to be right on top of you to see you from between the thick trees of this part of the forest, and by then it would have smelled you, so you'd be screwed anyways.
You're hoping you won't have to shoot anything tonight, as the sound of gunfire from but a single weapon would surely attract a pack of ferals looking for an easy meal. But as the path underneath your feet becomes thinner and thinner, you start to feel your fingers curling around the trigger, sweeping the barrel of your weapon from side to side at the dancing shadows that your moving light creates amongst the vegetation, watching the red dot that marks the hit location jump from tree trunk to tree trunk. Why the hell did you decide to come out into the forest in the middle of the night, anyways? You must have still been drunk when you departed from Mystia's stand; nobody treks alone through the forest at this time of day, not even the village-youkai, not even the Archmage Kirisame herself. Packs of hunters, even with Travelers alongside them, don't willingly do so; even fully armed squads often return with casualties.
You almost want to break out into a sprint, contrary to the slow, deliberate pace you've set for now, but you know that the sound of snapping branches and crunching leaves would give you away more obviously than any light you could be carrying with you. Unless, of course?
Yes! There it is, sticking up and out of the path. Some might call it a totem; Alice called it a ?ward?. It consists of a slender pole carved with what you're decently sure are various arcane symbols, stuck into the ground, topped with a few engraved charms of various colors that float around the end in a series of wildly differing orbits. You haven't the faintest clue what any of it does, exactly, having never seen them actually in use, but you do know that these wards mark the beginning of the path to Alice's home. There are a few such paths, so if you just follow the single dirt-track now ?
FWEE FWEE FWEE FWEE
When you're about half a dozen steps from the ward, it suddenly starts shrieking in an undulating, high-pitched wail. Shit, did you set it off somehow? They'd never done that during the day, but perhaps anything moving near them at night?
A musician's resistance against sudden loud noises keeps you from clapping your hands over your ears, and you manage to drive yourself to shoulder your carbine properly. That noise is going to bring any roaming ferals near, if only out of curiosity. As your hearing slowly begins to tune out the alarm, you turn on your heel to check behind you, just to be sure ?
it's only then that you notice the feral pouncing upon you, claws outstretched.
>Yeah but Gand certainly suffered as a indirect result of Sai and Sanzo's grand stunts.
Yukari's not about to take it out directly on the people themselves yet?, and Gand is at the very least a native villager, not a Traveler, so he has that much going for him. Also, he's friendly with more than a few youkai; for example, that elderly one described in the introduction that he visited until its death.
>I do wonder why there's a trend of Gensokyo heading towards a less happy future.
>>472 in general but this story reminded me of it. Obviously it's a big question mark on how your Gensokyo will turn out in the end, but modernization in our world has brought about countless evils that didn't exist in Gensokyo normally. I don't think things will be perfectly peaceful for a while... some of the displaced humans and youkai will likely act up again. Such is the case with sudden shifts; in the west it wasn't too much of an issue as it was more gradual but in the east, it's not.
And by suffering I meant all the changes in Gensokyo as a result of all the travelers coming in (an indirect result of the duo's actions) A musician being forced to do work to eek out a subsistence for one.
I do wonder how Yukari'll handle damage control to Gensokyo as a result of all these changes as I doubt too many would be within her acceptable limits.
You can't do anything but stare into the face of death. it's one of those moments where everything seems to slow down, including your own body, so you while you know that you should be sidestepping or raising an arm to defend yourself or shouldering your weapon and pulling the trigger frantically or something, but you're too paralyzed by fear and realization of your own mortality to do anything but stare wide-eyed and slack-jawed at your impending doom. You could count the hairs on the feral's ear if you wanted to; it's a quadruped, roughly wolf-like if wolves had whiskers, two tails, and tusks.
A lightning bolt streaks over your shoulder, impossibly weaving itself around and through the forest canopy in complete defiance of natural law. Those hairs curl, blacken, flash for a second, then shrivel, and what ultimately bowls you is not so much a dead feral as a charred hunk of carbon.
For a moment you just lay there, trembling, unable to comprehend exactly what just happened. it's only when the high-pitched whine slides all the way into bass tones, that unmistakable sound of a dying piece of machinery, that you notice the sound at all, occupied as you were with the pounding of your pulse in your eardrums.
You scream in an extremely delayed response, squirming out from underneath the massive corpse, feeling your gorge rise at the scent of cooked and burning meat. Scrambling to your feet ?
? shoot it shoot it shoot it ?
? you realize that you've managed to keep a grip on your carbine. Without even thinking of how stupid you must look right now, you shoot the dead youkai in the head, still trying to protect yourself. Your hands are shaking so badly you miss the first two times.
You look back behind you at the ward; the charms that were orbiting its head now lay inert in a loose circle around its base. As you take a few steps closer to it, you further note that the charms have fractured into tiny pieces.
You haven't the faintest clue about the particulars of the magic behind it, but even you can tell that the ward is no longer functional.
? shit, something else is still growling, did you actually kill it? No, wait, here comes anoooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
This feral - is it the first one's mate? it looks just like the first one did - attacks you head on, bounding down the dirt path towards you at a breakneck pace.
Screaming in terror, you manage to at least backpedal in defense this time, pulling the carbine's trigger as fast as you can, creating a hail of stinging red lines to fill the rapidly-disappearing space between the two of you. But there's no weight behind the shots, no momentum, and so it just leaps, uncaring of your puny shots ?
? it hits you like a brick wall, if a brick wall had four legs. A punch you in the chest with its front limbs sends you crashing flat on your back before it throws itself upon you - it's going for your throat, no, no, no ?
You manage to prolong the inevitable for a few seconds by jamming your weapon sideways into its mouth, preventing it from closing its jaws, but when it flips its head back and simply bites down, the solid construction of wood and metal breaks like a twig.
But before it can feast upon you, it sighs and dies on the spot, its massive head flopping limply onto yours as you feel your clothes soak in a combination of youkai blood and your own urine.
Trembling, you violently roll the feral off of you, awkwardly plucking at your clothes in an attempt to loosen the sodden cloth from your skin. Turning your head, you find yourself transfixed by the one glassy eye on the side of its head. Is it? dead? Yes, it has to be. There's blood staining those fangs, and it's only after you check yourself to make sure you weren't bitten that you realize it must be the youkai's own, spat up from perforated lungs.
For a detached moment, you simply sit there, pulling your legs to hug them to your chest, rocking slightly back and forth. You stare at the hugely muscled legs of the youkai, marveling at their razor sharp tusks, the still-bared teeth - and then it occurs to you that despite their large bodies, the ferals are - were - starving. You can clearly see their ribs, and their fur - well, the unburnt one's - is lank and dull.
If these hunters were starving? then what else is willing to brave the warded paths for a meal?
That thought has you literally jump up a foot into the air, tottering unsteadily when your feet hit the ground again. A weapon, a weapon - you need something for the next feral that hops out at you. Your eyes fall to the now-inert ward; it's a wooden pole, at the very least, now nothing more than a stout stave without the charms. It comes out of the ground easily enough, and then before you can think about it your legs have you sprinting down the path once more; they're thinking about your life even if your head isn't.
You can already hear the youkai baying for your blood.
She's nodded off in her rocking chair between sentences, her hands resting comfortably on the armrests as her motion slowly comes to a halt. The armrests have inkwells built into them, as well as a recess to contain brushes; on her lap are a few scrolls. One is furled, already filled with text; another is still empty. Two more are open, and half-filled with inked words. The ink is already dull, having had time to dry while she slept.
"Grandmother Akyuu! Grandmother Akyuu!" you and your friends chirp the moment you realize that she's not simply resting, but actually asleep; a dozen or so children altogether, a flock of chicks clamoring hungrily. "Don't fall asleep! Tell us more! Tell us more!"
She jumps awake, as does a big twin-tailed cat that's been napping this entire time. It prowls once around Akyuu, clearly upset over being awoken from its afternoon nap although she has only smiles for you. "Goodness gracious, falling asleep here, with an audience? I've never been this old before, you'll excuse me," she chuckles quietly, her voice husky. "And you children, you beg as if I were actually in the proper tale! I've told it already, you know. Over and over again. I was just out here to write up a formal list of everyone involved."
You don't care, only crowding around her even closer, a score or so of little hands and faces, demanding she speak to fill the silence you respectfully leave so that no word she says will be missed. "Oh, you kids," she sighs resignedly, although her smile defuses the insult that line might normally be. "I'm not even that old.."
Seemingly satisfied that it's quieter now, the cat sits back underneath the chair, curling its tails back around itself as it lays down to nap once more. You don't notice how its eyes remain just a crack open, keeping track of you even while it rests. "Now, where was I?" she asks. "My goodness? my memory is slow today. it's all there, just? slow," she muses, brow wrinkling in annoyance as she shuffles the two open scrolls on which the ink has already dried. One for the males, and one for the females; an odd way to organize, but that was just her following the style that the records had been following for centuries. "Who have I listed already? Ah, yes. Kawarou himself." She turns her head to the other scroll. "The Yakumos, yes, he was very involved with them. And? yes, her?"
She muses on for a time down that scroll, then back to the other scroll. ?" Gand, yes, what a turnaround his life took, yes? Every male's dream, to have two lovely ladies equally in love with him on his arms? or perhaps torturous?" A surprisingly lecherous laugh, although it goes over most of your prepubescent heads; most of you are still at the stage where you think the opposite sex has cooties.
You suddenly raise your hand, standing amongst your seated peers. "Grandmother Akyuu!" you call out, boldly attempting to get her attention. "You forgot someone!"
The cat lifts its head and glares at you again. For her part, Akyuu looks at you in surprise, then looks back down at the two scrolls. "I - I did?" she says, amazed. "Now, I'm sure I got ? ?
"I should know!" you huff, standing up and putting your hands on your hips before pouting in the way that only a seven year old child can. "Otherwise, my parents would have never been born, and I wouldn't be here to remind you!"
"Oh - oh!" she laughs. "Your parents? Jace and Emeria, right?" You frown softens as you nod emphatically. "Oh, my goodness, I did almost forget. There's just been so much history? perhaps I won't manage to finish recording it all before?"
She looks distant for a second, but waves a hand. "it's no matter. I'll continue it then, just as I always have. Alright then!" she says vigorously, seizing up her brush and wetting it with ink. "Now, I? which one?" she trails off, suddenly uncertain.
She still hasn't actually remembered yet! Your dissatisfaction returns as you jab a finger towards?
CHOOSE YOUR ANCESTOR's GENDER
[ ] ? the scroll with the men on it.
[ ] ? the scroll with the women on it.
So, I've known I need another OC supporting character in Tainted Bonds aside from Marcus and Gand for quite some time now. Actually, since the story's conception. Sai and Marcus came first, Gand's concept came a month later but he never got actual story-time until the short whose thread I've jacked started in force. For the record, Marcus and Gand will be seeing a (re)introduction into Tainted Bonds within a couple updates, but this mystery fourth character won't be entering for a long time yet. I'm starting this poll now, however, because I'd like to start thinking of just who they might be so I can start molding future story notes around them.
This will be a long series of votes over several weeks. Start thinking about what kind of OC you'd like to see, and only make a write-in when I give the choice, because chances are if I didn't, I'm thinking of some very particular parameters. For example, here, I'm not writing an asexual or hermaphrodite OC. Get out of here.
Smashing an errant tree branch out of your path - you don't care about the noise you're making, the youkai can surely hear much less - you almost run facefirst into the next ward.
Something breaks in your mind, and you collapse at its base, throwing yourself prone before rolling over to stare blankly at the sky. At this point, panting isn't a sufficient term to describe what you're doing. Like an animal, you're frothing at the mouth and down your chin from the run. Your vision went red a long time ago, and you think you've actually stopped sweating at this point.
You need a break.
Just a minute to rest.
The ward will give you protection for that much.
Of course you have to rest.
It wouldn't do you any good to collapse anywhere else without protection, right?
So you'll just lay here for a bit.
Count the seconds.
Seven heartbeats to two seconds.
? no, wait, that's not a good measurement, your heart is slowing down.
Because you're resting, of course.
Six to two? Wait, no, that should be three to one. Simplification.
You learned that in Kamishirasawa's class! Huh, did she ever think one of her former students would end up like this?
Blast it. Why couldn't she be around here right now? Well, of course. She can't leave the village; she has to remain there to protect it, after all.
Eh, protect maybe isn't the right word. No marauding youkai has ever attacked the village from the outside, after all. Protect might give the idea that she actually fights. No, she acts as a deterrent. But deterrent isn't a very romantic word.
it's when you start fishing in your vocab for an appropriate term that you realize that your conscious mind has returned, and that perhaps you should pick yourself up and get ready to sprint to the next ward. You have to be close to Alice's house now. Not that the wards are a measurement for you - they weren't there the last time you walked this path, that was years ago - but the distance has to be the same. it's a magical forest, yes, but that ?magical? describes what's in the forest, not the nature of the forest itself. You've walked these paths before with Alice and her dolls, it's not like those paths were different each trip.
Cursing your imprecise memory, you admit that maybe the path is different. it's a magical forest, after all.
Picking yourself up, wincing at how your sweat-soaked clothes peel away from your skin, you find your ward-turned-stave, turn your feet back down the path, and ?
Your mind goes strangely blank. That?s? not a youkai you've ever heard about before. Maybe it's not a youkai? Magical forest. Maybe it's just some bit of magic gone wrong.
? do things in the forest ever go wrong like that?
What stalks determinedly down the path towards you is vaguely humanoid, and that's precisely why it's so disturbing. For what makes up its body and limbs are flesh? pulsing tendrils of flesh. Not like muscles and sinew, but just writhing, wiggling, tentacles, twisted around each other into facsimiles of limbs and a body.
Slowly, you backpedal down the path until the ward is between the two of you. The? thing ? you hesitate to label it a youkai as it's nothing like any youkai you've seen before - doesn't slow its purposeful walk, and you stumble back further.
When you and the beast are about the same distance away from the ward, a good stone's throw with a strong arm behind it, you both freeze in place. You, because you realize that you can't retreat too far away from the ward to remain under its protection; it, because the ward has just begun shrieking its warning siren once more.
It only hesitates for a second, and leaps.
it's a rather large jump, but there's no way it could have reached you. At best, it would have cleared half the distance to the ward, if it had made its flight uninterrupted. It doesn't even get that far, though, for several yards into its jump it explodes into a shower of fleshy bits as the ward activates, delivering its electrical payload. Perhaps only half its original mass, now burnt to a crisp, remains intact; the other half is at best lightly toasted, but hopelessly scattered into the surrounding brush.
You let out the breath you'd been holding, then take in a new one, long and deep. You need to run to the next ward, now that this one has been reduced to a wooden stick like the one in your hand.
Ah, crap, you'll have to run over the charred corpse. You start jogging, a medium pace that shouldn't wear you out like before. You don't want to give out between points of safety - not as if you're safe here anymore, not with the ward down ?
As you hop over the burned out husk, something falls from the canopy above. You instinctively twist to the side midair, throwing your left arm over your head. That action saves you from a far more grisly fate.
Not something, but somethings; near a half-dozen, writhing upon your forearm where they landed, with the other half-dozen slithering through the leaf litter blindly in all directions, having missed landing on you. Leeches - that's what they resemble, except light pink and about a foot long each, perhaps the diameter of a large coin. They writhe - they're alive.
And like leeches, they feed.
Dropping your stave, you swat one away before it can bite, but the others spin about and find purchase in the skin of your arm and hand with their teeth. Unlike leeches, their hunger is far greater than just blood, and you scream in pain as at they bore at least five tunnels into you, consuming skin, fat, and muscle down to the bone - perhaps the bone as well, if that grinding sensation is any judge. They start to go sideways, then, as you blearily grab one and try to pull it off, or more accurately, out. You fail at that, but your squeezing causes its body, rapidly becoming pudgy with your own blood and liquefied gore, to explode. That doesn't deter the remaining half of its body in the slightest - you can still feel its teeth grinding away inside of you.
You don't have a blade on you - but you have to stop them.
You stumble to the side of the path, stomping vigorously as you make your way to a tree.. Something wet and heavy splashes against your boot as a leeches that missed you initially bursts underfoot. Slamming your side against a solid tree trunk, you grimly begin repeating the action with your leech-infested arm.
The next minute passes in a haze. The experience is supremely painful, to say the least. The impacts travel through the ravaged flesh of your arm, causing the leechs? bloated bodies to rupture inside of you. Even so, the bits of muscle that power the teeth aren't quite dead, and you can still feel them chewing in place, still trying to feed their deceased hosts. Your arm's been reduced to gnawed bones sheathed in a loosely hanging sleeve of meat; not even your fingers have survived intact, as one made it to your hand and fed on the bones and tendons there. To call the limb an arm right now would be a sweeping statement.
You don't make it more than two steps, enough to get away from the leech-infested ground, before fainting from combined pain and blood loss. Your arm is gushing more perhaps than if you'd lost the limb outright. Surely something will come now - that scent will be impossible to mistake, and for the hungering youkai, you're a meal impossible to give up.
Something cracked underneath your back, but as you rock slightly to one side, you release you can still move, if slightly. No, you couldn't have broken your spine, but ?
Oh no! No, no, no, nonononononononono!
Your harp! Your damned harp, all those years and you don't have the damned presence of mind to keep your harp in one piece, you nursed it in its case through rain and crowds and the run, and now you fucking fall on it, and the case isn't heavy enough to protect it from that!
God damn it!
Piss and whiskey!
Bile, gallstones, gallbladders and quicklime!
That harp was worth more than your life! So what if you were dizzy from an injury like that? So what about all those months of frustration, of sitting with staff paper and pen in and hand and being unable to scribe a note! Now, without that harp, you have nothing!
You give up.
Your depression suddenly collapses on you like a ton of bricks, shattering what adrenaline-fueled life-preserving instincts remain. Nothing's sufficient inspiration at this point. Maybe you have the energy to try and pick yourself up, but you can't even bring yourself to try.
It doesn't even hurt anymore - your mind's shutting down. Just lay here, curl up, close your eyes. Bleed out. Be a meal for some passing youkai. That's the most you're worth right now?
? tremors in the ground around you. Pulling on your arm. Of course they'd go for that first, it's practically pre-butchered. Yeah. Come. Get some. Dinner's served.
Just kill me.
Your hearing starts to fail you as well; the sounds of your breathing and the footfalls around you fade into a uniform ringing sound, a long tone. Is that a? B-flat, two octaves above middle C?
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[X] ? the scroll with the women on it.
You point towards the longer scroll, the one with the lion's share of names on it. Many of them you recognize: ?Yakumo?, ?Konpaku?, ?Tatara?, ?Meiling?, ?Udongein?, and ?Nagae? are merely a few of them. The women's scroll.
"Ooooooh!" Akyuu suddenly blinks, and finds your grandmother's name, tracing a finger across the lines of text. "There! Oh, she was a special one indeed."
"What was she like?" one of the younger children asks. As coordinated as a pack of ferals, the crowd's attention swivels to you.
Caught off guard, you don't know what to do. You settle for staring at the ground, awkwardly scratching one leg with the other. Fortunately, there isn't a dead silence; a kappa-made powered carriage rumbles by on the road on the far side of the veranda. Visible from over the low roof of the building - it's a very tall carriage - its creators and occupants hawking their magewrought products and artifice at the top of their lungs, visually accompanied by flashing lights both electrical and magical. Not only does it fill up the pause, it catches the eyes of more than a few of your friends as they watch entranced. A few even get up to follow it, more interested in what curiosities the kappa have to offer than whatever poor excuse for a tale you have to tell.
Surprisingly, one of the women perks up at the sight of you, and hops off the carriage onto the roof before nimbly sliding down the tiles, hopping off at the last second to avoid getting caught in the gutter. The air around her shoes blurs as her fall suddenly slows to a leisurely float, like a feather; she touches down lightly on her toes. Her garb is typical of the utilitarian kappa when at rest; a denim jacket and shorts that at first glance seem scandalously short, before one remembers that one has to wear heavy overalls over them.
She runs up to one of the littler boys and grabs him up from behind, roaring playfully as the boy laughs uncontrollably. "Gotcha, little rascal! What?re you doing, listening to the Hieda's stories again?"
Akyuu furrows her brow and seems to be on the verge of speaking in her own defense, but the kappa woman waves a hand and chuckles, defusing the misunderstanding before it starts. "Don't mind me, I don't mind him listening in his own time. But he said he'd be back for lunch, and I was starting to worry!"
Akyuu relaxes back into her chair. "Ah. Well, he's here so often, I guess it was obvious where he would be. Nitori, you really need to keep a closer eye on him, because soon enough, he'll be out and about on his own."
The kappa - Nitori - looks distant at that. "And to think that years ago I never would have thought of being married. But anyways!" She claps her hands together, and steps back, still dragging her son with her. "I'll not interrupt you."
"You're not." Akyuu smiles mischieviously.
"Oh?" Nitori cocks her head, and you try not to look obvious, which is a feat given that you're the only child standing up.
Akyuu points to you. "He is."
The kappa runs her eyes over you, sizing you up. "Her grandchild, eh? I'm expecting big things of you in the future," she says with a wink. And then she's gone, kicking lazily up off of the ground as if weighing nothing at all. Knowing what kappa technology, artifice, and magic have wrought, she probably is weightless.
But as she leaves, you realize that this is sort of set up is swiftly going to become a point of mockery for months to come if you can't make anything of it. You take in a deep breath, and start saying - something! Whatever comes to mind! "I, err? she was? a lot of things.."
Oh dear, that was a lame start. You're not used to drawing this much attention to yourself on purpose! Laughs sound out all around and you hide your face behind your hands as you blush, embarrassed.
"Now, now," Akyuu gently admonishes them, "don't be mean. He just has to learn how to tell a story properly." She turns to you. "Why don't you start with something simple? Something broad? That's the best way to draw in an audience." Her eyes shine with unexpected cunning. She has a perfect memory - you knew that she knew all along, and yet you've been suckered into a trap more obvious than a three year old blackmailing people for sweets with a nonexistent secret.
You've been set up.
Revealing your face by sticking your hands in your pockets, you try to swagger a bit in place to look less stupid, not knowing that it only makes you look more so. "My grandmother was, errr?"
CHOOSE YOUR ANCESTOR's ORIGIN
[ ] ? born and raised in this very city, back when it was still a village and had to have its existence hidden from the youkai to keep it safe; before the Creation and ensuing Great Divide.
[ ] ? a Traveler, a survivor of the Existence War, arriving here in Gensokyo with little more than wargear and the knowledge in their minds, a major factor in why the lands and politics are like they are today.
[ ] ? an Outsider from the other side of the Border, coming into a world where her native myths and legends are alive and thriving, where fiction is fact and fact is at best mutable. -[ ] Her arrival came late after the Existence War, but not too late to have a part in the unfolding troubles. -[ ] Her arrival was practically unnoticeable in the chaos that was the coming of the Travelers. -[ ] Her arrival was its own incident, and the Travelers affected her deeply as any native.
[ ] ? an Outsider from the outside planes, whose long journey ended permanently in this land as she lived, loved, and added her own contribution to Gensokyo's future. Author's note: I'm sure that everyone gunning for this option is going to name their favorite established fiction universe. In order for this option to be selected, I'm going to need a vote here that towers above all others combined, and I reserve the right to veto it if I'm not comfortable with it. This being said, have fun deciding! -[ ] Her arrival came late after the Existence War, but not too late to have a part in the unfolding troubles. -[ ] Her arrival was practically unnoticeable in the chaos that was the coming of the Travelers. -[ ] Her arrival was its own incident, and the Travelers affected her deeply as any native.
[x] ? an Outsider from the other side of the Border, coming into a world where her native myths and legends are alive and thriving, where fiction is fact and fact is at best mutable. -[X] Her arrival was practically unnoticeable in the chaos that was the coming of the Travelers.
We've already got the perspective of a native and a traveler, so why not round it out with an outsider?
[x] ? an Outsider from the other side of the Border, coming into a world where her native myths and legends are alive and thriving, where fiction is fact and fact is at best mutable. -[X] Her arrival was practically unnoticeable in the chaos that was the coming of the Travelers.
[x] ? a Traveler from the other side of the Border, coming into a world where her native myths and legends are alive and thriving, where fiction is fact and fact is at best mutable. -[X] Her arrival was practically unnoticeable in the chaos that was the coming of the Travelers.
Native could be good, but... we've got one. And an unnoticed entry would be an interesting thing to see.
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Your vision is dilated, somehow. Her voice is near - at least, what of her voice you can hear beyond the blood pumping in your ears - but her face seems too small for it. Miniature - no, not quite.
Not quite like the dolls you knew.
A gripping sensation that you hadn't noticed before around your mangled left arm suddenly begins to clamp down, causing you to hiss in pain with what little breath you have. You don't so much look at it as you let your head flop down and loll limply in its general direction. Four hands - small hands, delicate hands - are cranking a tourniquet onto your bicep in an effort to stem the bleeding from the mangled flesh lower on the arm. With some humor, you notice that it's constructed from a red silk hair ribbon and a fine turtleshell comb, although the fact that the comb isn't even bending against the pressure makes you wonder just what youkai the shell came from. Or maybe it's not shell at all. Or maybe it's just enchanted? But who'd enchant a comb with such magic?
The backs of their heads are covered in long blonde hair, freshly tousled in the way that just-freed hair looks. Blonde, like the Valkyries of Outsider legend, even, but they lack the wings.
"Gand, you need to get up!" the girl holding tension on the ribbon barks, her voice cracking slightly, as if not used to speaking loudly. Her voice makes you picture fine robes, ornate lace, hair arranged in such a way that it takes hours to let down, to say nothing of putting up. Is the comb hers?
"Sister, it's coming this way fast!" the other girl says loudly, loud enough for you to hear past your faulty hearing. Her hands are the one cranking the comb with more and more force, their strength paradoxical when compared to their size.
The pressure in your arm gets to recedes to a dull, pressing numbness, and the first girl tucks the ends of the comb into the wrapped ribbon's folds so that it can't pop loose. it's a flawless piece of work, making you wonder just where they learned how to do this. "I know!."
You're a bit confused as to why they feel the need to shout too - it's not like they're shouting for your benefit when talking to each other, are they? "What's coming?" you ask dumbly instead, feeling the words drool out of uncooperative lips, trying to get your weight back on your feet instead of your back.
"Something big, something hungry, Gand!" You miss exactly who says this as you slip in the leaf litter, only held up by the presence of two sets of shoulders sliding themselves underneath your armpits. they're wearing something rigid on their bodies; for a moment your mind suggests corsets, but you dismiss that after a second. Corsets don't go up to the shoulder, there's nothing there to compress.
"I don't think I'll be able to walk," you hiss. "Maybe you should just ? ?
Their response shoves your words down your throat. "We are not leaving you, Gand!"
"Why do you keep saying my name?" it's a ridiculous question, but one that just bothers you on a fundamental level. You learned in your childhood that people don't say each other's names in every line, so there's no reason to do it in writing - much less, well, real life.
"Gand, Mother says that an injured person hearing their name keeps them awake!" the first girl shouts while slipping from underneath your injured arm. The dull sound of metal buckles shifting worms into your ear.
"You know, Gand, like how you can be in a crowd, but you can hear your own name despite the noise? Or when you're asleep, but someone calling your name rouses you!" Having your name called out can be rousing, yes, arousing, even - why the hell are you thinking of that at a time like this? There's nothing but the iron smell of blood in the air ?
? there's a familiar feminine smell, too, not ?familiar? like cooking or bedsheets or hallways, but specifically familiar in a way you can't quite place, but just - what is it?
After a second, the second girl relinquishes her support as well, miraculously leaving you standing on your own two legs. "You can walk, Gand, we know it! We believe in you!"
"We?" they say ?we? so easily, where ?I? would make much more sense. Normally, when reassuring someone, one would say ?I? to try and establish a one-on-one bond, a two-person empathy, an empathy diluted by the word ?we?, which leads to rejection of the projected bond, but she says ?we? with the same inflections and tones as ?I?, and you can't help but actually feel a bit better with the encouragement, even as your mind knows that you should be a bit disturbed, and ?
"You need to take care of yourself for a few minutes, Gand! Walk down the path, go into the house, lock the door behind you, and don't let anyone else in until we come back!"
If nothing else, the shouting adds weight to their commands. Your feet start obeying of their own accord, but you manage to halt yourself.
You still haven't gotten a good look at their faces, have you? One glimpse before you fell into a daze, one snapshot of features you can't pin down as anything but ?beautiful women?. Who are they? You turn your head back, but they've already turned their backs to you as they scramble about on the ground, their attention fixed upon something farther away.
they're short - no, not short. Small. Perfectly proportioned, but the taller of the two would probably only reach to the bottom of your sternum, and the other girl is at least an inch shorter than that.
"Minutes?" you splutter stupidly, unable to deal with the rapidly changing situation. "Alice - I'll get Alice, she knows how to scare off youkai ? ?
"She's not here right now, Gand!" one of them calls back. You blink in surprise at that, and then again as your brain finally interprets what the eyes are sending to it. they're dressed in armor, large metal plates fitted their bodies to protect joints and vitals, but with the insides and backs of the arms and legs partially omitted to save weight: half-plate. The last time you saw that was in a book. Actually, you've only ever seen it in a book. This is the first time you've seen it on a body - even in the book it was just hanging on a stand. they're missing their helmets, though - in fact, you think they're actually wearing the armor over linen dresses, the skirts split with hasty tears to allow freedom of movement.
As they retrieve their weapons, huge, dangerous looking things practically as large as them, your mental image of the two girls as high-class ladies shatters into a thousand tiny pieces. One shoulders a greatsword the length of which would be suitable for a brawny man - taller and wider than you, certainly - while the other lifts up a massive? you hesitate to call it a mere gun. More like a howitzer. You wonder what it fires with a muzzle as wide as your fist. Magic, most likely.
"Where is she?" The ringing in your ears is still there, loud and whining and making it hard to hear.
"We'll talk later, Gand. Just run now - run, run!" The girl on the left gives you the quickest of looks over her shoulder, impaling you on the spot with a pointed look, sending an icicle of fear down your spine.
Again, your legs move to obey even as you try and protest. By the time you manage to turn around again, they're running off, crashing through the undergrowth, leaving you with nothing but a persistent second-octave B-flat in your ears.
[X] ? an Outsider from the other side of the Border, coming into a world where her native myths and legends are alive and thriving, where fiction is fact and fact is at best mutable. -[X] Her arrival was practically unnoticeable in the chaos that was the coming of the Travelers.
?? she came from the other side of the Border."
"Like the Travelers did?" one of your playmates asks, blinking at you with eyes of all white.
"No no, the Old Border. Not the Border. Old Border. Old. Meaning she came from the Outside."
"But I came from Outside," an elven boy says slowly, confused.
"She came from the Old Outside," you tiredly add.
"Aww, that's confusing," a tengu girl whines.
Akyuu shrugs. "it's the way its guardians wanted it to be remembered; not much different than the Border we have now. The Old Border served Gensokyo well until not very long ago - from the point of history," she chuckles. "It was when but I was but a child, not very much older than you. Forgive me, my relative sense of time is not what it used to be. I'm not used to living this long yet?"
"Missus Hieda is ooooooooold," a fairy drawls playfully, only to be swiftly tackled by the previous tengu. "That was a compliment!" she shrieks, attempting to flail her way out of a surprisingly adept headlock. "A compliment!"
Akyuu's chuckle grows into a full ?do-ho-ho?, and for a minute there's nothing but chaos as the members of your former audience push and grab and shove each other around, alternately joining in for fun or settling old scores under the cover of breaking up the scuffle. You stand there at a loss, wondering how to grab their attention yet again, when Akyuu gives you a meaningful glance.
"Going to continue?"
You shrug helplessly. "I'm not sure what to say next. I was just gonna, uh, let them ask me. And then, er, kind of build from there."
"Ah, well, we can either wait for them to finish? or perhaps you'd like to boast a little bit?" she suggests.
You think upon that?
So, you know what I was saying about wanting an OC protagonist? I was writing ahead in Tainted Bonds's notes finally.
Once I had it sketched out, I realized that I ended up having a set of characters that could fit existing characters of the Touhou universe almost to T. In short: I don't need this OC as a major character anymore.
But if I got your hopes up with a 100% Anon-crafted OC, I can still fit one in. An increase in the survival rate of Outsiders who cross the Border is a plot element, and this character can be used to explore that theme.
I'm not trying to be a tease, I swear, but sometimes inspiration strikes and old plans get derailed.
[ ] ? wait for the noise to die down before starting anew. 100% Anon-crafted OC. [ ] ? make your boast, and shock the gathering into silenced awe. A Sleepy Afternoon with the Elderly Akyuu END. You don't get to hear Kidanon's story? his parents will remain a secret for now. [ ] Fuck you writefag for being coy, I want to know who you plan on introducing. Give us the first line of Kidanon's tale, at least.
File 13487181307.png - (442.45KB, 870x615 , Alice Winged Dolls.png) [iqdb]
Spoiler'd just in case people don't want to be spoiled just yet. Behold my notes, converted from bullets into a pseudo-narrative with some bare descriptive details.
curses its name
They both disappear in a column of arcane energy, far beyond anything that the ward alone could have packaged. There are no remains, for either of them.
shift into existence at the water's edge, and soar through the mists - a tower of a man and Alice. He and Gand share a small staredown, but Gand feels absolutely bared before his presence. But eventually he nods to himself, somehow satisfied, and then he and shinigami begin to... bargain, for the lack of a better word.
Komachi eventually admits that she wouldn't be adverse to letting Gand off, but there's an astronomical fee in return. The man pays it without hesitation, leaving Komachi to let out nothing but a low whistle of awe.
And then Gand gets the boot into the waters of the Sanzu, where the current drags him down, down, down, down...
... ... ...
It's when he takes in a breath and chokes that he realizes he's alive again. Hoisting his upper body out of an urn of glittering water, he looks around, seeing his two favorite dolls-turned-beautiful-girls, Alice, and the man from before. A comb rattles to the bottom of the urn, and a second later, a bloodstained ribbon slides off of his chest.
Some things are too much for a man to take in at once, and he passes out again.
He comes to in a warm bed this time. Warm, because Shanghai and Hourai are sharing it with him, cozily snuggled up to him as they often did when he napped, just far larger and warmer this time. He draws them close, and counts his blessings.
His awakening rouses them as well, and for a time they simply cuddle up and explain everything that happened when they had to disappear so suddenly, leaving him without a job and direction in life. When the Travelers first came to Gensokyo, Alice had to drop the show both because no one would have been watching it in the chaos, and also because she was, under Yukari's not-quite-request-but-basically-orders, busy keeping an extremely powerful construct youkai under house arrest while he figured out what to do with himself, lest he decide to unleash further chaos upon Gensokyo.
Not that either that being or Alice minded. The youkai marveled at her ability to create dolls, at their lifelike appearance and marvelous intelligence; Alice was awed by how much more advanced he was than anything she'd ever made, at how he was nothing but metal and wood motivated by a soul. Eventually, they agreed to a trade. She researched him to try and replicate his level of thought in her dolls; she would eventually transform him into something unrecognizable from a human.
A few months later, before either project was completed, he proposed to her. She accepted.
In their own way, Shanghai and Hourai are truly their children. But the exact details of that story are their own /short/.
The two girls then take this most emotional moment of the story and turn it around on Gand, never mind that a three way marriage is supposed to be strange and unusual. So are the three of them!
>>711 Actually, I hadn't read the post in the Tainted Bonds thread before seeing this, because I happened to flip through /shorts/ before looking in /general/. Although I don't really mind spoilers in general so it's kind of a moot point in my case. Still, the spoilers are a good thing just in case.