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File 141730893641.jpg - (459.12KB, 450x700, Gentleness.jpg) [iqdb]
38122No. 38122
First off, hi yes it's still me. Don't worry about the change in magical signature up on top - I accidentally the magical equivalent of burning off my fingertips, and it still smarts a bit. With any luck I'll get it fixed soon, but until then let's just keep on going.

Thanks for waiting!

------------------------------

Reimu's kitchen is the largest room in the shrine; even with all of her money troubles, she does her best to eat well. Her pantry is always... stocked. Not fully by any means, but it is stocked, with dried vegetables and meats, fruits here and there - stuff that's easy to cook and easier to store.

I've been invading Reimu's personal space for years, so it's pretty simple to disable the warning charms slapped all over her tea cabinet; no need to wake my shrine maiden up. It's simpler still to dole out the right amount of leaves to suit her tastes, and to magic away just enough water from Reimu's buckets to steep the tea in. A snap of my fingers creates a quick spark, and then it's just a matter of leaving the pot on the stove until the steam wakes Reimu up.

I don't particularly want to sit on my laurels, but there's not much to do in the first place. The master of the house is off dreaming, and helping myself to Reimu's food just feels a bit too wrong right now. Hell, she's even starting a garden just to bolster her diet. It's - kinda depressing. Girl does so much to keep the peace, but it's a struggle to get enough to eat.

It takes a little while for the idea to actually worm its way into my head, but once it does I start scrambling. I find the small collection of seeds Reimu begged off the Village's farmers easily enough, and I even take the time to glance over them. I mean, they were all sorts of shapes and sizes, and it's not like I can identify them on sight... but I'm sure Reimu has some idea of what she's planting. The villagers should have given her the more hardy varieties anyway, if they have any sense at all.

Planting them without her permission will either piss her off or make her blush. Can't say I would mind either way.

-----------------------------------------

Quarrelsome Plough doesn't really have any business being an actual Spellcard. Guys and gals are supposed to be flashy and hilariously impractical when it came to battles, and flinging dustclouds at people is precisely neither of those things.

But Reimu okay'd it, so I don't need to actually put any thought into what I'm doing - I just fill the card with my heart and soul, and let the magic do the rest. The boom of thunder echoes from my hands, as all my mojo seeps into the soft, fertile earth behind the Hakurei Shrine. Wispy blades of grass get kicked up along with the topsoil, and I even lose my footing a little as the dirt around me starts to sink deeper into the ground. Good thing the wind's a bit dead at the moment - otherwise I'd have to actually watch where I fire my kicked-up dust. As it is, I just fling it somewhere into the trees, and the distinct lack of yelps from fairies is more than enough for me.

Dampening the soil for the seeds is a bit trickier; Patchy's claimed that water's my natural element, but natural talent means shit if I've never seriously pursued it. Genji's lake is right next to me, and it's as pure and clean as any natural body of water could possibly be - and my control's still shakier than a babe's first steps. It's easy when I'm just moving a few ounces a couple of paces, but any more and it all turns blagh. It's beyond me to draw out gentle streams like Mima; when I coax the water out, it comes in splotchy bubbles, droplets seeping between my fingers as water's wont to do.

At least lifting the stuff up is easier than moving it laterally. By the time it's above my head, it's practically a personal raincloud. Which is a blessing in its own way - I've overheard Yuuka mentioning overwatering once or twice, and I'd rather avoid killing Reimu's precious food. So when I lift the water and let it rain, I end up drizzling the soil and dancing between the drops. It's simple - fun, even, trying and failing to will the rain away. I can knock some away with just a few flares of power, and most of it collects on the brim of my hat, but the rest splashes down on both me and the ground, making my blouse cling to my skin and chilling me to my core.

I take the witching hat off, in the end. It's positively drenched, and far better put to use as a watering can than headgear. It evenly moistens the dirt where my man-made rain doesn't quite reach, and it's not like I really mind the water fall. If it gets my hair soaked and clinging to my back, or makes me shiver from the staccato pounding on my spine, then all the better for me.

It's easy to get lost in the moment. Drawing the water, letting it fall, and planting the seeds - there's a rhythm to it, an ebb and flow to my energy that gets me lost in the beat. I hum along as I try my hand at gardening, and even the sharp, piercing whistle from the shrine adds to the harmony.

Getting the soil all nice and prepped is the hard part - once I'm done, all I have to do is let the lakewater sprinkle down while I finish up planting. Digging my hands through the fresh, upturned loam isn't much of a bother. It's... actually kind of pleasant; the smell of clean earth wafts through the air, and the damp dirt clings to my fingers when I bury the seeds. I let my mind wander as I finish up the chore, and... there's a sense of relief, deep inside. A kind of peace. I can see why Yuuka's mellowed out after trying her hand at gardening.

I'm a bit sore afterwards, but it's a good kind of ache; after all, I did just make an entire garden in the space of - what, five minutes? I am all too happy to pat myself on the back, throw myself onto the ground, and dry off in the sun. Sure, the wind's starting to pick up just a bit, and the grass has too much dew for my liking... but I don't want to get the shrine floors wet. Reimu has enough nuisances to deal with.

So I lie down, trusting my magic to keep the worst parts of the cold away, and ignore the distinct and sudden lack of tea kettle whistling. Reimu's definitely awake, but I'd like a few minutes to compose myself before I go back in.

I don't get a single one. It's only a few moments before I feel someone blocking my light. When I get around to opening my eyes, Reimu's standing in front of me, her gorgeous brown hair almost red in the sun's rays. She's not smiling when she helps me up, but I can feel the warmth she saves just for me.

My shrine maiden leads, and as always, I follow. "Come on, Marisa," she says. "I still have one of your blouses somewhere."

---------------------------------------------------

Reimu's boiling hot tea is, for once, a comfort. Dressed as I am, with a thin, lacy blouse and little else, the cold actually has a bite to its bark. Still, it isn't too bad. I sip gently, letting the heat soak into my body, while Reimu hangs my clothes to dry. The breeze is starting to pick up, so they'll get done quick enough.

I have a towel wrapped around my waist to provide some sort of warmth, but watching Reimu work is a fair bit more effective. While I stay out of the way and try not to shiver, Reimu closes all the doors and windows, squirreling me away from the cracks in the walls and the growing howl of the wind. Figures that the most insulated room in the shrine is the bedroom.

It's not much - hell, it's more spartan than Kosuzu's room. There's no furniture at all, and the small panel on the ceiling only casts a small ray of light onto Reimu's lonely futon. But the lack of furniture made it easy to play games when we were young, and I almost get lost in the nostalgia.

Having Reimu in here would make it easier to reminisce, and sure enough the door slides open just in time. I can't help but smile - I enjoy her gentle annoyance far too much. It's in her stance, the way she rests on the balls of her feet, and the smoky half-lidded eyes that always make me melt.

She's dazzling. And my heart races when she sits down next to me, and rests her head on my shoulder. For the moment, it's just the two of us in this hidden, sealed-off room. Her heat mingles with mine. I'll take a small sip of the tea, warm and bitter and clean, and then she'll just take the cup off my hands, pressing it against her lips.

It's nice. There's no other word for it.

Reimu's the first to break the silence. "Sorry." Her apology's without preamble or explanation, but I can hear the guilt nonetheless, and I don't have it in me to hold a grudge.

So I flash her a gentle smile to put her at ease, and I brush my lips against her ear. "It's alright. Sometimes friends have to take one for the team. Who knows what Yukari would have done if you didn't hang me out to dry? More nagging's the last thing you need."

All my pretty little words don't seem to be having much of an effect, though. If anything, Reimu seems even more upset now; she pulls away quickly, scooting back until there's a nice, big space between the two of us. "It's okay to be upset, you know. Aren't you offended at all? I know I'd be."

Losing her warmth and her softness hurts a bit, but it's nothing I haven't dealt with before. I rally on, ignoring her question completely. "But I wouldn't put you down like that - couldn't actually. There's nothing bad about you."

It takes a second to realize that if I was someone else, anyone else, she'd have my ass for that. As it is, all traces of affection vanish in a flash, and Reimu just glares back at me with cold, hurt eyes. I see her try to speak, desperately struggling to get some word past her lips. Her breathing slows, her hands clench into fists, and I don't have the will to look her in the face.

Reimu has to swallow before she can actually say anything, and her voice comes out unnaturally steady and calm. "Marisa... do me a favor."

"...Depends on what it is." I still have my Hakkero on me, so if my shrine maiden wants to let off some steam I'll be happy to oblige her.

"Well... I badmouthed you, so do the same thing to me. It's only fair, right?"

Reimu's always been a patient sort, so she gives me the time I need to actually register what she said. It's still definitely out there, as requests go, and I ask her to clarify just to cover my ass.

"So... you want me to shittalk about you, to your face."

"Yes."

"Why?"

Reimu just shrugs, brushing her favor off like it's something completely inconsequential. "Because I don't want you to idolize me. And I don't think that's something difficult to ask of you."

Joke's on her, though, because absolutely nothing bad about her comes to mind. I mean, sure, she's blunt and more than a bit stubborn and her bosom's not terribly big, but that's just surface. And even if other people don't like those parts of her, I certainly do.

It takes me a while to think, long enough that the teacup finally cools off to a reasonable temperature. When I finish it off, Reimu wordlessly takes the cup and goes off to get more, leaving me alone with my memories and my thoughts.

I don't want to do this. I like thinking well of Reimu. I've seen her at her best and I've seen her at her worst, and I know which one I'd prefer... and maybe that's what she's worried about. That I don't know her. That I don't love her, and just want to put her on a pedestal.

It takes Reimu a bit longer than normal to pour the tea out, and I'm not sure if she's tired or just giving me time to think. When she does come back, though, I'm sitting on my knees, ready to bring up Reimu's... less charming points.

I don't give her the chance to sit down. "You'll be blunt to everyone else, but you treat me like I can't handle any criticism. I'm incredibly insulted. Why am I the only one you patronize?"

Reimu takes it all in stride. She just sits and busies herself with the teapot, like I was talking about lunch or the weather. But that's always been her way of coping, so as she sets it between us I keep on keeping on. "I appreciate you watching out for me, I really do." My voice sounds weak and terribly petulant, barely above a whisper. It feels... distant, somehow, like I'm not really there, and my body's running without me.

"You're a bigger worrier than I am, and I know I'm a bit headstrong sometimes; I get why you'd be cautious. But... I'd appreciate a bit of trust." The towel on my lap seems terribly interesting all of a sudden. "I sure as hell trusted you. If you'd thought this whole library thing was a waste of time, you could have told me."

"I was worried you wouldn't listen."

"I might disagree, but I always listen." My rebuttal rings a bit hollow, but I know it's true. If it wasn't, then Reimu would have called me out on my bullshit. As things stand, she doesn't have it in her to look at me, so...

"And I wish you wouldn't be so...so... how the hell do I say it. Subtle? You don't show your emotions a lot, Reimu, and I get why, you're the Hakurei Shrine Maiden, you have to have a good poker face. But it's hard to figure out what you're feeling. I... I like being able to do that. I'm proud that I know how to read you - but I'm not a psychic. I can't read your mind. Sometimes... I wish you'd let me in. I want to know what you're thinking."

That's the long and short of it - I can't come up with anything more to say, and Reimu's not going to push. Hell, she's not doing anything - we sit face to face, but we're both too embarrassed and shamed and scared to actually look.

Reimu does rally herself a bit faster than I can, though. "Okay," she murmurs, and she just reaches over to put the teapot away.

I must be tired. Why else would I be so irrational about this? But I just poured myself out for her, and she brushes me aside again. Like hell she's offended - what was the point of all this?

"'Okay'? That's all my grievances amount to?" I can feel my nails digging into my palms, but the pinpricks help keep me focus and bleed off the anger. I'm no good at keeping calm, but at least I can stop myself from going into a frothing rage.

Still, I'm hurt, and bitter, and I'm not done talking. "You could at least give me more than just 'okay'. Like an apology, or - or something. I sure as hell took your words to heart; I want to be a better person for you, and I know you don't love me the way I do you but - "

She cuts me off there - and when did she get so close? Reimu smells like wood and tea, homey and fragrant and just a little musky. Her eyes are wide and bright, so intense that they're more looking through me than at me.

Reimu leans forward, and I try and fail to scoot back. The wood's hard as always, but it's not the first time I've fallen backwards in Reimu's room. My shrine maiden continues crawling towards me regardless, and I'm frozen stock still as I feel her soft skin brush against mine.

Her warmth, her weight - I can't help but compare her to Alice. Reimu's lighter, for one, but not quite as soft. Alice's hair shone in the sun, all bright and gleaming, but Reimu's locks are long enough to curtain over me, blocking out nearly all the light. I can either struggle away or stare back at her eyes, and it's not a particularly hard choice.

But when I lean up to kiss her soft, pink lips, Reimu just smiles and presses a finger against mine. "I'm sorry. I'll work on sharing more, I promise. I'll start right now; please don't tell me you love me. Don't confess, not yet. I want to be able to say yes first."

An answer. I hadn't really understood how much I needed one. "...You know I've never been the patient type."

I can feel, more than see or hear, her swallow her doubt. Reimu's never been the kind to get teary, but the slight shakiness in her voice gives it away, as it always does. "I know. And I don't know when you can. So if you do ever find someone else... just make me your maid of honor, okay?"

...How am I supposed to respond to that? She closes her eyes again, so casually and naturally that she can hide away from my reaction. I'm not ashamed to admit she left me speechless - and since Reimu doesn't throw a fit, or grow cold and distant, she must have figured this would happen. In lieu of my answer, Reimu just slides back down my body inch by inch, 'til she rests her head against my breasts and matches her breath with my heart's beat.

The tea's room temp and terribly bitter when we finally finish it off, but I doubt either of us mind.

---------------------------------------------------

I spent a bit more time than I had planned at the Shrine, but it's not too bad - sun's only just hit its zenith, and the Village is probably bustling with people out to lunch. All this relationship drama's thrown me off my game, but at least Reimu lit a fire under my ass again; I really should talk to my students' parents, and the Village in general, about my new teaching schedule. I got tossed the hot potato when I decided to let youkai students in.

Backup, in this case, would be the exact opposite of amiss. And I already have two people in mind to help me out - really, the trick's actually deciding who to rely on.

[ ] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her or something terribly, terribly dumb.

[ ] Have Akyuu assist. The Lady Hieda's already been a huge help, and even if she's content to stay hands off now, I'm sure she's itching to make sure nobody fucks anything up. Having that sort of political oomph behind my plan would help, too - the Hieda's words aren't quite law, but their suggestions certainly have a lot of weight behind them. People might get a bit miffed, though, and I wouldn't want to harm Akyuu's actual position in the Village.

[ ] Write in.
Expand all images
>>No. 38124
[X] Have Kosuzu help, yo
>>No. 38125
[X] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her or something terribly, terribly dumb.

Because if they can resist her cuteness, there's bigger problems afoot.
>>No. 38126
[x] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her or something terribly, terribly dumb.

Well, that went pretty well, all things considered.

Anyway, Kosuzu is an actual student. Her word will probably carry a lot of weight and Akyuu... I can almost see her looking skeptical mid-explanation, even if she's pretty much signed on to things.

Also, welcome back, Marisa!
>>No. 38127
[x] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her or something terribly, terribly dumb.

Akyuu's not too keen on this arrangement to start with, so I wouldn't ask her to help sell it. Not that Kosuzu is, either, but we haven't seen her in a long time.
>>No. 38128
[X] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her or something terribly, terribly dumb.

No, it would be silly to think you've corrupted her. Yet.

I love the descriptions of like, things. It has an... earthy feel to it? I don't know, I'm not a literary critic. I like it.
>>No. 38129
[X] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her or something terribly, terribly dumb.
>>No. 38130
[X] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her or something terribly, terribly dumb.

>>38128
Between the confession and that Night Marisa spent at the Pavillion, I doubt there's much real risk of Kosuzu corrupting.
>>No. 38131
May we have a link to where we left off? I feel like there's a post I missed.
>>No. 38132
[X] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her or something terribly, terribly dumb.

It's good to have you back, Marisa!
>>No. 38133
>>38131

>>37931

Long story short, Marisa went over to Reimu's, where she overheard Reimu throwing Marisa under a bus for Yukari's sake. Once Yukari left the two had a relatively calm argument.
>>No. 38134
>>38122
[x] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her or something terribly, terribly dumb.
>>No. 38135
>>38122
[x] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her like Akyuu already did.
>>No. 38136
[X] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her or something terribly, terribly dumb.

Wow. Yukari's a bitch. She did that completely on purpose. Or maybe she did that to make you start changing? Although why'd she care about you... Reimu on the other hand, maybe she's trying to stir up the complacency you both, or at least you, had going? She probably would have done something before now if she earnestly didn't like you/want you around Reimu, but is this trying to make you stay away from something closer, or trying to push you along? Hmm...

Anyway was skimming most of the stuff except the story posts and your response stuff, so I don't know if anyone has already said this, but don't change yourself for Reimu.

Its pretty much a lie and not really you anymore if you do so, and well, relationships and lies.

If you want to change because you honestly don't like something about yourself... well just don't go overboard with it, but changing yourself for someone else almost always gets... messy. This isn't the same as being inspired to change by someone else, or them helping you change, although it can be.

... I guess a good example of what I'm trying to say might be some versions of Byakuren. Some versions of her... constrain, or restrain maybe, themselves to living by her brother's teachings instead of how she wants to. They burn themselves out trying to live like this because its not them in the end, no matter how much they love their brother(s?).

Then some of them probably were inspired by him and found enlightenment, so who knows.

Right, hopefully someone better than me with words will explain this better, we'll be able to spot bad reasons you're changing, and/or you understand what I'm trying to say anyway.

Also, while we're at it do you, or Reimu for that matter, know who the Kami the Harukei Shrine is for? At least in this Universe, some others have some really, really frightening ones... or one maybe. I have only one off the top of my head anyway.
>>No. 38137
It's baaaaack!


[X] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her or something terribly, terribly dumb.
>>No. 38138
[X] Have Kosuzu help.

Also Marisa, you and Reimu are so adorable I almost can't handle it. The conversations/arguments you two have are so relatable.
>>No. 38139
Or Marisa could sex up Byakuren and then learn gardening from Yuuka
>>No. 38140
File 141775852833.png - (1.04MB, 1471x1200, reimu-is-love.png) [iqdb]
38140
[agentsmith]
Welcome back, Agent Marisa. We missed you.
[/agentsmith]

>She's dazzling. And my heart races when she sits down next to me, and rests her head on my shoulder. For the moment, it's just the two of us in this hidden, sealed-off room. Her heat mingles with mine. I'll take a small sip of the tea, warm and bitter and clean, and then she'll just take the cup off my hands, pressing it against her lips.

Oh god the mental image is so adorable I'm having a heart attack right now.

[c] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her or something terribly, terribly dumb.

Onward, to Kosuzu shenanigans. And put her in that leotard, damn it.
>>No. 38141
[x] Have Kosuzu help. I've no doubt that Akyuu's already given the broad strokes to my little pseudo-apprentice, but a more in-depth explanation would probably help smooth things over for her. Plus, she's terribly earnest, so if I have her playing good cop I'm sure I'll get other villagers on board... if they don't think I've corrupted her or something terribly, terribly dumb.
>>No. 38142
File 141784291285.jpg - (280.68KB, 773x710, Secret Wants.jpg) [iqdb]
38142
"Usually, I'd leave a one day warning before I'd close votes, but when every vote's for Kosuzu I think I'll just skip a step. I'll be begging the cute library girl for an assist, it seems!"

>>38127

"To be fair, I haven't actually told Kosuzu... well, anything. It just keeps slipping my mind; I'll have to wine and dine her properly before I ask for my little favor."

>>38136

"I, uh... sorry, but I can't really parse what you're trying to say, here."

>>38139

"I get the distinct feeling that any chance of quality time with Yuuka's passed. Far as I can tell, Alice probably doesn't want me in the Pavilion again."
>>No. 38144
>>38142
I see Akyuu knows how to play 52 pickup. Is the cat being dealt in?
>>No. 38147
>>38142
'
"I get the distinct feeling that any chance of quality time with Yuuka's passed. Far as I can tell, Alice probably doesn't want me in the Pavilion again.'
...
...
Agh! There went Lunasa. Da-yum, man! Lunasaaaaaa!
>>No. 38149
>>38147
Blame the sheer nature of the vote, a mix of girls, most of which never get stories, and leaving it up to the whims of anon and how they were written. Not sure how Hatate even won considering the other girls had much more going for them.

Not to say another won't give Lunasa a scene down the line
>>No. 38235
[x]Hold back. It wasn't exactly a promise, but Akyuu did ask me to go easy on things for Kosuzu's sake. I like to think I'm good enough to be able to push Kosuzu without going overboard, and slowing the action down would make it more exciting for the tots.

This isn't overkill day.
>>No. 38236
File 142856926473.jpg - (159.57KB, 850x601, All Seeing Magic.jpg) [iqdb]
38236
It's not too late in the day when I finally head over to the Village - and the Library that I've all but abandoned. It's only been a few days, to be sure, but I can't help the guilt that's slowly seeping into my heart. Even Mima hadn't left me to my own devices without some sort of direction on what to do or where to learn. I could come up with a dozen excuses on why I haven't been around to give Kosuzu a helping hand, but all the words just taste like ash in my mouth.

The sun is warm and the breeze is nice,and yet it's not helping my dour mood as I finally touch down in front of Suzunaan. Hell, I've half a mind to just wait outside for her to finish up the usual storytelling; anything to eke out a few more moments to compose myself. Everything in me just feels so listless the past few days... day. Jumping straight from drama to drama wears out its welcome pretty damn fast.

It's frustrating, trying to get my head in the game; one thing or another or keeps on derailing my train of thought, and I'm not really paying attention to Suzunaan's distinct lack of people. Instead, I just... saunter back to a well-worn magic circle, and start up the enchanting process all over again. I've only done about half of Kosuzu's books, and regardless of anything else, I do need to keep up my end of the bargain. Kosuzu has been more than generous - any more favors and I'd have to take her last name!

Like I mentioned before, enchanting Kosuzu's avalanche of books isn't quite mindless work, but it's close enough for my peace of mind. I need to shut my brain off lest I go crazy, and doing something as simple and clean as magicking some bundled paper is... nice. Nicer, now that I don't need to worry about distracting kids from my wayward apprentice's storytime. Before, I needed to have a stack of books at the ready - but with everyone who knows where, I can just will the books off the bookshelves and into my hand. Sure, it kicks up dust - like, lots of dust goddamn 'Suzu you need to clean more often - but it's fun, in its own weird way, seeing everything from hardbound novels to children's comics flapping away like ugly, squawking birds.

I'm halfway through the second half of Kosuzu's collection - so, about a quarter left- when Kosuzu's lovely voice pierces straight on through my cloudy thoughts.

"Alright, everyone, that's enough reading for now. Let's go outside and ~practice~" Even through the wooden wall and packed dirt, I can hear Kosuzu's infectious, pleased tone. The muffled cheers that follow after are a plus, too.

The book in my hands - something about monstrous multi-dimensional beings from the watery depths - is quickly tossed aside and utterly forgotten as I step out to see what the fuss is all about. Good timing too, since I can hear a small crowd's worth of excited, youthful laughter.

I keep my head down when I slip outside Suzunaan, and spy with my little eyes a Kosuzu leading a few kids outside Kirisame Library and towards the empty lot besides us. There weren't a lot of kids, not nearly as many as during Kosuzu's usual afterschool specials, but it certainly wasn't just four magic-eager tots. I can even see a few of my old books, some held lovingly by arms far too small for them, other crudely and eagerly tucked under armpits. Wear and tear's no problem at all for these paperbacks, and even from my distance I can feel the magic in the grimoires humming along, happy to be read once more.

So I don't bother resisting the urge to glance back in Suzunaan, with its eclectic collection and all. And as I make my way towards Kosuzu and her new minions, I make sure all the books I've tossed about are all put into place.

"Alright then - everyone! We're gonna play a special game now, so pay attention~"

There's a bit of jealousy in me, that's for sure - Kosuzu's just a way better teacher than I am. All at once, her years of fairy tale reading experience come to the fray; she sweeps her pretty eyes over the crowd, making sure all eyes were on her, before she stepped back and explained the rules. With the amount of cheer in her voice, she could make painting fences seem fun.

With my first session, I scrambled to try and mix play and work. Kosuzu, though, makes it seem elegant and effortless. At a quick nod, and the shake of one of her shining bells, the lot explodes into the most demented game of tag I've ever seen. In a blink of an eye, kids start flinging themselves through the air by mounds of dirt, or trapping each other into the moderately shallow pits of the earth. The bright blue sky's practically dyed dusty brown now, and as play continues, the empty lot turns into something not unlike a warzone.

The cheeriest warzone ever, but those are definitely trenches I'm seeing, and both boys and girls are diving into them for a moment's reprieve.

The screams and laughter and floating dirt's enchanting to see, and I end up sitting down to watch it all. Joke's on me, though, because as soon as I do I end up sinking up to my knees.

My captor's pretty humble, though; as far as bragging goes, all Kosuzu does is softly giggle before patting me on the cheek. Kosuzu's hand is dirttier now, dusted with flecks of brown, but she's just as warm as always. Feeling her pale, delicate skin gain just a bit of friction is nice, and it's definitely not my fault if I lean into her warmth just a little more.

"Tag, you're it," she belatedly murmurs, before finally letting her grip on the earth fade away. I'm still stuck in the dirt, of course, but it's not too much trouble to scramble out and dust myself off.

'Course, when I try to pull her into a hug, Kosuzu just laughs again and pirouettes away. The hem of her checkered kimono flare up while she dances on solid ground, treating the dusty earth like it's frictionless ice. Her bells jingle again when I make one more half-hearted lunge, so I guess this round's my loss.

"When did you get so good at magic, huh?" I do my best to keep my own tone jovial, and by all accounts it seems to work; Kosuzu just giggles away at my faux-pout and mockingly shakes her head. Her brass bells sound out with a cheer when she finally sits down; for a moment, us two silly magicians can just lie back in the shade of a tree, and watch our charges play.

"Probably when you gave me a bunch of magic books to watch over, Master~" A flash of heat wells up as soon as I hear that pretty title roll off her lips. Luckily for my dignity, I'm not the only one - when I look up again, Kosuzu's eyes are just as embarrassed as mine, and the flush on her cheeks makes her as red as her hair.

The birds sing, the children play, but all I can hear are her breaths and mine. My little apprentice seems impossibly delicate, like a newbloom flower or a handbound novel.

So how could I resist? With an outstretched hand, I tap Kosuzu's flushed, pretty cheek once, then twice more 'till she flinches.

When my librarian comes to, I'm staring right into her, my blond locks mingling with her vibrant red bangs. Our slow, too-steady breaths dance across each other's cheeks, and I can see the exact points where the gears stop turning and her mind goes blank.

Kosuzu's always been friendly, but she's never been this accepting of my flirtations. I can't help but wonder why, and in a blink a dozen's dozen ideas begin running through my mind. It's even more surprising when they're all believable. I can't pin down what's changed in her, I realize, because Kosuzu's an enigma to me. What would make her shyly blush, and raise her lips closer to mine? What could coax her towards me and magic, instead of safety and comfort?

Havng Kosuzu's friendship is easy. There's no real games to play, or delicate wordings to double check. And while that might be normal for everyone else, for me it's utterly novel. Even this new mystery isn't stressful at all; it's just curious, and enticing, and magical. And hey, if we got what it takes, why can't this be love?

But I've digressed enough; once I get the fluff out of my thoughts, it's just a matter of leaning forward just a bit, 'til a kiss is almost inevitable -

Before I press a manicured finger upon Kosuzu's rosy red lips, and whisper with a teasing wink, "Tag, you're it."

Kosuzu might be good on solid ground, but she's nowhere as fast as me. All it takes is a quick jump back and I land in the midst of the magical horde of kids, far before the belled redhead has her arm halfway out. Our audience is as silent as the grave, and awed eyes are all on me. A girl could get used to this. "Come on, Kosuzu - let's show them how grown ups play!" A little practical demonstration could never hurt.

I have my own reasons for calling her out, of course. I want to see how far she's gotten, with just the barest instruction and her own motivation. I want to impress her, to dazzle her with my skill and knock her off her feet. And I want to share how I feel with my magic, and see if she what she'll share, too.

When a bunch of tiny heads swivel around, thrusting Kosuzu into the spotlight, she steps up like it ain't no thing. My apprentice makes a show of dusting herself off, lacing her slender, delicate fingers and stretching to the sky. And then, like she was heading to school, Kosuzu starts walking towards me without a care in the world. All the kids dash off to the sides, hiding behind small trenches and smaller mounds and watching with rapt attention.

That look on Kosuzu's utterly new, and utterly dazzling. She's confident, beaming, making the earth tremble with her lightest steps. The foliage is sent drifting slowly down to the ground, and when she finally stops, her smile turns just a bit more coy.

All we need is a tumbleweed to pass us by.

----------------------------------

How should I handle this? Flying's out of the question, of course, but...

[ ] Go full throttle. Danmaku and dueling has taught me more than just being flashy; dancing around Kosuzu'd be easy peasy, and a bright girl like her would appreciate the challenge.

[ ]Hold back. It wasn't exactly a promise, but Akyuu did ask me to go easy on things for Kosuzu's sake. I like to think I'm good enough to be able to push Kosuzu without going overboard, and slowing the action down would make it more exciting for the tots.
>>No. 38237
[X]Hold back. It wasn't exactly a promise, but Akyuu did ask me to go easy on things for Kosuzu's sake. I like to think I'm good enough to be able to push Kosuzu without going overboard, and slowing the action down would make it more exciting for the tots.

This is as much about teaching as it is about teasing.
>>No. 38238
[X] Hold back. It wasn't exactly a promise, but Akyuu did ask me to go easy on things for Kosuzu's sake. I like to think I'm good enough to be able to push Kosuzu without going overboard, and slowing the action down would make it more exciting for the tots.

There's a time to go full throttle on Kosuzu, but you're not in the bedroom now so you should instead be reasonable.
>>No. 38239
[x] Hold back. It wasn't exactly a promise, but Akyuu did ask me to go easy on things for Kosuzu's sake. I like to think I'm good enough to be able to push Kosuzu without going overboard, and slowing the action down would make it more exciting for the tots.

We can go full throttle in the bedroom afterwards.
>>No. 38240
[x] full throttle

One of these Will backfire horribly. And it will seem obvious in hindsight.
Either we easily crush her and her humiliation drives us apart or we treat her like a kid, showing that we have no confidence whatsoever on her and doing what Reimu just said we shouldn't.
>>No. 38241
[X]Hold back.

Don't be a dick about it. You can ratchet up easier than ratchet down.
>>No. 38244
[X] Go full throttle. Danmaku and dueling has taught me more than just being flashy; dancing around Kosuzu'd be easy peasy, and a bright girl like her would appreciate the challenge.

Be sure to blare this as the fight theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULL7apmAJTE
>>No. 38245
[c] Go full throttle. Danmaku and dueling has taught me more than just being flashy; dancing around Kosuzu'd be easy peasy, and a bright girl like her would appreciate the challenge.

I missed this.
>>No. 38246
[ ]Hold back. It wasn't exactly a promise, but Akyuu did ask me to go easy on things for Kosuzu's sake. I like to think I'm good enough to be able to push Kosuzu without going overboard, and slowing the action down would make it more exciting for the tots.

If you wish to show her how you feel with ~magic~ it's good to make it a close, more flamboyant match, no? Just make sure not to go too over the top~!
>>No. 38247
File 142878508915.png - (581.21KB, 603x744, Kosuzu's Interests.png) [iqdb]
38247
"Hey guys! Thanks for sticking along for the ride - things just keep piling up, and it took a long while for me to finish up. You guys know the drill; votes close in 24 hours.

>>38147
>>38149

"I know how you feel - Lunasa was just gorgeous, and if she plays instruments that well she must have been good with her hands. If I had the money, I'd definitely stick around to play with her - but the Pavilion commands some hefty prices. You get what you pay for, but I can't pay it."

>>38238
>>38239

"Wow, you guys are uh, pretty forward.

...How would you suggest inviting Kosuzu over? If, you know, it ever hypothetically came up."

>>38240

"Nah; nothing bad will happen, I guarantee it. My Little Bell and I are both mature, responsible adults, so neither of us will take things too seriously."

>>38245

"Thank you. It's a bit egotistical, but it's nice to know that people cared about this tale of mine."
>>No. 38248
>>38247 Having good hands is nice, and all, but Lunasa's hands were probably the equivalent of ice cubes in that chilly (but lovely) scene. Probably wouldn't have been the case after a little foreplay, but still. Regarding your lightweight wallet, why not just save up for a year or two?
>>No. 38249
[x]Hold back. It wasn't exactly a promise, but Akyuu did ask me to go easy on things for Kosuzu's sake. I like to think I'm good enough to be able to push Kosuzu without going overboard, and slowing the action down would make it more exciting for the tots.

We can step it up partway through if Kosuzu's better than we thought. Seems like it might be immature to go all-out immediately; it's not like we're marking our territory or anything, right?
>>No. 38250
>>38236
[x]Hold back. It wasn't exactly a promise, but Akyuu did ask me to go easy on things for Kosuzu's sake. I like to think I'm good enough to be able to push Kosuzu without going overboard, and slowing the action down would make it more exciting for the tots.

Going full Marisa would have the kids wondering what happened, better to give them a show and push Kosuzu to great magicianism. Also consider having her call Marisa "Mistress"
>>No. 38251
File 142889024844.png - (354.67KB, 500x750, Secret Sleepover.png) [iqdb]
38251
"Alright, guys. Bit late to the punch, but here we are; looks like Kosuzu gets to play on Easy Mode. No promises on if she wins, but she will enjoy it!"

>>38248
"'Cause I'm lazy. That's pretty much the long and short of it."
>>No. 38252
>>38251
Woman needs to keep her frills up.
>>No. 38273
File 143251757894.jpg - (351.24KB, 1000x1400, Darkest Arts.jpg) [iqdb]
38273
It's a bit unfair to keep the sun to my back, but I'd say it's good practice all the same. I know I'd trade a little bit of blindness for keeping Reimu grounded any day, that's for sure.

Still, even if the sun's shining brightly, Kosuzu's keeping up a good poker face. She doesn't bother squinting, but it's not like her eyes are completely shut, either. As the wind between us dances in her scarlet hair, my cute little apprentice keeps her eyes half-lidded. It's not particularly dismissive - if anything, with the way her pink, pretty lips pull into a smile? I'd say Kosuzu was downright gorgeous.

I'm too easily distracted, though; it's only when Kosuzu's grin gets wider do I finally notice the hum of the earth - and the distinct fragility of crumbling dirt. I won't lie - My yelp was high pitched and loud when I dove to the side, just in time for Kosuzu to yank down on empty air. My feet had just left the ground when a giant trap hole appeared, just seconds too late to send me falling on my ass.

Kosuzu has a good head on her shoulders and she doesn't let up, even after the failed opening move. And I have to admit that it's humbling - I've been far too spoiled with flying, being able to speed my way past everything. But now that I'm as airborne as every other human in the Village, I've bitten off maybe a bit more then I can chew.

Because my little bell is going all out. Her boots are practically glowing as she dances through our little spar, more gliding than running on base, simple earth. The dirt kicks up trails in her wake whenever she dashes by me, and even though some sand in my eyes isn't enough to take me down, that shit still stings. It's as impressive as it is terribly annoying.

The cute, unassuming librarian is suddenly way too agile, and I'm just not used to being on the defensive. The first shots I manage to fingerbang out at her are almost casually blocked with a swipe and a sudden wall of earth, and even the tiny sparks of light when our magic collides are obscured by the ever growing cloud of dirt that Kosuzu's dishing out. Every breath I take as this goes on gets drier and grittier; clenching my jaw just crushes countless grains between my teeth.

It's instinct and audio cues that keeps me from getting cornered, so at least some things stay the same. With magic enhancing my senses, it's child's play to hear Kosuzu's bells chiming, even through the gasps of tots and the ever-growing rumbling of hardened soils. Her footsteps are a bit trickier, but my apprentice's sweet mojo radiates out like a staccatto of pulses; she'd have better luck just throwing out giant earth-hands to come at me, but maybe she's not that good yet. For now, I can still sidestep 'Suzu when she tries a drive by grab, and no amount of obscuring dirt in the world is gonna conceal her properly.

But hey. For Kosuzu's first try, she dances pretty well. There are wasted movements here and there; Kosuzu ends up stumbling a lot when she overreaches, and she's giving no thought at all to rationing her energy. 'Course, I can't really fault her for the latter; sometimes all you really can do is go full throttle.

Like now. My redheaded partner's drenched in sweat, enough to make her gleam in the light. Her kimono's as stained and soaked as her eyes are brilliantly bright, and there's no lie on her wide, exhilarating grin. She shouts, shouts loud and proud, as she raises up a barrage of improvised buckshot to fling my way.

The earth around her sinks as she weaves her danmaku into the air. It's almost, but not quite, a solid wall of bullets double my height. I wouldn't be able to jump over it without magic, not in a million years.

Not that I have any plans to dodge. A display as beautifully simple as this deserves some recognition, you know?

It's hard to win a quickdraw when the other gal already has a bead on you. I barely have any time to conjure up some evanescent stars before the avalanche of rocks and pebbles is upon me, and once I manage to actually fire everything just blows up in a storm of grit and powdered dust.

The denseness and physicality of dirt can make up for a lack of oomph, but my shots are stronger and brighter to boot. Just a few stars were enough to punch a safety hole in Kosuzu's onslaught, and besides some dirt that'll wash out, I'm right as rain.

I don't think much of how Kosuzu's soaked her everything into the thousands of particles in the air. I don't even consider that dirt clouds shouldn't really linger in the air this long, or how unnaturally big and blinding it is when I try to escape. I'm surrounded by a thick, brown fog that's chafing at this point, and a little later I have to bring my blouse up to filter through all the muck.

So that's naturally when the clap of thunder hits. Kosuzu's voice is clear as bells, but there's, as always, a hint of sweet smug glee. "Earth Sign - Dirty Fighting!"

As soon as the Spellcard's declared, I end up falling on my ass. All the dirt on my clothes and skin suddenly has a weight to it, an awkwardness that feels like someone's thrown a king sized comforter right in my face. It's not that it's particularly heavy; it's just really hard to get away from, and it's muddling my senses to boot.

I'd be close enough to a sitting duck if Kosuzu could keep this up and concentrate fire. That she can't is my one saving grace; the little miasma the pretty librarian's cooked up seems to lighten up just before a few shots get blasted out from who knows where. Against any other human here, and even some of the weaker youkai, the little bursts of speed and sloth would have been too disorienting to survive.

For me, it's not even a problem. I might be blinded, but I'm not yet deaf, and I can still feel Kosuzu's magic on my skin.

Kosuzu's first pattern is pretty simple, blinding dirt aside. Wave after wave of shots come zooming straight at me from all the cardinal directions. Or at least, I think they're cardinal - with my eyes shut to keep from watering, it's pathetically easy to get spun right 'round. Reimu would be able to keep her head and dodge without breaking a sweat. Me? I have to eat a lot of dirt to keep from getting smacked upside the head.

Still, timing out Kosuzu's trick isn't impossible. As the seconds tick on, the blinding cloud of dirt begins to ease up, as my clever girl uses it up to provide the mass for her danmaku. Everything starts to speed up - my speed, the shot speed - I can even hear Kosuzu's bells in a constant muddled chime, and the faintest blurs of her red-white form whenever the wind scatters the magical earth.

It's only when all the dust's been packed into bullets can I finally make Kosuzu out. I can't imagine how I looked, with all the filth and grime turning my whites dark brown. But Kosuzu's not too hot, either; just the strain of all this magic's left her breathless, and I don't think it's the sun that's making her sweat and flush.

If Kosuzu had been using any other element, she'd probably have this in the bag. As far as the Western Four goes, earth's probably the easiest to fling about, but at the same time it's just too... ineffectual. Fire's quickest, it burns fast and hard with just the lightest spark of magic. Wind's hardest to tame, but it's everywhere and for all intents and purposes invisible. Water's the most efficient, 'cause even someone who's running on fumes can throw a tidal wave or two if the sea's underneath their feet.

'Course, for all her weaknesses, Kosuzu's still got me hemmed in. On all sides, no less. If I'm the cornered mouse, she's a mean ass pussycat, with a feral heat in her eyes and her dirt-caked hands outstretched like claws.

She doesn't put her dukes down either, even when she starts gliding towards me on upturned earth. The redhead's bells aren't chiming anymore, clogged up as they are, but the cheerfulness in her voice more than makes up for it.

"So, uh, Miss Marisa.... Can we call this my win?" Most people don't quite dazzle when they're huffy and red in the face, but Kosuzu's never been most people. She's breathing deeply and calmly as she talks, doing her best to give herself a casual flair while she catches her breath. It's cute, charming, even if I can feel her power start to flicker away. "I'm kinda pooped, and you can't really escape, so... good enough, maybe? Hopefully?"

"And let you miss the best part? Come on, 'Suzu, don't be like that." I can see the exact moment when that sinking feeling seeps into the librarian's spine, and I'm left grinning wider than ever. "You've left me groaning for air and aching all over, you know? I don't let just anyone pound me into the dirt. I know you have enough in you for one last hurrah, so why not just finish me off? It'll feel great, I promise."

In retrospect, I can't really believe the shit that just spewed out of my mouth. Kosuzu's speechless too, and for the first time I genuinely can't read her face.

I can, however, read the flare of her magic; Kosuzu's... sorta an honest sort of girl, and in any case she doesn't have any experience in disguising magic intent. Before her checkerboard of buckshot comes flying at me, I've already stomped my foot into the ground, shooting a jolt of reality-bending will deep below.

The same party trick I showed the kids a few weeks ago keeps my ass outta the fire; just like that, a huge, hastily-made pillar shoots out from underneath my feet, carrying me way outta the line of fire. Kosuzu's coup de grâce bounces harmlessly off the thick obelisk, unable to leave even a chip or a dent.

Once I'm safe from any possible attack, all the tension and adrenalin starts draining out of me. Kosuzu's pretty smart, so she'll eventually surrender; until then, I have all the time in the world to survey the Village. I mean, it's not like I'm so high up that I can't make anything out. Off to the left of us, the children are cheering and clapping at this silly duel, and a little over yonder their parents look on in wonder. I wave, of course, and they don't wave back... but today I think I'll chalk it up more to bad eyesight than bad manners.

And, as is the way of the world, I am immediately punished for my hubris. When I finally deign to look straight down, I can see the top of Kosuzu's head, and her palms pressed right against my makeshift cylinder. I can also see that my little platform is starting to crack and fissure.

Kosuzu's breakdown of my magic is slow going, way slower than what I can do - and if I wanted to, I could just fly to total safety. But that, I think, would be a bit too cruel. Not when Kosuzu's doing her damndest to win, and all the kids are cheering their big sister on.

So as the cracks race up the wall, and everyone's breath is held tight to their chest... I close my eyes and grit my teeth. It won't be the first time I've hit the ground, and magic will take the brunt of the fall, but, well - what hurts, hurts.

It's not too hard to fall with style. It's even easier when the style's 'like a hapless idiot'. The wind whipps past me as I sink through the atmosphere, sending me tumbling through an avalanche of broken up chunks of rock. And when the ricochet of debris leaves me face first with the ground, my voice might have gotten just a bit louder.

I close my eyes. I brace myself as best I could. I even hope that this won't be enough to knock me out, even with all my protections.

The thump of hitting the ground was a lot more soft and regional than I expected, and when the ringing in my ears didn't so much violently stop as much as gently fade away, it wasn't hard to figure out someone caught me. Reimu's just as likely to let me fall as she is to save my ass, but... hey, maybe our talk raised my chances.

But my savior's hands are just a bit too small to be Reimu's, and her arms are clearly straining under my weight - not like someone who was about to let me fall, but more like the strain of someone who was simply unused to so much effort.

She didn't smell like my shrine maiden, either. Instead, she was... soft, musky, like dust-covered books.

So, I guess I wasn't too surprised when I opened my eyes, and saw Kosuzu's pretty ruby orbs looking into my own.

But her kissing me in the air, quick and chaste but a kiss all the same, left me utterly breathless.
>>No. 38274
>But her kissing me in the air, quick and chaste but a kiss all the same, left me utterly breathless.

Careful, Marisa. I fear the day that you'll have all the girls fawning over you and you can't decide on which one to aim for.
>>No. 38275
>>38274
You mean right now? Our Marisa's a heartbreaker-always has been.
>>No. 38277
Well, this is... nice, I guess, but should we voted for something or what?
>>No. 38278
>>38277
I suppose.
[X] Let the sexing begin.
>>No. 38279
Well that was an impressive match, all right!

All hail the wonder of magic!

[X] Kiss her back.
[X] Then settle down and head back to the ground. Save the romance for in private~
>>No. 38285
[X] Kiss her forehead.
[X] Then settle down and head back to the ground.

Too. Many. Choices.

Gaaah.
>>No. 38286
>>38285

I was gonna rage, but then I remembered that doing this sometimes alerts the writefags and gets them writing.

Thanks.
>>No. 38288
File 144066746311.jpg - (637.00KB, 1920x1080, press f.jpg) [iqdb]
38288
>>No. 38289
File 14421673774.jpg - (87.12KB, 700x700, Lunch Dates.jpg) [iqdb]
38289
Once Kosuzu's done establishing her superiority all over me, I end up doing most of the work while we float back down to sweet, solid ground. The redhead's a trooper, but I've gone through enough hoedowns to know when someone's acting tough - and even if I didn't, the trembling in her fingers gives her away.

But I don't mind floating just enough to be light as a feather, and bury my face into Kosuzu's soft chest for just a little longer. She's always smelted like musky dust and well-worn paper, but there's an... earthiness there, something visceral in her, that leaves my heart pounding just a bit too hard even though the adrenalin's all gone.

It's only a scant few seconds before we touch down, though, and I'm good enough at keeping the regret off my face when I finally pull away from my adorably brave librarian. I'm also good at getting the hell out of dodge, as all the kids suddenly crowd around Kosuzu like she's the next big thing. Which she is.

"You can fly!?"

"Miss 'Suzu, Miss 'Suzu, will we get to learn all of that too!?"

"You beat up Miss Marisa! That was so cool!"

The gleeful roaring's enough to drown out Kosuzu's voice - and her muted bells - but the tired and pleased grin tugging on her face is more than enough to keep me sated. She did good. Hell, she did amazing, and she deserves all the accolades she can get.

...'Course, pride isn't the only thing that's racing through my had. I can still feel 'Suzu's lingering warmth on my lips, a natural, gentle softness that's different in all the right ways from Alice or Reimu. The full-body tingle that coursing through me isn't just the afterglow of magic, and I'm left faintly hoping that people will just wave away the flush on my cheeks.

I can't make sense of it. I can't even begin to try. Kosuzu's great, but... I mean, let's face it. We haven't really interacted that much. And as far as I knew, she and Akyuu were still an item.

I mean, I'll admit it - if Akyuu was a total bitch I'd have no problems whisking Kosuzu off her feet. But... the Lady Hieda's a nice girl, too. A lot nicer than most people give her credit or, I think. So where there'd usually be self-indulgent pride and confidence... instead, there's just butterflies in my stomach.

So it's a mixed blessing when some of the parents finally go around the crowd to talk to me. I've never been good with dealing with older people, but at the same time, it keeps me from thinking about my love life for just a little longer.

My smiles and my waving doesn't do all that much to put them at ease, though. One of the parents - a non descript man with the typical yukata and stubble look that's popular these days - is the lucky leader of this merry band, and he's the only guy who has the stones to step up and talk the talk.

"Ah - Miss Kirisame, the other parents and I have been discussing amongst ourselves, and we do have a few concerns about what our children will be learning..."

Fair enough. Heaven knows I've sprained a few limbs when I started flying. And I'm not too inclined to piss off my clientele, especially since they're actually being polite. So I take a moment to clear my throat, brush my apron with magic fingers to make myself presentable, and start spinning bullshit as fast as I can.

----------------------------------

"...So no, I don't plan on this being expressly for danmaku or anything like that. But it's a useful skill to have, even with the Spellcard rules in place, and it's going to keep the property damage to a minimum while they learn how to use magic for the first time. Does that make sense?"

I'm greeted with a bunch of nods - some hesitant, some not so much, but either way it's enough to leave me with relief flowing into my chest. Good thing, too, 'cause Kosuzu's finally tuckered out, and all the kids are beginning to drag their moms and dads away.

I don't say a word, I don't even let it show on my face, but it's only thanks that they're walking away that I can hide the anxiety and the baited breath. But... patience is a virtue, as Reimu so often reminds me, and today virtue's rewarded; whether it's the easier access to the box, or genuine gratitude for me and Kosuzu's little show, some of them do finally donate. Not much, and it's more coins than bills, but... it's something. Reimu will be tickled pink.

Kosuzu's standing beside me as we watch the crowd disperse, and I can feel her tension and her mojo still rolling off her in waves. And for someone who's only started to break reality over her knee recently, her breathing's really obviously controlled.

"Hey, Kosuzu. They're gone - you don't need to put up a front now, you know? Turn it off and we can go get lunch, my treat."

My voice is the thing that breaks the spell. As soon as the last sweet word spills past my lips, the melodic and telltale hum shuts itself off, and Kosuzu collapses into my arms. She's breathing heavy, practically panting for breath as she trembles all over. Now she's the one pressing into me, and I don't need to see her to know her smile's bright as the sun.

Her cute voice might be muffled thanks to all the clothing, but I can still hear her just fine. "That was so, so cool."

When I ruffle her hair, it's not silky-soft anymore. Her vibrant locks are matted with sweat and dusted with dirt, and even her bells have tinny rings thanks to being half-caked. But it's still nice to run my fingers through it, and with her pressing her head further up into my palm, it seems like she doesn't mind it either.

She doesn't pull away when we start walking, though, and it's only luck that's keeping the odd looks away from us. Oh, there are a few stragglers here and there, but as far as I can tell, they're heading towards a different resturaunt then Seki's today. It leaves me free to support Kosuzu's weight, wrap one arm around her waist for comfort, and bury my face to breathe more of her in.

My luck being what it is, though, we still end up on the tail end of the lunch rush when we finally get to Seki's noodle shop. There are only so many seats in the tiny stall, but it looks like she's managed to bring out a bunch of folding chairs and tables. Even then, all the seats are filled, and even strangers who've never met end up sitting side by side, and dig their chopsticks into healthy-sized bowls.

The full force of savory soup and faint garlic hits me again when I walk in, and even Kosuzu pulls away from me to get in a nice, long sniff. All the counter stools are taken, of course, and even the corner tables are packed to the brim - but right now, Sekibanki's just washing dishes, and she gives us a quick nod as we walk on over.

"Think you can whip up something cold and refreshing? We could use it." Soupless meals aren't exactly on the menu, but Seki seems like a flexible soul. Sure enough, two takeout bowls are on the counter in a matter of minutes, filled with chilled, chewy noodles and freshly cut veggies.

Kosuzu tries to beat me to the payment draw, but all it should take is a firm hand to make her put away her money pouch. "Come on, Kosuzu, let the Mistress treat her apprentice." My smile this time is evidently a bit more dopey than charming, because instead of blushing and shying away, my librarian just laughs and rolls her eyes.

It works, though. In the end, she slides her coins back into her pocket, and carries the red, porcelain bowls through the door as I count out my change.

Even within the Village's walls, there are patches of untamed land here or there. So we end up eating near the outskirts, with a small grove of trees providing us with much appreciated shade and privacy. Sure, bringing back the bowls when we're done would be a mite annoying were we not two magical asskickers, but being able to charm the porcelain to just float back into Seki's waiting hands lets me be a bit more choosy on where we eat. And hey - no people, no bitching when when I magic up some clay seats and a picnic table to make eating easy.

With the spring-summer breeze serenading us via Kosuzu's faint, ringing bells, we give our thanks and dive right in. And, it's good. There's just a hint of sour saltiness thanks to whatever sauce Seki's cooked up this time, and the thinly sliced carrots and herbs keep the texture from getting too samey.

But I'm not as hungry as Kosuzu is - she's practically wolfing the entire plate down, and it's a bit funny seeing such a nice, polite girl throw all her table manners out the window. I try not to stop and stare, but... wow, she can really put it away.

It's because of the magic, of course. Shit's tiring like you wouldn't believe, and Mima always complained about how much she'd have to shell out to keep me full. It takes a while before a gal can build up the stamina to use it willy nilly like I do, and until then we have to get the energy from somewhere else.

So when Kosuzu finishes her meal, and desperately tries to hide her embarrassment as she eyes my bowl, I just roll my eyes right back and slide it on over to her.

Now that she's sated most of the hunger, Kosuzu's actually free to enjoy the meal now. She lingers as she uses my chopsticks to bring the food to her slightly-parted lips, and I doubt I'm the only one who feels that faint thrill at an indirect kiss.

Without anything to distract me, I'm inevitably drawn towards my little minx of a librarian. I won't deny that it's probably a little weird of me to like just... watching Kosuzu eat, but... I don't know. I'm too easily enamored, I guess.

Whatever the case, I don't particularly like being kept in the dark, and Kosuzu's slowing down when she feels how intense my gaze is getting. I'm not sure what comes first, her putting down the chopsticks or me speaking up, but it doesn't really matter compared to what comes next.

"Kozusu... I'm flattered, but... why? I thought you and Akyuu were an item."

"We were - we are! We still are." Kosuzu repeats herself, and it's hard to say whether she's trying to convince me or herself. But she gives up the ghost pretty quickly, and her next sentence comes out with a sigh. "It's complicated."

Birds of a feather. When I reach out to take her hands in mine, there's nothing but empathy. "Love always is. Lay it on me."

"...I'm... give me a minute? I need to compose myself." I'm willing to give Kosuzu all the time in the world, so I just squeeze her hand while she closes her eyes and bites her lip. She fidgets, a little, and takes a few breaths, and when she opens her eyes, there's a heartbreaking mix of want and guilt.

"I don't want to say she bores me, because she doesn't. But... I always feel like she's stifling me. I like books and poetry as much as the next gal, but sometimes I want to to... Out. To do something. And Akyuu... she treats me like a delicate little flower."

I can feel her nails start to dig into my skin, but I give it no mind. I just close my eyes and lean forward, and let Kosuzu's everything pour out on me.

"And... and with Akyuu... I don't feel like I could ever be her equal. She's lived so long, and seen so much, and, and... I know I'm not her first love. I don't mind that. But she just has so much experience that it..." Kosuzu doesn't cry, but she does let out a sad, slow sigh. "That sometimes, I feel like I'm just a novelty to her. Someone who can keep her entertained while she waits out her lifespan."

"It sounds like you've been mulling over things for a while." However much I want to, I can't bring myself to just agree with Kosuzu. She's right - or, rather, she has a point. But I've hung out with Akyuu enough to know she has a point too, and I don't think I'm capable of just throwing the little noble under the bus. Not anymore.

"Yeah. I guess you could say that." Kosuzu pauses to recollect herself and her thoughts, and the few seconds that pass help dial the tension back to something manageable. But Kosuzu still can't keep the sadness out of her eyes, and I struggle to keep the pity out of mine.

"But, Marisa... Mistress. You might not have all the life experience Akyuu does, but you're a lot more willing to share it. There's just... there's so much in the world out there that regular books can't capture, and then you come waltzing in to teach me - to teach everyone who wants to learn.

"So... I guess I'm a little enamored. And it's probably puppy love. But I wanted to see what it'd feel like, at least once. And kissing you, Mistress... it was good. Different, but good. And I guess I was hoping it'd be bad, since that'd make the choice easy."

Kosuzu's smile comes out weak, and it's nowhere close to reaching her eyes. But the emotion's still shining out, so I can't help but fall for her a little more. But I think Kosuzu has a way with words, because the next couple leave me awkwardly flushed.

"If I'm Akyuu's delicate little flower, then you're the one who's helping me bloom."

Okay, so really it's cheesy as all get out, but the sheer sincerity still hits home. It's touching, and as soon as I smile I can see her pain die down.

"I still don't know what I want. And maybe it's cowardly of me, but I think you'd know better than I would on how to deal with... all of this. Should I break things off with Akyuu? Or should I be satisfied with this freedom, this little moment?"

If it was anyone else, I'd probably balk at this amount of pressure. But if I'm to be Kosuzu's Mistress - in either sense of the word - then I guess I just have to step up to the plate. But even I'm at a loss on what to say.

----------------------------------------

[ ] Suggest Kosuzu end things with Akyuu. It's not anyone's fault, but Kosuzu's unhappy, and it's not like they're engaged or anything. Akyuu was young once too, so she'll probably understand. And if she doesn't... oh well. It's not her choice to make.

[ ] Suggest Kosuzu to stay with Akyuu. By Kosuzu's own admission, what she's feeling now is probably puppy love, and she's going to regret it if she does anything rash. Akyuu's been good to her, will continue to be good to her, and Kosuzu will grow out of this phase. It hurts, but... I shouldn't just steal her away.


...And the truth is, I'm not comfortable making that decision for her. It's not my place.

"Maybe you should be talking to Akyuu instead of me, Kosuzu." The words taste a bit like ash on my mouth, but they still come out strong and true.

Kosuzu acts like I've grown two heads at first, and then she can't bear to look me in the eye. "...Yeah. You're right. I shouldn't have even thought about cheating on her."

"No, no, that's not what I mean." I reach out to lift her soft, delicate chin, and I don't look away when I see her bright garnet eyes start to water.

"I like you too, Kosuzu. You're smart, you're easy to get along with, and you keep me honest. Any guy or gal would be happy to nab you, and I'm absolutely flattered you'd choose me." I keep my heart calm and sure, and hopefully my voice will follow.

"But you still love Akyuu. Or else you wouldn't be wavering, I think."

"I do. I mean... not sure what kind of love, but... she's my best friend. She's amazing, and I just want..." Kosuzu trails off, her voice still shaky, and when she pulls away from my hand, it's to get a handkerchief to dab at her eyes.

"So... hash it out with her, Kosuzu. She might be a little stifling, but Akyuu really cares about you. You come up a lot when she and I talk, you know."

That little giggle of hers comes out again, just as pure and sweet as ever... and maybe just a tiny bit strained. But if she can still laugh, then I think that's a good sign.

"Yeah. You're right, Mistress. Akyuu and I can work something out, in the end. I'll go talk with her tonight. But..."

"But?"

"Could I... well, could we kiss a little more before we go? This might be the last time, so..."

Kosuzu tastes just a bit too sour for my tastes, thanks to the meal, but she's as warm and soft as ever, and she melts in my arms like nothing else.

---------------------

The sun's setting when we finally part, and I think it's gonna take a while before Kosuzu stops walking on air. There's a spring in her step and a calculating gleam in her eye, one that foretells interesting times.

For myself, I end up bringing the takeout bowls to Seki's place before flying back home. I'm too exhausted to think of dinner - all I want is a shower and some alone time before I go to bed. Not that I'll get much rest; there's plans to be made.

Because that was a lot of kids that Kosuzu's been mentoring while I had my head turned, and if the youkai class is anything similar, I'm going to have my hands full. I don't even want to think what a clusterfuck it'd be to run the combined class.

I need a hired hand, someone who knows a good chunk of magic and can keep brats in line. I can work on the sales pitch while I'm sleeping, but I think I need to figure out who to give the offer to. Decisions, decisions....

-------------------------

[ ]Ask Reimu. She has a vested interest in keeping this whole shebang going, and after I tell her she's getting actual donations, I think she'd be pretty eager to pitch in. And even if the adults sometime talk shit behind her back, the Shrine Maiden of Paradise is still loved by children. Youkai, not so much, but they'll fall in line. And, well... maybe working together can do something for our relationship.

[ ]Ask Byakuren. She's already offered to help me personally, and having her around would make sure all the youkai are perfect little angels. Really, the trick here is just figuring out how to keep the preaching tendencies reined in. I wouldn't mind converting to tap a booty like hers, but I suspect that'd be missing the point of Buddhism - and in any case, the parents wouldn't appreciate the whole child conversion thing.

[ ] Ask Miko. The girl's practically been gnawing on the bit to get her own input in, and personally I think she wants more fingers in my pie, double entendre intended. Still, she'd probably be the most professional compared to Reimu and Byakuren, so she'd take an even hand with both the kids and the youkai. Plus, I'd get to flirt around with her.

[ ] Write in.
>>No. 38290
[x] Ask Reimu. She has a vested interest in keeping this whole shebang going, and after I tell her she's getting actual donations, I think she'd be pretty eager to pitch in. And even if the adults sometime talk shit behind her back, the Shrine Maiden of Paradise is still loved by children. Youkai, not so much, but they'll fall in line. And, well... maybe working together can do something for our relationship.
>>No. 38291
[ ] Ask Miko. The girl's practically been gnawing on the bit to get her own input in, and personally I think she wants more fingers in my pie, double entendre intended. Still, she'd probably be the most professional compared to Reimu and Byakuren, so she'd take an even hand with both the kids and the youkai. Plus, I'd get to flirt around with her.
>>No. 38292
[x]Ask Reimu. She has a vested interest in keeping this whole shebang going, and after I tell her she's getting actual donations, I think she'd be pretty eager to pitch in. And even if the adults sometime talk shit behind her back, the Shrine Maiden of Paradise is still loved by children. Youkai, not so much, but they'll fall in line. And, well... maybe working together can do something for our relationship.
>>No. 38293
>>38289
[x] Ask Miko. The girl's practically been gnawing on the bit to get her own input in, and personally I think she wants more fingers in my pie, double entendre intended. Still, she'd probably be the most professional compared to Reimu and Byakuren, so she'd take an even hand with both the kids and the youkai. Plus, I'd get to flirt around with her.

As lovely as Byakuren is, Miko IS fronting a decent amount of support. Need to make nice with her as well.
>>No. 38294
[x]Ask Reimu. She has a vested interest in keeping this whole shebang going, and after I tell her she's getting actual donations, I think she'd be pretty eager to pitch in. And even if the adults sometime talk shit behind her back, the Shrine Maiden of Paradise is still loved by children. Youkai, not so much, but they'll fall in line. And, well... maybe working together can do something for our relationship.
>>No. 38295
[x] Ask Miko. The girl's practically been gnawing on the bit to get her own input in, and personally I think she wants more fingers in my pie, double entendre intended. Still, she'd probably be the most professional compared to Reimu and Byakuren, so she'd take an even hand with both the kids and the youkai. Plus, I'd get to flirt around with her.

I wonder how she'll be with the Youkai...
>>No. 38296
[x] Ask Miko. The girl's practically been gnawing on the bit to get her own input in, and personally I think she wants more fingers in my pie, double entendre intended. Still, she'd probably be the most professional compared to Reimu and Byakuren, so she'd take an even hand with both the kids and the youkai. Plus, I'd get to flirt around with her.
>>No. 38297
[c] Ask Miko. The girl's practically been gnawing on the bit to get her own input in, and personally I think she wants more fingers in my pie, double entendre intended. Still, she'd probably be the most professional compared to Reimu and Byakuren, so she'd take an even hand with both the kids and the youkai. Plus, I'd get to flirt around with her.

>"Could I... well, could we kiss a little more before we go? This might be the last time, so..."
Damn it, Marisa. Now I want to ship you with Kosuzu.
>>No. 38298
[x] Ask Byakuren. She's already offered to help me personally, and having her around would make sure all the youkai are perfect little angels. Really, the trick here is just figuring out how to keep the preaching tendencies reined in. I wouldn't mind converting to tap a booty like hers, but I suspect that'd be missing the point of Buddhism - and in any case, the parents wouldn't appreciate the whole child conversion thing.
>>No. 38301
File 144267709390.jpg - (1.78MB, 991x1464, The Prince.jpg) [iqdb]
38301
"Hey, guys! Sorry for the hiatus, there was always one problem after another, and I didn't get much time to do anything else. Thanks for your patience!

"But, to business. We have [b]one more day before I close votes,[b] so if you've been rubbing your eyes in disbelief, it's time to start believing!"

>>38274
>>38275

"I've always loved pretty easily, but I'm not too sure about being loved in return, you know? It's... hard, to notice these things until the other girls are making advances and stealing your lips.

"As for not knowing who to focus on... well, that's what you guys are for, eh?"

>>38277
>>38278
>>38279
>>38285
>>38286

"Hey, guys. Thanks for keeping the dream alive while I was gone - though, uh, you don't need to worry about votes when there's nothing to vote on. Discussion's good, though! Always good. And I'd be tickled pink if you kept on sharing this with your buds."

>>38288

"Like the Mokou, I rise from the ashes, bitches."

>>38293
>>38295

"Yeah. Looking back, we've basically been putting Miko on the backburner the entire time. I know they say that playing hard to get is supposed to keep their interest, but play too hard and the ladies will just go find someone who'll give them the time of day, you know?

"As for how she'll deal with Youkai... well, she's generally considered pro-human, but she's also a government official. She'll know how to be fair - more than Reimu, who's great for keeping everyone in line but only likes the kids, or Byakuren, who'll definitely keep the Youkai mellow but might agitate the adults."

>>38297

"Hahaha. That's how I feel every time one of the girls gets some spotlight. Who were you shipping me with before?"
>>No. 38302
[z] Ask Byakuren. She's already offered to help me personally, and having her around would make sure all the youkai are perfect little angels. Really, the trick here is just figuring out how to keep the preaching tendencies reined in. I wouldn't mind converting to tap a booty like hers, but I suspect that'd be missing the point of Buddhism - and in any case, the parents wouldn't appreciate the whole child conversion thing.
>>No. 38304
[x] Ask Miko. The girl's practically been gnawing on the bit to get her own input in, and personally I think she wants more fingers in my pie, double entendre intended. Still, she'd probably be the most professional compared to Reimu and Byakuren, so she'd take an even hand with both the kids and the youkai. Plus, I'd get to flirt around with her.
>>No. 38305
[x] Ask Miku. The girl's practically been gnawing on the bit to get her own input in, and personally I think she wants more fingers in my pie, double entendre intended. Still, she'd probably be the most professional compared to Reimu and Byakuren, so she'd take an even hand with both the kids and the youkai. Plus, I'd get to flirt around with her.
>>No. 38306
File 144278842985.jpg - (223.16KB, 850x956, Sun Kissed Rulers.jpg) [iqdb]
38306
"And despite >>38302's commendable effort of tide-pissing, the votes for Miko were a landslide. Looks like we'll be convincing the Prince to lend a helping hand."

"With any luck, this won't take three months for the next update. In the meantime, tho', I'm always open for a Q and A! Ask me whatever you like, you know the drill."
>>No. 38307
>>38306
Do you know if Wriggle's butt glows?
>>No. 38308
>>38306

Why do people call Miko the Crown Prince? Are they subtlety implying she has a dick?
>>No. 38313
>>38306
I'll just refer to your previous post, Marisa.

>>38301
Who? Oh come on. You know who I'm talking about. I mean, look, both you and Reimu perfectly complement each other, and I wouldn't mind you and Reimu living happily ever after, but damn. Kosuzu... your Kosuzu is so likeable and adorable, she might as well steal your heart before everybody else is.

Not to mention I so badly want to see her in that leotard.

My actual question, though, is: does Kosuzu realize that she's just damn cute?
>>No. 38316
>>38306 Have you had any encounters with Cirno since that one time she actually managed to beat you?
>>No. 38317
>>38306

Speaking of fairies; How do they avoid being sexually harassed by everyone? I mean like...it seems like anything that falls under the general category of "things Reimu doesn't give a shit about" will pretty much go unpunished in Gensokyo.
>>No. 38318
Have you ever considered visiting the Outside world for a bit? Maybe you should call in one of the favors Yukari owes you for saving Gensokyo all the time and ask for a visitors pass. Might make a nice date idea.
>>No. 38334
File 144640382379.jpg - (120.82KB, 850x638, Between Dye Jobs.jpg) [iqdb]
38334
It takes me a while to realize I'm dreaming. The atelier in my house has always looked faded, so it wasn't like I could notice any physical difference. The colors of the walls and the floor are on the edge of being washed out, just two steps away from being grungy white, and yet I I could swipe my hand against them and leave trails in dust.

Still, it's not my place to interrupt, not when my teacher's working her magic.

Mima's half-lounging in the air over a bubbling pewter couldron, her face carefully masked with feigned disinterest. So, nothing out of the ordinary there. The only difference is that today, there's a wisp of blue flame on her ghostly tail, one that she's tucked underneath the bottom of the massive witching pot.

Good thing, too. If there was an actual fire, then the little redheaded girl on the rickety wooden stepladder would be in quite a pickle. But with Mima watching over her safety, the small apprentice is free to take risks and learn from her mistakes. Mistakes like leaning too far over the rim of her couldron and falling in.

The splash is sudden yet inevitable, splattering viscous green goo all around the tiny atelier. The books are safe enough, thanks to the miracle of hardcover, but I remember the fit I threw when I realized all my notes were soaked. Now that I'm older, I'm more concerned with how the concoction's seeping through the wooden boards, and the stain the slime's going to leave behind.

Not that Mima gives a shit. She's still incorporeal, so all that prototype potion just flies right through her. I can see her shoulders shaking with held-in laughter as she peers in on the red-headed me, who's half floundering and half pouting as she sits in a small pool of goo.

"Mimaaaaa, help me out! I've fallen and I can't get up!" It's... weird, hearing my childhood voice; I'm lot higher-pitched then I remember sounding, for one. And the whine that's in the back of her throat is sorta endearing, but mostly embarrasing.

"Mmm... I don't think so, Mari. I did warn you that you were brewing more than you could handle. We can continue your lesson when you finish cleaning up."

Thus, I watch my mentor abandon me in my time of need without even a farewell. And it's hilarious. Mima's matching my smile as she walks towards me and the door, and I can feel more than see the point where she changes from an empty memory into something more.

"You never did stop going the extra mile. What was that saying, 'go big or go home'?" The gentle admonishment in her voice is wonderfully soothing, and then we leave my past self to stew in her own mistakes.

"I always was a problem child. Sorry for being incorrigible." My smile hasn't waned a bit, so I don't bother overplaying my contrition. It's my head, after all, and Mima, whether she's real or not, would smack me otherwise.

She takes my apology in good faith, and just waves me off with a flick of her wrist. "You'll grow out of it in time. Or into it, maybe." There's not much to say to that - mostly because it doesn't make much sense - but I try not to pry. I miss her too much. Instead, we descend into a comfortable silence. For a given value of silence; off in the distance, I can still hear little Mari's grumbling, and the faint hisses of magic as she tries and fails to vanish all the potion-ooze into the aether. There's a crackling fire, too, and it's a little longer before I notice that Mima never did put her tail out.

I don't get to ask her about it before my ghostly mentor decides to shortcut through the walls. But me, I'm still corporeal, so I have to take the long way around to get back to the living room. It's unsurprisingly spotless; I knew how to keep my home presentable when I was young, but I fell out of the habit as Mima left and I got busy.

So I do my damnedest to not stare at the carpet as I walk down the hallway. It's remarkably soft, though - and it looks like it's a brownish red, but my guess is as good as any as to whether that's the original coloring. In any case, without the years worth of borrowed books and stolen treasures to jump around, it's actually easy to find my way, and being able to actually recline on my sofa's pretty sweet, too. When I finially relax, Mima just nods, and we enjoy the togetherness that comes from family and friends as good as family.

And while I know these things never last long enough, the way that Mima breaks it catches me pretty off guard.

"Marisa, pop quiz. Describe teleportation to me."

Pop quizzes being what they are, I go into it before I even have a second's chance to think. "Right, uh, okay - so, let's simplify this. Movement is the action of going from point A to point B by crossing the distance between them. Teleportation, in contrast, is going from Point A to Point B without actually moving. This is how you move between different dimensions and realms, like from the 'Soak to the Outside, or from Higan to Heaven or Hell."

I try not to flinch when Mima raises her eyebrow, but that sorta thing's Pavlovian. It's hard to imagine Mima, crazy bitch as she is, resembling anything like a good teacher, but the woman's always been intense with me.

"Okay, that's true enough. Now, why do barriers stop teleportation? From what you've told me, putting a wall, magical or otherwise, between Point A and Point B shouldn't stop you from going where you please."

Her revelry in my misery is pretty warranted, because truth is, theorycrafting isn't really my thing. I'm sure there's a properly written thesis about this exact subject somewhere out there, but I've always prefered being more hands on; this sort of factual analysis sucks, and man what I would give for Alice or Patchy to answer for me.

Still, magic's always been about emotions, the soul. So I think I can intuit this out. It's a small mercy that I'm apparently not timed on this little review, or else I'd have been failed twice over. I lose track of time just as easily as I lose track of my words; it's always on the tip of my tongue, and I just need to coax it out...

"It's... because teleporting means you're bending time and space. That's how the smacktalk always goes, right? You're changing how the laws of physics works so that Point A and Point B are, for just a split second, right next to each other. So you move only a little, and then when reality straightens itself out, you're at Point B instead of Point A." I pause for a moment, just to review what level of bull just spewed out of my mouth, and I am relieved to see that it actually sounds reasonable. "So, what a barrier does is sort of - reinforces reality. It's that extra oomph right in the middle of the fabric that makes it that much harder to fold it."

It's obvious that Mima's trying to lead me to something, and I like to think I've grown patient enough for this sort of learning. Little Mari would have probably gnashed her teeth and just begged Mima to get to the point... and maybe that's why Mima's only telling this to me now.

Regardless of ulterior motives, Mima continues to look at me, taking in my everything and keeping it in her memory. I'd say she's eyeing me like a piece of meat, but that's not actually true; there's no sexual or emotional desire there. If anything, it reminds me of Patchy - just total curiosity, and maybe a hint of mirth. "Alright, then. If that's the case, Marisa, how would you go around the barrier?"

Now that I have something I can actually answer, my muscles stop tensing up and my breath comes back to this side of normal. It's nice. "Well, you can always go brute force, yeah? Just gather up all your energy, focus it into the most condensed beam yoy got, and laser away. Just punch a hole through and leave the other suckers to clean up.

"But if some poor shmuck needs to get going, and isn't as awesome as we are, then... I dunno, be sneaky? There's usually some way to get in or out of the barrier normally, so you could always just examine the thing and find a weakpoint. A password, or a special exit... whatever works, you know? There's probably a ritual or two that's made just for this sorta thing; you could use those to do some hocus pocus and get out without snapping the barrier against your knee."

I'm grasping at straws, I know, but this sorta thing is literally the opposite of my specialty. Even after getting Reimu to tutor me on this subject, I can't make anything better than a half assed shield, let alone the stuff she creates and maintains. So, sure it's annoying, but at the same time I can't really get myself invested in this sorta talk.

"Uhm... I, I think Reimu told me a little about this stuff, Master. Can I answer too?" A soft, shy voice draws all of my attention.

Lilttle Mari's still coated in thick green goo, but it looks like she's gotten the worst of it off. That purple dress of hers has seen better days, for sure, and I bet all the water she's gonna need to clean it would wash the red off her hair to boot. She's not leaving a trail of the gunk, thank Heavens, and I guess that's enough for her... especially if she actually wants to hash this sorta thing out.

I can't remember a time when Mima wasn't sweet on me, and that still holds true in my dreams. With just a flick of her wrist and a snap of her fingers, all the ooze seeping into little Mari's dress vanishes like mist in the sun, peeling off the damp and clinging fabric before finally dispersing. It left her so spic and span I'd have thought she just finished a bath, and the sudden soapsmell that starts wafting off her leaves me rolling my eyes. The kid ends up trilling as she flounces onto the couch next to me, and looks into her instructor's eyes with as much sincerity she can muster.

"Well?" Mima teases. "Go ahead."

"Oh! Right, uh - okay, so. Reimu said that if Point A and Point B were close enough - not, like, /physically/ close, but if it looked and felt the same, then sometimes the barrier wouldn't be able to tell the difference. I wasn't really sure why, and Reimu wasn't really sure either, but I looked it up and I think it's... kinda like voodoo dolls? It's, uhm, sym-pa-the-tic magic. A voodoo doll works because the magic thinks the doll and the person are the same thing, right? So if you kiss the doll, the person feels someone kissing her. If you tickle the doll's foot, then she'll jump around and stuff."

Mima's smile was as genuine as I've ever seen it, and she floated over the table to pat my dream self's head. "That sounds like it sorta makes sense, Marisa. But could you explain it a little more?"

And of course, the redhead was happy to oblige. "Right! Well, if you make Point A enough like Point B, then the magic thinks they're the same place, too. So you're not breaking the wall that blocks the way, you're tricking the wall so that it thinks you never went around it. There's a Hakurei Shrine in the Outside too, and when Reimu sends people back Out, she's not making a hole between the dimensions, she's just sorta... nudging things, so that the barrier thinks Point A and Point B are the same place. When they're back Outside, Reim changes it up, and bam! Outsiders gone, youkai and us still trapped."

"Hmmm - that's a pretty clever answer, Marisa. Good for you, you did a wonderful job. In fact... why don't you go outside and have fun for a bit? I'm sure Reimu would love to play with you."

Little Mari doesn't even let Mima finish - she's already out the door and flying away before Mima can get to 'love'. If the house was as dirty here as it was in real life, she'd have kicked up an avalanche of books in her wake. As it is, she still ends up leaving a dirt cloud right by the open front door, and I shoot it shut with a tiny star before it can float in.

"You were a lot more insightful as a kid, Marisa. What the hell happened to you?"

The shit-eating grin on Mima never fades, and the middle fingers I shoot her only make that smile grow wider. But I take the teasing in stride, and step up to stretch my weary bones. "Hey, it's just buried underneath the surface is all. I mean, this is still a dream, so she's still me. Hell, you're me too."

She shrugs. It's not so much a 'I got nothing' shrug as an 'Ehh, I can't be bothered' sort of deal. It's surprisingly easy to read a ghost's body language, considering the lack of body. So I shrug back to drop the subject, and move on to the next thing on the agenda. "So - why bring this whole teleportation thing up?"

"What, you actually think stepping on cracks is going to work?"

--------------------------------------------------------

Stepping on cracks is totally going to work.

I mean, to be fair, Miko wasn't clear at all at what constitutes a crack. I spent a good fifteen minutes when I woke up just making tiny fissures in the dirt around my house, but there was no love there. I suppose that would make it too easy. Then I went back inside to freshen up and pack a small lunch, and now I'm casually walking across the vast plains between Reimu's shrine and the Village, snacking on some buns as I scan the ground.

Still, there's a way these things are done. Going to Byakuren or Daichi and asking for an audience would have worked well enough, but I want to approach Miko on her terms - and her terms are to step on some cracks and to wait for an audience. Relying on Byakueven ren again would have probably left a bad taste in everyone's mouths, and asking Daichi when he passes by the library would be too... conspicuous. It ruins my whole mystique.

Because damn it, I am a great and powerful magician, and I will get to Senkai on my own even if I have to tunnel there with a spoon.

...But despite all my rage, the spring sun is sapping away all my motivation. It's just one of those days, you know? The sun is shining, the breeze is nice and cool - if a youkai weren't guranteed to come across me and have me for lunch, I'd be tempted to just lie on the grass and take a nap.

Really, that's the worst bit. This whole thing is boring, and I'd much rather just rest a little while, but there's too much danger to do something so miniscule. So I'm left shuffling my boots across the packed dirt, looking for something - anything really - to break up the momentum.

There's no magic infusing any particular cracks - or rather, none that's out of the usual. I don't know what it's like Outside, but everything in Gensokyo's soaked with that good ol' magic essence. If Miko's being subtle, which she probably is, there won't be any trail I can pick up. I am going precisely nowhere fast, and all of the frustration is whetting my appetite. When I take a break, it's in the middle of a grassy nowhere, with only the trees and dirt for company.

I don't get to even bite into my sandwich before it falls apart into complete inedibility. Granted, getting swallowed by the earth and falling down deep into Gaia's bowels would normally leave people more concerned about other things, but I did kinda ask for it.

I've fallen from enough great heights to know when I'm at terminal velocity, so I can tell that there's something keeping my descent nice and steady. My first instinct, then, is to try and lash out with my magic, trying to grip my falling lettuce and slices of bread so that I don't make a mess of things. Nobody likes a houseguest who makes a mess of things. But my second instinct, when I realize that I can't feel any magic in me at all, is to scream. Loud. The cramped tunnel I'm falling through doesn't do me any favors, and I can hear my shrieks ringing in my ears even as my throat grows hoarse and sore.

It's more muscle memory that keeps me from flailing like a fool, and when I see the stone courtyard rapidly rushing to meet my face I have enough sense in me to tuck myself into a roll. It still hurts like a bitch when I stick the landing and bleed off all the momentum, but anyone who's anyone knows at least how to fall with style. Not that splattering my cured meat and bread all over the pavement is particularly stylish, but cleaning up after myself was never particularly difficult. When I get up and brush the dust off my dress, however, I can hear someone clapping at my impromptu entrance.

Kaku Seiga looks as ravishing as ever, with her skimpy sky-blue robes and that thin silk shawl that's more for supporting her plush breasts than keeping her warm. As she steps towards me, still clapping, I can't help but notice the casual sway of the older woman's hips, the faint jiggling of her barely-supported mounds, and the coy smile that graces her lips. The woman oozes sensuality with every feminine step, and it's only thanks to experience that I can look into her eyes and not blush.

It helps that her long blue hair is still folded up into that atrocious pretzel shape. Maybe it's personal preference, but she'd look so much better if she simply let her hair down. I bet it'd fall just to the small of her back, and the tips of her silky locks would frame her plump ass perfectly.

"Exemplary landing dear, but the screaming was a bit undignified, and your meat almost landed on my face. Why don't we split the difference and say 8 out of 10, hmmm?"

"Oh come on, I deserve a 9 at the least. That stunt of mine was all me, no magical assistance, and it's not my fault you guys called for me while I was eating."

The woman waved me off, of course, and in the same motion banished the remains of my poor sandwich to who knows where. "Believe me, Marisa, I certainly had nothing to do with this. I was just in the area when my precious student asked a favor of me. How could I possibly refuse?"

So she beckons, and I follow, and we walk through a quiet, lifeless Senkai. No matter how hard I look, I can't see a single person besides Seiga and myself, nor can I find even a speck of life. The stones that make up the courtyard are fitted so tight that even weeds can't grow between, and the silence is deafening enouh to make my ears ring.

The funny thing is, I can't feel any magic either. Not just mine, which is weird enough, but there isn't even anything in the air. The marble is just marble, the cavernous ceiling just regular rocks, and even the faint lights that give Senkai its glow seem plain and blank to my senses.

Really, it's the complete opposite to Myouren Temple. Byakuren's place is lively and full of life, to the point that the chaos is somehow peaceful. But Miko's pad is... austere. Hell, it's downright ascetic. Everything was put into its place with a clever eye and skilled hands, and the lack of distractions lets people focus as they please. All Miko needs are some actual people, and this place would be downright harmonious.

Wherever Seiga's leading me, it's definitely not the front steps. We passed by those a long time ago. And while I'd normally complain, I'm too busy enjoying the sight of Seiga walking to really give it much mind. I mean, it's not like I have my head in the clouds, really! I just trust Miko to not throw me to the wolves - or I guess, I trust Seiga to keep a promise with a student.

In any case, we end up stopping near one of the smaller outbuildings - and frankly, I didn't even realize it was a building at first. There aren't any doors or windows, and the walls are so samey that I figured it was just some weird art piece.

Having no entrances doesn't stop Seiga, however. She just removes her oak smoking pipe from her hair, traces a nice, round circle, and lets her Taoism do its work. There isn't anything flashy about it, but Seiga isn't trying to be subtle either. One moment, there's a thick stone wall, and in the next there's a hole to what looks like Miko's private dining room.

And I really do mean 'hole.' If it was more esoteric like a portal or one of Yukari's mysterious gaps, I'd probably be less shocked. Because Seiga just... put a giant hole into a thick-ass wall, and Miko nodded and waved as if it was completely normal.

"Go on now," Seiga said, as she patted me gently on the ass. That alone isn't enough to get me to blush, far from it, but I can't help but feel disappointed the other woman doesn't squeeze. That's probably why she doesn't, too. "I'd normally invite myself as well, but this seems like a business lunch, and I'd just be a third wheel. So tootles."

And then Seiga vanishes, just like that. I can't tell if she did that mystic Taoist teleportation trick, or if she just made herself invisible, but frankly I don't know and I don't care. There's no hat rack as far as I can see, I just end up leaving my hat propped against the outside wall as I step in through the hole. Luckily for my pride, I don't jump when the hole suddenly vanishes and seals me off from my precious headgear.

The inside of the dining room is way bigger than the outside, but that's one of those Miko things that's par for the course, ha ha. And speaking of, Miko's chosen some pretty good fare - a lot of wild meats and vegetables that are lovingly prepared and absolutely mouthwatering. I didn't recognize even half of these dishes, either, but the smell alone? Exotic.

Heck, Miko isn't looking half bad herself. Her famous cape is draped across the back of her chair for now, and the headphones she always has on are set aside next to her plate. Without them, those hair flaps of hers are finally let down, leaving her locks reaching down to her bare shoulders.

When our eyes meet, the ex-Imperial Prince just smiles and gestures to her meal. "I imagine you've worked up an appetite stomping up above, Miss Marisa. Why, I could hear you quite well, even this deep underneath you. Come, sit and eat, we can discuss why you've visited my humble home once you've rested."

If she could hear my frustration up above, then she can definitely hear my heart's desire now. I'm just a few feet away with her, and even if I try to keep as mellow as possible, the girl's headphones are off. If she takes meals so far away from the others, that would explain why no one is around - they're probably up in the Village, or eating in Senkai's main halls.

But this little place? With a warm fire by her side, and a table just for two? This is her sanctuary, a place to kick back and rest her ears, and she just let me in like that.

I can't fathom her reasoning. But I can, at least, play the grateful guest.

--------------------------------------

We talk about our past few days as we eat, more to fill the silence when the silverware isn't enough. It's nice to shoot the breeze, and if Miko notices my thoughts are racing, she doesn't show it. And I hoped she would, if it got too annoying. No need to agitate my next teacher, after all.

But for now, I continue to pick at this amazingly braised duck, and think on how to best convince a girl who's literally led a nation to lead a class.

[ ] Use Miko's rivalry with Byakuren against her. I still remember the talk we had after I decided to side with the Buddhists last time. And half of the Symposium was just refereeing the volleys of shots and burns these two were throwing at each other. If I played my cards right, then I could convince Miko to do it as a matter of pride... but she might not appreciate me playing hardball so obviously.

[ ] Convince Miko to join as a professional arrangement. Sometimes, working together is just a matter of 'scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' I could definitely use Miko's charisma to keep the kids in line, and the fact that the Taoist has Akyuu's Humanity Seal of Approval means that even the parents won't raise much of a fuss. Miko, on the other hand, could use my school as a sort of screening test for people who want to learn from her, and I think she's the kind of girl to want the limelight on her, anyways.

[ ] Flirt flirt flirt. I've always liked mixing business with pleasure, and this table's so intimate that the two of us could play footsie if I got her in the mood. And took off my boots. But in any case, Seiga already got my heart pounding and my blood flowing, and Miko definitely has her charms. Granted, if I fuck this up I could probably say goodbye to any relationship with Miko, professional or otherwise... but what's politics without a bit of seduction?

--------------------

>>38307

"It does not. I can't say why I know this, but I know it does not."

>>38317

"I'm just gonna say that most people don't want to fondle fairies."

>>38318

"Ohhhh, man, the things I would do to go Outside. But Yukari's vetoed that idea so many times it's basically never going to happen. I mean, Reimu could let me out, but that's a one way trip, and neither of us are okay with that."
>>No. 38335
[x] Convince Miko to join as a professional arrangement. Sometimes, working together is just a matter of 'scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' I could definitely use Miko's charisma to keep the kids in line, and the fact that the Taoist has Akyuu's Humanity Seal of Approval means that even the parents won't raise much of a fuss. Miko, on the other hand, could use my school as a sort of screening test for people who want to learn from her, and I think she's the kind of girl to want the limelight on her, anyways.
-[x]...Just a little bit of flirting.

This should definitely be a business meeting at heart, but there's no reason not to play around a little bit. If Miko seems unimpressed, just dial it back, no harm done. If she plays along, then hey! Nothing wrong with a little fun.
>>No. 38336
[x] Convince Miko to join as a professional arrangement. Sometimes, working together is just a matter of 'scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' I could definitely use Miko's charisma to keep the kids in line, and the fact that the Taoist has Akyuu's Humanity Seal of Approval means that even the parents won't raise much of a fuss. Miko, on the other hand, could use my school as a sort of screening test for people who want to learn from her, and I think she's the kind of girl to want the limelight on her, anyways.
-[x]...Just a little bit of flirting.

>>38335
I can get behind this reasoning.
>>No. 38337
[x] Convince Miko to join as a professional arrangement.
-[x] No flirting. Flirting is foreboden.

She's a classy lady and we are going to be thinking with the head that's on our shoulders, young miss.
>>No. 38338
File 144643500881.png - (82.04KB, 420x248, 1445607805020-2.png) [iqdb]
38338
[x] Convince Miko to join as a professional arrangement. Sometimes, working together is just a matter of 'scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' I could definitely use Miko's charisma to keep the kids in line, and the fact that the Taoist has Akyuu's Humanity Seal of Approval means that even the parents won't raise much of a fuss. Miko, on the other hand, could use my school as a sort of screening test for people who want to learn from her, and I think she's the kind of girl to want the limelight on her, anyways.

Considering how empty this place seemed, it is not a bad choice, as long as she keeps her proselytism moderate (we don't want a 'kidnapping cult' incident)

-[x]...Just a little bit of flirting.

...I can't help myself.
>>No. 38345
[x] Convince Miko to join as a professional arrangement. Sometimes, working together is just a matter of 'scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' I could definitely use Miko's charisma to keep the kids in line, and the fact that the Taoist has Akyuu's Humanity Seal of Approval means that even the parents won't raise much of a fuss. Miko, on the other hand, could use my school as a sort of screening test for people who want to learn from her, and I think she's the kind of girl to want the limelight on her, anyways.

Play it safe, Miko's been exceedingly polite and patient thus far, so best to keep on good terms!
>>No. 38382
[z] Convince Miko to join as a professional arrangement. Sometimes, working together is just a matter of 'scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' I could definitely use Miko's charisma to keep the kids in line, and the fact that the Taoist has Akyuu's Humanity Seal of Approval means that even the parents won't raise much of a fuss. Miko, on the other hand, could use my school as a sort of screening test for people who want to learn from her, and I think she's the kind of girl to want the limelight on her, anyways.

It's always good to play it safe.
>>No. 38383
[x] Convince Miko to join as a professional arrangement. Sometimes, working together is just a matter of 'scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' I could definitely use Miko's charisma to keep the kids in line, and the fact that the Taoist has Akyuu's Humanity Seal of Approval means that even the parents won't raise much of a fuss. Miko, on the other hand, could use my school as a sort of screening test for people who want to learn from her, and I think she's the kind of girl to want the limelight on her, anyways.

I think this logic would be best with her. That and flirting might invike complications involving one thunder ghost and one pyromanic
>>No. 38384
[x] Convince Miko to join as a professional arrangement. Sometimes, working together is just a matter of 'scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' I could definitely use Miko's charisma to keep the kids in line, and the fact that the Taoist has Akyuu's Humanity Seal of Approval means that even the parents won't raise much of a fuss. Miko, on the other hand, could use my school as a sort of screening test for people who want to learn from her, and I think she's the kind of girl to want the limelight on her, anyways.
>>No. 38445
[X] Flirt flirt flirt. I've always liked mixing business with pleasure, and this table's so intimate that the two of us could play footsie if I got her in the mood. And took off my boots. But in any case, Seiga already got my heart pounding and my blood flowing, and Miko definitely has her charms. Granted, if I fuck this up I could probably say goodbye to any relationship with Miko, professional or otherwise... but what's politics without a bit of seduction?

I was going to vote for the second option, but it's already got plenty, so why not~?
>>No. 38449
[X] Convince Miko to join as a professional arrangement. Sometimes, working together is just a matter of 'scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' I could definitely use Miko's charisma to keep the kids in line, and the fact that the Taoist has Akyuu's Humanity Seal of Approval means that even the parents won't raise much of a fuss. Miko, on the other hand, could use my school as a sort of screening test for people who want to learn from her, and I think she's the kind of girl to want the limelight on her, anyways.

We can save the flirting for when Miko gets hired. No need to lay anchor before the ship sets sail if you know what I mean. We haven't even christened it yet.
>>No. 38453
File 14469575092.png - (134.67KB, 735x719, Prince in His Prime.png) [iqdb]
38453
"Alright guys, I know I've been pretty silent, but starting today we have 48 more hours before I close the votes! Right now, being professional and staying on the straight and narrow is winning, but turning on the charm ain't far behind!"

>>38383

"Okay, I'll clear this up. I don't know all the details per say, but Miko's a divorcee. Rumor has it that the whole being male before dying and turning into a girl afterwards made things pretty awkward with the missuses. They're still pretty close, but I don't think they'll throw down for trying to intrude on their territory or whatever.

"For what it's worth? Man does Miko make for a pretty woman."
>>No. 38454
[X] Convince Miko to join as a professional arrangement. Sometimes, working together is just a matter of 'scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' I could definitely use Miko's charisma to keep the kids in line, and the fact that the Taoist has Akyuu's Humanity Seal of Approval means that even the parents won't raise much of a fuss. Miko, on the other hand, could use my school as a sort of screening test for people who want to learn from her, and I think she's the kind of girl to want the limelight on her, anyways.

Honestly I feel it's better to appeal to her professionalism than attempt to flirt her into helping us.

And it's dickish to play on her rivalry.
>>No. 38498
File 144712606744.jpg - (332.10KB, 850x1133, I Guess She's Ambidextrous.jpg) [iqdb]
38498
"Alright guys, for once we've actually decided to think with the head on our shoulders! I know I'm surprised, for one. Here's hoping she doesn't call us out on it like Akyuu did at the Symposium."
>>No. 38511
>>38498
Sure, Miko will know that you have an interest in her no matter how much you act professionally, but what can you do about it? This isn't to show that you aren't attracted her, this is to show that you can act professionally despite it.
>>No. 38513
>>38498
I am curious on how Miko could possibly call us out on this.

Miko: "Marisa, how dare you treat me with dignity and respect! Have you no shame, acting like a responsible, civilized human being? You should be thinking with your vagina at all times!"
>>No. 38514
>>38513
I can imagine Marisa saying something like that as a joke to someone she knows well. Maybe she might say it to someone she might not be as familiar with as well.
>>No. 41058
Everything all right, Marisa? Been almost three years now. We miss ya.
>>No. 41059
Yes, we miss ya.
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