[X] Sides aside – if they want to have a cat-fight, they can have it without you.
It was a very basic mistake you made there, you think.
Every bit as basic, perhaps, as the one where you forget to check whether there is a lift in the lift shaft before stepping in and falling head-first, screaming, several stories down, and smashing all your precious ossicles on the concrete slab at the bottom – and that is: never, ever, on your dear life scrape the swollen wounds of one of your girls when another is traipsing about in the vicinity, ready to sprinkle spices on each and every patch of exposed flesh she sets her eyes on – lest you will be heading for a fall.
Ignore the humble chance of surviving the slip – even if you do manage to beg a second chance out of any passing deity bored enough to listen, the lift itself is bound to come down after you sooner or later, and crush your hopes along with what remains of your once-handsome body into bloody bits – repeatedly… with its spike-covered underside… while the unsuspecting passengers wonder if they have just taken the first elevator in modern history to adopt a death metal track for its music.
“—filthy… filthy… fucking… argh!” the agitated shrine maiden apparently has problems deciding which of the many scarring afflictions her scowling rival would find the most offensive. “I can't—… are you KIDDING me?!” she settles for a rhetorical question instead. “ARE you FUCKING KIDDING me, Fujiwara?!” “No,” says Mokou, who seems to believe 'rhetorical' just another ten-letter word starting with an 'r', “no, I'm not fucking kidding you, so shut your stupid gob and piss off, already.” Reimu recoils, biting her lower lip so hard it's a miracle it hasn't cracked yet. “… you'll regret this,” she draws out, stepping forth for a change, swathing her arms tighter about her front. “I don't CARE if Keine tolerates your BULLSHIT or not, but I swear to fucking HEAVENS, Fujiwara, I will NOT let you insult me in MY fucking—!”
“One tick,” you edge in then, “if you will, er, pardon me, Reimu, but… weren't you supposed to, uh… NOT be embarrassed of showing yourself off?” “Ah—” the shrine maiden gives you another one of those gasping 'ah's of hers, anger evacuating her expression faster than one might empty a bowl of dishwater on the head a particularly annoying suitor. Her delicate, beige palms run for the towel on her chest, then tug at its edges uncertainly while she searches for proper words. “—oh, um—… er… yeah, I… I said that, didn't I… I—I meant it, too, but—” “Never mind,” you sigh, rising to your feet. “I will just go ahead and add that to the long list of my faults.”
Mokou follows suit and stands as well. “Tiger—” “Not this time, dear,” you stop her. “I know you said it was stronger than you, but bloody hell, surely you aren't weak enough to let an accident made by the owner of the bleeding bath you're using spark off your emotional pyrotechnics that hard. Endure it a little, love, please.” “… but I thought we were—!” “If you endure it, you will be able to get stronger against it,” you tell her, “whatever the blasted thing might be. Heck, look at me – we have made ourselves very unpopular in the place I thought my bleeding home in these last days—so much that when they put their foot in something a dog leaves on a street, they will possibly come to say 'Oh look, I've stepped in a Shooter!' in some weeks—and tell me, do you see me fuming about it?”
“Tiger—” “No,” you answer before she can, starting at the same time for the door, “because see, I might fumble, but so did Jackie Chan in that chair and ladder factory when he didn't want any trouble – and I will not make it any easier for you to bitch at each other by sitting on the sidelines and shouting cheers!” “… you're running away!” Mokou exclaims, more than a shade incredulous. “Can't help it!” you shrug her off, “I'm a born runawayer! If you want to have a cat-fight, you can bloody well have it on your tod – without me having to hear it!” “I'm coming out with you, then!” “No!” you almost choke, “bleeding hell—no, you're not! Did you catch a single word of what I've just said? Or did I go out of my way to throw a tantrum only to have you not notice? Mokou, for the love of God, how deep up your blooming side-effect are you? No,” you carry on, “be quiet, I don't want to hear any more! Got to go, got a thing to do!” “… a thing?” “Well,” you stop in the doorway, “a couple of things, actually – and a werecow.” “Tiger—!”
“Have fun, then, you two!”
In a trice, you dart out of the steam bath, then along the patio on the leeward side of the shrine.
Mokou—praise her side-effects and whatever else—doesn't give chase, as she is most probably busy sharing a mutual look with the shrine maiden – a look that says, in a very acid tone, that “while I do loathe you and everything you stand for, you little skank, I will grant you at least the credit of not being as harebrained as this leporine halfwit” – but you cannot help feeling that you hardly mind it. If occupying the the descending, spike-floored elevator with heated conversation is the way to head it off from mashing your already once flattered arse into nice cutlets, then what the hell – so bleeding be it, even if you make yourself appear the giddy one in the process.
“Sodding brilliant, me.”
It's important to stay confident in your abilities even when your most beloved ones disappoint to do.
Once you turn the nearest corner, however, you quickly come to another, less comfortable realisation.
“… oh, am I, buggery!”
Sure, your escape may have resulted in a—rather relative—success, but now you find you were too busy acting the idiot part to remember that you took along nothing to cover yourself from the chill but a single, dampened towel, soggier than the beddings of an asthmatic in the late stages of pneumonia.
In some twenty-odd months, you think, you are going to elevate this uncanny skill of cocking things up to an artistic level – and then…
… and then, you muse, there will be no end to things you could have cocked up but ultimately failed to.
That went better than expected. Shooter feels terrible about it, but I have to imagine he would feel terrible no matter what he did. On the plus side, looking in need of consolation is probably the best state to be in when you need something out of Keine.
On the whole, though, you have to commend yourself.
If anybody says that back there performance was not a commendable show of resolution, they jolly well ought to have a tumbler of molten lead or concrete poured down their hindguts and be left to harden to about your level of firmness. If you weren't stuck as a truant with these two crotchety girls and the helpless teacher, you could have gone to lend the WHO your precious talents – they could have sent you on a missionary journey around the Third World, and you would have single-handedly eradicated the danger of sexually transmitted disease outbreaks ever becoming a major problem there again.
On the other hand, knowing that your middle name is 'Luck', and that your first is 'Bad', you might have as well inadvertently triggered a brand new disease to emerge – one that is spread by simply looking at one another naughtily, or even through having dirty thoughts of the other person alone.
Imagine the chaos that would bring about.
“… and I am become death, the bearer of… er, something.”
Something doubtless highly contagious, you reflect as you slide the front doors of the shrine close behind you and cut the waves of chilly air off from their new pastime of lashing you between the shoulder blades. Keine is nowhere in sight, you note with a pang of disappointment, but then, you reckon she wouldn't have much business loitering about in the foyer, anyhow – especially not waiting on some half-naked pander to bust in, mumbling religious nonsense under his breath and looking to share his freshly-evolved sickness with everybody in the neighbourhood.
Coming from deeper inside the building, however, is a sound of lively bustle – somebody jostling with a load of jingly utensils – and a pleasant scent lingers in the air, drawing your plagued self to step up, see what delicious dishes are being contrived on the stove – and so you go.
Obviously enough, the source of the commotion is your beloved teacher—still draped in those scanty clothes that cause your blood pressure to leap—preparing something that smells as tasty and edible as it looks otherwise. If you had known beforehand, you would have reconsidered the steam bath offer – the atmosphere here is nearly as hot and steamy as it was in the cubicle out back.
In all senses of the words.
“Hullo,” you speak up, gently, as not to startle the beautiful cook, “what have we in the pot today, master?” Keine sets down the ladle she's been stirring the soup with and turns – “Shooter, you're out alre—ah?!” – but as soon as she does and sees just who has decided to drop in and spy on her doing kitchen magic, her cheeks paint over with deep carmine, one of her hands shoots up to her face, and she jerks back, embarrassed, nearly knocking over some of the plates and bowls laid out on the tabletop by the stove. “Shoo—Shooter, you—! W—Why are you—?! Why AREN'T you—?!” “Got routed out by those two,” you shrug, deciding the time isn't right for existential divagations. “Couldn't even pick my rags up, that's how fast they kicked me through the doors.” “A—Ah,” the teacher quiets down a little, but her eyes still wander. “… I—I, um, see…” “Honestly, you could have held Reimu back if you knew she was going for a dip – you know what happens when she and Mokou get closer than a league to each other.” “I—I didn't know she was headed to—to the… I—I had no idea, I didn't…” she makes a pitiful bow, “… I apologise…”
“N—Nyeah,” you produce a strangled response, part to her defence, part to her cleavage that she has just made very inviting by putting her arms together, “no biggie, really,” you press on, finding yourself growing slightly nervous, “if I fall ill tomorrow, that's when we ought to start worrying – now it's still all nice and dandy.” Keine lets out a troubled laugh, then throws a discreet glance around, as though to make sure her delicate voice didn't bother any onlookers. “It—It is, isn't it… s—say, do you want some, um…?” Some “um,” you think, would be very nice right about now – you could probably come up with great many a use for it. “No,” you say, “I was about to ask where you dropped off my trash – I reckon I ought to have some dry habits left.”
“O—Oh, it's, um, in one of the rooms by the front entrance… t—the second on the left as you come in, I put your things there…” she gives a long sigh and mitigates herself – or leastwise tries to. “Shooter,” she pleads, swaying, “p—please, if you could…” “If I could…?” “Go and… and get… you know…” “I do?”
“… g—get dressed, please,” she says at last, her gaze flickering between you and the edges of her sleeveless shirt, “it's, um… awkward… like this…” “Oh,” you manage, “er, all—all right…?” “… t—thank you…” she exhales, “… p—please go, now.” “Copy, er… yeah, right on.” Indeed, you admit – if 'awkward' was a kind of wave, you would be surfing it in squealing glee without care for the world right now. “… Keine,” you call once more before you put your best foot forward to finding your gear, “one more thing, though.”
“… y—yes?” “Once I have changed, we are going to talk – and about some very serious things. I may not make the mistake of showing it, but I am actually very sharp for an idiot, Keine. I want the truth this time—and don't even tell me I cannot handle it, because if I cared less about what I can and cannot do at the moment, there would be negative amounts of care left, and that's a physical impossibility, do you understand?” “…”
“I am going to demand answers, Keine, and when I say demand, I bloody well mean it.”
Keine remains silent for a good couple of seconds before agreeing. “… yes,” she mutters, “yes, of course…”
“Of course,” tryingly, proves to stretch for miles and miles before the finish.
Initially, it was just anxiety twitting sweetly in your ear about the nearing tête-à-tête going up a gum tree and down a blind alley, but as soon as you have parked your behind by the table—waiting in the wings for the short-dressed teacher to get done committing ritual murder on stacks of vegetables and drowning them in the puffing cauldrons—a long dozen of other emotions turn out from their bunks in the back of your mind, and swiftly join in with their own jinxings.
Scepticism launches into a spate about all the possible mischances that could make the talk impossible—an infuriated shrine maiden exploding outside, a hurricane tearing the top off the shrine, a critical garment failure resulting in sudden and unplanned nudity—and nearly drowns out the timid suggestion from the kitchen—from Keine—regarding a cup of tea to accompany these last moments of leisure. Qualm, the senile codger, bounds off his trolley and begins to ramble on about her being a stalling, shifty female of precious unrefined sexual preference, but you dispatch him quickly with a boot to the knee and reply with a mannerly “yes, please.” Grace gives a proud applaud, and receives in return a deathly look from the nearby brooding Suspicion.
Off to the side, Reason undertakes a mute vow to steer away from other courses named “of” in the future.
“Here,” the teacher sets the tea before you on the table. “… you were cold, yes?” she asks, seeing you eye the earthenware jug apprehensively. “If you were cold, you should drink while it's still hot… you know?” “Shouldn't we, uh, wait with it till dinner, though?” Keine makes no answer, seating herself rather on a pillow at the opposite end of the table. Her hands immediately move to her cup, and start fingering its edges coyly with their unpolished nails. “… so,” her voice is all but a tired whisper when she speaks up, “… what… what did you want know?”
“Everything from the start would be swell,” you say and pause to take a swig of the brew. Somebody must have sunk their yearly supply of sugar cubes in this one. “—is what I would like to say,” you continue, “but, I have already burned myself once that way, so instead, how about we establish what I have already learned elsewhere? One—and foremost—thing, I am aware that you are not what I had always thought you were. I might barking up the wrong tree here, but I reckon your species ought to be amongst the first gen you divulge when you are introduced to somebody else – especially here, in this… Land of Smokes and Mirrors—or something or the other—that's logical, no?” “Ah…” the teacher makes a slightly wounded face, “… yes, I… no, I am… I am sorry…” “No,” you tell her quickly, “don't be – it's way late for that, anyhow—and sorry, but could you—… look, this is probably as stressful to me as it is to you, so could you, um, let me speak my part to the end before we do the Q&A?” “… yes,” she does a surrendering nod, “um, that is… please, by all means…”
“Very well. So, uh…” you pause, mulling over the next point on the list, “… what next… all right, this one might be a bit—yeah, but, er… oh, blast it,” you pat yourself lightly on the cheeks, “come on, then! On with the motley, you flopping muppet! Secondly!” you pursue, “I accidentally got to hear that you were involved in a sort of misadventure some time ago – and that it was bound rather tightly to your, er… bugger, I mean nothing bad, but, uh… let's say, your second nature, all right?” “… mm.” “I do not care a whole load for that, though—” you go on, ”—since we've all had some history, better or worse—and to be perfectly blunt, it's none of my honest business, so, er… never mind that. Oh yes, and it also caught my attention that a Hieda—not the young one, mind you—claimed the reason for the hash at the Village were your attempts to disband the hunting group—and let me say here,” you stop and look intently at the teacher, “that I understand you were doing it to honour the rules of the Land—which have been presented to me as well, by the way—and absolutely privy, I hold no grudges – it was a blasted lousy job, anyhow. So, uh, next up… let me see, there was, er…” “… yes?…” “Give me a tick, please.” “…”
Gratefully—as in, it grates some of your more desperate feelings—the chagrined teacher abstains from making any annotations of her own.
Once again, you take a short rest to gather your scattered thoughts. One day, you were just another human doing his best to jibe with the rest of this simple world, and the next—click, bang—you are flying with her and those two peppery birds, and you have to think very hard—a major drawback, when you are considered—as not to give anybody an opportunity to catch you on the hop and take you out of your hide.
If God had wanted you on the flight, he should have sent an airliner.
“… um, Shooter, are you…?” “Oh,” you gasp, blinking, “oh yes—pardon me, I—er… did I say anything just now?” “N—No.” “Good grief… anyhow, I reckon that was, er, more or less that. Going from there on, there's questions, questions, and encore questions.” “… ask,” says the teacher, “please—that is, by all means…”
“Okay then,” you continue, “first off, I would like to know whether you were trying to disband the group like they were telling.” Keine stiffens. “… yes, I… I was.” “Cause of the rules?” “… no—not really,” she confesses, sliding her cup away, “the rules were important, but in the most part, Reimu was—…” “—your first priority,” you fill in. “Got you, I can sort of put myself behind that… So, the idea of using firearms in the very first place, was that—well, you obviously know how to work a gun, like you showed a few days ago – but did you come up with it on your own? “No.” “So, somebody else had a twist of mind, then – and you vouched for it?” “… yes.” “… all right, and nobody did bugger-all when the notion became public? Suddenly everybody was hunky-dory culling the monsters from the woods? Nobody said, 'oh wait, what about them cotton-picking rules, then?'” “… no,” she shakes her head, “no one.” “Nobody gave two damns to speak up?” “… no.” “And you?” “… me?” “Why didn't you object? No, wait—before all else, you are, naturally, aware of the rules, are you?” “… I am,” the teacher says after a few twinklings of hesitation, “but I thought… I thought it wouldn't matter – that it would be just… just a normal, appropriate course of progress towards a more—… more… normal life, you know? It feels just so… just so cramped in here, with all the incidents, the magic, the monsters… sometimes it feels like I cannot breathe… b—but I told you that yesterday, right? I was—I was just so scared… I'm sorry…” she says and rubs her aqua-blue eyes dry. “So, I thought that—that maybe if I allowed them to do as they pleased, then maybe I could—have an easier time managing everything.”
“… and you dismissed the possibility that it would leave your beloved pupil essentially jobless?” “… no,” the teacher replies, “because they barely knew how to operate guns—because they wouldn't be able to hunt as effectively.” “But you just said—” “I had hoped,” she carries on, “that there would be a… a few accidents, and then they would… forfeit the idea, and that everything would go back to how it used to be—you know, before. It was—… it was just a break, to give me a… a window to breathe – it wasn't meant to be anything—… permanent, or anything, just—”
On that cue, however, a swish of air rouses the air – and following that, comes the tapping of two pairs of feet, scurrying across the paned floorings, slinking into one of the rooms at the entrance, and swiftly kicking the doors close behind them. However hard you listen, no further steps proceed—quite obviously, they have, for some bizarre reason, locked themselves in together.
Somehow, you are sure that you will yet come to rue leaving the two of them alone and unsupervised.
“Either way,” you return your attention to Keine, “in that case, if it was just a window for you to get some vacation, why did you have me join the—” Questions be as they may, the teacher doesn't let you round off. “Shooter, please,” she hushes, “keep your voice—just be quiet.” “Quiet?” “I—I beg you, just—let me have some more time,” she pleads. “I think—I think I know what to do, but I need more time… I promise I will tell you, but you will have to—” “—wait? Haven't I waited enough?” “Just keep it—please, just be quiet! If Mokou heard of any of this, she could—she would jump out of her skin…!” “Mokou has always lived on the extreme outside of her skin. Keine,” you sigh, a forlorn little sigh, “you are seriously trying my patience. I may love you—and God blind me, I honestly do—but this will not end well if you keep hiding things from me.” “I will tell you, Shooter—just… just trust me.” Not if I can help it, you think bitterly. “Soon, I hope?” “Soon,” she says, smiling at you for the first time today, “very soon—I just want to—I need to think about it, first.”
“… very well,” you give in, “bloody hell, how can I say no when you're looking at me like that?” “… thank you.” “No… don't sweat it.”
So, this is it—at least for now.
Cover a lot of ground that did not – but your fears and suspicions very well could. If only they would let you beat it – but no, because they want to tear you down and put up a bile-processing plant in your place.
Everything—which amounts to really only one thing, at the moment—that you have gained from this interrogation is a uncomfortable premonition – a premonition that pretty soon you might have to face some very unpleasant facts—like, for instance, that trees do in truth adore giving long-winded, philosophical speeches to intoxicated members of the human race – and that by forcing yourself to pay them no heed all these years has earned you the everlasting spite of the main source of breathable oxygen on the planet.
“… I must have picked the wrong week to quit being numb to revelations,” you mutter. “… um?” Keine glances at you worriedly, “excuse me, but what did you—?”
“He is having a mental breakdown. He tends to do in his spare moments.”
Mokou and Reimu arrive at the scene at last—as they were bound to, eventually—and once you turn your crowded head to meet them, the grand how-and-why-the-hell platoon inside nearly crumbles under the sudden and massive surge of new loud-mouthed recruits.
“Or,” Mokou goes on, “maybe he is just making up witty remarks somewhere in the corner of that empty noddle – though frankly, he does that all the sodding time. Have you any idea how hard it is to hold a conversation with him when he's occupied commenting on everything in his thoughts? Hard sodding work, I tell you.” “Mo—Mokou,” the teacher bats her lashes wildly at the girl, “wh—why are you—?”
“Oh, this?” Mokou glances down and up her clothes with the air of a person who—if not for the social norm of keeping your special body parts under veil—would happily parade about in reckless neglige. “I had no good rags left, so I scrounged some from this washboard right here,” she nods her chin at the shrine maiden. “How in the blazes do you even go around with this kind of wind in your crotch all day long, anyhow?”
Reimu makes a casual shrug, which signifies that although this world is indeed a tough place to live in and filled with problems of every shape and size imaginable, this particular one is not hers. “Get used to it,” she says, something between “oh, do piss off and leave me be, already,” and “meh, it's cool at least.” “Seriously, though,” she turns to face the teacher, “she told me she was going to strangle a calf with her bare hands and eat it raw, you know. Could we get to digging in before she does that? Keine?” “Ah,” the teacher awakens to the inquiry and springs to her feet, “um, yes, of—of course, please, go ahead, the soup is…”
Mokou, meanwhile, leans over to give you a sharp jab between the ribs. “Got what you wanted, Tiger?” “Not really – and you, had any luck?” “Carving the skank's tripes out, you mean?” she asks, her rustling, two-coloured habit-top causing you a mild theological crisis. “No, but we did natter a tad about this and that, and we reckoned we probably oughtn't bring the place apart in your sleep. Happy, Tiger?” “Hardly.” “Nothing ever makes you, does it – except that one thing we could name, but you would probably rather we didn't, am I right? Quit whinging and get binging, dear. I may not like the cow, but she can at least make boiled water without burning the bottom of it to crisp.” “Hilarious.” “I've worked on it,” she prods you again, “so appreciate it a bit.”
Reimu approaches carrying a set of old-fashioned bowls and plates. “Sit, Fujiwara, for eff sakes,” she says, “it gets much worse when you stand.” Mokou snorts. “Oh yes, and why don't you kindly go to hell?” “I've been – it's not exactly my kind of climate. Cutlery or chopsticks?” “Cutlery.” “Sell-out.” “Gagging fanny.” “Unwashed slut.” “I just called you that, you stupid coot.” “Come and bite me, see if I bleed any care.”
Mokou flashes a brief smile at the shrine maiden. “Nice one.” Reimu does a small bow. “I do my best.”
Someone, ostensibly, has had much better effects wearing their jawbones down than you have.
Notwithstanding that this one was more of a congregation of doubts floating heavily over your loaf, and that silver linings do little to improve the overall sensation of loafing in the middle of a thunderstorm, the dinner lapsed by without additional difficulties.
Keine excused herself hastily back to her room on the pretence of faring a whit unwell as soon as she was done, and even as you were about to strike up conversation with the two remaining girls, Mokou swept up the rest of her food and made for seclusion as well, saying nothing to explain the abrupt need for privacy.
“… wrong week, indeed,” you groan.
Reimu, the last of the traitors, mopped her plate up with a piece of bread and found her feet sooner than you could find a power sufficiently high to express the range of your injured feelings. “We will leave the washing-up to you, then,” she said. “If you need me for anything, I will be outside,” – and then she flitted out of the kitchen, hugging a small tea urn under one arm.
“Compassion must be one of those luxuries that's out of stock these days,” you note aloud as you wipe your hands in a dishcloth hung by the sink. Grunting, you let your sleeves back down and stretch a few kinks out of your limbs. “Good Lord, this is chicken unfairs in a box with a side order of bias fries.”
[ ] Go give Reimu a hitch on the ribbons. [ ] Go and check whether you aren't with Mokou in her room, by chance. [ ] Go upset Keine's stomach some more. [ ] Spend a quarter with the lady of the shrine.
>On that cue, however, a swish of air rouses the air – and following that, comes the tapping of two pairs of feet, scurrying across the paned floorings, slinking into one of the rooms at the entrance, and swiftly kicking the doors close behind them. However hard you listen, no further steps proceed—quite obviously, they have, for some bizarre reason, locked themselves in together. He sure has confidence in footsteps, no? Has he forgotten that everyone knows how to fly. This will bite him in the ass, I just know it.
Quick note. It would be lovely if you restrained yourself from recommending this story in any thread devoted to such things, be it here on THP itself, or on other image boards/Touhou community sites. I am really, really liking the slow and quiet here in /shrine/—the overall pace and the (oh boy, I feel like a twat mentioning this) number of readers are more that satisfactory—and I would like to keep that low profile until the end. I ask of you—only ask, friendly, as a fellow Touhou fan—that you satisfy this silly wish of mine.
Oh yes, and rejoice – a certain very insightful soul—and you know who you are, darling—has successfully spoiled my plans of forcing this train straight down the miko cleavage. Confound you, /jp/ goer! I'll railroad you next time! Now, if you will excuse me, I had these Switch-Axe skills to hone. I will make utmost effort to check back with you soon.
Iniquity out of mind, though, you ought to unknot for a shake or two.
One of the tells of an approaching nervous crackdown is the impression that your work is somehow terribly important, and by and large, you would much prefer to hedge against any more revolutions this drizzly afternoon. Or is it even an afternoon, yet? Ostensibly, your notion of time must have come to the conclusion that all the exposition of schemes and cleavages of the last couple of hours would be an excellent opportunity to make a split for the window and go make out with the birds under the greenwood tree. Issues like those you're facing at the moment aren't much unlike overweight girlfriends, anyhow – you feed them too much slop, and one night you find they have rolled over your shoulder and are squeezing your insides flat under their otherworldly poundage—but feed them too little, on the other hand, and, well…
… they will probably end up killing you either way.
“… I need a cupper,” you drone under your nose as you fill a kettle from the tap – and one that doesn't taste like oral sex with a candy cane, you add in your thoughts. However hard Keine might have wished the sweet would soften your disposition, everything it did was give you a bitter craving to find the nearest sugar cane field and burn it down to a caramel pond.
Once it is done—the water boiling, not the field burning—you pour yourself a cupful, prig a pinch of dried leaves from an ornate casket stowed away on one of the shelves, and then, having given the sugar bowl a scornful look, scuff over to the feet of the proprietor of the place and kneel awkwardly at the face of her pedestal.
Under her watchful eye, you set the tea down and give a flagging sigh.
“… I don't normally talk to myself,” you begin, “that is, not when sober I tend not to, but since you are here, I reckon that should be decent enough of an excuse, yes? Not that I mean to use you as an excuse against your judgement, mind you—” you explain when the white goddess glowers at you in mute discontent, “—it's just that you—gods, that is—you are usually rather busy playing dice with the Universe and what have you – so I reckoned that if you were to pretend to give ear, that would let me pour myself out without worrying about the off-chance of, uh…” you look around and lower your voice, “… between us, if they heard me right now, they would probably think I went crackers—but I am not quite off my rocker, you see – not yet, because, well, when trees talk to me, I never, ever talk back, honest! Is that proof enough? I darn well hope it is—no,” you correct, “it had blooming better be. Have you any idea how much grit it takes to keep it calm when they call you, for instance, a ‘poke of sodden meat?’ Or a ‘barkless, leafless sapling-butcher?’ Or a ‘sack of plashing donkey—…’” you trail off as you realise the great sculpture is frowning the stoniest frown humanly imaginable.
“… so, um,” you try after a few seconds, “that considered, can I…?… t—that is, I mean, you aren't going to leave me on my tod here, yeah? I would offer a prayer or something, but, er… I have my own God, you understand, and he gets very, uh, finicky about this sort of thing, so, er… that means… yeah… no…?”
Reimu—the original, divine—though presently a little one the rocky side—one—doesn't bother coming up with an answer to your piffling, and instead continues to glare at you with those unseeing, marble eyes of hers, likely too occupied staking the undoing of entire realities against her divine rivals some place else, atop some huge mountain range, with thunderstorms booming ceaselessly in the backdrop, water changing inexplicably into Château vintage 1680, frutti di mare falling out of the sky, and other assorted godly rubbish taking place without regard for laws of physics, logic, or deep-seated atheistic beliefs.
“… I seriously need to stop doing this.”
Good thought – you were slowly going out of your mind there—then again, perhaps you should shave gone ahead and made up some free space – it has been getting sort of cramped up here as of late.
“In any case,” you go on, “this is all quickly wearing very tired, you know that? Just a few days ago, my greatest worry was that Mokou doesn't wind up in my bed when I get back home so I can have a decent night's sleep—or that the blasted monsters don't decide to act up so I have to put a few heads of them down to remind them we generally dislike being the lunchtime snack for a flock of bleeding rat-thing-peoples.”
Grumbling still, you take a sip of the steaming drink and exhale sullenly.
“Sure,” you resume then, “all right, I might have in part done myself in on my own—told some bigger or smaller lies and all that nonsense—but, bloody hell, I lie to please, okay? I reckoned it wouldn't hurt anybody if I made some of this and that up—and, fancy that, it never really did—other than me, of course, blast it. Imagine though that I wouldn't even mind too much—that is, if I knew what in the blazes is brewing up, and when I am going to have to get to grips with it—and I will bet you my dear bippy this will yet come bite me in the rump when it comes to the crunch – I just feel it will in my sodding bones…”
Over again, you flush the chagrin down with a sup of hot tea.
“… but you know what vexes me the most?” you ask next. “It's this entire situation with those three birds. It's like some blasted soap-opera intrigue, or a lousy romance screenplay—like Romeo and Juliet, Brad and Jennifer, Anthony and Cleopatra—and all tragedies, I might add—and blow me sideways if I wouldn't rather we all got along like we bloody well ought to. Certainly, I could stave it off if I wanted, but… it seems to me whichever road I choose, somebody is bound to get hurt, and I confess I don't find that sort of outcome very desirable… not to mention I've never really been too monogamous myself, so…” you stop and sigh, “… you know, I might have to have that off, eventually.”
Startled, the tiny hand hanging undecided over your shoulder recoils away, a familiar “ah” marking the movement, and a delicate, rosy whiff idling sweetly in its wake, teasing your nostrils.
“Oh, it was you,” you turn and tell the fitly-coloured shrine maiden. “Good heavens, and here I was beginning to fret that I had grown an extra arm out of my ear.” “… very funny,” she responds a shade testily. “Were you eavesdropping, by chance?” “No, I just, um…” “No? If that is so, what are you doing here? Weren't you supposed to be enjoying yourself outside?” Reimu assumes an uneasy smile. “Would you believe if I told you she said you were bothering her with your jabbering and wanted me to put and end to it?” “…. nonsense,” you frown back at the marble goddess. “… you wouldn't do that, would you?” “No,” the shrine maiden gives in, stooping somewhat tiredly on the floor at your side, “no, she wouldn't… probably. I just came back for a refill, to tell the truth… but you know, we haven't really spoken lately, now that I think about it…” “Weren't you two on somewhat stingy terms?” “Oh yes,” she makes a little sigh, “I told you about that, didn't I… We might have to change that soon, though.” “Oh?” “If Keine decides to take me along, she might end up without a shrine maiden, you know, and then—”
“Hold up,” you cut in. “If Keine takes you along where, exactly?” “Come on,” the shrine maiden gives you a curious look, “what are you talking about? Of course I mean if she decides to take me along to the—…” and then, her train of thought comes to a sudden stop at Station Realisation, quay six slash seven. “… wait,” she mutters weakly, her expression falling. Out of the blue she looks as though she was six again, sprinting out of her room under a terrifying call of nature, only to discover her parents have decided to practise hardcore wrestling on the floor of the only bathroom in the household. “… b—but I had thought—!... N—No!” she shakes her head violently. “No, no, no! Never mind that!” “Never mind what?” “Forget it!” she yelps. “M—My tongue just slipped, is all! S—Say,” she takes a deeper breath and takes on another of those uncertain smiles, “that aside, you brought your… your gun—or what was it called—with you, right? Could you, um… you know, show me… show me how to, you know…? I—I got to play with the ones in the Bamboo Forest, and it was fun, b—but, you know, a real one…? Could you, Shooter? I—I would like that, you know?… Do you think…?”
[ ] “… very well. Come on, then, wait outdoor and I will be with you in just a tick. We've something else to tackle, anyhow” [ ] “… fine, I'll show you—but in return, you will tell me what you and Mokou were on about just earlier, won't you?” [ ] “Oh no. Hell no. I've had about had it with this tiptoeing around me like a broken glass. Either you tell me right bloody now what you two are hiding from me, or I go and squeeze the answer out of your lovely, little mum-figure — is that clear?” [ ] “Pass. Sorry, but I wouldn't be very good company right now, anyhow. I need to go, lay down, maybe…” —[ ] … yeah, laying down for a bit sounds good. —[ ] … in Mokou's room, maybe… in her lap, maybe… —[ ] … lay down – the law, that is, to Keine, all over her.
She doesn't really care about the guns, she's just changing the subject.
[x] “Oh no. Hell no. I've had about had it with this tiptoeing around me like a broken glass. Either you tell me right bloody now what you two are hiding from me, or I go and squeeze the answer out of your lovely, little mum-figure — is that clear?”
>>32663 [X] “… very well. Come on, then, wait outdoor and I will be with you in just a tick. We've something else to tackle, anyhow”
We only ever seem to get legitimate information from people that actually want to tell something to Shooter. I don't mind obliging her tactless attempt at changing the subject and leaving it at that if we can dispel this air of awkwardness between Shooter and Reimu a little.
[x] “Oh no. Hell no. I've had about had it with this tiptoeing around me like a broken glass. Either you tell me right bloody now what you two are hiding from me, or I go and squeeze the answer out of your lovely, little mum-figure — is that clear?”
[x] “Oh no. Hell no. I've had about had it with this tiptoeing around me like a broken glass. Either you tell me right bloody now what you two are hiding from me, or I go and squeeze the answer out of your lovely, little mum-figure — is that clear?”
[X] “Oh no. Hell no. I've had about had it with this tiptoeing around me like a broken glass. Either you tell me right bloody now what you two are hiding from me, or I go and squeeze the answer out of your lovely, little mum-figure — is that clear?”
[X] “… fine, I'll show you—but in return, you will tell me what you and Mokou were on about just earlier, won't you?”
“No, I don't know that I do.”
Or, more precisely, you aren't of the opinion that you should. Coming to your own assessments and opinions might be something that every earnest, hard-working, parent-loving person is obliged to do, but it has been merely four days since you began working your wit, and look now where it has brought you. Sure enough, having an open, adaptable mind is an admirable trait indeed, but you were always of the impression that the problem with open minds is that thought tends to leak out of them much too easily.
However, the worst trouble with thinking is that it's highly addictive. Once you give in and give your brains a start, you are a straight-laced, sober young man in a land of perpetual teen piss-ups, where the only way to have a meaningful exchange is to have a swig of that foul-smelling spirit whose name alone could make a lifelong alcoholic retch in disgust first—and the most frightening thing is that after the first two or three awful shots, you can physically feel your grey mass flounder to accommodate the new flavour, and before long, you slowly begin to appreciate it. It doesn't matter how many cleavages you inadvertently spill your rounds into, or how much toe-mass you grind under the heels of your boots then, because as soon as you learn to enjoy the taste, clever remarks will be mile a minute.
It's insidious, and you had better stop it before it gets out of hand, else you might soon be out of hands yourself.
… it's already too late, isn't it.
Reimu blinks wildly at your response, possibly hoping to give somebody on the other side of the globe a surprise hurricane. “… you don't… you don't know that you—?” “Oh no, it's nothing,” you axe her efforts short, “… and blast, fine, very well, I'll show you – but on one tittle, little condition, all right?” “… um, and that is?” “See, they do not ordinarily teach these sorts of skills out in the street, so in return for that small course, you will share with me a small secret and admit just what in the blazes you and Mokou were on about before dinner. It has been, sort of, breathing down my neck that last quarter, if you take my meaning.” “Oh,” says the shrine maiden, surprised by the simplicity of your demand, “that is, um… a—acceptable?” “How ‛bout them apples, then?” Or maybe by the scope of ease she has managed to elude you with, you rectify as she breathes out discreetly, stirs, and picks herself up. “Sound good enough, those ‘apples…’” she says. “So, um… I will wait for you… outside? On the terrace? Out front… Or no—in the back, better?” “Sure, fab, let me just cap off here and I'll be with you in a tick.” “In the back, then,” she says again, her face oddly straight. “In a minute, yes?” “In a minute.” “In a minute, then,” she puts her fluttering palms against one another. “So… I'll be waiting?” Oh, you bet she will. “Sure, that would be nice.” “Okay,” she nods, scuffing off toward the entrance hall with the same, stiff expression plastered over her features. “Out back, yes?” “Out back.” “In a—” “—a minute,” you finish off for her, trying to look the look of one who, while would much prefer a nice vacation in the sunny Caribbean, is all the same available at her call whenever she feels the need to annex his vacant time. “Or two, I need to turn the thing up from my dregs and tack it together, after all, yeah?” “Okay, yeah. Out back. In two minutes.” “It's a date, then.”
Reimu stops and makes a small scowl. “It's not!” “Sure,” you reply innocently, “if that's what you say.” “Stop that!” “Sure, all right.” “One more ‘sure,’ Shooter, and I'll—!“ she bites her tongue and shakes her head fervently, “argh, whatever!” – and then, she turns and makes a bolt for the passage, one more “two minutes!” sounding from her lips before she fleets out through the doorway.
Inertly, with an almost casual amusement, you observe as she struggles to slide it close behind her.
Her stride just now was a trifle in a strange style, you make a mental note. It looked as though her body was being tugged toward by an unknown force, and she had to pay utmost attention to put her feet on the floor in appropriate moments to maintain an appearance of obeying the gravitational force supposed to keep even the lightest of souls down on the ground-level.
It wasn't so much a walk as a take-off sequence, indefinitely postponed.
“Some day you will have to do something about that,” you glance behind at the unmoving goddess, “cause it's not very natural, you realise? I bloody well hope you do. Every time I remember that they can fly, ugh… Just, you know… keep that in mind, would you? Oh, and by the way,” you assume a sterner tone, “if you ever meet that Lady Luck character, will you kindly tell her that I respect her work, but there hasn't been nearly enough of it yet to make up for those previous cock-ups?”
Cold and unresponsive as a comatose debt collector, the marble goddess makes no sign of acknowledging your request.
“Cheers,” you give her a short smile, “I knew I could count on you.”
>>32680 I mentioned before the update that I would treat the two pro-Reimu options as one because they were essentially the same thing. Nobody cared to change my mind, so I went ahead. Would you have me scrap this part and re-write the other choice?
>>32681 not the poster of >>32680 but imo just go with this, if the three that voted otherwise didn't care to protest, then they didn't care enough and it's their loss. plus it'd just take longer to first ask for an answer then rewrite. just my 2 cents
>>32681 I was the one Come on and originally planned to ask what the difference between that and fine, I'll show you, but it felt like the options were there for a reason. When the two were counted as the same I was going to try and push the particular nuance I seized upon, but I figured either would result in a happy miko. Having read the results, I'm glad I didn't say anything so far.
>It wasn't so much a walk as a take-off sequence, indefinitely postponed. I'm wondering what this part was conveying. My initial impression is that she didn't want to look too relieved and enthusiastic, which is adorable. It also occurred to me that maybe she didn't want to show off too many crazy super human abilities, either out of politeness or consideration. It seems our three heroins are acutely mindful of their conditions with respect to Shooter. So I don't know how to interpret this bit, but hopefully it will clear itself up with the next part.
Okay. I just asked because I would really be fine with either branch, and it's important to me that you enjoy the story, too. Sorry for the wait as well, but I got seriously addicted to MH (again), and I have some exams coming up, so my thoughts have been sort of hectic as of late, but sleep easy, there will be an update soon enough.
“Hold the butt by about the end of your collarbone, you should have a small dimple there it ought to fit in.”
“… got it.” “Cracking. Now fold your elbow. If you stick it out like that, you're going to be knocking down everybody in a mile radius every time you turn.” “… like this?” “Great, we're doing topping. If the weight is too much on your arm, try and get your front grip closer to the magwell—which is this part, right here—and put your other elbow to your chest… or, well, to your side – that would likely work out nicer in your case, methinks.” “… why, thank you.” “Don't mention it. Next, you have the sights—these, here—see, and each has a sort of dot on it – you've got to line those up to get your aims.” “It's different from on the one I had, um… you know, back at the game?” “Oh yes—reflex sights, neat gadgets—but I fancy the olden ways more, personally.” “… why, wasn't that way more convenient?” “Sometimes I think it's just for the sake of eccentricity. Have you got it yet?”
Reimu throws a quick squint down along the barrel then gives a groan. “… it's kind of hard.” “I never said it wouldn't be,” you assert. “Notice that you have this brief pause at the top of your breath—between when you finish drawing it in and start letting it out—that's when you want them to aline. Give it a blast and see if you can find that pause.” “… mm…” “No, that's wrong,” you criticise, “you're faking it now. It has to be natural.” “It's because you told me to breathe.” “Go on and calm it down, then.” “… okay, and what next?” “Once you've got that down pat, simply pull the trigger the moment your breath stops. Careful, though – it's loud as—” “—I know it's loud.”
Hesitantly, the shrine maiden continues making those erratic breaths of hers, and slowly, slowly, she coils her slender, beige finger about the lever of the trigger, pushing it diffidently to half-way, then letting it loose again, as though the pygmy springs of the mechanism had developed a mind of their own and were now taking up the cudgels against the obvious round-abuse about to take place.
Seeing that strange irresolution, the rummiest recognition comes down on your preoccupied brain.
Hakurei Reimu, who is—as you have already noticed at one point—a perfectly natural, blossoming, young woman, can at times be almost uncharacteristically attractive – commonly when faced with a situation that leaves her self-conscious regarding the contents of her undergarments, but most of the time—usually when you aren't on-site to provoke these kinds of situations—she is everything but nervous, and her premier nature emerges. Even you, before you got to know her closer, were duly convinced leading the gentlefolk of the Village a merry dance was her distraction of choice, and very rightly so – in terms of behaving the communally proper, adolescent girl part, she still has a ways to learn, starting, most likely, with what it means to be one.
… or did the two of you cover that, already?
“… huh?” the uninstructed growing lady gives a perplexed gasp. “… um… it's not… huh? Shooter? It isn't—?” “Oh yes,” you answer her confusion with a little smirk, “you weren't thinking I was going to let you blow my spare rounds for real, were you?” Reimu very nearly goes spare herself. “What? I thought that you were!” “Sorry, but this is my only dints of sticking up for myself, and it's rather limited. I can't go around frivoling it away like loose change – it would run dry faster than a pint of iced swipes on a midsummer evening.” “One round!” she pleads. “What's one round going to help you?!” “Considering my excellent haps? I could lay it by for myself.” “Shooter!” “Oh, for the love of—fine,” you surrender, “I would part with all of them if I could have the sweet hope of making you happy, but you are aware that it does make a precious powerful of a bang, are you? Do you want to fire off that one round and lure everything there is out there here to us all the same? Myself, I wouldn't like that a lot.”
Especially if Mokou and Keine were to feel obliged to investigate, you add inertly.
Humanity may have the necessary capacity to withstand massive volumes of wonder—conceivably an inherent countermeasure to walking around in open-mouthed awe all day long—but you are quite positive that if they came to discover you and the shrine maiden in this particular position, somebody would be forced to gather his jaw from the ground all right.
Reimu seems to puzzle out that potential danger as well. “Oh,” she makes a downcast, little gasp, “you're… um, you're right. I, er… I forgot about that…” “How exceptional.” “I'm not omniscient, you know?” she replies with a sour sort of look. “I do forget things every now and again. So, er… are we.. are we done?” “If you don't want that one shot, then, well…” “I don't,” she says, handing the rifle back to you, “thank you very much…” “Oh no, hold up,” you stop her, “why don't you hold on to it for now?” “What? What for?” “Well, if Keine or Mokou espy us here, we will leastwise have an excuse, no?” “… have you done this before?” “Haven't you?”
Reimu makes a wan, concise smile, shoves the gun in your arms, then straightens up and takes a seat beside you, patting her ruffled clothes back to a state of relative order. Soughing softly to herself, she reaches absently to the side—and curses when nothing meets her touch. “… oh, damn it,” she clicks her tongue, “… I forgot…!” – and then, in an unexplainable upswing of melancholy, she props her chin down on an open palm and, staring into the grey deluge beyond the canopied borders of the patio, sighs at her own forgetfulness.
“It's all right to let things slip your memory from time to time,” you encourage. “Everybody does it. I almost didn't arrive somewhere because of it, once. I was on my way there… and something happened!… I can't remember what, of course. Carelessness is feasibly one of my better-developed skills.” “Did you forget what your condition was, then?” she asks with an askance glance. “Very nearly, but no,” you say. “So, since you mentioned it already, will you tell me what is up with our little Krakatoa girl? I reckon the thing you talked about in the sauna had something to do with her blowing her top more than usual?” Reimu closes her eyes wearily. Coming from the land of Mount Fuji, she obviously understands the plights of her short-tempered rival. “… mm,” she mumbles, “… kind of.” “I'm listening.” “… it's nothing… dangerous,” she says, “it's just that, um… that she is having, you know… that time of the month, is all, really.” “… and that's it?” “Yes—well, no, she, er… she asked me for… advice—what to do, how to make it better, and so on—that kind of, uh… business.” “… she didn't know these things? I can scarcely believe that.” “I'm just saying how it is,” says the shrine maiden. “If you have to pry, you know she has been living, uh… you know, apart… from the rest of us, I mean, right? Maybe… maybe nobody had told her before, I have no idea.” “… are you completely sure that's it?” “If she was telling the truth, that's all.” “… I see…”
… and you don't explicitly like what you see.
“… um, Shooter?” the shrine maiden accosts then. “Hmm?” “I have to… you know, tell you… something.” “Indeed?” you forfeit the notion of going off on another tangent. “What's that?”
Reimu lifts a hand to her face, looking abashed all of a sudden. “… probably… probably I should have told you earlier, but, er… you know, I just didn't have a chance to, um… talk, with just the two of us, that is…” she casts an evasive peek aside, “… so, um, what I wanted to say was, um… this is stupid, but I don't—… but I can't really… remember, too much, from… you know… t—that night, at the Clinic, after… you know, the game…?” “Oh,” you make a flat response. “Y—You were gentle, though!” she adds quickly. “I mean, I didn't… I didn't hurt in the morning, so, um…” she gives you an apologetic glance, “… s—sorry…?” “… uh, no, don't be,” you force through your suddenly clenched throat, “that's, er… all right, I reckon?… though, it's probably not, but, uh… pardon me, I don't know what to say…” “I just—just had to get that off my chest, you know?” she shifts her eyes to the fog again. “I—I'm not even supposed to be thinking about these things, I… I still have work to do, right? It's just that… you know, when you were here last time, I told you that—that sometimes I wish that I was a normal… that I had a normal life, and… it was just bothering me, is all…” she moans and rubs her forehead irritably, “… I used to cope with those things so much better, too…! Never mind,” she says then, “just—just forget I said that. I really shouldn't have—”
“Having fun, Hakurei?”
Out of the frying pan into another frying pan. Mokou materialises behind your backs like a vengeful ghost from a poor horror flick, and scans you both with the sort of face that could microwave a bag of popcorn from the other side of an Olympic stadium.
“He was molesting you, wasn't he?” she asks the shrine maiden. “N—No, he wasn't!” “How come you're red like a bloody ripe beet, then?” Reimu springs to her feet. “It's nothing! Nothing, just…” she breaks off and exhales, “… have you finished with the charms yet, anyway?” Mokou conjures a file of small, rectangle papers up from the creases of her outfit. “How do you deal with this glossy bull, anyhow? I could hardly get the ink to stick on it. Hasn't it occurred to you to use plain old sodding paper instead?” “Gloss makes it harder for it to wash off. It helps, you know.” “Oh,” Mokou says, “well, shag me sideways. He wasn't molesting you, then?”
“Do you mind?” you chip in. Mokou, however, pays that as much heed as one would pay a stray mosquito in the middle of an unmarked minefield. “I have yet to bear out if they're working, though,” she goes on, “and, I reckoned outside would be a tad safer, so here I am.” Reimu gives her a wry sort of glare. “… amazing.” “How about you give me a hand, then?” “Mokou—” you try once more. Mokou—at long last—concedes to your humble attempts at edging into the conversation, and gives you her full, explosive attention. “Tiger, dear,” she twitters sweetly, “we are having a… what was that… a girl talk here, so why don't you go and make sure you're not, by chance, some place else?”
[ ] “I am fairly sure I'm right here, though.” [ ] “Oh yes, but you are going to go look with me—and this is not a request.” [ ] “… you know what, this might actually be a good thought – there might be other mes flipping skirts somewhere, and I would hate to be left out.”
[x] “… you know what, this might actually be a good thought – there might be other mes flipping skirts somewhere, and I would hate to be left out.”
How often can these women keep dismissing Shooter at every single inconvenience (perceived or otherwise) until he says 'fuck it' and heads back to Eientei to live a burden free life with Kaguya and a bunny harem? Let's find out...
>>32695 >Let's find out... Here at the Yian /shrine/ laboratory, having fun is our number one concern—that's why we hide behind these humorous monologues – they're to cover up that there's not a lot going on, because nobody likes when not a lot is going on… Anyhow, an unanimous vote overnight makes me sad that I cannot afford an immediate update, but Thursday seems fairly leisure, so I will try for that—and, I will take >>32696's suggestion regarding the next course of action, if the rest of you has nothing against it. Let me know.
[X] “… you know what, this might actually be a good thought – there might be other mes flipping skirts somewhere, and I would hate to be left out.”
It's time to back up or clam up—
—whereas clamming up is never an option so long as you have your opposable thumbs and don't insolubly sprout a shell from your rear side overnight—which, patently enough, leaves you with no alternative but to make a speedy bunk before the two red-white-clad piranhas have a sudden flight of fancy that some molluscs would make a welcome diversification to their diet – and seeing to the pointless task of looking for yourself elsewhere seems a small price to pay for keeping your favourite end whole and in the pink – unless, of course, you find an odd you munching on some plankton somewhere in a closet and have to figure out what to do with him.
And yet, on another think…
“… you know what,” you bristle up and say, “that might actually be a good thought.” Mokou makes a satisfied smirk. “Great, we—” “—because,” you carry on without so much as moving a brow, “there might be other mes flipping skirts somewhere, and I would hate to be left out from the sport—and believe me, flipping skirts is one of the few sports I always feel razed to miss out on.”
… on another think, getaways may as well wait with their turn till you've done exercising your tongue—copping an attitude and shooting the girl with her own medicine—because, let the world beware, you will give quarter to nobody when an opportunity to have a row comes about.
Save for the clodhoppers back at the village, naturally – you're not talking to them, they're on the list.
Mokou gawks at you tight-lipped for a couple dumb seconds before she puts her hands about her sides and gives you another of the heated stares. “Was that supposed to make me angry?” she asks. “I may have picked the wrong week to quit trying to piss you off, I will admit.” “… you say that too often.” “If I could have the joy of making you cross, I should say it again,” you tell her pertly. “Come clean, dear, you've been riding me like a workhorse ever since we woke up – it's only your fault if I come up lame in the end.” “Tiger, you—” “—and,” you cut in after a measured pause, “mind that this workhorse is on the brink of intentionally snapping his own ankles to get his bleeding break. Did you want me to do that, dear—break my ankles, that is? Or maybe I ought to shoot myself in the foot instead? I have quite an experience doing that, actual – if need be, I could likely shoot my toes off clean at sixty paces! How would you like that, sweetheart?”
Mokou draws her horns in, her bluster clearly on the wane. “… you're being bitter again.” “It does have all the earmarks of that, doesn't it? No, you listen to me, now,” you carry on, not giving her an opening to strike back, “say what you will, but I have every bloody claim to be bitter. We are out on a limb on the run from a horde of bloody primitives for some obscure reason that I am apparently not allowed to know, my head is one gigantic crock of bleeding Irish bull, and just to notch it up, I may jolly well wake up with sodding bronchitis tomorrow – just because this one girl failed to keep her teeth pulled when she bloody owed to! Hence, dear,” you resume with an angelic smile, “no matter what you picture under that lovely mop of yours, it is my damnedest right to feel a tiny tad bitter about this whole botch!”
Cautiously, you dart an on-the-quiet glance at the other watching-on girl, but however astonished you anticipated her to be, everything her expression seems to say is that you are wasting your time—which you find, needless to say, quite acceptable.
It's your time, after all.
Mokou, bless her heart, cedes a step and makes an abashed sort of face. “… you want me to say sorry or what?” “Sorry won't buy me a new cerebellum,” you tell her in your tartest tone. “… well, sorry, but—” “No dice,” you press on. “If it could be made all dandy with just a sorry, we wouldn't even be having this talk.” “… then what do you want me to do?”
Gloating inside at her desperate looks, you heave your rifle up and swing it over on your back. “I haven't the slightest clue,” you say. “I am not very bright, so it was my thought that I shouldn't dare second-guess somebody as perfect as you.” Mokou scowls. “… that's not funny.” “Oh dear, did that sound like it was supposed to be funny? Obviously, I meant to flatter you — my bad if it came out wrong, but as I said, I haven't the best kind of head to sweet-talk at the moment, and I would loathe if you were to get a wrong impression. Now, if you will, I had places else to be,” you announce acidly, “and this is about all that I had to say, anyhow, so I reckon you will have to suss the rest out on your own… Oh, and by the bye, Reimu,” you address the shrine maiden, “two ideas for you. One, don't lose sleep over what we spoke about, really; and two, in case this here restless bird decides to try and take you out of your hide or tear your home apart, remind her that I would have to take responsibility for it – that might calm her down a jot.”
Reimu gives a nod of agreement. “… okay.” “Cheers,” you shoot her a salute, “enjoy the cool in the meantime.”
—since it would be just our luck if the place stood in flames within the next ten minutes, you muse as you start for the front of the shrine down along its roofed terrace.
Sooner than you can turn a corner, a sound of two bare knuckles bashing on the wood of the walls tickles your ears, and you find yourself heartened by the implications – against all odds, there might be hope yet for you to take this cock-up to an end other than “sticky, all over the room,” and—divine assistance or not—you will make every effort not to let anybody queer your pitch, even—or especially—Mokou.
“Sure, that wasn't very nice,” you tell the bobbing barrel of your gun, “but there wasn't a nice thing that would work, all right?”
Mokou may cry—you would feel gratified if she did—and tragic as it may be, you could hardly think of anything that would help her simmer down and set herself straight better than some good, old tears.
Hopefully not too many, though – the rain alone is enough of a flood danger for your nerves.
I didn't think the general sense of bitterness over being jerked around could have been conveyed that well, but Shooter came across as appropriately acidic. On one hand, I feel sorry for Mokou, being on the receiving end of some pent up frustrations that were truly a team effort in accumulating. Keine and Reimu's severe allergy to 'details' and 'explanations' is wearing thin. On the other hand, Mokou was being a bit of a bitch. Love her dearly, but she needs to reign that shit in.
That said, being overly obliging of every whim is definitely showing signs of being a questionable approach. Methinks Shooter is going to have to put his foot down lest this perpetual state of confusion take root. Being mindful of the requests of our lovely companions may be gentlemanly, but it's proving to not be conducive to getting shit done.
“I told you I needed time!” “Shame, because I don't have any that I could give you any more.” Keine nearly knocks the table over quailing from your retort. “… b—but I am busy!”
Certainly, she did appear rather occupied when you found which of the quarters was hers and elbowed your way in.
If drudging over sheets of lined paper chock-full of what resembles an enormous family of sickly-looking shrubberies were a genuine walk of life, this woman could go for the yearly hedger of the century award and start building up a small collection; and although she fumbled at first to hide her work from your eyes the moment you entered her temporary office, now that you have established your position clearly inside her personal space, she seems to have come to the conclusion that your uncanny ability of turning foliage dead by staring at it for too long was merely a thing of legends.
… well, it would not be very interesting if you had zero secrets from each other, now would it?
Easier, perhaps, but not half as engaging.
“Get un-busy, then,” you return. “Mokou should be tied up pegging her chops away right now, so we ought to have a quarter or two for ourselves. If we hurry along, we could get through that conversation from earlier before she heckles us again, what do you think?” “I told you, I was—!” “—you were afraid that she would hear,” you give with an asquint look, “but as I said, she isn't going to come and tap in on us any soon, so yeah.” Keine unhands her sleeveless top apprehensively, as though she feared you would dive down to iron it out with your forehead the instant she did, her beautiful, aqua-blue pupils flickering between you and the untended shrub-garden on the low-lying tabletop. “… but I need to finish writing these out…” she makes a quiet complaint, only to be met with your unrelenting stare. “D—Do,” she tries in a weak voice, “do we really have to, so soon? Shooter? Please? I—I don't even know where to begin! How to explain! How to—!” Her gorgeous, creamy palm launches to her chest once again, but you kneel down, intercept it in its path and close it in yours. “Plainly, dear,” you tell her with a careful smile, “plainly would be best.” “… but this…” she mutters, looking uneasy, “… this is too sudden, too—” “Come on, don't give me that,” you squeeze her work-worn fingers, “I flew from that far-flung Clinic place all the way here to help you out of the grief at the Village, and I did as soon as I found out you were in trouble. Keine, I love you,” you say and watch delighted as her lips quiver embarrassed at the word. “Haven't I told you before? Never mind Mokou or Reimu, I am speaking only for myself here – and believe me when I say I would rout the devils out of hell for your sake if I had to.” “… t—thank you, but—” “We have to be together in this, Keine,” you pressure. It always goes like this – you eagerly forget your own difficulties to be on the same page as somebody you care for, but then you find there was a miscommunication and you end up in two different libraries. “I trust you—” apparently so, “—but you need to trust me as well, and you could start by realising I could easily forgive you little things like these—for a fee of, say, a warm smile?” Keine probes her pockets for spare smiles, then finally pays her toll with a small, awry—though charming all the same—one, of the kind you never would have hoped for from a woman her category—category fitly labelled “women who you never would have hoped for to smile at you like that.” “… but still,” she says, her hands squirming feebly in your vices, “I—I don't even know where to begin…”
“We could resume our previous approach,” you propose, prying your eyes from the jewelled cross-necklace twinkling roguishly in her cleavage, “meaning, uh, that I would ask questions, then you would answer them—truthfully, if you would be so kind. How does that sound?” “… okay,” the teacher inclines her head, “I will do my best to… to answer, but…” “What is it?” “Could you… um, you know?” “Oh,” you let out, “uh, yes, of course.”
Obediently, you let her hands free and scuffle back to a more comfortable distance, watching her try to wipe the reddish shades off her cheeks all the while.
Her movements give an even more restive impression than before, you notice reflexively—or leastwise make her appear somewhat averse to being so close to you here, in this room that could very well use a touch of polar windstorm or leastwise a long and thorough airing. Somebody must have had a very unimaginative stroke designing the place—or maybe never took into account that someone so mercifully free of ravages of intelligence would be using it as his grilling-grounds for a trine of beauties that belong as far away from religious institutions as geographically possible.
Consider the situation – here you are, head flat as an ice rink, brooding over the long-term effects of this ‘hermitage’ business on your diet, explaining to yourself that in the least you are rid of the tangles of societal turmoil, happy to hammer away at the nails of your and your God's new home, when out of nowhere, the worst example of public upset strides in like it owns the place, flaunting its revealing clothes, making faces and suggestions that would put an architecture course graduate down with instant apoplexy – and strive for your peaceful life of worship as you may, before long you will have a horde of offspring flocking about your feet, taking your every leisure moment prisoner and maltreating it to death with their endless questionings.
One must never leave a male and female of the same species in only each other's company – it nearly never ends in healthy results.
Mother Nature might disagree, but Mother Nature forgets she knows jack-shit about the most recent trends in healthcare.
Keine gives you a concerned sort of look. “Shooter, are you all right?” “Uh,” you snap out of thought, “I am?” “… your eyebrow was twitching.” “It must have developed into a habit by now,” you sigh. “I get led away much too readily these days.” “… these days?” “I used to be much easier to manage, didn't I?” “Oh,” the teacher gives an understanding gasp, “you meant—… no, you were—this is silly, but yes, you used to be more child-like, not so brash, and not so—” “… child-like?” you frown, “… I was child-like?” Keine laughs a delicate laugh, making nothing of your chagrined face. “Do you remember, shortly after you arrived to our Village—when we were assigning you your first duties?” “Oh yes, what about it?” “I thought,” says the teacher, playing with the rims of her clothes, “that it was… kind of cute, how eager you were – you were so anxious to start out I almost thought you were trying to impress me.” You were. “I was not.” Keine goes on. “I was… actually very surprised, when you appeared yesterday,” she confesses, “when you barged in out of the storeroom, and just… jumped at me, and… you know, I never would have thought our… our little puppy would do something like that… but you did, even though the old you would have greeted me officially and asked politely if I required his assistance… but instead, you… you did what you did, and… I didn't think that it was very—that it was bad, just… you know, surprising.” “… oh.” “It may sound stupid,” she continues, “but I felt… I felt like a little girl when you shouted at me. Suddenly, everything was right, and I was in the wrong, and it just made me feel so… so inadequate, so stupid, but I knew… I knew that I could—that I should lean on you, that you would help me out, that I could trust—that I should trust you, and…” she trails off, shaking her head vigorously, tugging at the edge of her top, as though to straighten out all the creases she has made, “b—but… we are getting sidetracked, so why don't you—why don't you ask those questions that you wanted to ask? I—I was just being silly, anyway, so…”
“… very well,” you say in your coolest voice, struggling at the same time to douse the raging fires in your ribcage with a bucket-dose of child-filled visions, “we have already covered some of the issues earlier, but, er… all right,” you manage to assume a slightly harder look, “I won't lie, I still have my suspicions about you, Keine, and I would like to—no, I need to clear these up first.” “Suspicions… about me?” “Sunday,” you tell her, “that is, three days ago, you had your shrine maiden check up on us—me and Mokou—but after I had sent her home, she was inexplicably back the following morning, no explanation, and no memories of my original instructions. How would you like to explain that—keeping in mind that your ability to fiddle with heads of people would explain it just about perfectly?”
Keine seems startled by that allegation. “… but I—!” “Not only she, too,” you add quickly, “since virtually everybody else with the exception of me and one other person appeared to have had their recollections tussled about as well for some perverted reason.” “… but I didn't even see Reimu on Sunday!” cries the teacher. “I—I didn't even know that she was—that she was with you!” “… you didn't know?” “I told you,” she explains, her eyes in panic, “I took that weekend off to rest, I barely even went outside, I couldn't have—!” “So you say you didn't do that, then?” “I didn't,” she asserts, “I swear, I had no idea…!” “Did you?” “P—Please, believe me! I was just as shocked to see you as I was to see her, I never—I never even knew that you were on your way to me, honestly…!” “In that case, what about the amulet?” Keine stares at you blankly. “… the amulet?”
… she doesn't know?
… are you missing something here?
“… never mind,” you give up for the moment, “and all right, let us assume this is true and move right along. How close do you think Brennan is involved with all this?” “I… don't know. He has got to be, but…” “When was the last you heard from him?” “I told you, the evening of the day you went to the Clinic…” “How did Eirin know you would be needing help?” Keine blinks. “… Eirin did?” “Question, Keine.” “I—I don't know…” “My old rifle—where is it? I couldn't find it when me and Mokou slept in the School last night.” “I… I gave it back to Brennan shortly after you had left. He said he would need it, so…” “… but how does that relate to—” —to her supposed efforts of shutting down the hunting group?
Certainly, you had become an essential part of it over the time, but so long as they had that rifle in their possession, how possibly could one frail teacher attempt to—…
“… no,” you say, “never mind,” you will mull this one over at some later date. “Going on,” you return to the quiz cross-fire, “we have already found out—in our previous talk, that is—that your monster-hunting colours were in theory not supposed to hold out very long—but then, why in the blazes did you have me join them?”
Keine covers with a light blush. “It was… w—well, you know, just a proposition, since you were…” “… right,” you mutter, “since I was the new booter on the block and all that bull. Keine, say… are you honestly telling me the truth?” “I…” she hesitates, “… I am sorry, this is just embarrassing, but… I am telling the truth, I swear—” “Don't, you're a woman – it doesn't become you.” “… r—right.” “So…” you lean back and exhale a long one, “… now that we have dug out all this old dirt, what do you want to do next? Did you have somebody you wanted flogged for giving you all this grief? Some of the yokels that threw stones at your windows, perhaps?”
Keine lashes out at the notion. “N—No! I—I don't want to—! How can you even say that! I would never—!” and then, as quickly as her voice rose, it falls quiet, and remains there on the bottom of the scale for a good moment before it sounds again. “… actually,” she begins, “there was a place… a place that I wanted to go, I mean. I—I have told you before, that I wanted to escape from this… to have some room to breathe—right—and I know this is abrupt, but—there is a place I can go, and now that they drove me out of the Village, I can finally…” “Where is that place?” you ask. “East of here,” she says, “about a… a full day of flight away, in the mountain range… there is another town there, and—” “Does it have a name?” “It does, but you couldn't have—” “Name, Keine.” “Moriya. It is called Moriya” Moriya—not something you could have heard of from your—former—colleagues, but you definitely have heard the name before. “… and if there is such a place, why haven't you gone there, already?” “I am not on… very good terms with—with people there,” admits Keine, “but I am sure that if you are with me, they will—they will surely…” “… yes?”
“… they will—” she breaks off suddenly, and her enchanting, aqua-blue eyes lock with yours. “… do you trust me, Shooter?” “… I don't know.” “Shooter, I beg you, please, trust me! I never asked for this, but now that it's done, this might be my chance…!” “‘Chance?’” “Just—Just go there with me! Escort me, if you have to give it a formal name! Just take me there! I know this isn't entirely all right, but I have no—I have no choice! I cannot go back to the Village! I can't—I don't want to go back! Shooter, please, understand my situation! I need you! I need you to get out of this…!”
“All right, that's enough.” “Shooter?” “I need to sleep on this,” you say, rising to your feet. “I am feeling tired all of a sudden. We were done here for the time being, anyhow. If those two ask, just say I have had enough excitements for the day and went to bed – it won't be too far off, anyhow.”
Keine reaches out as if to stop you, but then, unexpectedly, lets her arm fall back along her side. “Shooter,” she calls out instead, “please…” “… please what?” “I—I need you…” “…” “… I need you, so please, believe me…”
“… I want to,” you tell her. “God save me, this is insane, but I really want to.”
Once again, you set your anticipations way too high.
Conceivably, you were expecting some type of revelation, for her to unveil some secret that had eluded you, something that would change your perspective of events, shatter you to your core – and yet, there was only you, shelling with questions a dejected woman who may have understood even less of the state of play than you did, hoping you could devise some brilliant way out of the straits – and still, you know scarcely any more than you already did. Some of the things Keine said could be thought over, turned inside-out, then back again, searched for hints that you omitted earlier, but in the end, you are still left with no definite answers. Keine did not send Reimu back—no, she may have in fact never sent her to tail on you in the first place. Eirin claimed Keine had never once crossed the borders of her premises, but who else could have meddled with the minds of the shrine maiden and the bunny-eared flock?
Now, it is long past midnight, you are in your room, everybody has long gone to their own beds, and after the series of short, hectic naps you have had the displeasure of experiencing up to this point, you begin to realise the sleep you so wagered would help you sift through what you have learned, is in fact doing nothing to amend any of your numerous issues.
Other than your verticality, that is.
[ ] Stay here and try to think. Surely there must be something you are not seeing. [ ] Go see if Mokou is asleep. [ ] Go give Reimu a nightmare. [ ] Go and sit in the main area of she shrine, maybe have some late-night tea.
[X] Stay here and try to think. Surely there must be something you are not seeing.
Placeholder vote while I reread. Completely forgot about the amulet and missing rifle. Right now, it feels like this is an elaborate scheme on Brennan's part to remove all authority and oversight in the human village: have Keine leave of her own volition while getting Reimu and Mokou (and Keine?) wrapped up in some bizarre love quadrangle with Shooter. Why, though, is beyond me.
>>32735 Sounds like he wants to take it over; so far he's doing a good job, making anyone beyond normal outcasts, setting both the Miko maintaining things and the village guardian eager to try other things.
And a Moriya village? Sounds as if things have taken quite a wild turn in this timeline.
I suspect the main root of the memory messing is the second were-hakutaku... and I suspect if's someone close to if not Brennan himself. That'd easily explain how he could get so well connected to the Hideas.
>“In that case, what about the amulet?” >Keine stares at you blankly. “… the amulet?”
Brennan and/or the other were-hakutaku was the one on the other side of the amulet, and sent psychic messages to manipulate events. That's why Keine was surprised when she was rescued. The purpose was to show the townsfolk that Reimu and Keine were in cahoots.
>Moriya—not something you could have heard of from your—former—colleagues, but you definitely have heard the name before. “… and if there is such a place, why haven't you gone there, already?” >“I am not on… very good terms with—with people there,” admits Keine, “but I am sure that if you are with me, they will—they will surely…” >"… yes?”
Brennan's actual base of operation is Moriya. He's convinced their shrine maiden and gods of the righteousness of his` cause, Keine's oppression of humans, and Reimu's complicity in maintaining the status quo and to get her out of there (and not killed, since the were-hakutaku in the story was actually Keine's lover). Moriya is eager to fill the power vacuum that will exist if they are toppled.
[x] Go and sit in the main area of she shrine, maybe have some late-night tea.
>Brennan and/or the other were-hakutaku was the one on the other side of the amulet, and sent psychic messages to manipulate events. That's why Keine was surprised when she was rescued. The purpose was to show the townsfolk that Reimu and Keine were in cahoots.
That feels solid, the other speculation not so much.
>>32752 Well, if you wouldn't mind, I could work at it some – though the updates would be weekly at most, or happen at the expense of MiD's. I know I would – mind, that is, a little bit – but then, I am here but to please you folks – so the choice is yours.
Moving right along, though, I sort of fell asleep on the free time I had today, so you're free to vote still, if you want – you've time until tomorrow. I shouldn't have gone and said to hurry it up, I know, but I'm stupid like that. Sorry, folks—and thanks for that exchange of theories above. I enjoy that.
[X] Stay here and try to think. Surely there must be something you are not seeing.
Nevertheless, your verticality, no matter how alarming, is at a push but one problem out of a myriad infesting your mind.
Supposing even that Keine was not trying to mislead you, the answers she gave were too evasive—too excuse-like—to provide any sort of useful guidance in setting the strained state of affairs back to rights. Here you are, few days barely past since you were let off the leash of forced communal service, already a major public enemy, your hard-wrought reputation stained irreversibly like the favourite tablecloth of your mother minutes before an annual family get-together, your chasers the sort of people that would pull you apart with horses and find it tidier than contemplating an alternative, and your accomplices the sort of curiosities that would maybe not murder the cat in cold blood, but certainly stick it on a pole and wave the hissing contraption in the faces of schoolchildren coming home from classes and consider it good entertainment.
Stirring in your beddings, you push the gruesome—amusing, yes, but still gruesome—thought away.
Danger has stared you in the eye more times than you could tally, but now that it has positioned itself on your six and found the back of your head, you aren't feeling very comfortable with the knowledge.
Considering what has been revealed up to this point, it doesn't require confirmation that Brennan is at the heart of the fault in this play. He was, after all, the one who insisted on sending you away soon before hell broke loose in the Village, and all the recent evidence seems to indicate him as the prime source behind the straits.
Eirin also might have had a hand in the situation – she knew of the emergency before the news of the broken amulet reached either you or her – never mind the laconic reasons of her refusing to answer your questionings, her unjustifiable detention of Delaney, her surreptitious observation of the Princess, and her involvement in the previous crisis—the were-cow one—where the effects were merely concealed, as the furtive doctor claimed, as opposed to being brought to a complete solution. Sure enough, she sounded averse to interceding in the pastimes of the villagers, but what is to say that that, too, was not a fabrication meant to beckon you on a wrong trail?
Questions aren't the issue here, you decide—nor are the answers, really. Hieda, the smug little devil, gave you this warning: do not blindly trust everything that you are told by the others, decide on your own which you should suppose true and which you should not. One wonders whether the young miss was aware of the irony of this advice. Where does she stand in all this, anyhow? Her aid—what little of it there was—has proven useful, if not a little bit cryptic, and she did go out of her way to encourage your cooperation with Keine, but…
Inadvertently, you reach out for the rifle laying by your mattress and slide your fingers gently along the polymer-cast stock.
… but is there any sense in figuring it out? Somebody said, once, that people do not wish for their problems to be solved, that they would much rather they remained and push their resolve to persevere, press on with their lives with all their little conflicts. If problems of every sort were to inexplicably disappear one day, what else would there be to motivate humanity to endure? Even you, even now, cannot shrug off the delightful feeling of satisfaction, the lingering sense of elation over becoming your beloved teacher's knight in shining armour, over her taking notice of your affection at long last, over the visions of rushing forward, victorious, the women you hold dear in one hand, gun in the other, taking to the skies, raging masses in your wake, and together, with her, finally, saving the—
—and then it dawns on you.
“I gave it back to Brennan shortly after you had left,” she said.
How come this escaped you so easily earlier?
“He said he would need it, so… ”
He has your old rifle. How blooming obvious is that?
Of course he would need it! How else would he move about freely, pulling the necessary strings, setting up this trap that you traipsed into so mindlessly, deeming yourself the smarter one?
Startled by the realisation, you shake out of your sheets and, in a surge of horror, bolt upright.
“… that senile, old—!”
He could be here, in this very building, creeping outside your doors, waiting for an appropriate moment to strike, and you—poor, oblivious you—has only realised that dreadful possibility now. He was never the one to employ great amounts of subtlety, but the recent events prove that even the beast will very willingly learn how to tip-toe when pressed by circumstances, and now—
—and now, there's a knock.
Knock, knock, once again, a notch louder – a tentative sort of tap that says, in a kind of metaphorical morse code, that the tapper is well aware the person on the other side might be having a moment of personal enlightenment, but at the same time has brought with him a much faster way: a sudden and fatal case of lead poisoning in a neat, easily-applicable capsule-form.
Stock-still, rooted to the spot like a dumb tree, you gape helplessly as the door—at the lack of your prompt—comes slowly open, and stare as in from the shadows beyond worms its way your destruction, your great mistake, your drill instructor of Camp Undoing, wearing the same poker face handed down from officer to officer since the dawn of time to muster a squad of rookies and Take The Bloody Breach, your lethal oversight, your…
… your Keine.
Quickly, without a beat, but with a swivel of her hips, she slips before the flimsy plywood frame of the door and snaps it shut behind her, stepping boldly inside; her eyes going wide as they spot you standing by your mattress, your arms and body frozen mid-reach for the rifle on the floor.
“A—Ah,” she gasps, “you're… you're awake?” “I tend to be, at times,” you reply with reflex acid. “Keine, what… what are you doing?” Keine dithers for a moment, but then locks her aqua-blue stare on you and steps forth, fearlessly, almost, a determined sort of expression stretching her lovely lips. “… there is,” she says, “there is something I must tell you, Shooter. Something very… very important.” “I usually end up regretting it whenever somebody says that.” “Shooter.” “Sorry,” you say, “it must be glandular.” “I beg you,” she pleads, “listen to me, this isn't—I am not joking, this is honestly important. I know it might sound… unnatural, outrageous, even, but—I assure you, this is acceptable, there is nothing wrong with it, we won't be breaking any rules, or anything, but—… but you need to believe, in me, in what I say. I need to know that you and I, that we can trust each other, that we—” “—haven't we been through this already?” you cut in. “I thought I was to sleep on it and give you an answer tomorrow.” “I—I didn't tell you everything there was,” she admits, “but please, if you will just let me speak—! ” “If I will let you?” “I need—I need you to promise,” she says. “I need you to promise that you won't… that you won't turn on me, that you will take me to Moriya, that you won't… betray me like… like he, like that person.” “Oh yes, I love to make promises, especially promises I can't keep.” “Shooter, please, this is serious! If you do not cease making fun of it right now, then I'll—!”
—then she will trip and fall, patently.
Oh dear, you think as you dive to catch her, here we go again, time to play the knightly part.
“Ouch, blast, and encore ouch,” you groan while your rear side enjoys a third-degree randez-vous with the cold, hard floorings. “… good lord, why in the blazes do you women keep doing this? Could you have chosen a more painful way to show your affections? I would have likely appreciated it when I was sixteen, but—”
—but all your witticism disappears when you open your eyes to the sight of the lightly-dressed teacher bending down to kiss you.
“Kei—” – is all you can utter before she forces her lips to yours, and whatever resolve you might have yet been holding, melts immediately in that clumsy, but heartfelt kiss – along with every coherent thought in your brain and a few more things best left unmentioned.
Keine pulls back after a moment or a dozen, brushing the strands of unruly hair behind her ear.
Out of the blue, she seems different, her movements suddenly showing very clearly that she has lived in her body long enough to grow accustomed—very accustomed—to its shape and curvature, and that despite the slightly embarrassed look on her face, she would readily—and happily—present what she can do with it to whoever finds the courage to ask.
Her bare thighs are peeking from under the wrinkled-up edges of her shirt, and you choke mentally when you find them swathed tightly around your sides, holding you down—and in between them—with all the strength of the muscles hidden beneath the incredibly smooth, creamy-white skin.
Keine hesitates briefly again, then smiles, leans down and lays on your breathless chest, her heavy features squeezing you nearly flat, her body deliciously warm even through the fabrics of her clothes.
“… sorry,” she breathes at your neck, wiping your thoughts clean again. “I have been… neglecting you. I am… really, really sorry.” “N—No,” you rasp, your voice weak, “you don't—have to…” “No, I am,” she insists. “I knew how you felt about me from the start, but—but I could do nothing, really nothing about it. I had my own duties, you had yours, and it was for the best… I thought it was for the best that it stayed like that… but I was lying, to you, and to myself too, all that time… and so, I am sorry, but I couldn't do anything—” “K—Keine?” Keine makes nothing of your shocked blinking and begins peeling off her sleeveless top. “—but I can answer those feelings now, even if… even if you don't feel the same any more, even if I have hurt you before, I still want to show you that—that you can trust me, that you can promise, and I will—and I will do anything… anything it takes to make you believe…”
[ ] Stop her. Stop her before it comes too far. [ ] “… if you are just making me think I love you…” [ ] Come what may, let her do as she sees fit.
[x] Stop her. Stop her before it comes too far. -[x] You've proven your point. I'd rather not have this happen for such a reason. Too much has happened because of this muckery already. -[x] What was that you were about to say?
Knowing Shooter, he wouldn't mind quality time with the shapely teacher, but not for that reason. Especially in light of what happened with Reimu.
>>32257 >“Mokou, I'm serious.” >“So am I,” she pouts. “I'm not handing you over to her, Tiger. Not to that cow. Hakurei—… I mean, Reimu is…” Mokou looks away, falling silent for a second. “… well, she's something else. Keine is another thing. If you think I'll let her smooch you up when I'm not looking, you're going to be sorely disappointed.” >“I see we're going nowhere fast.” >“Oh, you bet we are,” she stomps defiantly. “I think I've made myself clear. Keine can go suck on a pole. If she makes a single move, I'm going to bite.”
She may be an overly moody bundle of issues and venom at the moment, but she's our overly moody bundle of issues and venom. She is also love, so like she said, Reimu is one thing, but we draw the line here.
[X] Stop her. Stop her before it comes too far. >>32767 is spot on. She's proven her point and she doesn't need to take it any further to cement it.
>“… if you are just making me think I love you…” That's quite a scary thought, isn't it?
>>32768 Somewhat different reasons than mine as If Keine wants him in the normal sense, I'd be all for it (that and it'd be something Shooter would go along with), but as it is, this is a desperate move by Keine to get Shooter to listen to what she has to say now. It's bad enough Reimu got deflowered in the process of things.
But we also need to straighten things out with all three sometime as I doubt things can really carry on like this, but that'd depend on Shooter wanting to do so himself.
>>32758 I don't know if I would be writing it in /shrine/, but I'll think about it anyway. I've been feeling kind of bleh lately to say the truth (therefore the slow update rate, for which I apologise), but I might finally get some time off next week, so yeah, we'll see. What does everyone (anyone? ;__;) else think? Are weekly updates acceptable? I hope I make it worth the wait…
>>32779 Well, MiD is effectively on a weekly basis right now, so more stories for the site in general can't hurt. If I had my druthers, though, you'd table the Tenshi thing for now and focus on this story a little more.
>>32788 >Eirin is someone I'm very suspicious of and I wouldn't be surprised if she made some sort of deal with whatever group's making a mess.
That's not really consistent with her actions. The false distress signal from Reimu's charm alone would have been enough to get her to take Keine out of the village. If anything, it would have been to the perpetrator's benefit to keep Shooter hospitalized, and Eirin being the only competent doctor, she could have easily poisoned him or otherwise impeded his recovery.
She seems to be treating the matter seriously and in her own way, what with locking up the history-altered rabbit and giving Shooter that ulimatum, so while she probably knows more than she lets on, I don't think she's a willing party to it.
>>32789 Thing was that Rabbit wasn't fully affected by the history alteration, just like Shooter. If she's neutral, she leans a bit on the hostile side, not being forthcoming with information, preventing Kaguya from trying to help Shooter and Mokou, etc.
>>32790 >Thing was that Rabbit wasn't fully affected by the history alteration, just like Shooter. If she's neutral, she leans a bit on the hostile side, not being forthcoming with information,
She probably isolated Delaney to learn exactly what made her immune to the alteration, so that she might better prevent/contain it in the future. The current events represent a plausible threat to Eientei's safety, and Eirin spoke about the last incident implied that she was not satisfied with the solution.
>preventing Kaguya from trying to help Shooter and Mokou, etc.
Trying to keep the Princess out of it may just protectiveness, or in agreement with her secretly observing the Princess' behavior, she's conducting a blind experiment.
She did not in the end prevent Shooter from talking to Kaguya about these matters, nor did she prevent Kaguya from giving Shooter his new gun, which wouldn't be consistent with Brennan taking away Shooter's old gun away.
“S—Stop,” you croak, your throat parched, “please, Keine—!” Keine stalls—for the moment, at least—and sits up, her shirt drawn just above her bellybutton, and gives you an inquisitive sort of look, the one that puts the last, painful half-year of coveting her to brutal, brutal question. “Stop?” she asks. “I thought you wanted this?” “I—I did,” you blurt out, “bloody hell, of course I did, but…!” “‘…but?’” “I—I wanted—bollocks—I would have given up everything, but—I just can't—… Not like this!” “… ‘not like this?’” “I love you, but—!” you shut your eyes and shoot up to pull her top back down in a hectic, last-ditch effort to put your frenzied senses back in order, “—I would be lying if I said otherwise, but this—I don't need this! I—I want it, god damn me to hell, but you've proven your point! We don't need to go through this! I don't—I can't—!”
God, why does it always go like this?
Six months of celibacy, and nobody gives your ugly rump even a second thought. So long as you were single, the sole ones remotely interested in your rear end were you yourself and maybe a couple of village women of the kind that doesn't want their age mentioned – and then, when one girl got a hold on you; when she shaved your whiskers, when she cut your mane, washed you down, wiped the crust out of your eyes, gave a kick in the buns… well, then, suddenly, everybody wants a bite out of the cake, while you are forced to pad around your own privates for fear of waking up one fine day to find them in your mailbox, bundled in a bloody paper-bag, a message plastered on the outside, advising kindly that “Shooter shouldn't toy with devices beyond his comprehension,” a cute doodle of a girl's heart in place of the signature, laughing brightly at your bleeding yourself out on the front lawn checking your mail instead of seeking immediate medical attention.
Unmanned by your own manhood?
Sweet irony, they should have sent a poet!
“—I can't do this,” you wheeze, “sorry, but I—I really can't—not tonight, not—not like this! I love you, Keine, but this—this is... wai—wha—?”
Close your eyes, they said; think of England, they said – but one might wonder whether they, whoever they are, knew the problem of somebody forcing themselves on you could be made vanish simply by closing your eyes, or if your darling Lady Luck had finally got the memo and got you your overdue damages at last.
“… Keine?” you gape at the suddenly-empty, formerly-Keine, now-much-less-so space before you, “what in the—?”
“E,” you realise, leaves your mouth slightly too agape for comfort – as you bear witness to when you spring to your feet, scared—for the nth time tonight—for your life, spin on your heels, and receive a mouthful of silvery tussocks as a weeping Keine crashes into your arms, heedless of your open-mouthed confusion.
“I'm sorry!” she cries, “I'm so sorry, Shooter! I am—I am so sorry!” “How—?” “I shouldn't have—! I was so, so stupid!” “Keine, when—when did you…?” Keine breathes in abruptly, her entire body hiccuping along, and jerks back, her hands customarily pressed to her chest, every last bit of her lush gone with the wind like dreams of sobriety on March 17th, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes as she works her way out of the unexpected loss of words, “… please—” and then, her shoulders shaking still, she falls on her knees, “—please, forgive me…!”
“… forgive you?”
Is that what she thinks you should be concerned with right now?
How come there was no gust of air, or a passing breeze, or a change in pressure on your limbs, when she leapt out of your lap and scurried over to the side of the room behind your back? How did you feel nothing when she moved there? How did she reach her destination in an interval shorter even than that a French driver would take between the green lights coming up at an intersection and sounding his horn at the car in front?
Isn't that a temporal impossibility?
“… I am—” the teacher sobs on, “—I am so, so sorry! I'm an idiot, I'm such an…!” “Oh, for—” Cursing yourself inertly, you kneel as well. “Quiet,” you hush. “Calm down, it's all right.” Keine glances at you from behind the tears, but briskly explodes in another wave of spasms. “Come on,” you encourage, “here, remember what I said about forgiving you the little things? I didn't set my prices very high, did I? If you were from where I was from, you could probably buy yourself a job, a villa, a personal butler, maybe even a pool with jacuzzi – a load of things, with just a few well-timed smiles. Not that I would know, mind you, but—come on, surely you aren't so disturbed to be unable to afford one smile to win me ov—oh dear,” you sigh when she throws herself at you again, “you're going to get my sleepers wet, you know.”
Keine snuffles and rubs her forehead in your chest. “… I'm sorry…” “No, I don't mind,” you assure, “I'm not made of sugar, I won't melt… but tell me, why—how did you do that?” “… I'm so sorry… ” “I supposed as much.” “… If I had known…” “If you had known…?” “… I would have—I really would have approached you directly,” she explains, “but I—I had no idea that you were… that you were really… really… P—Please, forgive me, I shouldn't have…!” “I told you, it's all right.” “It's not all right!” she yelps, clenching her fists. “I am so… so stupid! I wanted you to trust me, and yet, I—… I am such an idiot! Stupid, stupid idiot! I am so sorry…! I shouldn't even be asking you for help now! I deserve everything I get!” “Keine.” “I'm so stupid! I shouldn't even be here! I never should have—!” “Keine.” “I am so, so sorry, this is all—this is unforgivable! If I could only—!”
“Keine, for the love of—!”
Quicker than your brain can round off reciting the long list of risks and againsts, you tear her face from your shirt and kiss her square on the lips.
Obviously, having learned your lesson, you leave your eyes very much open this time, and the sight—oh boy, the sight—the sight is well worth the nervous strain of holding your body back from exploding in a spate of colourful confetti. Since the invention of one of the most successful techniques of hushing up unwanted quarrels—otherwise known as kissing—there has been a false prerequisite of closing one's eyes and tilting one's head in order to receive the perfect, flawless kiss – which, although true in most cases, in this particular one holds absolutely void. Silently, her voice stolen along with her lips, the teacher can merely endure your staring dead down in her glistening, aqua-blue eyes; and not even the smallest whimper escapes her when you push her slightly lower, ignoring her frightened looks, the wet trickles running down her cheeks, her trembling hands, and the faint overtones of guilt slowly creeping up to poke at the feet of your dozing conscience. If you're going to hell for this, you might as well make the best of it before you're dragged off by force.
Once she begins to squirm, however, you gently let her go.
“I will do that again if I have to,” you warn, “do I make myself clear?” Keine backs off a bit, her face hidden grudgingly under her fringe. “… that was… rude,” she mutters, “very, very rude…” “I know. I rather liked it.” “… you're terrible.” “I never saw a need to pretend otherwise, but I don't reckon you're the best one to speak.” Keine looks up at you, a disaster of an expression. “… so—sorry.” “Now, tell me, and don't lie – you were, um… meddling again just then, weren't you?” On the fly, too? “… yes.” “Why?” “… I didn't—” she dithers, “I didn't know if—if you wanted to… if you wanted me, and I thought—I thought that if I just made you think it was me, then it would be better if it turned out that you were… that you didn't really… you know what I mean…?” “I do, and I thought you were wiser than that.” “… yes,” she confesses, shaking, “I know, it was—it was so stupid, but I—I was so scared…!”
Scared is one way to put it.
If her current appearances are anything to go by, letting that one cat out of the bag cost her more than just some skin off her nose – unless the cat was made of tears and sadness and desperation, and the cat was very angry, which is not likely, because cats, as a rule, tend to be made of different kinds of materials – fluff and dead rodents, usually, maybe with an occasional touch of ruined furniture. Never mind the cat, actually, what it seems like is that every time you try to hammer out a decent plan to make sense of the situation, the teacher sinks more and more under the weight of her own issues and uncertainty – and each time you see her lose her grip, your big, red, glowing “Stupid Button” gets stroked a small tad too hard…
… and the only cure is to smash it with all your might and hope it jams.
“I will take you to Moriya.” Keine chokes on her breath and gapes at you in disbelief. “… you will?” “Yeah.” “Even after—after all I did to you?” “How many times do I have to say it?” you make an impish wink. “I stated my price, you have the currency, and… well, although your tab has been growing slightly long since afternoon, I reckon you ought to have enough to pay it off some time soon, no?” “… really?” she repeats dumbly, still not believing her ears, “… you will—you will do it for me?” “I will have a condition, yes,” you grant, “but that's just because I probably couldn't stomach two straight days of flight; we will make a stop along the way at a certain place – we will need to rest, and I have some business to wrap up there as well.” “… and when,” the teacher asks weakly, “when do you think we will be able to…?”
[ ] “I'm itching to get a move on myself, so first thing tomorrow morning, we pack our trash and get the hell out of here. How does that sound? [ ] “I can't tell. I would prefer to have Mokou come along willingly, and that might take some time; plus the weather might decide to give us grief again.”
[X] “I'm itching to get a move on myself, so first thing tomorrow morning, we pack our trash and get the hell out of here. How does that sound?"
As grand a notion as it is to drag our beloved on a journey with the gal that has her tits twisted three ways from Sunday, for the sake of the lovely ladies in Shooter's life, I feel it's best to oblige Keine's request and potentially definitely piss off Mokou and Reimu to high heaven. What I want to say is that they both deserve a whole lot better than Shooter, but they fell for him for what he is and what he does. And what he does is ask common sense to take a back seat to the desperate pleas of the lady-folk he cares about, and what he is is a romantic fool that thinks he can please everyone. I can easily see a pair of red-white women laying into him hard and not in a good way at all for being as much, but I'll be damned if I won't cling to that ideal.
>>32798 And leaving like some sort of ninja is better? I'd think that'd upset more people when Mokou and Reimu wake up to find them both gone. Despite all that's happened Mokou is still Keine's friend.
>>32801>>32800 I pictured it more as either having Mokou follow willingly or giving her an offer she can't refuse, but, once again, I am here to please, I will do whatever you see fit. >>32796 >So...would we have actually gotten an H-scene? Who knows? I'm usually opposed to erotica, but… >>32782 >Well, MiD is effectively on a weekly basis right now Yes, I know, and I am sorry, but I have been awfully stressed out—though not having them quasi-writefag “motivational issues” and what have you, mind you—but tell you what, I got a week of vacation now, and once I'm done playing video gamesdoing absolutely nothingfapping to mokoutits doing everything in my strength to recharge my batteries, we will go back to a twice-weekly schedule—so long as my timetable allows it. >>32799>>32798 Thank you. To exercise my old habit of quoting DMC on every given occasion, “Now I'm a little motivated!” I feel complete now, for some reason. See you soon.
>>32805 >I pictured it more as either having Mokou follow willingly or giving her an offer she can't refuse
I hadn't even considered that prospect. It seemed like choosing to oblige Keine's request as soon as possible was mutually exclusive to having Mokou join Shooter's journey to Moriya. On the one hand, I feel a little betrayed by the phrasing of the options, but on the other, I am quite heartened by the fact that straying from Mokou's side regardless of the tactic employed never entered our author's inebriated dear mind.
[X] “I can't tell. I would prefer to have Mokou come along willingly, and that might take some time; plus the weather might decide to give us grief again.”
Choices are the hinges of destiny, somebody once said.
If so, you must be the part typically called “the nonce who walks into it and breaks his nose because he forgets it isn't going to politely open up on its own whenever he puts his fuddled feet on the doormat.” Of course that, in itself, could prove a shade problematic; the doormat is not exactly the same as your regular boot-wipe runner, and destiny differs slightly from actual doors that can be shut and have fancy handles and all, but you are an industrious person; you aim to build a better future, and you will build it even with the bricks thrown at you by the others. Or your very own self, for that matter.
If they try to drive you crazy, they will find you much prefer to walk.
“I can't tell,” you say. “Considering I might have to, ah, persuade Mokou to come along willingly, and that that alone might take some time; not to mention the weather might decide to try and go all bull on us again…” Keine gives an urging look. “So…?” “Given we've all those clodhoppers nipping on our tails as well? I don't see why I should insist we stay for the rave, so as soon as I'm sure the tart one isn't going to give us all heartburn, we're good as off. If the weather goes bollocks, though, that might give us some grief… which doesn't mean we're putting anything off,” you add before she can get the wrong idea, “it's just that I may have a baby face, but… well, I just don't enjoy getting out in the rain to get wet and splosh around in puddles very much any more, is all. Never mind me.” “… does that mean…?” “Seems it does, doesn't it? Come what may, we're starting on our way tomorrow, I promise. Do you have any quarrel with us making that stop on the way, by the bye?” “N—No,” the teacher shakes her head fervently, “I don't—not really, but—but where…?” “The Clinic,” you tell her, “the one in the Bamboo Forest, that is—although I have no idea whether there are any elsewhere, admittedly… Still no complaints with that?”
Keine makes another display of giving her cervix a few violent twists. Some day, you muse, you will have to lay her down and see to any damage she may have made. “No,” she says, “not—not at all, it's… it's a good idea, you're right. I… I don't know that I could fly the whole way at once, anyway… it's good that you thought of that, even now, when… you know.” “It sort of forced itself on me,” you say, “either I started working out my brains, or I could get a solid punt between the—” you break off when the teacher sinks wearily in your arms, “… um, Keine?” “… thank you,” she says softly, “that you're here, thinking.” “I try my best… though I am only a starter all the same, you realise.” “… no,” she whispers, “you're good… you will do.” “I should hope so.” “… if you're with me,” she continues in that weak voice, “if you're with me, then everything will be all right.”
“I wish I had heard that like half a year ago,” you grunt, “I could have used the boost.” Keine pulls back, wiping her eyes with on hand, and gives a faint smile. “In my defence, you only became like this recently.” “Oh yes. How were you able to stand me all that time?” “I clenched my teeth.” “Often?” “Quite.” “Oh,” you give a flat look, “well, I used to be more of a plank than I thought, then.” “No, don't say that, you were just… occupied, with all the… all the work, and the… and the duties, and… um…” “… I get it,” you reply sourly, “I have been busy, all right… Ugh…”
“Ah?” Keine makes a worried intake. “Shooter? Is everything—?” “—it is,” you assure quickly, “all right, it is, I mean, just… look, I have no clue how to get at it properly, but there is something I need to tell you.” “… there is?” “I can never get enough of those cute, little questions of yours,” you tell her with an acid smirk, “but yeah, there was this… thing—the love thing, that is—now, don't misunderstand,” you blurt out, “I said I loved you, and I swear I never meant anything more in my entire life, but you are… well, you're… ugh,” you groan, “look, you're scared, tired, and under a load of pressure; you must be confused about… well, about all this mess, and I don't want to confuse you further.” “… Shooter?” “I'm just saying, you don't need to worry about that. Forget about it, for now. Once we've dealt with this whole cock-up, we can… er, ponder what—what to do, you know, next.” “… I—I see,” the teacher says blankly, “that's very, um… considerate… of you.” “I still love you, though.” “… t—thank you?” “Indeed,” you nod, “but you ought to go and get some sleep now—me too, presumably, if we're to start off early tomorrow. Come on,” you push, “you can stand, right?”
Keine inclines her head and climbs slowly to her feet. “… um, again, thank you—” “No,” you cut in, “it's all right. I love you, after all.” “… o—okay?” “Go on, don't mind me, it's pretty damn late, already—not that I mean to run you off, of course.” “… of course,” she says. “I will, um…” “… yeah, you probably should,” you agree, “there's only one mattress here, anyhow, so, uh… you go… to your room, yeah?” “Good… Good night, then?” “Good night,” you say, doing your hardest not to look like a guy who lost his key the the mini-bar door, “I love you.” “… mm.”
Swaying lightly, the beautiful teacher starts for the hall.
“Keine,” you stop her before she slips out, “one more thing.” “… yes?” “What exactly do you need me for? I mean, why me? Couldn't you have gone to Moriya on your own? What was there to stop you?”
Keine stares at you for a few seconds, then assumes a slightly sharper look. “… you're special,” she says finally, “you're different than us—than most of us; and if you're with me, they will have to listen… even if they normally wouldn't.” “… listen?” “Moriya, they… they have… something—something I want, a way out—out of this mess, and if you are with me, then…” “…”
“… I have to go,” she says then. “… sleep well.” “… right,” you reply, “you too.” “Good night, Shooter.”
“Good night, bollocks,” you mutter when the doors slide close behind her.
Grumbling under your breath, you bomb back into your bedsheets and swear your pillows a few bootless oaths. Seems that destiny wasn't nearly done with you yet, and took its revenge for putting a dent in its front with your long, pimpled nose by making you take a legal U-turn right before an especially alluring opportunity; opportunity that may never come down to perch anywhere in your scope ever again. Destiny is not very door-ey after all, you conclude; destiny is a dick, like dicks it is crooked, covered in lumps, and simply adores acting up in the least appropriate moments imaginable — and the only sure-fire method of teaching it sense is to knock some in with your fists.
Or, alternatively, treat it to an unhealthy dose of dead puppy pictures.
… no, you're obsessing again.
How long has it been since you spoke with somebody that actually shares your pains; somebody who, instead of ovaries, sports a functioning sense of logic, a love for round objects that can be kicked, and a supply of pity that he doesn't keep all for himself? Sadly, your only remotely male option for the moment is that one lad, Morpheus, with what his hairy arms and that bizarre fetish of imagining that he's people's beddings and makes love to them in their sleep.
Conceivably that is why, notwithstanding the exhilarations of the night, you rouse in the silly morning, brighter and crispier than a freshly baked baguet. Squidgier in places, perhaps, crustier in others, little bit more pasty-mouthed, but still a splendid piece of patisserie. God knows, they could put you buttered-up alongside eggs and bacon, and nobody would ever tell the difference.
“Hullo again, old friend,” you tell the vacant bed-spot beside you, “top of the morning to you! How are you holding up? Cracking, I should think by the looks—but then, it's been a while, no? Have I grown any? Do you think—?”
No, it doesn't – very likely not at all.
“God, I need to stop doing that,” you moan, leap out of your sheets, and find your feet.
Curiously then, you realise the reason for your early waking may have been different; your ears pick up sounds of chipping wood coming through the laminate walls, as though somebody taking axly vengeance out on unruly fittings outside, mindless of disturbing your precious, precious beauty sleep. Some would have doubtless felt the need to retaliate—stretch their tentacles, level a couple of cities, usher forth an age of absolute despair or two—but you are better than these shady sorts; you will wash your face, put on your best glare, and express in civil words your thoughts on wood-cutting as tolerable morning exercise.
“I hate you,” you make a small demonstration. “Seriously, I hate you. Go away.”
… something along the lines. Still, you will have to put on something more presentable first, before you go and scowl your way into the new day.
An actual pair of pants, for instance.
“What in the blazes do you think you're doing?” “Chopping wood,” Mokou says, her face very serious. “‘Chopping wood?’” “Have you no eyes, Tiger?” “I did last I checked, but…”
Certainly, there are chips and pieces of cut-up timber strewed about at her feet, that you can attest to.
“… do you know something?” you say. “Never mind. How are you feeling?” Mokou swings the axe at the chopping block one last time and wipes the sweat off her forehead. Even though it's stopped raining, the sky remains grey and overcast, and the breeze is carrying an icy scent of another shower. In spite of your humour, you begin to worry whether she isn't involuntarily crashing head-first into a nasty cold. “Good enough,” she says. “Why?” “Well, I was sort of worried…” “Oh, you were,” the girl grins and comes over to join you sitting on the patio, “you silly cat.” “Meow.”
Smiling too, you draw closer, put your cool hands on her naked shoulders, and squeeze.
It's a stupid guy's trick, you know, like waking your girlfriend up by splashing her with cold water, but it's irresistible; she squeals and writhes, her stomach muscles tighten, making the flesh rise up around the belly button; then, if you're lucky, she smiles at you welcomingly, and you just want to bend down and kiss that smile hello.
Mokou lets out a strangled yelp. “… g—gently, idiot!” “Sorry,” you apologise and push your fingertips down again, to a much satisfying moan, “like this, maybe?” “… mm, yeah, better.” “How about the place?” “… try a little lower.” “Here?” “… mm, good… though you're cold.” “I had a chilling dream.” “… chilling?” “I was a blob of dough,” you explain, “and there was this shifty bloke in shades, and he touched me all over; and then I was in an oven, and I was bulging there, and sizzling, and oozing liquids under myself, like a mollusc being roasted alive.” “… that's gross.” “I smelled rather appetising, though.” “Unlike now, I should say—ACK!?” “Be nice, dear.” Mokou turns her head and glares, her eyes incensed. “I'll show you nice, you stupid—YIKES?!” “Be nice.” “Over my dead body, I will! Stop that!” “Oh boy.” “Wha—? What now?” “Sweetheart, you're blushing.” “Do you have some sort of problem?!” “Oh no, I—” “Sod off, then! Stupid clot!”
Mokou spins away, hiding her face, but says nothing when you resume your massage—in a normal fashion, this time. “… mm…”
“So,” you accost, “why were you chopping wood topless, anyhow? Isn't that a tad bit dangerous?” “… an old habit,” she explains sulkily. “I never learned how to… how to sew, so I always took clothes off when—mm—when… when you know. Saved me a lot of hassle.” “… I see.” “I wonder if the village kids ever sneaked out to peek on me,” she remarks off-handedly, “what do you think?” “I think if I were a kid in a world full of things out to make a snack of me, that would have been my prime life goal.” “… quit trying to be funny.” “Would I do that?”
Mokou gives an irked look, then dives a hand in her pocket and takes out of it a rectangular piece of paper, folded up and dirty on the edges. “Here,” she says, handing it to you, “I was thinking yesterday, and I… uh, sort of tried to write your name, in your letters.” “… that's surprisingly sweet of you,” you say as you unfold the paper, “… why the idea?” “… I was just killing time,” she mutters, “… so, uh, how does it look?” “Sickly,” you tell, looking at the lopsided characters, “I can sort of sympathise.” “… hilarious.” “Oh no, not at all,” you expound, “this is quite well done, actually. ‘Hilarious’ would be if I got a pen and tried to scribble out your name in your language – knowing me it'd likely end up saying ‘little big blue blip of plop,’ or the like.” “… I don't think that's possible.” “If ‘impossible’ meant anything to me, sweetheart, I wouldn't be here to wag my chin at you about it now. I'd be back home in my bed, waking up after a long and inexplicably multi-layered lucid dream, wondering why my alarm clock hadn't rung yet and where my underwear had gone. ‘Impossible’ is precious cheap these days, sweetheart. If I had a penny for every ‘impossible’ thing to happen to me, I'd be in Hawaii now, sipping on Mai Tai, painting body-shots of scrupleless, young girls. See, this is why you don't leave me alone,” you carry on, “cause I tend to think, and I think that whenever I think, the devils think they have the right to have fun with my thinks. I could think at night – it's quiet and dim, and allows for much greater concentration; but day—days are bright and loud, and full of distractions, and my thinks wander.”
Mokou makes an exasperated sigh. “I think you're thinking too hard.” “I know!” you agree, “and it just comes piling up on me in the light of recent cock-ups. It's an endless cycle of thinks, I tell you!”
Mokou sighs again. “Say, Tiger, do you… need some space?”
“What?” you stiffen. “Sweetheart, what are you…?” Mokou straightens up, heedless apparently that the massage was still going. “I was thinking yesterday,” she says, her back turned, “and I thought that maybe I was too… uh, too haughty, maybe. I sort of, uh… forced myself on you, right?” “What? Nonsense.” “No, I did,” she insists. “I was stupid, I know. I was too excited to stop and think it over. I was…” she groans, “… you were my first partner in a long time, you realise, right—but then the red-white skank came, and then Keine came, and I—and I started getting nervous, all right? I was just pissed off that you had the gall to be interested in other girls, even after all we had done, okay?” “Mokou—” —this isn't the best time, you want to say, but the words die on your tongue. “Silly, I know,” she ignores you, “but I'd even gone ahead and took that stupid, sodding thing from that old sham, so…!”
“Mokou, but we're going to Moriya!”
Mokou trails off and spins to look at you, quite sceptically. “… say what?” “We're going to Moriya,” you iterate. “We have to get away from here, from the Village, and Keine has somebody in Moriya that can give us a hand—or so I reckoned.” “… Moriya?” she repeats, incredulous. “Surely you can't be serious! Moriya? Do you even know WHAT that is?” “No, but Keine said she wanted—” “—and you just gave in without arguing?!” she explodes. “What did she do, crawl in your bed and throw her dimples at you until you said yes? I can't believe you!” “Mokou—” “So this is what you're doing? Once you have your chance, you're going to jump ship and scurry over to her side? I knew you had a thing for her, but—!” “I wish you'd stop saying that.” “It's true, isn't it!” the feverish bird rages on. “I saw your eyes cloud every time we talked about her! I was just a—a fill-in for you, before you got your hands on her – is that it?!” “Mokou, there is nothing going on between me and her.” Not for the moment, there isn't. “Of COURSE there isn't! THAT is WHY I heard her skulking into YOUR room last night! NOTHING was going on!” “… you what?” Mokou smirks victoriously. “Hit a nail? I can only imagine why she would do that, seeing how there is NOTHING—!”
“Okay, that's enough of that,” you declare and stand up. “Do you want a retake of yesterday, dear? Get your head out of your arse—as you're so fond of saying—and cool the hell down, for eff sakes. Something is going on here that I got tangled in and we were discussing it, that is all.” Mokou blinks. “… discussing?” “Indeed, discussing – exchanging opinions, information, making promises, that sort of thing. I was tired during the day, I went to bed like the stupid sod I am before Keine could divulge all she needed, and she had to intrude on me at night. Hell, I'd even thought of going to badger you a tittle before that, but if you will forgive me, I had other pressing matters – matters somewhat more important than molesting you—although only ever so slightly.” “… you're lying,” she says.
“Got me that time, I am,” you smile, “they weren't at all more important than molesting you, I was simply confusing my priorities. Either way, we have a very queer situation here on our hands, and I am sort of obliged to try and unkink it, if only by my own blasted curiosity. If you want to take an issue with that, the best way would be to come along and try and give me a leg up where you can so we're done sooner. Oh, and yes,” you pretend to remember, “I failed to mention before; we are going to pay a visit to the Clinic on the way, stay a night or two. I have this inkling I might learn something there to get the straights of this hash.” “… that's nice.” “How about it, then?” you prod. “Coming with us, sweetheart?”
Mokou makes a sour face. “… I feel squeamish about this.” “Same here,” you assure, “if I had my say, I'd have said something smart and buggered off. Alas, I can't. My hands are tied – about as tight as the strings of my knickers, in case you were wondering. What say you, then?”
“… all right,” she gives up, “I'll go, sodding hell.” “Great.” “I, uh… was going to call on Kaguya, anyhow,” the tetchy girl says, looking aside. “Sooner is worse than later, but… sod it. If you're going, I may as well go as well. If you went without me, she would likely make a load of noise, and I would have to go and bail your stupid arse out anyhow.” “I hadn't thought of that.” “… but, uh…” “… but, uh…?” Mokou gives a flinty look. “… you're going to have to prove it to me.” “Prove?” you ask. “Prove what?” “Come on, Tiger” she says, “you know what: prove that you're—”
“Oh my, what have I walked in on this time?”
Mokou and you both wheel to meet the gate-crasher.
Or the party-crasher, rather, as the gate still stands, as opposed to your little make-up get-together with your testy girlfriend; and who it turns out to be is none other than the young miss Hieda, smeared in mud nearly to the waist, her little hands twirling a broken parasol in the air, as if to ward of the black clouds that seem to be accruing above her ruffled head.
“Akyu,” you say, “good to see you.” “Why don't we see if we can fix that?” she replies acidly. “Where on Earth is the stupid old girl?” “Keine? I reckon she's still in bed.” “Did it not occur to her to wake up, for God's sake?” “I can't tell.” “Oh no, of course not. I should have suspected so. Well?” she throws her arms out. “I don't have all day, pet. What are you waiting for, a good-day kiss? Were you going to take me to her, you big, daft puss? Or were you going to apologise, by chance?”
[ ] “I was, actual.” [ ] “If you want to talk to Keine, she's inside. I have to wrap up here yet.” [ ] “If you insist, but I'm going to stay while you talk and keep your labia in check.” [ ] “If you insist, but don't dream that I'll buzz off outside while you two talk.”
>>32839 Sir, I can't say I like your attitude. Yours neither, >>32840 and >>32841! Behave, now, you lot! >>32826 >>16785932_p6.jpg Welp, I forgot. Anyway, my schedule this year is tighter than a spandex suit two sizes too small, so I can't say for certain if I'll be able to squeeze out two updates a week. Sorry for that, I really would love to speed up the pace of the story, but I simply don't have the time. I will try to update both before and during the weekend this week, but, as always, I guarantee nothing. In the meantime, my question to you is: would have me respond to theory/discussion posts? Not with fully-fledged counterarguments/hypotheses, of course, as that would be silly. I could, for instance, if you'd like, point out any fallacies or holes or such – fill in for the pace somewhat that way. Choice is yours, though. See you in Mokou's pants next update.
>>32844 >would have me respond to theory/discussion posts?
Might be nice, especially if you kept it to the detrimental fallacies people might create or start operating under. If someone comes up with something notably unproductive, a 'No' from the author tends to keep things orderly. That said, speculation and learning is half the fun, so learning things outside of our own endeavors won't do. I think a nice way of commenting is to occasionally point out someone that's hit upon something noteworthy, especially if we start going pants-on-head retarded with the guessing. Something to effect of "Hey, cut that nonsense out. Go back and think at what that guy said."
>>32844 >would have me respond to theory/discussion posts? Not with fully-fledged counterarguments/hypotheses, of course, as that would be silly. I could, for instance, if you'd like, point out any fallacies or holes or such – fill in for the pace somewhat that way.
If there is truly fallacious thinking, as opposed to an incorrect inductive leap based on incomplete knowledge, then go ahead--though I'd suggest doing so without your trip, if you can bear it. Otherwise, you have plenty of opportunity to 'respond' to theories in the dialogue and narrative of the story proper.
[X] “If you want to talk to Keine, she's inside. I have to wrap up here yet.”
“I hadn't planned on it,” you say. “If you want Keine, try inside – the place isn't as labyrinthine as it leads to believe.”
Conformity, you decide, is oversold.
It is easier in the world to live after common expectations, yes; it is sound to ease up and keep to the collective flow, but the truth is, the only fish to follow the stream compliantly are either trout or dead; and whereas a sound mind may think itself right to fit its environment, the unsound are the ones that hold the reins of progress. Compliance to standards for the reason that “it's always been like this” is a disease, and isn't fighting the disease what enlightened men should do? Say you got a sheet of mean, ruled paper – wouldn't you say “bugger” to the rules and etch your thoughts across the lines? Wouldn't you sketch giant, bloated phalli on the margins simply for the laughs of it? Conformity is a folly – it is weakness, prejudice, and TV adverts; and although it may be decent grades and healthy hands as well, you've had rulers whip your knuckles times enough to know just how to twist the wrist to allay most of the pain.
Grades might have been a little trickier, but then, you've always had a way with faking tears.
Akyu doesn't seem taken with your show of unrelenting self-reliance, though. “Hadn't planned!” she exclaims. “Hadn't planned, he says! I gave him a room, I gave him a bath, I walk a marathon to help him out – and what do I get? Hadn't planned, my butt!” “Well, I had here to wrap up yet,” you try, “so I thought—” “—so you thought?” she cuts in and jams the tip of the umbrella in the soggy ground. “Excuse me? Would you say that again? YOU THOUGHT? I don't think so! If you were capable of THOUGHT, pet, I wouldn't have had to go to the trouble of stinking marching myself all the way up here to tell you that!” “I wish you marched yourself for my sake more often,” you say. “It is so… gratifying.” “Ah, thank you!” she makes a sardonic smile, “thank you very much! I fear you will have to find somebody else to do that, however! I find speaking to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not very nearly impossible!” “I was under the impression that you admired my impudence?” “Ah yes,” she says, “for the liveliness of your little ego, I did. I will have you know, however, that it is rather hard to stay pleased with anything when your feet are numb from the cold and when you are caked in dirt and mud from your bottom down!” “I could see about those feet, if you are of a mind.”
“See about those feet?” she repeats. “I can scarcely believe my ears; you're positively horrible!” “I do what I can.” Akyu tuts and looks to Mokou. “How do you like that?” she asks, “this idiot never changes; I insult him, and he takes it as a compliment!” “He does that,” Mokou agrees, “it lets him sleep at night, I think.” “Do you think he might be a little out of sorts?” “Insecure,” Mokou supplies, “insecure is the term you're looking for.” “Insecure!” the small girl makes a riley snort. “Straight barking mental is more like it!” “Off his rocker?” “Off a rocker factory! Crazy! Completely deranged!” “Crackers.” “Insolent, ugly prat! Numskull! Nitwit! Cretin!” “Stupid berk?” “Stupid berk!” Akyu snarls. “Stupid oaf of an imbecile berk! Son of a jerk farmer!” “Do you mind?” you make an offended face.
Akyu gives a searing glare that could turn Beacon Batch to a big, ashy muffin in a blink. “Do I mind?” she echoes. “DO I MIND? I'LL TELL YOU WHAT I MIND!” – and then, in a clean, matter-of-factly voice, she suggests several highly improbable, athletically challenging, and generally biologically ill-advised things involving your rear end, a few household implements, and a live cow. “I take offence to that,” you say, “I have a few kinks, yes, but not that twisted.” Akyu gives a disdainful snort and heartily goes on to speculate on your parentage. “… well,” you say, “the more you know; I must say I never even considered that possibility.” “Do you absolutely have to do that?” she inquires with a glare. “Do what, now?” you ask innocently. Akyu laughs and makes another imaginative recommendation. “Now then,” you tell her, “that would be just distasteful; I am not that starved for attention.” “How can you stand him? He's beastly!” she says to Mokou. Only she doesn't say “beastly.” “He used to be less bitter,” Mokou remarks with a thoughtful frown, “though you can get used to it after a while. Just learn to play his game and win at it.” “Oh, I'll play his game, all right!” the small girl stamps her feet in a puddle. “I hate you!” she yells, glaring daggers in your direction. “I hate you bald! I absolutely hate you! Argh!”
And then she storms off.
“So much for the match,” you say. “Does that mean I win?” Mokou smiles a condescending, little smile. “Is it really that important, Tiger?” “Well, I would like to think otherwise, but—” “—but you want to have everything more important than your ego caught and shot, is that it?” she asks. If faces were buildings, hers would be a very modern dental clinic – smart and chic on the outside and packed with horrors inside. Something like a jar of pickles left too long in the fridge. “Isn't she a wee bit too young for you, anyhow?” she glances after the young lady. “I thought you were into girls your age, to be honest.” “Pardon?” you blink. “Did it look like I was flirting with her?” “Tiger, you flirt with everybody.” “I do?” you make a surprised frown. “Fancy that, I could have sworn—” “I wish you would stop it,” Mokou says. “In point of fact, I wish you would flirt with me, and me only, but I reckon that is too much to want.” “… sorry?” “Is that all you have to say?” “Well,” you do a helpless shrug, “for the moment, maybe, but you do realise I chased her off for a reason, yes?” “‘Chased her off?’” the testy girl crosses arms on her chest. “Weren't you just being your usual berky self?” “Semantics,” you click your tongue and say. “Sorry if I made you feel left out. I usually feel I shouldn't unload all of my silliness on you.” “Don't you anyway?” “Semantics!” you yelp. “I don't mean to! Sorry if I do, of course, but—” “Say that again.” “Pardon?” “Say you're sorry.” “Didn't I already—?” “Apologise, Tiger,” she cuts you off. “Or were you going to say you hadn't planned on it?” “Oh,” you moan, “come on, that's just petty!” “I'll be all the petty I sodding well please. Say it, Tiger.” Sigh. “… fine, bloody hell. How many times?” Mokou feigns consideration. “Once will do for now,” she concludes. “Kneeling is optional.” “How very generous of you. Very well…” you stop and take a breath, “… Sorry, Mokou. Sorry that I made you angry again. Sorry that I got you tangled in these straits. Sorry that I cannot give you all the time and attention I want… and sorry for making you jealous over not being berked at indiscriminately, surely the most unforgivable of my lately wrongdoings.” “I could have done without that last part,” Mokou says. “Good enough, though.” “I do what I can.” “Oh, shut up, you clot. Now, about that proof we were talking about?”
“Hmm,” you look around, “well, I was thinking—” “What an amazing thing.” “—that we could put all this lumber to use,” you finish regardless of her interruption. “I would be rather sad if all your work were to go to waste, and, well, I didn't even get to unbend yesterday, so… How about that? Up for a sweat?” “Ah,” Mokou makes a troubled noise, “well, uh… this was actually…” “No? Aw.” “No, I, uh… Never mind,” she waves the thought off. “Sod me. Sure, let's hit it—but before we go, you will do something for me.” “Hmm?” “Kiss me.” “Oh?” “I must prove something to myself. Kiss me, Tiger.” “Okay. How many times?” “Once, Tiger. Keine might see, right?” “Would you believe if I said I wouldn't mind?”
“No,” Mokou says with a bitter sort of smile. “No, I wouldn't.” “Well,” you say, “it was worth a try.”
Some way it combines a pair of ordinary syllabi into something much extraordinary, beautiful, and when it does, out goes the sad; miracles spring like nobody's business, and bear-hugs happen, and tears twinkle in all the eyes, and the sun comes out of the clouds and starts raining smiles on the hard, cold womb of Mother Earth. “Sorry,” you muse, is the duct tape of life – it sticks together things that have broken apart, and holds in place those that threaten to fall out; “please,” meanwhile, is the lube, and together, they are the magical duo that mends your troubles, every day, every hour of the day. What more could you ask for, other than a glass of fresh, cool lemonade on your private island somewhere off the coast of Puerto Quepos and a troupe of well-tanned beauties doing belly-dance for your viewing pleasure?
Not a lot, most likely.
“Could you pass me that log, sweetheart, please?” “Get it yourself, I've my hands full. Sorry.”
Sometimes life just doesn't play out like it's supposed to.
“Say,” you accost, “you ever done any dancing, sweetheart?” Mokou drops a freight of timber on the steadily growing stack by the sauna and huffs. “Ha… What's that, Tiger?” “I said, you ever done any dancing? I was sort of wondering.” “What kind of dancing?” “Sort of, like, uh… belly-dancing, maybe?” “How's that look, again?” “Well,” you say, “if I had to explain, it's a lot like having sex. Only you've no guy under you, you're generally obliged to wear more clothes, and you don't normally hyperventilate at it as much.” “So,” Mokou lifts a brow, “it's not at all like sex? I must have probably done it a lot, then.” “Okay, bad analogy. How about this? Imagine you're a mermaid. Imagine the way your body undulates when you're swimming up towards the surface of the sea. It's very much like that.” “Only there's no fish tail, no sea, and no surface?”
“… do you know what?” you straighten up and say. “Never mind. Forget I ever said anything.” Mokou makes a sly sort of smirk. “I knew you would see it my way. I've danced before, Tiger,” she admits, “but you wouldn't want to see me do that belly-dance thing. I don't reckon I would be any good at it.” “I beg to differ.” “What was that, Tiger?” “Nothing,” you say. “Nothing at all. Is this all of it?” you point at the wood-pile. “I swear, if I hadn't known better, I'd have said we were raided by a roving band of Canadian lumberjacks in the night.” “I had some frustration to vent,” says the testy girl, “but yeah, that should be all of it.” “Cracking,” you say. “How about we go inside and warm the grills?” “How about we do?” Mokou dusts her hands off and goes for the sauna doors. “I seriously hope nobody goes out of their way to barge in on us this time around—”
No, they won't need to, they're already here, you make a mental observation when she wrests the door open and is hit by a billow of white mist.
“Ah?” a startled voice sounds from behind the milky veil, “wait—who…? Fujiwara?”
Mokou laughs a short, scornful laugh. “Hey, would you look at that! Hey, Tiger,” she says to you, “you've got your retake, it looks like!” “Oh?” you peek inside the steam-filled shanty. “Oh. Welp.”
Seeing you, the person inside—Reimu, obviously—scrambles to shield her neuralgic spots from your eyes. “H—Hey!”
Curious, you think.
Even ambushed and nonplussed, the crafty shrine maiden still manages to cling to her customary red-white scheme with outstanding tenacity. Of course, then again, it might just be the merit of your sudden intrusion mixed with the thick of the steam, but really, who are you to say? This way or that, what concerns you more is that her face seems to say she would readily give up any rare incunabulum found in her shrine—in any condition, however valuable—to get a swing at the nose of whichever deity had a hand in this ridiculous fate and happened by the scope of her fist.
Or, in case plan A fails, to punch yours in.
Mokou forces your attention away from the fascinating display of colour inside the cramped shanty. “Well?” she presses. “How are you going to explain this, Tiger?” “What?” you sputter, “you're saying this is my doing?” “No. Not directly, at least.” “I'm not God!” you exclaim. Not in the light of that previous thought, you're not. “I couldn't make nude girls appear in saunas if I wanted to!” “Do you two mind?!” Reimu calls out. “Close the door!” Mokou pays the shrine maiden no heed. “Well, you proposed it!” she accuses. “Shouldn't you have checked beforehand?” “I'm an idiot, all right?! Cut me some slack!” “It was supposed to be just the two of us!”
“FUJIWARA!” Reimu screams again. “CLOSE THAT FREAKING DOOR!”
[ ] “Hear that? That's the sound of change of plans. Close the bloody door.” [ ] “I don't know about you, dear, but I came here to steam my buns, and steam my buns I jolly well will.” [ ] “Well, I could always go off and disregard the idea – how about that?” [ ] “Okay, how about this, then. We forget the ‘two of us’ part, go in, and enjoy the bloody thing peacefully for once. Okay? Please?”
>>32865 Really? I figured the "steam my buns" bit was telling Mokou he was going to get in the sauna whether she wanted to or not. "Hear that?" sounds like Shooter telling Mokou the sauna thing is not an option any more and they should do something else.
Then again, who Shooter is addressing in the options is pretty ambiguous.
>>32846 Well, more than disproving/proving whatever, the point would be to pad the times between updates with some sort of interaction. I've hammered out my schedule, you see, and turns out the only days I will be able to update are Thursdays and Sundays – and that's bad. The issue here is that I normally wouldn't mind taking my time, I do with all things I write for the fun of it—and I am writing this story largely for my own amusement—but you, my audience (loli hunters? Cute, little baby Kut-Kus? Guild Sweethearts?), are here with me – and I want to please you, and I feel the current pace isn't in the least satisfying. That's the issue here. I am the issue. I will go flap my wings in a corner now. Or something. Uh... also, I don't know whether to call the vote now and start thinking about Mokoutitsgroping Mokou's breasts DAMN IT! Start thinking about Mokou's knockers STOP THAT! Start thinking about the next Mokou tiGO TO HELL! update, ooor to wait till that Thursday, let everybody have their say (provided they care), and take it all slowly. To amend that, I say the next poster is obliged to make my mind up for me.
>>32871 Well, it's not my fault that I always spin twice and peck after charge. We don't have to discuss the story if you don't want. We can discuss the the string theory, genetic engineering, who has the best tits in Gensokyo – science, Maradeth! SCIENCE!
[X] “Hear that? That's the sound of change of plans. Close the bloody door.”
“Hear that?” you flick a thumb at the rattled shrine maiden, “that's the sound of change of plans. Close the bloody door.” Mokou gives an irascible look. “That's the sound of a girl yelling, Tiger.” “I find that's what change of plans sounds like most of the time.” “Do you absolutely have to make everything into a joke?” “It lets me sleep at night,” you say. “Now, if you would nicely shut the bloody door up, I am precious positive it would do away with most our immediate problems… Could you, dear? Give me the satisfaction, prettily please.”
Mokou stares at you angrily, and then “nicely” shuts the “bloody” door close.
So “nicely,” in fact, that the girl inside gives out a startled cry when the tatty shack shakes and moans from the seams with the force of sheer niceness.
Despite yourself, you smile. “Now that was rather easy.”
Or easier than your last attempt at diplomacy, at least.
Obviously. Only a few select people have thought you a good diplomat, and those people were usually hammered half-dead before making the valuation. Diplomacy, a wise person said once, is the art of saying “good doggie” until you find a rock; and in your case, that would never fly too well, because you would have firstly locked yourself in with the dog in a wrestling cage, and then the dog would have been an angry grizzly bear with a war record and a personal vendetta against your family. On the bright side, you could have the honour of following the footsteps of your great ancestors; on the dark side, though, those steps probably went something like: “OH GOD, A BEAR, GET BACK TO THE CAVE, RUN FOR YOUR LIVESARGHNOTMYSHINSEVERYTHINGBUTMYBEAUTIFULSHINS!”
“Easy” is not a concept bears normally learn in bear-preschools.
“Easy, my ass!” a rather un-bear-like voice exclaims, and the wooden point of conflict swings open on its hinges again. “Did you want to knock this freaking thing down?!” a towel-wrapped Reimu storms out from behind it and yells. “Do you have any idea how much it cost me to get it up?! Do that again and I'll fucking beat you so hard you'll grow an ass on your fucking face!” Mokou makes a sardonic snort. “Did you hear?” she directs the question at you. “She says she is going to rip me a new one! How would you like that, huh?” “Not a lot.” “Considering your preference,” she pushes on, “I say you sodding better! I've had up to here with your ‘accidents,’ Tiger!” she points somewhere between the start of her cleavage and her larynx. “I've had up to here with your mishaps, and your excuses, and I've had up to here with your trying to worm into everybody's pants! Now you've gone and pissed me off!” “He didn't tell you to slam the freaking thing!” Reimu chips in. “Quit being a bitch, for eff sakes!” Mokou turns and snaps an irked look at the shrine maiden. “If you've got some sort of problem, take it up with him. It's his fault!” “My fault?” you frown and ask, pretty much in the same fashion people ask Bear Grylls, “you ate a what?” “How, exactly, is this my fault?” “Did you just ignore everything I said?” Mokou stomps over and takes you by the collar. “I can't stand your making eyes at every pair of tits you see!” she declares, and you meekly stop doing just that. “I can't stand your smooching with everybody behind my back! I can't stand your sweet-talking me every time I catch you with your hands red!” “I don't know, I thought you rather liked it.” “I do like it! Of course I sodding like it, you stupid clot! How many times have I told you?! How many times do I have to tell you?!” “Once?” you try.
Mokou lets go of your shirt and steps back, resigned. “… you're impossible!” “Questionable, conceivably,” you say, fixing your neckband, “but not – I hope – wholly impossible. I told you what I thought about impossible, yes? I have a great capacity for self-criticism, but cheap is not among things I would like to be. I know,” you say before she speaks, “you're thinking I cost you rather hefty, no?” “… how valuable are my nerves, again?” “Very, I would think,” you say, “and to me, even more – it's what lets me make you do cute noises when—augh!” Mokou retracts her fist and glares. “I don't make ‘cute noises!’” “Oh, but you—” “No!” “—but—” “No, I don't!” she punches you again. “And you!” she turns on the shrine maiden. “What the hell are you looking at?!” Reimu gives the two of you a doubting sort of look. “I don't, uh… Nothing?”
“Oh – erk – yes,” you gather yourself from the ground and say, “you're, ugh… well, I don't have anything against naked girls,” you tell the perplexed shrine maiden, “not as often as I'd have liked, at least—but you can go back inside now. I'll, er… take things on from here, yes…” “… Shooter?” “No, really, go ahead,” you amble closer and say. “I'll manage, all right? I've done this before.” “… okay?” she nods but stays in the place, “… you're, um… sure?” “Surest I can be,” you smile and lean forward, “and you,” you stab a finger at where her collarbones meet, “you'll be a good girl and go back inside, yes?” Reimu retraces a few centimetres, staring at your hand all the time. “… um… y—yes?” “Good,” you say in a pleasant voice, “and by the way,” you lower it to a whisper, “she DOES make noises, in case you think you might need the knowledge, like most girls do, especially if you pinch on her—” Mokou makes a cough. “Ahem.” “—well, we can talk all about this later,” you say and prod her the last time, then snap the door shut delicately. “Ciao! Enjoy the warm!”
“I heard that, Tiger,” Mokou tells you when you face her, “and I don't see what it was supposed to accomplish.” “Ah,” you say with exaggerated innocence and a shrug, “I was merely wondering whether she, too, would make the same sort of noise if I pinched her—” “No,” Mokou says. “No, she wouldn't! Were you trying to make me feel jealous or something?” “I would do that?” “… you're pretty transparent.” “Well, I never said I was an honest man,” you scratch your nose, “but leastwise I'm very open about it.” “Oh yes, you would cheat a planet.” “I don't do that,” you say. “Not after that time, at least. Either way… About that our change of plans, I had this little thought.” “What is it?” “It's usually a product of cognitive mental activity, an idea or a notion that exists in a mind, dear, but that's not important.” “… that's funny.” “Why, no, it never crossed my mind that it was. I was just doing that lazy thing again.” Mokou squints. “… lazy thing?” “Oh, right, you wouldn't know. Never mind, it's not like a lot people would.” “… what in the blazes are you talking about?” “Never mind,” you say again, “it doesn't matter too much anyhow. Come on,” you grab her wrist, “let's put some walk on, say… over to that big tree, thereabouts?” Mokou blinks. “What? What for?” “Cause I hear there's something nice waiting for you there?” “Huh—?!”
Mokou doesn't get to question your motives further, because you start tugging her at a trot away from the shrine.
Good, you think, that's a start.
One way to deal with an extremely difficult dilemma is to chop it up into several merely very difficult tasks, then get a large pan and fry them in olive till they brown at the edges, at which point, you should… No, that's not the correct recipe; this is the wrong recipe; this is the recipe that says to “put it in a microwave for a quarter,” and explodes at the five-minute mark, and hurls super-heated glass-shards in your face when you peek inside to see how the things are turning out. And it's the only recipe you can find with your limited resources, too.
Oh well, knowing your luck, you were going to give your mug a course in dramatic restructuring some time soon, anyway.
Mokou continues to stare at you sceptically even after you set her against the trunk of the huge tree and look her straight in the eyes. “… what? What is it?” “If I shouted now,” you ask, “do you think they would hear?” “What?” Mokou throws a glance over backwards at the shrine. “No, I don't think… Wait,” she stops. “What kind of question is tha—WAH?! WAIT—! DON'T—! STOP—AH?!”
Smiling broadly, you draw back and admire your handiwork. “Did you know that your shoulders flush as well?” you ask factually. “I never did. I learn a new thing from you every day, sweetheart.” Mokou is contrary. “WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!” she yells. “DON'T DO THAT SO SUDDENLY!” “Ah, so you would appreciate a warning next time?” you grin. “Very well. I'm going to do it again. Now.” “Wh—WAIT—ack!? STOP IT! STOP—AH, YOU STUPID CLOT!” Mokou jerks back and shoves you away, a palm over your face and an elbow in your nose. “I can't believe you! Why do I even cope with this?!”
“Whew, you ah shtuck wiff meh aghyhoof sho aeh fop… bwollokh,” you pull back and take her fingers out of your mouth, then you begin anew, “… well, I realise I am far from the model sort of man,” you confess, “but you chose me, and you are stuck with me for the time being, so I thought I would make you like it – and whether you like it or not, I will make you like it… even if you don't like it. Or, if you like it, but you don't like that you like… or if you like that you don't like, or, er…” you groan, “… that didn't come out as well as it did in my head.” “… you're an idiot!” “I told you I was, no? I tend not to think about it too much, though. I have many things I don't think about too much. I enjoy the warm glow of ignorance, it makes me feel nice and cosy and at home. I like to think I'm a lucky man.”
Mokou says nothing.
“Sweetheart.” “… what?” “I love you.” “… that's new.” “Now then, don't be sour,” you tell her, “I know you're not very fond of the fact, but I do and will have feelings for other girls. I can't honestly do a whole lot about that, you realise.” “…” “I owe a lot to Reimu, for one,” you resume. “I may well owe her my blasted life, even. I arrived here about half a year ago, as you recall, and at the start, I had no choice but to wander around aimlessly in hopes I find a place to crash. I'd knocked about for hours before she took notice of me and took me in for questioning. Sure, all right, she did kick my arse out the door very shortly afterwards, but Keine volunteered to take care of me – and she did. Keine gave me a bed at the Village, she told me how things worked here, gave me something to do with myself – and I love her for that. I have to love her.”
“… you just have the hots for her because she has a pretty face and big knockers.” “Oh yes, she does, doesn't she?” you say. “I won't lie, I think Keine is beautiful.” “How very sweet of you.” “Kaguya was rather charming, too,” you go on. “I'd had the hunch we wouldn't get along too well, but Her Highness turned out a very nice surprise—if not a little bit egocentric and odd-mannered. Now, Reisen, that girl, ah,” you make a dreamy sigh, “Reisen was everything a man could wish for. Cute, intelligent, sympathetic, educated, caring… a tad clumsy—although on the good side—and absolutely fetching eyes. How could you not love that? Of course, then there was that other thing about her, but… hey, we've all got our shortcomings.” “Did you drag me out here to tell me your potential targets if I decide to bugger off?” “No, I didn't mean that,” you assure, “and this is decidedly all I had to say, anyhow… but say, do you know what those women have all in common?” “… they're not me?”
“Bingo,” you smile gently, “they're not you. So, I have no idea what they like or dislike; I don't know their favourite colours and foods. I don't know their picks in drinks, I don't know their favourite pastimes. I don't know how they smell when they wake up at bull o'clock in the morning in a sleeping bag after an all-nighter of trekking in the woods. I don't call them my girlfriends in my thoughts. I don't know what sort of noise—if any at all—they would make if I pinched them on the—” “I don't make noises!”
“I feel I shouldn't be proving you wrong for once,” you say. “Mokou, love, look at me, please.” Mokou doesn't look at you, and instead insists on scanning the ground around her feet with her arms tied across her belly. “… piss off.” “Mokou,” you try again, “be rational; I only flirt with other girls because that's how I get around – I'm an inherent crowd-pleaser; I can't help it.” “I'd rather you pleased me.” “Oh, but you'd have to pay all the seats then,” you say. “Come on, then, who do you think I dally with the most—other than you, that is? “Hakurei?” “Did you ever wonder why?” “No?” “Did it occur to you that she might just remind me of you?” “… that's just crock.” “How come? Don't you wear the same colours? Don't you both go ballistic whenever something goes out of your order? Everything about her reminds me of you. Except you, that is. Otherwise, I say you are very much alike.” “We are not alike!” “Oh, you are, believe me. If you dyed your hair, you two would be indistinguishable. Until I peeled you of your clothes, of course – she is much less, uh… gifted than you are, but… as I said, we all have our—”
“Okay, I get it!” Mokou grunts. “I get it!” “Get it?” you say. “Get what, dear?” “Quit that!” she finally looks up, a flinty look in her eyes. “Quit babbling! I get it. Sodding hell, if I stayed quiet, you'd have ploughed on till you hit the sodding ocean, wouldn't you.” “Mokou?” Mokou sighs. “I know, all right? I've been irritable. I've been a skank and all. I've been—urgh—childish, even, if that makes you happy. I know, okay? I just… I just let my emotions run away with me. It's my fault, not yours. I get it.” “Is it?” “Well, I chose you, and now I've got to suffer for it, yes?” “Sadly, yes,” you say, “that seems to be the case.” “I knew you would see it my way,” the tetchy girl smiles. “I always knew you were a silly cat, but I knew I could tone that down if I tried.” “… you sure know a lot, don't you?” “About you? Everything there is to know.” “Even about the—?” “Especially that,” she says pleasantly, “you naughty boy.”
“Hullo again, Mokou,” you give her a wide grin. “I missed you.” Mokou returns the favour. “Did you by chance mean to say you didn't like that Mokou?” “Oh no, I love all Mokous equally. I just prefer one to another, is all. Say, that reminds me. How is that arm of yours faring?” “It's coming along,” she says. “It hardly even hurts any more. Were you worried?” “I always am.” “Silly cat. I'm all right. Other than my wounded pride, that is, but it'll heal.” “So,” you say, “you'll try and be a little nicer from here on, then?” “I get on with Hakurei well enough, Tiger,” she says, “just not when you're around.” “I see,” you let that pass, “that's nice. Still, I'd like if you promised.” “Convince me.” “Never an easy way, is there?” “I didn't say it'd be easy. Don't you like a challenge?” “I like challenges,” you say. “Challenges are cool.” “So you're going to kiss me or not?” “I might do just that,” you say and put your hands around her waist.
Mokou purrs affably and draws closer. “I'm waiting on you.” “Not any more,” you whisper back and kiss her.
Mokou moans quietly when you move on from her lips to her neck and lower, the tiniest peck on the earlobe on the way; her body arches back, and she hisses under her breath when you run your fingers up her naked sides.
“Tiger,” she giggles in your ear, “stop that.” “Why? If anybody sees us, we'll just say I was whispering in your breasts.” “Come on,” she says, “you're cold – and besides, you smell.” “I smell?” you pull back and give her a crooked look. “No, sweetheart, you smell – I stink. Surely you must realise rain water isn't exactly the same as a shower – and I didn't exactly get to wash it off yesterday, due to these circumstances and those.” Not to mention you had plenty occasions to sweat. Mokou sighs. “I realise, but I'm not going back there, if that's what you meant to suggest. Not so soon.” “Well,” you say, “if you don't want to, that's fine. We could always go back and wash in a sink. Ever wash in a sink?” “No.” “Well, there's always got to be the first time. It's not too hard, long as you remember to keep your balance and hold on to something stable… which can be, well, difficult, when you're trying to wash your feet, for one, but… I could always take care of that for you—that is, if you're of a mind.”
Mokou smirks. “Oh, you sly, little—” “I have these flashes of genius every now and then.” “Don't you?” she says with a small shrug. “Okay, let's say I am of a mind.” “Splendid,” you say. “Would Your Majesty prefer I carried her to her royal baths bridal-style?” “My Majesty prefers to walk, thanks all the same.” “Drats.”
>>32882 I didn't realize how much I was looking forward to this update. I don't know if we earned our reconciliation with Mokou or not (still not quite sure she was so upset and irritable), but god damn was it satisfying. Shooter finally laying out how he (we?) see his relationship was a refreshing moment clarity amidst the verbose internal monologues that populate the story.
>“Okay, let's say I am of a mind.” I cannot wait for the next part.
Minutes after, Mokou sits on the low-lying table in the main section of the shrine, her slacks rolled up, and her gorgeous legs outstretched.
Naturally, you can tell that much by looking.
No arguing with it – you're perched right in front of her, after all, cross-legged on the floor, your hands dipped in a giant basin of steaming water, playing hide and seek with her toes – in fact, you could even lean forward and kiss her knees, or rub your face in her rosy thighs if you felt inclined. Of course you can tell. Consider it for a moment. You've got what is potentially the best pair of legs in the world to delight in right there, for God's sake – you could tell with your eyes plucked out. Sir James Barrie could come crashing through the baulks, a minstrelsy of winged brats on his tail, tooting on their paper trumpets and tossing up confetti, and he could screw your head off and take it to the land of Never-Never, and you would still be able to tell.
What you CAN'T tell is entirely another thing.
“Wait just a cotton-picking moment,” you say and throw your wet arms up. “Why and what in the blazes am I doing?” Mokou makes a candid face. “Giving me a foot bath, I thought?” “Well, yes,” you say, letting your arms back down, “it sort of seems like it, but didn't this come sort of out of nowhere? I was under the impression that I was the one in urgent need of a wash, not you.” “I don't object.” “Nor do I,” you reply, “not to this, at least, but it could have waited, no? I sort of wanted that wash, you know. I've had a load of occasions to break a sweat today, and I thought to rinse it off if I could. Sure, okay, I've gone days dirty before, living in the barracks, no showers, cold rivers and all that, but this is all going somewhat over the board. I've got a tap with hot bloody water right under my nose, and what am I doing? Giving my girl a foot bath, is what. Not a bad thing to do all right, I will admit. I could put myself behind it. Or in front of it. Or in it, if that works, but there is something I don't understand, and that is why I am giving her feet a bath when I could be giving myself a bath, so I can give her feet a bath later, without her moaning that I smell like a heap of old rubbish – which I, admittedly, do – and object to, generally.”
“Didn't you say you'd take care of my feet if I was of a mind?” “I did?” you ask. “I did,” you answer before she does. “Confound you, me, why you've always got to go rearwards about things like these? God damn you, you sick, little twit. God sodding damn you.” “Does it bother you that much?” “Does it? I don't know.” “Should it?” “Well,” you say, “I'd presumed we were sort of hard-pressed for time, and I'd planned to decamp the botch aye-sap, but… to be fair, I don't even know any more. If Hieda got her cheeky rump up here, then why didn't the rest of the yokels? I specifically told Reimu to make a good show yesterday, so it should have been ruddy obvious where she and Keine were headed. I mean, I am pretty daft myself,” you say, lifting her one foot and giving it a thorough look-over, “and even I could put two and two together, no tizzy. What's up with that? Do I get my knickers up in a bunch about that or not? That's what I'd like to know.” “Couldn't you have just asked?”
“Oh yes,” you give her a sour look and put the foot away, “that I ought to have, all right, but you see, there was this one testy thing, threatening to set fire to my heels if I didn't tend to her feeling a little tad lonesome right awa—” Slap. “… away,” you finish flatly when the same foot lands on your face. “I don't appreciate that. I have water down my shirt now.” “I should think so,” Mokou says with a glower. “Did you have any other dozy complaints?” “Other than the one about the foot? Oh, I had oodles, I just don't reckon anybody cares for them a lo—OW! Hey!” you exclaim, “Mind the friendly fire! Mokou! Ouch! Good Lord!” “Did you have any other complaints, Tiger?” she repeats, still splashing water at you with her other leg. “I'm a little hard of hearing, remember? Well? What say you? Did you? Did you? Did you?” “I—bloody hell! Stop that! I—blast—I didn't, buggery!” “Surely, you must have some at least, no?” “No! No, I—!” “Are you certain?” “I am—! I am bloody certain, for the love of—!” “Oh yes?” “Yes! I swear to God—!”
Mokou moves her legs, and before you realise, you're pulled forward, locked between her thighs, like a crass baby-fly in a Venus fly trap. Only warmer. And more emotional. And presumably less deadly.
“Oh dear,” you say with a sigh. “I thought you were sick of that joke?” Mokou shifts around a bit, her smooth, beige skin rubbing you all kinds of curious. “Maybe.” “Maybe?” “I told you. Sometimes your waffling is just good enough to keep in mind for later… and cut you down to size, if you start letting your stupid gob run away with you again.” “And you like to win at my own game, so I heard.” “Oh yes, there's that, too,” she says and pulls you closer, hugging you to her naked belly. “Were you going to whine about that as well?” “Oh no, I wouldn't dream to. Not ever.” “Funny, Tiger. Very funny.” “No, not at all,” you tell her. “I didn't mean to be funny, I meant to say you're doing well.” “Flattery again?” She squeezes. “Were you planning to run out of that any time soon?” “Not if I can help it,” you say and start sliding your fingers slowly across her back. “Flattering you is like learning to fly, dear,” you say in a philosophical tone. “I could bounce off a perch and flap my wings with great effort, but in the end I would grow into a very footsore and cranky bird, with an irksome climb back up ahead. I could stay in the safe and beat my wings till I get the straights of it, too, but that could end up rather long-winded and tedious a way. So,” you look up and smile, “what I do is whisper sweet nothings at the air so it picks me up and flies me places on its own accord.” “… you're positively evil.”
“And I get these in return,” you poke at one of her thighs. “Good deal, if you ask me. Speaking of deals, I never got to ask – where exactly did you get that skirt – you know, the one you showed me at the Clinic? On that sweet night? I was sort of curious about that.” “Sweet, my tits,” Mokou grunts, “I was sore the whole day next day. I got it from Kourin's place, Tiger,” she says nevertheless, “I went to get my clothes, I noticed he had that thing, and, uh… I thought… well, I thought that I could surprise you or something. Kag—I mean, SOMEBODY,” she corrects, “SOMEBODY told me you might, uh… like, that sort of thing. So, I asked if he could, uh, give it to me, or at least lend it to me for one day, and… well, I got it… I still need to give it back, too, ugh.” “So, he had it?” you ask, surprised. “How come? He's a tailor, then, or what? I had imagined he was, uh… a gunsmith? Or an artificer, perhaps? But a tailor?” “No,” Mokou says, jiggling about again. Even if all she got was a foot bath—as opposed to a full-body bath—you have to say, she still smells absolutely appetising. “Kourin,” she goes on, tentatively, “he is… He just, uh… He just has all sorts of rubbish in that dump of his, is all. Mostly litter, though. Machinery pieces, rusted junk, some broken weaponry and tools, some rags… Useless crap in general.” “Oh, so he's a conservator?” “I wouldn't let him conserve my nail clippings if my life depended on it,” she says with a snort. “He has all that trash in his house and around it, so much you can hardly walk from the bedroom to the outhouse, but he hardly even looks at it twice. He just glances over the new crap, nods his empty loaf like he knows what and how, then goes to bury his nose in a book, and never even goes back to maybe tidy up or throw it out, the stupid sod. I cringed every time I went to crash at his place.”
“So,” you assume an inquisitive tone, “… why did you? Crash at his place, that is?” “Ah,” Mokou makes a strange face and looks away, “… well…” “Hmm? Mokou?” Mokou dithers. “He, uh… He let me stay, so…” “I inferred that much,” you say. “I still don't know why you took him up on that, though.” “Does that really matter, Tiger?” She turns back to you, a nasty glow in her eyes. “What are you? Jealous? You? Seriously?” “Can't I?” you return. “I am very fond of you, as you may have noticed, and I am a man. Not the best there is, as I've said already, but a man all the same. I am also thick as a short plank, and a raging hypocrite. I reckon it isn't all too hard to do the maths here, is it, sweetheart?” “… you're impossible.” “Here we go again,” you exhale. “Not impossible. Questionable. So, your answer is?” “None of your business!” she snaps. “I slept at his place a couple of times – that's all you need to know!” “Oh yes?” “Oh yes!” “Is that it?” “Were you looking for something else?” “I don't know,” you say. “I gathered I should have been capable of solving this conflict of interest in a manner that precludes the usage of violence, as opposed to that which includes one, but…” “What?” Mokou frowns. “What are you talking about?” “… but,” you find your footing and resume, “under the circumstances, I reckon a little violence never hurt anybody.”
Sooner than the testy girl can mount a defence, you flex your arms and push yourself upwards.
Mokou topples back onto the wide tabletop, her knees still hung about your shoulders, and blinks madly when you pin her wrists down, making nothing of her dismayed looks and sudden blush. Curiously, that's all she does – blush and bat her lashes, instead of giving you the opportunity to regret putting Archimedes' life-long research to misuse with a swift kick to the jaw. An inexperienced eye could take this for physical assault, or an awkward rape attempt, where the rapist is either a forgetful SOB with a below-seventy IQ score, or an incorrigible dry-hump fetishist.
An inexperienced eye wouldn't be far off.
“Now,” you breathe through your teeth, grinning, “you will tell me, sweetheart. What is your relation with that Kourin bloke?” Mokou glares. “… you're having retakes of too many things today, Tiger.” Indeed, now that she mentions it, this does resemble a certain other situation you two were tangled in not long ago. “Ah,” you say, “but I don't mind. Do you?” “… does it matter?” she says with an aside glance. “Not right now, no. So, what was it? Kourin, and you, what was your affair?”
Mokou groans and turns her stare at you. “… you're not going to give it up, are you.” “I've a fight in my blood.” “… you're just… just… ugh, fine!” she cries out. “His place was the closest, all right?!” “Closest to what?” “Quit being stupid! Closest to the Village, you nonce!” “… the Village? What business did you have staying close to the Village? Mokou?” you stare at her, baffled. “I thought they didn't like you very much at the Village? Why were you—?” Mokou purses her lips. “THINK, Tiger.” “I am thinking,” you say, “and I still don't see why—… Oh,” you let out in abrupt realisation. “Um… Oh.”
“… I thought so,” she looks away again. “I couldn't stay at the Village because of Keine and her meddling, and my own house is farther on in the Forest, so Kourin's place was the closest. He let me stay and didn't bitch about my coming and going, so I stayed there, despite the mess and all that. That's all. I didn't shag him, Tiger,” she says. “He's a... He's not even a friend! He's in love with his books, anyhow. I couldn't shag him if I tried! And besides…!” “… besides?” Mokou hesitates, growing slightly redder. “… I told you, right,” she mutters, “… you were my—”
“And what is it this time?” a voice says from behind.
Her carmine eyes go wild, and before you know, you're rolling, tumbling off the huge table, kicked in the side of the head, all the way down to the hard floorings. “Hieda!” Mokou almost squeals. “Why, you—!” “Ah, would you look at that pretty pink,” Akyu notes rather delightfully. “I never would have thought you able of so feminine a colour, Fujiwara. Oh, that is so cute! So very, very cute! Could you tell that big idiot to stand up?” she asks. “He's unsightly.” “No, I won't,” you retort from the floor, “I'll lay here all I blooming want.” “Men!” the little miss exclaims. “Very well, you can lay there till you rot, but are you at least packed, you daft puss?” “Say what?” “For the trip, you jerk!” she stamps her foot and moans. “Keine and I are finished here, and I believe I gave her enough time to chew through what I had to say. Shouldn't you be getting making ready to go?” “Chew through?” you sit up and repeat. Reimu backs away a step – the numerous company must be making her exceptionally nervy, and the girl is still wearing only that white towel from the sauna.
So is Akyu, you observe. Good Lord, you think, you made the right decision to keep out of the blasted place, smelly or not.
“Chew through, yes,” the young miss confirms. “I had some unpleasant things to say to her – the stupid old girl needed some time to swallow, if you get my meaning. Quite human of her, in my opinion. Now, I wonder if she is done wrinkling her underwear yet. KEINE!” she screams back down the hallway, “GET YOUR STUPID BUNS OVER HERE! Ah, and I will require a lift home too, pet,” she tells you, completely serious. “I made a promise to certain someone I would be back before noon, and he may get… chippy, if I turn up late. Ah, Keine, darling. Here you are.”
Keine totters out of the shade of the corridor, fully dressed, but apprehensive; her beautiful, aqua-blue eyes flicker from the floor to the young miss and back as she enters. “… Good—Good morning,” she throws in your direction, not even looking, “I, um… I am ready to—… to go.” “Marvellous,” the young miss claps her hands, “that means we are the only ones holding you back! So inattentive of us, no?” “…” “I kid. I would have put you over for hours if I could. I absolutely adore a steam bath, oh, I really do! I will have to ask Father to think about building one some day. Oh yes,” she turns to you, “I never caught it, pet – you said you were packed, yes?” “Sort of.” “Great,” she grants you a pleasant smile, “then I will tell you now what you shall do next. Tell that girl to put some clothes on,” she nods at Mokou, “then go and get your baggage and wait for me and Hakurei outside. Next, you will take Keine and make for that… Clinic you were so keen to visit, while one of those birds flies this poor, little me home. It's looking like it's about to burst a cloud, anyway, so I will have to make as good time as I can.”
“I'd rather we didn't split up again,” you say. “And I,” she returns, “would rather Keine stayed away from the Village just yet, pet. I will try and investigate what I can, but you will have to… keep your distance, for the time being. Doesn't that sound, ah, more reasonable? Keine?” “… yes,” the teacher agrees placidly, “she's… she's right.”
“So you have it,” the young miss beams like a miniature sun. “I will let you hammer out the details. If I have to be touched by either of those two, it is all the same to me. Consider this an expression of my… let's say, trust. How about it, pet?”
[ ] “I don't like it, but… Mokou, would you be so kind? The little witch should be lighter than me and all my rubbish.” [ ] “Cool. Whatever you say. Reimu? Please?” [ ] “I'll see you off to the Village, then. I might as well do that.” —[ ] “Mokou, you'll get us there, okay? We can make the Princess wait a bit. It's classy to be slightly late.” —[ ] “Reimu, you're better at flying, so two people shouldn't be a problem, right? If it's you, we can make up for the delays.”
[x] “I don't like it, but… Mokou, would you be so kind? The little witch should be lighter than me and all my rubbish.”
It's either Shooter or Mokou that should take Hieda back to the village, since Reimu was (purposefully) seen with Keine when she made her high-profile escape. Of these two, choosing Mokou doesn't reveal Shooter having any direct any direct dealings with Akyu in this, and it seemed Keine was counting on Shooter escorting her personally, even though he might be the best guarantee of her safety. I especially would like to keep Reimu in view because she's shown herself to be a target of history manipulation before. Mokou is most likely to be able to drop Akyu off, leave the village unmolested, and meet up again.
[x] “I'll see you off to the Village, then. I might as well do that.” —[x] “Mokou, you'll get us there, okay? We can make the Princess wait a bit. It's classy to be slightly late.” Another brilliant update YAF. Don't take my silence as a disapproval.
>>32893 [X] “I don't like it, but… Mokou, would you be so kind? The little witch should be lighter than me and all my rubbish.”
Keine seems to be in a bad way right now, so it would be bad form to not stay with her for now. Between Mokou and Reimu, I trust former with the task of rescuing our poor hide should something (inevitably) go awry.
[X] “I don't like it, but… Mokou, would you be so kind? The little witch should be lighter than me and all my rubbish.”
“I don't like it,” you tell her frankly. “Say what you will, but I don't like it at all.” Akyu makes a condescending little tut. “Did you hear that, Hakurei?” she gives the cowering shrine maiden a sidelong look. “He doesn't like it! Imagine that! What was it you told me Fujiwara said once? Something about leaving him for a moment to find him stirring in someone else's undies?” Reimu makes an embarrassed cough. “… something, um… along these lines, yes.” Mokou gives the red-white girl a nasty look. “Hakurei, you…!” “Sorry,” Reimu mouths a silent apology. “It just… you know, slipped my tongue, okay?” “Why are you two even—?” you try to chip in, but the little lady cuts you off.
“Oh, you mean this?” she casts a quick glance down at the towel wrapping her small figure. “I needed to do something with my feet, pet,” she says, “and—oh, humanity—you seemed to have forgotten your little, ah, let's call it an offer. So, I had to take care of it myself and intrude on our prude little friend here, don't you know. Oh, and what a talk she is! If I didn't hear first-hand that she finds your… ah, philandering absolutely abhorrent, I could have thought she found it all rather amusing. Either way,” she says with another throw of head and a smart smile, “I do not believe you have much to say in this matter, pet. Our dislikes far surpass yours after all, you see – you could say we have the… what was it called, the strength of numbers, no? Don't you think so, too, Keine?” “… ah, um,” the teacher stutters, “… that is…” “Oh yes, I shouldn't be asking those insensitive kinds of questions, should I? Silly, old me, forgetting even the basest of manners. Never mind. My point remains all the same – we have the advantage on our side, pet. What that means is, you will do as we tell you, you big, fat dummy – lest we get, ah… let's say, aggrieved at you. How would you like that, Tiger?” “Hieda!” Mokou bounds to her feet. “If you don't shut your skanky mouth—!” “Stay OUT of this, Fujiwara,” the little miss tells her coolly, “this is bigger than your amatory squabbles—yours too, Hakurei,” she speaks before the shrine maiden puts in her tuppence worth, “I am not doing this for my own entertainment, you know.” “Oh, right you sodding aren't—!” Akyu makes a small smirk. “Got me this time, Fujiwara,” she admits. “I'd be lying if I said I wasn't taking a bit of a personal revenge. In any event… you are going to be a good boy and do as I say, aren't you, pet?”
Groaning, you gather yourself from the floor. “If you hadn't been so verbal about it,” you tell the little girl, “I would have thought you were trying to be cute.” “Ah,” she says, “well, I am but a frail, little girl, after all, no?” “It certainly doesn't show.” “How nice of you to say. Does that undisguised attempt at cajolery mean you've finally made up your mind? Or were you trying to flaunt your skill for repartee again?” Oh, I made up my mind long ago, you want to say, I have decided the stuff falling from the cracks in my life is confetti and I am having a party. “Spot-on,” you give a nod regardless, “on both counts, actual.” “Do you reckon you could tell me, then?” “I reckon,” you nod, “but, I will have you answer something first, young miss – and you had better be honest about it, for both our sakes.”
“Oh, why, it was Brennan, pet,” she says without a pause. “Do try and make use of that big head of yours some time, why don't you? Did you think it was my parents, perchance? If Father knew where I was going, he never would have let me out of the house. He isn't aware of my privileges, I think.” “How did you know what I was going to ask?” “How did I know? Oh, I know you, pet – you are transparent as a silk sheet; I can almost see right through you, if you will forgive the morbid thought – plus, you are forgetting that I had been watching you rather closely for quite a time before you—ah, but this is beside the point,” she remembers. “He approached me with a favour to ask, pet,” she explains. “Some time after you had left, yesterday. He had some things to say to our mutual friend here, so he had me act as his envoy… Since he had his hands full with the, ah, situation at the Village, he feared he shouldn't… risk coming himself – especially with you here, watching over our unruly little heifer.” “Akyu!” Keine almost chokes. Akyu turns and scowls at the thunderstruck teacher. “Don't give me that look, Keine,” she chides, “it's hardly a secret any more.” “I thought that you were—!” “Never mind, Keine,” the young miss says curtly. “I haven't the time for student-teacher charades at the moment. As I was saying, pet,” she looks to you again, “I promised to him I would return before noon, so… well, you had better hurry along and tell me your decision, hadn't you?”
“… very well,” you say. “We'll go with your idea.”
Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.
Coming down to brass tacks, one more won't make a difference.
Akyu smiles angelically. “I knew I could count on you, pet,” she says. “If I wasn't surrounded by these explosive persons, I would have even gone as far as said I liked that part of you.” “Sure,” you tell her in a bland tone, “that's just lovely. Mokou,” you address the incensed girl. “Would you be so kind as to take this little witch home? If I listen to her blather any longer, I think I might sink into depression.” Mokou puts her hands on her hips and glares. “Surely you can't be serious! Why would I—?!” “If she teases you, you can drop her,” you say. “How about that?” “I take offence to that,” the young miss chimes in. “I am not nearly stupid enough to tease her when you aren't around to kiss her calm, pet.” “See, she's afraid of you,” you say, “you're off on the right foot, I say.” Mokou makes a face. “I wouldn't be so sure, Tiger. I don't—” “Kaguya gave me a pair of radios before we left the Clinic,” you cut straight to the chase. “If you take one, we will be able to keep in touch.” Hopefully. “Not to forget, you and I speak the same language as well, so there shouldn't be any…” you stop and glance discreetly at the crestfallen teacher, “… miscommunication across the line. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?” Mokou keeps quiet for a few seconds. “… I suppose,” she says then. “I'll really drop her if she so much as opens her gob, though.” “Good girl. I'll give some instructions before we go. Did you hear that?” you say to young miss. “I am taking no responsibility for this, you realise?”
Akyu gives you a grumpy little look. “I could have done without that, pet.” “I am only being fair.” “Oh, you are, you are,” she rolls her eyes. “Goodness, you're so thick at times.” “Did you want to fill a formal complaint?” “No,” she says. “In fact, I didn't. If you could come over here for a second, however, I would be very grateful.” “What for, now?” “Couldn't you listen to me for once without that needless querying? Come here, I won't bite you.” “Okay then,” you say and approach the small girl, “and now?” “Get on your knee.” “Say what?” Akyu makes a small sigh. “Do I have to repeat myself? Get down on your knee, Shooter. I want to apologise.” “And why do I need to kneel for that?” “Do you think you might see if you do get on that knee?” she asks, suddenly frustrated. “I told you I didn't have all day.” “If I regret this, so will you,” you say and drop down.
Akyu sighs again, wipes her lips with a hand, then, only after the smallest moment of doubt, she pecks a cute, little kiss on your cheek. “I still think you are a treasure,” she says, stepping away, “but you do get on my nerves a lot.” “… that was surprisingly girly of you.” “Why, thank you,” she says crossly, “that must have been the nicest thing I heard from you all day.” “First time's free of charge.” “Quit with the cleverness, pet. We aren't going to see each other for…” she glances at Keine, “… for at least some time, I imagine, and I'd be pleased if you at least pretended to mind. I was irritated today—with you, and the weather—but you are… well, let's just say I have an interest in you, even if you don't have in this me,” she tugs indecisively at the edge of her towel, “but another time, who knows? I might try and snatch you for myself. I might even end up your—” “Akyu,” Keine interrupts, “we have to get going… right?”
“Oh, get lost, you!” the small girl pouts at the teacher. “I was just saying, all right? Come along, pet,” she tells you. “Get that radio thing of yours… and tell that girl to put something on, for God's sake – she is making me jealous like the devil himself. Hakurei,” she turns to the shrine maiden, “you, too – it's going to be a heavy rain, so put some layers on… and, uh… I feel bad, but… Could you lend me some clothes? I don't think mine are, uh… dry, yet.”
Reimu snaps out of thought and gives the small girl a slightly blank look. “… uh, yeah?” she says. “Oh, I'll, uh, you know, lend you some of my old habits, if you want.”
“How sweet of you,” says the young miss. “Come along, then. Keine? Keine, are you listening? Keine! Go get your things, too! Fujiwara! Go get dressed, already! Shooter! Go to your room and get your junk, you huge dork! God, am I really the youngest one here?”
In the brief patch between your undone make-up-make-out session, she booted her blasé semi-nudity in favour of a more formal dress shirt denims combo – the same she and her partner-in-crime shrine maiden had pinched from the staff laundry in the Clinic. Keine, Reimu and Akyu have changed as well. Keine, in her usual colours—meetly dark blues—stands off the other two – Reimu, who is sporting a travel-sort of version of her normal getup – jack-boots and all, completely with a slightly rugged, double-slung kitback – and Akyu, who draped herself in a loose-fitting, heavy-looking linen habit of deep carmine and dirtied white, and is now digging continuously under the collar of the old thing with her little fingers, mumbling all the while.
Oddly enough, what would normally be a comical sight, fills you with a kind of queer excitement, a quaint kind of elation, the same one would feel moments before sledding down a slop on a piece of cardboard with no means of control or braking, and with a tittle merry head. Given you still have an ounce of luck left in you, at least the other winter-sport fanatics should have the foresight to get the bog out of your way before you ram your madly screaming noggin square in their unprotected privates.
“Should” being the operative word.
“What was that, Tiger?” says Mokou, who probably never rode a cardboard sled in her life. “What sort of test?” “I never got an opportunity to give these buggers a test-go,” you say and tap the plastic frame of a walky-talky in your breast pocket. “So, if you could put some distance between us first and see if it receives before we go off and lose contact forever…?” “Sure,” she agrees almost immediately. “I wanted to sniff out the wind, anyhow.” “Cracking. Orange doo-dah is the cast switch, the dial is the volume. Got it?” “Got it. Is that all?” “On the rear you've got the power switch, but, uh… to say the truth, I don't know about the battery life on these, so… you reckon we ought to keep them on at all times? We won't be using them for too long, anyhow. Or so I should hope.” “If it lets you let your hair down, Tiger,” she says. “I don't need protection, though. I can handle myself.” “Oh yes, I know that,” and likely better than anybody else present, you add inwardly. “Still, I'd like if you kept it on always. I want to have your voice to be had all the time, all right?” “Do you absolutely insist, Tiger?” “I very well might,” you say. “I am a worrisome dolt, you realise.” Mokou makes a long-suffering shrug, but the corners of her lovely lips betray an involuntary smile. “Sure, all right then,” she says, feigning surrender, “if you want to, what the hell, I am easy with that. How far do you want me to fly, then?” “Over to the bottom of that climb should be good,” you point to the flight of stone steps starting downhill from the main gate of the shrine grounds. “So, if you float down here, give me a raise, and the link works out, you can come back and we can all get a move on. If you don't hear from me, though… well, you can feel obliged to get back and toast my useless arse. How about that?” “Sounds like a plan.” Mokou does a few offhand stretches and takes a few deeper breaths. “Off I go, then.”
And then she blasts off.
Akyu pulls up to your side, still scratching at her neck. “Must you be so thorough about it, pet?” she asks. “We are kind of in a hurry, you know?” “Forewarned is Forearmed,” you tell her shortly. “If I can hedge against a potential disaster, you can bet your sweet buns I will.”
Akyu sighs at your assiduity and looks around, resigned.
So do you – and you see the reason of her downcast face. Since the morning, the sky has somehow managed to shift unnoticed from “chilly with a chance of mizzle” to “full-out massing downpour,” and the ice-cold wind sweeps across the bald courtyard time and time again, a smell of shower, frost-bite, and another change of outfit going on the clotheshorse left behind it like an old Egyptian curse.
“Could it look any bleaker?” moans the young miss. “Good day to fly, my butt – my toes are freezing, already…!” “Oh, I don't know,” you disagree, “flying should make it finer by itself.” “How, exactly?” “Once you learn not to look down, it is far less fatiguing.” “… than what?” “Walking, of course,” you explain. “See, with flying, you needn't worry every second for holes in the pavement, pebbles, vagrant children, sprouting lamp posts, ladies with baby carriages, or French mass-murderers going against the lights in their fancy, split-window convertibles. Nobody bothers you up there; you just keep your eyes ahead and watch not to swallow a stray fly or pigeon, and you're safe from everything and everyone. Other than the grounds, that is.” “… the grounds, pet?” “Not all grounds,” you say, “just the faraway ones – you know, when you're flying around, and the ground gets really, really far away?” “… you mean heights, pet,” the little lady corrects. “Grounds, far as I know, do not do anything to—wait,” she stops, “… was that a joke?” “Somebody understands!” you do an exaggerated whoop. “Good Lord, finally! I knew I wasn't telling it over and over for naught!” Akyu laughs an ironic, little laugh. “Oh, you're terrible, you know that?” “One does his best,” you admit modestly. “No matter how dozy his audience.” “Did you just try to call me silly in a very roundabout way?” “Would I do that to my darling Miss Akyu?” “I am going to get you for that, you know.” “Promise?”
“Oh!” she elbows you tartly in the side. “Stop that, already! Don't forget that I am still cross with you, pet. Unless, you're trying to make me get myself dropped by your pettish partner when I inadvertently let slip a bad comment out of irritation? Don't say a thing,” she adds quickly, “I know your answer already. Say,” a thought seems to flash to her head, “if you don't mind me changing this fascinating topic, there was something I meant to ask you.” “Go ahead.” “If you could, would you tell me just what you were doing with her on that table? I could think of a dozen possibilities, but none of them include engaging in happy fornication on the dinner table when others are home, to be frank. Not to forget, you had your clothes on, too… or, well, more or less on—which makes it even stranger in my eyes. Do you think that you could share this indubitably amazing secret with me, pet?”
“Oh,” you say, “well, I can tell you that we weren't doing what you think we were doing.” “No?” “No,” you affirm. “Not at all.” “Okay. So, what was it all about, in that case?” “Simple,” you say, “I was just whispering in her—”
“No, you weren't!”
Smiling at the little lady, you answer the inflamed voice on the radio. “Don't ruin the gag, Mokou,” you say with faked ire, “I was just getting to the best part!” “I'll show you the best part, you stupid clot!” “Oh boy,” says Akyu, “I can hear her blushing all the way from here.”
Mokou snaps a few angry words in a language you do not understand.
Curiously, you realise all of a sudden that this is likely the first time you heard her speak a full sentence in her mother tongue. Up until today, all you had a chance to hear was her learned English, and even in times of irritation, when she reverted back to her native language, you were ever so close to her that you never had the opportunity to witness its natural sound – and what a sound that is. Combined, the tone of her voice and the words strike a strange tune – melodic, almost erotically rhythmical – like a song sang in the middle of a heady night under riffling sheets – even if the song is in fact made of profanities.
Still, very endearing profanities.
Akyu laughs. “Oh, I will have to turn you down on that, Fujiwara! I despise being touched by other girls, you see – and, you wouldn't want to make him jealous, would you?” Mokou snarls once again, then switches back to your own language. “Got your sodding results, Tiger?” “Getting them loud and clear,” you tell her. “How about that side?” “Slower if you could, Tiger,” she replies, “I can understand you face to face, but this thing is making it a tad hard.” “Can you turn the volume up? Might be better that way.” “… uh, let me see… okay, try speaking now.” “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die. Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die. Hello, my name is—” “Stop, Tiger, it works; I am coming back.” “How is the wind, anyhow?” “Cold. We can talk about this later, though.” “Copy,” you acknowledge, “flight control out. Oh boy,” you ring off and turn to the young miss, “that was tight. Did you really mean that, by the way?”
Akyu gives you a curious look. “Did I mean what, pet?” “Do you dislike being touched by women?” “Ah, well…” she stops and makes an awkward face. “Can we just say… ‘bad experiences?’” “… I'll take that,” you say, “although what sort of experiences that was is beyond me.” “Don't meditate on it too hard,” she warns. “Nothing healthy will come out of it, I guarantee.” “Copy that. We've just got to wait now, then?” “We do. Unless you had something else to add?” “Oh no,” you say and wipe the grin from your mouth, “nothing.” “Good boy.”
Mokou turns out from the tree-line a minute or two later, swoops, and touches down on the ground in front of you and Akyu.
“Horrible,” she says, her breath a milky mist, “I've had a few before, but this is going to be a rough ride.” “It's just begun to rain, too,” adds the little lady, holding out a hand. “Goodness, and I thought I'd convinced myself this could be fun after all.” “Quit whining. Tiger,” Mokou says to you, “Hakurei and Keine fly better than I do, so if I don't manage to catch up, I'll try and get to Kaguya's as soon as possible, all right?” “Don't overdo it,” you tell her. “I've told you what I thought of that, no?” “Sure,” she nods. “So, uh… bye, I suppose?” “Cheers, Mokou,” you say and throw your arms around her. “I love you.” “… sure,” she whispers back, “me, uh… you know—too.” “Great,” you smile and pull away. “Good luck to you, too,” you pat Akyu on her little head, “and good hunting.” “Don't do that, you dumb puss – you're ruffling my hair.” “Oh, it was ruffled to begin with; this is hardly making it any scruffier. Oh, and yes,” you remember and dig in one of your pockets for a piece of crumpled paper, “I nearly forgot. Here, take this, Mokou.”
Mokou takes the paper and lifts a brow. “Hakurei's amulet, Tiger?” “Call it paranoia, if you must. Just in case, all right?” “… yeah,” she says, only a bit reluctant, “… all right.” “Do you know what to do with it?” “Sure.” “Good.” You give her a careful, head-to-toes scan. Satisfactorily, everything appears to be in perfect order. “Great. Good to go, then?”
“Good as it gets,” she says and turns to Akyu. “Come here and latch on, sandbag.” “See,” Akyu complains, “I knew she was going to try and drop me.”
Once they have gone off, you return to Keine and Reimu.
“Sorry about that,” you tell them. “I had to insure there weren't too many loose ends left.” “No, it's okay,” says the teacher, “Can we, um… go, now?” “I thought you'd never ask. Reimu,” you address the shrine maiden, “could I, uh… hold both your hands—like the last time?” Reimu gives you a startled sort of look. “Oh, um… Okay?” “Or, better yet, when I fly with Mokou, she sort of lets me hang from her shoulders, like this,” you demonstrate, “sort of on the side, if you can picture. Could we, uh…?” “If you, um… you know, want to…?”
“Oh,” you let out, “all right, then. I do, thank you. Good Lord,” you sigh, “we haven't even started yet and I wish to put my feet back on the ground already. How blooming stupid is that? Could you, uh, take my other hand? It should be more comfortable that way.” “… okay.” “Good. How is it?” “I'm all right.” “Great. Keine, you're ready to move out?”
Keine gives a wan confirmation. “… yes, let's… let's go.” “Cool,” you say. “Come on, then; to infinity, beyond and all that rot. Gently, though, if you—OH GOOD LORD!” you yelp when Reimu shoots upwards into the livid, sodden air. “Gently, I said! Good God! I'll never get used to this!” Keine forms up on your flank, almost as pale the sky behind. “I'll never get used to that either!” you say out loud. “I used to think you were only an ordinary schoolteacher, too!” Keine inclines her head apologetically. “… sorry.” “No, it—ah, blast it—it doesn't matter any more. Does anybody else feel that the rain is picking up? Or is it just me?”
“No,” says Reimu, staring sombrely at the brewing storm ahead, “it's only going to get worse.”
“Not a lot, I hope,” you say, “the turbulences may bloody well kill me.”
Half an hour into the flight, the weather lapses into full-blown bullshit; the visibility, already curbed by the grey overcast, becomes nigh-zero; the lashing streaks of rainwater become like whips, limiting the moments you can keep your eyes open to milliseconds, and the roaring of the wind fills your skull with painful noise. Mokou's unexcited “cold” suddenly becomes an awful understatement.
Up here, twenty to thirty metres above ground level, battered, flung left and right by the relentless wind again and again, the three of you, airborne only by some inexplicable force of miracle, continue drudging through the deluge, breaking through walls after walls of rainfall, lightning flashing in the distance, like a lighthouse on an island in the middle of a raging ocean.
Keine is the first to give in.
Hair sticking to her nose and cheeks, she flies closer, nearly crashing into Reimu and you, then takes the shrine maiden by the arm, and shouts something – a plead, or a warning, maybe – that you can't hear, despite being so near.
Reimu hears it, however, and seems to agree, for moments later, your flying trio dives down through the rustling treetops, into the flooded undergrowth, where the bellowing of the wind finally subsides, and becomes almost calmingly quiet. Reimu splashes down into a clearing in the coppice, her feet sinking in the grass. Carelessly, she lets her grip on you let go – a grave mistake, as your legs very nearly give up when you are forced to stand on your own – weak and soft, as if the muscles inside dissolved into meaty gelatin.
Keine taps down as well, stooping against a tree as soon as she does. Reimu rushes over to her side. “Are you all right?” “S—Sorry…” the teacher lets out, panting, “… I need to rest… just a bit…” “Was I going too fast?” the shrine maiden asks in a panicked tone. “Is everything okay? Do you want me to hold you up?” “No, it's okay, I just… I just need to catch my breath is all…” “Are you sure?” “I can still go on,” Keine says with a painfully forced smile. “Just let—… Just let me rest for a second.” “Keine—” “No, really, I am… I am okay.”
Reimu gives her a last, concerned look, then goes back to you. “… she is tired,” she tells you, ignoring her own soaked clothes and ruined hair. “… she says she is okay, but…” “Do you reckon she can still make it?” you ask. “I… don't know,” the shrine maiden replies, looking back at the wheezing Keine, “… I'll be blunt with you, I have never flown with her this far before. I can't… I can't tell how far she can make it in one go. Can you? Haven't you… you know, flown with her before?” “Me? Oh, I, uh… Only once, actually. I can't say a lot about it, though.” Mainly because she supposedly raped my memories of it shortly afterwards, you remark mentally. “So yeah,” you say, “afraid I haven't the slightest idea.”
Reimu grunts and bites on her thumb. “… damn it… how long have we been…?” “Something on your mind?” “Eh?” she murmurs. “Ah, I, um… I am just worried, you know? I don't want to… I don't want her to overexert herself. I know this is very important for her, but…” “So? Have you got any alternatives? We are in the middle of a forest. We cannot exactly make camp here, and the storm doesn't look like it's going to let up any time soon, you realise.” “I do realise,” she says with a grimace. “I was… I was just thinking…! How long have we been going?” “How long…? I didn't count, but… thirty-so minutes, maybe? Why?” “If I can believe in my senses, and if we have been going East all that time, there might… I mean, there SHOULD be a place nearby that I know.” “… a place?” “… a house,” she says, “a… a friend's house. I, uh… you know, I haven't visited there in a long time, but…” “… you reckoned we could pay a call and wait the bulk of the bull out.” Reimu nods. “… yes, kind of.”
Sighing, you tap a button on your radio. “Mokou?” you send out. “Come in, Mokou.”
“Mokou?” you try again. “Come in, this is me!”
“Mokou! Can you hear me?! Mokou! Come in!”
Still, not a sound.
“Oh, you piece of—!” you rip the plastic transceiver from your vest and almost throw it to the ground in frustration. “Good going, Kaguya! Thanks a bloody lot! Sodding hell…! Reimu!” you address the shrine maiden. “Can you—urgh—I don't know, wiggle your fingers and send out a magic wave or something and let her know what we're up to?” “… sorry,” she says. “… I, um, can't do that.” “… brilliant,” you click your tongue and mutter a couple of choice curses, “… simply brilliant! How come that every time I have to make a move, it seems that the whole world moves in to throw logs and dig holes under my feet?” “… it's not your fault.” “No,” you say, “I should hope it isn't. I may seriously have to consider locking myself up in a padded cell if it ever turns out otherwise.”
Keine totters up to you two, panting still, but determined. “I think that… I think that I can go,” she says. “Can you?” Reimu shoots you an urging look. “Shooter?”
[ ] “Sure, all right. Keine, we're taking a little, uh, detour. Do you reckon you mind?” [ ] “No. Sorry, I don't want any more delays. I worry for Mokou.”
>>32932 The part of me that is begging for "ALL OF MY LOVE FOR MOKOU" is screaming at me to forsake the world and give everything for our white maned goddess. But on the other hand, (electronics + shitty inclement weather = failure) * the prospect of "did you not believe me when I said I could handle myself?" is an equation that frightens me out of voting for "As stupid sounding as I look 99% of the time, I need you to take Keine to your friend's place while I will go out and try to locate my irascible compatriot before I devolve into a jibbering mass of ill-placed distress."
[X] “Sure, all right. Keine, we're taking a little, uh, detour. Do you reckon you mind?”
For once in a great while, I am going to presume that Mokou has got this shit on lock down. If/when I am proven wrong she is never leaving our fucking sight.
[x] “Sure, all right. Keine, we're taking a little, uh, detour. Do you reckon you mind?” Well, if Mokou does run into trouble, hopefully she will have a chance tear the amulet, so we at least know something is wrong. Or if nothing is wrong, and we do take a detour, she should be waiting for us at Eientei. Also, maybe the walkie-talkies will start working again, then she won't worry too much. So, lets put our faith in Mokou.
[x] “Sure, all right. Keine, we're taking a little, uh, detour. Do you reckon you mind?”
We don't know if Mokou hasn't taken shelter herself, or that Akyu hasn't coerced her into waiting out the storm if she's already at the village. She said she's slower than Keine & Reimu, so we should have time.
So, since I was suffering a nasty hangover today, I couldn't get a word of tits story done. On the other hand, I thought this might be a good occasion to answer some of you lovelies' questions! I call it the K&A section (that stands for Kut-Kus & Answers for you unversed folks!). So! Here goes nothing!
>>32878 >what is this I don't even It's the French! They changed the meaning of words! In reality, it's the English, since that phrase means the same (“trouble spot”) in French, Polish, and as far as I know Czech and Russian, so it's the English that screwed up! However, you will find that googling the phrase “neuralgic spots” yields some amusing results – or at least amusing in the context of this particular mistake. Seriously though, I dabble in too many languages, and I sometimes confuse them. Hopefully you'll forgive me. Sowwies~. >And that's why you're going to keep throwing us into the same situation until we pick the option you actually want to write about? Fine! Silly rabbit, I actually wanted to write the option that won the most! Better luck in the future! Pssst, this is the part where you cry out my name, followed by a boast of “I'll get you next time!” then cackling, then you flying off on a chopper while everything around it explodes! Get to it! Don't disappoint us!
>>32884 >Caaaawwwww You're learning! You'll be a gigantic pink chicken in no time!
>>32887 >There was a post here, but it's gone now. My posts are a time-limited offer! Also answer-to-one-get-one-free, but that's not as appealing as it sounds.
>>32916 >Moment of truth here, YAF ! >was there ever a chance of an Akyu route? Oh! You mean that! Gee, I was on the edge for a moment there—anyway, no, there weren't any initial plans of an Akyu “route,” as you call it. In all truth, there were no initial plans of any “routes” at all! Imagine that – a story with no “routes.” No “relationship points,” either! No character interaction, since it would have been pointless anyhow, no likeable protagonist, no love interest, and no clearly defined plot! Wonderful, isn't it! Such an orderly and pristine creation! I shall name it BLAIRCollaboration of MissiMemoria in Discall right, I kid. I like the last two! >is there a chance of an Akyu route? Oh, you silly billy, I just said there were no routes in MiD! ONLY RAILROADS! HA-HA-HA! Oh boy, I am SO funny! I caw myself up, I swear! Moving on, though – there were(are?) plenty of chances for more playing with the little lady, no? I was—still am—ready and willing to satisfy any and all little miss snarker needs you may have. I like her – a lot, actually. Everything needed wasis general consent (by which I mean a winning vote) towards submitting toindulging in her sardonic abuseaffable exploits in a long past and never to appear againfitting moment. See?
>>32917 >thats what Ai Ai Akyu is for Hmm, so what you're saying is… new AAA, with MiD's Akyu instead of the old (and bustedwait that wouldn't be true at all!) one? Hmm, but what would the name be? Another Akyu Adventure? Amicable Acid Akyu? Akyu And An Asinine Admirer? I have no idea!
Okay, that's it for now! Now, as for that update, I should be able to sit down and write soon, so expect me on—… wait, did you hear that? Here it goes again. Oh dear, is that…? Oh God! Oh God, oh dear! IT'S THE HUNTERS! AND THEY HAVE SONIC BOMBS!
SORRY, FOLKS! I'VE GOT TO FLEE! I WILL BE BACK THOUGH!
>>32939 BLAIR You just had to bring up the one time I, or anyone else for that matter, had an opportunity to employ the vaunted "cigarette kiss" to full effect, only to watch the entire endeavor spiral into destruction.
[X] “Sure, all right. Keine, we're taking a little, uh, detour. Do you reckon you mind?”
Complications are like breasts, you muse – one is too boring, three are too many; two strike a neat balance, but can vary in size, and it may very well turn out that even the theoretically perfect equilibrium may press on you heavily, no matter how lovely the weight. Keine going down with a respiratory disorder, however, would just tip the scales of snag to the kinky end.
“…sure,” you tell the goading shrine maiden, “all right, I suppose a little change of plans won't kill.” Reimu blows out like a steam locomotive, if the locomotive was tired and very relieved. “… thanks,” she gives you the most grateful of her tousled looks, “I worried you'd… you know.” “Insist? No, I… I can keep a stiff upper lip and all that,” you fib quickly. “I trust Mokou not to get in any grief, anyhow.” Reimu swallows the lie with a slight smile. “I wouldn't wager on that if I were you, you know.” “I may tell her you said that once we regroup.” “… I don't know that you need to…”
“… what…” your pale teacher squeezes in a puzzled question, “… what change of plans?” “Well, there was this tiny issue that we had,” you say as you turn to look at her pale, white face. “So we had to work our way around it some way.” Keine stares at you, perplexed. “… an issue?”
Yes, an issue, you think, a pretty little issue that has us all wired out of our minds for her pretty little behind.
“We're, uh, taking a small detour,” you decide to say instead. “Since you're in no condition to keep going, we reckoned we should pack it in and let you put your feet up for a quarter or three. I wouldn't mind a kip myself, either,” you add, “this weather is wrecking my nerves.” Not to mention all the bloody flying. “So,” you go on, “we thought we could crash at some place and let you get enough colour back that you don't look like a horror film prop reject. Do you reckon you're all right with that?” Keine continues to stare at you inquiringly. “Some place…?” she asks, “… but where… where are you thinking to go? We're in the middle of the—”
Reimu arrives to an answer first. “I know you won't like this a lot,” she advises first, “but if my hunch is right, Marisa's house should, you know, be around here somewhere – and if it is, we could—”
Keine almost goes out of her mind and stands beside. “YOU'RE NOT SERIOUS!” she cries, “I WON'T—! I CAN'T—!” “… I know,” says the shrine maiden, biting her lip, “I know that you don't like it, but… that's the closest place I can think of – and I don't want you to—no, I won't let you push yourself so hard when you look like you're about to faint!” Keine seems shocked by that. “… you… you won't ‘let’ me?”
Reimu gives a slow, careful nod. “… that's right,” she says, “I won't – and you can… you can't do anything about it, okay? I might… never have told you this before, but… I need you, you know… and I don't want to see you doing… bad things to yourself, you know? We're… We're, um…. that thing… that is…” she stops popping her fingers and inhales sharply, “… we're mother and daughter, right?! So don't lie that you're okay when you're obviously not!”
Keine jerks back, startled at the unexpected confession. “… you…” she babbles, sinking against the tree she was resting on before, “… but you're… we are… you can't…”
Reimu steps forward. “I love you, okay?” she presses on, her fists pushed tightly to her sides, quivering. “I might never… never have told you this before, but you're like a… you are a mother to me, okay? I said that I would help you—go with you—if you wanted me to, but… I am not going to just follow and do nothing when you're overtiring yourself over some… some stupid panicking!” Keine drops lower and lower, covering her mouth and mumbling through her palms. “… but I really can't…” “No,” the shrine maiden counters decisively, “Marisa won't… won't do anything to you. I can promise you that. If I still know her, she's probably forgotten about you a dozen times over.” “… and the other one?” asks the teacher, “what about the other one?” “… I don't know,” says Reimu, “but she… she was always a recluse – she shouldn't even know about you, let alone hold a grudge! It wasn't even you, anyway – they can't just put all the blame on you like that!” “… but they… they had to… because of me…” “So what? Marisa is my friend, she should listen when I ask her a favour! So what if she doesn't like you? If it's me, she won't have a choice but to take you in!”
Keine lets out a strangled noise, as if struggling with own thoughts. “… okay,” she mutters at last, “I'll… I'll go, but… give me a minute to… just—just let me calm down… please…?”
Reimu inclines her head wordlessly, then, having caught a firm grip on your wrist, retreats behind the wall of bushes circling the place in hurried, splashing steps, dragging you along like a wayward elementary schoolboy. Once out of the agonising teacher's sight, the heavily-breathing girl takes your cold hands in hers, and holds them to her chest.
“… I did it,” she mumbles, “I really did it…!” “… uh, that sort of hurts,” you try to tell her, “you're twisting my—” “Don't,” she cuts you off. “Don't move. Stay still for a few more seconds, please.”
So you do – you might need those wrists yet, after all.
Reimu takes a few more deep breaths, then lets out a stiff, broken laugh. “I did it!” she says. “I can't believe I did it!” “Did what, now?” “I told her!” she looks up and says. “I told her that I… you know!” “… let's assume I do.” “Silly, right? I… I never even realised that I—that I never told her that. Shooter, I…” her eyes glaze over, “… I, you…” “Reimu?”
Suddenly, she begins to blink furiously, both at you and her own hands clutching yours, and recoils away, a familiar kind of gasp escaping her lips. “Ah!” she jumps back, her face bright pink. “S—Sorry, I didn't—I just started thinking about stupid things, I didn't want to—!” “No, it's all right,” you tell her, kneading the aching joints. “Stupid things I pretty much live off, I can bear them.” “I was—I was just happy,” she explains nervously, “happy that I could… that I could say it, you know? If you weren't there, I don't know that I would be able to… Never mind!” she says, rubbing her palms in her cheeks. “I am just being irrational. I feel like… I feel like I could fly to the end of the Land and back, you know?” “… you might want to put that off, you realise.” Reimu laughs again, the same, jittery laugh. “I'm being stupid, I know,” she says. “I'm being stupid and I'm happy about it! I can't believe I am letting myself feel like this.”
“It's nothing too bad,” you tell her, “you get used to it after a while.” Somebody might call it growing up. “Seriously though, I'd hug you and give you a pat on the back and all, but we're both sort of sodden to the bone, so I reckon I will refrain from that for now.” “… yes, you're right,” she agrees concisely. “I'll… you know, try to relax a bit, too.” “Speaking of that, who exactly is the Marisa bird?”
Reimu shakes her blush off and assumes a straighter expression. “Marisa is—was,” she rectifies, “she was my friend, once. I told you about her – when you visited a few days ago – she is the one I told you didn't come see me any more. If I am right, she lives with another… friend, in a cottage around this area. I can't tell exactly where because of, you know, the storm, but…” “… and what is her issue with your mother dear over there?” Reimu sighs. “Marisa… Marisa thinks Keine isn't being fair about the situation in the Village – because she stayed there, even though she is a… a monster, kind of, and even though every other… monster was driven out. Marisa, she thought… she thought that Keine was behind it all, and that's why she lives out here, in the Forest – she didn't want to have anything to do with… with us, you know.”
“So, she is, uh, a monster as well?” “No, Marisa is a normal human… or, she was last I saw her.” “… last you saw her?” “Magic does… things to humans,” she explains in a gloomy voice, “and Marisa, she was always fascinated in magic. I could imagine that she moved away because of that, too – you know how people in the Village look at magic.” “… yeah.” “So, Shooter, if you could… you know, not mention that you're from the Village…” “… right-o,” you nod. “So where am I from, then?” “How about you live with me at my place?” “… at your place?” you repeat. “Won't that raise some uncomfortable questions?”
“… you're right,” she looks away and scratches her nose, “that it will…” “So?” She shoots you an embarrassed glance. “… could you just pretend that you're my… you know?” “No, I don't quite understand.” Reimu groans. “… you know, my, um… my… you know,” her voice drops to a whisper, “my boyfriend.”
“… oh.” “… can you?” she pushes, a brand-new blush painting on her face. “Or better, could you, you know, agree with what I tell her about us? It should be easier that way…” “And it will work?” “Marisa always had a strange… outlook, on love,” she explains. “If it's still the same Marisa that I used to know, she shouldn't pry if we just act like we're… you know, a couple.” “… all right,” you tell her, “I reckon that's doable. I even have some experience in the field, actually.”
Reimu gives you a wry smile. “I don't think I want to know.” “Fair enough. So, we easy to go?” “If Keine is, I don't see why not,” she says. “I want to get moving, too.” “I feel you. I hate flying from the bottom of my heart, but standing here freezing my antennae off isn't my idea of having a jolly good time, either. Care to take the lead? I'll be right on your six if you need additional support.”
Reimu nods and starts back for the flooded glade. “Ah, Shooter?” she stops then and half-turns. “One more… thing, if I can.” “I'm all ears. Go ahead.” “Don't, um…” she makes a strange face, “… don't tell Marisa that we're… that we're going to Moriya, okay?” “Why not?” “Just don't, trust me.” “… all right, I'll be careful.”
If you're already playing their game, you may as well try to abide by their rules.
“It's bigger than I remember.” “I never realised there was a bloody grange out here.” “Neither did I. It was just a small cottage last I saw it.”
Reimu touches down on the gravelled approach before the stone-walled, double-storey farmhouse and lets you take your own unsteady footing. Keine lands as well and joins at your side, grudgingly silent.
“I see lights inside,” Reimu says, leading you up to the sturdy-looking, metal-framed doors of the house. “Somebody ought to be home. Marisa?” she yanks on the huge brass knocker and calls. “Marisa, are you there? It's me, Reimu! Marisa!… Come on!” She bangs it again and mouths a curse. “I know you're in there! Marisa! Open up! It's me!”
Since you have little interest in watching her test the work of the builder of the place, you shield your eyes from the cutting rain and attempt to make out the rest of the farmstead – and you're not sure what to think of what you see.
Nobody, not even Keine, told you of this place before. Supposedly, the Village was about the only substantial civilised settlement in the Land—or leastwise according to her people—but this place, despite its remoteness, seems to have all that it needs for self-sufficiency – a vegetable garden by the house, an orchard spotted with fruit trees looming in the distance, a windswept field of crops stretching behind it, beyond the edges of your weakened vision. Several crofts lie scattered across the yard, although the animals are nowhere to be seen, probably hiding from the storm inside the tall barn that stands stalwart against the spate to the side.
Cosy sort of place, you think to yourself – if not a bit old-fashioned for a lay twit like yourself whose technical skill with a shovel comes down to poking the sharp end into the ground and staring at it in helpless confusion.
“Ah.” Reimu backs away from the opening door, nearly tripping over your boots. “Marisa. Hello. It's me.”
Marisa frames in the open doorway, backlit by the lamps inside the hall like an angel descending from heavens, seeming surprised by the identity of the would-be murderer of her front door. “Reimu,” she says, staring at the shrine maiden incredulously. “What are you doing here?”
Her hair, light and curly, is a dirtied shade of blonde, and it flows in cascades past her shoulders, along a nondescript bodice of plain black, and all the way down to an equally ordinary pair of dark hose; on one of her hands she wears a worn-out cooking glove, and in it, she holds a wooden spatula.
Reimu steps up and speaks a few words in a hushed voice. Marisa looks at her shortly, then turns to you and Keine.
“Kamishirasawa,” she greets the teacher with a neutral face. “It's been some time, huh?” Keine nods. “… it's been.” “And,” the blonde girl turns to you. “You are?” “Oh yes,” you gasp and reach out a hand. “Shooter. Name's Shooter. I am what you'd call a hunter.” Or an idiot. “I hunt. Sometimes.” “Marisa,” Marisa bares her teeth and promptly squashes your hand to the shape and consistency of a roadkill rabbit, “I'm what you'd call a witch. I do magic. Sometimes. I like your name.” “Cheers…?” “Come on then,” she ushers you inside. “Get in out of the weather.”
Huddling in the narrow foyer with your two dripping partners, you take a look at the décor of the witch's home.
However suggestive the title “witch” may be, she certainly doesn't live in a hovel. Gossamer curtains hang over the windows, keeping the outside glum well behind the glass. Chairs and sofas are swathed in throws and wraps, buried under mountains of pillows big and small, so that the hostess herself probably has no idea of the original shape of her furniture. In point of fact, the person Keine mentioned living in with the curly blonde bird may very well be under there somewhere – a lost housemate who one day got in the way of a wrap or a throw and has never been seen since.
Marisa appears out of the kitchen, bearing a bunch of towels and even more wraps. Your heart nearly skips a beat. “Do you want to take a bath?” she asks the two other girls. “We have a big tub, but there is only enough firewood left to warm the water once. Do you two want to go in together? I think you'll fit no problem.” Reimu has a different idea, though. “Shooter, you should go,” she tells you. “We'll just change and explain the situation, so you can take all the time you want.” “I can drip dry,” you say. “I've done it a lot before. Why don't you go?” “No, you should go,” she stands firm. “We'll be fine. Seriously, you go, you need it more. Get it?”
[ ] “No, you go. I'll dab myself on some rug and talk things over with your friend here. Don't worry, I'll try not to embarrass you. Not too much, at least.” [ ] “If you say so, very well… Keine, you play nice now, understand?”
>>32955 [X] “No, you go. I'll dab myself on some rug and talk things over with your friend here. Don't worry, I'll try not to embarrass you. Not too much, at least.”
New female, must flirt. First of all, I'd rather get the straight dope out of Marisa before Keine and Reimu have a chance get her worked up. Second, I got it stuck in my head that the first (and well deserved?) bath Shooter gets in a long time has to be with Mokou.
>>32960 If you're honestly asking, I reckon some of us were more vocal with our groaning when you made Shooter acquiesce to Reimu's fake boyfriend plan without putting it to a vote. Could be wrong though, but I certainly felt like rolling my eyes at that point.
[X] “If you say so, very well… Keine, you play nice now, understand?”
One of the first things that you learn as you come of age is that when a girl says “you need a wash,” she usually means it.
It is different from when you're growing up and your mothers says, “Sweetie, wear your long johns, you'll catch cold!” Once your body unwinds and stops toying with its charred DIY Human Chemistry set, you find that you actually have the right not to wear your johns to see if you do indeed catch a cold or not. Good mothers understand that it is a natural course of things; they let you run out into the hail in nothing but your chic band t-shirt and a pair of shorts, and hold the “I told you so”s back till your fever abates enough for them to be heard without setting off miniature nukes inside your skull.
Unlike heeding your mummy's advice, however, you don't grow out of taking a bath when a girl demands you bloody have one. No matter your apparent or factual age, you put on your best puppy face and drag your smelly arse to the bathroom. No arguing. No back-talking. No testing the consequences of a potential rebellion. It's like mind-control, only not as invasive – or not on your head, at least.
“Inside every adult there is a child that wonders what went wrong,” they say.
However old the mysterious “they” are, they couldn't be more correct.
“If you say so,” you give the shrine maiden a dignity-saving shrug. “Honestly, I thought I'd already got enough wet today, but all right. Hang it all, I may come to hate water in general if it goes on like this! Unless it's in a glass; water in a glass is a-okay by me. Otherwise, ugh…!” you underline your concerns with a sick shudder. “Ghastly.” Reimu finds your worries slightly less worrisome, and replies with an abashed scowl. “Very funny. Marisa,” she turns to the witch, “is that okay? I mean, it's your house, you know, and all…?” Marisa grins. “Oh man, am I hearing that right? Reimu? Skipping a bath? I never thought I'd live to see the day that happens!” “I don't want him to catch a cold.” Here we go again, you remark mentally. “Oh, there is no need to explain yourself!” says the blonde girl. “Of course, by that I mean not yet.” She flashes her red-white friend a naughty wink. “I'll let you have this and this then.” She hands her the bundle of cloths. “Go to the kitchen; I have a stove on, it's warm. Come along, Blaster,” she gestures at you, “I'll show you to the bathroom.” “Shooter,” you correct. “Shooter,” she nods, still showing off her teeth in that impish grin. “Did I tell you I liked the name?” “I'm not certain,” you tell her, “but I don't mind being told again. I don't get it often enough.” “I can't for the life of me see why. Come on, anyhow, this-a-way!”
“Sure. Keine,” you give the teacher a short look, “you play nice now, understood?” Keine stares at you for a couple of seconds before she complies. “… yes.” “Cracking,” you say and turn to the shrine maiden. “Don't let your head run away with you,” you tell her, “lest you might catch a cold.” Reimu glares at you somewhat irritably. “I know,” she says. “I'm not stupid, you know.”
If you are to leave here unmolested, she better hadn't.
Having waved the two a fast salute, you follow the witch's swishing locks to a straitening, plank-wallked bathroom on the back-side of the house. Hoses and pipes run across the also-boarded floor under one of the walls, from a tall, metal cylinder with a battery of dials and a fireplace near the bottom, to a slightly fusty, steel-fashioned bathtub, painted in exaggerated, bright gold, likely to fit the overly ornate knobs and golden tap.
Marisa spins around and studies your face as you walk in, beaming with undisguised pride. “How does it look?” “Unique.” That's one word for it. “I like the minimalistic approach.”
Satisfied with your choice of words, the witch hammers you in the back, then dances over to the cylinder, kneels, and begins to load the sooted fireplace with neatly-cut wood-pieces from the nearby—measly—stack. “I will start the boiler,” she says busily. “So, you can go ahead and get out of them togs, huh?” “I'd rather wait.” “What, are you afraid of something?” “Sort of.” “Me?” she gives you a sly glance. “Don't be, I won't jump you.” “I don't have a habit of stripping in front of girls I met five minutes ago.”
“Hmm.” Marisa stops, a thoughtful hum on her lips. “… five minutes ago?” she says to herself, a deep frown creasing her forehead. “Imagine that. I could have sworn you and I… Never mind,” she smiles again. “Don't you worry, pancakes, I won't tell Reimu. So get out of those clothes before you seriously fall ill. Hear me, Sniper?” “Shooter,” you say and sigh. “Very well, then. Do or die, bloody hell…”
Seeing no other choice, you drop your baggage and peel your clinging habits off, all the way down to the underpants.
Marisa tops off her work on the fire, and, dusting her palms, skips back to you. “It will make a popping sound,” she jerks a thumb at the huffing contraption. “Oh, and the arrows may go a little crazy, so if you see them going a little crazy, turn them shutters up and that should put them flames down a bit. Do you need clothes?” “No. I have my own, thanks all the same.” “Aww,” she moans, disappointed. “Here I thought I could trick you into a dress or something.” “… I wouldn't like that.” “I would, though!” she laughs and starts to pace around you, eyeing you up and down, possibly planning to take pictures and sell them to teenage girl magazines for extra profit. “Scrawny here and there, a bitty bit,” she comments, “but you're rather good, aren't you? Who would have thought?” “Pardon?” “Don't be coy, boy,” she beams. “I know she may be a little hard to bridle, but she is still a prize, don't you think?” “Who is, now?” “Reimu, you big tyke, who else?” “Oh,” you manage to keep your surprise at bay. “Did she, uh… tell you, already?”
“No!” Marisa makes another wide grin. “I made a guess! Oh man, but who would have imagined Reimu would angle such a pretty cookie?” “Didn't you just say she was cute herself?” “Oh yes,” she says, crossing arms on her chest, “but man, she's never, ever before laid her eyes on a guy – let alone a hottie like you. Can you believe that?” “… I don't reckon I can.” “How about never, ever, except for one time?” “Can't do.” “Two times?” “Nope.” “Two times and an arranged marriage?” “I don't think so.”
Marisa giggles. “You're too hard to please!” “Not normally, I'm not,” you tell her. “I am just sort of on the cold side right now, you realise.” Not to forget, there's a bloody witch here, of all things. “Hmm,” she croons, “you could be cold, now that you say it. Well, I guess you'll just have to wait for that pop, then. Unless you want me to fetch Reimu and have her warm you up?” “I reckon I'll pass—ack?!” “Didn't think so!”
Marisa bounces out through the door, her rippling laughter ringing in your suddenly hot ears.
“HEY!” you shout after her. “Don't slap my butt like you bloody own it!”
Obviously, she doesn't answer.
Grunting a few special oaths under your nose, you close the door, tiptoe to the puffing boiler and scan the rampaging dials. Needlessly – the labels are all but gibberish that could very well be saying “estimated time to explosion” for all you know. If “estimated time to explosion” can be symbolised by what seems like a piece of uncut hedgerow.
Nevertheless, the crackling flames having an orgy in the fireplace flash an idea to your head. Quickly, almost too quickly for your naked feet, you go for your discarded equipment, and dig out the radio; then, having checked the battery and double-checked the frequency, you take a deeper breath.
Several moments pass and no response sounds.
“Mokou?” you send again, unwilling to give up. “Mokou, can you hear me?”
“I just met a cute girl and now I'm not wearing anything!”
Not even that helps.
“… God damn it!”
Galled, you throw the radio back in the heap of clothes.
Swearing, a sense of defeat creeping over your mind, you lean on the side of the tub and rap a few spastic notes on the resounding metal. “Mokou can take care of herself,” you keep tell yourself, and yet, your body refuses to unbend. Having her near for so long muse have spoiled you, you deduce. How else to explain it? You could go without her for days—weeks, even—when you still worked for the Village; you would even wish silently that she wasn't there, waiting on your bunk with a mischievous smirk on her face when you got home.
And now, you're missing her already.
How blooming silly is that? It hasn't been even hours since you parted, and yet, you're starving to see her again. Mokou can take care of herself, you know that much. Still, you're ill at ease at best. What if the storm caught her over some dangerous parts and she was forced to take shelter with a sleeping bear or worse? What if she got stalled at the Village, either by the little devil lady or something else, and is now stuck there with all the ignorant clodhoppers? What if she overexerted herself rushing to the Clinic, bent on meeting up with you as soon as possible, and ended up fainting mid-air from fatigue?
“What if I'm being a bloody moron?”
Solid theory, that.
So, just to reinforce it, you snatch a leg of your soaked trousers and swing it mightily in your face.
“AUGH!” you howl, clutching at your eye. “OUCH! OW! SHITE! FUCK ME! FUCK ME IN THE ARSE!” On that cue, you hear the boiler let out a cheerful “pop” in comment of your poor aim. “WELL, THANKS A BUNCH!” you snarl at it over your shoulder. “Off by a bloody second! How about you hurry the blasted fuck up next time! Wanker!”
Nonetheless, your nerves wane a little bit.
Cursing may be a lowly form of venting frustration, but so long as done in private, should not bring too heavy a shame on your tattered reputation. He who trims himself to everybody's liking only whittles himself away, and if the blonde witch has something against your preventing your premature nervous breakdown, she may as bloody well go to the devil and book you a bed somewhere in the cuckoo district.
“… why must I have gotten the worst Lady Luck ever?” you grunt, resigned. As though in response, the boiler emits a long, threatening hiss. “I GET IT!” you growl at it, grimacing. “I'll stop, all right? I won't badmouth you any more.” Not out loud, at least. “God, why can't we just get along like normal man and deity? Okay, look now. If you would be so kind as to let me take this bath without me having a seizure and drowning, I would be precious grateful. How about it?”
The boiler continues to stand there, not giving any definite answer.
Once done watering your troubles down, you towel yourself dry, glean your gear, leave the bath, and, like a boar after truffles, follow the scents to the sultry kitchen.
Standing by the window, resting against the sill is Reimu; her fingers fiddle with the sash of a carmine bathrobe, and she looks out into the dull grey of the deluge outside, melancholy. Keine, her chin propped on her hands, sits at the table, her eyes closed – dozing off, or simply trying to avoid conversation. Marisa, humming a cheerful tune in her sparkly voice, jumps from the stove to a food-loaded kitchen top and back, before she finally notices your coming in.
“How was it?” she asks. “I didn't drown,” you say, putting your luggage down and drawing up a chair. “That's good, I assume?” “Great, actually. I feel like a newborn baby.” “Glad to hear that,” the witch shows off her happy teeth-line again. “What do you want to eat? We've pork, we've some chicken, we've lots of rice, some fish…” “I'll go with what's the easiest to chew, thanks.”
“He is cheap to feed, isn't he?” she pokes the shrine maiden. “I guess that's a help, huh?” Reimu makes a sour kind of face. “… that's not funny, you know.” Marisa chuckles. “I kid! So, that'll be plates for four, huh? I can't recall the last time we had a full table for dinner.” “Alice isn't going to come down to us?” “She's asleep,” explains the witch. “She sleeps during the day nowadays. She says she thinks better at night.” “I can sympathise,” you throw in edgeways. Reimu sighs. “And you're okay with that?” Marisa considers before giving an answer. “Hmm, I guess I am,” she says. “I have a lot of work with them animals and vegetables and fruit-trees, anyway. I hardly have the time to feel lonely. And I can always stay up late if I want to.” “Good for you…”
“How are you?” you ask the teacher while the two girls resume their chat. “Do you think you'll be able to reach the Clinic?” Keine opens her eyes, looks at you shortly, then closes them again. “… I'm okay,” she says in a muffled voice, “but I don't know if—” “About that,” Reimu interrupts. Ostensibly, you weren't nearly discreet enough. “Marisa says the rain isn't going to stop any soon.” You lift a brow at the blonde girl. “You can tell?” “I have a way with telling,” she says with a smile. “Once it starts going down, it can go on for days. It's because of the Forest; the air is cooler here, you can feel if you fly, and it rains a lot more around here than out in the plains. I feel it might let up a bit in the evening,” she adds, “but I wouldn't say flying in the dark is your best idea. Monsters come out at night, and they can be super-nasty if you happen on a hungry one.” “Can't you handle that?” you direct the question at Reimu. “I'm only human, you know,” she says tartly, “I can't see too well in the dark. If you have some kind of light, I could maybe try and fight, but…”
“Tell you what,” Marisa chimes in. “Since this is an emergency, I will let you stay in for the night. What say you?” “Won't the Alice person mind?” you frown. “If she comes out at night and sees me napping on the couch, she might feel a tittle confused, don't you reckon? And I find confused women don't usually make for forgiving company.” Keine twitches slightly at the remark. “I guarantee she will at least try to find out who you are before she eats you,” the witch says jokingly. “Alice is a good girl, don't you know. She won't get angry with you or anything.” “And you're positive this isn't merely a passing cloudburst?” “I've lived out here for a long time, cookies; I know my weather like I know my own bloomers. That's very good, if had any doubts.” “Splendid,” you mutter. “Keine? What do you think?”
Keine doesn't reply, only wriggles slightly in her seat.
“Seems to me you're in charge here, pancakes,” Marisa observes. “Sarcastically.” “So, what's your call, big boss?”
[ ] “I don't want to keep anybody waiting. Sorry. We're going on our way as soon as we've rested. I appreciate the offer, though.” [ ] “I reckon I have little choice but to take you up on that. We'll try not to be too big of a bother, I promise.”
Does she really have bad night-vision? Or is she using that as a pretense to drag out this 'check out my new boyfriend' game she's got going? Because between canonically fighting off countless youkai at night and defeating Mystia and Rumia, both of whom have darkness-related power, I'm not seeing these major risks. If she can't see well, then she can let Keine lead, who is half-hakutaku and no pushover herself.
Now, what good is Shooters military tech background if he doesn't have nightvision goggles or so much as a flashlight? He's supposed to be this hotshot youkai hunter. Fuck, he could probably break into Kourindou and steal something if need be.
>>32976 >Because between canonically fighting off countless youkai at night and defeating Mystia and Rumia Amusingly enough, those boss battles are the scenes in the original games where it's made clear that she does have poor night vision canonically. Go check the scripts, especially Mystia's.
[X] “I don't want to keep anybody waiting. Sorry. We're going on our way as soon as we've rested. I appreciate the offer, though.”
Decisions become easier when your will to please yourself begins to outweigh your will to please everybody else.
“Big boss would rather not keep people waiting,” you tell the witch. “So yes, we'll be going on our way soon as we've rested.” Marisa twirls her spatula on a finger. “Oh well,” she says, tapping it lightly on her shoulder. “Why the hurry, by the way?” “We have an appointment with somebody and I'd loathe to miss it.” “Ah, and with whom, if I may know?” “I can't tell.” “Can't?” “I was asked not to.” “Oh.” Marisa looks put out. “Sorry,” you apologise, “I appreciate the offer, but this is urgent stuff.”
Reimu makes a waspish face. “Don't you suppose that is kind of, you know, ungrateful?” “I realise that,” you say. “And God knows I hate to pass your friend here up, but we've had enough delays. I've had enough delays. I feel that if we don't move on, we'll be stuck here for the next couple of weeks.” “Don't be stupid, we won't—” she starts. “Never mind,” you tell her. “I don't mean to sound like a drone,” you assure the blonde witch, “though that's probably exactly how I sound right now, but I gladly would have taken you up and been deliriously happy about it, if not for our circumstances. Honestly, you're one of the franker persons I've met in this place, and I'd love to stay and chew the rag, but we really are precious pressed for time. Can you ever forgive me?”
Marisa puts her hands up defensively. “Come on, don't say that! I wouldn't be myself if I harboured a grudge over something like that!” “How about this, then?” you propose. “If we ever bump into each other, I promise to do what's in my strength to make up for it. ” “Oh please,” the witch laughs. “Don't you bother yourself with me, cookies. He is hard to please,” she says to the scowling shrine maiden, “but he sure likes to please others a lot, doesn't he?” Reimu gives you a long, stubborn look, then sighs. “He does,” she admits. “It drives my head hot sometimes, you know?” “I feel I should make a smart comment,” you say. “No, you don't need to make anything at all.” “If it pleases you, all right.” Seems like nothing's outweighing anything in the nearest future.
“See?” the shrine maiden says to her blonde friend. “He always does that.” “He must be fun to hang around,” grins the witch. “Well, anyway, you needn't fret about bumming off of us, pancakes,” she tells you lavishly. “We've more than we could eat, and you'd really better trouble yourself about coming up with ways to gentle your little girl if you're going to make her fly in that rain. And them better be good ways, too – you wouldn't believe how stiff-necked she can be at times.” “I've had some taste of that,” you say. “I'll suss how to soften that neck if I have to.”
“Would you two quit talking about me like I'm not here?” Reimu slams her first on the sill, irritated. “Marisa, your stew is boiling, you should take the lid off, you know?” “Oh dear!” Marisa gives a small gasp and jumps back to the stove. “Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!” She grabs the lid with her bare fingers, and, with a great clatter, drops it to the floor. “Ouch! Tsk!” She bends down to pick it up, but then the pot begins to seethe. “Oh, give me a break!”
Reimu plies that opening; she waves you an on-the-quiet “get your arse up” sign, then withdraws briskly out of the kitchen.
Given the choice between watching a winsome farm-girl swish her hips hassling with her cooking, and enduring the red-hot glare of a fussing shrine maiden, you go for the patently superior option.
Quickly as well, you follow the rustling red bathrobe and its contents out into the hall.
“What the hell were you thinking?!” The angry carmine eyes assail you as soon as you're out of the witch's earshot. “I told you I didn't want her to overexert herself! Can't you remember?! I wanted her to rest! Why didn't you agree to stay?! We're not even in a real hurry!” “No,” you say, “you're not in a hurry. I am.” “What are you talking about?!” “Keine wants to get to Moriya, yes. I took it up to escort her there, true as well. We didn't agree on any solid deadline, either.” “So why?! Would one freaking night hurt you so much?!” “Calm down,” you advise. “I don't know that Keine cares about a timetable, but I have own concerns, you realise.”
Reimu backs off, biting her lip. “… Fujiwara can take care of herself, you know.” “I should hope so,” you say, “but do you know something? I don't trust her.” “… you what?” “I don't trust her,” you state again. “Sure, I've had a load of chances to witness her capabilities, all right. Hell, she's even kicked my arse, too, on a number of occasions. If not me, my lower body's painfully aware that she's a strong girl. Still, I don't trust her at all.” “… you're not making sense.” “It's quite simple,” you explain patiently. “I want to have her at my side. I want to be there when she makes an important decision. I want to rein her back when she sets her mind on something silly. I want to do those silly things in her stead – because I don't trust her with herself, if I must put it in rude terms. Do you see what I'm trying to say here?” “… you don't have to worry about her, you know.” “I do all the same.” “She wouldn't like it.”
“I know,” you say, “and tell you what, she may whinge at me about it all she wants when we get back together. Now look, I realise this is idiocy, that she could do in an army of rabid elephants if she so felt inclined and all that, but I reckon we've already established I am a sort of idiot, yes?” Reimu says nothing. “I love that I put this question forward and you suddenly fall silent,” you give her a little smile. “Either way, I won't lie, I have some rather strong feelings for that girl and I would be rendered useless if something were to do her any harm. Do you understand? Keine requires my help; that makes me sort of pivotal to her plans—whatever they might be—and, to keep me nice and dandy, she has to respect any demands that I might have. It's the sort of open-and-aboveboard way of cheating favours out of each other people usually call ‘doing business.’ Keine and I are doing business, and it's my turn to have a favour, is all.”
Reimu stares at you, incredulous. “Doing business?” she repeats. “It's just business to you? Do you even know what's going on here?” “I believe I do.” “And yet all you worry about is that girl! How can you be so cold about it?!” “I'm not cold.” “You are! You're not even upset about what Keine's going through!” “Calm down.” “No, I won't! You don't even care!” “Reimu.” “I can't believe you! I thought you were better than that!” “Hold my hand.” “What?” she blinks at you madly. “What the hell for, now?” “Just do it.” “What for?!” “Do you know how to take a pulse?”
“No!” the shrine maiden shakes her head fervently. “I don't know anything like that!” “Hold my hand, then,” you tell her. “Hold it, then press your thumb on the underside of my wrist.” “… you're not serious!” “I am serious – or my name isn't Shirley.” “… what?” “Never mind. Habitual joke.” “… you're ridiculous.” “If you hate me so much, why don't you take my bloody hand, already, and let us be done with it?”
Hesitantly, she does.
Her skin is cool, you note. Startlingly cool.
“… what now?” “Oh yes,” you say. “Can you feel the throbbing?” “… yes.” “Good. Get the other one around your heart, then.” Reimu slides her free hand reluctantly in a slit in her robe. “… and?” “Compare the beats.” “… what?” “Since your heartbeat goes through the roof when you're anxious, and since you say I've mainly got Mokou on my mind, mine should be going more or less going bonkers right about now, yes? Go ahead, compare it with yours.” “… they feel about the same to me.” Fancy that. “Okay, roger that. Now, I will give a thought to Keine and her predicament. Give me a tick to get it started… Here. How is it?” “… still the same.” “Strange. How about we try you next?”
Reimu recoils as though hit by a speeding truck. “Don't think about me!” “It's sort of hard not to, when you're holding my hand and groping around in your clothes.” “I wasn't groping anything!” “No, you weren't,” you agree. “I simply wanted to get your blood going. You're awfully chilly.” “That's because of the weather, you stupid moron!”
“I realise,” you exhale. “And I realise as well that whilst I sat and steamed the cold out of my buns, you had to make do with a couple of rags and a bloody stove. I wouldn't have had it that way, either, but you sort of made it a point to insist. I don't reckon it'd do any good to regret that now, though.” “… probably not.” “I thought you might see it that way. In return, I will share with you a little secret. If you want me to, that is.” “… what is it?” “Something is cropping up behind the scenes,” you say. “Something that I can't help but greatly dislike. Something nobody thought essential to inform us about. Or inform me about, if we're to take my paranoia and play along. Nobody ever informs me of anything.”
Reimu lours at you, leery. “… you're being cynical.” “No,” you reply, “I am being an optimist that's been wrong too many times. Don't be mistaken; as do you, I love Keine, and I will do whatever it takes to get her to Moriya, but being jerked about like a pawn on a board, not knowing what comes off two squares away is wearing very tired very fast. I wouldn't mind being played, if I knew the player's end goal. As for now, I will enjoy my little rebellion. Go and get Keine for me, would you kindly? I have some things to say to her, too. Meanwhile, you can dig up some change of clothes, because we're buggering out as soon as we've eaten and let it settle in.”
“… she trusts you, you know,” says the shrine maiden. “Astonishing. I wouldn't trust myself if my life was hanging in the balance.” “Stop that. She thinks you're important.” “She'll need to tell me that again; in person, preferably.” “Can't you believe in her?” “I'd much rather make smart remarks. Mokou usually soaks up most of those, so you might have to fetch her before you try and wring belief out of my sodden brains. Now, call Keine out here and give your magical friend something to occupy her head whilst we hammer out our differences here.” “I still don't think this is a good idea, you know.” “Don't be too shocked, but for once, I don't care in the slightest. Go and get her, before I lose patience and make you, like I made you do other things.”
Reimu faces the warning without a hint of customary blush. “We'll need to talk about that, too, you know,” she says. “We might have to, eventually.” “We will.”
And then, straight as a die, she flits back into the kitchen.
Surprises must come in pairs these days, you muse. Hopefully it isn't surprise close out day today.
No. 32984 File 130235239724.jpg - (101.99KB, 288x499, Have you seen this face.jpg) [iqdb]
A few moments after, Keine joins you in the passage, her expression stilted.
“What is it?” she asks. “I will be short. Did you meddle just then?” An alarmed wince freezes on her face. “… what—what do you mean?”
“Don't play coy with me, Keine,” you say. “I refuse to swallow that a person you were in hysterics not to meet would let you crash at her place without a gripe so readily. I will reiterate. Did you do anything to her when I was in the bath?” “No! I wouldn't—! How can you say that?!” “Keine.” Keine knots her hands around her waist and begins to squirm anxiously. “… but—but I didn't…! Shooter, is—” she looks up “—is your eye red? Did—Did something happen? Do you need ice?” “… that's one of the poorer attempts at change of topic I've heard latterly,” you give her a flat look. “It is red,” you add, “though I don't reckon this is the best time for talks about my self-mutilatory tendencies. Quit trying to lead me astray and tell me what you did.” “I'm not trying to—to lead you astray!” she almost squeals. “I really have no idea why she wants us to—!” “Do you want me to cop an attitude and beat it out of you?”
Keine shrinks almost visibly at the words. “… what are you…?” “I realise you're older,” you continue coolly, “more experienced, too, and a lot more skilled, obviously. Of course, I would never even have half of the suspicions I do about you if I hadn't found out what you truly are like I did—by dint of pure chance—but did you notice something? I am still a tad taller and bigger than you are – that gives me a sort of an edge against you, doesn't it?” “… you're not serious!” “If I had a penny for every time somebody said that to me,” you grunt, “I feel I'd have had twice my weight in copper by now. Either way, I've about had it with being tugged around by the nose and your conspiratorial secrecy. I want in, Keine – and I want in NOW.” “But—!” “Very well, then. I'm not going.”
Keine gapes at you, stupefied. “… you're what?” “I'm not going to Moriya,” you tell her blandly. “As I see it, you don't need me for anything at all.” “Shooter, you're—!” “Useless, I realise,” you cut in. “You're much more versatile than I am. You can use magic. You can louse up people's heads if you run into bigger trouble. You can FLY, for God's sake! Aren't I slowing you down a great deal? Here you go, then. I take all I told you last night back; you can go on on your own, if you bleeding please to. We're through.” “Shooter, you can't leave me!” “How am I doing it no problem, then?” “But you are—!” “I don't give a flying damn what I am!” you hiss. “We're over, you understand? We're splitting up.” “Shooter!” she cries. “Please, you must not—!” “Don't even try, Keine.”
Nearly in tears, the beautiful teacher throws herself at you, closing her arms around your shoulders, squeezing so hard you can barely breathe. “I beg you!” she sobs. “I wasn't going to…!” “I am numb, Keine.” “Please! Don't do this to me!” “Give me one reason not to.” “I… I need you!” Her nails dig painfully into your back. “I told you, I need you to be at my side! I didn't do anything to her memories, I swear! I only… only…!” “Only what?”
“I just…” she shivers, “I made her not notice me, that's… that's all!” “… you can do that?” you ask, mistrustful. Keine rubs her forehead in your chest, left and right, still grasping at your clothes. “… yes, but… that is all I can do, honestly…!” “She knows you are here, though.” “… yes,” she nods, “she does, but… she doesn't think that it's very important to pay attention to me. I can't—can't change memories that I don't know about! I can't even begin to guess at what she's been up to until today! I can't touch her! Shooter, please…!” she whimpers. “Don't—Don't do this to me! I waited for so long for somebody like you! Don't do this! I need… I need you, so—!”
“See, that wasn't so hard.”
Keine stiffens when you put a hand on her head and run your fingers through her hair. “Sh—” she hiccups, “—Shooter?” “It worked last time,” you force a genteel tone, more for your own sake than anything. “I reckon we all need a little being yelled at in between spurs of false maturity. It does tend to rid of the sillier dampers on our relationships, wouldn't you say?” “… you…” “Yes, I realise,” you say, “I am all sorts of beastly.” “… Shooter…” “Hmm?” “… you're shaking.” “Me? No way.”
Yes way – you are.
If it didn't outright shave a good couple of years from your planned lifespan, it at least ruined your ability to stand upright. Should Keine let go of you right now, you will probably melt down to the bone and sit on the floor as a puddle of goo till somebody scoops you up and flushes you down the sink.
“Either way,” you press on, not giving time for your fears to take root, “I'd much prefer if you told me of any ongoing meddlings from now on. It'd spare me a lot of grief if I could prepare for any conk-outs that might happen on us on the road… trail… air passage, whatever. Would you please?”
Keine pulls back a bit, sniffles, and stares at you with glittering eyes. “… but you…” she almost whispers, “… don't you find it…” “Oh yes,” you muster your last strength to sound offhand, “it is absolutely repulsive, if you must have the truth. If I never hear about it again, it'll be too soon.” “… sorry.” “Never mind,” you sigh. “I'll cope with my prejudices on my own time. Now then, there was another thing. Keine,” you look at her more gravely, “if you know,” or arranged for, “any sort of unpleasantries Mokou might chance on in the Village, you might want to confess, you realise. I care for that girl somewhat, and I may quite seriously have to reconsider my threats if… well, you've likely figured how I would feel if I found somebody had maltreated her in this way or that, yes?”
“… yes,” the teacher says weakly, “but nothing… nothing should… nothing will happen to her. Akyu had promised that… that she would send her after us as soon… as soon as they reached the Village.” “Great.” Somehow, that puts some ease in your unease. If the little lady had indeed said that, Mokou shouldn't be too far behind. “Even fewer reasons to stay, then. Can you make it to the Clinic this round, do you think?” “I will… I will try, but… Reimu may—” “Reimu I have talked with already,” you say. “I was rather firm about it, so I reckon she might feel disposed to take some sort of revenge, but… that's between me and my aviophobia to wrangle out.” “… sorry.” “What's that?”
Keine looks aside, embarrassed. “… that I can't carry you. I have to use my own power to fly, while Reimu—” “I realise; Mokou made it a point to let me know of that.” “Shooter?” “Yeah?” “If we… ever find time, would you…” “Would I…?” “Would you—”
“Heads up, the table's laid!”
Keine jerks away from you suddenly when Marisa's beaming face pops out of the corner of the kitchen's door.
“Oh dear,” says the witch. “Did you need one more minute, Boomer?”
“Shooter,” you correct almost absently. “No, we're about done.”
“Good, good,” she flashes you an impish wink. “Come along then, pancakes; them foods are getting cold.”
>>32987 it might be hard for someone to stop doing relatively small(from her viewpoint like this "not noticing her properly") things completely immediately if they used to do it for a long period of time, but I don't see the point of constantly doubting every single word she says, we've called her out on her "secrets" twice or was it thrice by now? I've lost count, but the point is, I don't think keine is gonna lie to us anytime soon, unless we stumble into a way bigger secret than we've already seen here.
Once more, the two flying girls—and, by extension, you—fling themselves through flogs of rain, whipped by the wind, doused constantly from above as well as below, like rising from a leaking water-bed on Monday morning after Easter.
Clenched teeth, buttocks, and all, you continue to clasp to Reimu's shoulders, hypothetical discomforts and invasion of private space being next to the last issues on your mind. Obviously, the irritable shrine maiden paid your pleads of “Gently!” about as much heed as one would pay a coquetish rich-boy's come-ons a day after burying her—or his, not to discriminate—pet ratter Fido – her start was brutal, her relentless breaking of what seems one sound barrier after another is doing unspeakable horrors to your stomach, but despite all that, she keeps her hold on you strong – unwilling, apparently, to let you live up to the affectionate name that Marisa gave to you just yet.
Stingily, you jot a note in your mental agenda to thank her for that later – preferably after you have landed and your bowels have stopped playing skip rope with your kidneys.
Speaking of Marisa, the outspoken farm-girl very nearly did you in herself when she made small conversation with you and the shrine maiden over the early dinner. Keine, who had until then remained almost gravely silent, asked out of nowhere—on an impulse, perhaps—for somebody to pass her a clean napkin – and the first to spring to her aid was the young witch. She even grinned at the teacher welcomingly as she handed her the thing. Keine didn't comment, however, and the blonde girl promptly went back to her cheerful twittering about her visions of your and Reimu's purported love life.
Still, it gave your complacency a rather nasty shake.
Squinting from the current, you glance back at the following Keine.
Having eaten and rested, your beautiful accomplice seems no longer to have much problem braving the storm. Bitterly, you realise the reason for her near-collapse from before. Eager to set off like two bombs on the Parisian underground, neither of you remembered to toss some fuel in along with your primers. Stupid, yes, but somehow you cannot think of anything more adequate to spell your premature retirement from the oxygen circulation.
Mokou might be hungry when she catches up, you ponder idly.
“Reimu!” you call over the current. “How much left to go?!” “We're halfway there!” she shouts back. Her arms squeeze you once; she forgot she was supposed to be angry with you. “Everything okay?!” she asks nevertheless. “How are you holding up?!” “Barely!” you reply. “Keine's all right, too!” you add. “So don't turn, or I might spit up my guts!”
Once you leave the bulk of the leafed thicket behind you, however, and the trees begin to mingle with stout rods of green bamboo, the weather starts to gradually clear.
The rain abates enough to allow vision of more than just the tip of your nose. The wind, too, dies away, now more the natural flow of speeding through the skies at Mach two rather than the merciless tidal waves of air from before.
“Seems like your friend was exalting somewhat,” you point out to Reimu. The shrine maiden gives you a short, annoyed look, then nods her chin over her shoulder. “No, it's still raining back there, you know. We just got out from under the worst of it.” “Same thing to me, one way or the other.”
Soon, the Clinic looms in the mist, and Reimu nudges you in the side.
“Here we are!” she exclaims with a certain degree of relief.
And then, a human meteor gone mental, she dives straight for the front entrance.
The two of you land on the gravelled approach with a great noise of grating pebbles and gagged swears.
Keine taps down next to you, breathing heavily, but at least standing fairly straight, which cannot be said of your humble self.
“We are here,” Reimu tells her, her face serious. “How are you feeling?” “I'm… okay.” “I didn't go too fast?” “No, it's… it's okay, really.” “… great.” The shrine maiden turns to you. “Shooter, you go first. I don't know how to… you know.” “Sure,” you manage to drawl out. “Sure, bloody hell…”
Holding back the urge to retch, you hammer down the front door, stumble inside, and unceremoniously collapse on the cold reception desk.
“Get Kaguya,” you tell the startled nurse behind it. “And a pail, if you please. A big, tight pail. I don't want to dirty your floors.”
Some time later, you emerge from the shower, a towel around your head and bodily warmth returned to your blood.
Kaguya's room is exactly as tidy as you remembered it – not tidy at all. Scraps of lunch paper and wrappings are still strewn ubiquitously across the carpet and the cluttered table in the middle, and the bed is as unmade as your enthusiasm was when you found out Mokou hadn't yet arrived at the place. The Princess herself sits cross-legged amidst the chaos, engaging in loud war-making on the TV screen again.
You're getting flashbacks to when you first stepped into this room.
“How are you, Tiger?” Her Highness asks without prying her eyes from her virtual conquers. “I got to keep my dinner,” you say. “I'll never get used to flying, I feel.” “Oh, don't be so negative.”
Contemplating the way she taps the buttons on a wireless controller, you tiptoe through the sea of rubbish and sit on the bed.
Kaguya didn't forget her affection for you, fortunately; as soon as she heard you were waiting for her in the lobby, she rushed down the stairs, not even bothering to dress in anything presentable. She put the two other girls in the nurses' care while she took you to her own room and gently probed for an explanation.
And then she stripped you and forced you to take a long, hot shower.
“I had a quarters put in order for you,” she says, “the same as the last time.” “Thanks.” “Do you remember the way?” “I should still, yes. Mokou didn't show up whilst I was washing, by chance, did she?” “Not that I know of,” Her Highness says. “Aw, crappit.” She clicks her tongue when her on-screen character tumbles to the ground in a fountain of fake-looking blood. “Anyway, I get the gist of it. I had somebody put Kami—I mean, Keine—and Reimu in another room. We'll think what to do with this situation later, when Eirin is back from her shift.” “All right.” “Why don't you go and lie down for a while?” Kaguya cranes her neck to look back at you. “You seem tense.” “That's because I am,” you say. “Well, there you have it, then. Go lie down, Tiger. I don't want you fainting or falling ill. Relax for now. I'll come by later.” “When Mokou turns up?” “For instance, yes. Well?” she gives you a warm smile. “You're going to go or will I have to carry you myself?”
As fun as talking with her NEETness usually is, I'd rather Shooter be rested and ready for the worst before Mokou arrives/news of her situation is revealed.
I was genuinely confused over Keine's ability to brave the storm after our pit-stop at the MariAli estate, but after rereading (for the fourth time) the incredibly awkward analogy to IEDs did it finally sink in. I can't help but wonder what Akyu had to say to the gentle school marm to get her so distraught. That is, if this wasn't already something she wasn't upset over (but I have to imagine it was the little miss since we only ever got the chance to vote about what to do this morning after Akyu arrived).
Having a flock of them fluttering in your belly is nothing to agonise about. Some would say they are a physical sign that you're keen and prepared to take action. The actual problem is how to make them fly in a tactical formation and stop bumping into each other like a herd of tiddly high-schoolers in a discotheque. A jam in your stomach may keep you on the move, but it is calm faith that makes the best boot-soles.
And since you have no faith yourself, you are pressed to pinch some from somebody else.
“I want to talk,” you tell the princess. Her Highness purses her lips a little. “I rather thought you might. Don't you want to take a bit of ease, however? I did kind of have to bear you up here on my own shoulders, you are aware?” “Yes. Sorry.” “Don't be – you would have done at least the same for me, yes?” “… I did promise.” Kaguya whines quietly. “I wished you had forgotten about that. I cannot begin to describe how embarrassed I was.” “Sorry.” “Again with that?” she asks. “Moko took care of it for both of us, Tiger. If you absolutely want to be sorry, be so for her, not me. Although—” she taps a thoughtful finger on her chin, “—now that I say it out loud, you probably shouldn't.” “I'll take my chances.” “I will buzz the emergency room, then, and tell them to stay up tonight, yes?” “… Kaguya.” “I joke.” She smiles again. “I'd nurse you myself, of course, my dear knight.” “… Kaguya, please,” you groan. “I'm seriously not in the mood.”
Her Highness shrugs her shoulders theatrically. “Ah well,” she breathes out. “Another time, perhaps. So—” she turns back towards the TV screen, “—what did you want to talk about?” “Situation at hand?” you propose. “Give it a rest, would you?” the princess chides. “I told you, Tiger – we will figure out what to do – but later. If it is about outside affairs, Eirin ought to know best. Don't brood about it so much. I have had a great many troubles myself, let me tell you, since I have been around for the longest time – but most of them never happened outside my head. Couldn't you at least worry about something else?” “Mokou?” “Moko can manage herself, Tiger.” “She told me the same thing.” “Well, you should know, then, that I am not lying, no?”
“So why isn't she here yet, in that case?” you return. “We cleared the range between the Village and the shrine in about twenty minutes yesterday, and it was raining then as well. I don't reckon Mokou would have left the little devil goad any sort of special service out of her like she lets me, so she should have got here even faster.” “… ‘the little devil?’” “Akyu,” you explain. “The Hieda girl.” “Ah, she. Odd, I had thought—Aw, crappit!” Her Highness curses when the TV screen explodes in a spatter of diluted tomato sauce. Or blood. Not like most people would tell the difference. “Why the rough, ah… nickname?” she asks then. “Did she get under your skin somehow? I had the impression she was a nice child last we spoke.” “You've met?” you exclaim with some surprise. “On one occasion, yes.” “Where? When?”
“Hmm.” Kaguya considers for a moment. Her light, slim fingers continue to wave intricate patterns on the colour-coded buttons of the controller, even as she glances back at you with a helpless look in her eyes. “Some years ago,” she says. “I don't recall exactly. Since we moved here, my memory has been somewhat fuzzy. I imagine not seeing as many people any more could have made it so. Each day feels the same as any other.” “… right.” “Ah, but I had fun last Sunday – the girls, too. It was a spur of the moment kind of thing, but life may be all about those, don't you think?” “Mm.” “I do appreciate calm and quiet—and I have those in oodles here—but every now and again I get this inkling I should get up and—how did you say it—get Oscar Mike, yes?” “Sure.” “Ah, and to think I used to throw these parties every summer, too…”
“‘Parties?’” you say. “What sort of ‘parties?’” “Oh, nothing special,” Kaguya says dismissively. “A kind of come-and-see-our-cool-stuff type of party. Anybody who fancied a peek could come and see our, ah, medical equipment and all that. And our staff uniforms, I am led to believe – that always got the most interest out of the men of your place.” “The Village?” you ask, disbelieving. Kaguya misses the question by a mile. “Whatever they call it nowadays, yes.” “So,” you decide to let it pass, “it was more, uh… an exhibition, sort of?” “An exhibition comes close,” she agrees. “And now we have this beautiful new building, and, imagine that, all our regular customers show us their clean heels. I can scarcely recall the last time I had the pleasure of seeing a human being other than Moko or you. Eirin, too, she spends entire days down in the labs, concocting devil-knows-what, and she drags Reisen and the girls along. The younger ones tend to get underfoot, though, so she mostly leaves them be.” The princess stops and gives out an uncharacteristically downcast sigh. “Sometimes I think those girls are all that I have left. Moko has you, Eirin has Reisen and her research, the older girls have their duties, the people of your place have their own entertainments, and I… I am all alone, aren't I?” “Kaguya…”
Kaguya turns and gives you a small smile. “Now, Tiger,” she says, “don't you dare tell me you're sorry yet again, okay?” “… yeah,” you say, “… sorry.” “Oh, bother!” She rolls her eyes. “Tiger, Moko being happy with you is the best thing to happen to me in ages! How could I possibly blame you for something like that? What kind of monster would I have to be? Do try and think a little bit better of me, why don't you?” “But I do think good of you…” “Not good enough, I suspect.” “… well, sorry—” “Cut that out, Shooter.” Her Highness makes a scowl. “Or I will have to take steps!” “… what sort of steps?” “Do you want to find out? No,” she replies before you do, “you don't! So quit your silly worrying and get it through your thick skull, already! Moko being happy equals me being happy. Understood?” “Yes, bloody hell,” you blurt out, “but still, I did sort of steal her from—”
“Oh, for the love of me!” Kaguya jumps to her feet and picks up a discarded headset. “Menfolk!” she murmurs and lifts the microphone to her lips. “Another time, guys,” she says into it, hushed, “I have, uh… something to do, okay? Later!” Then, she throws it aside, turns the TV off, and looks to you with a lofty face. “The door, Shooter,” she says. “Pardon?” “Lock the door,” she exacts. “I've noticed people have a habit of walking in on you, and I want us to have a bit of privacy.” “… what in the blazes for?” “Do not question me, Shooter,” glowers the princess. “Go and lock that door, already.”
Soundly thinking, Her Highness might have the right idea – you can't wring your hands if you've got them busy.
Logical, really. Tell a man he misheard that the Sun is due to go supernova next week, and he will call you an ignorant fool and sink deeper into delirium. Tell him, however, that he should confirm on his own and read an encyclopaedia or another work on celestial bodies, and within the week he will return with a blissful twinkle in his eyes and a ton of useless astronomical titbits in his head.
So, you rise, wearily, on your legs, and lurch over to the door, where you wrench the unoiled bolt in its dusty slot in the frame.
“Here,” you say, twirling back to Her Majesty. “What now? I don't reckon this was just to—” And then you trail off.
Kaguya, perched now happily on the bed, gives you a gentle smile. “Come, Tiger,” she says, spreading out her arms. “Hug me.” “… pardon?” “Quit that, Shooter,” she scolds mildly. “We've done this before. Come and hug me. Smartly, now.” “Princess—” “Do as I say,” she insists. “I interrupted my game for this, yes?” “… was I bothering you?” “No, you weren't,” she assures, “but you are hovering on the edge of it currently, I will grant you that. So don't test my patience any further, okay? Or else I might get displeased with you.”
“… roger,” you mumble, “come what may…”
“Come what may” should be your credo.
Overwhelmed by threats of royal wrath, you approach Her imperious Highness and droop, heavy, in her waiting arms. Kaguya exhales softly, satisfied with your obedience. She embraces you fully, and, ever so delicately, stoops down into the rumpled sheets, pulling you along. She holds your head tightly to her chest, petting it with one free hand.
Her clothes, you note unconsciously, smell of lavender air freshener.
“Cuddle,” she suggests then. “Pardon?” you blurt out on an instinct.
“Cuddle, Tiger,” she repeats. “I could stab a person with you, you're that stiff.” “… my head is between your breasts, you realise.” “And I told you to cuddle regardless,” the princess says primly. “If it helps you relax, I am much older than you, Tiger. Bother, I was even about to become Moko's mother, once. Have I told you about that yet? “… no,” you mutter, “… probably not.” “I didn't think that I had. So, you will cuddle, yes? Or will I have to squeeze you until you stop being sorry and start cracking jokes?” “But you are—” “Cuddle, for gods' sakes!”
Sullenly, grumbling under your breath, you rub your cheek in the smooth, warm fabric of her top.
If Mokou say you doing this, you and the princess both would both be noticeably dead before either of you could invent a believable excuse. What would it be, anyhow? “I was kneading her tits because I reckoned it might let me lighten up?” Buggery.
And yet you clearly feel that, with every small stroke, more and more of the moping anxiety seeps out of your mind. Gradually, your muscles lose tension; your eyes grow sleepy, and the snug, fleecy sensation overcomes your body, wrapping around like a cosy blanket.
“See?” Kaguya giggles, still stroking your hair, “I knew you could do it.” “… am I that easy to appease?” you mutter the question in one of her breasts. “No. Girls aren't that different from boys in many regards when we get down to it, and I have been mothering girls since forever ago. Our girls, especially. I am the closest they have to a mother, after all.” “Strange,” you say, “I would have sworn you were more of a mascot.” “Oh, do be nice, now.” Kaguya stops fondling and flicks you lightly on the earlobe. “I do not force them to worship me or anything, but I am their mother all the same. That's just how they express their love. They adore me, Tiger. In fact, some would feel inclined to hit you, if they heard you talking about me like this.” “So would Mokou,” you say with chagrin. “I want to be hit by Mokou.”
“Get her out out of your head, Tiger,” she says. “Seriously, you could have any girl wished, and you're stubborn about her and her only. Did you know? You have gained quite the following here in our Clinic since you first appeared – you even have your very own fan-club.” “A fan-club?” you ask. “Honestly? Who's the poor bird that acts the president?” “I am right here, silly,” the princess says, delighted. “Who else did you think it was?” “… oh,” you let out, “… well, er…” “Do you want me to tell you how many members it has?” “… do I…?” “No, I don't suppose it would matter a lot to you, with what this bizarre Mokou fixation you have going. Oh,” she lets out suddenly, “but that reminds me of something. We do have this one girl that we all know took to you quite badly, but still refuses to come out to us.” “Hmm…? Who's that?” “You should know her name. I got this tiny hint that I should watch over her while you were gone, no?”
You stir a little. “… Delaney? How is she?” “As usual, Tiger. Nothing out of the ordinary.” “… that bad?” Kaguya laughs, her chest bopping up and down, along with your head. “Now, Tiger,” she reprimands, “don't be rude. She doesn't deserve half the critique she receives. Incidentally, she should be getting off her shift right about now. We could go and see about changing her mind, if you would like. What do you say?”
[ ] “All right.” —[ ] “I'm better now, but if you want to carry me, we could put up a show.” —[ ] “I'll go on my own, though. I should stretch my legs, anyhow. They've been dying on me since the bloody morning.”
[ ] “No, I'll pass. I don't reckon I can take her on so soon.” —[ ] “But I sort of want to check up on Keine and Reimu. Where did you accommodate them, again?” —[ ] “How about Reisen, instead? I couldn't get a hold of her before leaving last time, and I sort of want to see her.”.” —[ ] “I'm fine where I am. Could we stay and talk some more? Kaguya?” —[ ] “And I'll go and lie down, after all. I'll think about molesting your staff in the evening.”
>And yet you clearly feel that, with every small stroke, more and more of the moping anxiety seeps out of your mind. Gradually, your muscles lose tension; your eyes grow sleepy, and the snug, fleecy sensation overcomes your body, wrapping around like a cosy blanket.
Feels soooo good man.
[x] “All right.” —[x] “I'm better now, but if you want to carry me, we could put up a show.”
Going to visit the poor girl alone won't do any good at easing her fixation. Besides, I'm interested on what effect Kaguya-okaasan's presence has on her brusque demeanor.
[X] “All right.” —[X] “I'm better now, but if you want to carry me, we could put up a show.”
Idleness is the beginning of all vice, goes an old proverb.
Of course, a man is never truly idle; a man is perpetually engaged in thought, and there is labour that's visible and labour that's invisible. People don't respect that. Doing the alleged, so-called “nothing,” to be fair, requires great effort to execute competently, as well as vast amounts of time to complete. That is the hugest gripe about it – when doing nothing, you never know exactly when you are going to be done.
And you'd much rather Mokou didn't take you unawares doing “nothing” with your face buried in between the royal bosoms.
“All right,” you reply after a thought. “I don't know that I want to terrorise anybody, what with being aware how it feels to be terrorised myself, but… Could be fun, I reckon.”
Not to forget, you had planned on paying a call to the little rabbit's hole sooner or later, anyhow.
“Sooner” isn't always the preferred choice of the two, but you have few alternatives – all of them disheartening with the scope of mental sweat you would have to ooze in order to achieve fair results. A visit to Delaney's small retreat, in comparison, is more attractive – with Kaguya on your wing, no collapse-on-stairs-skull-breakage should occur; and should Mokou come busting through a wall with accusations of adultery, you will patiently explain you were merely taking a relaxing stroll in decent company to straighten your ruffled wits.
Same could be done by staying here in bed with Her Highness, but alas, too many walls present. Too many. Too close. Concrete debris falling on their heads isn't precisely what tigers would say they like best.
Kaguya giggles, again giving you a chance for all sorts of interesting sensations. “Are you sure you're not leaning to the sadistic side a bit, Tiger?” she asks. “Me?” you fake shock. “Not at all. I usually take the receiving end of any maltreatment that I'm let partake in.” “Doesn't that hurt?” “Oh yes,” you say, “but I have learned to enjoy the pain. I was surprised to find out how many ways a human body can bend when a little force is applied. It's amusing, really – in hindsight, that is. Not as much when you're in the mid of it, yes, but in retrospect? Hilarious. Did you know an elbow can actually bend the other way?” “Oh, I know this and that about bending,” the princess says seriously. “You do? Fancy that. I'd never been aware until I tried. Or, well, were forced to try.” “I have a body of my own to experiment on, I should remind you.” “… that you do.” “And,” she goes on, “you're forgetting where it is that I live.” “I do seem to,” you admit. “… wouldn't be the first time, either.” “What was that, Tiger?” “Nothing,” you lie, very smoothly. “Nothing at all.”
Nothing – the one thing you keep inadvertently doing despite your sincerest endeavours. It'd be nicer if it were something else – making love, for instance. Or money.
Somehow, you feel that would find a lot more respect among other people.
“Hmm.” Kaguya makes a sort murmur. “Say, what about this twitching eyebrow of yours, in that case? Did you have something on your mind after all? Squirming slightly in her breasts, you produce a worn-out groan. “Why must everybody point that out, anyhow? Am I not self-conscious enough as I am? It's growing all rather tired, you realise.” “It's curious, though, isn't it?” “Curious? No such thing – annoying, at best. I cannot even make use of what scarce little grey matter I have left without the bloody thing mucking about. How blooming useless is that? I want to ponder my idiot tripe at my own discretion; I don't need anything announcing it to the world as a whole, bloody hell.” “Stop thinking, then?” “… what do you know,” you say, “I probably should, no?” “I would say yes, from the sounds of it.” “… all right,” you breathe in, “I will try. Here goes…”
Kaguya politely waits a couple of seconds, then inquires: “So? Is it working?” “… not positive,” you mutter. “‘Not positive?’ I don't understand, ‘not positive?’” “… well,” you tell her, “I think that I'm still… Yes. Yes, I am. Still thinking.” Kaguya makes an exaggerated moan. “Oh dear.” “It isn't my fault,” you defend. “It's glandular. I can't just kill it whenever I please.”
Her Highness sighs. “See, this is the problem with you boys,” she says. “A girl at this stage would have quit having silly qualms, kissed me thanks, and gone back to her room. And I'd imagined boys were the less stubborn gender.” “… we do tend to disappoint in this field.” “Oh well.” Kaguya wriggles a bit, then, as suddenly as delicately, nestles her cheek against your freshly-dried hair. “How is this, then?” she asks, rubbing. “I can only get so close to your thoughts, so I haven't any idea whether it will work or not, but… maybe some of it will get through. So, tell me,” she urges. “Does it work?” “… well…” you mumble. “Well?” she pushes. “Well what?” “… well.” “Oh!” she groans, pulling back. “Come on, Tiger. I am out of ideas, here!”
“… all right,” you say. “Have you got a better one?” “No,” you tell her. “I get it, though.” “Shooter? Ah—” Kaguya makes a startled noise when you tear away from her chest and spring to your feet. “Shooter?” she gapes at you, confused. “I didn't tell you to—” “I'm better now, Princess,” you cut her off. “Honestly. Can we just, uh… let's go, now?” “… let's go?” she asks in a slightly wounded voice. “Are you certain?” “Yes. Well… No, actually,” you confess. “Not really. I just—bollocks—I need to get… out of here. The walls—it's the walls. They're suffocating. It's not you. It's me. I'm the idiot here. I'm the idiot.” “Wasn't I good enough for you?” “No!” you nearly spit out your heart. “No, you were—you were too good, even!” you splutter. “I don't—I hardly even did anything to deserve treatment of that quality! I mean—you know what I mean, right?” “Shooter.” “Yes! That's my name! Nickname! Something! What—?” “Calm down.”
Stifling your words, you stare Kaguya apologetically.
Kaguya smiles. “Now,” she says. “Go on.” “… yes,” you exhale. “… sorry. I, uh… I'm beyond remedy, aren't I?” “Maybe.” Her Highness stands as well, patting her clothes to relative order – more for show than any need of tidiness, you feel. “Did you know? I just began to doubt my entire life's experience because of that outburst.” “Sorry,” you say again, “but I am better now, honest. Sort of. I can walk, for one – that's an improvement, no? Oh, but we could put on a show, if you would like – if you want to carry me all the same, that is.” “I believe I will pass,” says the princess. “Oh,” she smiles then, “but how about we find a splint?” “A splint? What for?” Kaguya waves her slender palm once. “Oh, I was just wondering how our little child would react if she saw you all blustered and battered up.” “… I don't reckon that's a good—” “How about a crutch, in that case?” “No!” “Some fake blood, then?” “Princess, please.” “I heard Eirin made a kind of pills that—” “No!” you cut in. “No, bloody hell! Bloody hell, no! Bloody no, hell! No pills!” “Oh, but I hear they are perfectly safe!” “No! Bloody hell!” “Killjoy!” Kaguya glares at you for a few moments, then, out of nowhere, doubles over in a burst of laughter. “Oh dear, the look on your face!”
“… what?” You blink. “What look?” “Hahaha, I can't keep up!” “Kaguya?” “Oh, dear gods! Hahaha!” “I still don't see what look you're—” “Oh, spare me!”
Grinning still, Her Highness frolics up to you, takes your cheeks in her warm, loving hands, and, standing on her tip-toes, kisses you on the lips – fully and without reserve – closing her eyes for courtesy's sake, though the kiss doesn't know the first thing about courteous ways.
And you, amazingly, are far from feeling disgusted at the unexpected display of emotions. About as far as you are from noting out loud that the frisky princess promised to quit getting so physical with her supposed best friend's boyfriend. That's farther than you would be from being happy if somebody put paper clips inside your ear-ducts in your sleep.
And that's very far.
“Kaguya,” you say after she has pulled away. “Have I ever…?” “Yes?” she asks in a tickled tone. “Have you ever what?” “Have I ever thanked you? For everything and all?” “Oh yes,” she says. “Numerous times, if my memory serves.” “Well, I'd like to thank you again.” “That's entirely unnecessary, you are aware.” “All the same. Thank you. For everything. And all.”
Kaguya beams at you happily. “You're a silly cat, you know that?” You smile back. “Isn't that why you love me?”
“Oh, I adore that bold side of yours,” she purrs. “Moko doesn't know what she's complaining about.”
“Oh, did I say anything just now? Never mind!” Her Highness spins on her heels and goes for the door, calling you to follow. “Come along, soldier! On the double, now; Delta is waiting! One, two! One, two! Forward, march!”
As per dull usual, the halls of the Clinic teem with un-life.
Ghosts of past staff squat noiselessly under rows of zombie-chairs that line the yellow walls, not quite ready to be thrown out into the scrap heap yet, but long extinct in the bloodshot eyes of vampire patients that understandably only crawl out of their zip-it-bags in the mortuary late at night. Werewolf spiders, perched defiantly on webs they spun out unholy darkness and wishes of mass-murder, await unknowing prey in deathly silence.
Everything seems out to give you grief these days. Spiders, too, but they are the least of your problems, because they're easy to rid of – you've just got to go on a walk in the forest, find a big wasp-nest, nudge at it a few times, then wing it smoothly back home. Wasps are natural enemies of spiders. Sooner than you know, they will have hunted down and eaten up every last eight-legged fiend in your humble abode, even those you never even had an idea were there.
Of course, you will then still have the wasps, but all solutions have their tiny drawbacks.
Kaguya stops in front of a door and spins to smile at you a playful smile. “Okay,” she announces. “Here we are.”
Quite correctly, too – this is the right place indeed, although no home-arrest door-guard has leaped out of the shadows to molest you yet; neither is one visible in the nearest vicinity.
Whether this is a good or a bad sign, you have no way of knowing yet.
“Mm,” you give a murmured confirmation.
Nevertheless, this is the place.
While you didn't take notice of it the last time around, even this unobtrusive door has a name-plate nailed to the front, and—fancy that—the name of the modish nurse's name glowers at you from it with its bushy, black characters and a neatly-typed sequence of legible letters below.
“Delaney Fritzpetit,” it says..
If you manage to forget your worries by then, you should try teasing her about it later.
“Hey,” the princess seems to have a thought. “How about you knock, Tiger?” “… huh?” you snap out of it and look at her questioningly. “What's that?” “Hush,” she crosses her lips with a finger. “Quiet! I said: ‘How about you knock, Tiger?’ I want to see what she does when she hears that it is you.” “Aren't you playing with her a bit too much?” asks the hypocrite. “I wouldn't like to give her a heart attack.” Her Highness gives you a small pout. “Oh, don't act like you don't want to see yourself! Do it, Tiger. If it makes it easier on you, treat it as an order. I give you my permission to employ whatever means you deem necessary. Get on it, soldier!” “… very well,” you give in, “bloody hell. I picked the wrong week to quit giving people coronary failures. Here goes nothing, then,” you grunt and rap your knuckles on the door. A disinterested response sounds from the other side – a query of sorts, judging from the tone and pitch. “It's, uh, me,” you try. “Shooter. Care to let me in?”
Something heavy topples to the floor in an accompaniment of a yelp and a few muffled curses. Then, there's a rustle of beddings, another thump, a couple of careless steps, more rustling, and finally, the noisy creature stomps over and opens the gates of its lair for you.
“What?!” it demands from underneath an uproar of a black locks.
Her clothes are in akin chaos; the top half has been changed to a white nightshirt with a cute logo, while the bottom remains the tight, uniform skirt that the nurses of the Clinic are obliged to wear whilst—supposedly—on duty. She has let the nightshirt loose, and two straps of a black bra are biting into the skin of her shoulders.
Her eyes spell shock and awe of magnitude comparable to Nagasaki.
“Hello,” you drop the nuke. “How goes it?” And she bats it right back in your base. “Don't ‘How goes it?’ me!” she snarls. “Don't come out of nowhere and pretend nothing is wrong with it! What on Earth are you doing here?!” “Checking up on how you're holding on?” Delaney makes a scowl. “… that isn't a very adequate answer.” “It wasn't a very adequate question. We all have many silly things that we aim to do with our lives, I simply have a couple more of them than your average silly person. It took me a long while to come to that conclusion, but you're smarter than me, so you should have sussed it out by now, you realise.” “… you seem upset.” “Does it show?” She affects a milder face. “… it does,” she says, her anger whittling away. “Something happened out there, didn't it? Is that why you're back so soon?” “See, you do have a head on that neck. I knew you did.” “… you're even worse when you're disturbed than when you're flirting around. Why didn't you go and bother Her Majesty about it? Or Master Eirin? If you've got some sort of problem, they should—” “Ah, actually,” you seize the opening, “I've been to see the princess already. Kaguya, you can come out now.”
Kaguya rolls her eyes at you from behind the nearest corner, coughs, puts on a grin, and prances up to you and the young nurse. “Hello~”she chirps, “and what a coincidence, meeting you here! How are you today, Delaney, darling? Good, I hope?” Delaney jerks straight, startled. Her ears—the big, fluffy ones—shoot up as though electrocuted. “P—Princess!” she blurts out. “I apologise, I wasn't aware—!” Kaguya laughs affectionately. “Now, don't be like that!” Her Highness brushes nimbly around the panicking girl's side and embraces her from behind. “Oh my,” she says, one of her hands slithering under the crumpled nightshirt, “am I seeing right? Garter belt, darling? Oh dear.” Delaney covers with a bright blush. “I just got off my shift!” she protests. “Princess, please—!” “Now, now,” Kaguya cuts in, her other hand following the first, “I kid, I kid. Say, why don't we go inside and have a seat? He seems slightly worn-out to me,” she nods her chin in your direction, “wouldn't you say we should let him sit down for a bit?” “But there's a mess…!” “Oh, don't be giving me that! I wager he has seen messes far worse than anything you could do. Am I telling the truth, Shooter?” “Oh yes,” you agree, “messes are nothing to be ashamed of; even members of the royal family forget to clean up every so often.” “Why, thank you, Shooter,” the princess replies tartly. “Here you go, darling,” she says to Delaney. “He doesn't mind it. Do you think we could let him in now?” “N—Yes!” yelps the nurse. “Princess, I beg of you—!”
Kaguya grins. “Well, you heard her, Tiger. Come on in.” “… roger that.”
Her methods, you think bitterly, are dreadfully similar to somebody else's that you know.
“Where is your telly, darling?” Delaney squirms weakly in a feeble attempt of escape. “… it's in—in the cupboard,” she mutters, “… why?” Kaguya nooses her arms closer around her captive bunny. “Can I have a look at it?” “No!” the bunny cries out. “Don't, please—!” “And why not, pray tell?” “… because—” she pauses, “—because there's a malicious presence inside!”
Kaguya makes a frown. “A malicious presence?” “Yes! So don't—don't touch it! Or it'll come out!”
Shivering, you make a mute observation: you weren't exaggerating – the place really is filled with vengeful undead.
God have mercy on your uninsured soul.
“Oh, all right,” the princess yields up. “I wasn't going to take it away or anything. How is your little noggin, anyway? I heard from your friends you'd stopped complaining. Have the aches let up?” Delaney wriggles once again. “Y—Yes,” she confesses, “but Princess, please, could you…” “What is it, sweetheart?” “Could you stop… stop touching me, please?” Kaguya nuzzles the nurse's dishevelled mop. “Oh, but I thought you enjoyed this kind of thing. I remember on one occasion you sneaked into my room, and—” “Princess!” “Oh, don't you tell me you've had a change of heart.” “No! I just…!” “Oh, him?” Her Highness giggles. “Never mind our friend. He will not find our cuddling in any way offensive. He enjoys being cuddled himself, as a matter of fact.” “He does what?” “He was nearly neurotic when I found him at the doorstep. I took him in and, ah, prevailed upon him he was brooding for naught. He is so much like a girl in some aspects, you wouldn't believe.” Kaguya lets out a small laugh. “I put him to my breast, sang him a lullaby, scratched him behind the ears, and he was tame as a puppy before long. Doesn't that strike you kind of familiar?” Delaney dodges the question with one of her own. “Princess, but are you sure Master Eirin would approve of your—” “He is my guest, Delaney, dear,” Kaguya says firmly. “If Eirin, let's say, conceives that I am being too hospitable for my rank, she may turn me over her knee and paddle me on her own accord. Until then I will do how I see fit. And I saw fit that I provided him with comfort. His well-being is very important to somebody I deeply care about.” “Ah,” the young nurse gives a blank response. “And what… what happened to him, anyway?” Kaguya pokes the girl archly in the side. “Why don't we have him tell the story? I'll hold on to you in case you find it worth fainting over.” “Princess…” “I kid. Tiger,” the princess calls you, “we're talking about you. Quit spacing out.”
“Hmm?” Slowly, you rise to a sit. “I heard you. Or, well, I didn't. What's that?” “Our little girl worried for you,” she informs, forbearing. Delaney tries to protest, but is promptly silenced by another prod from the princess. “How about you tell us the entire story now? I would prefer to listen to it again, too; you were kind of in a hurry when I first heard it… Shooter?” she asks then. “Why are you on the floor?”
“Well,” you want to say, “the bed is a single and it is sort of occupied,” so you thought you shouldn't elbow your way in and get in their own, since they seemed keen on having fun by themselves – you're an understanding person, after all.
It's called “sympathy.” It is a very precious virtue, it is mostly forgotten today, and you possess it in extreme measure. Individuals, you could say, that are in dire need of material and emotional support, never leave your mind – you think of them every hour, every minute of the day. Sure, currently there is but a single one, and admittedly he is a sandwich short of a picnic, but the fact stands all the same. “Sympathy” should be your third name.
“Tiger Shooter Sympathy.”
It does come off as sort of cool, you have to own up.
“Shooter?” “Yes, yes,” you groan, “I know it's twitching. Give me a break.” Kaguya purses her lips. “I didn't mean that,” she says, “the story—” “Story? Oh yes,” you remember, “the story, okay, all right. Well,” you begin, “it was all set in motion a few days ago, when—”
“Heeey, big D!”
With almost flawless timing, the door flies open, cutting your grand, amazing fable sorely short.
“Ah,” a vaguely recognisable voice exclaims, “sorry, I wasn't—” “No, you're welcome,” Kaguya says in Delaney's stead. Delaney appears too busy blushing and desperately trying to become invisible to assume the proper role of the hostess. “What seems to be the problem?” “Ah yes,” the voice perks up, “big D forgot her, er… well, this.” Some sort of unspoken information passes between the visitor and the princess. “… I see,” Kaguya says a bit stiffly. “Hold on to it for now, if you would be so kind.” “… yes, Princess.” “Is that everything?” “It would be,” says the voice, “unless this person here is who I think it is. Is it?” “Shooter?” Kaguya gives you a long-suffering, see-I-told-you-kind of glance, then looks back to the other girl. “It's him, but what has he done now?” “It is him? Oh man, lucky! Shooter, sir?” “Hullo,” you turn around with a saintly smile, to be met with the lively face of one of Delaney's subordinates from the weekend game – the very same one whose aid allowed you to include a bonus player in the sport and thwart her superior's unexplained rebellion. “Had you some business with me?” “Ah, well,” the girl puts the cloth she was holding behind her back and stands at attention, “I had a message for you, sir! Ah, but this is so lucky!” she laughs with audible relief. “I wasn't even told where to find you! Tewi is going to have a field day when I tell her about this! She wasn't lying about the offertory, after all!” “The message?” Kaguya urges. “Ah, yes,” the girl straightens again, “the message! Sir Shooter,” she declares formally, “you are to see Master Eirin once disposable – for a check-up, as I presume,” she adds more leisurely. “I am not confident that she meant you should go immediately, but she did say ‘once disposable.’ It does give off a specific kind of vibe, doesn't it? Very official. Ah, but she was having a guest, so perhaps you should wait? I couldn't tell. She wasn't particularly pressing.”
[ ] “If she wants me, she'll get nothing less. I'll go now. Delaney, it was good to see that you're okay. Kaguya, if Mokou shows up, I want to hear about it straight off. And thanks.” [ ] “Eirin can wait. She's a good doctor, she should have a lot of patience.” [ ] “Kaguya? What do you say we ought to do?”