[x] To the Temple School! Children love surprises!
We reach the end of the markets and keep walking, crossing a bridge and winding our way between houses to reach the humans' Temple School. We arrive just as Miss Keine is sending her students home for the day. Perfect timing! I duck behind the hedge that rings the school, pulling Sekibanki out of sight as well.
"Shh! Play along," I hiss.
"Take care, and make sure you're home before nightfall!" Keine's voice calls.
"Yes Miss Keine!"
"See you Miss Keine!"
The students all swarm eagerly out the door. Most of them are running. One boy in particular has raced ahead, looking at the others behind him instead of where he's going... perfect.
I step out from behind the hedge and snap open my umbrella in one expertly-practised movement. The fast boy bonks into it and falls on his butt, while the rest squeal in delightful surprise~
"Boo!" I shout, tilting my umbrella up so I can see their cowering, terrified faces, "you've been gobbled up by the big scary youkai!"
"Miss Kasa! It's Miss Kasa!" a few in the back exclaim.
"You're not scary!" the girl closest to me says, a big silly grin on her face. The boy she was chasing gets up and dusts himself off.
"Not enough? Well, how about this!" I say, reaching behind me to brandish... a grisly severed head! The children squeal again -
"Ow. My hair."
- before my pefect setup is ruined by Sekibanki's completely horrible acting. Foiled again!
"Hey! It's the soba shop lady!" one of the kids says.
"H-huh!? Nononono, you must have me confused with someone else - wait, don't pull on my ribbon! Hey!"
"Children, please! Where are your manners? Didn't I tell you to keep your hands to yourselves?" Miss Keine says, having come out to see what the commotion is about. The children jump, and obediently draw away from me and Sekibanki at the sound of their teacher's voice.
"And what have I told you about playing with youkai? Run along home, all of you."
Nobody budges an inch. All eyes expectantly turn to me. I've taught them well~
"Fiiiine," I say, pulling out and unwrapping a box of sweets. They all crowd forward again -
"How many times have I told you not to accept things from strangers?" Keine exasperatedly demands.
"But Miss Kasa isn't a stranger!"
"And she's really nice! She never hurt anyone!"
"Yep! I even went to the trouble of putting a special surprise in... these..." I trail off, eyes travelling upward.
Miss Keine should have been a weaver. She's really, really good at looming.
"I m-made one of them super sour... they're perfectly normal sweets..." I manage to stammer out. Humans are scary!
But lucky for me, Miss Keine is only half human. She eventually sighs and gives in. "All right. No pushing, no fighting, and go straight home."
The kids all cheer and line up to take one before they disperse. Once they're out of earshot, Keine lets out a long-suffering sigh.
"I wish you would stop these little stunts of yours. Children are very impressionable, and you're giving them all the wrong ideas."
"I'm teaching them to be properly afraid of youkai!" I protest.
"Yeah, and it's going really well," Sekibanki adds.
"But it's fine, isn't it?" I continue, "not all youkai are mean and nasty! And if anyone started eating kids Miss Reimu would beat them up!"
"Small consolation when the child is already dead. And even if a youkai is well-intentioned, accidents happen all too easily."
I don't really have an answer for that, so I just shuffle uncomfortably under Keine's 'disapproving teacher' stare. Luckily for me, she soon turns her attention to Sekibanki.
"I apologize for prying, miss Sekibanki, but you seem a little..." she says.
"Not all there?" Sekibanki suggests.
"I was going to say absent."
"Well, I can be a little headstrong at times and so... I landed myself in Eientei."
"I see. Then this is not your real head?"
"They're all my real heads."
"Interesting. I hope you recover soon. I'll be sure to pay you a visit if you're still there next time I'm in the area. Now, I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me; I have homework to score."
With that said, Keine turns to leave. Two youkai loitering in a residential area are bound to look suspicious, so Sekibanki and I head back the way we came.
Where to next?
[ ] To Myouren Temple! Someone's bound to be bored at this hour! [ ] To the Scarlet Mansion! I promised Flandre I'd visit again soon! [ ] To the Moriya Shrine! I'll teach that weird Outsider girl to fear us youkai eventually!
[x] To Myouren Temple! Someone's bound to be bored at this hour!
With most of the village starting to wind down for the afternoon, I decide it's time to take my leave, and before I know it my feet have carried me out the village gates. It's just a short walk from there to my favourite haunt at Myouren Temple, where I spot a familar figure with her back turned, sweeping the path in front of the entrance.
And that's when I get an idea.
"Hey, Sekibanki?" I ask, looking between her and the girl at the gate.
"...you want to use me to spook someone again."
"Er, well, only if you want to. I kind of didn't ask last time, did I?" I grin sheepishly.
"Nah, it's fine. I do this sort of thing all the time." Sekibanki floats in front of me, at around waist height.
"Toss me at her."
"Wait, are you sure? That sounds like it would hurt..."
"I'll be fine. Just... try not to hit her on the head, okay?"
I pluck her out of the air, heft her a few times, and lob her at the unsuspecting gatekeeper. Perfect shot! Sekibanki hits Kyouko square in the back. She jumps hard, whirls around and -
Loud! Really loud! I clap my hands over my ears but it still sounds like she's standing right next to me!
When my ears stop hurting and the world stops ringing I look up to see Kyouko sprawled on the ground in a dead faint. Sekibanki is lying on the ground too, looking an awful lot like an actual severed head.
"Are you all right?" I ask as I hurry over.
"I can't hear you," she moans. I try to shake Kyouko awake.
"Kyouko? I'm sorry, it was just a prank, I didn't think it would scare you that much..."
"Uh, Kogasa?" Sekibanki's voice says from behind me. I turn around to look and hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-!!!
"Well that didn't go too badly, all things considered!" I say brightly.
"Speak for yourself," Sekibanki grumbles.
"I mean, she only lectured us for an hour, and she even gave Kyouko the rest of the day off so we could make it up to her!"
"Do you have any idea how annoying a headache is when you have no other body parts?"
"I said I was sorry!" Kyouko whines, "You guys gave me a really, really bad scare! I nearly died back there!"
"What kind of youkai is that scared of a severed head anyway?" Sekibanki complains, "We see that kind of thing all the time!"
"Ummm, no? Why should I?"
Sekibanki stops and stares at her. "You eat humans, right?"
"N-no! Why would I do that!? I'm a yamabiko! I shout things back at people!"
Sekibanki blinks and looks over at me.
"Nuh-uh," I say, shaking my head, "I just spook them. It's much more satisfying!"
Sekibanki groans. "Why am I the only one that has trouble staying on the wagon?"
Poor 'Banki. Before I really think about it, I reach out and pet her.
"Ah, Sorry! You were at the right height, so I just automatically -"
"It's fine," Sekibanki interrupts. "So! Um, what are we going to do now? I don't know about you two, but I'm getting kind of hungry."
"We could eat at Mystia's!" I suggest. "I wonder where she set up today?"
"I think she was down by the lake," Kyouko says, "but, er, I was planning one going somewhere tonight."
"Oh? Where's that?" I ask.
"I was going to go visit the Prismrivers."
"The Prismrivers? Why them?"
"...it's a secret."
"Come on, we won't tell anyone!"
"It's not my secret to tell... I guess you could come along and ask them, though."
[ ] To Misty Lake! There's still plenty of light left in the day - we can all visit Mystia with time to spare! [ ] To the Prismriver Mansion! There's a mystery to be solved! [ ] To the Scarlet Mansion! I promised Flandre I'd visit again soon! [ ] To the Moriya Shrine! I'll teach that weird Outsider girl to fear us youkai eventually!
[x] To the Prismriver Mansion! There's a mystery to be solved!
"Well then, what are we waiting for?" I ask. My enthuiasm must be infectious, because Kyouko starts grinning too. She takes the lead as we take to the air.
We fly high, much higher than we really need to. It's worth doing every once in a while, because you get to see all of Gensoukyou spread out beneath you. It also takes us above most of the fairies, though some of the stronger ones are still happy to exchange danmaku with us. Even Surlybanki cheers up for that.
I have no idea where the Prismrivers live, but Kyouko leads us unerringly to a particular spot in the sea of trees around Misty Lake. We duck below the canopy to find an overgrown Western-style mansion hidden below. The tall trees around it cover it with their branches, and I'm pretty sure I can even see two treetops poking up from inside the building. I'd never have found it without help.
My thoughts on how best to surprise the people inside are interrupted by Kyouko grabbing my hand and dragging me through a second-floor window. She seems to know her way around, even if she doesn't know where we're going, as we check room after room without meeting anyone. Finally, after descending a creaky wooden staircase, it's our ears that lead us to the right place.
I don't know what you're supposed to call the room we end up in, but it's big, lined on one side with tall windows, and has furniture that looks much newer than the rest of the mansion, seeing as how it still has all the upholstery and everything. Lounging or sitting in various places are the Prismriver Sisters, Lunasa, Merlin and Lyrica. I don't know them personally, but just about every youkai in Gensoukyou has been to at least one of their concerts.
Sitting on the far side of the room, perched on top of an enormous drum, is a tall red-haired girl I haven't actually seen before. I'm pretty sure I know who she is, though: Horikawa Raiko, relative newcomer to Gensoukyou and, if I remember right, a tsukumogami, just like me!
Raiko is tapping at the slowly-revolving ring of hexagonal plates around her, which are making weird scrubbing, ripping and "byuuu" sounds, while Lyrica's keyboard is playing notes like a strange woodwind instrument, Merlin is lying on her back spewing drunk cicada noises at the ceiling and Lunasa is making her violin... hum. Like a person humming, only not. Everyone stops as we enter, except Merlin, who takes the sudden silence as an excuse to launch into an earbleeding rapid-fire solo, at least until Lyrica throws a cushion at her.
"Hi everyone!" Kyouko says cheerily. The sound of her voice makes Merlin start flailing around like she's having a fit, until she finally manages to flop onto her stomach, chin propped up on the armrest of the couch she's lying on.
"Hiya~" she says, waving.
"Welcome back," Lyrica says. Lunasa just nods.
"I brought some friends! This is Kogasa -"
"- and Sekibanki!"
"Pleased to meet you." Lunasa says.
"Likewise." Raiko adds.
"Guinea pigs?" Merlin asks with a hopeful expression. Lyrica opens her mouth to say something, but Kyouko gets there first.
"Uhh, maybe?" she says, and turns to me and 'Banki. "You two wanna listen to our music?"
"'Our' music?" I ask, "You all play together?"
"Yep! Come on, take a seat!" Kyouko answers, grabbing me by the shoulders and guiding me between Lunasa and Merlin, over to a chair in front of the windows, before hurrying back to a spot behind Lyrica.
Raiko starts the song with a strong, foot-tapping beat of that weird "byuuu" sound, before layering a complex rhythm of odd sandy or gravelly noises on top. Merlin similarly starts off with a deep, repetitive droning that sounds like a giant angry hornet, before starting to jump frantically between high and low notes.
Lyrica meanwhile plays a melody that would have been more or less normal if it had been played on an ordinary instrument, instead of an ever-changing series of out-of-this-world sounds. She occasionally trades places with Lunasa's drawn-out, haunting notes.
Kyouko, for her part, doesn't look like she's doing much at all, besides waving her hands around like a conductor while standing behind everyone else, but I can hear her work instantly. Some of the music echoes like it's inside a giant cave, gets louder or softer, or jumps from one side to the other at her command. She also blurts out a few odd sounds, like distorted voices or animal noises, that somehow fit into the song perfectly.
Toward the end of the song Merlin abruptly leaps to her feet and starts blasting out a wild solo that radiates a near-irresistable urge to start dancing. It sounds completely out of the blue, but it must have been rehearsed, because Lyrica seamlessly switches to playing Merlin's erratic bassline, and a couple of seconds later they switch again, with Lunasa of all people continuing the energetic melody.
All told, it's very well-organized, and smacks from start to finish of Raiko's detailed rhythms.
"So? How was it?" Kyouko asks.
"Wooow..." I reply.
"The song itself was amazing," Sekibanki says, "but the instruments made me want to claw my ears off."
"Ehehehe..." Merlin giggles.
"I think they might need a bit more fine-tuning," Lunasa admits.
"Still, it's not bad for a week's practice," Raiko says, "especially since none of you had even heard those sounds before."
"So, did you come up with all that?" I ask her.
"Sort of. It's mostly based on music Miss Futatsuiwa brought with her from the Outside."
"That old tanuki?" Sekibanki asks. "I didn't she'd be into anything like that."
"You've never been to her house, have you?" Raiko says with a grin. "She's full of surprises." I make a mental note to find an excuse to visit Mamizou sometime.
"She has aaaaalll kinds of music," Merlin exclaims, "like this!" She launches into an upbeat tune played on a more normal brasswind instrument, but barely gets started before Lyrica pelts her with another cushion.
"Auugh! Anything but that!" she shouts. Merlin lobs the cushion right back.
"Mamizou played her this song, saying it was a highly respected work in the outside," Lunasa explains, "but it's better known as the theme song for a comedy act."
"And now Merlin can't get enough of good ol' Yakety Sax," Raiko finishes.
"It's a great song!" Merlin protests, currently in the middle of a pillow fight.
"You play it all the damn time!" Lyrica shoots back.
"Uh, okay," I say, trying to think of ways to change the subject, "so, you guys are playing together now?"
"Yep!" Kyouko says, "Mystia too! We've got a whole bunch of songs together, and we're thinking of holding a concert sometime soon!"
"All we need is a name," Lunasa adds.
"A name?" I ask, "hmmm... how about 'The Black Hand of Slap'?"
Everyone turns to stare at me like I've grown an extra head.
...so that's what that extra weight was.
"Where the heck did that come from?" Lyrica asks.
"I, um, dunno. It just sort of popped into my head." I reply.
"Well, it sucks."
Merlin takes advantage of her sister's attention being on me to start strangling her with a cushion. Kyouko frets and tries to break up the fight, while Lunasa just waits for them to get it out of their system.
Raiko, meanwhile, slips off her drum and wanders over to me.
"I don't think I've properly introduced myself yet. I'm Horikawa Raiko," she says with a bow. I stand up and bow back, dislodging Sekibanki from her spot on top of my head.
"Tatara Kogasa. Pleased to meet you!"
"You're a karakasa obake, right?"
"Yep! You're a tsukumogami too, aren't you?"
"Yeah, of a taiko."
"A taiko?" I ask, peering behind her, "that's certainly a drum, but it doesn't look much like a taiko..."
"Ah, well, I couldn't survive independantly as a taiko, so I swapped my power source for a modern drum set."
"...you can do that?"
Raiko and I spend a long time chatting about the nature of tsukumogami, while the others debate the details of setting up a concert. We hang around though several 'jam sessions' of improvised music, offering some more critique, and don't realise how dark it's getting outside until ghostly candles flare into life along the walls.
"Ah! Crap!" Kyouko exclaims, "I promised Byakuren I'd be back before sundown!" She rockets out the door without so much as a backward glance. Lunasa chuckles.
"Ah, I suppose I should get going too." I say.
"Yeah, I really need to get something to eat," Sekibanki adds.
"You can stay the night, if you like," Lunasa offers. "We cleaned out a few rooms for Miss Raiko and the others, and stocked up on some... more edible food."
"I wouldn't want to impose..."
"Not at all. Think of it as thanks for helping us with our music."
[ ] Time for a sleepover! [ ] Time to visit Mystia! [ ] Time to visit Flandre! [ ] Time for the writer to come up with better votes!
The rust seems to be slowly flaking off, but it still hurts to look at. Feel free to chew me out for technical mistakes, I'm having trouble catching all the fuckups.
File 144688978210.png - (190.90KB, 600x600, guess which artist inspired this story.png)
[x] Time to visit Flandre!
"Thank you for the offer, but I really must be going," I say with a bow.
"I see. Do come again; we don't get many visitors," Lunasa replies.
"And don't tell anyone about our new music! It's going to be a surprise!" Lyrica adds as I turn to leave. I give her a thumbs-up and a big grin.
The front door seems to be... no longer serviceable, so we leave through the same window Kyouko used on our way in. It would be much too dark under the trees for a human to find their way, and to be honest it's a bit too dark even for me, but thankfully Sekibanki has better night vision. Once we're back in the air the light of the moon is more than enough to see by. Not that I need it, because my destination gives off its own light.
Sekibanki eyes Mystia's cart hungrily as we pass, and gives me a questioning look as we touch down outside the Scarlet Devil Mansion, but she doesn't say anything, content to wait and see what I have in mind. Then I realize I'm not quite sure about that myself. I normally visit the Mansion during the day, when Meiling lets me in with nothing more than a playful danmaku battle to ease her boredom. But now I'm here at night, and I've only just noticed that Meiling is not on duty.
Two fairies flank the gate instead. They're wearing red instead of blue and hats instead of maid headdresses, and they're almost a head taller than most of the maids I see scurrying around inside. They're also standing really still, which is kind of weird for fairies, and looking right at us, so they know we're here, and they're not worried about it. If it weren't for the wings, I'd have mistaken them for two childlike youkai.
I decide to walk straight up to the gate. "Hello! I'm here to visit Flandre!"
The two fairies look at each other. The one on the left is slightly taller, has short black hair and a childish face. The one on the right has long blond hair and looks a bit more mature (in various ways).
"That's a new one," long hair says.
"Still, anyone could come here and say that," short hair adds.
"But I've been here loads of times!" I protest.
"I've never seen you before," long hair says.
"Besides, orders are orders," short hair says, "Miss Meiling says nobody gets inside, so nobody gets inside." She puts her hands on her hips and nods her head confidently.
"But surely some people should be let in. Don't you have a, a guest list or something?"
"Oh, right, that," long hair says. She folds her arms and fails miserably at sounding gruff and intimidating. "Yer name's not down, yer not comin' in."
Short hair strives valiantly to hold back her laughter, but we all break down at that.
"Seriously, though, can't you just go and get Meiling or something? She'll know if I'm telling the truth," I say.
"We're not allowed to leave the gate," long hair says.
"Then how are we going to work this out?"
"Well... there's two of us, and there's two of you..." long hair suggests.
"Ooh? Fairies chalenging youkai to a duel? You're brave, I'll give you that!" I say, giving my umbrella a twirl.
"Bring it on, umbrella girl!" short hair shoots back.
All four of us fly up into the air, spreading out to give ourselves room to dodge. The two fairies take the offensive immediately, with short hair saturating the area with predictable, slow-moving shots while long hair darts from place to place firing waves of faster projectiles from awkward angles. It's not very elegant, as spellcard duels go, but it keeps us constantly moving.
I respond with a steady stream of focused danmaku, while Sekibanki periodically lauches pairs of lasers from her eyes. She's sticking close to my side and not doing much else, so I'm not sure she's in good condition for a fight right now. The short-haired fairy almost lazily grazes my shots, and the long-haired one is zipping about too erratically for me get in a good hit, but the stalemate is broken when one of Sekibanki's lasers clips the short-haired fairy, sending her spinning off course and into my line of fire. She drops her barrage of bullets in favour of dodging, leaving me free to take it up a notch.
Umbrella Sign "Parasol Star Symphony"
The two fairies scramble to prepare for the first proper spellcard of the duel. Short hair once again stays at a distance, slowly and carefully weaving through my spiral of shots once they're comfortably sparse, but long hair charges in as close as she can, careening around me in a dizzying circle and almost ramming straight into one of my umbrellas. She somehow manages to avoid being shot down until short-hair's precise aim wears my card down. I float away and wait for them to return fire -
Long hair throws a punch at me! I quickly snap my umbrella shut and use it to knock her aside, but she spins all the way around and comes back with a kick! Right away I can see Meiling's training in her flurry of blows, and mentally slap myself for not figuring it out sooner. Still, she's only a fairy, so I manage to duck, dodge and block her strikes even without any martial arts skill of my own, and when I do finally manage to snag her in my vicelike youkai grip, the fight is immediately -
"Incoming!" Sekibanki yells, and I glance backwards just in time to avoid a hail of fast-moving, pointy projectiles from the other -
Next thing I know I'm reeling back, eyes tearing up, after long-hair's fist finally makes contact with my nose. It's not bloody or broken, and she looks kind of silly shaking her hand and biting her lip in pain, but still, that hurt!
"Ow." I say.
"That'll teach you to underestimate us fairies!" short hair yells. She doesn't get to gloat long, though, before Sekibanki headbutts her hard enough to knock them both out of the air.
"Soooo," I say, reopening my umbrella with a broad, dangerous smile on my face, "the little fairy wants to play with the big girls now?"
"Ehehehe..." long hair giggles, quickly putting some more distance between us.
Monster Train "Spare Umbrella Express Night Carnival"
"Remind me never to piss you off," Sekibanki says as I stroll back to the mansion gate. The short haired fairy beside her just swallows.
"We are the dumbest pair of shmucks ever to guard a mansion gate," long hair groans as she totters over and flops onto her stomach next to her partner, "Miss Meiling's gonna give us hell."
"Actually, I think she's going to congratulate you."
We all look up at the tall, green-clad woman balancing on top of the gate.
"You actually managed to land a solid hit on a youkai, and more importantly for the mansion, distracted her long enough for help to arrive," Meiling explains.
"We also made ourselves look like idiots in front of the head gatekeeper, who would probably prefer to be eating dinner right about now," long hair says without opening her eyes.
"You do that anyway, and dinner hasn't started yet," Meiling says, hopping off the gate. "Go get cleaned up and take a break; I'll add an hour to your shift tomorrow to make up for it."
The two fairies gratefully stagger through the now-open gate and toward one of the mansion's many side doors.
"So! Welcome to Scarlet Devil Mansion," Meiling says, turning to face Sekibanki, "I don't believe we've met."
"Sekibanki, rokurokubi from the Village. Well, some of her, anyway."
"Hong Meiling, groundskeeper. Pleasure to make your acquaintance." Meiling bows formally. She then turns to me. "I imagine you're here to see Flandre?"
"Yep! I know it's, uh, later than usual, but we were in the area so..."
"Not a problem. Dinner will be served shortly, and I'm sure the young mistress would be ecstatic if you were to attend."
Sekibanki perks up. "Food?"
"Food," Meiling confirms. "Come on in. I'm sure you've worked up quite an appetite."
Meiling opens the front door to the mansion and ushers us inside, saying she'll be along as soon as the gate guards' relief arrives. I still don't know my way around the Scarlet Mansion - the layout seems to change every time I visit - but it's really, really easy to find the dining hall: just follow the fairies!
"Whoa," Sekibanki says, and I can't help but grin at the look of surprise on her face. The main hall is, somehow, larger than the entire mansion. More than a hundred fairies are present or arriving - the number of them being served at the kitchen at once is impressive all by itself.
"Welcome back, Miss Tatara," a voice says from directly behind us, nearly giving Sekibanki a heart attack, "I see you've brought another guest."
"Hi Sakuya! Umm, yeah, is that okay?"
"...scared me out of six years' growth..."
"Of course, Miss Tatara. Shall I inform the young mistress of your arrival?"
"Sure! Uh, is it okay if we stay for dinner?"
"Certainly. Please take a seat."
Before I get a chance to say anything else, she's gone.
"Is she always like that?" Sekibanki asks.
"Uh, sort of? She's funnier usually, when she's in a good mood."
"Funny funny or funny funny?"
"She tells jokes and stuff."
"...what kind of-"
A blur of red nearly tackles me off my feet. Thankfully for my lungs, she lets go quickly.
"You're back! I know you promised but Marisa promised too and she still hasn't come to visit even though it's been forever and hello who are you?" Flandre says, words tumbling out in a rush. Sekibanki stares at the bundle of explosive energy with wide eyes.
"I, uh, Sekibanki. Name's Sekibanki." She finally manges.
"Are you Kogasa's friend?"
"Er, maybe? I mean, we know each other pretty well, and we both live in the village so -"
"The Human Village? You live there? Both of you? But I thought only humans lived there! That's why it's called the Human Village, right? What's it like? I mean if youkai aren't supposed to live there then -"
"Flandre," I wheeze, "slow down."
"Oh. Right. Sorry!" Flandre says, and stays quiet long enough for me to finish catching my breath, although she does fidget constantly.
"Yes, Sekibanki and I are friends, yes, we live in the village, yes, she does pretend she's human, though I don't 'cause I like spooking people, no, I don't want to play danmaku with you right now, I just had a fight with the fairies guarding the gate, and yes, we are staying for dinner."
"Hooray!" Flandre cheers, before promptly dragging me over to one of the many small, round tables dotting the room. She yanks two chair out, shoves me into one of them, pushes Sekibanki above the one to my left and backflips over the table to land perfectly in the other.
"Sakuya! Food please!" she calls.
"Of course, young mistress," Sakuya says from directly opposite me. "Would you prefer you tea red or black, Miss Sekibanki?"
"Eh?" Sekibanki looks confused. I lean over to her.
"She means do you want human food or human food," I whisper.
"Oh. Well, uh, I'm trying to stay clean, so..."
"Black tea it is," Sakuya says, and vanishes.
Suddenly, food! Flandre doesn't bother with Japanese tradition and starts eating immediately (and furiously). Sekibanki, on the other hand, is just staring at her plate.
"...I didn't think this through, did I?" she groans.
"Huh?" I ask, looking up from the delicious spread of food in front of me.
"No hands!" she says, with a sheepish grin.
"No problem!" I say, picking up her fork, "open wide~!"
"Wait no what are you-"
"My dear Flandre, you really should eat with more elegance, especially in front of guests."
"Miss Remilia!" I say, straightening up.
"Sis, it's fine. We're friends, see?" Flandre says, wrapping her wing around my shoulder and pulling me closer. I put on my cheeriest grin.
Remilia just smiles and pulls out the fourth chair at the table. She sits, snaps her fingers and food appears on her plate.
"You're eating with us?" I ask.
"Can I not dine with my own sister, in my own home?" she replies.
After an awkward pause I go back to feeding Sekibanki, who flushes red with embarrasment but is too hungry to protest. Flandre, meanwhile, has gotten her second serving, and is eating much more sedately.
"So," Remilia says, "you must be Sekibanki."
"Oh, uh, yeah. That's me." Sekibanki replies between mouthfuls.
"My head maid tells me you run a rather delightful little soba shop in the Human Village."
"Er, well, I dunno about 'delightful', but yeah, I do. Or did. I'm kind of, uh, indisposed at the moment."
"So I gather. Do you not have any employees who can manage in your absence?"
"Haven't got any employees, period. I'm supposedly pretending to be human, but, well, it's kind of like the spellcard rules - everyone knows I'm a youkai, but as long as I'm not seen to be a youkai, everyone pretends they don't, y'know? Only they do, and they're not, well, keen on having me for a boss. Or even buying my food, really."
"You have trouble attracting customers?"
"Something like that. With me out of commision for a month, I'm probably going under."
"That would be a terrible shame; my head maid has come to enjoy eating there when she does the shopping."
"...no offence, but are you going somewhere with this, or just rubbing my face in it?"
"Heaven forbid! I'm trying to compliment you here, girl!"
"Sorry. I'm just a grubby commoner; I can never tell if you upper crust are being sarcastic or not."
"Bitter much?" Flandre asks, suddenly jumping into the conversation.
"Maybe a little," Sekibanki admits.
"I think you ought to take pride in your achievements," Remilia says, "you have worked hard to get where you are, which is to say living peacefully among those who were, until quite recently, our mortal enemies."
"What she said," Flandre says, thumbing at her sister.
"I'm sure Miss Byakuren would approve!" I add.
"Can we get off the 'let's cheer up poor 'Banki' boat and talk about someone else now, please?" Sekibanki says.
"Yeah, yeah! What's this about you two getting in a fight with the gate guards?" Flandre asks.
The conversation quickly spirals into me and Sekibanki doing our best to field Flandre's constant flurry of questions about everything from everyday life in the Human Village to how Japanese umbrellas are made, and drags on until Sakuya drags her away to bed. Remilia's wide awake and just getting started on her 'day', but I'm starting to doze off and Sekibanki is looking a bit drowsy too.
"Come now, you two look dead on your feet. Why don't you stay the night?" Remilia offers.
"You're the second person to offer us that tonight, but I," I stifle a yawn, "I think I'm going to have to accept this time."
"Prepare a bath and room for our guest. Guests," she hastily corrects.
"Yes, Mistress," Sakuya says, then turns to us. "Please follow me."
We follow Sakuya, who - walking for once! - leads us to one of many ornate doors somewhere on the second floor.
Inside is one of the most lavish bedrooms I have ever seen.
"Woooow," I say, but Sakuya's not done yet - she guides us through another door to reveal a big metal tub full of hot, soapy, flower-scented water.
"Please leave your clothes by the door to be cleaned for tomorrow," she says, "you will find suitable sleeping attire on the shelf to your left."
"You, uh, don't have to go this overboard just for us!" I say.
"I assure you, Miss Tatara, this is but the usual courtesy afforded to a guest of the Mansion, and no trouble at all on our part. Now, Miss Sekibanki, your room -"
"Whoa, hey, hold up! You don't need to give me a whole extra room. I couldn't even open the door! Just, give me a pillow or something to snooze on and I'll be good."
"...as you wish," Sakuya says, and vanishes again.
"Whew," Sekibanki says, "I'm never going to get used to that."
"She's not that bad. I haven't visited that many times, and I've already started to expect it."
"Yeah, well, I don't intend - hey, why are you undoing my ribbon?"
"We're getting in the bath, silly!"
"I don't need -"
"Look at all this dirt! I, uh, guess that's my fault for tossing you on the ground at the Temple..."
"I can wash -"
"No you can't! No hands, remember?"
"Gaaaah you could have at least -"
"In we go! Rub-a-dub-dub, there's a head in the tub~"
Once we're clean, I put on the bright red pyjamas Sakuya pointed out and move one of the (huge, fluffy) pillows onto the desk for Sekibanki to sleep on, as she suggested. Then I climb into the huge bed, and fall asleep almost as soon as my head touches the pillow.
Where am I? Why is it so dark? Why is my bed so big? Wah! I'm drowning!
I half crawl, half swim out of bed and tumble onto the floor like a silly fairy, then paw at my unkempt hair as I try to figure out why I can't see anything. The walls of my house are made of paper, so there's always some light as long as the sun is up, but this place has walls made of solid brick. I think there was a window somewhere around... there. I feel my way to the wall and find a big heavy curtain, which I heave aside to reveal... rain.
It's raining outside! Nice, steady, soaking rain! I give a few more tugs at the curtain to get it to stay open, and turn around to look at the room. Sekibanki is awake, blinking the last of the sleep out of her eyes, and next to her pillow are our clothes, clean and folded just as Sakuya had promised.
What should I do today?
[ ] To the library! Let's read some books! [ ] To the basement! It's time for a danmaku match! [ ] To the Moriya Shrine! I'll teach that weird Outsider girl to fear us youkai eventually! [ ] To the Hakurei Shrine! If I can surprise the red-white, I can surprise anyone!
Every vote until now has been pretty one-sided, and now all of a sudden I've got myself a tie. Did I mess up somewhere?
Anyaway, sorry >>38452, but I already started writing the Reimu option. I didn't have as much time as I'd like to finish it, and I'm likely to have even less time over the next few days, so I might have to go back to micro-updates for a while.
[x] To the Hakurei Shrine! If I can surprise the red-white, I can surprise anyone!
"Good morning!" I say, with all the cheer I can muster.
"Morning," Sekibanki sleepily replies.
"Sleep well?" I ask, shuffling over to get my clothes.
"Like a log. What's in this thing, feathers?" she wonders aloud, fluffing her pillow a bit.
"Maybe? They sure are fluffy. It's like sleeping on a cloud!"
Once I'm fully dressed I find a brush on the dresser and get to work on my hair.
"How are you doing, anyway? Being in Eientei for a month sounds like it must be pretty serious... you're not in pain or anything, are you?" I ask.
"Beats me," Sekibanki replies, floating over to scowl at her reflection in the dresser mirror, "I, uh, can't feel what's happening to my body."
"You can't? Is that normal?"
"More or less? I have a lot of heads and only one neck, so - wah!"
I pluck Sekibanki out of the air, hop up on the corner of the big bed and plop her on my lap.
"...this is really weird, you know?" she says as I start brushing her hair.
"Hmmm? How so?"
"Usually if there's someone brushing me it's, well, me."
"What's so bad about it?"
"Nothing. It's just, well, uh... thanks, I guess?"
"No worries!" I say, putting down the brush and picking up Sekibanki's ribbon. It takes a bit of fiddling - I don't normally wear a ribbon, and if I did I'd be facing the other way - but I manage to tie it like it was before.
I tug at a few stray strands of hair to loosen them, and I'm done. We leave our room and promptly get completely lost trying to find our way back down to ground level. Thankfully, a few of the fairy maids point us in the right direction - their instructions don't make sense, and the path we take seems to lead us around in circles, but we still end up right where we wanted to be.
"Good morning," Sakuya's voice says from behind us, startling Sekibanki again, "you're up earlier than I anticipated. Would you like some breakfast?"
"Yes please! Could we, er, eat outside or by a window or something? I want to watch the rain."
"Certainly. Please follow me."
Sakuya leads us to the back of the mansion, to a room a lot like the one we were in at the Prismrivers' - one wall is lined with big, tall windows, providing a clear view out into the gardens. Sakuya motions for us to take a seat at a table, and moments later she vanishes and breakfast appears. It's western-style food again - I've never eaten it before, and I'm not even sure what it's called, but it's good!
Looking out at the rain falling on a little pavilion in the garden, though, reminds me of something - or to be precise, someone. I finish off the rest of my breakfast quickly, find my way to the kitchen, ask Sakuya to tell Flandre I'll play danmaku with her next time, and we take our leave.
It's not far from the Scarlet Devil Mansion to the Hakurei Shrine in a straight line, so even flying slowly to avoid getting wet, we still arrive in no time at all. We land at the bottom of the final stretch and climb the stairs on foot. The shrine itself looks forlorn and abandoned in the rain, although I also think it looks kind of cozy. There's no sign of the miko, and I can hardly surprise her if I can't find her, but first, preparations!
Step one: approach the (empty) donation box!
Step two: place a ¥2000 bill in the (empty) donation box!
Step three: pray for success!
"What's a youkai doing at my shrine this early in the morning?" a newly-arrived voice asks.
"Aha!" I say, pointing a dramatic finger at the miko, "prepare yourself, Hakurei Reimu! For today I'm here to surprise you!"
"You're never going to surprise anyone if you -" Reimu grumbles, but I interupt her, lunging forward and brandishing my secret weapon!
"Are you surprised?"
"What is it?"
"Breakfast!" I declare, pushing the bag into her chest to make her take it. She opens it up and peers inside.
"...you're trying to poison me or something, aren't you?"
"Nuh-uh, no way! Its a donation! A donation to the Hakurei Shrine!"
Reimu looks... well, she looks kind of miffed, actually. But I know she's surprised! She just forgot to tell her face!
"It's too early for this..." she grumbles, turning around, "you can come in if you want, though you'd probably do that anyway."
We slip inside and join Reimu at her table. Food is food, and Reimu wastes no time in making the most of my 'donation'.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" she grumbles, "I can't get any faith if you're scaring off all my visitors."
"But we are visitors!" I object.
"So? You're really behind the times, Miss Reimu! Even that weirdo from the mountain shrine accepts faith from youkai!"
"But this shrine specialises in youkai extermination," Reimu complains.
"All the more reason for us to want to be on your good side!"
"You can do that by behaving yourself."
"I am behaving myself! Right?"
"Ugh, such a bother..."
"Reimuuu, what's all this noise so early in the - oh!" a voice behind me says. I look around to see where it's coming from, but I don't see anyone.
A few moments later, though, the door on a little box sitting on a shelf nearby opens up, and a person steps out! A tiny little person, no taller than my index finger is long!
"Hello there! My name is Sukuna Shinmyoumaru!" the tiny girl says.
"Ah! I'm Tatara Kogasa, and this is Sekibanki! I didn't know anyone other than Reimu was living here!"
"She doesn't live here, she's freeloading," Reimu complains, cheerful as always.
"But Reimu, you said -"
Whatever Reimu said goes unsaid, because Shinmyoumaru is interrupted by the sound of someone tapping quietly at the door. Reimu groans, and clomps over to the door, throwing it open to reveal...
Also, some writers complain of the votes are tied and others complain if they are one sided. How would that either of those be the story's fault? If we were talking about a lack of votes I'd understand but...
There's no driving plot to speak of, so conflicted votes make me think the story isn't flowing as well as it could be. Mostly though I just don't have time to wait for a tiebreaker or anything when I'm trying to crank out an update a day.
Thanks! Kogasa turned out almost exactly how I wanted her to, but some of the others felt like they fell well short of the mark. Reimu, Flandre and Sakuya particularly. And it was glorious, you monster. Lyrica just has no taste.
[x] A doll.
It's a doll. A beautifully made doll, so detailed that she looks almost perfectly like a minature person, floating in the doorway. She's even carrying a little umbrella, shaking the rain off it and folding it as the door opens.
"Just what I needed," Reimu groans, "more youkai!"
I get up for a closer look. She looks kind of familiar. "Hello! Have we met before?" I ask.
Shanghai looks up at me and blinks. She pulls a playing card from somewhere in her apron (it's not wide enough to hide something that size and wait where did the umbrella go??), holds it sideways in both hands, stares at it for a moment, then flips it over to show me the face.
Hello, my name is Shanghai.
"I'm Kogasa! Nice to meet you!" I reply, "are you a tsukumogami too?"
Shanghai tilts her head at me quizzically, then shakes it.
"Alright Alice, enough fooling around," Reimu grumbles. Shanghai flips her card over and stares at it for a moment again, then shows it to Reimu.
Master is not here. She is not well, so she sent me in her stead.
"...huh. I didn't know she could do that," Reimu says. "Come to think of it... your aura is way too strong to be just a doll. Is there something I should know?"
Reimu leans forward menacingly, poking her finger at the doll. Shanghai's eyes go wide, and she shakes her head and waves her hands frantically, card flapping about.
"Guuuuys, what's going oooon?" Shinmyoumaru's voice whines from behind us. Shanghai spots her standing on the table and freezes, an odd expression on her face.
...I know that look.
Shanghai floats down to land on the table in front of Shinmyoumaru, who barely comes up to the doll's waist. The two stare at each other for a moment.
"Umm, hi? Is there something on my -"
Shanghai reaches out and ruffles the inchling's hair.
"Wha - hey! You're making fun of meeeee!" Shinmyoumaru pouts, flapping her arms and prompting Shanghai to pinch her cheeks. Shanghai holds her card up to face Reimu and me in one hand, writing forming on the surface like ink dripping into water.
It's so CUTE!! Can I take it home with me!? she pleads, puppy dog eyes staring over her words.
"Pfffffft-" Reimu topples onto her back, howling with laughter. I can't help laughing too. Even Sekibanki smirks.
"What's it say! What's it saaaay!" Shinmyoumaru snatches for the card, but the words are already dispersing. Shanghai dangles it at arms' length until it's completely blank, keeping the other wrapped around Shinmyoumaru to hold her in place, then drops it, taking advantage of both of the inchling's hands being full to drag her into a hug.
"Gaaah! Let me gooooo!"
"You're welcome to try," Reimu says, sitting up and wiping her eyes, "but I don't think she'd let you. She's got a surprising amount of fight in her!"
"That's right! I may be small, but I've defeateded h-hey th-that's n-not f-fair ahahahahah!" Shinmyoumaru starts, before she breaks down under Shanghai's tickle assault. She tries to fight back, but it seems the doll isn't ticklish anywhere.
Eventually Shanghai relents, leaving the inchling in a gasping heap and scooting back to sit properly on her knees. She picks up her discarded writing card and holds it up for Shinmyoumaru.
I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself. I don't get to meet many people smaller than myself. Please forgive me, she says, hanging her head.
"W-well, I'll let you off this once. But next time we meet, we fight! I'll show you that size doesn't matter!" Shinmyoumaru replies.
I'll look forward to it!
"Anyway," Reimu says, now sitting at the table and finishing off her breakfast, "I can't imagine you just came over here in this weather on a whim. What do you want?"
Shanghai nods, and holds her card up again.
Master sent me to ask you for some anti-youkai wards.
"A youkai, asking for anti-youkai wards? What could she possibly want them for?" Reimu says, eyes narrowing. Shanghai looks nervous.
Research, she replies.
"Reeeeally?" Reimu asks, "so, does she have some sort of dangerous youkai locked up for experimentation, and she can't keep it contained?"
Shanghai frantically shakes her head.
"Or could it be that one of her creations has gotten out of hand and turned on her?"
NO!!! Nothing like that!
"That what does she want them for?"
...I lied. Master is not well enough to defend herself while she is ill, and we dolls are not strong enough to drive off wild youkai on our own.
Reimu frowns. "Since when do youkai get sick, anyway?"
"Well for a start, we're deathly allergic to shrine maidens," Sekibanki says. Reimu scowls at her too.
"Okay, fine, let's say I believe you. What's in it for me?" Reimu asks.
Master is willing to provide you with whatever clothing you need once she recovers.
Reimu's eyes flick down to her faded-looking miko outfit.
Within reason, of course, Shanghai quickly adds.
"Weee-eeell, I suppose it's not too much of a bother. How are you going to even apply them, though? Just touching a Hakurei ward is enough to burn a youkai's fingers."
The simpler dolls should contain too little magic to be affected. Failing that, we could always use tongs.
"Whatever," Reimu says, and shuffles off to another room. Shinmyoumaru takes the opportunity to swipe a piece of Reimu's breakfast, happily munching away.
Reimu returns a moment later, carrying a bundle wrapped in cloth. She shakes out the bag I brought her breakfast in and puts the bundle in that, making it safer for a youkai to carry.
"I'll be expecting at least three new uniforms for this," Reimu says, holding the bag out to Shanghai.
That sounds reasonable, Shanghai replies, though she doesn't look very impressed. She stows the card, takes the bag... and slowly sinks to the floor under the weight. She gives it a few more fruitless tugs, but it doesn't budge an inch.
"Nothing doing," Reimu says as Shanghai looks pleadingly at her, "I'm heading to the village as soon as I'm done with breakfast. I don't have time for housecalls."
"I could help you carry them!" Shinmyoumaru declares proudly. "...but I kind of did promise to help Reimu with the shopping," she adds, deflating under Reimu's impassive stare.
Hey, hey, this is where I come in!
[ ] To the doll lady's house! [ ] To the Human Village!
"I can help you carry them!" I cheerfully announce. Shanghai turns to face me, looking surprised, then smiling awkwardly. Shinmyoumaru looks a little put out.
I stand and gingerly pick the bag up, making sure to touch nothing but the handles. Sekibanki warily stays on the opposite side of me.
"Thank you for having us, Miss Reimu!" I say as we turn to leave, Shanghai sliding the door open for us.
"No, uh, well," Reimu stumbles over her words, "thanks for the food." I smile broadly and she quickly looks away, looking annoyed.
We step outside and take to the air, all three of us crowding under my umbrella. It's actually quite hard to fly so close together, and bumping into Shanghai repeatedly along the way makes me wonder how Sekibanki does it so easily.
I've never actually been to Miss Margatroid's house before, but I knew it was somewhere in the Forest of Magic, and unlike the Prismriver mansion it isn't covered in trees so it's quite easy to spot from the air. Shanghai leads us down and opens the front door, which has a little awning over it so we don't have to get wet as I fold my umbrella before following her in.
But the moment I turn around something metal and pointy is shoved in my face.
A doll a lot like Shanghai, but wearing a violet dress instead of a dark blue one, is brandishing a lance at me and glaring angrily. Shanghai quickly knocks the weapon aside and puts herself between us, arms waving. The dolls' mouths move like they're arguing, but no sound comes out.
"What's the matter, Hourai? Is Shanghai back?" a voice calls from further inside. Shanghai starts pushing the other doll back down the hall and gestures for us to follow.
The inside of the house reminds me a lot of the Scarlet Mansion, only not as extravagant, or as red. It's not actually all that small, but it feels really cosy, since the floor is cluttered with furniture and the walls are covered in paintings, shelves and above all else, dolls. Dozens of little dolls line the walls, all sitting motionless but seeming to watch my every move.
"Oh? You brought guests?" a voice says, and I turn to see Miss Margatroid rising from an armchair in the livingroom, "ah, let me put some tea on -"
Shanghai quickly zips in front of her master, wagging her finger and... scolding her?
"Yes, yes, alright Shanghai, you can put the tea on - look, I'm just going to say hello and sit at the table. I'm not a cripple you know!"
She shoos the doll away and makes her way around the coffee table to greet us. I bow as politely as I can while keeping the the bag of wards at arms' length.
"Hello Miss Margatroid! Sorry for intruding!"
"It's been too long, Miss Tatara. And please, just Alice is fine."
"Well then, just call me Kogasa! And I brought something for you!" I hold the bag out to her.
"Ah! Is that the wards I sent Shanghai to get?" Alice asks.
"Yup! They were too heavy for Shanghai, so I helped carry them," I reply. She takes the bag and sets it down on the table, carefully opening it and unwrapping the cloth to check the contents.
"Oh my. I didn't expect Reimu to give me so many; no wonder Shanghai needed help. I hope it wasn't too much trouble..." she says, giving me an apologetic look.
"Not at all! We just happened to be visiting the shrine at a good time," I reply.
"Ah, that's good. Thank you for - okay, okay, I'm sitting down now! Go make tea already!"
Shanghai finally stops hovering over her master and floats away to face the doll shelves. She claps three times and raises her hands, and three, four... five dolls from seemingly random places on the shelves spring to life, jerkily rising and floating off to the kitchen with her.
"She's not as skilled with them as I am, but it's impressive how much she can do on her own," Alice says with a smile, then sighs. "I just wish she'd stop fussing over me. I'm perfectly capapble of looking after myself."
"What happened to you, anyway? Miko-itis?" Sekibanki asks.
"Oh, hello Sekibanki! I didn't see you there!" Alice exclaims. "No, no nothing like that. I've been known to neglect my own health in my focus on my research, and, well, it got out of hand. Patchouli identified the problem as a simple case of overexertion; I just need to avoid using magic for a while to let my spirit recover. It's something I'm not quite used to yet, having not been a youkai for all that long."
"And a magician without magic is a sitting duck, hence the wards," Sekibanki reasons.
"Yes, quite. As you can see, my dolls are rather lively..."
A doll in a green dress and furry hat flies into the room, carrying a vial full of ominously bubbling liquid. She stops to wave cheerily at us before continuing out of the room.
"...but their independant combat potential is still rather limited, with some exceptions." Alice's gaze flicks over to to the purple doll, who's still scowling at us. "Hourai, they're guests. Show them some courtesy."
Hourai harrumphs, and floats away toward the kitchen.
"I'd have asked for help from a certain other magician before going to the shrine maiden, but, well, I prefer my house intact," she adds. Sekibanki snorts.
"How are you doing, anyway?" Alice asks me, "I've been meaning to thank you for those needles you made for me; they're much better than the ones I bought from the village smith."
"Always the best for a paying customer!" I say proudly.
"Wait, you make needles?" Sekibanki asks.
"Yep! Sewing needles, throwing needles, bells, mirrors, I can handle all your blacksmithing needs!"
"Huh. I always wondered what you did to pay your way in the village."
"What about you, Sekibanki?" Alice asks.
"Ah, yeah, about that..." Sekibanki begins, before she's interrupted by a loud thump at the front door. We all turn to look down the hall, just as the front door bursts open to reveal...
[ ] A witch. [ ] A wizard. [ ] A pile of fairies.
This update is bad and I feel bad for posting it. Hopefully I'll have more free time and less cop-out votes in another day or two.
Patchouli Knowledge, resident wizard of the Scarlet Devil Mansion and probably the last person I expected to see out and about today of all days, hurries in from the rain. She doesn't have an umbrella but there isn't a drop of water on her. Hey, that's cheating!
"Pardon my rude entrance, but my rain-repellant charm was wearing off and... oh. It's surprisingly lively in here this morning," she says, spotting me and Sekibanki sitting at Alice's table.
"You came all the way out here in the rain?" Alice asks as Patchouli closes the front door.
"Our joint research project is still incomplete, and travelling to the Mansion is troublesome without flight, so I thought it would be the most efficient use of resources." Patchouli slips a heavy-looking bag off her shoulder and sets it on the table with a hefty thunk.
"The thought of visiting a sick friend never crossed your mind?"
"...that may have been a contributing factor," Patchouli admits.
Shanghai and her helper dolls return from the kitchen with tea and cookies, before she realizes she's now a cup short and hurries back for another one.
"Didn't I see you at the Mansion last night?" Patchouli asks me.
"You did! But then I thought of a great way to surprise Miss Reimu, we met Shanghai at the shrine, and here we are."
"You sent Shanghai to the shrine?" Patchouli asks Alice.
"I needed some way to defend my house against wild youkai, and Reimu specialises in both youkai extermination and barriers so..." Alice gestures at the bag of wards. Patchouli peers inside and raises her eyebrows slightly at ths contents.
"You could have sent her to me, you know," she says, taking a seat at the table as Shanghai starts pouring tea for everyone.
"But I know you don't like leaving the library, and I didn't want to bother you again so soon," Alice says, blowing on her tea.
"As it happens, Marisa destroyed the library again. I'm taking a break from the cleanup."
"...again? That Marisa..." Alice shakes her head.
"I was thinking of paying her a visit later."
"Ah, so that was your real motive."
"Can I come too?" I ask. Marisa's even better at danmaku than Flandre, but if I'm with Patchouli we might actually beat her!
"As long as you plan on duelling her and not me then be my guest. The more the merrier," Patchouli replies.
I take another sip of my tea before I realize that Alice, Patchouli, Shanghai and Hourai are all staring at me.
"Umm, did I say something weird again?"
"You've been absentmindedly feeding your friend instead of yourself," Patchouli points out.
Sekibanki chokes on her tea. I quickly set the cup down.
"Oh, that! She doesn't have a body right now, so I'm doing it instead!"
"I don't - it isn't - just until - gaaaaaaah!" Sekibanki splutters.
"No body? What happened?" Alice asks, looking concerned.
"Nothing! It's nothing! I just had a little accident! I'll be fine in a few weeks!" Sekibanki insists.
"Physical regeneration in rokurokubi and nukekubi is comparable to that of the tengu and kappa, significantly greater than physically weaker youkai such as magicians, therefore, to require several weeks of recovery, this 'accident' must have involved -"
"Uhh, Patchy, I really don't think she wants to talk about it," I interrupt.
There's a really, really awkward silence for a few minutes. Patchouli breaks it by taking a book from her bag and placing it on the table.
"Anyway, as I surmised earlier, the same alchemical principles, applied to a suitably pure sample of crystalline aether, will yield interference patterns fine enough to..."
There's no stopping Patchouli once she gets going. I can't understand a word of it, Sekibanki's still sulking on my lap, Shanghai's eyes are drifting shut and Hourai's scowling like it's giving her a really bad headache. Only Alice can follow any of it, though the green doll with the furry hat from earlier returns to sit quietly on the corner of the table, listening intently.
Eventually Alice excuses herself to rest, and Shanghai and Hourai leave with her. Patchouli spends a while trying to talk to the green doll, but she doesn't have a card like Shanghai's, and while Patchouli seems to be able to hear her 'voice' it doesn't sound like she can actually understand it.
"I suppose I should see about visiting Marisa now," Patchouli says, getting up from the table. "I had hoped the rain would let up, but oh well."
[ ] To the Kirisame Magic Shop! Let's help Patchouli get her books back! [ ] To the Moriya Shrine! I'll teach that weird Outsider girl to fear us youkai eventually! [ ] To the Human Village! There's always something interesting going on there!
I'm going to be honest here: I think it's time I quit while I'm ahead. I dived into the Carnival to challenge myself to do everything I'm bad at (read: updating more than once a fortnight) and I'm glad I did, but I feel like my writing is getting steadily worse. Chandlering twice in three updates, ugh.
On the other hand, I'm always beating myself up over the littlest stupid thing when I'm writing, so I'm probably making a mountain out of a molehill here. I'll let you guys decide:
[ ] See it though to the end. [ ] Slow down, update every other day. [ ] Take it easy.
If you have any other advice or criticism, I'd love to hear it.
[x] To the Kirisame Magic Shop! Let's help Patchouli get her books back!
"I'm coming too!" I say, jumping to my feet.
"Pardon me for asking," Patchouli says, "but why are you so eager to challenge Marisa?"
"Who doesn't want to be able to brag about beating the number two in Gensoukyou?" Sekibanki says with a grin.
Patchouli leaves her bag of books on the table and mutters a spell as we walk out the door. It makes her clothes glow for a moment, and when we step out into the rain it just bounces off her. That's not fair!
It's only a short flight to Marisa's house, but it looks a world away from Alice's neat, clean home. The grass in the clearing is almost knee high in places, there's junk strewn everywhere and vines are growing up the walls. The house itself looks run-down and neglected, like the owner is never home. Actually, I take that back - I'm never home either and my house is cleaner than this!
Patchouli marches straight up to the door and hammers her fist on it. After a few moments of silence, it's abruptly yanked open.
"...hey, Patchy! You're a rare sight outside the Mansion. What brings you to my place?" Marisa says. She looks out of place in her own doorway - her clothes are all clean and neat. At least she looks after herself, I guess.
"I'll be brief: I've come to have you return my books," Patchouli replies curtly.
"But I only just got 'em!"
"All of my books. Permanently."
"Ooooh," Marisa says, mouth shifting into her trademark grin, "sellin' fights door-to-door now are we?"
"If need be, yes."
"Can it wait 'till the rain stops? I'll treat you to lunch!" Marisa offers.
"No," Patchouli flatly replies. Marisa's face falls. Then she spots me and Sekibanki standing behind Patchouli and grins again.
"Yo 'Banki. Still lookin' a bit legless, I see."
"And... what was your name again?"
"Kogasa! It's Kogasa!"
"Come along to watch the show, did you?"
"Actually, we came to help her beat you up," I cheerfully reply.
"Pay your damn tab already," Sekibanki complains, "I know you have the money."
"Enough stalling," Patchouli interrupts. "Set the terms of the duel and let's get this over with."
"Terms, huh? Okay, let's make this quick," Marisa says. "One card each, and I'll take you on together."
"Done." Patchouli doesn't wait for an answer before she takes to the air. Marisa snaps her fingers, conjuring her broom out of nowhere and blazing into the sky.
Fire Water Wood Metal Earth Sign "Philosopher's Stone"
I've never seen Patchouli go all-out before, not even when me and Flandre started a danmaku duel in the library once. It's scary! I feel like I should contribute something, but I just sort of hover behind Patchouli's line of fire, not sure what to do.
Then Sekibanki whispers something in my ear, and I grin back.
Marisa has obviously seen this card many time before, as she ducks and weaves through the spell with practiced ease, defeating it in no time at all.
"Alright umbrella girl, show me what you're made of!" she yells.
"My name is Kogasa!" I shout back.
Umbrella Sign "Lightly Falling Large Raindrops"
Patchouli takes one look at my spell and adds a pattern of odd bubble danmaku to it, blending in perfectly and instantly making it much, much harder. Marisa takes it all in stride; after a moment of careful observation she leaps into action, blasting us with her never-ending hail of stars and lasers until my spell collapses as well.
"Too easy!" Marisa slips off her broom, twists around to catch it and swings herself up, planting her feet on top of it. She adjusts her hat with one hand and brandishes her magical funace with the other.
Black Magic "Event Horizon"
Stars! Stars everywhere, in every color of the rainbow! It's like fighting Meiling, only worse, because I can't... find...
Auuuugh. Patchouli lasts a lot longer than me, slowly eating away at Marisa's defences, but it's clear she's never seen this pattern before either because -
"Looks like it's my victory!" Marisa declares triumphantly, "I guess I'll be borrowin' as I -"
Flying Head "Dullahan Night"
Sekibanki's spellcard declaration takes Marisa completely by surprise. Normally her own body would be the focus, but that's still resting up in Eientei, so this time the eerie white danmaku is radiating from me. She shoots me a grin and zips off into the rain, red lasers blazing.
"Wait - what - I thought -" Marisa blurts out, before...
"Getting a little ahead of ourselves there, weren't we?" Sekibanki says, smirking at the defeated magician as we float down to the soggy ground.
"Th-that's cheating! I already defeated her!" Marisa says, stabbing an accusatory finger at me.
"Hey, it was my card. You dropped your spell before you even grazed me," Sekibanki replies.
"Summoning an assistant into a duel is ehough a perfectly legal move," Patchouli adds, squelching unsteadily over to our little rain-soaked group.
"Or would you rather take it up with the Hakurei Miko?" Patchouli asks. Marisa lets out a sigh.
"...nah. You got me fair an' square. I didn't think 'Banki would be fightin' fit after what happened, so I got careless." Then she grins. "Looks like I got a whole lotta books to haul back to your place! Do you, er, mind if I wait for the sun this time?"
"Not at all," Patchouli replies. "Can we get out of this rain for now?"
Marisa waves everyone inside her house, which turns out to be just as cluttered as the outside. She sweeps the junk off a table and motions for us to sit.
"'Scuse the mess! Tea'll be ready in a jiffy!" she says with a cheery wave as she disappears into the kitchen.
"Sure is dusty in here," I say, wiping off the cover of a book only to find it's in a language I can't read anyway.
"When was the last time anyone cleaned this place?" Sekibanki asks.
"There are magical reagents ehough carelessly mixed in with the ehough books and -" Patchouli breaks off as her coughing gets worse and worse.
"Umm, Patchy? Are you all right?" I ask worriedly, but she can't answer me.
"Everythin' all right in here?" Marisa asks, sticking her head around the door frame. Patchouli falls to her knees, face turning to panic as her coughs become strangled choking sounds. Marisa disappears again, followed by the sound of stuff flying everywhere. I hover worriedly over Patchouli for a moment before Marisa returns with a bottle of some sort.
"Down the hatch!" she says, tipping Patchouli's head back and all but pouring the bottle's contents down her throat. Patchouli chokes on the liquid, coughing most of it down her face and onto her clothes, but whatever it was, it works - a few seconds later her strangled gasps have been reduced to heavy breathing. I let out a sigh of relief.
Then Patchouli collapses. Marisa scrambles to catch her before her head hits the floor.
"Whoa! Easy there... heh. Forgot it does that," Marisa says, grinning sheepishly.
"What happened to her? Is she going to be okay?" I ask.
"Mushroom spores! Magic ones. House is full of 'em," Marisa says, dabbing the spilled potion off Patchouli's face and neck with a handkerchief. "Figures Patchy'd have a reaction to 'em. This stuff's one of the medicines I whipped up to look after myself out here; haven't used it in ages. Knocks me right out. Good thing magicians are pretty similar to humans!" She frowns as she dabs at the stains on Patchouli's shirt. "Damn, Patchy, you're soaked right through. An' you got an umbrella right here!"
After a moment's thought, Marisa hoists Patchouli off the ground in a bridal carry. "Hup! No point stayin' here; she'll just have another attack. Mansion's awful far away though..."
"We could take her to Alice's place. We just came from there," I say.
"Good thinkin'! Gimme a hand here, will ya?"
Between the two of us we manage to carry Patchouli back to Alice's house without getting her any wetter than she already is. Marisa nearly boots the door off its hinges on her way in.
"Yo, Alice! This is kinda sudden, but I'll be usin' your bathroom!"
A doll in a pretty sky blue dress takes one look at the two soaked magicians and bolts up the stairs. Hourai bursts out of the kitchen and nearly skewers Marisa with her lance.
"Whoa! Hey! I'm tryin' to be the hero here!"
Shanghai zips down the stairs, soon followed by an angry, half-dressed Alice.
"Marisa! What the hell do you think you're - what happened to Patchouli?"
"Kicked my butt, had a coughin' fit; the usual. Got kinda wet too."
Alice hurries over. "Patchouli? Can you hear me?"
"Don't bother; she'll be out to it for an hour or more. Gave her some of my old healin' juice - puts ya to sleep while it works."
"You medicated her? Are you out of your mind!?"
"Hell yeah, but I'm alive. You don't go livin' in the Forest as a human without knowin' how to patch yourself up!"
"She isn't human, Marisa! Human medicine could do anything!"
"Hey, hey, relax! It works perfectly fine on magicians! I spiked your booze with it and you were right as rain!"
Alice looks like she's about to burst a blood vessel.
"Give her here. I'm taking care of this."
"Sure thing!" Marisa casually tosses Patchouli into Alice's arms.
"Shut up, Shanghai. I'm perfectly fine as long as I don't use magic. Go get Matryoshka, and tell her to bring my book on healing magic." Alice marches up the stairs, and Shanghai obediently speeds off into another room.
Hourai throws one last glare at Marisa before heeding her master's call, leaving us alone. Marisa lets out a long sigh.
"Phew. That's that taken care of; Patchouli's in good hands now."
"Are you sure she's going to be okay?" I ask. Marisa wanders over to the dining table and starts poking around in the bags.
"Alice knows what she's doin'. Probably way better than me." She frowns as she fishes out one of Reimu's anti-youkai wards. "Heck does Alice want with crapload of these?"
"She said she was sick, and she can't use magic for a while, so she needed them to protect her house."
"Wait, Alice is sick? Since when?" I start to answer, but Marisa cuts me off. "And hang on a minute... if she can't use magic, who's movin' the dolls?"
Shanghai and the green doll zip into the room and up the stairs, carrying a large book between them. Nobody says anything for several seconds.
"Well, well, well. Good for you, Alice," Marisa says with a grin. She stares into space for a minute, then looks down at her feet. She's dripping water all over Alice's carpet.
"...better do somethin' about that, heh."
I turn away as Marisa promptly starts undressing right where she's standing, not even caring that the front door is still open. We should probably go...
[ ] To the Moriya Shrine! I'll teach that weird Outsider girl to fear us youkai eventually! [ ] To the Human Village! There's always something interesting going on there!
[x] To the Moriya Shrine! I'll teach that weird Outsider girl to fear us youkai eventually!
There doesn't seem to be much more I can do here, so I quietly take my leave, shutting the door on my way out and floating lazily back into the air. I take a moment to ponder my next destination; I kind of got caught up with the flow for a while, and I nearly forgot what I was going to do today! Not that I had anything special planned, mind.
It's probably because I'm a karakasa obake, but I really like being out in the rain. It feels so peaceful, so serene, with all the people and animals staying dry and cozy indoors. Even the fairies are quiet today, unless they're fairies of the rainy season in the first place.
I fly low to start with, skimming over the surface of Misty Lake and startling a few people in the Village, but then I go up, up and up, high above the ground. The tengu really don't like uninvited guests, and they're mean and hard to surprise, so anyone headed for the Moriya Shrine is best off approaching from above.
"Uhh, Kogasa... where are we going?" Sekibanki asks me. She's scanning the skies around us nervously as we draw near Youkai Mountain.
"To the Moriya shrine, of course!" I reply.
"I, uh, really don't think that's a good idea," Sekibanki says.
"Why not?" I ask, slowing down slightly.
"Well, it's a shrine, you know?"
"You weren't worried about visiting Reimu."
"Yeah, but she's, well, Reimu. She's too lazy to bother exterminating anyone."
"But the Moriyas are actively gathering faith from youkai! It wouldn't be good for them to go exterminating petitioners, would it?"
"...we're not exactly shrine petitioners, you know."
"Why not?" I say with a grin, "that would be surprising, don't you think?"
"...If you say so..."
"Don't worry about it! We'll be fine!" Sekibanki dosen't seem convinced, but she follows me down to the shrine all the same.
When we get there, though, there's nobody around. I didn't think she'd go out in this weather, but Sanae seems to have an uncanny ability to tell when someone arrives, and she hasn't appeared.
"Gack! It's her! Hide me!" Sekibanki hisses, zipping behind me. Looks like I was wrong: Sanae is just swooping under the torii!
"What are you so afraid of? We're supposed to be scaring her, not the other way around!" I whisper.
"Oh, hello Kogasa!" Sanae calls out. Spotted again! I turn around, trying not to look sheepish, and in the process giving away Sekibanki.
"Ah! It's you!" Sanae exclaims. Before either of us can react, she lunges forward and...
...kneels on the ground?
"I, Kochiya Sanae, offer you my most profound apology. My actions toward you at our last meeting were an inexcusable transgression for one in my position. Please allow me to compensate you for this unforgivable mistake in whatever way I can."
For nearly a full minute, nothing happens. I stare at Sanae. Sekibanki stares at Sanae. Sanae kneels with her nose almost touching the paving stones, umbrella lying forgotten to one side.
"...you're serious. You are seriously asking me for forgiveness," Sekibanki finally says.
"I wouldn't dream of it. I cannot possibly expect such a thing after what I have done," Sanae replies, still unmoving.
"Okay, that, this is too much. You, can, uh, get up now. Please."
Sanae gets to her feet, but keeps her gaze lowered.
"Umm... can someone tell me what's going on?" I ask.
Sekibanki looks between me and Sanae a few times before answering. "She's the one who put me in Eientei."
"I am truly sorry!" Sanae says, bowing again.
"And I, uh..." Sekibanki takes a deep breath, "I completely deserved it."
"You were merely acting in accordance with your nature," Sanae insists.
"No, really, I should be the one apologizing to you here!" Sekibanki protests.
"But no harm was done to me, while you... Miss Reisen told me you won't be able to walk for a month!"
"Sanae, I was seriously trying to kill you."
"Wh... what?" Sanae looks shocked.
"Hey, hey, whoa! Why would you do that!?" I ask.
"I... I was drunk, I was spoiling for a fight and... and I was hungry. I haven't tasted human flesh in weeks."
"Why would... have the Yakumos not been providing enough meat, or something? I don't eat people, so -"
"I don't want to eat people, dammit! I didn't ask to be like this! I'm sick of this... this..." Sekibanki's voice is unsteady, her eyes tearing up, "I'm pathetic, aren't I? I'm a horrible person and a failure of a youkai. Gensoukyou would be better off without me."
I wrap both of my arms around Sekibanki, letting my umbrella float by itself, and hug her tightly to my chest.
"That," I declare, "is wrong. You're a great person! You work hard, you make great food and you're always helping people! And don't talk to me about being a failure of a youkai. Whoever heard of a karakasa obake that can't surprise people, huh? Loads more people are scared of you than me, and I'm doing fine!"
"But... I tried..."
"Yeah, you tried. Good thing Sanae was there to stop you! You couldn't hurt her at all, right Sanae?"
Sanae shakes her head, flicking water everywhere. "Not a scratch."
"And besides, you were drunk! Everyone does stupid stuff when they're drunk. Most of us don't even remember it, so you're doing even better!"
"Gaaaaaaah I get it already! Lemme go!" Sekibanki worms her way free of my grip. She huffs, looking away and shaking herself.
"I, uh..." she begins.
"...yes?" Sanae asks. Sekibanki lets out a long sigh.
"...can we just forget any of this ever happened?"
"That's fine by me, but... at least let me treat you to lunch," Sanae says, bowing yet again.
"You really don't have to -"
"For my own peace of mind. Please?"
"I, uh... okay, I guess?"
"Well then, please come in!"
Sanae picks up her umbrella and guides us around the back of the shrine. The Moriya shrine is quite a bit larger than the Hakurei one, made up of several buildings instead of one. The one Sanae leads us to is much plainer and more home-like than the others. The other two gods are inside, sitting in front of a glowing box and doing... something.
"Wha- how did you do that!?" Kanako says.
"It's called steering. You should try it some time~" Suwako cheerfully replies.
"Grrr, you little -!"
"I'm home!" Sanae calls out as she enters.
"Welcome back, Sanae! Uh, why are you all wet? Did you fall in the lake again?" Suwako says, ignoring Kanako and jumping to her feet.
"Well, you see - wait, what do you mean 'again'!?" Sanae says.
"Never mind that, go change before you catch your death," Kanako says, shooing Sanae away.
"Please excuse me!" Sanae bows to the two of us again before leaving.
"So," Kanako says once Sanae's gone, "back again, little miss umbrella ghost?"
"Y-yes b-but Sanae invited us! I'm not here to play pranks this time!" Not anymore, anyway!
"Relax, I know she did. Who's your friend?"
"Ah! This is Sekibanki! She runs a soba store in the village!"
"Ho, a youkai running a store in a human village? How times have changed. I'm Kanako, and this is my associate, Suwako."
"Howdy," Swuako says. Is that a salute?
"Umm... hi," Sekibanki awkwardly replies.
"So! Uh, what were you two doing?" I ask, trying to change the subject before Sekibanki gets all mopey again. Thankfully she looks interested too.
"Playing Mario Kart!" Suwako says. "Wait, you guys probably haven't seen video games before, have you?" Sekibanki and I shake our heads. "Or kart racing... ugh, that makes it difficult. Anyway, step right up I'll show you!"
Suwako plops back down in front of the glowing box and picks up the funny-looking gray thing she was holding before.
"Right! So -"
"Don't unpause yet I don't have my controller! Hey!" Kanako dives for the other gray thing and scoops it up.
"- the guy with the tongue on the top screen is me, and the dainty looking princess on the bottom one is Kanako -"
"Umm, what's a screen?" I ask.
"...right, let me start from the beginning..."
"So, the black cross lets you change direction, the yellow button makes you go forward, the green one makes you go backward, the gray ones... um..."
"They let you jump! See?"
"Oh! Sure is complicated..."
"Why does running over a question mark give you stuff?"
"Dunno, that's just how the game works."
"And why do red turtle shells follow people?"
"...maybe the devs were drunk?"
"Hey Kanako, move over and give her a go! You're never gonna win anyway."
"Haaah? Why don't you go instead, and give her a chance of winning?"
"...hey, that's a great idea!"
"I'm gonna be the big scary turtle!"
"Lunch is ready! Oh, you're playing now, Kogasa?"
"Yup! I, uh, have no idea what I'm doing though."
"Wah! I sank! And then this funny-looking person on a cloud pulled me out with a fishing rod!"
"Protip: you can't drive on water. Go around it instead!"
"Look, everyone's tiny and I'm squashing them!"
"I can see that, that's me you just ran over."
"Oh! Umm, I'm sorry..."
"Ah! I fell off!"
"Protip: you can't drive on thin air. Go around it instead!"
"Sorry Miss Kanako!"
"Stop helping her, dammit!"
"Wah! You can sink in the fire too!"
"That's 'cause it's magma."
"Come down to Former Hell sometime and we'll show you."
"Umm, no thanks..."
"...I can't believe it."
"Oh man, this is awesome. How's it feel to be a total noob, Kana?"
"Wow, he's really chugging it down! How much is in that bottle anyway?"
"Thanks for lunch! And thank you for letting me play 'video games', I had lots of fun!" I say.
"No sweat! We had fun too!" Suwako says.
"Some of us did," Kanako grumbles.
"Please do come again," Sanae says.
"Yeah, uh, thanks. For everything," Sekibanki says. Sanae smiles back.
[ ] To the Human Village! There's always something interesting going on there! [ ] To the Scarlet Devil Mansion! Patchy said they were still cleaning up the library! [ ] To Eientei! I should check up on the rest of Sekibanki!
Still not happy with my writing, so I'm going to try changing it up a bit. I'll get the hang of this daily updates business eventually.
[x] To the Human Village! There's always something interesting going on there!
We've been busy flying around Gensoukyou all morning, so I decide it's time for a break, and start making my way back towards the Village. I fly as far as the fields and walk the rest of the way, or at least pretend to. The road is so muddy from all the rain that I end up floating just above the ground for most of it.
Not many people are out in the fields today, and I don't really blame them. Most of the humans we pass are children playing in the mud, some of whom recognise me and wave, so I wave back. Some of the others are parents that aren't nearly so happy to see me, so I don't do any more than that.
It's after we reach the village gates that we find all the people. Everyone that doesn't absolutely have to be somewhere else has come into town to shop, gossip or just slack off. Most of them are staying inside out of the weather - all the food places are full of life and chatter.
The streets look more crowded than usual, despite there actually being less people, because of all the umbrellas. Most of them are boring brown colours, so I still stand out, even more so since Sekibanki and I seem to be the only youkai around. Most youkai prefer to stay at home in bad weather, after all.
It's strange how humans and youkai get along these days. Lots of youkai come to the village openly to shop, and most of them deal honestly with the human merchants. The humans, for their part, are nervous and guarded around the youkai, but business is business and nobody wants to offend a paying customer.
Other youkai live undercover in the village itself. It's not as hard as it sounds; plenty of the humans here are youkai-like already, so odd hair colors or supernatural abilities aren't an immediate giveaway. Flying heads are a bit much, but Sekibanki doesn't cause any real trouble so the humans mostly look the other way.
As for me, I've never tried to hide what I am. There was a bit of a stink when I tried to move in to the village proper, but I got the okay eventually, so now I live in a modest house on the edge of the village. It's not much, but what I really wanted it for was to open up a smithy here.
Most of my customers ended up being youkai anyway - I got to know the Scarlets when their maid approached me for some high-quality steel work - but a few villagers have worked up the courage too. My work is the best, and my prices reflect that, but I run an honest business, and I'm slowly building up my reputation. I deliberately avoid taking cheaper jobs so I don't step on the toes of the human smiths.
"So," Sekibanki says, jarring me back to reality, "did you, uh, have anything in particular you wanted to do here?"
"Oh! Umm, not really," I reply. "I was just going to relax, maybe do some shopping. We've been running around all morning, after all. Why, does it bother you?"
"Uh, not really? Kind of hoping nobody recognises me, but, well, half the town knows I'm a youkai anyway so..." Sekibanki trails off, scanning the crowd.
"Hmmm... we just ate, but I wouldn't mind a drink," I suggest. "Sanae didn't seem to be that keen on alcohol."
"I'm, uh, I shouldn't be drinking. Doctor's order, you know?" Sekbanki says with a grimace.
"I could do with something sweet... but I'm kind of broke, so never mind."
"It'll be my treat then!"
"Ah, you really don't have to -"
"No, no, it's fine, there's this really nice dango shop just back down the street..." I trail off, looking at a building across the street.
"What is it?" Sekibanki asks, floating next to me to look too.
"Suzunaan Rental Library... was that always here?"
"Beats me, I don't come this way very often."
"I wonder if they have books on scary things that I could try out..."
[ ] Visit the bar. You never know what gossip you might hear! [ ] Visit the dango shop. I caught a glimpse of pink hair when we passed earlier - not many humans have that shade! [ ] Visit "Suzunaan". It looks strangely interesting!
>>38592 > Also, Tape? The wole shrine segment was great, but the Kart dialogue snippets were excellent. Well done~
Thanks! I personally thought that was my worst update yet. The Mario Kart time-lapse was basically filler to end the damn thing before the deadline.
[x] Visit the dango shop. I caught a glimpse of pink hair when we passed earlier - not many humans have that shade!
Ignoring Sekibanki's protests, I turn back down the street and head for the dango shop we passed earlier. It's not much to look at, but the food is really underrated!
They're doing a lot more business than usual today, but most of the customers are casting nervous glances at a girl with long pink hair sitting in the middle of the room. Her powerful youkai aura is at odds with the hyottoko mask on her head.
"Hello, Miss Kogasa. What would you like today?" the lady at the counter says, bowing to me. She was really worried when I first visited, but since I became a regular she quickly got used to me.
"Two serves of the usual, please!"
"Coming right up!" she says, then glances to the sides and leans a bit closer, "I don't mean to be rude, miss, but... would you perhaps be able to do something about her?" She motions towards the pink-haired girl. "It's not that we have a problem serving youkai, of course, but, she's scaring the other patrons, so you see..."
"I'll try, ma'am," I reply, smiling.
"Thank you," she says, and bows.
I walk over to the table the pink-haired girl is sitting at.
"Hello!" I say cheerfully. She looks up at me, face completely blank. Wait, was she wearing a raiden mask before?
"Greetings, stranger," she says.
"Umm, I'm not sure the humans here are really comfortable eating with a youkai. M-" I begin, but she cuts me off.
"Fear not, for I shall drive out the fearful demon before me!" she says, jumping to her feet and pointing at me dramatically.
"...umm, you're kind of a youkai too," I point out.
"Ah," she says, looking around. All of a sudden the tense air dissolves, and the other guests start talking and laughing casually. Even I feel strangely at ease.
"Wow... did you do that?"
"Of course! I am none other than the Expressive Poker Face, Hata no Kokoro! Manipulating emotions is child's play for me!" she says, striking a dramatic pose again.
"Hey, I know you," Sekibanki says, "you're the mask user that started all that fuss in the village a while back."
"...that is also true," Kokoro admits, sitting back down.
"I haven't seen you in the Village since then," Sekibanki says. "What brings you here now?"
"I am on a quest!" Kokoro declares, still totally expressionless, "I must retrieve the treasure known as 'pickled radishes' from the village markets!"
"That... sounds like an ordinary shopping errand," I say.
"...it is. But I do not have this thing called 'money'."
"Uh... if you don't have any money then how are you going to pay for the dangos?" Sekibanki asks.
Kokoro tilts her head. "I have to pay for these?"
I facepalm. I hold my other hand up so Sekibanki can facepalm too.
"Your dangos, Miss Kogasa." The old lady smiles warmly, all her earlier worries forgotten.
"Ah, thank you!"
I try to explain how human society works to Kokoro as we eat, but I'm not sure how much of it sticks. I even cover for her mistake and pay for her food on the way out.
Something catches my eye just as I walk out the door, and I stop short.
"What is it?" Sekibanki asks.
"I thought I just saw Medicine walk into the bar," I reply.
"Medicine Melancholy, the doll youkai from Nameless Hill? Don't be ridiculous. She hates humans."
"Sound like the opening to a joke, doesn't it?" I say. Then I spot another familiar face coming out of the bookstore I spotted earlier. Her ears and tail are missing, and her hair is really long, but it's definitely Mamizou!
"Hey, Miss Mamiz-"
"Yoink!" I catch a glimpse of yellow as someone snatches my umbrella.
"HEY! Give that back!" I shriek. Wait, where did she go!?
"Halt, evildoer!" Kokoro bellows from right next to me. She's loud! "Return at once and face - ah, she got away."
"What do you mean, got away? Where'd she go!? We have to find her! We have to -"
"Be still; it is only an umbrella." Kokoro steps up to cover me with hers. I feel the same odd effect as earlier try to soothe me.
"I can't be calm! I'm a tsukumogami! That umbrella is me!"
"I see! Then we must proceed at once to the lair of the demon, for there surely the fair maiden is being held!" Kokoro raises a dramatic finger, pointing down the street.
...is this girl for real?
[ ] She may be weird, but she's right! Let's go! [ ] Help me, Mamizou! [ ] I can rescue myself!
"Come, comrade! The butts of evil await our bootprints!"
Before I get a chance to do anything else, Kokoro drags me into the air. I get a faceful of rain in the process; I guess not many people would be as good at flying with an umbrella as me. By the time I wipe the water out of my eyes we're already high up and flying away from the village.
"Are you always like this?" I ask.
"Like what?" Kokoro asks.
"This... over the top, like a storybook character."
"I am studying new forms of emotional expression. People complained that Noh was old and hard to understand, so I started looking for new and easy to understand performances." Kokoro strikes yet another pose, getting us all wet since she's not holding her umbrella right. "Behold, the expressive power of video games!"
"Hey, cut it out!" Sekibanki complains.
"The umbrella!" I add.
"So, it's the mountain godesses' doing, then? But I don't remember any shouting... or any talking at all really..."
"Mountain godesses? I don't know any mountain godesses. I'm learning from the tanuki lady, Miss Mamizou."
"Huh? Mamizou? Well, I guess she is from the Outside..."
"Didn't Raiko say that weird mu- er, you-know-what was from her too?" Sekibanki asks.
"Yeah, she did!" I really do need to visit Mamizou some time. "Umm, where are we going? I don't see that girl or my umbrella anywhere..."
Kokoro says nothing, but leads us down to ground level somewhere in the vicinity of Genbu Ravine.
"Ah, the blowhole! But why are we here?"
"The fiend that kidnapped you is none other than the nefarious satori thief, Komeiji Koishi!" Kokoro begins, illustrating her speech by masks and waving two fans around, "Her vile powers allow her to roam undetected, but fortunately I, Hata no Kokoro, have matched wits with her before, and uncovered her hidden lair! The path there is fraught with peril, but -"
"Umm, are you saying she lives in the Underground? Us surface youkai aren't meant to go down there..."
"Worry not! I have obtained permission from the ruler of the underground herself to come and go as I please!"
"Are you allowed to bring friends?"
"...no, but what kind of tale would that be?"
"I really don't think -"
"Onward! To victory!"
Kokoro resumes dragging me along, down the blowhole and into the darkness below. It's not long before our way is blocked by a huge web.
"That had better not be what I think it is," Sekibanki says.
"That's right, there was an earth spider that lived down here, wasn't there?" I say.
"Gaaaaah you can't be serious! First it's caves and now giant spiders!" Sekibanki starts looking all around in a panic.
"Ah, hey, calm down! She's really nice!" Sekbanki backs into me, and I wrap my arms around her in a hug.
"...I don't like spiders," she says.
"Then I shall make haste and slay the beast!" Kokoro declares, and wait when was she holding a naginata -
"Watch where you're swinging that thing!"
"Shove a bloody sock in it!" a new voice moans, "it's the middle of the bloody day!"
I squint up at a mess of blond hair poking out of a blob of webbing on the wall. I can't make out much more than that in the gloom of the tunnel, but I still recognise Kurodani Yamame the earth spider. She was the one that first told me the Underground was off-limits, back when I first ventured down here. She's normally bright and cheerful, but right now she looks like she's had a really bad night.
"Aha! I challenge thee!" Kokoro strikes yet another pose, still holding her weapon.
"Not you again," Yamame groans. "Piss off before I puke on you."
"Had too much to drink?" I ask.
"Some braindead oni tipped a bloody keg down my throat. Now get lost."
Yamame's head disappears. I start through the hole Kokoro cut in the giant web, but Kokoro doesn't move.
"We can't skip the stage one boss," she protests, "we'll disappoint the readers!"
"You're saying weird things again..." I grab the back of her shirt and drag her down the tunnel, until she finally gives in and continues leading the way.
The next obstacle we face is a bridge. We could just fly right over it, but Kokoro insists on stopping to cross it on foot.
"Show yourself, bridge guardian!" Kokoro shouts, posing with her naginata again.
"Umm, maybe she's not home?" I suggest. Kokoro walks nonchalantly across the bridge and kicks the door of the guardhouse.
"Fuck off!" a voice yells from inside, followed by the sound of a rush of liquid splattering on the floor.
"Let's just go..." I say.
"But I wanna battle!" Kokoro whines, managing to look like she's pouting without actually changing her expression. I drag her away again.
Finally, the windy, dank tunnels widen into a huuuuuge cavern. I blink as my eyes adjust to the sudden light of thousands of fiery torches and lanterns.
"Wooow!" I say.
Spread out below us on the cavern floor is a city. An actual, full-scale city! It makes the Human Village look like, well... a village. It's a maze of white walls and blue rooftops, built just like on the surface, towering up to four stories high in places, and lit up like the village during a nighttime festival. We can see crowds of people and hear the roar of them talking, laughing and fighting.
There's an awful lot of fighting.
"Welcome to the Ancient City, capital of the Underground and home of the oni!" Kokoro intones.
"Wait, oni? A whole city full of oni? I thought one was bad enough!" Sekibanki says.
"You got a problem with oni, missy?" a menacing voice says from behind us.
"Gah!" Sekibanki exclaims as we all jump and whirl around. A tall, muscular woman with a horn jutting out of her forehead is sitting cross-legged on a huge boulder. She's holding a great big dish full to the brim of what I presume is sake.
"N-no not really! Not anymore! I mean uh wait I'm sorry please don't hurt me!" Sekibanki stammers, ducking behind me.
"Hmph. Running scared when you've only just met me, what kind of greeting is that? I oughta teach you some manners!" The oni woman cracks her knuckles loudly, making Sekibanki whimper in terror.
"At last, a worthy opponent!" Kokoro declares, brandishing her weapon yet again. "Fight me, Hoshiguma Yuugi!"
Yuugi's face instantly changes from a glare to a grin. "Wahahaha, now that's more like it! You're on, mask girl!"
[ ] I guess this might be fun to watch... [ ] Waaah, stop! I just want to find my umbrella! You haven't seen it have you? [ ] Are you an oni? Is that oni sake? Can I try some?
[x] Waaah, stop! I just want to find my umbrella! You haven't seen it have you?
"Waah, stop!" I say, "I just want to find my umbrella! You haven't seen it, have you?"
Kokoro and Yuugi both freeze. Yuugi is halfway through getting up, in a position that looks like it should be really hard to hold.
"An umbrella?" the tall oni asks. "It wouldn't happen to be purple and have a huge tongue sticking out of it, would it?"
"Yes! Yes! That's the one!"
"I was wondering what that was! It doesn't rain much down here, so we don't see many umbrellas!" Yuugi finishes standing up and takes a swig of her sake.
"Where did you see it? Is it around here!?"
"Whoa, steady on there! The younger Komeiji sister swung by with it not five minutes ago. She was probably headed for the Palace."
"The Palace? Where's that?"
"Far side of town. You'll know it when you see it!"
"...does this mean we're skipping the stage three boss too?" Kokoro asks, still totally motionless.
"Like hell you are!" Yuugi replies, grinning.
I spend the next ten minutes following a cloud of danmaku through the city streets. This place is crazy! Rather than getting out of the way all the oni crowd forward, cheering on one or the other of the combatants. Several in-progress brawls stop completely as everyone rushes to see Yuugi and Kokoro fighting it out, only to start right up again as soon as they're out of sight. And then even more fights break out between supporters on different sides. Sekibanki and I spend half our time dodging stray danmaku and the other half dodging projectile furniture.
"I wanna go home!" Sekibanki wails after the fifth table sails over our heads.
"Waaaaaaah - OOF."
Next thing I know I'm sitting at the base of a stone wall with Kokoro on my lap, and my back feels like I've just been folded in half. Sekibanki is still staring at the spot I occupied seconds ago, thirty meters away.
"Woah, hey, you all right?" Yuugi's voice asks from somwhere above me.
I try to reply, but I think Kokoro crushed my lungs. White-hot agony sears the full length of my spine. My vision blurs as my eyes tear up from the pain, then starts to go dark.
"...nothing...even...form..." Kokoro mumbles, rolling off my lap. I slide sideways until my head hits the dirt, and lie there for what seems like forever, doing my best just to breathe.
"Ow," I whimper.
"Oh man, I really botched this one," Yuugi groans from somewhere above us.
After another moment of silence, Kokoro starts mechanically getting to her feet. I gingerly maneuver into a less awkward position, testing which movements hurt and which don't, before I slowly do the same.
"Ow," I repeat. Sekibanki hovers worriedly next to me, not really able to help but wanting to.
"Rematch!" Kokoro demands, raising both fists in the air. I bop her on the head with one of mine, knocking her to the ground again.
"No, no, this is my defeat," Yuugi says as Kokoro gets up again, even more slowly than before. "Beating up bystanders is... not cool. You gonna be okay?" she asks me.
"I... think so," I say. "But it really, really hurts."
"Ow," Kokoro agrees, imitating me from earlier.
"Ahahahaha, sorry about that! Well, on the bright side, we're here!" Yuugi says, scratching the back of her head and smiling awkwardly.
I slowly turn around and look up. The wall Yuugi's Kokoro cannonball slammed me into is the front wall of a huge mansion. Instead of the red brick of the Scarlet Devil Mansion, this one is made of huge gray stone blocks. It looks like it was built to withstand the end of the world - there isn't so much as a scuff mark from the two of us slamming into it.
"Why can't you knock like a normal person, instead of trying to bring the roof down around our ears?" a new, slightly cross voice asks as the front door creaks open.
Yuugi doesn't say anything. She just smiles at the newcomer before taking another swig of her sake. She's still carrying that thing!?
"I see. Do try to be more careful next time." The newcomer steps out from behind the door. She's... really pink. She has pink hair, pink eyes and a pink skirt, but what really catches me eye is the pair of pink bunny slippers on her feet. They look so fluffy!
"...thank you, I supose? That's not normally the first thing people notice when they look at me." She says.
"I am Komeiji Satori, de facto ruler of the Underground."
"Oh? I had suspected the umbrella my sister brought home to be sentient, but I could not read its heart; now I see why. Yes, it is here."
"I am, as my name suggests, a satori. I can read the hearts and minds of all in my presence."
Satori turns her attention to Kokoro. "Welcome back. Yes. Yes. No. Certainly not. If you insist."
Kokoro darts past Satori and into the mansion.
Finally, Satori turns back to Yuugi. "It is only a minor inconvenience. I will be sure to, naturally."
Yuugi gives me a friendly wave and kicks off the ground, flying back over the city.
"She's not like that," Satori says, making Sekibanki jump. "She respects both strength and free will; if you politely decline to fight her then she will respect your decision." She turns to look directly at Sekibanki. "She is not a brute. Treat her like one at your peril."
Sekibanki swallows. "Yes ma'am."
"Now," Satori says, bowing slightly, "please make yourselves at home. I understand if you do not wish to remain in my presence for any longer than is necessary, but your visit to the Underground has thus far been dreadful and I would be a poor host if I allowed it to continue."
"Umm, thank you. Wh-"
"I don't know precisely where Koishi is now; my power doesn't work on her and she isn't in sight of any of the other - ah, the kitchen. Follow me."
I limp after Satori as she shuffles back into her home. Now that I'm up and about again I can see it's actually really pretty. The stonework is a drab gray color all over, but it's carved into all sorts of pillars, arches and decorations. The floor is made of huge, shiny black and white tiles, with stained-glass windows set into it at regular intervals. These odd floor-windows are the only source of light for the most part, radiating a soothing pinkish glow from below. I'm a bit hesitant to step on them, but Satori walks right over them like they weren't there.
Satori changes course several times as we walk, veering off in a zigzag path and even doubling back repeatedly. Eventually we enter what looks like a dining hall, where I spot a girl wearing yellow and green holding my umbrella.
Kokoro bursts into the room at the same moment we do. "Found you! Release the princess at once, you dastardly demon!"
"I'm not a princess!" I protest.
"Hi Sis!" Koishi says, waving at Satori. She has a big goofy smile on face.
"First thievery, now kidnapping. I do hope this isn't going to become a habit," Satori says with a sigh.
"Huuh? Did I kidnap someone?" Koishi asks, tilting her head to one side. Kokoro is trying to snatch my umbrella from her from behind, but Koishi keeps dancing out of her reach seemingly by accident.
"The umbrella you're holding is a tsukumogami. She is quite distressed that you have brought her here against her will."
"Did I? I wanted to get home and it was raining so I grabbed an umbrella! This one looked the most interesting!"
"Don't just take things as you please! Give it back!" I shout. Koishi blinks and stares at me for a moment.
"Okay~" she says, and tosses it to me, just as Kokoro gives up on grabbing it and tackles her to the floor.
"Yaaay! Playtime!" Koishi cheers, sitting astride Kokoro's back wait how did she get there!? Kokoro doesn't miss a beat, standing up and hooking her hands under Koishi's legs, taking her on a piggyback ride around the room. Koishi flaps her arms and makes "wheeeeee~" noises.
"As you can see, my sister is rather carefree," Satori says as I hug my safely-recovered umbrella. "I hope you won't harbour a grudge toward her, as there is no malice in her actions."
"Umm, it's okay. Kind of. I wish I hadn't been smacked into a wall though," I say.
"I sympathize with that sentiment wholeheartedly," Satori replies. "You may rest here for as long as you require. I am no medic, but I do have a few remedies that may speed your recovery, if you wish my help. Otherwise, feel free to peruse the library or wander the gardens; whatever strikes your fancy."
[ ] My back does kind of hurt. A lot. [ ] Reading books sounds like a good way to relax. [ ] They have gardens this far underground?
I started this thing expecting to burn out in a week or putter along at a few hundred words a day, but here I am on my fifteenth daily update, halfway to actually making it. Thank you all for taking the time to read and vote, and I'll try to keep it up for the rest of the month!
"Of course. Please follow me." Satori turns and heads back out the way we came in.
I follow Satori down several more big hallways. Her slow, shuffling gait makes her feel kind of... grandmotherly, almost. Ah, wait, I didn't mean to call you old!
Satori chuckles. "It's fine. Perhaps I should try to exercise more; I don't get out as much as I would like. Very few people are ever happy to see me." The big red eyeball suspended near her chest twists around to look at me. "You don't seem to be overly bothered by my nature, though."
"Well, I'm not very good at hiding things," I say, "so I don't really try to. Besides, it's not like you go around telling the whole world people's secrets, is it?"
"That's an interesting way of looking at it. Most people don't even get that far; the mere thought of having their minds 'violated' is abhorrent, regardless of whether they have anything to hide. And most people's 'secrets' are dreadfully boring anyway. Theivery, adultery, murder; it's always the same in the end."
"Not everyone is like that!" I protest. "There are nice people too! You should come visit the Human Village, there are lots of nice people there!"
"I fear any attempt on my part to set foot above ground would likely result in consternation of the highest order. Politics itself would collapse in an instant were one party to know what the other is thinking."
Satori turns to smile at me as she puts her hand on a doorknob. "Don't worry yourself about it. I am quite content with my life here."
"But everyone needs to have friends!" I say.
"I'm pleased that you think so," Satori replies as she opens the door.
The room Satori leads us into seems to be a bathroom. A really big Japanese-style bathroom! One wall is open to the outside and... is that an onsen?
"Yes, it is," Satori replies. She stretches up on tip-toes to remove a large box from a high shelf in the corner. "It was one of the first changes I had made to the palace upon taking up residence here." She sets the box down on the floor and opens it. "We have an abundance of heat to warm the water, so it was an obvious choice."
Satori searches through the contents of the box, checking labels and muttering to herself. "...should be suitable for tsukumogami, yes." She holds up a small container. "This ointment is good for muscular injuries and blunt force trauma. It must be applied directly to the affected area, so if you would..."
"Oh!" I fetch one of the shower stools to sit on and take off my vest and shirt.
"My word," Satori says, "that is the worst bruising I've seen in a long time."
"Is it bad?"
"Merely in appearance, I would think; you have very delicate skin. Now, I should warn you, this treatment was concocted by the oni, so it is quite potent."
"Ouch!" I flinch away as Satori's fingers press against a sore spot.
"My apologies; I'm being as gentle as I can."
The pain slowly fades away, to be replaced by a burning, tingling sensation. A strong smell of alcohol - what else - mixed with something spicy fills the air. Satori's gentle massaging feels kind of soothing, or maybe the ointment's making me drunk - either way, all my stress just melts away.
"Wow, I didn't think the oni would come up with something like this."
"Even oni get tired of waking up with sore muscles and bruises after a long day of drinking and brawling," Satori replies, "and it happens to them more than most. Of course, any injury that would lead an oni to seek medication beyond intoxication would no doubt kill you or I, so it's only natural that any medicine they would bother to use would have to be very effective indeed."
"I guess so."
"Kokoro collided with your stomach, correct? You may wish to apply some of this to the area. You will only want the slightest dab, like so."
I take a tiny bit of the ointment and rub it on my belly as directed, and immediately start coughing as it seems to seep into my lungs.
"You are correct, after a fashion; the diaphragm, the muscle primarily responsible for breathing, is located directly below that area, which is why a blow to the midsection will knock the wind out of you. Spread it out as thinly at you can."
"You seem to know an awful lot about this kind of stuff," I say.
"Only out of necessity. I must take care of myself, my sister and a large variety of pets, with minimal assistance."
"You really don't have many friends, huh?"
"No, I do not."
There's an awkward silence for a while after that. Eventually Satori speaks up again.
"What about you, Miss Sekibanki? You've been very quiet since we met," she says.
"Oh, ah, I, uh, don't have a whole lot to say," Sekibanki stutters, surprised by the question. "Hard to be constructive without a body."
"Especially when confronted with a mind reader, hmm?" Satori prods. Sekibanki looks a little guilty.
"Er, well, it's kind of like Kogasa said, I mean, I've got nothing to hide, so..."
"But it still makes you uncomfortable."
"Well... yeah. Sorry."
"Don't be. I'm well used to it by now, and yours is hardly the worst reaction I've seen."
"Sorry. No, wait, gah... okay, uh, question. Can you tell what my other -"
"I cannot see anything you are not yourself aware of. It would be interesting to meet all of you; I have never encountered anyone with more than one mind before."
"Er, well, no offence, but I wasn't really planning on coming down here again if I could help it. Even if they are nice people, a city full of oni is a bit... more than I can handle."
"Each to their own." Satori says. "How does it feel now?"
I stretch a little, moving all the sore bits. They're not sore anymore!
"Much better!" I say.
"Very good. Try to avoid overdoing it for today; this only accelerates your body's natural healing, so you will still need to give it time to recuperate."
"I'll try," I say, getting up and getting dressed again. "Hopefully Miss Yuugi won't punch Kokoro into me again."
"Unlikely," Satori says, her mouth quirking into a smile. "I'd like to think they've both learned their lessons by now."
"How the heck did that Kokoro girl survive that, anyway?" Sekibanki asks. "If Kogasa's this bad off after being hit secondhand, then the punch itself must have been..."
"She has proven herself to be far stronger than her behaviour - and, indeed, mentality - would suggest," Satori says as she puts the medicine box back on its shelf.
"So, kind of like Flandre then," I say.
"Perhaps," Satori replies. She leads the way out of the bathroom and back to the big stairway at the entrance.
"And now I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me; there are many things I must attend to," Satori says, bowing slightly.
"Thank you for all your help!" I say.
"You are welcome to stay longer regardless; I can have one of my pets show you around."
"Ah, well, actually I wanted to see more of the city before I go. We don't have anything like that on the surface!"
"That sounds like an excellent idea," Satori says with a smile, "the main streets, particularly the business districts, are usually very orderly, so if you stick to them you'll hopefully not see a repeat of your earlier misfortunes. I'm sure Koishi will have tired Kokoro out in short order; if not, don't hesitate to ask Yuugi to guide you to the surface. She will not be hard to find."
"Okay! Thanks again!" I say, before heading out the door.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Sekibanki asks, looking apprehensive.
"You're just afraid of all the oni, aren't you?" I tease.
"Well, yeah. Who isn't?"
I just poke my tongue out at her and take off get my bearings. It's easy to spot the areas Satori was talking about from the air. Nobody else is flying around town, so after I memorize the layout as best I can I land again and head into the city on foot.
It really does feel like a night festival in the Human Village, only much, much larger, and full of youkai I've never even heard of before. Most of the buildings in the Village are quite modest, except for the homes of a few wealthy families, but here everything looks positively lavish. It makes me feel a bit nervous and out of place, but nobody gives us a second look, and after a little bit of window-shopping I find that most things cost about the same as they would on the surface. Some things are even cheaper.
Then a shopfront explodes outward as someone is thrown right through it. Nobody in the street seems to care. I guess their builders must get loads of practice.
I'm so caught up in all the new sights, sounds and smells that I forget to watch where I'm going and walk right into someone. I stammer an apology as I step back, and see...
[ ] A silver-haired woman in deep red robes. [ ] A fairy in a star-spangled outfit. [ ] An offical-looking lady with green hair.
"My apologies, I should have been more..." the green-haired lady trails off as we both realize we just said more or less the same thing.
We stare at each other for a moment before I start laughing.
"It seems we were both a little careless," she says, smiling. "I don't believe we've met; my name is Shiki Eiki."
"I'm Tatara Kogasa, and this is my friend, Sekibanki!" I reply.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance," Eiki says, bowing slightly. Now that I notice it, she's shorter than I first thought, about the same height as me. "Pardon me for being nosy, but you don't seem the type to live in a place like this."
"Nope! We live on the surface, in the Human Village."
She looks surprised. "The Human Village? Well, well. What brings you this far underground?"
"Um, well, someone from down here took my umbrella, so I came down to get it back."
"I see. As a karakasa obake, that must have been quite unpleasant. I trust nobody got hurt?" Something about her face makes me feel like I'm in trouble.
"Er... Miss Yuugi did punch me and Kokoro into a wall, but I don't think she meant to..."
The scary look in Eiki's eyes disappears and she puts her hand to her forehead. "...that sounds like the Yuugi I remember."
"You know Miss Yuugi?"
"After a fashion. It's been a long time since we last met, though."
"Oh? Does that mean you're not from down here either?"
"Ah, no. I'm the yama that oversees Gensoukyou, so I spend most of my time in Higan."
"Eeeeh!? You're a yama!? For real!?"
"Not so loud -"
The mention of the word "Yama" makes most of the people in the street turn to look at us - or rather, at Eiki.
"Lady Yama?" "Why, so it is." "I didn't recognise her in those clothes." "Times sure have changed!"
"What's goin' on here?" Yuugi's booming voice breaks up the gathering crowd. "Oh? Lady Eiki? You're a rare face around here these days! What brings you to our neck of the woods?"
"W-well, since this area was formerly under our employment and still houses a considerable number of condemned souls yet no longer recieves our financial support it would be remiss of us not to at least ensure that the situation of the residents did not get out of hand, so I thought it would be prudent for me to -"
"So you're sayin' you came for a look-see, make sure everyone was all right? In person?"
"...when you put it that way, it does sound a little - "
"Why didn't you say so sooner? Come on, lemme show you around!" Yuugi claps Eiki on the back with enough force to make me wince in sympathy.
"That really won't be - "
"Oh? You're that umbrella girl from before! I see you got it back, safe and sound, eh?" She moves to clap me on the back as well, but stops herself. "Oh. Right. Sorry about that, again. Why don't you come along too? Drinks are on me!"
"I, um -"
I don't really get any say in the matter, as Yuugi gently pushes me and Eiki down the street and into a particularly fancy bar. The size difference makes her look kind of like a mother herding two children along. Eiki has a look of faintly embarassed resignation on her face and offers no resistance as Yuugi directs us to a table. Sekibanki seems to be trying to hide in my umbrella.
"So," Yuugi says as she takes a seat herself, "what really brings you down here?"
Eiki sighs and rubs her temples. "It is exactly as I said. Contact between Former Hell and Gensoukyou has been increasing of late, and some of my subordinates have had interesting things to say about it. Given my role in the current state of affairs, I thought it only proper that I look into the matter personally. "
Yuugi stares as Eiki for a few seconds before she bursts out laughing. "Wahahaha! So our esteemed Lady Yama really has come all this way just for a social call!"
"What I do with my free time is none of your business, oni," Eiki complains.
"Aww, c'mon, no need to be all uptight," Yuugi says with a dismissive wave. "Let's get some booze into the system and loosen up a bit!"
[ ] If it's drinking with the oni then it has to be sake, right? [ ] I'd rather not get drunk right now, if it's all the same to you. [ ] I was just looking around on my way back to the surface. I really should get going... Clownpiece Y/N?
Sorry for the short and crappy update. I'll spare you the usual whining about being busy.
Falling asleep at my keyboard, posting and praying it's readable. If shit's not better by tomorrow, I quit; not going to kill myself for a writing contest.
[x] If it's drinking with the oni then it has to be sake, right?
Eiki lets out a long-suffering sigh. "All right. One drink." She takes her really elaborate hat off and sets it on the table.
"I've never tried oni sake before!" I say.
"Masuo! Four drinks down here!" Yuugi yells. The big red-skinned oni behind the bar grins - more than he already was - and gives her a thumbs-up.
"Hey whoa wait a minute no booze for me, doctor's orders," Sekibanki blurts out.
Yuugi frowns. "Doctor?"
"The moon doctor, uh wait you've probably never heard of her... I, uh, I ticked off a shrine maiden. That's why I'm just a head right now."
"Oh. Oh!" Yuugi says, comprehension dawning on her face. Then she bursts out laughing again. "I get it, I get it! Need to wait for it to grow back, huh?"
"Er, well, my head and body are seperate anyway but yeah, pretty much. Sorry for how I acted when we first met, by the way; I'm, uh, still a little jumpy, you know?"
Yuugi brushes Sekibanki's apology off with a wave. "It's fine, sound like you've had it rough. Hey, Masuo! Make one of those a tengu special!" Her request is followed by a chorus of chuckles from the other oni in the bar.
"Your drink, Lady Yama," the oni barkeep says, suddenly beside us and bowing respectfully. It only takes him a moment to serve the rest of us as well.
Sekibanki eyes her drink warily. "Is this -"
"It's not sake," Yuugi interrupts. "Plenty of punch, but not a drop of alcohol."
I raise Sekibanki's drink for her, then immediately put it down again when she gags.
"That's... different," she says. Yuugi just laughs again.
I take a sip of my drink too. It's strong, but not too strong, and has a complex earthy taste. Which is kind of fitting for an underground sake.
"To continue our conversation from earlier," Eiki begins, "you said that the two of you lived in the Human Village."
"In the Human Village?" Yuugi asks, giving me and Sekibanki a curious glance. "Folks there were pretty swell when me and Suika went drinking there during that religious festival thing a while back, but I got the feeling they wouldn't be real fussed on having one of us actually living there."
"There's a whole bunch youkai living in the village these days!" I say. "Most of them pretend to be human, like Sekibanki does." Yuugi scowls but doesn't say anything. "I think I'm the only one that doesn't."
"How did you convince them to let you stay?" Eiki asks.
"That's easy," I say, puffing up a little. "I'm a really, really good blacksmith!"
Yuugi and Eiki don't look convinced.
"...by human standards, anyway," I say, deflating. "But I make an honest living! And I don't take the same jobs as the human smiths either, so I'm not hurting anyone!"
"So you pay your way like any other resident. And as a tsukumogami, you have no need to consume human flesh," Eiki says. "But what prompted you to go to such lengths?"
"Well, er, I'm... not very good at surprising people," I admit. "I got really down, so one of my friends suggested I visit the Buddhist lady, Miss Hijiri. She said surprises don't have to be scary, so I should think about nice surprises too! It wasn't really good at those either, but it got me thinking. Nobody thought someone like me would be good at smithing, and who'd expect to see a youkai running a normal shop in a human village?"
"So it was Hijiri's doing after all... it seems harmless enough, but I feel I should check up on her regardless."
"I don't think she's trying to do anything bad..."
"Perhaps not, but intent and result are not always the same." Eiki looks like she wants to say more, but she stops herself.
We continue to make smalltalk for some time, me and Eiki getting progressively drunker as we go. Even though it's only one drink, in quantity it's more like five, and it must be a lot stronger than it tastes. I know when I'm beat, and the talk turns to stuff that's not really my business, so I excuse myself and head in the general direction of the surface.
Or at least, I think that's where I'm heading. Thankfully Sekibanki still has a clear head (heh) and keeps me on course.
I've just caught sight of the tunnel we came in through when someone grabs me from behind.
"Gyaaaaah!" I shriek.
"Found yooooouuuuu," Kokoro drones, her head resting on my shoulder.
"Don't scare me like that!" I huff. "And let go!"
"I made another friend!" Kokoro says, ignoring me. "We battled a lot, and I lost!"
"Um, okay? Can you get off me please?"
"I'm really tired now..." Kokoro's head droops, and I nearly topple under her weight.
I don't really want to, but she won't wake up and I can't just leave her here, so I fumble around for a moment until I'm carrying Kokoro in a piggyback, and continue on toward th surface. We somehow managed to avoid getting lost down a side tunnel - I hate to think what would have happened then! - and pass by the bridge we saw on the way in without incident.
A while after that, I walk straight into something soft and sticky.
"Gyaaaaaah!" Sekibanki screeches, painfully loud and right next to my ear.
"Ah, hey, ow!" I exclaim.
"Get me out get me out GET ME OUT HEEEEEEEELP!!!"
"Ugh, pipe down. It's too early for this," someone grumbles on the other side of me.
"Yamame? Sorry, did we wake you up?"
"No, but I'd rather be asleep anyway. Hold still a moment."
Yamame starts carefully picking us out of her web.
"They got you too, huh?" she says. "You reek of oni sake, and she looks like she's been beaten six ways to Sunday."
"Ahahaha, well, kind of. I only had one drink, and I think Kokoro started most of her fights, so..."
"Only one? Why'd you walk straight into my web, then?" Yamame asks as she finally gets me free of all the sticky strands.
"I, um, can't see anything."
"It's too dark! I was following Sekibanki!"
"...seriously... okay, what's your excuse?"
Sekibanki makes a series of odd gibbering noises before crashing into my stomach.
"I w-wasn't l-looking for it! I f-forgot it was here!" she squeaks.
"...yeah, it's too early for this. Stupid bloody oni, stupid bloody hangover... gate's over here. Later."
"Uh, okay," I say, and quietly follow Sekibanki onward.
When we reach the blowhole, I realize it's darker now because the sun has already set. On the other hand, the sky has cleared, and once we're back in the air the moonlight is enough for me to get my bearings. I take a deep breath of fresh, above-ground air, full of the smell of wet earth and plants.
I've also still got a big heavy weight on my back, in the form of the still-sleeping Kokoro. Her arms are still wrapped tightly around me even though she's asleep.
"Um, do you have any idea where Kokoro lives?" I ask Sekibanki.
"...crap. Not a clue," she replies.
"Allow me!" a voice from above me says. I'm really really easy to sneak up on, aren't I?
"Greetings, friends of Kokoro! I am Mononobe no Futo, follower of the Tao and of Crown Prince Toyosatomimi, assigned for the nonce to the care of your errant companion!"
"...did you understand any of that?" Sekibanki asks under her breath.
"Not really?" I reply.
"Pray tell, where hast thou been? The Crown Prince did dispatch young Kokoro on a simple errand to the village, but thereupon she vanished from before mine eyes."
"Oh! We, um, ended up in the Underground. One of her friends took my umbrella, and we went to get it back."
"Aha! Little wonder mine efforts were for naught; I sought her everywhere upon the face of the Earth, but did not think to venture beneath! I gather by the item under discussion now being upon thy person that you were successful in your quest?"
"More or less? Could you, um, give me a hand here? She's kind of heavy."
"Ah! At once!" Futo dives down to my level and, with difficulty, manages to pry Kokoro off my back.
"I do hope thee hath not been burdened overmuch?" Futo says, holding Kokoro bridal style in her arms.
"Er, well, she was kind of annoying... but she helped me get my umbrella back so it's okay."
"...I see. Thou hast my gratitude for thy patience. And now I must take my leave, for I must return ere the Crown Prince begin to worry about mine absence. Until next we meet!" Futo quickly flies away.
I stretch my still-aching muscles. "What a day. I wonder what time it is?"
"Beats me, but I'm sure hungry," Sekibanki replies.
"Ah! We haven't eaten yet, have we?"
"Speaking of which, the Grassroots Youkai Network was meeting tonight, wasn't it?"
"It was? Where?"
"...Mystia's, I think. I don't think anyone would be upset if I missed it, given the circumstances."
"If it's at Mystia's then why not?" I say. "Grilled lamprey by the Lake sounds like a great idea!"
It doesn't take us long to track down Mystia's food cart. She's moved a bit further around the lake, to a slightly more secluded spot. Business seems to be going well, since there's already quite a few people gathered.
Cirno and Rumia are sitting on a large rock not far from the stand, talking and laughing up a storm. I have no idea what they're saying, though - are they even speaking Japanese? Two small glasses and a bottle of a kind I've only seen in the Scarlet Devil Mansion are sitting between them, as well as several of Mystia's dishes.
Down by the lake proper, in a small not-quite-natural-looking rock pool, I spot Wakasagihime sitting half-submerged in the water. Lily White is hovering next to her, waving her arms as she talks.
Three more people are sitting at the stand itself. Wriggle is at one end, slumped over the counter and holding a glass of iced sake against her forehead. The ice is probably Cirno's doing, since I know Mystia is hopeless at ice magic. The other two, sitting as far away from Wriggle as possible and looking very nervous, are humans.
"Miss Tatara?" one of the humans says as I take a seat. Her clothes are worn and muddy, and the boy next to her looks even worse. A tattered umbrella is leaning against the wall of the stand next to them. Their faces look vaguely familiar, but then again I've seen nearly everyone in the Human Village at some point. It's not a big place.
"Hello!" I say brightly. "You must be brave, coming all the way out here after dark!"
"We got lost," she replies, "we couldn't find our way back to the village, and then it got dark, and the path just seemed to vanish and..."
"And we ended up here," the boy finishes. "We know it's Misty Lake, but we've never been out this way before, and some really dangerous youkai live in the forest between here and the Village."
"Three of them are right here!" I say with a perfectly innocent smile. The humans' eyes flick toward Mystia, who pouts at me.
"Stop teasing my customers," Mystia complains.
"But I am a customer! Two serves of grilled lamprey, please!" I slip a few notes and coins onto the counter. Mystia doesn't normally charge youkai, but if I'm living in the village, I have to follow the rules!
"Ah, of course! Would you like some sake with that?"
"No thanks, I've had plenty of that already."
There's a brief silence as Mystia busies herself with food preparations. The human girl looks like she wants to say something but she's too scared to do it. Both the humans are chewing their food very thoroughly, like they're trying to make it last as long as possible.
"Does anyone else know you're out here?" I ask.
"Ah, w-well Mother would have noticed that we haven't come home yet, but we weren't headed anywhere near the lake, so..." she says.
"She's probably worried sick," the boy adds, looking a little guilty. Urk.
"I live in the Village too, so I'll be headed back there later," I say. "I'm going to be here for a while, talking to some friends, but I can let Miss Kamishirasawa know where you are after that." Miss Keine is the only 'human' in the village that could get here safely at this hour. "Or I could guide you back myself, if you trust me enough for that."
"Y-you would? We'd be ever so grateful..."
"That's... very generous of you, Miss Tatara."
They both seem very relieved, and... maaaaaaybe a little surprised?
"Here you go~" Mystia says, holding out two plates of her famous grilled lamprey.
[ ] Bug Wriggle. [ ] Chill with Cirno and Rumia. [ ] Greet Lily and Wakasagihime.
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[x] Greet Lily and Wakasagihime.
"Thank you!" I say. I take the plates from Mystia, letting my umbrella float by itself again, and wander down to the lakeside.
"-en Marisa pulls out her hakkero and blasts Reimu's balls like BOOOOOOOOOOM and - hiya!" Lily breaks off her story to wave at me and Sekibanki. Wakasagihime instinctively retreats into the safety of the water, leaving only her head above the surface.
"Hello!" I say.
"'Sup," Sekibanki adds.
Wakasagihime waves a sleeve-covered hand as she rises back out of the water. "Your name... was..." she begins.
"Kogasa," I remind her.
"Ah... yes. Sorry," she says quietly.
"Hey, hey, hey! Did you really beat Marisa?" Lily asks Sekibanki, waving her arms again. "The forest fairies won't shut up about it, but they're always making stuff up and there's no way she'd go down easy right?"
"...I totally did," Sekibanki says with a smirk.
"Really!?" Lily and Wakasagihime chorus.
"I had help, though, obviously."
Sekibanki starts recounting our duel from this morning, while I finally realize why Lily's been floating all this time - the ground's still wet and soggy from all the rain. I look around for a spot to put the plates down. I don't trust myself to make them float too - I can do it, but I don't think I can keep them level - so I pick a flat rock to use as a table.
"...the look on Marisa's face was priceless. Why's that crazy tengu never around when you actually want her?" Sekibanki continues.
"Did she really throw a tantrum?" Lily asks.
"No, but she did whine about me cheating."
A sudden loud, incomprehensible shout draws our attention. Cirno waves that weird square bottle in the air. Lily must have understood whatever it was she was yelling about, because she zips over to the ice fairy in an instant. I don't pay much more attention to them, though, because I spot Kagerou and Sekibanki approaching from the treeline.
Kagerou has her hood up and is carrying a folded umbrella in one hand and a large basket in the other.
"Heeeeey!" I call, waving.
"You haven't started without me, have you?" Kagerou calls back, her tone jovial and teasing as always.
"Never!" I reply.
"Yo," Sekibanki's newly-arrived head says.
"Fancy seeing you here," the one next to me replies.
"I thought I'd be having too much fun roaming around Gensoukyou to drag myself back for a boring little picnic. What'd I miss?"
"Well... we pranked the Temple School, scared a yamabiko half to death, visited the Prismrivers, visited the Scarlets, bugged Reimu, helped the creepy doll lady out, beat up the black-white, saved a librarian from a magical asthma attack, made up with you-know-who, played Outsider games, met a masked maniac in the village, chased an umbrella thief into the Underground, narrowly avoided being pulverised by an oni, got told by a mind reader, drank with a yama and met a fossil from the Asuka period," Sekibanki summarises.
The ever-practical Kagerou starts busily emptying her basket, throwing out a heavy picnic blanket and unpacking an impressive spread of her wonderful home cooking.
"...huh," the new Sekibanki says. "Some weird Outsider girl showed up, duelled the Princess, talked the Doc's ears off and got knocked the hell out by some bunny dropping a tub on her head. That's about it."
More noise from the fairies distracts us. Cirno has one arm around Lily, the other hand holding the bottle of most-likely-alcohol in the air while the pair sway drunkely from side to side and yell a heavily slurred, off-key song. Rumia howls with laughter. The lyrics sound like gibberish, but they both seem to be singing the same thing so I guess it probably isn't.
"Okay everyone, grub's up!" Kagerou announces.
Even Wakasagihime hauls herself completely out of the water to join us. I move my two plates of grilled lamprey over to the picnic blanket and take a seat, grabbing a skewer in each hand and giving myself and Sekibanki a bite. The other Sekibanki gives me a weird look, so I give her some as well.
"Hey! That's mine!" the first Sekibanki objects. The second pokes her tongue out and darts backward as the first lunges at her. Unfortunately for her she backs straight into Kagerou, who plucks both heads out of the air and plops them on her lap.
"Now now children, no fighting!" she chides, ruffling their hair.
I lean over to give one of them - I can't tell which is which anymore - another bite of lamprey, and soon Wakasagihime joins me in hand-feeding the two heads, until they finally freak out hard enough to squirm free of Kagerou's grip. Both of Sekibanki's heads pout as the rest of us laugh.
"Hey," a very unenthusiastic Wriggle says as she shambles over, still holding a full glass of cold drink.
"You look awful, what happened?" Wakasagihime asks.
"I don't wanna talk about it," Wriggle groans as she flops down.
"If I'd known so many of us would be here tonight I'd have cooked more," Kagerou says.
"You've cooked heaps," I say.
"Who else is coming?"
"Hmm... Keine only comes when it's in the village, Kyouko's probably busy as usual, Mystia's..." we all turn to look at Mystia's food cart, where she's teasing the two humans "...being Mystia and... who else is there?"
"I invited Reisen along," one of the Sekibankis says, "but she said she was headed for Hakugyokurou tonight."
Wakasagihime chokes on her sake, face going red. Wriggle snorts. Kagerou beams, tail wagging.
[ ] Press Sekibanki for details. [ ] Try to cheer up Wriggle. [ ] Hey Kagerou, what's in these muffins? [ ] Rescue those two humans from Mystia. [ ] Rumia still looks sober. [ ] An unidentified newcomer...?
"Does Reimu know about this?" Kagerou asks, looking slightly concerned.
"I think so. And he started it, not her."
"Never would have guessed she'd have a thing for the suicidal type," Wriggle says. "Speaking of Yuuka, did you know she destroyed Nameless Hill this morning?"
There's a moment of silence as we all digest that sentence.
"Destroyed?" Kagerou asks. "What do you mean?"
"Scorched the whole place to ash. In the rain and everything."
"But she's normally so nice! Why would she do that!?" Wakasagihime says. She doesn't notice the weird looks everyone else gives her.
"Was Medicine all right?" Kagerou asks.
"Last I saw of her she was walking along the road to the village," Wriggle says.
"Oh dear. I hope she didn't do anything silly..."
"Wait, so it was Medicine I saw in the village this morning!" I say.
"You saw her? In the village?" Kagerou asks, ears perking up.
"Yeah! Only a glimpse though, just as she entered the bar. I thought I must have been mistaken - no way would Medicine Melancholy wander into the Village for a drink, right?"
"Unless Yuuka just razed her entire home to the ground," Wriggle says.
"Poor thing. Where is she even going to sleep tonight?" Kagerou says.
"I don't think she does," Wriggle says. "At least, I've seen her awake at all hours. Do tsukumogami even need to sleep?"
"I sure do!" I say, deliberately yawning afterwards. That gets a few laughs, which stop when a bright flash comes from behind me. We all turn to look.
Cirno and Lily have flown out above the lake to start a danmaku game. Cirno is... drunk. Really, really drunk. Lily is bobbing erratically in the air and shooting wildly too, but she's always like that. Despite the handicap, Cirno is still winning by a large margin. In fact, I think she's doing even better than she usually does, as her drunken swerves carry her between bullets so well it's almost as if she were doing it on purpose.
Our conversation continues as we finish off most of Kagerou's delicious food and enjoy the colorful danmaku display. Lily loses every single round, but I don't think either of them are keeping score. Cirno pauses at some point to empty her stomach onto the grass, but otherwise they show no sign of stopping any time soon.
I'm just starting to dose off when a shriek from Mystia's cart jolts me awake. Rumia has gotten bored and wandered over to the cart, hugging the human girl from behind and nibbling at her ear. The other human is frozen in panicked indecision. I should probably do something about that...
I say my goodbyes to the others, gather up my umbrella and geta and stroll over to the stand.
"P-please let go of me M-Miss..."
"But you smell so gooooood... just a li~ittle bite? It won't hurt more than an ear piercing..."
I unceremoniously whack Rumia over the head with my folded umbrella.
"Uff," Rumia says, letting go of the girl to rub at the back of her own head. She turns around to see me with my umbrella resting on my shoulder, doing my best impression of Miss Keine. I'm not tall enough to loom, but I can glare!
"No eating humans from the Village!" I say.
"...are you suuuure they're from the village?" Rumia replies sweetly. "It's so hard to tell when they're out so late~"
"I live in the village, remember? I've seen them there!"
"But they're not in the village now... and there's only youkai watching..." Rumia looks from side to side theatrically.
"Well I'm taking them back there right now, so leave them alone!"
Rumia's hand shoots out behind her, wrapping around the girl's throat without even needing to look.
Everyone freezes. Me, the humans, Mystia; even the others down by the lake fall silent at the sudden chill in the air. Out of the corner of my eye I see Mystia slowly reaching for something under the counter. Both humans have gone a deathly shade of white.
Seconds tick by.
"Pfffft... hahahahaha!" Rumia lets her arm fall to her side. "Had you going for a moment, didn't I?"
I let out a breath I hadn't noticed I was holding. The human girl stumbles forward a few steps, hand on her throat. Mystia grins, though the sheen of sweat on her forehead gives away how nervous she actually was. Down by the lake, I see Kagerou scowl disapprovingly and Wriggle make a rude gesture in Rumia's direction.
"Off with you," Rumia says, waving the humans towards me, "it's way past your bedtime. Let this be a lesson not to get lost~" She stretches her arms as she wanders down the hill to the others.
"Are you okay?" I ask the humans, "Do you need a moment to sit down?"
The girl shakes her head and straightens up. "N-no, thank you. I think I'd rather hurry and get back to the village." She bows politely to me. "We'll be in your care."
"Sure you don't want me to get Miss Keine instead? I am a youkai too, after all..."
"If you don't mind my saying, Miss, we'd rather be alone with you than... her," the boy says, glancing down the hill at Rumia.
"Oh. Right. Okay, this way! Stay close, it's easy to get lost!"
I lead the way along the lake shore and down a path into the forest. The trees are thick and only a few little spots of moonlight filter through, but striking a light in here at night is actually a really bad idea. It attracts... things. I can see well enough in the gloom to follow the path, but I imagine the humans are probably having a hard time even seeing me in front of them.
[ ] Stay quiet. The forest is scary enough on its own. [ ] Time for some spooky stories! [ ] Time for some teasing. Juuust a little.
[ ] Sekibanki is coming with us. [ ] Sekibanki is going back to Eientei with her other head.
[x] Stay quiet. The forest is scary enough on its own. [x] Sekibanki is coming with us.
I keep quiet as we walk along the tunnel-like pathway beneath the trees, all the better not to attract attention. I'm waaaay scarier than anything in here, but I don't want to pick fights with two humans following me. The silence also lets me listen for their footsteps and make sure they don't fall behind. They're wearing geta like me so even a human could hear them.
A few beastial youkai size us up anway. I can't see them, but I know they're there. A good glare from me or Sekibanki convinces some of the bolder ones to back off, and none of them work up the guts to come out into the open. Some follow us for a while, but eventually slink away as we pass out of their territory.
We're about halfway through the forest when the human girl speaks up.
"Miss Tatara," she says, "do you mind if I ask a question?"
"Go ahead!" I reply.
She takes a moment to respond. "Do you eat humans?"
"Secchan-" the boy starts, but the girl cuts him off.
"I apologise if I'm being rude, I just... I want to know."
"It's fine," I reply. "That's not a rude question at all. And no, I don't eat humans."
"Not even Outsiders?" she asks.
"Nope! I don't know what all the fuss is about human flesh, it tastes really bland," I say. "I've, uh, been to youkai banquets where it was being served. I only tasted it," I quickly add.
"That's okay," the girl says with a slight giggle. "It's funny to hear a youkai sound so guilty about it."
"Well, I do live in the village. I have to behave myself or I'll get in trouble!"
"How does that work, anyway?" the boy asks. "I know youkai have money and stuff, but... what do you do for a living?"
I turn to smile at them. "I'm a blacksmith!"
"I... huh," he says, "that's... no offense, but I wasn't expecting that at all."
"None taken. I live to surprise people, after all!"
I turn to face them again, but my smile vanishes when I see what's behind them. I can just make out an upside-down face in the gloom, with a big, toothy, shit-eating grin on it and that's not Sekibanki.
"Get behind me," I say quietly. Shortly after that, three things happen in rapid succession.
The face lunges forward.
I yank the humans away from it.
A hand latches onto my collar.
And the next thing I know I'm tumbling head-over heels through the canopy, smashing through branches, twigs and leaves and plummeting into a chasm full of stars. It takes me a moment to lose all my momentum and come to a halt in midair. I glance around, trying to figure out where I am, but I can't see the walls... wait...
I look up. There's Misty Lake, there's the Human Village, there's the forest I was just in. That's Gensoukyou.
Of course, it only takes me a moment to figure out that what's upside-down is me, and I frantically glance around, looking for the two humans. They can't fly, what happens if they keep falling up - I can't see them anywhere. It's a distraction!
I rocket up - sorry, down - toward the forest, somehow managing to spot where I came out - broken branches make it fairly obvious - and flip myself over as I land. A few drops of tsukumogami-brand magic make my clothes and hair look like they're falling in the right direction. I've practiced walking on the ceiling before (it's a really good prank!), but it feels even more disconcerting when it looks like I'm standing on the ground.
The two humans are exactly where I left them, flat on the ground where they landed after I pulled them off their feet. Sekibanki is hovering over them, alert and scanning in every direction. Judging by her hair, she's been flipped upside-down like me.
"Where is she? Did you get her?" Sekibanki asks urgently.
"No, I thought she was down here! Wasn't she after the humans?" I reply.
"She just flipped me, grabbed you and flew off. Damn she's fast."
"Wh-what happened? Who was that?" the human girl asks, still huddled on the ground.
"Kijin Seija, amanojaku, pain in the ass and soon to be member of the headless club," Sekibanki fumes.
I let out a groan. "Are you two okay? Can you stand?" I ask.
The two humans get to their feet and brush themselves off, shaken but unhurt. "I don't know about you, but we can't see a thing," the human boy says. "We guessed it was better to stay put than try running blind."
"Why me, dammit? Why didn't she flip you too?" Sekibanki complains, still fuming.
"She did," I say, and point at the ground. "I'm just really good at standing on the ceiling."
"Why the hell would you... never mind. Let's get out of here before any more freaks show up."
We walk a bit faster after that, but we make it out of the forest and back to the village without any more trouble. The two humans thank me repeatedly, and after a few minutes of storytelling, so do their very relieved parents.
"When the village guardian returned without finding them, we feared the worst," the father tells me. I politely deflect their thanks - I didn't actually do anything, really! - and head for my own home before we make a scene.
It's only when I get there, sleepy and ready for bed already, that I realize that's going to be a problem. I can't fly while I'm sleeping, so I can't stay on the floor! I think of a few people that might be able to help break the curse, but it's late, so with a bit of ingenuity and a touch of magic, I just fasten my futon to the ceiling and go to sleep there.
Seija's curse wears off in the middle of the night. It solves more problems than it causes, really, but it still hurts, and it still makes me say some very unladylike things.
The next day I decide to go...
[ ] To Myouren Temple! I wonder where Nue's been hiding? [ ] To Suzunaan! I wonder what Mamizou was doing there yesterday? [ ] To the Scarlet Devil Mansion! I wonder if Patchouli has recovered yet?
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[x] To Suzunaan! I wonder what Mamizou was doing there yesterday?
I wake up bright and early the next day, still a bit sore from falling out of bed, but otherwise well rested. Sekibanki is still asleep, so I quietly busy myself in the kitchen preparing breakfast.
"Good morning!" I say cheerfully when Sekibanki sleepily floats into the room.
"Morning," Sekibanki replies, yawning.
"Breakfast is ready!"
"Er, well... I'm not much of a cook, so it's pretty plain."
"Doesn't mean it's not good."
We fall silent for a moment as we start eating. I've gotten really good at feeding Sekibanki. It's... kind of a weird skill to have.
"So, uh," Sekibanki begins, as if sensing my awkwardness, "I've never actually been to your house before. It's nice."
"You don't have to be polite about it," I say. "It's nothing special. I should clean more often..."
"No, really. It's bigger than mine. Has rooms and stuff."
I grab Sekibanki and put her on my lap again, ruffling her hair.
"Once you've got your body back, we're going to do something about that shop of yours," I say. Sekibanki makes a noise like an upset puppy.
Once we're finished with our morning routine we head back out into town. I have a particular destination in mind this time: that bookstore I saw Mamizou visiting yesterday. I was going to ask her about it at the time, but then Koishi came along and snatched my umbrella and... things happened. So! It's time to go back and take a look myself!
Stepping inside, the store feels rather gloomy. There's a single open space for a desk and small round table in the middle of the room, and the rest is crowded with shelves and piled-up books. Nobody seems to be around, so I start taking a look at the shelves instead.
It's quite an odd collection. There are traditional scrolls, mundane books, thin glossy books that smell like the Outsider stuff at Kourindou and... hey, is that a youma book? It is! I can't read ancient tengu - modern tengu is hard enough - so I have no idea what it's about, but I know it's the real thing. I can tell just by touching it.
I hear the floorboards creak behind me and turn to see a young human girl with her back turned, busy cleaning and re-sorting the shelves at the back of the store.
It's too good an opportunity to pass up. I lift off the floor to float silently up behind her, and put on my best ghostly voice.
"I envy your life..." I moan.
"Hyaaaaaa!" the girl shrieks, whirling around to face me, banging into the bookshelf, slipping on a book and tumbling over backwards into another pile. She squeaks as she scrambles to get away from me, real terror in her eyes.
...I can feel the fear radiating from this girl. She's honestly afraid I'm going to kill her. It feels kind of good... and kind of funny, since I didn't really do anything scary... but... but...
"Ah... um... it was only a prank, Miss," I say, "I'm not really going to hurt you."
"Y-y-y-you're youkai, aren't you? Wh-wh-what do you want?" she stammers.
"I'm just here to look at the books. Just a normal customer." I do my best to look as friendly as possible.
"Oh. I, um guess that - wait, that's the soba shop lady! You've stolen the soba shop lady's head!"
"Er, no -"
"I'm fine, missy," Sekibanki says, looking as non-spooky as a desembodied head can, "I'm a rokurokubi."
"A rokurokubi? But... you don't have a neck! Wouldn't that make you a nukekubi?" the girl says, still lying in a pile of books, propped up on her elbows. Her fear seems to be slowly turning into curiosity.
"No, well, uh... It's complicated. My heads aren't physically connected to my body, true, but -"
"Heads? You have more than one? That would look... urk..."
"Only one of them can fit on my body at a time."
"...how many heads do you have?"
"Uh... I think, probably about three?"
"...it's complicated," Sekibanki repeats.
The girl finally gets to her feet. "Anyway, don't you live in the village? I've seen you around a lot..."
"Well, yeah. I live over my shop."
"So there's a youkai living in the village..." She bites her lower lip worriedly.
"There's several, actually," I say. "I live here too!"
"Ah, it's okay though. Miss Reimu keeps a close eye on us -"
"Miss Reimu knows!? Why hasn't she told anyone!?"
"She has! All the important people know, like Miss Keine. They keep it quiet because they don't want people to panic." I actually made that up, but it's probably true!
"But why would they let youkai live here in the first place? Who knows what they might be up to!?" Does she even remember who she's talking to?
"I'm not up to anything! Well, a few pranks here and there, but I do helpful stuff to make up for it! I even made Reimu's needles!"
"...huh? A youkai making youkai extermination weapons? Isn't that weird?"
"You made those damn things!?" Sekibanki says, and promptly headbutts me. "They friggin' hurt!"
"Owwie..." I say, rubbing my head.
"Pfffft... ahahahaha!" The girl laughs at the two of us.
"Please keep that a secret from other youkai, okay?" I say.
"Your secret is safe with me, Miss... ah..."
"Kogasa! Tatara Kogasa! And this is Sekibanki!"
"Motoori Kosuzu, at your service," the girl says, bowing. "Welcome to Suzunaan," she adds.
Our conversation turns to books. It's kind of scary how many youma books she has in the store. There's more youkai sealed up in here than there are living in the rest of the village! I hope Miss Reimu knows about all of these. Some of them could be dangerous they got out and didn't know the rules of Gensoukyou yet.
Not all of them are quite so worrisome though. Some of them are just stories and stuff that happen to be written by youkai. I think I'm doing well when I start reading a novel written in fox script, but then she reveals she can read all of them! She has some sort of power that lets her understand any written language. I guess it must be something like Sakuya and her time tricks.
We've just moved on to talk about the Outside books when a familiar face walks in the door.
"Good morning! Oh? Didn't expect to see you two here," Mamizou says. She's in her human disguise again.
"Good morning miss Mamizou!" I say with a wave.
"Ah, you know each other?" Kosuzu asks.
"But of course," Mamizou says. "Someone has to keep an eye on the troublemakers, hmm?" I pout at the look she gives me.
"S-so, you know there are youkai living in the village?"
"Oho, so you found out about that, did you? Don't worry yourself about it, dear. They're a friendly enough bunch, else Reimu would have seen them off long ago. Why, just last night this little lady rescued two lost young'uns from being eaten by youkai!"
"You did!?" Kosuzu exclaims, looking at me.
"Um, well, I didn't exactly rescue them from anything. Rumia was just fooling around, and Seija was probably after me not them, so..."
"But you brought them home safe and sound in the end, and that's what counts!" Mamizou says. "I've been meaning to have a little chat with you sometime, actually. How about you pay me a visit after this, hmm?"
[ ] To Mamizou's place! I wonder what she wants to talk about? [ ] To Myouren Temple! I wonder where Nue's been hiding? [ ] To the Scarlet Devil Mansion! I wonder if Patchouli has recovered yet?
[x] To Mamizou's place! I wonder what she wants to talk about?
"Sure!" I say. Mamizou smiles and turns back to Kosuzu.
Once Mamizou finishes her business at Suzunaan - dropping off some new Outside books, it seems - we say our goodbyes as well and tag along as she finishes up a few more errands in the village. It seems news of my "rescue" from last night has spread really, really fast. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
We leave the village on foot and pass by Myouren Temple, waving to Kyouko on the way, before Mamizou leads us down a little-used path into the forest. She drops her human disguise in a puff of smoke, and our talk turns to more youkai-like subjects.
"So, little miss umbrella," Mamizou says. "I gather village life agrees with you."
"It's great! More work than I thought it would be though. Humans sure do a lot!"
"Not having trouble keeping to the Yakumos' rations, I hope?"
"Um... I don't eat humans."
"Oho, so you like hearing them scream in terror better, do you?"
"No! Er, I mean... it's my job to surprise people, but surprises don't have to be bad, right?"
"I'll have none of that claptrap, thank you very much. Where's your pride as a youkai?"
"But it's not like I need to! If I can get along fine without hurting anyone then I should, shouldn't I?"
Mamizou sighs, exhaling a stream of smoke. "Kids these days... well, if that's how you want to live your life, I won't stop you. You have an easier time of it here in Gensoukyou, but I've seen all too many youngsters from the Outside live enough like humans to die like them too. Be a shame to see you go too soon."
"It won't come to that! I know it won't!"
Mamizou just chuckles and turns to Sekibanki. "As for you, missy, good show with that shrine maiden. A mite too bold, I think, but it's good to see a bit of backbone!"
"Wha-! But - how did you -" Sekibanki splutters.
"Hohohoho! It's my job to know things, dearie. Can't afford not to be in the know, you know?"
"But... it's not... gah!"
Mamizou chuckles at Sekibanki's reaction, and I suddenly realize that we're now in a garden instead of a forest. It blends in so well with the trees that it just seems to melt from one to the other. It's fairly plain, but very well-kept. There's more grass than there would be in a Japanese garden, and it's neatly trimmed like the grass at the Scarlet Devil Mansion. I can hear the clack of a souzu coming from somewhere out of sight.
In the middle of the little clearing is a traditional-style Japanese house. It looks almost like it was built yesterday. Not only that, the quality of the work is way better than anything in the village - it reminds me of the underground city more than anything else. But it's still an ordinary house; just very well made, much like the garden.
As soon as we enter, I see a familiar face sitting at Mamizou's table.
"Nnnuh! Stupid skeleton! I hate arrows!" Nue fumes. She's sitting in front of something that looks a bit like a flat, open box.
"Hi Nue!" I call.
"Wha - Kogasa! What are you doing here?" Nue says.
"Mamizou invited us over. You've met Sekibanki, right?"
"Actually, no. Hi there!"
"Pleased to meet you," Sekibanki replies.
"So, what were you doing?" I ask.
"Getting my butt kicked," Nue groans. I walk around the table to get a better look at that the thing in front of her.
"Oh! This is one of those video game things, right?" I say. It looks a little different to what the Moriyas have. The screen looks like a thick sheet of paper rather than a big box, the controls are attatched to the bottom of it and there's at least a hundred buttons, all layed out neatly.
"Yeah. Mamizou plays this all the time, but it's really hard."
Mamizou chuckles. "Still at it, are we? I thought you'd have given up by now," she says as she walks past the table and into the next room.
"Fat chance. I'm not giving up until I find me some diamonds!" Nue says, tapping and flicking at the controls. There's some sort of tunnel made of big grey blocks on the screen.
"So, is that what you're supposed to do in this one?" I ask.
"Not really. You just do whatever, mostly."
"What do you mean?"
"There's no way to win the game, you just sort of... do things."
"Liiiike... building, mostly. You can dig stuff out like... that, and plop it down somewhere else. Presto, doorway to nowhere."
"So you just build things? That sounds kind of... zen."
"There's also monsters that show up at night, so you spend most of your time building walls and things to keep them out. Mamizou likes to show off and build statues instead. And then you have to gather things to make weapons and armor to fight the monsters, and more things to make it easier to gather the things to make the things and so on."
"Nah. It's like real life, without the boring bits. Except eating. Because that's another annoying way to die. GAH! Hey Mamizou, how do you kill skeletons!?"
"How do you kill something that's already dead?" Sekibanki asks.
"Use your noggin!" Mamizou calls from the other room. "Tunnel up behind him, trap him in a hole, pour lava on him, that sort of thing!"
"Wait, you can pour lava on things!? How!?" Nue shouts back.
"Pick it up in a bucket, just like water!"
"Right. Okay. Because that's totally a safe and sensible thing to do."
"Sounds a bit too complicated for me," I say.
"Probably. How'd you find out about video games, anyway? If it was Mamizou you'd have seen this before."
"The goddesses in the mountain shrine were playing one when I went there yesterday. I beat Lady Kanako on my first go!"
"...I think I get why you're so into surprises. That's like, three of them in the one sentence."
"Well, if you think that's surprising..."
I start telling Nue about all the things I've been up to since I teamed up with Sekibanki. Mamizou returns shortly after I start, with four steaming cups of tea.
"Are you serious? Dinner and dessert practically served up on a silver platter, and you just escort them back to the village?" Nue exclaims when I get to last night.
"But we're not allowed to attack humans from the village! And I don't eat humans anyway!" I protest.
"You could have at least spooked them a little! Told some ghost stories on the way home, or pretended to lose them!"
"But that would be mean!"
"...are you really a youkai?"
I puff my cheeks out and glare at Nue, which gets everyone laughing, including me.
"Man, sounds like you've been having fun," Nue says.
"Well, not all the time," I say. "Seija jumped us on the way home, and made me and Sekibanki fall upwards instead of downwards."
"Ugh. She's still doing that?"
"It was late, and I couldn't figure out how to fix it, so I just tied my bed to the ceiling and went to sleep."
"...don't tell me..." Nue says. Mamizou freezes in the process of sipping her tea.
"Yeah, we fell to the floor in the middle of the night."
Nue and Mamizou burst out laughing.
"I guess... I guess you could say you fell for it!" Nue says.
"It's not funny, dammit," Sekibanki grumbles.
"She really got the drop on you!" Nue continues. "I'm floored!"
It takes a while for us to calm down after all that.
"Uh, this is changing the subject, but Raiko said that you showed her some Outside World music," I say.
"Oho, that? Here." Mamizou gets up and fiddles with something on a small table in the corner of the room. Music comes out of it!
"Wow," I say. "What kind of instruments make that sort of sound?"
"The kind that still make me want to claw my ears off," Sekibanki mutters under her breath.
Mamizou gestures at the thing Nue's using to play video games. "Computers, of course. The humans of the Outside use them for almost everything."
"You sure have a lot of Outside World stuff," I say.
"Naturally! Tanuki or no, I am an Outsider, in every sense of the word. I've been around long enough to have seen what came before, too, but... I'm afraid to say I've become rather accustomed to all my creature comforts. Can't live without them, as they say."
"Did you bring your whole house with you, like the Scarlets did?"
"Good heavens no! Just a few essentials; fridge, washing machine, solar panels for power, pressure pump for running water... I say. I may as well have brought the house!"
I try to resist, but my curiosity gets the better of me, and Mamizou spends the next hour or so pointing out all the different 'gadgets' that she brought in from the Outside. Nue spends most of that time with a knowing smirk on her face; I can picture her doing the same thing as me when she first visited.
Eventually I manage to stop asking questions about everything in sight, and decide I should excuse myself before I start all over again.
"Thanks for the tea, and sorry for asking all those silly questions!" I say.
"Hohohoho, it was nothing. Who knows, maybe one day Gensoukyou will have all this too?" Mamizou replies. "Take care, now!"
I leave Mamizou's place by air, and discover that it's almost impossible to see from up here, somehow. Probably more bakedanuki illusions at work. I fly higher as I think of where I'm going to go next, and spot...
[ ] A tengu reporter. [ ] A celestial delinquent. [ ] A fairy clown.
I burned out a week ago but there's only a few days left so I don't want to give up now. Please excuse the crap this is turning into.
File 144862537296.jpg - (528.42KB, 1200x849, battery low no time to proof aieeee.jpg)
[x] A celestial delinquent.
An unfamiliar girl with long blue hair is flying towards us. Well, it's more like she's flying toward somewhere in our general direction and we happen to be there. Her arms are wrapped around a large bag of some kind, and she doesn't seem to be paying much attention to where she's going. She startles slightly when she finally notices us.
"What an ugly umbrella!"
...I'm going to kick her butt.
"Ouch," Sekibanki says, wincing.
"Haaaah? Spoiling for a fight this early in the morning?" I ask.
"Huh? No! Why does everyone on the surface say that when they see me?" The blue-haired girl says.
"The first thing out of your mouth is an insult and you wonder why people don't like you!?"
"It was not an insult! I just commented on that awful umbrella! You really should get a new one!"
Forget that, I'm gonna kill her!
"You-! Stupid-! I'll teach you not to insult umbrellas in front of a karakasa obake!"
"Wait - what - WHOA - GYAAAAAAAAAH!"
"Hey! Stop! I didn't know you were a karakasa obake! All you earth-crawling youkai look the same to me!"
"Earth cr- you want another beating!?"
"No! I didn't want to start a fight in the first place! Nnnnn... now look, you've gone and ruined all my vegetables. You people are such barbarians!"
I whack the girl over the head with my umbrella, as hard as I can.
"Ow... ow... ow... ow..." she whimpers, clutching her head.
"Okay, easy there, that's enough," Sekibanki says, hovering in front of me.
"But she -" I start.
"Take a nice deep breath and cool off."
I huff and turn away.
"Now, you," Sekibanki continues, turning to face the rude girl. "Do you seriously not understand how offensive you're being?"
"I'm not being offensive!" the rude girl retorts. "I was peacefully minding my own business, made an off-color fashion comment, and you two decided to beat me up!"
"You called her ugly and awful, to her face, put us both down as 'earth-crawling', and then called us barbarians. How is that not being offensive?"
"It's not rude if it's true!"
"Then you wouldn't mind if I called you an arrogant, flat-chested bitch?"
"...what's a bitch? And what's my chest got to do with anything?"
"...please tell me you're not serious."
"I am serious! I don't understand what you said!"
Sekibanki groans. "You know what? Forget it. People from the 'surface', as you put it, don't like being called ugly, awful, earth-crawling or barbaric. They're very hurtful things to say and I think Kogasa here would like an apology."
"...oh. Okay." The blue-haired girl gets up, walks carefully up beside me and taps me on the shoulder. "Excuse me, Miss Kogasa? I'm sorry I said all those bad things about you."
I turn to look at her. There's no mocking in her eyes. She's not glaring, not pouting, not looking away because she's not really sorry. I let out a long sigh.
"...fine. Apology accepted," I say.
She smiles. "Great! I'm Tenshi, by the way."
"Tenshi... you mean Hinanawi Tenshi, the celestial who wrecked the Hakurei Shrine a few years back?"
"Ugh, why can't people just forget about that?" Tenshi groans.
"First impressions are important. Destroying the most important building in Gensoukyou isn't a very good one, you know?"
"I've already been punished for that! I don't even want to start fights anymore, but people keep attacking me anyway!"
"Well, fighting is a pretty universal greeting in Gensoukyou! What are you doing if you're not here to fight?"
Tenshi smirks and puts her hands on her hips. "I'm cooking!"
"I needed something to do to stop me from getting bored, and the food on the surface tastes so much better than the food in heaven, so I started learning how to cook! Two birds with one stone!"
"Can't you do that in heaven? Why come down here?"
"Because cooked peaches taste just as awful as raw ones, honestly. And nobody up there wants to cook, so I had to come here to learn. Although everyone I asked to teach me wanted to fight me instead." She suddenly looks like she just had an idea. "Hey, can you cook?"
"Er, a bit? I can cook a few common Japanese dishes -"
"That's fine! Even commoners' food tastes better than than the food in heaven! What about you?" She turns to Sekibanki.
"Can I cook? Please. I run a soba shop!" Sekibanki replies.
"All right! Come on up to heaven, I'll treat you to my cooking!"
"Uh, wait, we -"
"What are you waiting for? Let's go! An invitation to heaven is a rare privilege, you know?"
Before I can protest any further, Tenshi scoops up her fallen bag, grabs me by the hand and starts flying almost straight up. We fly up past the entrance to the Netherworld, up past the clouds and up over an enormous chunk of rock suspended in the sky.
On top of that rock is a large, grassy field. There are some trees on the far side, and even a stream with a little bridge over it, which Tenshi drags me over. I catch a few glimpses of other rocks in the distance, of different sizes and floating at different heights. Some of them are joined by hanging bridges.
Tenshi eventually comes to a stop in the shade of a particularly large tree not far from a bend in the stream. There's a table and some chairs set out on the grass, and a small firepot nearby with some other odds and ends next to it. Lying in the shade of the tree, on her side, head propped up on one elbow, is a familiar oni.
"Yo, 'Banki! Whazzup?" Suika says, before taking a large swig from her gourd.
"Ugh, you," Sekibanki grunts.
"Whaz witha long faze eh? Come'n getta bitta booze inna ya!"
"Really, Miss Ibuki, getting drunk at this hour?" Tenshi says, folding her arms.
"Whazza time gotta do whizzit?"
Tenshi just shakes her head and goes back to her cooking. She studiously consults a well-worn book as she works.
"So! Whaz happenin' inna world?" Suika asks, clapping me one the back hard enough to remind me of yesterday's... accident. "Whazza pointa goin' places whizzoutta body?" she asks Sekibanki.
We join - or are dragged by - Suika under the tree, and start retelling our little adventure for the second time that day. She roars with laughter when she hears about the fight between Yuugi and Kokoro, and only laughs harder when we get to the part where we went drinking with Miss Eiki.
"'Sgooda hearza folksa doin' okay," she says when we're finished. "I hadda good'n today too. I'z flyin' backa the shrine when I meets 'is fairy I ain' seen afore. She's wearin' a getup like what and talkin' agood talk, so I giveser a round. I'z 'spectin' a buncha fireworks inna face an' copsa fist instead. I givit backan she's still standin', so I says bring it, an she says honk, anna ground says boom. Ain't hadda use Missin' Purple onna fairy sinsa lake one trida turn me innan ice sculptcha while I gotta bitta shuteye."
Suika chuckles. "Still won acourse, but soonsits over she's like booze! and I'm like heck yeah, my kinda fairy! N'en we getsa chattin', an' she says she's from hell. No wanna we gettalong."
"Breakfast is ready!" Tenshi announces.
I've already eaten breakfast, but Tenshi's cooking turns out to be really, really good! It's traditional Japanese food, though not all of it is really the sort of thing you'd normally eat for breakfast, and it's mostly vegetarian, like the food at Myouren Temple.
"So? How does it taste?" Tenshi asks, looking nervous.
"It's good! Really good!" I reply.
"Not bad at all," Sekibanki says.
"Needs more booze," Suika complains. "'Sfine sides that though."
"Really? I've never tried some of these dishes before, so I wasn't sure how they'd turn out," Tenshi says.
Sekibanki looks between Tenshi and the food several times. "You wouldn't happen to be looking for a job doing this, would you?" she finally asks.
"What do you mean?"
"...you do know how it works down in the real world, right? Do work, earn money?"
"Of course. I may be sheltered, but not that sheltered."
"Right, okay, well, cooking is one of the ways people earn money. I run a soba shop. I make soba, people pay for it."
"But couldn't they just make it themselves?"
"Not everyone has the time. Or the skill. Or the time to learn the skill. Humans don't live long, remember? And they have to work to survive."
"So they pay other people to cook for them?"
"Okay, I get it. But what does that have to do with me?"
"Do you like cooking?"
"Do you want to cook for lots of people?"
"I suppose so?"
"Do you want to earn money doing it?"
"I don't really have any use for money... but I suppose it was pretty hard to get all the ingredients I wanted without it."
"Well, like I said, I run a soba shop. By myself. I could use some help. Or, you know, someone else could. My shop is kind of rubbish."
"It is not!" I say.
"But it is closed right now, which kind of makes it kind of hard to employ people," Sekibanki says.
"Why is your shop closed?" Tenshi asks.
"Because I got in a fight - not a duel, a fight - and I lost. And now I'm stuck in Eientei for a month until I get better. I suck, basically."
"But this isn't Eientei."
"And this isn't my whole body."
"...I see your point. As for helping at your shop... I'm not sure I'm good enough for that yet."
"The bar isn't set very high, trust me."
"Cut it out," I say, ruffling Sekibanki's hair. "You're way better than you keep saying, seriously."
"Nnnh. Well, anyway, if you're still interested when I reopen - if I reopen - feel free to drop by," Sekibanki says.
"I think I will!" Tenshi replies.
I get up from my seat. "Thanks for the meal!"
Tenshi jumps to her feet as well. "Are you going back to the surface now?"
"Well, probably? I feel kinda out of place up here..."
"If that's the case, can I come with you?"
"Come with us? Why?"
"I want to see more of how surface people live! Without fighting them. Please?"
"Um, okay?" I say. "We're not doing anything really interesting though..."
"Everything on the surface is interesting!" Tenshi cheers.
I lend a hand cleaning up, before Tenshi leads everyone back to the edge where we first arrived. Suika takes a swig from her gourd just as we get there, trips and falls off, dropping out of sight like a stone. Tenshi grins, shrugs, and throws herself off as well. She somehow manages to make falling head-first toward the ground look graceful. Sekibanki and I follow with a little more caution.
Once we're back in Gensoukyou proper I head for the edge of the Bamboo Forest of the Lost. Flying to Eientei is impossible - though Tewi claims she can do it - so the only way in is to follow the path, and the safest way to do that is on foot. A sign at the entrance reminds visitors to stick to the path. Repeatedly. Apparently a lot of humans lose their way here. The writing sounds like Mokou in a really bad mood.
I've never actually been to Eientei itself, so I'm not sure what to expect, but when we come to a crossroads with the signs "Eientei this way", "Also leads to Eientei" and "Slightly longer route to Eientei", I'm having second thoughts. Tenshi confidently picks a direction at random and we get there in the end.
"I didn't know there was a house in here!" Tenshi says.
"It looks smaller than I was expecting..." I say.
"It's like that Scarlet place. Bigger on the inside. I think. Feels that way anyway," Sekibanki says. "What are we here for, again?"
"To visit you of course!" I reply.
"Urk. Well, uh, this way... I think..."
Sekibanki leads the way into Eientei, but we don't get far before we meet... Sekibanki!
"Soooo. You like 'em with blue hair, eh?" the new Sekibanki says, smirking.
"Wha - the heck are you talking about!?" our Sekibanki replies.
Then a third Sekibanki rockets into the room with crazed grin on her face and an empty bottle in her mouth, and takes a big spinning swing at the smirking one.
"Nyehehehe!" smirking Sekibanki cackles, and darts out of the room. Bottle Sekibanki is right behind her.
"Get back here!" our Sekibanki says, and zooms after the other two.
Reisen steps out of a side-door in the hallway and narrowly dodges the three Sekibankis whizzing past at head-height. "Hey! I told you to cut it -"
"- out, you're scaring all the rabbits to death! Geez!" Reisen shouts after them. Then she spots me and Tenshi standing in the dooway. "Oh... hello. I'm afraid you've come at a bad time. If it's not an emergency, would you be able to return tomorrow?"
"Er, well, actually, we came to visit her..." I reply, gesturing at the empty hallway.
"Oh. Friends of hers?" Reisen asks. I nod. "Well, I don't mean to trouble you, but if you could help her calm down it would be a weight off my shoulders..."
"Has she really been that bad?" I ask.
Reisen groans. "There's six or seven of her heads floating around, and they keep turning up in the weirdest places. Some of them left for a while, but then they seem to have come back, and then they all started arguing, and then fighting... Tewi is somehow behind it all, I'm sure of it, but..." she stops as she gets a good look at Tenshi standing behind me, an expression of barely-suppressed horror forming on her face.
"Hello! It sounds like you've been very busy!" Tenshi says brightly.
"No... please no... why does everything have to happen todayyyyyyyyy!?" Reisen wails.
"Reisen! The kitchen's on fire!" Tewi calls as she pops out of another side-door.
"WHYYYYYYYYYY!?" Reisen screeches as she races out of the room.
"...just kidding!" Tewi says as soon as Reisen is out of earshot. "Hey Kogasa! Hey Tenshi! What's happening?"
"Um, hi Tewi. You really shouldn't be so mean to Reisen all the time."
"It's fine. I'm just relieving a little stress."
"My stress, that is! Gotta run!" Tewi dances out of sight moments before Reisen bursts back into the hallway.
"Where did she go!?" Reisen demands. Tenshi and I both silently point. Reisen disappears again.
Tewi drops down from the ceiling. "So! What can I do for you today?"
"...we came to visit Sekibanki," I say, deciding to just go along with it for now.
"Ooooh, the girl with all the heads? Right this way!" Tewi leads the way down the hallway.
"Is it always this busy here?" Tenshi asks.
"Nope!" Tewi replies. "Today's just special. Us rabbits have moon-viewing preparations for tonight, Reisen's on medicine-selling duty all afternoon, a couple of human kids wound up here after a wild youkai attack, Mokou's here to visit the Princess, the rokurokubi has cabin fever, Master is researching ways to repel the Outsider girl that visited yesterday and - oh look, we're here!" Tewi slides open a seemingly random door and gestures inside.
"I go away for two days and look what happens," Sekibanki's voice groans from behind us. A rather tired-looking head floats up, her ribbon partly undone.
"What happened?" I ask.
"Beats me. I asked four of me and got four different answers."
"Having lots of heads sounds awfully confusing," Tenshi says.
"Talking to lots of them is even more confusing," Reisen says.
"Oh. Hi Reisen!" Tewi says.
Reisen grabs her by the ear and drags her down the hall.
"....so. Um. How are you feeling?" I ask as I step into the room.
There's not much in the room besides a bed, a bedside table and a chair. Sekibanki's headless body is lying motionless on the bed, dressed in pyjamas of some sort. She looks thinner than I remember, and I can't see anything other than her hands, which look worryingly bony.
"Sore," the Sekibanki behind me answers. Her body weakly flips her the bird, and she blows a raspberry back.
I walk up to the bed and take Sekibanki's hand. It feels dry, leathery and fragile. I'm almost afraid it'll break if I squeeze too hard.
"That doesn't look pleasant," Tenshi says. She doesn't sound cheerful for once.
"It looks terrible!" I say. "I didn't think it was this bad! Why wasn't your head affected?"
"It was," Sekibanki replies. "The one I was wearing at the time, that is. I was going all-out, so I had nine. Two of them didn't make it."
"Yeah. It happens sometimes."
"As it was, your extra heads are probably the only reason you survived," a new voice says.
"Doctor Yagokoro!" I say, turning around.
"Tatara Kogasa, wasn't it?" Eirin says, smiling. "And Miss Hinanawi." Her smile becomes ever so slightly less genuine.
"Lady Yagokoro," Tenshi says, bowing rather stiffly.
"Now now, let's let bygones be bygones, shall we?" Eirin says, smiling a bit more warmly again. "As for you," she says, turning to Sekibanki's head, "It's time for your morning dose of medicine!"
"Abstgrftlh," Sekibanki replies.
"You're the one that left the mansion some days ago, correct? Your other heads have been refusing to eat proper meals; I trust this is because you've been doing it for them?"
"Yes, I -"
"Healthy meals? Avoiding alcohol?"
"Yes! Yes! I get it already!"
"Okay then. Open wide!" Eirin measures out a spoonful of faintly bluish liquid and feeds it to Sekibanki.
Sekibanki makes a series of the weirdest faces I've ever seen as she swalllows. "Ughblrurf!" she declares, crossing her eyes and sticking her tongue out.
"Oh come on, it isn't that bad," Eirin says.
"It is when you've got to take it three times a day!" Sekibanki whines. "I need some tea or something to wash this horrible taste out of my mouth..."
"Ah, she just left," I say. "She was dragging Tewi by the ear and looked really cross."
Eirin sighs. "Well, her workload is a little high today. Please come with me."
Eirin leads us through even more of these seemingly endless hallways, until we enter a large, open room. The sliding doors along one side are all open to the endless sea of bamboo outside, and the only other things in the room are Mokou, Kaguya and a shogi board. Mokou is sitting cross-legged and scowling at the board, while Kaguya lounges on her side and acts disinterested.
"Please wait here a moment," Eirin says, and leaves via another door.
"Oh my. Visitors?" Kaguya says. Mokou glances up and gives us an acknowledging grunt.
"Sorry for intruding," I say.
"Not at all," Kaguya replies. "I was just looking for something to break up the monotony!" She rolls onto her stomach and smiles at us, ignoring Mokou entirely.
"Shogi is pretty boring," Tenshi agrees. "It's way too easy!"
Mokou scowls harder.
"Perhaps you'd like some lessons, Miss Mokou?" Tenshi suggests. Kaguya giggles. Mokou groans and facepalms.
"Tea, Princess?" Eirin says as she returns with a tea tray.
"Ah, yes please!" Kaguya replies, sitting up.
"You called, Master?" Reisen asks as she steps into the room.
"Ah. I was going to ask you to make some tea, but it seemed you were busy so I made it myself," Eirin replies as she pours tea for everyone. I take Sekibanki's cup as usual and she eagerly sips it, ignoring the temperature.
"I'm sorry! Tewi was playing pranks again, and Sekibanki's heads were scaring the Earth rabbits so..."
"Gah, sorry," Sekibanki says. "I should round 'em up and knock some sense into 'em."
"That would be most appreciated," Reisen replies.
[ ] Help round up Sekibanki's heads. [ ] Stay and watch the shogi match. [ ] Keep Tewi out of Reisen's hair for a while.
"Uh, okay," Sekibanki replies. "Where should we start?" she asks Reisen.
"Ah... most of them seem to be hanging around the living quarters at the back of the mansion," Reisen says.
"Right, uh, which way is that?" Sekibanki asks. She takes another gulp of her tea before we step out into the hall.
Reisen points down the hall to our left. "The more rabbits you see, the closer you are. I'm going to be taking inventory of medicines for sale in the village, so I'll let you know if I see any in the hospital wing."
"What about me?" Tenshi asks.
"Er... I saw one in the garden a while ago, so maybe you could look outside? And... try not to break anything?" Reisen says.
Tenshi's smile falters for a moment at the second part, but she recovers quickly. "Okay! How do I get outside from here?"
Reisen points directly behind Tenshi, at the wide open view of bamboo.
"Ahahaha, right, right! Okay, I'm going!" Tenshi strides outside. It's only then that I notice she hasn't bothered to take her boots off indoors.
Then again, neither has Mokou.
Sekibanki and I head (urk) down the hall, until we come to another large room. A group of rabbits and rabbit-girls like Tewi are clustered around a table. One of Sekibanki's heads is floating over it. Everyone freezes when we enter.
"Um, hello!" I say.
"We're putting my heads together," Sekibanki says.
"Uh. Well, I'm not going anywhere," Bunnybanki replies.
"Seen any of the others?"
"You could try the storeroom." She nods toward one of the other doors.
"'Kay. What's the deal with the bottle-swinging?"
The rabbits remain frozen as I walk carefully over to the indicated door and step through into the very much not on fire kitchen. I hear talking resume after I close the door behind me.
"Storeroom, storeroom..." I say to myself as I wander through the very large kitchen. I guess with as many residents - not to mention patients - as Eientei has, a big kitchen would be a must. It's an odd mix of traditional Japanese, Western and some very Outside-looking devices, like Mamizou has.
Sekibanki starts peering through shelves and pulling cupboards open with her mouth, so I start doing likewise. With my hands of course, not my mouth. We don't find anything besides pots, pans, and other utensils I don't even have names for.
"Why are we looking in all the cupboards?" I ask.
"I, uh, like to snooze in cosy places," Sekibanki replies.
"But how would you close them from the inside?"
"...um. Good question."
A loud crash comes from outside. We stop, listening intently. A few moments later we hear Tenshi cheering and cringe.
"I hope that wasn't something important," I say.
We finally give up on the kitchen and find our way to the storeroom. It's very dark.
"Hello? Anyone in there?" I ask.
Sekibanki bites on a string near the door and suddenly the room lights up.
"Whoa!" I say.
"Hey, 'm tryin' to sleep in here," a voice grumbles. After a little bit of searching, I find a red-haired head sitting on a bag of rice.
"Seems like a very silly place to sleep to me," I say.
"It's the only quiet place in this whole damn madhouse," Sleepybanki replies. "Who the hell are you anyway?"
"She's with me," Sekibanki says, floating up beside me.
"Gah. Go away," Sleepybanki says, rolling over to face away from us.
"Nope!" I say, scooping up the head in my arms.
"And that was the headhunters' first victim..." Tewi intones from the doorway.
"...wake me when it's over," Sleepybanki grumbles.
"Don't scare me like that!" I say. "Have you seen any of the others?"
"Oh, more heads? This way~" Tewi says, and prances out of the storeroom. She manages to stay just in sight as we chase her into the hallways again, before we lose her completely.
"Well, that was a waste of time," Sekibanki complains.
"At least we didn't get pranked!?"
Suddenly, the entire hallway floor tilts! I lose my balance and tumble down the hall and into a dark cubbyhole under the floor. Before I can recover, the floor swings back into place above me with a click, leaving me in total darkness.
"Kogasa!?" Sekibanki's muffled voice calls from above.
"Uff... I'm okay! I think I found a secret passage!" I reply. Then I spot a pair of glowing red eyes in front of me.
"Who dares enter my domain?"
"...Sekibanki? Is that you?"
"Ptooie! Gah! If you're gonna lug me around you could at least not drop me face-first in the dirt!"
"Um, sorry, I was kinda -"
"Ouch! Hey! Sekibanki! Let go!"
"What's going on!?"
"You're biting my hand!"
"Whack me on the ceiling!"
I finally manage to gather enough of my wits to conjure up a little ball of light in my unbitten left hand. Sleepybanki is hovering a foot off the ground, scowling at a point over my shoulder - she quickly re-aims her glare at me now that she can see - and Biteybanki is lying on the floor looking mildly concussed.
I inspect the bite on my hand. It's not bleeding, but there are some very prominent teeth marks.
I shake my hand a few times and start looking for a way out. I find the catch mechanism for the tilting floor, but I can't figure out how to undo it.
"Are you all right down there?" Sekibanki asks from above.
"Mostly! I can't figure out how to open the floor again!" I reply. Then I spot a pice of paper stuck on the end wall with the writing "THIS WAY →" on it.
"Hang on! I think there's another way out!"
"It's probably just another prank!"
Biteybanki doesn't seem to be in the mood to go anywhere, so I scoop her up and crawl along the tunnel. I find a few more notes carrying directions, each as clean and new as the first, as if they've only been put there just now.
The last of them reads "↑UP (push hard)". I put Biteybanki down, brace myself against the slightly higher wooden panel in the ceiling at that point, and thrust upward. After a bit of resistance, it flips open like a trapdoor, and my momentum carries me to my feet, where I see...
...a shogi board and a scowling Mokou.
Mokou and I stare at each other for a moment.
Then she snorts.
Then she breaks down and roars with laughter.
Kaguya's head peers over the top of the trapdoor above me, looking peeved.
"I, uh, oops?" I say, doing my best to look sheepish.
Then Eirin loses composure as well. Kaguya sighs and half-smiles, waving me out of the hole. I quickly grab Biteybanki again and climb out, with Sleepybanki right behind me.
"I, um, I'm sorry, I was following Tewi and -" I begin.
"We know," Kaguya interrupts, shooting a scowl of her own at Eirin, who still can't stop laughing. She kicks the trapdoor down and stomps it shut.
"Master? Princess?" a worried Reisen asks from the doorway. She has a tight grip on a head with its mouth taped shut, and another one is floating behind her. The floating one heaves a sigh of relief when she sees me.
"It is nothing of importance," Kaguya says haughtily as she sits back down with all the dignity she can muster. Mokou laughs even harder.
"That was fun!" Tenshi announces from just outside the mansion. She has one tired-looking head under each arm and the biggest smile I've seen yet on her face.
"I fell in a pit trap! It had bamboo spikes and pit vipers at the bottom and everything!"
Everyone falls silent.
"...are you okay?" I ask.
"Huh? Sure!" She adjusts her grip and holds the two Sekibankis up. "I found two heads!"
"...six, and the one in the dining room makes seven. I think that's all of me," the Sekibanki behind Reisen says.
"...okay. Well, if I can leave this one to you, I have a rabbit to grill," Reisen says, passing me the gagged head. She tries to get loose, but I wrap my arm around her in a (don't say it) headlock (gah!).
"So! Uh, what now?" I ask.
"To the dining room," Sekibanki says. Tenshi and I follow her back into the hall.
...for someone who just fell into a pit trap, Tenshi is awfully clean. She's not even tracking dirt into the house - the soles of her boots are spotless.
When we reach the dining room, all the rabbits from before are gone. There's just the final Sekibanki sitting on the table.
"Finished already?" she asks.
"I think so," I reply.
"Stack 'em up," one of the two flying Sekibankis says.
So we put them all on the table.
...it looks kind of weird.
"Time to get this over with," the remaing Sekibanki says.
"Uh, Eirin said at least one of me needs to stay here for the medication. That's how all this started," the one that was on the table to begin with says.
"I'll deal with that later," Sekibanki replies, and lands on the pile herself.
A moment later, there's only one Sekibanki.
"That's neat!" Tenshi says.
"Uh, are you okay?" I ask Sekibanki. She looks rather ill.
"I think I'm gonna hurl..." she replies, then clamps her mouth shut and looks around frantically.
I hurriedly carry her outside.
"Ueh..." Sekibanki groans once she's finished. "So much for breakfast..."
"My cooking wasn't that bad, was it?" Tenshi asks cheerfully.
We end up spending another hour or so at the mansion. Eirin confirms that there's nothing seriously wrong with Sekibanki; she just inherited everything from all her heads at once, including some head trauma (sorry!). Tenshi tries to give Mokou some advice to improve her shogi, but Mokou still loses again anyway. Tenshi then takes her place and beats Kaguya just to prove that she can.
"We should be going now," I say.
"Ah, hang on," Sekibanki says. A moment later, there's two of her again.
"No fooling around this time!" Sekibanki tells herself.
"Yes ma'am," she replies, rolling her eyes.
"Thank you for having us," I say, bowing to Eirin and Kaguya.
"Not at all. It was... entertaining," Eirin says, glancing at Kaguya. Mokou snickers.
"I'll be off too," Mokou says, getting up. "Unlike some people, I have places to go, people to see."
"It must be such a chore to be so busy all the time," Kaguya replies, covering her mouth with her sleeve.
Mokou leads the way out of Eientei. She's clearly been here many times before. At the entrance of the mansion, we meet Reisen. She's dressed in more traditional village garb, and is in the process of tying her long purple hair up.
"Oh? Leaving already?" she asks.
"Already? We've been here over an hour," I say.
"Have you? I've been so busy I didn't notice."
"Doing your rounds in the village now?" Sekibanki asks.
"Yes." Reisen looks tired just thinking about it.
"What a coincidence, I'm headed there too," Mokou says.
[ ] To the Scarlet Devil Mansion! [ ] To the Human Village! [ ] To somewhere else! (write-in)
When we come to the front door we find it's raining again. Not heavy rain; just a light shower. It could get worse later though. Reisen puts her hand out into it and groans. Mokou just stuffs her hands in her pockets and strolls off. Reisen plops her hat on her head and follows.
Reisen and Tenshi are both content to walk in the rain and cool off a little, so I trail behind them slightly with only Sekibanki for company. Mokou doesn't seem to be getting wet in the first place. Looking closer, I can see thin wisps of steam rising from her clothes. I guess that's one way to stay dry.
Not a lot is said on the way to the village. Mokou isn't a very talkative person most of the time and Reisen is probably thankful for the short period of peace and quiet. They walk side-by-side the whole way, with Mokou slowing her unusually brisk stride so Reisen can keep pace without jogging. They're both pretty tall though so Tenshi and I still have to walk quickly to keep up.
Every now and then Tenshi asks a question about something we pass or something she spots in the distance, and me and Sekibanki do our best to answer them. She sure asks about some mundane things, though. I've never seen someone so fascinated by the way rice paddies are planted.
By the time we arrive the rain has let up, or we've walked out from under it. The village is a flurry of activity, even more so than usual - with the clouds looking like there might be more rain later, everyone is hurrying to get outdoor things done early. The guards nod politely to Mokou and Reisen, but give the rest of us stony looks instead. Ugh.
A small crowd seems to be gathered in the middle of the village. The others look just as curious as me, and we all go to have a look.
A wide circle has been formed around two figures in the street. One of them I recognise as Shinmyoumaru, the inchling from the shrine, only she's not an inchling anymore - she's the size of a fairy or human child! She's poised ready to fight, with a grin on her face, a sword shaped like a sewing needle in one hand and a colorful mallet in the other.
It takes me a moment, but I eventually recognise the second person as the doll Shanghai. Like Shinmyoumaru, she's much bigger than normal, even taller than me. She's wearing a different dress to the one I saw her in last time, with even more detailed decorations and embroidery, and holding one long, straight, double-edged blade in each hand. Even at this scale, she looks almost perfectly human. Only her waxy skin and glossy eyes give her away.
The two combatants watch each other silently for some time, until, with a loud "hah!", Shinmyoumaru lunges forward. She moves fast, crossing the gap between the two in the blink of an eye. Shanghai only barely manages to bring one of her swords up in time to block.
The heavy fwoosh of Shanghai's counterswing makes me think of Yuugi, for some reason. The ominous sound draws a collective 'ooooh' from the human spectators. Shinmyoumaru makes no attempt to block it, flipping into the air to strike at Shanghai from above before it's even finished.
Shanghai parries again with her other sword, the force knocking Shinmyoumaru right back to her starting point. Shinmyoumaru lands expertly in her stance, as if she planned it all along, and flicks her needle-sword up into a guarding position, as if to say 'bring it on'. Shanghai twirls her swords, making a foreboding vwoop-vwoop noise, before taking her turn to attack.
Everything Shanghai does screams power. Her boots crunch heavily on the gravel. Her swings and thrusts all carry enormous force. She never feints, never hurries, never hesitates, and above all else, never stops. She switches smoothly between attack and defence as if she's rehearsed the entire fight already. The only time she lets up is when Shinmyoumaru leaps out of range - which she does a lot - and even then all she does is stride slowly toward her, as if closing in on the inevitable.
Shinmyoumaru's style couldn't be more different. She dashes from place to place, leaps, flips, flops, floats and rolls. She flicks her sword arm around like a hornet's wings, so fast it becomes a blur. She spends the whole time looking like she's continually off balance, being taken by surprise only to pull off another incredible last-second stunt with a great big grin on her face. She prefers dodging to blocking - I don't blame her! - but when she does block, it's always with the mallet, and always knocking Shanghai's sword to the side, never meeting it head-on. Shanghai's blades make an impressive gong sound when struck.
Shinmyoumaru spends a lot of time in the air, but Shanghai never even jumps. It's almost as if she can't. Not only that, but she looks like she's fighting underwater, and only keeping up with Shinmyoumaru through very careful planning and timing. Something feels off.
That aside, the fight seems to be a bit of a stalemate, so I start looking around at the crowd instead. The first person I notice is Reimu, standing on the far side of the ring with her arms folded and a disapproving scowl on her face as she glares at the two duelists.
The second person I notice is Hourai, floating on the near side of the ring with her arms folded and a disapproving scowl on her face as she glares at the two duelists. It must be tough being a guardian.
I recognise a few other surprising faces as well. Medicine is looking uncharacteristically enthusiastic, cheering on one of the fighters - I can't tell which one. Kokoro is nearby, looking a bit silly as she cheers while nibbling at some dangos, all with a perfectly blank face. Futo is standing next to her looking like she'd rather be somewhere else.
And then there's Marisa, hands behind her head and big goofy grin on her face, as usual. A timid face peeks out from behind her - Kosuzu, the girl from the bookstore.
"...who are these two, again?" Mokou asks.
"Are you getting old, Mokou?" Reisen jokingly replies. "That's Shinmyoumaru, the inchling."
"Poppycock. Shinmyoumaru is a pipsqueak."
"I HEARD THAT!" Shinmyoumaru shrieks.
"Ah, now I recognise her," Mokou says. "Who's the other one?"
"I don't know. She looks vaguely familiar, but..." Reisen trails off.
"That's one of Miss Margatroid's dolls!" I say, startling the other two. "Her name is Shanghai."
"You can tell them apart?" Reisen asks, looking impressed.
"Yep! Well, I only know two of them. That's Hourai just there," I say, pointing out the grumpy violet-clad doll. She must have heard me, because she looks at me... and then facepalms. Um.
"Now that looks more like the dolls I remember," Mokou says. "Why's this one so b-"
Mokou suddenly lunges into Reisen, knocking them both to the ground. I turn to look where she's looking and oh no not ag
I open my eyes to see Reisen looking down at me.
"Oh good, you're awake. Can you hear me?" she asks, gently prodding me in a few places.
"Mmf," I reply.
"Wiggle your toes? Fingers? Excellent. Nothing broken, by the look of it."
I groan as I roll into a sitting position. My head throbs painfully.
"I'm not supposed to give these out without charging, but you've been a big help today so here. It'll help with the head." Reisen offers me a small white tablet and her water bottle, which I gratefully accept. My head starts to feel better almost immediately.
"How long was I out?" I ask tiredly.
"About a minute, minute and a half. Youkai are pretty sturdy."
"I have the worst luck ever," I groan. Reisen gives me a questioning look.
"Second time in two days," Sekibanki answers for me.
"You've been hit by someone flying out of a fight before?" Reisen asks, eyebrows raised.
"Yeah. Her," I reply, poking a finger at Kokoro, who is still cheering on the fight. Well, a fight. It's not Shanghai and Shinmyoumaru anymore, it's... Futo and Medicine. Huh.
"That girl? Doesn't surprise me in the least," Mokou says. She helps me to my feet, and holds onto my hand a moment longer as I wobble unsteadily. I shake my head to clear it and immediately wish I hadn't.
"What happened to the fight?" I ask.
"Reimu called it off," Reisen replies, "and gave both of them a lecture about ensuring the safety of bystanders." She rolls her eyes.
"They're so cute!" Tenshi's voice exclaims.
I peer around Reisen to see a life-size Hourai approaching, with a pouting Shinmyoumaru clamped in one fist and the other wrapped around a sheepish Shanghai.
"It's not fair! I was winning! It's not my fault that - urk!" Shinmyoumaru whines, before Hourai squeezes her tighter.
"The fight was a draw. Lady Hakurei has spoken," Hourai says. Her voice is harsh and rasping, and her words are slow and clumsy, but she's talking! "I believe you have something to say to Miss Tatara."
Shinmyoumaru pouts, looking to the side for a moment, before jerking her head so her bowl-hat covers her face.
"I'm sorry for crashing into you," she mumbles. Shanghai hangs her head and mouths words I can't hear.
"Oh. Well, um, try no to let it happen again, I guess?" I say. "I'm pretty tough, but a human could have been seriously hurt."
"I get it already," Shinmyoumaru groans.
Hourai releases the two. Shanghai floats obediently up beside Hourai, while Shinmyoumaru attempts to shoot off down the street - but she doesn't get far before being plucked out of the air by Tenshi.
"I too would like to apologise for my earlier aggression," Hourai says, bowing. "Master is most grateful for your help, and says that you are welcome to visit any time."
"Oh! Um, it was nothing," I reply, bowing back, "and you were just doing your job. How is Miss Alice now? And what about Patchouli?"
"Master is still resting. Lady Patchouli has returned to the Mansion in good health, and is planning to arrange an escort for Master to visit the Library on foot."
"Pardon me for interrupting," Reisen says, "but is Miss Margatroid unwell? As a representative of Eientei, I would be glad to be of assistance."
Hourai blinks, staring at her for a moment. "Master's condition is no longer serious, but your aid would be appreciated."
"I'll visit her on my way back this evening, weather permitting." Reisen bows and leaves.
"I must finish the shopping before the rain returns. Good day." Hourai bows again and leaves. Shanghai gives me a wave before following.
"I made a new friend!" Tenshi says. Shinmyoumaru is riding on her hat, all smiles again.
[ ] Watch the fight between Medicine and Futo. [ ] Talk to Marisa and Kosuzu. [ ] Where did Mokou go?
Assuming the Carnival ends on the 30th, this is my last update. If it doesn't, I'll probably be dropping out whether I like it or not, since I'm about to get my shit kicked in.
Voting options because it's a crappy place to end a story and I might be convinced to continue it later, if enough people care.
>>38880 > The (very background) plot that needs resolving is what will end up happening with Sekibanki's business.
Wait what. Plot? In my story!? This is unacceptable! Heads will roll for this!
Lame jokes aside, the plot is 100% bullshit. I jumped into the Carvnival with no plan whatsoever. I didn't even bother picking votes I knew I could write, which bit me on the ass like clockwork. I hope you enjoyed the antics that resulted.
...okay, I lied. Most of the background stuff (Mamizou's house, Alice's dolls, Raiko's chiptunes, Youmu's harem, Yuuka, Medicine...) was dredged out of my story graveyard. The premise of the story, "Sekibanki's head follows Kogasa around", was from there too, although Kogasa is way better than the generic outsider protagonist she replaced.
(Fun fact: I wanted to use Mokou so I could put the story in /eientei/, but I couldn't make her interesting enough.)
Secondly, I've never done daily updates before, and I probably never will again. I desperately need a breather. I won't be updating this for at least a week, possibly not until next year. Right now I feel like I should do something more coherent instead, but we'll see.
And last but not least, I need to whine some more! This story sucks, and I want you to tell me why it sucks, so I can make it suck less. Or you could point out the less-sucky bits you want to see more of; that works too. Shouldn't be too hard for you folks, right?
>>38888 I think that you are being overly critical when you say that the story sucks, it is a very enjoyable slice-of-life type work. However, if you are going to slow down the update speed you may want to consider making it more plot focused.
Whenever I read my own works I see what I intended to write instead of what I actually wrote. I can't improve if I can't see what I need to improve, so I ask the readers, who are obviously only reading it because they like it... never mind.
More of the same, then. Updates coming whenever I figure out where I'm going with this, since I'll have to lift my game if I'm not updating every day.
It's hard to point to any particular thing about the writing, what really clicks for me about this is actually the tone. In my opinion you've successfully hit a ratio of silliness to dangerousness that really suits Gensokyo. And the background things happening all over the place all the time also helps make it feel like a real place. All of your choices have made me feel like "Yes, something interesting will happen if I choose this" with no obvious filler.
"She's going to teach me more about swordfighting!" Tenshi says cheerfully.
"Really?" I say. "You were pretty impressive in that duel, but it did look kind of like you had no idea what to do the whole time..."
Shinmyoumaru folds her arms and clears her throat. "Ahem! A true swordwoman must be prepared for anything. By throwing out one's own biased expectations, one learns to see only that which actually occurs, to read the flow of battle and react accordingly, whatever course it may take!" She grins smugly. "Furthermore, for an opponent who relies entirely upon her own predictions, what could possibly be more formidable than a foe who acts without knowing what she will do next herself?"
"...you were being unpredictable to throw her off?" I ask.
"That's the gist of it, yeah."
"Um, okay. How did you two change size, anyway?"
"I don't know how the dolls do it, but I use the power of the Miracle Mallet!" Her smile falters. "...which Reimu confiscated again."
"Oh. Is it dangerous?"
"No! Uh, I mean, I'm the only one who can use it, so..."
"Where did Reimu go? Weren't you supposed to be helping her, or something?"
"Er, well, I don't think Reimu's too keen on having me around right now. I mean, it's her job to play peacekeeper, so when people start getting rowdy it's only natural she'd be grumpy, right?"
"Well then, you'll just have to tag along with us for a while!" Tenshi declares.
"That would be great! Can I?" Shinmyoumaru asks.
"Sure!" I say.
A shout from the crowd watching the duel draws our attention, and we turn to see Futo standing victorious over Medicine, making some kind of exaggerated speech, which ends with her jabbing her finger in the direction of the village gate. Medicine ignores her and starts to wander off, looking bored. Futo doesn't look happy about that at all, and I hear her mention Reimu's name loudly, before Marisa steps in to break up the argument.
Kosuzu hovers where Marisa left her, looking very worried at the sudden tension. I wander over to talk to her, Tenshi and Shinmyoumaru lagging just behind me.
"Hello!" I say.
"Ah! Hello again, Miss Kogasa, Miss Sekibanki," Kosuzu replies, bowing twice. "I, er, I hope you're okay? That looked like it would hurt..."
"It's nothing. I'm a youkai after all!" Well, that and Reisen's medicine. "Putting that aside, was it fun to watch? We don't have many duels in the village itself, so you wouldn't have seen a lot of them, right?"
"It was... interesting," Kosuzu says, wringing her hands as she glances back at the argument. "Duels in the village were taboo until that religous war broke out, but they don't seem to have stopped afterwards. I hope things don't get too violent here..."
"Don't worry, I'm sure Reimu will put her foot down if things get out of hand," I say, gently patting her on the back. She jumps and gives me a frightened look, so I stop. "Besides, you've got Miss Keine to look after you. Even us youkai are scared of her!"
"Yeah... I guess so..." Kosuzu mumbles, not looking convinced.
"Aw man, why've these things always gotta be so complicated?" Marisa grumbles as she returns.
"Complicated?" I ask.
"Looks like Medicine's been hangin' around in the village 'cause Yuuka blasted her house down an' told her to," Marisa says.
"Ah, yes! Wriggle told us about that!" I say. "Wait, Yuuka actually told her to come here?"
"Yup. She did." Marisa glances between me and Kosuzu. "Ya haven't been scarin' this poor, defenceless villager any, have ya?"
"N-no! I was just saying hello!" I say.
"We met yesterday," Kosuzu adds. "She did give me a bit of a fright, but she's actually really nice!"
I put on my friendliest grin.
"Well... don't go gettin' too chummy with a youkai, even if she is kinda harmless," Marisa says. Hey! "Ya might be in for a nasty surprise." Sekibanki smirks.
"Okay, but speaking of youkai... who is that?" Kosuzu asks, pointing behind me.
I turn to look, and... someone I've never seen before is floating down the street. I'd remember her if I had seen her, because she radiates such an impressive sense of presence. Maybe it's that, or maybe just her blatant display of power by flying in the middle of the village markets, but all the humans are giving her plenty of space.
Nearly everything about the newcomer is elegant and graceful. She has an odd combination of purple hair and red eyes, and a serene smile on her face that is somehow warm yet distant. Her floating shawl, the long ribbons on her hat and her multi-layered capelet all ripple and flow like she's underwater as she moves.
Tenshi has frozen in the middle of poking Shinmyoumaru's cheek. Her mouth is smiling, but her eyes look like she's staring down Miss Keine on a full moon.
"There you are, Eldest Daughter," the floaty lady says.
"Hello Iku," Tenshi replies, her face still frozen, "lovely weather we're having today, isn't it?"
Iku sighs. "Please, Eldest Daughter, let's not go there. You know why I'm here."
"No, actually, I don't," Tenshi says, straightening up and trying to look dignified. "It's not your job to drag me back to Heaven, as you've said yourself. Many times."
"And yet a request from Lord Nai is not turned down lightly," Iku replies. "Please just come quietly for once. You know how much your behaviour upsets your family."
"If they really cared, they'd come and get me themselves," Tenshi huffs, looking away.
"An if you truly cared, Eldest Daughter, then you would at least ask permission instead of sneaking away on your own." She smiles. "Though of course, it is perfectly understandable that you would sneak away to go on a date."
"...what," Tenshi says.
"I told Lord Nai it was only a matter of time before Eldest Daughter took that kind of interest in the people of the surface, but to think you would have a preference for other females..." She looks between Tenshi and Shinmyoumaru several times, covering her smile with her hand.
"H-how did you get there!? None of that is true! Don't make up embarassing things!" Tenshi splutters, face going red. Shinmyoumaru makes an odd coughing noise.
"Your face says otherwise, Eldest Daughter! But worry not, your secret is safe with me!" Iku replies, beaming radiantly. Shinmyoumaru's silent giggles become a fit of laughter.
"It's not funny, damn it! I don't have that kind of secret!" Tenshi protests.
"Oh, so you won't mind if I report this to his Lordship? In that case, I'll be off at once!" Iku says, and immediately twirls around to float back down the street.
"Wait! No! Get back here!" Tenshi shouts, and suddenly glowing red sword right under my nose -
Marisa clears her throat loudly. Tenshi pauses for a moment, glancing between her and Iku's rapidly retreating back, before stuffing her magic sword back in her pocket and racing off.
"See what I gotta deal with, Kosuzu?" Marisa says, smirking.
"R-right in front of the whole street..." Kosuzu says, blushing. "Were you really... you know..."
"Heck no," Shinmyoumaru says, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes, "I barely even met her five minutes ago."
"But, after that... people might say things..."
"Lady, please," Shinmyoumaru says, smirking. "Take a good look at me. What's the first thing you notice? How would that even work?"
After a moment of thought, Kosuzu flushes nearly as red as her hair and looks away. Shinmyoumaru raises an eyebrow, looking impressed.
"Ya really oughta lay off them weird Outsider books," Marisa says. "A little interest is healthy for a growin' girl, but some o' that stuff is just freaky."
"Miss Marisa!" Kosuzu shrieks, looking mortified. Marisa just cackles, like a proper witch.
Then she spots something in the sky and frowns. "What now?"
I look up and see...
[ ] Lots of fairy maids. [ ] An assistant librarian. [ ] A cheerful gatekeeper.
After writing for every minute of free time for an entire month, I actually started to miss doing it, even though it was a ton of work and I never felt like it was going the way I wanted it to. On the other hand, trying to slow down and polish it up made me want to barf, so it looks like it's back to writing as fast as I can and posting it before I can have second thoughts.
I won't be putting everything else on hold to make room for it, though, so it probably won't be daily again.