Koakuma's head jerks up from scanning the rest of the village. She puts on a burst of speed, swoops slightly, and does an acrobatic flip to land quickly without flipping her skirt. She touches down almost silently a few paces in front of us, straightens, and mutters a spell as she approaches. With a flick of her fingers and a few glowing runes, all four of her wings seem to just melt away.
Of course, most of the village just saw all of that, so it feels a little pointless to put on a disguise now.
"Miss Marisa," Koakuma says, bowing very slightly. She wears the tired half-smile of someone whose day isn't going well at all.
"Heya Koa," Marisa says, "yer a rare sight outside the Mansion. Ol' Patches send ya out book-huntin' or somethin'?"
"If only," Koakuma groans. "It's all hands on deck at the moment. Lady Remilia sent me to find you, among other people." She glances at me and Sekibanki. "I guess it might interest you too."
"Eh? Whassat ol' bat want with little ol' me?"
"Lady Remilia will be holding a carnival of sorts on the lawn in front of the Mansion gates, opening tomorrow evening."
"Carnival? Ya mean like a party?"
"More or less. For whatever reason, she wishes to bring as many humans and youkai together as possible, and would like to request your assistance in keeping the peace."
"Keepin' a bunch of partyin' youkai from layin' into a bunch of partyin' humans? That's a tall order."
Koakuma sighs. "I know. I'm supposed to let Miss Reimu and Miss Sanae know as well, but I've been to both shrines and I can't find either of them..."
"Reimu was here a moment ago," I say, "so she can't have gone far!"
"Good luck gettin' 'em both to work together, though," Marisa adds with a chuckle. "So, party at Remilia's, an' she wants folks from the village to attend. Seems a bit outta the blue, y'know?"
"She decided on it a few hours ago," Koakuma replies, looking even more tired.
"...huh. Yeah, that's Remilia for ya. Anythin' else I should know?"
"Miss Sakuya is busy preparing the venue, Meiling is out looking for people to provide food and entertainment, and Lady Patchouli is refusing to have anything whatsoever to do with the matter." A distant rumble of thunder punctuates her sentence. "...other than keeping the weather cooperative for the duration. You'd have to ask Lady Remilia herself for more information; I'm in the dark here myself."
"Okay, gotcha. I'll see about gettin' on Reimu's good side for ya," Marisa says, turning to leave.
"So you'll help?" Koakuma asks hopefully.
"O' 'course! Ya think I'd wanna miss out on an opportunity for a good party?"
Marisa departs with a wave, revealing Kosuzu frozen in place where she'd been hiding behind her.
"P-please excuse me!" Kosuzu says, and hurries off after Marisa.
Koakuma lets out a long sigh, head and shoulders drooping.
"So, um, been busy?" I ask.
"Have I ever," Koakuma groans. "First Marisa trashes the library, then she comes back and dumps a huge pile of books in the way of the cleanup, then some crazy fairy turns up and starts terrorising the maids, then the Young Mistress comes out to play with her and both of them start blowing the mansion to bits, then all the fairies are too scared or dead to do anything so Miss Sakuya drafts me to help with mansion repairs, then Lady Remilia wakes up in a rage and takes it out on us, then that stupid fairy challenges her to a drinking contest, which she accepts, and loses, and then she hugs me while reeking of alcohol and says 'hey Sakuya, I just had a great idea!' So now we're trying to organise a carnival on our doorstep in just twenty-four hours which is insane because the mansion is a complete freaking wreck!" Koakuma grows steadily more hysterical as she talks, until she's practically wailing. She takes a few deep breaths to steady herself.
"...ouch. Um, is there anything we can do to help?" I ask.
"No no no, I don't want get you tangled up in this mess too..."
"It's fine! We don't mind helping out, right?" I say.
"Of course!" Shinmyoumaru says, folding her arms. "It would be criminal for us to ignore a fair maiden in distress!"
"Fair maiden, you say... you do know I'm a devil, right?" Koakuma asks.
"Irrelevant details!" Shinmyoumaru replies, waving her hand dismissively.
"Uh, well, I'd offer to lend a hand but mine are in hospital..." Sekibanki says.
"Ah, yes, I heard about that," Koakuma says. "I hope you recover soon, Miss Sekibanki."
Sekibanki looks away uncomfortably.
"Speaking of which, did you know that you were in the paper this morning?" Koakuma asks.
"Me? Really?" I ask.
"The Kakashi Spirit News ran an article on you rescuing two human villagers from wild youkai."
"Er, well, I didn't really do all that much..."
"She even went and interviewed Miss Hijiri about improving human-youkai relations."
"Urk. So, um, anyway, what can we do to help?"
"Well... I'm sure Lady Patchouli or Miss Sakuya would appreciate some help cleaning up the mansion. None of us have a particularly good reputation in the village, so it's doubtful we'd be able to convince many humans to come, and I still need to find the mountain miko..."
[ ] Let's help clean up the Mansion! [ ] Let's help advertise in the Village! [ ] Let's help find Sanae!
I am so bad and slow without a deadline looming over me.
Okay, this is getting annoying. I can hardly write every day if I'm stuck with tied votes.
So, question: should I go ahead and flip coins or whatever, or should I just be patient? The story isn't really good enough to warrant a long wait between updates, but on the other hand I guess not everyone has the time to check in daily anyway.
"Well, I wouldn't say I'm popular or anything," I say, "but I do know a lot of people in the village."
"People that run food stands, by any chance?" Koakuma asks.
"A few, why?"
"Nobody from the village is going to turn up if all the stands are run by youkai," Koakuma points out. "And youkai cooking is one of those things..."
"It doesn't have to be limited to food, of course. Can't have a carnival without masks, games, toys, music, fireworks... the more humans running the show, the more comfortable others should be with coming, right?"
"Good thinking," Shinmyoumaru says, nodding. She perches on top of Sekibanki, who scowls up at her but doesn't say anything.
"Meiling said she'd visit Youkai Mountain first to see if she could get the kappa and tengu interested, since they're on better terms with humans than most," Koakuma continues.
"The kappa especially," I say. "The manzairaku and the planetarium were super popular in the village!"
"...yeah, you're obviously way more qualified for this than me." She fumbles around for a notebook and pen, and scribbles some stuff down before tearing the page out and handing it to me. "Meiling should be somewhere around here by now, but that was the plan when I left."
I look over the note. There's a rough sketch of the grounds, an optimistic timetable, a list of people Meiling said she was going to invite, and plans for stuff like lighting a path around the lake to the village. For something Remilia came up with a few hours ago, while drunk, they sure are serious about it.
"Ookay," I say. "I don't think many people will listen to me, but I'll try!"
"Wrong!" Shinmyoumaru declares. "Where's your optimism? Your sense of conviction? Your unwavering honesty? You'll never convince others of your -"
"Hey, hey, I'm not your soapbox, runt," Sekibanki complains.
"What did you just call me!?"
"Ow! Hey! Don't pull on my hair!"
"...good luck with that," Koakuma says, ignoring the argument. "Any idea where to look for the Moriya miko?"
"Well... Sanae spends most of her time at her shrine, Reimu's shrine or here in the village," I reply. "I suppose she might have business with the tengu, but Miss Kanako usually deals with them." I scratch my head as I think. "They usually try to make sure at least one of them is home, though. Was there really nobody there when you visited?"
"The frog goddess was there. She was the one that told me Miss Sanae was out."
"Then why didn't you just tell her about the carnival!?"
"I, uh, I didn't want to be rude, and she's, well... godesses are scary..." Koakuma fidgets and looks away awkwardly.
"I hate to say it, but Sanae is way scarier than Suwako."
"Just walk up to her, tell her about the carnival, and say you want the Moriya Shrine's help to make sure everything goes smoothly."
"But - I mean - it's a shrine - they exterminate youkai!"
"See, this is why you should get out once in a while instead of learning everything from books," I say. "The Moriya shrine don't get many human visitors, way up on the mountain, so they're gathering faith from youkai instead!"
"Faith... youkai... what? Wasn't it just the tengu?"
"Nope! You'll be fine, especially if you leave a donation."
"I... I don't have any money. I haven't had a paycheck in centuries..."
I pull Koakuma into a hug. She looks startled, but returns it after a moment.
"Feel better?" I ask after a minute.
"Umm... maybe?" she replies.
I let go. Koakuma sighs. "I guess I'll head back to the mountain then."
"Don't be so glum about it! The sooner you're done the sooner you can lock yourself in the library with Patchy, before Miss Sakuya drags you off again!"
Aha! A smile! "Okay. See you at the carnival, hopefully." Koakuma drops her disguise and flies away toward the Mountain.
"Done yet?" I ask as I turn around.
Sekibanki nods, more vigorously than normal, causing Shinmyoumaru to topple over backwards before she can reply.
"Great! Let's go!"
I head down the street toward where most of the food shops are. They're all proper shops here, but I know a few people who open stalls at Hakurei Shrine festivals and so on. Clouds are gathering on the horizon and the wind is just starting to pick up, so everyone's hurrying to get things done before the storm hits.
The first store I enter turns out to be empty save for the owner.
"Ah, good afternoon Miss Tatara!" he says. "And Miss Sekibanki," he adds, looking much less cheerful.
"Good afternoon!" I reply.
"Yes, I know, I'm not supposed to do the head thing in the village, sorry," Sekibanki mumbles.
"Ahaha, well, I know you're alright, it's just, I have to worry about my reputation, you know?" the shopkeeper says.
"Spare me the lies, please," Sekibanki says, suddenly looking cross. "I know full well you get plenty of youkai customers, and they don't bother you in the slightest."
"...sorry. Severed heads make me really queasy."
"I know, I know... look, I should just wait outside-"
"No no, it's fine. I'll manage. So!" He claps his hands together. "What can I do for you?"
"Actually, we came to ask if you'd be interested in setting up a stand at a carnival."
The shopkeeper frowns. "Carnival?"
"It's a kind of Western festival."
"Oh! Haha, now you're talking! When and where?"
"Tomorrow evening, in front of the Scarlet Devil Mansion."
The shopkeeper frowns again. "The Scarlet Devil Mansion?"
"Uh-huh. Miss Remilia is the one hosting it." He looks skeptical, so I quickly continue. "It won't actually be in the Mansion itself, though. It's on the lakeside, in front of the gates."
"But it will be a youkai festival?"
"Nnnot really? There will be plenty of youkai, of course, but it's just a normal festival!"
"No different from the Hakurei Shrine every year," Sekibanki adds.
"True," the shopkeeper says. "Still... tomorrow, you say? That's very short notice. And the weather, being what it is..." He gestures out the door.
I grin. "That's one thing you won't have to worry about. Miss Remilia doesn't like the rain, so she makes sure it doesn't rain around the mansion!"
The shopkeeper scratches his chin for a while, frowning in thought.
"Hey, Sousuke!" he calls over his shoulder.
"Yes boss?" a voice replies from the back room.
"How about doing some open-air cooking on the weekend?"
"No thank you! The rain is bad for my hair!"
"What if I told you it won't rain?"
"Then I get to say I told you so!"
"We'll do it," the shopkeeper says.
We thank the shopkeeper and leave, moving on to some of the other places I had in mind. Nearly everyone we visit is at least a little enthusiastic about the idea. Not all of them give a definite answer like the first, mentioning other business or bad weather, which is understandable. At least we're spreading the word!
After a while a large number of fairies show up in the village, all dressed in Scarlet Devil maid uniforms and handing out flyers. One of them hurries up to me and gets halfway into her sales pitch before I manage to explain that I'm already doing the same thing as her. She gives me one of her leaflets anyway.
Shortly after that, we run into Meiling.
"Hi Kogasa!" she says with a wave. "Can't stop and chat, I'm a little busy right now!"
"Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that!" I says, hurrying to catch up. "Koakuma told us what was happening, so we've been asking around for people interested in opening stands at the carnival."
Meiling stops short. "Wait, really?"
"Yep!" I pass Koakuma's note to Meiling, to which I've added the list of people I've visited.
"Well, looks like you've had a lot more success than me. How did you find so many people so fast?"
"I just remembered who I saw at other festivals! It's not a big town, so I recognise nearly everyone, even if I don't know their names."
"Right, right, I forgot you live in the village these days! Anyone else you can think of?"
"Just one more." I nod at the shop behind Meiling.
Meiling twists around to look, and turns back to me with a grin. "Saved the best 'till last, did you?"
A bell jingles as I lead everyone into Grandma Yamada's toys and sweets shop.
"Welcome back, Kogasa. Ah guess ye'll be wanting some shaved ice again, hmmm?" the elderly shop owner says, smiling warmly like she always does.
"I won't say no!" I reply.
"Fer yer friends, too?"
I glance back at the others, who all nod. "Of course! I don't think you've met Shinmyoumaru and Meiling before, have you?"
"A pleasure to make your acquaintance, ma'am!" Shinmyoumaru says.
"Sorry for intruding," Meiling says, bowing.
"Hohoho! Ye keep lively company as always."
A big bowl of shaved ice is the best on a hot day! You wouldn't think of finding something like ice in the Human Village, but Grandma Yamada has a special ice-making machine the kappa made for her. Needless to say, it's super popular. We all fall silent as we savor the refreshing chill, until I...
[ ] Get straight to the point and talk about the carnival. [ ] Ask about recent happenings in the Village. [ ] Ask about the copy of the Kakashi Spirit News on the counter.
Another update I feel terrible about. I honestly have no idea why anyone is still reading this crap...
[x] Ask about the copy of the Kakashi Spirit News on the counter.
"Um, excuse me, could I have a look at the paper?" I ask, pointing at the copy of the Kakashi Spirit News sitting on the counter.
"O' course," Grandma Yamada says. "Ye got yer picture taken, after all."
I lean over to pick up the paper, and unfold it to reveal the front-page article.
"Hey, Sekibanki! Look at this!" I say.
"Hmm?" Sekibanki mumbles through a mouthful of ice.
On the front page of the paper is a photograph of yesterday's danmaku duel between me, Sekibanki, Patchouli and Marisa. Specifically, the moment Marisa was caught off-guard by Sekibanki's spellcard. Marisa's surprised face is front and center, with Sekibanki smirking right behind her, me cheering in the background, and Patchouli scowling up at us from the ground. The picture is perfectly clear, and looks like it was taken by someone right in the middle of the action.
"Kogasa?" Sekibanki says.
"Yes?" I reply.
"We are totally going to visit Youkai Mountain, I am totally going to beg Hatate for a copy of this picture, and I am totally going to frame it and hang it on my wall."
"You defeated Miss Marisa? No waaaaay!" Shinmyoumaru says, reading the article from her position lounging on Sekibanki's, uh, head.
"So that's what that was about!" Meiling says, after taking a peek over the top of the paper. "This morning Marisa turned up with several thousand books flying after her," she continues when she notices all three of us looking at her.
The mental image of Marisa leading a flock of flying books makes me giggle uncontrollably.
"You get used to seeing strange things after a few centuries as the gatekeeper of a vampire mansion, but nothing could have prepared me for that. By the time I managed to gather my wits she'd already flown over the wall and in through the library window like she usually does."
"What did Patchouli have to say about that?" I ask.
Meiling shrugs. "I haven't seen her yet. It's been a busy day."
The rest of the article is a fairly accurate description of the duel, including a mention of Patchouli being carried to Miss Alice's house. Thankfully it doesn't go into much detail. The event is presented as an example of the Spellcard Rules promoting equality between the strong and the weak, and of the dangers of overconfidence. I guess that's not too much of an exaggeration?
I skim through the rest of the paper, looking for interesting articles. Miss Himekaidou seems to like reporting on unusual or mysterious events, so it's an odd collection.
Nameless Hill DestroyedKazami Yuuka burns flowers, displaces resident; motive unknown... nothing here I didn't already hear from Wriggle.
Aliens in Gensoukyou?Crop circles appear in - auugh, Nue! Don't keep listening to Sanae's weird ideas!
Towards the end another photograph catches my eye. It's me! I'm walking down a forest path with two humans behind me, grinning as I look over my shoulder. This must be the article Koakuma mentioned.
An unlikely ally of humans appears?
Ms. Tatara Kogasa (Tsukumogami) caused something of a stir recently when she was granted permission to take up residence in the Human Village. Though she is not the only youkai known to live there, she is the first to do so publicly, and her presence has caused no small amount of controversy among the humans.
Tsukumogami are among the types of youkai that do not need to consume humans to live, and Ms. Tatara is no exception. Her attacks on humans are limited to what would ordinarily be considered harmless pranks. Even the children do not feel threatened in her presence. Urk... don't remind me...
Recently, however, it appears that she may in fact be actively protecting the humans of the Village. Siblings Kotarou and Setsuna (Human) were returning from an errand when they lost their way and found themselves by the shore of Misty Lake. They were fortunate enough to be in the presence of humanoid youkai, mindful of the restrictions on attacking village residents outright, but with night falling they would easily fall prey to the many beastial youkai that inhabit the region.
Miss Tatara, having arrived in the area on other business, immediately offered to escort them to safety, or at the very least promptly report their location to the village guardian. True to her word, she returned the pair to the village unharmed, even fending off an attack by wanted miscreant Kijin Seija (Amanojaku) in the process. She refused any offer of compensation for her efforts.
Opinions on the incident are divided among youkai. Proponent of peaceful human-youkai relations, Hijiri Byakuren (Magician), had this to say on the matter: "Just as humans can show compassion for other forms of life by abstaining from the consumption of animals, so too can youkai show compassion by abstaining from harmful attacks on humans. Overcoming one's desires in this fashion is a great achievement for one's spirit."
Yakumo Yukari (Youkai) was less sympathetic: "In order for the balance of Gensoukyou to be maintained, humans must fear youkai. To ensure this balance, youkai must attack humans. This is an absolute rule that must be upheld without exception."
It would seem the road to peaceful coexistence of youkai and humans is a long one.
Um. Wow. It really does try make me look like a hero, doesn't it? I mean, it doesn't mention that I left the humans with Mystia for an hour or so, or that Seija tossed me away from them with barely any effort at all and could have easily attacked them if she wanted to. I could hardly expect any thanks for that, right? And Sekibanki doesn't even appear in the photo!
...I hope Miss Yukari isn't actually angry with me. That would be really, really scary!
"Watcha reading?" Shinmyoumaru asks from somewhere above me. I feel a weight settle on my head, and quickly fold the newspaper back up.
"Nothing important," I say.
"But I saw your picture in there! What's it about, huh?"
"Nothing! Just some embarassing stuff, that's all!"
"Embarassing? You're just making me want to read it more! C'mon, what's it say?"
Meiling clears her throat with perfect timing.
"Thank you very much for the treat, ma'am, but I really must get on to business," she says, and straightens up a little. "Lady Remilia Scarlet will be holding a festival tomorrow evening, on the shores of Misty Lake, and she's looking for anyone interested in running stalls or providing entertainment for the event."
"Hohoho, Ah'm flattered that ye'd think o' me," Grandma Yamada says. "But Ah don't think Ah'm quite sprightly enough fer a youkai festival these days, if it's all the same ta ye."
"We were hoping to attract human guests as well. Lady Remilia was quite adamant that the event be as peaceful as possible."
"All the same... Ah'd be more at ease if it were somewhere closer ta home."
"As head of security at the Scarlet Devil Mansion, I give you my personal assurance that no-one will come to harm on my watch." Meiling bows deeply. "Miss Kirisame and Miss Hakurei will be there as well, so if any youkai get too excited they will be swiftly dealt with."
Grandma Yamada smiles. "Ye drive a hard bargain, ye know that? Ah'll have ta see how Ah'm feelin' in the mornin', and if Ah can get any help ta carry everything."
"I can help!" I chime in. "I'll be going to the carnival too, and I don't mind carrying things!"
Grandma Yamada just chuckles, smiling warmly. I have a brief argument with Meiling over who should pay for the shaved ice, which only ends when Meiling realises that she forgot to bring her purse with her, before we thank Grandma Yamada again and step out into the street. The storm is really starting to look ominous.
"I better get back to the mansion," Meiling says. "I've been all around Youkai Mountain, and you've already invited more people from the Village than I could have hoped for, but it's going to take more than fairies to patch up the walls before the storm hits."
"Patch up the walls?" I ask. "You mean there's holes in them?"
"Yep, and big chunks of masonry everywhere. Unless Lady Remilia decides to do it herself, I'm the only one who can even lift them."
"Wow. That's... that's bad!"
Meiling sighs. "We'll manage. Somehow. Thanks for all the help, and if you think of anyone else, feel free to invite them!"
Meiling hurries off toward the village gate, rounding up a few fairy maids as she goes.
[ ] To the Scarlet Devil Mansion! Let's help finish the repairs in time! [ ] To Myouren Temple! A carnival for both humans and youkai is bound to interest them! [ ] To the Prismriver Mansion! I think I can find it again... [ ] Where did Kokoro and Futo go? [ ] Where did Mokou go? [ ] Miss Keine is coming this way. She looks cross.
So much for daily updates. Hopefully every other day isn't too slow.
[x] Miss Keine is coming this way. She looks cross.
I take a quick look up and down the street, and freeze when I spot Miss Keine headed in my direction. The small frown on her face would look harmless on anyone else, but on Miss Keine, it looks like impending doom. I glance behind myself, hoping she might be looking at someone else, but there's nobody there.
"Hello Miss Keine," I say, trying not to sound nervous.
"Hello, Kogasa," Miss Keine says. She clasps her hands as she stops, and I notice she's holding one of the advertisements the fairies were handing out. "Could I have a moment of your time? There's something I'd like to talk to you about." She glances at Sekibanki, and Shinmyoumaru on my head. "In private, if you would."
I fall into step behind Miss Keine as she turns back the way she came. She leads the three of us to the empty Temple School.
"Aren't you normally teaching at this hour?" I ask as we reach the doorway to an empty classroom. Everything is closed up and packed away.
"I sent the children home early, on account of the storm." Miss Keine glances out the door. "It's not that much earlier than usual anyway."
I feel Shinmyoumaru's slight weight lift off my head as she floats back over to Sekibanki.
"If you two would please excuse us for a moment?" Miss Keine asks. Sekibanki just nods.
Miss Keine leads me through the classroom and into what must be her office. There's lots of shelves, scrolls, books and other things you'd expect to see in an office. She motions me to sit in front of the desk, and takes her place behind it.
For a moment we just sit there in awkward silence. Miss Keine takes off her impressive hat and sets it on her desk, wedging the leaflet she was carrying under it. Then she takes a long, slow breath, her face relaxing into a prefectly neutral expression.
"Thank you for taking the time to listen to me," Miss Keine begins.
"Um, it's fine. Am I, uh, in trouble or something?" I ask. I get the feeling I shouldn't have said that, because Miss Keine's frown immediately returns.
"To start with, I'd appreciate it if you'd take this conversation seriously."
"I am taking it seriously! Very seriously!"
"Then I'll get straight to the point. What is your objective in the village?"
"...huh? What do you mean?"
Keine frowns harder. "The Human Village is, as you would expect, a place for humans to live. There are youkai here as well, it's true, but they keep their heads down and their noses clean, if they know what's good for them."
I swallow. "I'm not planning anything bad, and I don't want to hurt anyone. I just want to live here."
"If that was all you were looking for, you could have come quietly, like the others - like your friend, Miss Sekibanki. But you didn't. And you must have done your homework, because you somehow managed to talk your way into getting exactly what you wanted."
Keine is positively glaring at me now. "I'm not blind, Miss Tatara. I can tell you're not as dumb as you act."
I can feel the color draining out of my face. "B-but I'm not acting! I'm not trying to trick anyone! I'm just being me!"
"How else am I supposed to explain your actions? Look at it from my perspective: a high-class youkai wanders into the village. She knows exactly what to say and to whom to sweet-talk the authorities into letting her stay. She sets up a business which, by all accounts I can find, is not only legitimate, but excellent; she's honest, reliable and prompt, without exception. And yet in public, she behaves as though she has the mentality of a child, playing juvenile pranks, giving the village children dangerous ideas, ignoring my warnings and mocking my attempts at conversation."
"I wouldn't dream of mocking you, Miss," I say quietly.
"Then stop acting like you're nine years old!" Keine slaps her palms on the table.
"I'm not trying to! I'm just trying to be nice to people!"
"Since when have youkai cared about being nice!?"
"Since not being nice gets us exterminated! I don't eat people! I don't hurt people! I'm not even good enough to surprise people! I'm no good at doing bad things, so I'm trying to do good things instead! Why can't you believe that I'm not scheming or acting or trying to trick everyone and that's really all there is to it!?"
I pause for breath and realize I'm leaning right over the desk. I think I may have broken it, too. My face is so close to Keine's that she's leaning away from me, wide-eyed and tense for a fight.
"Ah..." I slowly release my grip on the edge of the desk and sit back down. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get angry."
Keine takes a slow, calming breath as she sits up straight again. "No... anger is something I understand. We all have our breaking point, and now I know yours."
"Were you... testing me?"
"...more or less. I am very concerned about your intentions and angry at your childish behaviour. Maybe more than I realized." Keine takes another deep breath. "You seem to be telling the truth, so I'll be honest with you. Kogasa, you scare me."
"...what?" I ask, staring at her in disbelief.
"You scare me," Keine repeats, corners of her mouth twitching upwards. "I dedicated my life to protecting the humans of the village from youkai, and I've been doing it since long before Reimu came up with the spellcard rules. You scare me because if you were to turn on us, I'm not sure I could stop you."
...if I get any more confused, I think my face is going to break. "But... that's... you're way stronger than me!"
Keine chuckles, smiling properly now. "I'm flattered, but I think you might be overestimating me. My bark is, unfortunately, much worse than my bite."
"You've fought Miss Reimu!"
"So have you. And if I remember rightly, we were both soundly beaten."
"But... but..." I trail off into silence.
"Whatever I may think of you," Keine continues after a moment, "you at least seem to be a youkai of your word, so it would ease my mind if you would promise me one thing."
I fidget uncomfortably. "Like what?"
"Promise me you will not harm the humans of the village."
"But... that's not allowed anyway! We'd get exterminated for that!"
"Punishment after the fact does not undo the crime," Keine says matter-of-factly, "especially if the crime is murder."
"Oh. Right. Then... I promise I won't harm any humans from the village, for as long as I'm living here."
Keine smiles again. "I can hardly ask for more than that from a youkai now, can I? Thank you, Kogasa."
I look away and squirm. Hearing nice things from Miss Keine is really weird.
"Speaking of which," Keine continues, "I'm told I have you to thank for rescuing two of my former students last night."
My confused brain takes a moment to catch up with the sudden change of subject. "Huh? Oh! Um, I guess so? I didn't really do much, though..."
"You did enough, and that's what matters."
"Umm, if that's all... can I go now?"
"Of course. I imagine you have things to do before the storm gets here."
I pick myself up and start towards the door, but one last look around the room reminds me that I nearly broke Keine's desk in half.
"I'm, uh, I'm sorry about your desk," I say.
Keine brushes it off. "Better it than me. Even Marisa hasn't always had that much restraint. Take care, now."
I shuffle out of Keine's room and through the gloomy classroom. Sekibanki and Shinmyoumaru are waiting at the door.
"Is everything all right?" Sekibanki asks, looking a little concerned.
"We heard shouting," Shinmyoumaru adds.
"Huh? Oh, um, it was just a little misunderstanding. It's all cleared up now!"
I put on the best grin I can manage. They don't look convinced.
"...can we just forget about it and do something else now, please?" I ask, letting my face fall.
"Uh, sure, but we're gonna have to be quick about it," Sekibanki says.
A rumble of thunder reminds me why it's so dark outside. The storm is almost here, and the wind is getting fierce.
[ ] Let's go home! It's uh, about time I did some cleaning anyway... [ ] To Myouren Temple! I'm sure they won't mind me waiting out the storm there! [ ] To the Scarlet Devil Mansion! I think I can make it before the storm hits!
I hate myself for picking the genre I'm worst at writing, then doing it well enough people won't let me stop.
[X] To Myouren Temple! I'm sure they won't mind me waiting out the storm there!
You can of course stop at any time if you are not enjoying writing this. That being said I think that you are being overly critical, if so many people like this quest you must be doing something right. If you do feel that the quality is not good enough I recommend one of two things. Identify a couple concrete things you can improve, or get a beta or another writer to help you out. Just pushing on out of some perverse sense of duty to us readers will surely end badly. If you have to take a hiatus or something to figure out how you want to handle the quest than do so. It is better than you burning out and completely abandoning it.
[X] To Myouren Temple! I'm sure they won't mind me waiting out the storm there!
Like other anons said, you don't have to push yourself. If you need a break to improve your writing, you should totally do it. I am enjoying this and I think you are too paranoid about your writing but you are the writer so the ultimate decision belongs to you.
I guess I am a bit of a perfectionist. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well, right? I want to write, and you lot want to read what I write, so that makes it worth doing.
As far as all the talk of taking a break goes, you're completely missing the joke. This story was intended as practice, so I picked stuff I knew I had trouble with. Then I went and put so much effort into it that it came out good, so here I am stuck with a story that's basically made of my personal kryptonite. It's like putting an electrified plate of bananas in front of a monkey with short-term memory loss.
On the flip side, I've been writing way faster than I used to, and I've done a pretty good job of keeping the story together with no planning whatsoever, so it was totally worth it. If I could just exorcise my dialog and characterization demons, I'd be all set.
File 145096227975.jpg - (862.39KB, 2247x1635, wrong weather but you get the idea.jpg)
[x] To Myouren Temple! I'm sure they won't mind me waiting out the storm there!
"Well then, let's go!" I say, and set off at a brisk pace out of the village.
Rain doesn't bother me of course, but umbrellas are weak to wind and thunder is on a level by itself, so even I stay indoors when a big storm hits. I fly along the path from the village to Myouren Temple, just to make sure I get there in time. We arrive just as Kyouko is heaving the temple gate closed.
"Wah, Kogasa! What are you doing out in this!?" Kyouko says, as loud as ever.
"This is sudden, but I have a message for the temple and I need to shelter somewhere anyway, so can I come in?" I ask.
I help Kyouko with the gate - it's not heavy enough to bother youkai like us, but the wind is blowing it around - and follow her inside. With the big sturdy doors closed you can hardly hear anything from outside. It's really peaceful and quiet.
"So!" Kyouko says cheerfully, making it not so quiet anymore, "what was this about a message?"
"Right," I say. "Ahem... Miss Remilia is holding a Western-style festival outside her mansion tomorrow, and everyone is invited."
"That sounds great, but... Lady Hijiri doesn't approve of noisy gatherings..."
"This one's different! I'm not sure why, but Miss Remilia wants both humans and youkai to come. She's even asked Miss Reimu and Miss Sanae to help make sure no-one gets hurt, so she must be serious about it!"
Kyouko perks up at that, but she still looks apprehensive about something. "Oh! I, uh, guess we should ask Lady Hijiri about it, then."
"Ask Lady Hijiri about what?"
"Hyaaaa!" I jump so hard I nearly hit the roof and spin around. "M-Miss Ichirin, I d-didn't see you there!"
Miss Ichirin is standing with folded arms and a no-nonsense expression. The huge, pink, always angry face of of her inseperable companion Unzan glares down at us from above her.
Ichirin raises an eyebrow at me. "This had better not be anything like your last visit."
Oh crap! I forgot about that!
"Th-that wasn't me, I swear! I just stole everyone's towels, I had nothing to do with -"
"I was talking about you scaring Kyouko here into unconsciousness, but thank you for reminding me!" Ichirin says, with really scary smile!
"Oh come on, it was just a bit of fun!" Kyouko says. "We're all girls here, except for Unzan, and you know he's above that sort of thing, right?"
Unzan closes his eyes and lifts his chin haughtily, as if offended the question even had to be asked.
Ichirin sighs, finally letting her arms fall. "Well, if you're just here to wait out the storm, that's fine, but no funny stuff, understood?"
"Yes Ma'am!" I reply.
"Don't 'Ma'am' me. Now, what was it you were thinking of asking Lady Hijiri?"
"Lady Remilia is holding a gathering for both humans and youkai, and Kogasa has come to ask us if we'd like to attend," Kyouko answers primly.
Ichirin frowns. "A gathering for both humans and youkai? What kind of gathering?"
"It's just a normal festival, really," I say.
"Then what's so special about it?"
"Well, um, she's gone to a lot of trouble to get all different sorts of people to open stands there? And she's enlisted Miss Marisa, Miss Reimu and Miss Sanae to make sure the humans feel safe?"
"...and why would Miss Scarlet, of all people, be doing this?"
"I, uh, don't know. Miss Remilia does odd things a lot. But she must be serious if she's invited the best youkai exterminators in Gensoukyou to her doorstep, right?"
Ichirin looks uneasy. "If she isn't planning anything untoward, it would be an excellent opportunity to promote Myourenji's vision of peace, but on the other hand, if she is..."
"Something worth asking Lady Hijiri, right?" Kyouko asks.
Ichirin nods, frowning. "This way please," she says, and starts off down the hall.
"Why didn't you back me up?" I whisper to Sekibanki.
"And make that guy glare at me? Hell no," Sekibanki replies, nodding at Unzan.
Unzan glares at Sekibanki. Sekibanki squeaks and hides behind me again.
"He's not that bad, once you get used to him," Shinmyoumaru says, still perched on top of Sekibanki. "He's just a little intense!"
"Why didn't YOU speak up then?" Sekibanki shoots back.
"There is a time and a place for every word and act," Shinmyoumaru solemnly replies.
Ichirin leads us to Miss Byakuren's room. The rain is pouring down by now, but everything sounds muted and distant from inside the temple.
"Lady Hijiri?" Ichirin asks at the door. "Miss Tatara is here, with a message for you."
Ichirin pauses for a moment while Hijiri presumably says something we can't hear, before she slides the door open all the way.
"Lady Hijiri will see you now," Ichirin says, gesturing for me to enter.
I swallow. When she says it like that, it makes me feel like I'm intruding on someone really important.
...I guess I sort of am, aren't I? That's not helping me feel any better! I take a deep breath and step into the room. Ichirin closes the door behind me, without following me in.
"Back so soon, Kogasa?" Byakuren says, smiling warmly as she always does. "I was worried I might have frightened you off for some time."
"Er, well, I did kind of deserve it..." I say sheepishly as I sit down.
"If you understand your wrongdoing then all is well." She leans to the side oddly. "Hello there, Sekibanki. You really don't have to hide from me, you know."
I nudge Sekibanki out from behind me and onto my lap.
"I, uh... hi. I'm, um, just tagging along. Again," she says, trying to avoid looking at Byakuren.
Shinmyoumaru stands up, mindful of her footing on Sekibanki's hair, and bows to Byakuren. "Greetings once again, Miss Byakuren. Please pardon my intrusion."
"Not at all! Now, Ichirin said you have a message for me?"
For what feels like the hundredth time today, I explain about the carnival. Byakuren listens quietly, only speaking to prompt me when I stop talking.
"So since you're interested in humans and youkai getting along better, I thought you'd be interested in the carnival too," I finish.
"Indeed I am!" Byakuren says, looking a lot more enthusiastic than I thought she would. "I think this is a wonderful idea, and I am very grateful that you've brought it to my attention."
"I, uh, don't mean to be rude," Sekibanki says, surprising everyone, "but it's just a party, right? I, y'know, didn't think you were big on those."
Byakuren laces her fingers on her desk. "It has recently been brought to my attention that Buddhism is seen by many as rather... old-fashioned. The humans in particular find it obscure and difficult to relate to. I suppose it is hardly surpring, given the length of my... absence... that I should need to refine the manner of my teaching."
"How are you going to do that?" I ask.
"As I am repeatedly informed by a certain member of the temple, whom I know to have good hearing and a tendency to eavesdrop, the youth of today feel entitled to a great degree of freedom, and do not take well to the notion of restrictions. As the core tenets of Buddhism include self-moderation and self-denial, this causes no small amount of friction."
"People don't like being told what they should do, and you're telling them what they should do, so they don't like it?"
Byakuren's smile increases, which is pretty impressive and actually a bit scary. "You are very perceptive, did you know that? That's exactly my solution."
"I, uh... huh?"
"In your words, I have been telling people what they shouldn't do. In order to make my teachings more palatable, I need to tell them what they should do instead."
"Ooh! I get it! So, um, how are you going to do that?"
"As the very same member of the temple, who still has good hearing and is still eavesdropping, has also told me, actions speak louder than words. I, and the other members of the temple, need to do more things to gain the respect of the people. Things that they can look up to, and, more importantly, things that they feel they can do themselves. Things that will hopefully open their minds to the virtues of restraint, and make the teachings of Buddhism more approachable."
"Meaning, you need to show off and do good things, so other people will want to do good things too!"
Byakuren's smile gets even more radiant. "A strategy inspired by the simple wisdom of a certain umbrella youkai."
...oh. Oh. Hauuuuu!
"There's no need to look so aghast! I can't help but hear news of your actions, and you've accomplished more than you know!"
"But... I was... just... doing what you told me to..."
Byakuren's smile gets less scary, and she leans over the table to ruffle my hair. "I merely provided the spark; it is you who lit the fire."
"...that's one of those Buddhist sayings, isn't it?"
"Not really, I just made it up now," Byakuren says. "It's not hard to sound wise, just a few vague analogies and you're there."
I gape at her as she gives me a sly wink.
"Actually being wise is far more difficult, and the first step to getting there is to admit that you don't know where you're going."
"Is that another vague analogy?"
Byakuren shifts from sitting in seiza to sitting with her legs crossed, and floats into the air in a comical fashion. She holds a finger to her lips before floating over to the door, and throwing it open in one quick tug.
Kyouko is kneeling with her head next to where the door was, one ear still up like it was leaning on the door. Since Byakuren is still hovering just above the ground in a sitting position, her face is right in front of Kyouko's.
"It's rude to listen in when other people are talking, Miss Kasodani."
"I was, er, just keeping watch!" Kyouko halfheartedly suggests.
"It's also rude to lie, Miss Kasodani."
Kyouko slowly droops, her ear flopping down and her head tilting to face the floor. "...sorry."
I can't see Byakuren's face right now, but this is the part where she smiles. "We weren't discussing private matters, so I'll let you off this time. Now, Miss Tatara and her companions will no doubt wish to stay here until the storm abates, so why don't you return their favour from last time and show them some hospitality?"
"Can do!" Kyouko says, bowing, which nearly results in her stuffing her face into Byakuren's lap. She goes red with embarassment and scoots back a bit before trying again.
Byakuren, still floating around like a silly cliché, turns to face me. "If you would please excuse me for now, I have a busy evening to plan."
I get up, holding the oddly motionless Sekibanki in my arms as I do so, and hurry out of the room.
"I, um, thanks for... uh..." I trail off as I realize I'm not sure what I'm thanking her for.
"N-no, not that that was a bad thing, but, no, wait, urk!"
Kyouko grabs the back of my collar and drags me down the hall. Byakuren waves and closes her door.
"Well," Kyouko says, "that didn't go too badly, all things considered!"
"Hey, are you guys all right?" Kyouko asks.
"...Shinmyoumaru?" Sekibanki says.
"...yes?" Shinmyoumaru replies.
"Is she stacked, or is she stacked?"
"She is most definitely stacked."
Kyouko and I share a look. I drop Sekibanki. They both manage to catch themselves before they hit the ground.
"I guess I deserved that. Sorry," Sekibanki says.
"I was... merely awed by the difference in scale. I apologise for how I must have sounded," Shinmyoumaru says, sounding insincere.
"So!" Kyouko says, loud enough to make me wince, "who should we bug next? We are gonna bug someone, right?"
[ ] Nue [ ] Minamitsu [ ] Nazrin [ ] Shou [ ] Ichirin Ahahaha no thank you! [ ] Actually, some food would be nice.
So, uh, as an excuse - or maybe an apology - for being so slow, I've started writing a silly Christmas sidestory. It features a bunch of characters Kogasa hasn't visited yet going bananas and dragging a bunch of other people Kogasa (mostly) hasn't visited yet to a wacky Christmas party.
Or it would, but it's really long and keeps getting longer and I'm really slow so it won't be finished in time. Should I go for it anyway? It's a bit different to the main story; for a start, Kogasa hardly even appears. It's also badly written, but you should know by now I say that about everything I write.
I told myself I was going to get back to this in a month, and now it looks like it's going to be two, so here I am posting stuff nobody wants to read because I hate it when writers just up and vanish. But I already did that didn't I ahahahaha fml.
So, yeah. See you in another month or so... weather permitting.
Nothing like a three-month hiatus to knock you back to 70 words per day. Sorry for the wait.
"Well, I did promise Miss Ichirin I wouldn't cause trouble so... is Nue around?" I ask.
"Nue?" Kyouko asks, tilting her head to one side in thought. "I saw her when we started closing up for the storm, so she should be around somewhere."
We start wandering around the temple, checking Nue's usual hiding places. Her favourites are up on the roof and out in the graveyard, but even Nue isn't silly enough to go outdoors in a thunderstorm. Nobody we meet has seen her, but that's to be expected.
Eventually we catch the sound of voices out the back of the temple. I can't make out what they're saying over the sound of the storm, but there's definitely someone out there. Kyouko opens the back door a crack and pokes her head out.
"Aha, there you are! Oh... I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" Kyouko says.
"Nah, just a boring theological discussion," Nue's voice replies.
Kyouko opens the door wider, and I see Nue sitting on the back steps, just out of reach of the rain thanks to the temple's wide eaves.
"Never debate the meaning of life with someone who's already dead," the figure next to Nue adds, before bending over backwards until she's looking right at me. "Hello Kogasa."
"Hello Yoshika," I reply, smiling awkwardly.
"I haven't seen you around the graveyard lately. What have you been up to?" Yoshika asks.
"Er, well, kind of a lot actually..."
I end up sitting down beside Nue as I start narrating my recent adventures all over again. But it's not just me talking this time; Nue and Shinmyoumaru are both happy to regale everyone with probably-exaggerated tales of their own exploits. Even Sekibanki has a few stories to tell.
I'm in the middle of telling Nue off for messing up some poor farmer's fields when a loud clunk from behind us makes everyone except Yoshika jump.
Nazrin scowls at us from the doorway. "I thought you were going to find Nue, not disappear as well."
"It's not like I'm hiding or anything, geez," Nue whines.
"Wait, how long have we been out here?" Kyouko asks.
A glance at the sky tells me... not a whole lot, since the storm made it dark early, but I can't actually see the clouds anymore so I guess the sun must have set?
"Over an hour," Nazrin confirms. "Everyone else is getting ready to eat."
"Oh man, food! I nearly forgot that was a thing," Nue says, already getting up.
"Well, thank you for keeping me company," Yoshika says, turning to look at me. "And thank you for letting me know about the carnival. I'll pass on the word to the others, if they haven't heard already."
"...Miss Miyako, wasn't it?" Nazrin asks, only just noticing her. "What are you doing here at this hour?"
Yoshika makes a lazy gesture at the storm with her free hand. "The rain caught me napping. Don't worry, it's not a long walk home, and I don't mind getting wet."
Nazrin's frown deepens. "Are you sure? It would be terribly rude of us to shut you out in this, rival faith or no. You're welcome to stay the night."
"Well then, since you're offering..."
Yoshika slowly gets to her feet and stretches, her joints making painful-sounding cracks and pops that set my teeth on edge.
"I will have to ask that you not eat us out of house and home, though," Nazrin adds.
Yoshika just chuckles. "Of course."
I follow everyone else back inside the temple. Nue and Kyouko are already out of sight, so Nazrin leads the way, muttering something about manners under her breath.
When we reach the dining room I realize that there are a lot more people here than I remember. Youkai of all kinds are crowded around the tables, most of them completely unfamiliar... and quite a bit rowdier than the disciples of a Buddhist temple probably should be at mealtime. At least the food seems to be appropriate.
I spot Nue's red and blue wings across the room, and she waves me over, patting a space beside her.
"I saved you a spot," Nue says, already helping herself to some rice.
"When did Myouren Temple get this popular?" I ask as I sit down. Shinmyoumaru lands on the table between us.
"We started getting a lot more interest when all those urban legends started popping up," Kyouko replies, seated on Nue's other side.
"Which, funnily enough, was around the same time Hijiri started riding that motorcycle around," Nue adds with a smirk.
"What's a motorcycle?" Sekibanki asks.
"It's an Outsider vehicle," Nue explains as she serves herself some rice. "Kind of like a wheeled, mechanical version of a horse, I guess?"
"Okay... so, what does that have to do with the Temple getting more followers?" Sekibanki asks.
I snag Koishi's wrist before she can empty Nue's bowl a second time.
"What are you doing?" I hiss.
"It's less about the bike and more about what she wears while riding it," Nue continues, glancing over at the table Byakuren and the others are sitting at.
"Other people's food tastes the best!" Koishi says cheerfully. "You should try it too!"
"You have to see it," Shinmyoumaru says.
I scowl at the smiling umbrella thief. "Why are you even here?"
"Cut it out, you two," Kyouko says, elbowing Nue in the ribs.
"'Cause the people here are so interesting! And that makes the food really tasty!" Koishi replies.
I groan and rub my temples. Just looking at her is making my head hurt, like she's really hard to focus on.
"Hey. You okay?" Sekibanki asks, looking at me with a slight frown.
"I think so..." I say. "Uh, this might sound weird, but who's sitting to our left?"
Sekibanki glances right at Koishi. "Some guy I've never seen before. Might be a tanuki, if his tail is anything to go by. Why?"
"Um. Do you remember Koishi?"
"The girl who stole my umbrella yesterday."
"I did?" Koishi asks, tilting her head to one side.
"Right after we met Kokoro," I add.
"Would you be talking about Komeiji Koishi?" Shinmyoumaru asks.
"Hello!" Koishi says, waving at the inchling.
"Hey, yeah, I remember her!" Sekibanki says, her face lighting up. "How'd I forget about that?"
"Ah, it's you!" Shinmyoumaru exclaims.
"She's sitting between us and the tanuki-looking man," I tell Sekibanki.
"I challenge you to a duel!" Shinmyoumaru intones, raising her needle sword.
"Huh? She is?" Sekibanki asks, looking right at Koishi but apparently not seeing her.
"Okay!" Koishi says, bouncing to her feet.
"Not in here!" I interrupt. "Leave it until morning!"
"Oh. Right, of course," Shinmyoumaru says.
"Leave what until morning?" Sekibanki asks, looking confused.
I spend the rest of dinner trying to pretend Koishi isn't there, except to stop her repeated attempts at stealing our food.
Wah! What was that!?
It takes me a moment to get over the fright and recognise the sound of a spellcard declaration. There must be a duel going on nearby.
...and it's still dark outside. Ugh.
"'S too early for this," Sekibanki grumbles from somewhere behind me.
I can hardly get back to sleep with the noise of a fight going on right outside, and I can already hear the sounds of other people up and about in the temple, so I drag myself out of bed and start getting dressed. I can't find a comb anywhere, so I settle for smoothing my hair out with my fingers as I shuffle to the door and peer out into the darkness.
"'Mornin' sleepyhead," Nue says, grinning. She and Minamitsu seem to be... mopping the floor together? I can only just make them out in the dim light.
"What time is it?" I mumble, before stifling a yawn.
"Sunrise," Nue replies. "Temple life starts early."
I step out of the room, and promptly almost slip over.
"Whoa... uff. Isn't it a bit dangerous to be mopping when it's still dark?" I ask.
"Sooner we start, sooner we finish!" Nue replies. It's not like her to be cheerful about doing chores.
"You're not supposed to be helping me, you know," Minamitsu says. She looks up at me and grins sheepishly. "I got demoted to swabbie for sinking a bar."
"A... bar?" I ask.
"As in a building?"
"On dry land?"
"Yup." Her grin widens. "Totally worth it."
...I don't really know what to say to that. Sekibanki seems to have fallen asleep again, so I quietly slide the door shut and start making my way outside, careful to mind my footing.
"Hey," Nue says, floating soundlessly up behind me. Why didn't I think of that? "There's, uh, something I've been meaning to ask you about."
"What kind of something?" I reply. "If it's another one of your pranks..."
"No, no, nothing to do with that! Or, well, maybe kind of." She stops, and I stop too. "See, Hijiri's been getting on my case about getting along better with humans."
I frown slightly, not sure where she's going with this.
"I'm not trying to get back at her or anything! It's just, well, it's... hard." She looks away uncomfortably. "I kinda freak people out without meaning to. I don't really... know anything about humans. Dumb, right?" She grins awkwardly.
"So, well, I mean, since you live there and everything... I thought you might be able to help me out," she finishes.
"Um. Shouldn't you be asking Miss Byakuren this?"
"...it's embarassing, okay?"
"Urk. Well, er... have you heard of the Grassroots Youkai Network?"
"It's a group of youkai that are trying to get along better with humans. Well, sort of. They're all much weaker than you, so it's more about not getting exterminated than anything else. But they know a whole bunch of stuff about not scaring people! Some of them even live in the village, like me!"
"I don't really go to their meetings much, because I'm trying to make myself more scary, not less. I don't actually know why humans aren't scared of me so... I don't really know how to help you. Sorry."
"Yeah. It was kind of a dumb thing to ask anyway. Forget I said anything."
"Ah, wait!" I grab Nue's hand to stop her leaving.
"...I can try to help you, but I really don't think it'll do much good..." I say.
"Nnnng... gah, alright, leggo." Nue shakes free of my grip, and takes a deep breath. "This is dumb. I'm dumb."
"You're not dumb at all! Trying to be friendly to humans is a really nice thing to do! Miss Byakuren would be proud of you!"
Nue gives me an odd look. "I'm seriously starting to wonder if you're really a youkai. You sure you haven't turned into some kind of saint or goddess or something without telling anyone?"
I stare blankly at Nue for a few seconds before I burst out laughing. Nue laughs too.
"Yeah, you're right," Nue says after we've calmed down. "I guess I should talk to these Grassroots guys. Suck in the ego and ask the dumb questions."
"I'll let you know when their next meeting is," I reply, "and maybe you could visit the village some time so I -"
A loud crash and a muffled, very un-Buddhist curse echo down the hall. There's just enough light for me to see Miss Toramaru sprawled face-down on the floor, with a tray, a cup of tea and several bowls of food littering the ground in front of her.
"Sorry Cap'n! Deck's still a mite slippery!" Minamitsu's voice calls.
Nue and I are both out of sight before she's finished talking.
Once we're safely out in the courtyard, I finally find the ones behind the duel that woke me up.
"I won!" Koishi cheers, balancing on one leg with both her arms raised above her head. Shinmyoumaru is sitting on the ground behind her, pouting.
A handful of spectators applaud politely.
"Who else wants to challenge me~?" Koishi asks.
[ ] Time to give the umbrella thief her comeuppance! [ ] Time to head back to the village! [ ] Time to visit the Scarlet Devil Mansion! [ ] Time out! I want to go back to bed...
[x] Time to give the umbrella thief her comeuppance!
It's still a bit early in the day, but...
"I will!" I say, stepping forward.
"Yaaay~!" Koishi cheers, prancing over to the far side of the courtyard. Shinmyoumaru scrambles to get out of the way.
I float up into the air, stretching my still-sleepy muscles to - wait where did -
I raise my arm just in time to block Koishi's heels from coming down on my head. She bounces off me, finishing her front flip as she flies over me.
So it's going to be an endurance-type duel then.
I whirl around and lunge forward to attack while her back's turned, but she's not done yet. Her foot connects with my stomach without even looking, and the other one follows it right after. She turns back around to face me, sneezes (what) and bounces toward me, twirling in a spray of petal-like danmaku that launches me back the way she came.
I recover just in time to dodge a thorny vine covered in orange roses that suddenly sprouts through the air where I was a moment ago. Thinking fast, I call down some hail danmaku to distract her, dive forward under the thin red laser spinning slowly toward me, pop open my umbrella and twirl it as I spring up beneath her. Surprise!
I follow it up with a high kick and some point-blank danmaku, then bring my now-closed umbrella down hard, smacking her across the courtyard like she just did to me.
"Wheeeee~" How can she be so cheerful when I'm trying to beat her up!?
Koishi rights herself and poses on one leg again for a moment before zig-zagging up and down toward me. I time my dodge to carry myself over her at her lowest point but -
- suddenly a bright flash knocks me upward, and then Koishi is right in front of me for a moment before two purple tentacles (why does she have tentacles!?) with flappy ends shoot out of her sleeves and smash me into the wall, followed by a faceful of giant purple heart that knocks me into another one of those circling lasers.
I've been struck by lightning a few times before. Koishi's lasers are nowhere near that bad, but the memory alone is enough to make me shudder.
...why would a laser feel anything like lightning? This girl is weird! She's also twirling toward me with that flower danmaku again so I stop thinking about it and will myself upward. Koishi comes out of her spin with a flourish and a grin, facing a blank wall of stone. Then my heel drops onto her collarbone.
Hehehe~ maybe I should try beoming a poet?
My momentum is carrying me into a front flip, so I grab Koishi by the scruff of the neck and spin her around with me, pitching her across the couryard for a second time. She catches herself quickly, but I don't want to give her time to react, so I kick one of my geta off at her. It hits her neatly on the forehead. That gives me enough time to throw myself at her, swinging my umbrella in an upward arc and smacking her skyward.
I quickly slip my foot back into my geta as it falls.
Then I grab a broom that was leaning against the wall - I've crossed the courtyard again - channel as much of my energy into it as I can, and hurl it after her. It obediently whacks her back down to me, where I'm waiting with a vicious uppercut.
Koishi flops though the air like fish out of water. She rubs her chin for a moment as she sits up in midair.
She's still smiling!
"Do you not feel pain or something?" I ask in disbelief. Koishi closes her eyes, tilts her head and smiles even wider.
"Maybe?" she says. Then she opens her eyes wide in a vacant grin. "Or maybe you just haven't hurt me yet~♪"
I blink. She's gone.
Searing pain shoots through my jaw as Koishi's knee smashes into my chin, snapping my neck back so fast I think for a moment she's taken my whole head off. It hurts so much I barely even notice the flurry of blows that grind me into the wall a moment later, or being wrapped up in her tentacles and crushed like someone squeezing the juice out of an orange.
But I do notice the tornado of multicolored roses that follows, sweeping me up into what can only be described as an explosion made of flowers. I thought only Yuuka could do that.
Finally, I feel the refreshing sensation of cool, moist stone against my cheek.
My everything hurts.
After a moment to catch my breath, I gingerly peel myself off the pavement.
"I won again!" Koishi cheers, balancing on one leg with both her arms raised above her head. I pull myself into a sitting position on the ground behind her, pouting.
I don't hear any applause. I think that explosion might have damaged my hearing for a bit.
I swallow my pride as a karakasa obake and use my umbrella as crutch to help me get up and shuffle over to where Nue and Shinmyoumaru are sitting.
"Man, that looked painful," Nue says, cringing sympathetically.
"Ow," I confirm.
"She's always like that!" Shinmyoumaru whines. "Nothing I do to her seems to have any effect! It's not fair!"
I can't help smiling, despite everything. A tiny inchling waving her arms around like that is just too cute.
"Well if she's neighbours with that Yuugi woman, I can totally see why," Sekibanki's voice says. I blink and look around, finally spotting her floating right next to Nue.
I think that explosion must have damaged my eyesight too.
"Ugh," I groan. "Anyone who's used to that wouldn't even feel me hitting her."
"Stop making fun of small people!" Shinmyoumaru snarls, stamping her foot and brandishing her needlesword at them.
"Or what? Death by a thousand paper cuts?" Nue taunts smugly. Something tells me she's been doing this the whole time.
"Yoooooouuuuuuuu!!! I challenge you to a spellcard duel! I'll teach you not to underestimate the kobito!"
"You're on, short stuff!" Nue tosses back, blurring sideways to dodge Shinmyoumaru's retaliatory sword-swipe.
"Yeesh," Sekibanki says, having been just barely missed by the swing.
"Did I wake you up?" I ask sheepishly.
"Nah, that sassy sailor getting a verbal spanking was way louder," Sekibanki says. "She has a heck of a mouth on her."
"Minamitsu? She can be a bit, uh... colorful."
"I was going to say creative."
We fall silent as we watch the duel between Nue and Shinmyoumaru. Or try to. I keep finding myself getting distracted by Koishi, who is doing the weirdest dance ever as she cheers on... someone. I can't really tell whose side she's on.
"Dammit," Sekibanki grumbles. "I know that crazy girl is still here, but I keep losing track of her. It's like I forget about her as soon as I take my eyes off her."
"Uh, really? I was just thinking that she was distracting me from the fight."
Sekibanki frowns at me. "Maybe getting kidnapped and beaten up by her makes her easier to remember?"
"It's not something I recommend trying," I reply, grinning weakly.
"Yeah. Say, uh, d'you think we'd be able to grab a bite to eat around here? I don't want to sound greedy after they put us up for the night, but..."
[ ] I'm sure they won't mind! We could help out for a bit as thanks, even. [ ] Maybe we should go home and eat instead. It's not the best, but it would be a waste if it went bad. [ ] Or we could ask Sakuya. She's always up early to feed all the maids, and there's always some left over!
Totally not jealous of Revenant One getting three updates out in the time it takes me to do one.
[x] I'm sure they won't mind! We could help out for a bit as thanks, even.
"I'm sure they won't mind!" I say. "We could always stay and help out for a bit as thanks, if it bothers you."
"Uh, well, I'd like to," Sekibanki says, "but I kinda can't even brush my hair by myself so -"
"Wait, no, I didn't mean - you don't have to -"
Sekibanki dodges too slowly to avoid me putting her on my lap, where I start straightening her hair out and retying her ribbon.
"...you really don't have to keep doing this, you know," Sekibanki says after a while.
"Don't be silly. You can't go around looking like you just got out of bed all the time."
"Nnguh, that's not what I... gah, never mind." She squirms as I work out a particularly stubborn knot.
"...thanks," she says finally.
"You're welcome!" I reply.
We sit in silence for a while as we watch Nue and Shinmyoumaru battle it out. I know Nue's not that much stronger than me - I've beaten her a few times, but not many - so it's a chance to see just how good Shinmyoumaru really is at spellcard duels.
...she really wasn't exaggerating her stories much after all.
"Ah, there you are."
I look up, startled, and see Miss Toramaru approaching.
"Ichirin wanted to know if you were staying for breakfast."
"Oh! Um, we did kind of want to stay a little longer, so if it's okay with you..."
"Of course," Miss Toramaru says, smiling. "You're welcome here any time, Kogasa." Then her smile turns into a small frown. "Are you all right? You look like you've just been in a fight."
I glance down at myself. Being pounded into walls and paving stones hasn't been kind to my clothes - they're all smudged and dirty.
"Er, well, I kind of was..." I say sheepishly.
"You were? It wasn't one of our disciples causing you trouble, was it?" Her eyes flick toward Nue with obvious annoyance.
"No, no, I challenged Koishi after she beat Shimyoumaru."
"The satori girl?" Miss Toramaru looks surprised. "She's here?"
"She's standing right behind you, actually," I point out.
"Gah!" Sekibanki exclaims.
Miss Toramaru turns around. Koishi swiftly zips around her, staying out of her line of sight. She grins and waves at me and Sekibanki.
"I don't see -" Miss Toramaru starts to turn back to me, Koishi starts to dart around her again, and I snatch at the tentacle-things attatched to her ankles.
I wince as Koishi trips, hitting the floor face-first with a painful-sounding crunch that makes Miss Toramaru literally jump as she whirls around.
"...oops?" I say guiltily.
"Owwie," Koishi says, sitting up and rubbing her nose.
"Are you okay, Miss Komeiji?" Miss Toramaru asks, kneeling down.
"Maybe?" Koishi says, sounding confused. That's actually the first time I've heard her sound anything but cheerful.
"I, ah, I'm sorry," I say, starting to get up. Sekibanki floats off my lap and hovers beside me as usual.
Koishi gets to her feet and stares at me vacantly. She brings her hand up to her forehead, pushing her hat up, and slides it over to me, touching my eyebrows.
"You're taller than me," she says, still looking completely blank.
"I, uh, I guess so? Are you alright?"
Koishi tilts her head to one side. "No? Half of me is right and half of me is left," she replies. "I'm not that weird. That's for mirror people."
"...what?" I ask.
"Don't worry, I confuse me too," Koishi says, and rubs her nose again. Then she licks her hand.
"I taste funny," she says. I suddenly realize her hand is stained red.
"First blood!" Koishi cheers. She wipes the blood off her upper lip with her finger and stuffs it in my mouth what is she doing
"Mmmnrrf!?" I jerk my head backward, trying to get away from her, but I'm still sore from the fight so now the world is spinning and -
- it's my turn to crash to the floor.
"Oh dear," Miss Toramaru says.
A few minutes later me, Sekibanki and Koishi are all sitting at a table in the otherwise-deserted main hall.
"Yaaay! Food!" Koishi cheers, looking way too happy for someone with two bloodsoaked tissues up her nose.
"And it's your food this time, so don't try to steal mine!" I say.
"Why would I do that?" Koishi asks, mouth already half-full.
"That's what you... do you even remember last night?"
"Last night?" Koishi pauses in thought for a few seconds. "Nope!"
I stare at her. It takes me a while to realise I'm feeding Sekibanki while I'm at it - I'm doing it automatically by now.
...that could get awkward when she recovers.
"Do you normally just forget everything?" I ask.
"Yep! Everyone forgets about me, even me," Koishi replies.
"But I still remember you! You stole my umbrella!"
"I did?" Koishi asks, exactly like she did last night. But after a moment her face lights up. "Oh yeah, I did! And then you brought Kokoro over to play!"
"I didn't go down there for your sake!"
"I remembered~ I remembered~ Sis is going to be so happy~"
"What's so great about remembering that?" I grumble.
Koishi throws her arms up in the air. "I promised Sis I'd make her breakfast in the morning!"
"...you promised her this when we visited?"
"That was two days ago, you know?"
"It doesn't matter~ I remembered~"
Talking to her is only making my head hurt more, so I focus on my food instead. Koishi seems content to eat in silence too, but the peace doesn't last for long.
"Victory!" Shinmyoumaru cheers as she floats into the room. Nue follows her in, looking really dirty and grinning self-consciously.
"You missed a good match," Nue says, rubbing the back of her head.
"If even the loser says that, it must have been good," Sekibanki says.
"Hey, get your own!" I say, shooing Shinmyoumaru away from my breakfast. "Why does everyone keep trying to steal my food?"
"Don't worry, she won't eat much. Just a little bit," Nue says.
"Ah!", Shinmyoumaru tuts, holding one finger up disapprovingly.
"Sorry, sorry, force of habit. My bad, okay?" Nue says, raising her hands in surrender. "Hey, what happened to you?" she suddenly asks Koishi.
"I tripped!" Koishi replies.
"I, um, kind of tripped her..." I say.
"You did?" Nue says, staring at me in mock disbelief. Then she pats me on the back. "Well done. I knew you had it in you!"
I clap my hands over my ears a little too late. Even Kyouko's indoor voice is deafening.
"Wooooow...." Koishi says, staring at a spot about a foot above my head.
"Ugh," Sekibanki groans.
"I know Lady Hijiri approves of you waking up the whole temple, but do you really have to do it in here?" Miss Ichirin grumbles as she emerges from the kitchen.
"Sorry!" Kyouko says, "I just sort of follow my stomach in the mornings..."
Ichirin sets another tray of food down on the table. I feel her gaze sweeping over me and try to look as small as possible.
"Miss Houjuu, why are you so filthy before breakfast?" she asks, in a tone that sounds far too nice.
"Miss Sukuna here was just giving me a lesson in courtesy," Nue shamelessly replies. Shinmyoumaru looks smug.
"I see." For a moment I think I see a glint of amusement in Miss Ichirin's eyes, but I don't dare look too closely. "I trust it was memorable?"
"Very," Nue agrees, meeting her death stare with a wide grin.
Kyouko looks like she's searching for enlightenment in the table's wood grain.
"Seconds please!" Koishi cheers.
Breakfast is very quiet after that.
Once we're done eating I clean myself up a bit - and finally manage to find a comb - before tracking down Kyouko in front of the temple.
"Ready to head off?" she asks.
"Actually, we were wondering if you needed any help cleaning up after the storm," I say. Kyouko looks surprised. (Yes!)
"Are you sure? I mean, we could use some help, but there's a lot of work to do..."
"I'll survive," I say. Sekibanki suddenly looks apprehensive.
Kyouko was serious when she said there was a lot of work to do. Most of it's just normal day-to-day stuff, but the storm did cause some damage, especially to the trees. And of course the ground is all soggy from the rain and people are tracking mud everywhere, slowing everything down and making even more mess to clean up.
"Aha, you two! Go grab rakes and help Miss Ichirin out the back! Come on, hop to it!"
Kyouko also seems to be in charge of all kinds of things now. Or at least she barks orders and people do what she says, so she may as well be in charge. Most of it involves yelling at people for slacking off, which they seem to do a lot, but she's also juggling a bunch of different jobs and coordinating people to get them all done.
Plus she's the one telling me and Nue what to do. I'm fine with that, since it means I only need to worry about one thing at a time, but I'm kind of surprised to see Nue obediently following her instructions. Or anyone's instructions really.
"Target sighted! Wheeee~"
"Hey! We just finished sweeping those up!"
I'm not sure why, but Koishi won't stop following me around. Sometimes she actually helps, but most of the time she just plays around and ends up making our job harder.
"Why would anyone want to dive into a pile of wet leaves, anyway?"
"I'm a leaf monster! Graaaaah!"
"Gack! Let go of me! You're all wet!"
Eventually, though, we manage to finish everything Kyouko has for us to do.
"Phew," I say. "Living at a temple is a lot of work!"
"You get used to it after a while," Kyouko replies.
"That was fun!" Koishi says.
"For you, maybe," Nue grumbles.
"Nnnnnh!" Shinmyoumaru says, stretching. "Well, I don't know about you, but I should probably be off. Reimu'll be wondering where I went."
"I hope she's not angry at you anymore," I say.
"If the Scarlets have given her a nice big 'donation' for her help, she should be in a good mood. If not..." she shudders.
"Ah! I nearly forgot about that!"
"Well, no point sitting here wondering. See you at the carnival!" Shinmyoumaru says.
"Come again!" Nue calls after her.
"I should be going too," I say.
"Yay!" Koishi cheers, jumping to her feet. I get the sinking feeling I'm not going to lose her any time soon.
"Thanks for, well, everything," Sekibanki says. "And sorry I couldn't help out more."
"Don't worry about it," Kyouko replies. "See you at the carnival! Lady Hijiri said we'll all be there!"
"So!" Koishi says once we're out the gate, "where are we going next?"
[ ] To the Village! There's always stuff to do there. [ ] To the Scarlet Devil Mansion! I bet they could use some help too! [ ] To the Prismriver Mansion! I bet Kyouko hasn't had the chance to tell them yet! [ ] To somewhere else! (write-in)
Why is this the Koishi option. There wasn't supposed to be a Koishi option.
[x] To the Scarlet Devil Mansion! I bet they could use some help too!
"Why are you following me around, anyway?" I ask.
"Because you're interesting!" Koishi replies, still smiling. "I don't normally get interested in things, so it must be important!"
"Uh... well, can you at least try not to cause trouble for everyone?"
I'm not really convinced she means it - or that she'll even remember it - but I think that's about the best I'm going to get out of her. I take to the air, and Koishi spirals after me.
I love the air after a good storm. It's clean, cool and fresh, as if the rain has washed all its troubles away. I watch the rain-drenched grass and trees glittering in the morning sun as I climb high above Gensoukyou. It really is a beautiful sight.
I turn my attention towards Misty Lake, and immediately spot something going on in front of the Scarlet Devil Mansion. Some structures of some kind have been put up, and lots of small figures - fairies, probably - are scurrying around. I can't really tell what's going on from this distance, so I fly over the lake for a closer look.
About twenty or so fairies are gathered in front of the Mansion. It's an odd group; big fairies, small fairies, laughing fairies, panicking fairies, some wearing blue, some wearing red. One of them even seems to be wearing a dress made of metal. They're all hard at work, measuring, hammering, carring planks or something of the sort, building what looks like a stage and marking out places for stalls. It's kind of an unusual thing for fairies to be doing.
Normally fairies only get together in big groups when they have something to bring them together, like an Incident of some sort. Even the Mansion's fairies tend to work (or not work) in like-minded groups. Seeing a crowd like this outside of a party or something is weird. This being where it is, I could imagine Miss Sakuya managing to keep them all together and on the job, but I don't see her anywhere. I can't even see Meiling at the gate; it's being guarded by even more fairies.
Meiling is always at the gate in the mornings. It's her favourite time of day!
I drift down to the edge of the construction site. The grass here is perfectly dry, as if the storm last night never happened. I've barely even touched down when one of the fairies teleports in front of me. It's not like Miss Sakuya's startling appearances - more like how Miss Reimu does it. It takes time and makes a distinctive noise.
She's exceptionally tall for a fairy, and has long purple hair, which is also a bit odd. She's definitely the kind of fairy you only find at the Mansion.
"I'm terribly sorry Miss, but as you can see, the carnival venue is not yet prepared. If you could please return a little later -" she begins, bowing politely.
"Er, actually, I came here to see if there's anything I can do to help out," I reply. The fairy freezes mid-syllable.
"Oh. I, ah, er... is that allowed?" she asks, glancing between me and the notes she's holding in confusion.
"Why are you asking me?"
"I don't know! Miss Sakuya just lead us all out here, gave me this clipboard and vanished! I have no idea what I'm doing!" she wails.
"Well, if it helps, you seem to be doing it pretty well," Sekibanki offers. "Most productive bunch of fairies I ever saw."
The fairy looks over her shoulder at the group. "I have no idea why Miss Sakuya picked any of us," she groans. "There's kitchen fairies, basement fairies, gardeners, window cleaners... none of us do anything involving hammers and nails, how is this supposed to - ah, wait, hey! That doesn't go -"
She teleports away to correct one group of fairies, then does it another three times in rapid succession, before reappearing in front of us.
"I'm sorry!" she says, bowing again. "You're Lady Flandre's friends, aren't you? I think I saw you here a few nights ago."
"Ah, yes! I'm Kogasa, this is Sekibanki and, uh," I glance around for a moment before I spot Koishi pestering one of the workers, "that's Koishi."
"My name is Sophia," Sophia replies, bowing yet again. "Not that it matters. I'm just an unimportant cook."
- why is Koishi holding a hammer this isn't going to end well -
"Well, you look plenty important to me!" I say, trying to cheer her up. "You look just like Miss Sakuya, jumping around and keeping everyone organized!"
I think I must have said the wrong thing, because a look of horror washes over Sophia's face.
"Ahahahaha, I'm nothing like her! No way, right? She's weird and spooky and scares everyone half to death there's no way a fairy like me could be anything like-"
"Um, I didn't mean -"
"Nooooooooo!" She flails around hysterically before vanishing again. I can't see where she went.
"...oops?" I say.
"That... was a reaction," Sekibanki says.
"Don't worry, it wasn't your fault," Koishi says, looking at me as she hugs Sekibanki from behind.
"Gyaaaaaaah! When did you get there!?" Sekibanki replies.
"You're really tense, you know?" Koishi says, pinching Sekibanki's cheek.
"You think!?" Sekibanki shoots back, trying and failing to get free.
"When Sis gets tense, I giver her a shoulder massage! That always does the trick!" Koishi says. Then her face falls. "You don't have shoulders though..."
"Just lemme go already!"
Surprisingly, Koishi does exactly as asked.
"Fairies are no fun," she says suddenly. "Let's go find someone else!"
Koishi marches towards the gate, and I hurry to catch up. The two fairies guarding it look awfully familiar.
"Good morning!" I say.
"Good morning!" Koishi echoes.
"Good morning!" the guardsfairy with short black hair replies.
"Welcome back, Miss Kogasa," the one with long blond hair adds, bowing politely. "Have you come to visit Lady Flandre?"
"Er, something like that. Will I have to fight you again, or..."
"No, no, Miss Meiling had a chat with us about that," short hair says.
"We have a guest list now!" long hair adds, nodding.
"We, er, don't actually have a key to the gate though," short hair continues, "so you'll have to fly over it."
"Oh. Well, thanks!" I say.
"Any time!" long hair replies.
We fly over the gate as they said, and let ourselves in the front door. It's eerily silent inside.
"Oooh, spoooooky~" Koishi says from behind me.
"Where is everyone?" Sekibanki asks.
"I dunno. Sakuya?" I try.
"Wait, don't just -"
"Do you know your way around in here?" Sekibanki asks, suddenly sounding nervous.
"I think I can find my way to the library," I say.
"Well, uh, you might need to, 'cause the door just disappeared."
I look around. We're standing in the middle of a long hallway.
"Oh. It does that sometimes."
Sekibanki doesn't look very reassured. Koishi just looks at me expectantly.
"Well then, let's go!" I say brightly, and set off.
We wander around for an awfully long time. The mansion is even more mazelike than usual today. But we do eventually end up in the library! What we see when we get there makes us all stop short.
The library is in ruins. There's scorch marks on the walls, great big holes blasted in the ceiling and fragments of wood and stone everywhere. Whole rows of giant bookshelves have been knocked over, smashing into each other and spilling books everywhere. Even the carpet's been ripped up in places. The books themselves seem to be undamaged though - that's Patchy for you.
But the most astonishing thing in the room is the gigantic mountain of books. It's as if someone gathered half the books in the library and threw them in a haphazard heap in the middle of the room. It's taller than my house!
It takes me a minute to realize there are other people in the room. Quite a few of them, actually.
"Yo," one of the maids says as she walks by with a huge armful of books.
Wait, that's Marisa. She's wearing an immaculate maid uniform and her hair has been neatly brushed, braided and tied up, but it's definitely her!
"What's going on?" I ask, sounding only about half as confused as I feel.
"Spring cleaning!" Marisa calls back.
"Aha!" an accusatory voice calls. Flandre is standing on top of the huge pile of books, dressed as a maid just like Marisa. Her leggings are red instead of black though.
"I have something important for you!" Flandre declares, pointing at me. "Stay right there!"
A moment later, another Flandre - so she's doing that today - pops out from behind a bookshelf and presents... a neatly-folded bundle of clothes?
"Today is Scarlet Devil Maid Day! Everybody has to wear one!" the second Flandre announces, smiling widely.
I slowly accept the uniform. Flandre looks at me expectantly. Then she spots Koishi.
"Flan!" Koishi says, throwing her arms up.
"Koishi!" Flandre responds, copying her.
They both dive forward for a hug... and somehow pass right through each other. Flandre flops onto the carpet, while Koishi stops short, looking around in confusion. Or at least pretending to - the mischievous grin on her face is a bit of a giveaway. Flandre bounds back up as though nothing happened, grabs both of us by the arm and drags us off.
A few minutes later I'm wearing a maid outfit. So is Koishi. Sekibanki's ribbon has been replaced with a frilly headdress.
Flandre even tied a minature maid headdress on my umbrella!
"All right!" Flandre cheers. "With this many maids we'll have the library cleaned up in no time!"
"What exactly are we - wah!"
Flandre grabs my hand again and rockets into the air, hurtling out of Patchouli's bathroom and barrelling between bookshelves until she jerks to a stop in front of a row of fallen shelves.
"First things first, we gotta pick up all the books!"
Yank. Zoom. Stop. Huge pile of books.
"Stack them all up here!"
Whoosh. Screech. Feeling dizzy. Alice and Hourai dressed as maids. Lots of dolls.
"Then we gotta clean up the broken stuff and fix up the shelves!"
Wrist hurts. World spinning. Patchy and Koa dressed as maids. Rumia? Rumia. Also a maid.
"Me, Patchy and Koa know where all the books go, so we put them away!"
Breakfast rebelling! Must return to bathroom!
"Hey, are you alri - EEEEP!"
Flandre leaps out of the way as I... somehow don't ruin the carpet. It just sort of floats there without hitting the ground.
That's gross. I puke again.
"Oh dear. What brought this on?" I open my eyes to see Patchouli kneeling beside me.
"Too fast..." I groan.
"I'm sorry!" Flandre squeaks. She's wide-eyed and actually looks more shaken than me.
"I'll be alright in a minute," I say.
"Could you fetch me a bucket please, Flandre?" Patchouli asks. I feel a rush of wind as Flandre leaves.
"If you're still feeling ill, you may as well get it all out," Patchouli says, gently patting me on the back. Not helping!
"I just need to wait until my head stops spinning," I say.
"Rough night?" Koakuma's voice asks.
"Rough morning," I reply.
"Already? Ouch. I only got up like half an hour ago."
"I am aware of that, Koakuma," Patchouli says testily.
"Well excuse me for needing to sleep, boss!" Koakuma replies. Patchouli just sighs.
"...you look kind of weird in a maid uniform," I say.
Patchouli looks down at herself. Her usual clothes are loose and soft and make her look kind of... motherly, I guess. Kind of like Miss Keine in a way. But this is much closer fitting, and shows off her surprisingly lithe figure. Her hair is tied up in a ponytail too, leaving her neck exposed. She still looks older than me, but it's more like an older sister.
I don't think I could have imagined the "normal" Patchy wearing a short skirt with bright purple... whatever these things are called, and half-sitting on the floor like she is now.
"It was Flandre's idea," she says, acting like she's apologising for something. "She can get quite enthusiastic about things, as you are aware."
"I think it looks good on you," I say. Patchouli chokes.
"...you are not the first person to say that to me today. Nor the second."
"That's 'cause it's true, boss. You should show off those legs more often," Koakuma says as she returns from whatever it was she was doing. Her own legs are red, a darker shade than Flandre's.
Patchouli looks like she has a headache too.
"-n't find any in the library had to go ask the fairies -" Flandre says as she returns.
"Just put it down over there, please," Patchouli says. I try not to look at the levitating ball of sick.
"Is she gonna be okay?" Flandre asks, fidgeting and looking really nervous.
"Kogasa is fine, Flandre. She merely needs to sit quietly and recover for a while," Patchouli replies. Flandre looks relieved, but still worried.
"I'm okay," I say, grinning as cheerfully as I can.
Patchouli helps me up.
"I'm afraid I have very little in the way of hospitality to offer you," she says, gesturing at her desk, covered and surrounded by books and debris, "but I do at least have a chair you can sit in. It's an improvement over the floor."
"Thanks," I say. And sit. Flandre hovers nearby.
"I'm okay, really," I tell her.
"...I hurt people a lot. I thought I might've hurt you," she says after a moment.
"You just made me really dizzy for a bit. Koishi hurt me more just this morning." Actually, that's probably why I felt so dizzy. Even youkai take time to recover.
"She did? Was it bad?"
"Er, well, I did kind of challenge her, so it was my fault really... I didn't know you knew her too."
"She comes to visit every now and then. Sis doesn't even think she's real; Meiling and I are the only ones who can see her. I guess that's 'cause she's clever and I'm crazy."
I immediately get up and ruffle Flandre's hair. "You're not crazy, Flandre."
"Normal people don't hurt their friends," she sniffles.
"Okay, that's enough," I say, hugging her. "Don't start that now. You have a library to clean up, remember? And three other selves to supervise. And more maids to find!"
Flandre makes a noise halfway between a sob and a chuckle.
"You haven't done anything bad today. At all. Blame Koishi for knocking me on the head. Twice. And Nue for making me help tear up a tree."
That sounded more like a laugh! "...you tore up a tree?"
I grin. "Yep! The storm blew it over, so we had to get rid of it. Kyouko told us to get the axe, but Nue just marched up and started ripping it to bits!"
Flandre giggles. I let her go.
"I'll join in the cleaning when I'm feeling better, okay?"
Flandre takes a deep breath. "Okay! Clean library, here I come!"
She waits until she's far enough away not to knock me over before getting up to full speed.
Someone taps me on the back. I turn around, and immediately get a faceful of feathers.
"Super duster striiiiike!" Koishi cheers, waving the duster in my face. But then she stops and holds out... my umbrella.
"You left something behind~"
"Um... thank you," I say, taking it.
"Uh-uh-uh!" Koishi replies, stabbing her feather duster over my shoulder suddenly. "This is a no fly zone! All maids must proceed by foot unless accessing elevated areas, by order of General Scarlet!"
Patchouli stares at her, leaning back to avoid the feathers. "Understood, Miss...?"
"Koishi! Komeiji Koishi!" Koishi beams.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Komeiji. My name is Patchouli. Would you kindly stop threatening me with a cleaning implement?"
With that, Koishi prances off between the bookshelves. Patchouli stares after her for a moment.
"...how odd. She feels familiar, but I cannot recall meeting anyone by that name before," she says at last.
"She does that to people," I say.
Patchouli shrugs. "I brought you some water," she says, apparently having only just remembered the glass she was holding herself.
"Ah, thank you!"
"If you need anything else, simply call for me. I am aware of everything that occurs in my domain. Or so I thought," she adds, looking back the way Koishi left with a frown.
I stay near Patchouli's desk for a bit longer, until my head and stomach stop protesting. Patchy herself comes and goes a few times - walking, oddly enough - to carry books to and from their proper places on the shelves. But other than that, it's all quiet.
[ ] Ask Patchouli if I can help with anything. [ ] Go looking for Alice and Hourai. It should be quiet around them. [ ] What's Rumia doing here? [ ] Leaving Koishi alone is probably a bad idea... [ ] Better show Flandre I'm okay. She probably won't overdo it again today. [ ] Miss Marisa looks way less scary as a maid. [ ] I still haven't found Sakuya and Meiling... [ ] I spy with my little eye three soon-to-be-maids passing by!
Look at me beating up the umbrella again. I'm turning into Platemask. This is supposed to be a happy story!
Speaking of which, what do you folks think of the pace so far? No, not the update pace, weekly is shit and I know it. I mean the story. Too silly? Too edgy? Too boring? Too many crappy OCs? I can't tell if I'm getting better or worse. My characterization feels worse, or at least less consistent. How are you supposed to write characters that are more than vehicles for shenanigans anyway?
Your pacing seems fine to me. Consistent characterization is always desirable, but it's more important for stories with a major plot - if people act out of character temporarily in this sort of story it's unlikely to even be noticed.
I'm feeling better, and sitting around is kind of boring, so I decide to get up and have a look around.
I make sure to keep track of where I'm going. You wouldn't normally think of a room full of books being big enough to get lost in, but Patchouli's library is huge. It's so big it sometimes doesn't feel like I'm indoors at all, and I can almost imagine rivers flowing through it and trees growing out of the floor.
Actually, that sounds like a great way to decorate it! All this red does get boring after a while. It's the sort of thing Miss Remilia would do, too. An indoor river might be a bit over the top, but a fountain like the ones they have outside would be really relaxing. Maybe I should suggest it to Meiling?
I shake myself out of my silly thoughts when I come to a part of the library that isn't completely wrecked. I'm not quite sure if it's already been cleaned up or if it wasn't blown to bits in the first place, but the shelves are bare so I guess it's new. Unless Patchouli decided it would be a good time to reorganize or something.
The whole gently-curving aisle is littered with stacks of books. Some are right out in the middle of the walkway, while others are up against the ends of the shelves, with little notes pinned up above them. I can't figure out what the notes mean - lots of strange words and unfamiliar abbreviations - but I guess they're something to do with where the books are meant to go.
I don't see anyone doing any sorting though, until I spot Rumia standing next to of one of the larger piles. She's dressed as a maid, like everyone else - I think this might be the first time I've seen her without that ribbon of hers. She looks up as I approach.
"Oh. Hello Kogasa," she says, looking at me over the top of the glasses she's wearing. They look strangely cute on her.
"Hello! What are you doing here?", I reply.
"Book sorting, by category." She gestures at the pile of books.
"So I see," I say, "but, um, I kind of meant the Mansion in general. I don't see you here very often."
It's true. I've seen her at parties and stuff, or talking to Meiling or Sakuya outside the Mansion, but she never seemed to be interested in anything here.
"Cirno told me there was going to be a party and they were short-staffed, so I came to help out. Then Flandre happened," Rumia says, shrugging. "Not what I was expecting, but I don't mind."
"She can be a bit enthusiastic sometimes..." I say.
"It's better than the alternative," Rumia cryptically replies. "What brings you here?"
"I came to help out too! With the party or the cleanup. Koa told me about both."
"Did she tell you who caused all this?" Rumia asks, gesturing at the pockmarked walls and ceiling with a frown. "It doesn't look like Flan's doing this time."
"I think Marisa had something to do with it," I say.
We both pause and look up.
"...looks like a Spark or seven, yes," Rumia says, shuddering.
"But she had help," I add. "Koakuma said there was a fairy too."
"What kind of fairy could cause this much damage?"
"...I dunno," I say at last.
Cirno's the strongest fairy I know of - strong enough to beat me if I let my guard down - but I can't picture her causing this kind of damage. Not that she'd want to, since she's good friends with everyone here, including Flandre.
"So!" I say, changing the subject. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Rumia looks at me over her glasses again. "How's your Latin?"
I do my best to look confused. Rumia grins.
"Patchouli's a bit of an omniglot, so -"
"...Patchouli speaks a lot of languages, so the books aren't sorted by language. They're sorted by topic. If you want to figure out where they go, you have to be able to read them," Rumia explains.
I look at the pile of books and immediately spot a problem.
"I can't read any of these!"
"That's probably because this section is for books on the subject of magic originating from Western Europe and the British Isles," Rumia replies. "Africa and the Middle East are back there," she points back the way I came, "the Indian subcontinent is over there," she points further down the row of shelves, "and so on. China and Japan are right down the far end, where Alice is still cleaning up."
"...I didn't understand any of that," I sheepishly admit.
"Can you tell which books are enchanted?" Rumia asks.
"I, uh, I think so?"
"Well, that's a start."
Rumia points out a few of the piles and gives me some simple directions, and I start doing my best to help sort the thousands of books. I can more or less tell which books are magical, which were written by youkai and which were written by humans just by picking them up. But they're sorted by what they're about, not by who wrote them, so that doesn't really help much.
It does let me spot a few out-of-place books though.
"I found a weird floppy book in this pile!"
Rumia squints at the book I'm holding up. "That would be the original edition of Roget's Thesaurus, which belongs in Linguistics, on the other side of the library. Wrong section pile."
Rumia tries to explain a few of the more common words, particularly in languages called "English", "Latin" and "Greek", and even writes them down on a piece of paper, so I can pick out the books with them in the title and bring them to her. It actually works pretty well. She can't read anywhere near as many languages as Patchy though.
"Cuneiform? Really, Patchouli?"
"What language is that?" I ask.
"One that went extinct before books were invented," Rumia says, flipping the book open. "And it's printed, too! Why would anyone print a book in a dead language!?"
"What's it about? Can you read it?"
"Heck no. Throw it on the too hard pile."
Rumia seems to know a lot about books and languages. Most of the books we're sorting are about magic, which neither of us are any good at, but the way she keeps talking about legends and history makes me wonder if she was actually there. It wouldn't be too surprising if she'd been around back then - I'm centuries old myself, though I don't really remember much - but the stories she's telling are from the other side of the world!
After what feels like hours of staring at books I can't read - and one that I can, not that it helps since the subject matter is waaaaay beyond me - we're finally interrupted by the arrival of Alice and her dolls.
"Whew," Alice sighs, wiping her face with a small cloth. She's dressed as a maid like the rest of us; her leggings are the same blue as her usual dress.
Hourai is beside and slightly behind her, human size and dressed the same way, and the two of them are followed by a small army of dolls. Four or five of them stand out as unique, looking around and moving independantly like their leader, Shanghai, but the rest are all marching in perfect step and staring blankly ahead.
And, of course, they're all wearing maid outfits.
"Hello Alice! Hello Hourai!" I say, waving.
"Hello Kogasa," Alice replies with a smile. Hourai just bows slightly.
"You look really tired," I say. "What have you been doing? Sorting books like us?"
"No, we've been repairing the shelves. We just finished this row," Alice says, gesturing to her left.
I look up and down the aisle. It extends as far as I can see in either direction.
"Wow," Rumia summarizes.
"I'm not used to doing so much work by hand," Alice says. "I think I might be a little out of shape."
"You did it all by hand!?" I exclaim.
"With a lot of help, of course," Alice says, stepping to one side and gesturing proudly at the dolls, who all wave. The identical ones all perfectly imitate Shanghai.
"So cuuute!" Rumia gushes.
"So you're taking a break now?" I ask.
"Yes. I think it's about lunch time anyway," Alice says.
Rumia's stomach growls loudly at just the right moment. Alice laughs, and Rumia looks embarassed.
"Come on then, let's find the others and see if we can get something to eat," Alice says.
We all make our way back to where Patchouli's desk is, but there's nobody there when we arrive. Alice simply takes a right turn and keeps walking, leading the way towards the middle of the library.
It's not long before we find someone.
"Yo, Alice! Been workin' up a sweat I see!" Marisa calls. She's currently busy filling a shelf with books, taking them from a worryingly large pile stacked on top of Sekibanki.
...that looks really uncomfortable.
"Says the person responsible for this mess in the first place," Alice huffs.
"Hey, hey, I'm here ain't I? Feels kinda weird puttin' 'em back instead of takin' 'em out, but I'm doin' my bit!" Marisa replies, still grinning from ear to ear.
"Are you okay under all that?" I ask Sekibanki.
"Hmm? Oh, these? Yeah, I do this all the time," Sekibanki replies, without sarcasm. "Glad I can be of some help, really."
"I suppose you are," Alice concedes. "We're taking a lunch break; I imagine you'll be joining us?"
"Heck yeah!" Marisa replies, hopping off the pile of books she was using to reach the higher shelves.
"Uh, hey, a little help here?" Sekibanki calls after her.
"Whoopsie-daisy!" Marisa backpedals and hefts the rest of the stack of books off Sekibanki, dropping it rather carelessly on the floor with a loud thud.
Alice sighs. "Do you know where everyone else is?"
"Hang on a sec, lemme check," Marisa says. Then she takes a deep breath and bellows at the top of her lungs.
"YO FLAN, WHERE ARE YA!?"
Alice winces and scowls.
"Over heeee~re!" Flandre's voice calls back faintly.
"Hey, c'mon, it works!", Marisa says, elbowing Alice.
Then she sets off in the opposite direction to where Flan's voice came from.
Alice facepalms. "Marisa, where are you going?"
"Takin' a shorcut!"
Sekibanki stops when she notices we're not following too. "Her shortcuts work, by the way."
I shrug, and set off after Marisa. Rumia follows me like a shadow. Alice throws her arms up in defeat and starts after us, dolls falling into step behind her.
I have to run a bit to catch up with Marisa. She takes a series of nonsensical turns, opens a hidden door through one of the bookshelves, and emerges near the big pile of books at the entrance. Flandre is right in front of us, sitting on Koishi's shoulders to reach some of the higher shelves. She's plucking books off one by one and dropping them down to Koishi, who tosses them across the aisle to another Flandre, who lobs them up to a third, who adds them to the pile.
The fourth Flandre is pulling the books off the lower shelves, and stacking them on top of another Sekibanki. I'm pretty sure I just glimpsed a third Sekibanki floating out of sight around the corner with a full stack, too.
"How many of you are there right now?" I ask Sekibanki quietly.
"Four, one for each Flandre," she replies. "It's a long story."
"We're stoppin' for some chow," Marisa tells the others.
"Yay, food!" Koishi cheers. The Flandre on her shoulders hops down.
"Kogasa! Are you feeling better yet?"
"Yup! I've been helping Rumia sort books!" I reply.
Hourai runs a finger along an empty shelf, and makes a face at the thick layer of dust.
"Really? I didn't know you could read English too!" Flandre says excitedly. One of the other Flandres drops off the bookshelf and lands in the same space as her, moving to match her posture exactly and vanishing as a result.
"She can't," Rumia answers for me. "But she was a big help anyway."
"Oh. Well, that's good too!" Flandre says.
"If you're looking for food, there may be a small problem," Patchouli says from behind us, making us all jump. "Sakuya is still quite busy cleaning up after yesterday's... guest." Her eyes flick toward Flandre for the briefest moment. "It is doubtful she will be available to prepare meals."
"So?" Marisa says. "Not like we gotta be waited on hand an' foot. We can just whip up somethin' ourselves!"
"We're gonna cook something?" Flandre asks, voice and wings rising in excitement.
"Will Sakuya object to us using her kitchen?" Alice asks.
"I see no reason why she would," Patchouli says, frowning. "Provided we leave it in the same condition we find it."
"Ya hear that Flan? No blowin' stuff up!" Marisa says. Alice facepalms again.
"Okay!" Flandre says, giving Marisa a thumbs-up.
"If we're going to be making something ourselves, we'd better get started," Rumia says.
"Let's go!" Koishi cheers, grabbing Marisa and Flandre and dragging them toward the library entrance. Rumia isn't far behind.
Patchouli shakes her head and sighs before hurrying after them.
"Who is that girl, anyway?" Alice asks me as we follow.
"Hm? You mean Koishi?" I reply.
"Is that her name? I've never seen her before, but everyone else is acting like she's always been here."
Koakuma, another Flandre and three Sekibankis fly past us. The Sekibanki beside me lets out a loud whistle, and her other selves turn around.
"She does that," I say "She's a satori, I think, but instead of reading minds she makes people... forget about her."
"Forget about her?" Alice asks, frowning. "But that does't explain why everyone else seems to recognise her."
"Flandre's known her for a while now, and I guess Marisa has too. I only met her a few days ago. But most people never notice her at all, unless they already know her."
"So why can I see her now?" Alice asks.
"Hey, uh, sanity check," Sekibanki interrupts, shaking herself after having merged back into one, well, head. "Who are we talking about?"
Alice looks at her strangely. "Koishi, of course. Why?"
"She just left," Sekibanki says, nodding at the door. We're lagging behind the others, who have already disappeared out of sight around the corner.
"...so?" Alice asks, looking even more confused.
"We're still talking about her."
"Your point being?" Alice asks, starting to look annoyed.
"We should have forgotten about her already!" Sekibanki replies.
"It works that quickly?" Alice asks.
"I guess so?" I say. "I have a reason to remember her, but Sekibanki normally forgets about her as soon as she looks away. Well, mostly anyway."
Alice frowns. "I clearly remember seeing her while I was repairing the shelves. She was watching the dolls, and poking them with a feather duster. You remember, her, don't you?"
She looks down at the doll army. The generals confer with one another for a moment before answering. Three of them nod, including Shanghai. The other three shake their heads.
"Hourai?" Alice asks.
"I was not there," Hourai rasps.
"Hey, um, does anybody have any idea where we're going?" I ask.
There's a moment of silence as we all look around at one of the Scarlet Devil Mansion's many endless halls.
"The kitchen is that way," Alice says, pointing.
We walk the rest of the way in silence. It turns out Alice does actually know her way around, at least somewhat, as we reach the grand dining hall very quickly. Patchouli, Koakuma, Marisa, Rumia, Koishi and Flandre are already in the kitchen, and arguing over what to make.
"But that's not sweet!" Flandre complains.
"You can't make meat sweet. The flavours just don't go together," Rumia replies.
"Who says we gotta have meat? Mushrooms are where it's at!" Marisa butts in.
"I wanna make pizza!" Koishi declares, practically jumping on the table.
Patchouli buries her face in her hands and Koakuma shakes with silent laughter. Three very confused fairy maids hover around nervously. It occurs to me that they're the first fairies I've seen since coming inside, which is really odd. The mansion is usually swarming with maids.
"Aha!" Marisa jabs a finger at Alice. "Back me up here, Alice! We're gonna have mushrooms, right?"
Alice gives her a flat look. "I think sandwiches would be the best option. They're easy to prepare and we can all choose our own ingredients."
"I highly doubt Sakuya keeps many mushrooms in her larder anyway, Marisa," Alice replies tiredly.
"Actually, she does!" one of the fairies pipes up. "Miss Sakuya keeps all kind of ingredients well stocked!"
"Not helping! We need less options, not more!" Marisa declares, moving her pointing arm over to Hourai.
"Not you, you don't eat." Hourai ignores her. Over to me.
"Right then, you choose! What are we going to make?" Marisa says.
Wait what? Why me!?
[ ] I haven't had mushrooms in a while, so, yeah, let's go with that! Please don't spark me! [ ] I'm actually pretty hungry, so something with meat in it sounds like a good idea. [ ] I don't really know what sandwiches are, but Alice sounds the most sensible. [ ] ...what's pizza? [ ] Sweets aren't really a full meal, but there's always room for dessert. [ ] Ask Patchouli! She'd know more than me, right? [ ] All of the above! If we make more than we can eat, I'm sure the fairies won't mind having some too!
This would probably have been better as two smaller updates instead of one. Blame Thank >>39345's flantastic pic for the latest sidetrack.
I mean, if everyone makes their own, this isn't a problem at all, right? Mushrooms and meat are common toppings, so Marisa and Rumia should be fine with it. Sweets? Sorry Flan, we're having savory first. Maybe after, okay?
If you want both, vote for both! Because that's totally an option. In fact, the wording of the [x] Flan option was supposed to imply that you'd pick a main course too. My bad for not making it more obvious.
Not sure if that's what >>39349 meant; can you clarify that vote?
I thought it would be pretty obvious by now that I'm not even trying to stick to canon. Or maybe not; you've managed to avoid meeting any of the characters I really screwed up. Clownpiece, for instance. I'm more concerned with keeping my characterizations consistent within the story.
Or just having characterizations at all, really. Patchouli is a robot, Flandre is a cliché hyperactive kid, and Byakuren didn't so much break the fourth wall as flat-out explain how I wrote her dialogue. It works, and nobody's complained about it so far, but I do want to get better eventually.
"But I don't even know what all the choices are!" I say. "I mean, what's pizza?"
"Delicious~!" Koishi replies.
"A flatbread originating from Naples, Italy," Patchouli clarifies. "It could be described as a baked version of okonomiyaki."
"I love okonomiyaki!" Rumia exclaims.
"Is it difficult to make?" Alice asks.
"Nope! Just flatten out some dough and cover it in sauce and toppings!" Koishi replies.
"What kind of toppings?" Marisa asks, still pointing at me.
"All kinds! Cheese, ham, pineapple, mushrooms, chicken, anchovies..."
Several people in the room perk up as foods they like are mentioned.
"That sounds awesome," one of the fairies says.
"It sounds like it has something for everyone," I say. "How about we go with that?"
Marisa shrugs, apparently satisfied as long as it has mushrooms in it. Flandre looks thoughtful and Rumia nods enthusiastically.
"Hooray!" Koishi cheers.
"Where do we start?" Alice asks.
Patchouli answers by starting to gather ingredients and utensils. She knows exactly where everything is, which is a bit of a surprise. She also seems to know all about how to make pizza, which is good, because Koishi is terrible at explaining things.
Alice is definitely the best cook though. She does everything neater and faster than anyone else and still manages to find time to keep the rest of us on track. The dolls help too, or at least try to. Hourai in particular is clumsy and easily frustrated. She eventually storms out of the kitchen and sulks after breaking a bowl on the floor, despite Patchouli magically fixing it and Koakuma cleaning up the spilled food in no time at all.
I don't break anything, but I do end up making a lot of mess. I'm not used to making this kind of food, or working in a Western-style kitchen, or cooking with so many other people. But I have a lot of fun doing it!
I'm carrying a bowl full of crushed tomatoes over to the others when someone suddenly appears right in front of me.
"Wah!" "Hyaaa - I'm sorry!"
The tall purple-haired fairy somehow manages to twist out of the way and catch the bowl before it spills down her dress.
"I'm sorry!" she repeats, passing the bowl back to me and bowing apologetically at the same time, "there isn't normally many people in here at this hour so I just..." she blinks in confusion as she recognises me, then looks around the room. "...Lady Flandre? Lady Patchouli!? What's going on?"
"Cooking," Patchouli replies simply.
"But, I, then... where is Miss Sakuya?"
"Still fixing the clocktower, probably," Flandre says, wings drooping as she looks away.
"Oh. Well, er, work on the carnival grounds is ahead of schedule, so I - we - thought it would be a good time to take a lunch break. Is that okay?"
Flandre tilts her head at the fairy. "Why are you asking me?"
"I... don't know?"
"Well, lunch will be ready soon anyway so I don't see why not," Alice says.
Sophia - I think that was her name - jumps and spins around to face Alice. "Wh-what do you mean?"
Alice gestures at the many pizzas in various states of completion.
"Oh. Oh! I wouldn't want to trouble you with us fairies," Sophia says, bowing again. "I can make something for the others when you're done."
"Will you really be okay on your own?" I ask, finally passing the bowl to Alice. "Wasn't there about twenty of you working out there?"
"It's fine," Sophia replies, fidgetting, "cooking is my job after all."
"There's plenty to go around," Alice says. "I don't think we're going to be able to finish all these ourselves."
"We could make lunch for Sakuya and Meiling too!" Flandre suggests, cheering right back up again.
"Pizza for everyone!" Koishi agrees.
Patchouli surveys the kitchen. "If we're going to be feeding the whole mansion, we'll need more than this," she says matter-of-factly.
"You seriously... but I... the maids..." Sophia says, looking lost.
"Just go with it," I say, poking her in the shoulder and making her jump again. "I'm, uh, sorry for earlier, by the way."
"Huh? Oh, uh, no!" She wrings her hands and bows yet again. "I shouldn't have said those things, please don't tell Miss Sakuya!"
"I won't," I say, grinning.
The distant click of the dining hall doors opening signals the arrival of a crowd of chattering voices. The fairies they belong to all stop and stare when they reach the kitchen and see who's inside. I don't really recognise them, but I guess it's the group responsible for setting up the festival grounds.
"Boss? What's going on?" one of them asks.
"I don't know! And stop calling me that!" Sophia replies.
"What's going on is this: we're cooking lunch," Alice says, raising her voice. "It will be ready when it's ready and we'll bring it out when it is. There's plenty of food and plenty of cooks, so please just wait quietly. Now shoo." She grips Sophia by the shoulders and steers her out of the kitchen.
The metal-clad fairy at the back of the group is the first to react, grabbing two of the others by the scruff of the neck and hoisting them off the counter. Not that they seem to mind. The rest slowly drift back toward the tables, conversation starting up again.
"What's the deal with the fairies around here today, anyway?" Marisa asks, leaning on the wall beside the ovens. "Where'd they all disappear to?"
"Dunno," one of the three kitchen hands replies. "Miss Sakuya reassigned everyone after yesterday. Gave lots of fairies time off, probably 'cause they were dead."
"Dead? What happened?"
"Beats me, I was in the garden. I heard a lot of explosions though!"
"You don't want to know," Koakuma groans. "I'm serious, you don't. I wish I didn't."
With a declaration of "if there's pizza then there has to be garlic bread!" Koishi conjures up a side dish. I have no idea how she managed to make it so quickly, but it's ready just in time. More fairies start to arrive, most of them much rowdier than the first group. Thankfully it's not long before Marisa takes the first finished pizza out of the oven.
"Awright, let's eat!" she announces as she carries it to the main table.
The fairies all stop whatever they were doing and gather around, though I note they all stay a respectful distance from Marisa herself.
"Don't we need, er, forks or something?" Sophia asks hesitantly.
"Nuh-uh, you do it like this!" Koishi says, grabbing a slice and stuffing it in her mouth. "Mmmm~!"
The fairies all quickly follow her example. More than a few of them yelp at the heat, since it's straight out of the oven, but every slice is claimed in a matter of seconds regardless.
"Whoa, you guys sure are hungry!" Marisa says.
"I hink I hurnged ngy houngue," one of the fairies says.
"That's 'cause you didn't wait for it to cool off, silly," one of the others replies, guarding her plate while she waits for her own slice to cool down.
"Is there more? I didn't get any..." a third asks.
"Sure is! Sit tight, it'll be done soon!" Marisa replies.
It's not long before Sakuya and Meiling arrive too.
"Oh my," Sakuya says, looking around the kitchen in surprise. She's as clean and composed as ever, but the bags under her eyes make her look like she hasn't had any sleep since yesterday.
"Whatever it is you're cooking, it smells great!" Meiling says. She's pretty much the exact opposite of Sakuya - she's covered from head to toe in grime and reeks of sweat, but looks as cheerful and full of energy as ever.
"Tastes great too! Here, try some!" Marisa says, offering them a plate of garlic bread.
"Meiling, please wake me up. Falling asleep on the job and dreaming about Marisa becoming a maid is frightful," Sakuya says.
Meiling just laughs, already reaching for the food. She stops when she notices how dirty her hands are, and looks down at herself.
"Whoops, I better go get cleaned up. Be right back!" she says, and darts swiftly out the door, dodging startled fairies with ease.
"Dare I ask what brought about this abrupt change of occupation?" Sakuya asks, taking a piece of garlic bread.
"If that's a funny way of saying 'thank you', you're welcome," Marisa replies.
"Why don't you take a seat at the table?" Alice says to Sakuya. "We have everything under control for now."
"I'm terribly sorry for the inconvenience," Sakuya says, bowing. "For me to be so preoccupied that I forget basic day-to-day tasks really is inexcusable."
"Just get outta here already," Marisa says, shooing Sakuya out of the kitchen.
By the time Meiling returns we've finally finished making the pizzas and started taking turns eating. Everyone had their own ideas on what to put on them, so they're all different. Patchouli didn't use any meat on hers, and now I see why - only a handful of the fairies at the table will touch anything with meat in it. Which suits Rumia and Sekibanki just fine.
"This is good!" Meiling says between bites.
"My compliments to the chefs," Sakuya adds.
"It worked out better than I expected," Alice agrees.
"It's been so long since I last had pizza," the fairy next to me says.
"You've eaten this before?" I ask.
"Yeah! 'Fore we came to Gensoukyou," she replies.
"You're not from here?"
The fairy shakes her head, mouth full.
"When Remi decided to move the Mansion to Gensoukyou, most of the staff at the time opted to come with," Patchouli says, "and few of them have taken their leave since. As such, the majority of the fairies working here today are not native to this country."
"That explains why the fairies here seem so... different... to the rest of Gensoukyou," Sekibanki says. "Uh, no offence intended."
"None taken," the fairy next to me replies.
"We're all weirdos here," another fairy says.
"Hey!" a third yells from across the table.
"Thank you for the meal once again," Sakuya says - wait when did she get up - "but I'm afraid I must resume my duties."
"A few more minutes won't kill you," Meiling says.
"But there is still so much to do. It's already afternoon; villagers wishing to open stalls at the carnival will have to start setting up soon, the path has not yet been prepared, the grounds -"
"- are ready, Miss Sakuya!" Sophia interrupts.
Sakuya blinks. Her position flickers ever so slightly. "So they are. Well done; I did not expect you to finish so quickly."
Sophia opens her mouth as if to say something, but clicks it shut again without a word.
"There is still the small matter of the path around Misty Lake; the deluge last night has made it all but impassable," Sakuya continues. "If someone with the ability to manipulate water and earth were to shore it up a little..."
The eyes of everyone at the table converge on Patchouli, who lets out a long sigh.
"If you insist," she says.
"Thank you, Lady Patchouli."
"I'd offer to help, but -" Alice begins, but Patchouli cuts her off.
"That is absolutely out of the question."
"- as I thought."
"I should probably head out too," I say. "I did kind of offer to help a few people from the village get set up."
"Can we take these outfits off first?" Sekibanki says.
I look around for Flandre. "Can we have our clothes back now?"
"Uh, sure! I'll go get them!" Flandre says, before turning into a rainbow blur.
"Come to think of it, I haven't seen Miss Reimu or Miss Sanae yet," Sakuya says. "I wonder if something happened?"
[ ] To the village! [ ] To the Hakurei shrine! [ ] To the Moriya shrine!
"Reimu'll make it to the party come hell or high water, don'cha worry 'bout that," Marisa says with a grin. "She's prob'ly just slackin' off or gettin' a head start on beatin' up the troublemakers."
"That does sound like Reimu," Alice says.
"Do we really have to have her here?" one of the fairies asks nervously. "It's just... Reimu is a bit..."
"Yeah," one of the others agrees with a shudder.
"Thinkin' of tryin' somethin', were ya?" Marisa asks.
"Then ya got nothin' to worry about! She'd rather chow down than throw down, y'know."
"What about Sanae? You did end up telling her, didn't you?" I ask Koakuma.
"I told the frog goddess, just like you said," Koakuma replies.
"And? What did she say?"
"Uh, kind of a lot?" Koakuma's headwings droop. "She got really chatty and wouldn't stop asking questions. I know she said she'd tell the others at some point, though."
"If that's the case, I don't see why she wouldn't. Maybe I should go check..."
"Ugh... could we please not?" Sekibanki says.
"I'll be fine!" I reply. "I won't even try to surprise her this time!"
Flandre returns with my clothes and Sekibanki's ribbon, so we hurry and get changed. Koishi seems to have disappeared; I should probably be worried, but if she's not following me around anymore then I'm not going to complain! At least Flandre and Meiling know how to deal with her, if it comes to that.
"Thanks for helping out!" Flandre says as I leave. Standing in the full sun in front of the Mansion doesn't seem to bother her at all, unlike her sister.
"Thanks for lunch!" I reply.
"Thanks for helping with that too!" Flandre calls back, grinning.
After I take off I see Patchouli, back in her usual purple clothes, walking slowly around the lake. She has an open book in one hand while she gestures at the path with the other. I know she said she would, but it still feels weird seeing her outside. She's even wearing cute purple boots instead of her usual slippers.
I also spot Reimu coming the other way along the same path. It looks like she's lining the path with ofuda. I hope that won't end badly for Patchouli...
I take my usual flight path over Youkai Mountain. I spot a few tengu along the way, but none of them approach, and I touch down at the Moriya shrine without incident. Much like last time, there doesn't seem to be anyone around.
"Hello? Anybody home?" I call. "Sanae?"
"Maybe we missed her," Sekibanki says, sounding hopeful.
"Or maybe she' ju-" I begin, turning around and coming face-to-face with someone hanging upside down behind me.
"Nyehehehe," the newcomer cackles, rolling right-side-up in the air while keeping her head steady.
She has fairy wings, so she's probably a fairy, but that's about the only fairy-like thing about her. She's tall and skinny, with long arms, legs and fingers that make her look eerily skeletal, despite not actually being bony. Her eyes and mouth seem to be ever so slightly too large, making the wide grin on her face all the more creepy. Even her shiny blond hair somehow manages to look like a mass of long, thin tentacles.
But the weirdest thing about her is her clothes. They're a garish, mismatched combination of red and white stripes and blue with white stars, topped with the silliest hat I've ever seen. And that's saying something!
"I'm Clownpiece the Hell fairy!" she declares, jabbing a finger at me, "and I'm going to kick your butt!"
I don't have time to react before something flies out of the shrine and hits her in the head, knocking her sideways.
"Friggin' ow," Clownpiece grumbles, rubbing the side of her head and picking up... Sanae's gohei? Wait, isn't that dangerous!?
"No fighting on the shrine grounds!" Sanae yells from somewhere inside the shrine, "we just finished cleaning it up!"
"Alright, alright, geez," Clownpiece grumbles. She plops herself down on the veranda. "Shrine maidens are so unfair."
"Tell me about it," Sekibanki says.
"Sanae's really good at danmaku," I agree.
"She has a mean uppercut too," Clownpiece says, rubbing her chin.
"That's shoryuken!" Sanae's voice calls.
"Nerrrrrrd," Clownpiece hisses over her shoulder, wings buzzing as she speaks.
...I don't think I've actually heard a fairy's wings make noise before. They sound more like a bird than a bug.
"I'm terribly sorry about that, she just showed up out of the blue and started challenging everyone," Sanae says as she emerges from the shrine, carrying tea and snacks.
"Picking fights at a shrine? You're pretty gutsy for a fairy!" I say.
"For an Earth fairy, sure. All the fairies I've met around here are total pushovers," Clownpiece says. Then she grins. "But I'm from Hell!"
"You mean the Underground? I didn't see many fairies down there..."
"Oh, puh-lease," Clownpiece says, rolling her eyes. "That place hasn't been a real Hell in ages. Even the oni have gone soft."
"Soft!? Miss Hoshiguma nearly broke me in half without even touching me!" I exclaim. "If that's what they call soft, I don't wanna know what they call tough!"
"No, Hoshiguma's definitely still got it," Clownpiece says, grinning again. "Doesn't mean I didn't wipe the floor with her at danmaku though."
Sekibanki and I both edge away from the cackling fairy. Sanae just sighs and sets her tray down.
"So, what brings you here today?" she asks.
"We were just making sure you heard about this afternoon," I say.
"Ah! Yes! The carnival! I was hoping to leave earlier, but Lady Kanako is busy with the tengu and Lady Suwako is off somewhere, so I had to watch the shrine for a while."
"What's this about a carnival?" Clownpiece asks, already sipping her tea.
"You haven't heard? Well then!" I say, and straighten up. "Miss Remilia Scarlet is hosting a carnival by the lakeside, tonight. Everyone is invited! There will be humans in attendance though, so, um, no fighting please. Miss Reimu and Miss Marisa will be keeping an eye out for troublemakers."
"Ugh, them," Clownpiece says, grimacing.
"And so will I!" Sanae says smugly. "...just as soon as Lady Suwako gets back."
"Um... if you're really that eager to check it out, you can probably see it from under the torii," I suggest.
"Ah! Of course!"
Sanae immediately hurries around to the front of the shrine, with the rest of us not far behind. From the top of the steps, we can sort of see the Scarlet Devil Mansion... but it's too far away too spot anything smaller, at least for me.
Sanae lets out a disappointed sigh. "I should have known... only Miss Inubashiri could see anything from this far away. We don't even have a pair of binoculars I could use."
"Binoculars?" Clownpiece says. "Hold up, I got a pair of those somewhere."
Clownpiece flips off her hat and starts rummaging around inside it. There must be a trick to it, like Miss Marisa's, because there's no way all the stuff she pulls out of it could possibly fit inside it normally. Towel, toothbrush, bar of soap, flaming skull -
"Gyaaaaah!" I say calmly, retreating to a safe distance.
"I don't remember packing a vengeful spirit," Clownpiece says, watching as it tries to wiggle out of her grip. "Eh, I'll find a use for it eventually." She casually stuffs it back inside and keeps searching. "Aha, here we go!"
Clownpiece passes an odd-looking Outside item to Sanae, who immediately holds it up to her eyes.
"Oooh... there doesn't seem to be a lot of people there yet, but the grounds sure are big! There's even a stage set up!" Sanae says.
"Can you really see better through that thing?" I ask.
"Sure. Here, try it!"
Sanae passes me the binoculars. I hold them up like she did and peer into them.
"Umm... It's kind of bigger, but it's really blurry..."
"You need to adjust the focus."
"How do I do that?"
"Roll this wheel here around a bit," Clownpiece says, poking my fingers into the right place.
"Ooh! That's much clearer!"
It looks like a few humans have arrived and started setting up stalls. They must have been right behind Reimu. This is neat!
"Just don't press the button in front of it," Clownpiece adds.
"Why, what does that do?"
"It sucks your eyeballs out of their sockets."
I immediately jerk the thing away from my face. "Tell me sooner!"
"Don't be ridiculous," Sanae scoffs. "There's no way a pair of binoculars would do something like that. Right?"
Clownpiece grins like a lunatic. "Wanna give it a try?"
"Wh... why would you have a pair of binoculars that do that!?"
"Pranks, of course!"
"That's a bit more than a prank!"
"Who are we pranking?"
I whirl around in surprise as Suwako seems to pop right out of the ground behind us.
"Nobody! We were just scoping out the carnival grounds," Clownpiece says. She offers the binoculars to Suwako. "Here, take a look."
"Hmmm?" Suwako takes the binoculars.
"Ah! Lady Suwako, that's - !" Sanae exclaims.
The moment Suwako looks into the binoculars, Clownpiece presses the button. They make an angry hiss and seem to suck onto Suwako's face, before a pair of eyeballs bulge out the other end.
Real, live, still-moving eyeballs.
Suwako makes a strangled noise and flails around in a panic. Sanae lets out a horrified shriek.
Then Clownpiece taps the button again. The eyeballs disappear again, there's a loud pop, and Suwako staggers backwards, hands instantly flying to her face. She rubs her eyes and blinks a few times, apparently back to normal.
I realise my mouth is hanging open and quickly shut it. A quick glance at Sekibanki and Sanae tells me I wasn't the only one left slack-jawed.
Then Sanae's eyes unfocus, and I only just manage to catch her before she tumbles down the shrine steps.
"...and then Sanae fainted," I finish explaining.
Kanako puts a hand to her exasperated face and sighs. "I need a drink," she says finally.
"Here," Suwako says, already passing her a small cup. Kanako downs it in one gulp.
"Sorry for getting you tangled up in our problems," Kanako says, bowing her head apologetically.
"It was nothing, really," I reply. "I mean, I only just got here."
"My point exactly."
"Aw, c'mon, it's not like it was anything serious," Suwako says.
"Are you sure you're all right?" I ask Suwako. "I mean, your eyes..."
"I'm fine," Suwako says. "Grossed the hell out, but fine. Honestly, I think it scared Sanae more than it scared me."
"Where's that fairy now?" Kanako asks, slumping over the table. "I've half a mind to give her a piece of it."
"Gone to check out the carnival, I think," Suwako says. "And I'm not sure that would do much good."
"Probably not, but it would give me peace of mind anyway."
Suwako smirks. "I wouldn't bet on it. She beat the stuffing out of some pretty big names on the way up here, you know?"
Kanako lifts her head off the table. "Are you implying I'm no match for a fairy?"
"I dunno. Are you implying I'm no match for you?"
"S-so, um," I interrupt, "are you two coming to the carnival this evening?"
"Sure thing!" Suwako says. "I mean, the whole mountain's talking about it. Even Hina's going."
"It got that popular overnight?"
"If there's one thing the Scarlets are known for," Kanako says, "It's throwing extravagant parties."
"It's pretty much the only way they interact with the rest of Gensoukyou, after all," Suwako adds.
"Isn't it the same for all the powerful youkai?" Sekibanki asks.
"Got me there!" Suwako says, chuckling. "I guess everyone just likes an excuse to party."
"S-sorry for keeping you all waiting..."
We all look up to see Sanae shuffle into the room.
"Sanae!" Suwako says, bouncing to her feet and hurrying over to Sanae. "Are you sure you should be up and about already? If you fainted from that much, you might be coming down with something -"
"I'm okay, I'm okay! I only fainted! More to the point, what about you!? Your eyes were -"
"Don't worry about me! I'm a goddess, remember? No harm done. But you need to look after yourself! You haven't been staying up all night -"
The worrywarts are interrupted by a loud and out-of-character snort from Kanako.
"Look at you two," she says, getting up. "Come here, both of you." She pulls Sanae and Suwako into a hug, which thanks to the height difference results in Suwako being lifted off the floor.
"Don't sweat the small stuff, okay?" Kanako says. "We've all been busy lately, so it's high time we took some time off. Just for one evening, let's leave the worries at home and go enjoy ourselves, hmmm?"
Sekibanki and I awkwardly try to pretend we're not here.
"...Lady Kanako, have you been drinking?" Sanae asks after a few seconds.
"What? No! I only had a sip, just now! Nowhere near enough to get drunk on!"
"It's not that... your breath is making me dizzy."
Sanae and Suwako work together to worm their way out of Kanako's bear hug.
"W-well, if you're all okay then we should probably get going," I say, getting up.
"Wait, I know! We can all go together!" Kanako says.
"Er, actually, I was going to go to the village first," Sanae says. "The carnival hasn't even started yet, after all."
"And I was gonna go round up the Akis," Suwako says. "I swear those two'll never do anything on their own out of season."
"I get it, I get it, nobody wants to hang around an old drunk..." Kanako groans, shoulders slumping.
"Nobody said you were an old drunk!" Sanae replies.
[ ] Go it alone. (Maybe?) [ ] Go with Sanae. [ ] Go with Suwako. [ ] Go with Kanako. [ ] Go find that fairy.
Whining about slow and poor quality writing goes here.
"I'll go with you!" I say cheerfully. It doesn't really cheer Kanako up much, but she does look a little surprised. Mission accomplished~
"Haaaah... take the small victories, I guess," Kanako sighs. "Give me a minute while I clean myself up," she adds as she heads out of the room.
"You gotta live with the dirt, not against it!" Suwako calls after her. Kanako doesn't answer.
Sanae starts hurrying around to lock up, so Sekibanki and I wander back out to the front of the shrine. We're not waiting for long
"Are you sure you're up to flying around by yourself? Do you want me to come with you?" Suwako says, still fretting over Sanae.
"I'm telling you I'm fine!" Sanae protests. "The living goddess of the Moriya Shrine isn't going to be held back by some common fairy!"
"But didn't you say she wasn't a common fairy? If she really is from Hell then -"
"Then I'll exterminate her properly next time! If I break enough bones she'll go down eventually! I just need to hit harder!"
The pair continue their argument into the air and out of earshot, without even glancing in our direction.
"That's not a seat, you know."
"Hyaaah!" I leap off the donation box as if it were on fire, spinning around to face Kanako, who is somehow right behind me. "I w-wasn't sitting! I was just resting my weight on it!"
Kanako raises an eyebrow, smirking slightly. "I see someone's been spending too much time around that Hakurei girl. It's not good for the nerves, you know?"
"Not at all," I groan, sagging from relief.
Kanako chuckles. "Let's be off, shall we?"
We take flight together, heading more or less directly toward the Scarlet Devil Mansion. I can just make out Sanae and Suwako down and to our left, flying low over the mountainside in the general direction of the village. It's a fairly long flight, and Kanako seems content to drift along at a leisurely pace, but we really don't have much to talk about.
It's Kanako that breaks the awkward silence first.
"So!" she says, "we didn't get to talk much last time. You're one of Sanae's friends, aren't you?"
"Um, well, calling us 'friends' might be a bit much," I reply. "I spend most of my time trying to surprise her, and she spends most of hers... not being surprised."
"So more like rivals then?"
"Can you call it that when I'm obviously no match for her?" I ask dejectedly.
Kanako chuckles again. "That's just how Sanae is. All her friends are her rivals in some way or another. If she's taking you seriously, that means she cares."
"Cares about her job, maybe," Sekibanki grumbles quietly.
"I have good hearing, you know," Kanako says.
Sekibanki pales, and I'm suddenly not sure I want to be between the two of them.
"...but yes, Sanae does take her job very seriously," Kanako continues after a moment. "Perhaps too seriously. I'm partially at fault for that, by the way."
"I don't think anyone would blame you for it though," I say. "I mean, before Reimu came up with the spellcard rules..."
Sekibanki makes a noise like "urgh" and shudders violently.
"You forget, we weren't here back then," Kanako reminds me. "For us, the last time youkai were a serious threat to humanity was over a century ago." She sighs. "But I suppose that's why I made such a fuss over it, in the end."
"Nostalgia?" I ask.
"More like senility," Kanako grunts. "Sanae was the first human to make eye contact with either of us in a hundred years. It was like stepping back in time."
"Ouch," Sekibanki says.
"You really had it rough," I add.
Kanako waves her hand dismissively. "It's all in the past now. I just wish I didn't have to keep reminding myself."
I can't think of anything to say to that before we arrive at the carnival grounds. The fairies from before have been joined by a large and still growing number of humans and youkai, and the lonely stage is now surrounded on three sides by stalls and carts in various states of preparation. I spot Sophia waving her clipboard around and shouting at a kappa merchant about something, obviously having trouble getting him to take a fairy seriously, despite ironically being taller than he is.
At least she has Meiling to back her up this time. I almost feel sorry for the kappa.
"Looks like it's shaping up to be quite lively," Kanako says. "I was worried it was going to turn out like one of the Hakurei Shrine festivals, all youkai and no humans, but there seems to be plenty of both."
"I heard that," Reimu's voice grumbles.
"Why, hello Reimu," Kanako says, turning. "Fancy seeing you here."
"I could say the same about you, mountain goddess," Reimu replies, resting her unusually long gohei on her shoulder like a club and scowling.
"H-hello Miss Reimu!" I say, smiling and trying not to be too obvious about edging away from Kanako.
"Is there more than one of you or something?" Reimu asks me. "First the shrine, then the village, now here... it's like you're following me around."
"It's a coincidence! Just a coincidence! We're here for the carnival, like you!"
"Well it's not ready yet, so beat it."
"My, how harsh," Kanako says. "No wonder your shrine never gets any visitors."
Reimu's smiles are really scary! "Are you asking to get smacked?"
Kanako smiles back. "Are you trying to scare off all your worshippers?"
I'm suddenly the only other person around. Sekibanki is no longer hiding behind me and everyone else seems be busy on the far side of the grounds. Only Meiling is even looking this way.
"W-well!" I say, trying not to sound like I'm being strangled, "If they're not ready yet then I guess we'd just be getting in the way!"
"Yes. Yes you are," Reimu says, not taking her eyes off Kanako.
"Ssso, I'm going to go back to the village and see if anyone needs a hand. To carry things. I'm good at carrying things. Plus I promised I'd help carry things!" Okay, good, Reimu's looking at me help Reimu's looking at me! "Sanae said she was going to the village too, didn't she? We could meet her there!"
"We could, yes," Kanako says.
"And she'd be upset if she found out we were doing something bad, like fighting on the festival grounds."
Kanako sighs, finally breaking off the staring contest. "Yeah, she would."
Reimu's smile turns angelic. "Thank you for your cooperation! Now if you'll excuse me, I really do have work to do!"
Reimu turns on her heel and strolls back into the festival grounds. I spot Meiling breathing a sigh of relief.
Kanako grumbles under her breath as she follows me back towards the village. Sekibanki floats back from the lakeside to join us.
"So! Umm, you don't really visit the village that often do you, Miss Kanako?" I say as cheerfully as I can.
Kanako jolts out of her brooding. "Well, no, not really."
"I think you should come more often. It's a nice place, and you'd be bound to get more worshippers if you showed your face every now and then."
"That's Sanae's job, and she's much more popular than me."
"But if you were both popular that would be even better, right?"
"No, that's..." Kanako begins, before sighing. "A god is supposed to be an existence that humans look up to. If we mingle with them casually they'll look down on us as ordinary people. Even a youkai like you needs to be careful, miss harmless karakasa."
"But Shizuha and Minoriko visit the village all the time and they're really popular! And Hina's doing fine even though nobody looks up to her!"
"The Akis are harvest goddesses, and Hina is a special case -"
"Uh, guys?" Kanako and I pause to look at Sekibanki, who's now lagging behind. "Can't you two feel that?"
I look around again, folding my umbrella and scanning the sky. Nothing looks out of place.
"You're probably feeling those," Kanako says, pointing at the side of the road. I'd forgotten all about Reimu's ofuda!
"I don't feel anything," I say.
"Try getting closer," Kanako suggests.
I know it's probably a bad idea, but I cautiously approach the nearest ofuda for a closer look. It's definitely one of the Hakurei's special youkai-repelling wards, but I don't feel a thing even when I'm standing right in front of it. Maybe it's selective somehow? It's certainly complicated enough. I wonder if I can OUCH
"Hothothothothothot!" I wail, shaking my hand pathetically. Kanako howls with laughter. Sekibanki raises her eyebrows.
I suck on my burned finger and pout at them.
"I can't believe you just did that," Sekibanki says when Kanako finally runs out of breath.
"I didn't feel a thing until I touched it!"
"Oh, where's a tengu with a camera when you need one?" Kanako wheezes.
"It's not funny!"
"You did walk right up and poke the thing," Sekibanki says. Stop grinning! "How's the finger?"
I take a look; my fingertip is scorched black. "Sore."
"I'll bet. C'mon, let's get away from those things."
"Nuh-uh," I reply, grabbing her before she can escape. "We're in this together!"
"Gack, no! I'll die!"
"Ah, hey, relax! I'm only going to walk back to the village!"
"...I feel awful even at this distance, you know?"
"I'll walk on the far side of the road, then."
I keep her hugged close as we walk back to the village. I'm still fine, and we even pass a few other youkai along the way, but by the end of it Sekibanki is pale and sweating.
"Can we... uuh... can we not do that again?" Sekibanki asks.
"Er, are you okay?"
"Oh... I'm sorry, I didn't think it'd be this bad. We can fly over the lake on the way back."
"Yeah, uh, can you... carry me for a while? I don't think I can fly by myself right now."
Thankfully she recovers quickly, though she stays very quiet for a long time afterwards.
We meet up with Sanae, Suwako and the Akis in the village. Shizuha and Minoriko are way more enthusiastic than I was expecting, chatting and helping out like it's the harvest festival instead of the middle of summer. Sanae's all fired up too, and between the two of us we manage to rope Kanako into helping out as well.
It looked like Medicine wanted to talk to me at one point, but she disappeared as soon as she saw Kanako. No idea what that was about.
Other than that, and accidentally scaring a few humans with my youkai strength (good thing there were no really strong youkai around), nothing else happens before the carnival officially opens at sundown. I fly over the lake with Sekibanki, as promised, so we arrive by ourselves.
...there are a lot of people here.
[ ] Heeey! Hina! [ ] Is that... Clownpiece? [ ] Who's that girl in purple?
Maybe I should try a change of pace. Who wants to see one of the stories I used as background filler fleshed out on /forest/?
There are plenty of unfamiliar faces, but one person in particular stands out more than the others. A girl wearing purple clothes and an odd cape is standing near the entrance, surrounded by a small group of children. Large white cards with strange symbols on them are floating in front of her, following her gestures in a complicated pattern like a magical juggling act.
But by the time we get close enough to really see what's going on the perfomance is over, and the children all wander off.
"It barely even gets a reaction on this side..." the strange girl sighs.
"Really? I thought it was pretty impressive!" I say.
"Huh?" the girl says, turning around. Then she leaps back as if stung. "WHOA!! H-head!?"
"Ah, no, that's -"
"I'm a rokurokubi," Sekibanki explains.
"...but you've got no neck... or body...?" the girl asks faintly.
"...it's a long story."
"Oo...kay." She clears her throat as she tries to regain her composure. It doesn't really work. "Where are my manners? Usami Sumireko, at your service!" she says with an overly fancy, cape-flourishing bow.
"I'm Tatara Kogasa," I say, bowing more normally, "and this is Sekibanki."
"Pleased to meet you! I, er, don't mean to be rude, but... you're a youkai too, right?"
"Yep! I'm a karakasa obake!"
The girl eyes my umbrella warily. "Thought so."
"We don't eat people," I reassure her. She laughs nervously.
"Ahahaha, it's not that, it's just, I haven't actually talked to many actual youkai. I'm from the Outside World, you see?"
"Oh! So, it's true there aren't any youkai left outside Gensoukyou?"
"Well, yeah. None that I've seen anyway."
"Huh. Mamizou came from there just recently, so I thought maybe... nevermind." I shake the memories out of my head. "You seem to be taking it pretty well."
"Well, I came here on purpose, and I can leave whenever I want," Sumireko explains.
"Yep! And I'm not exactly a normal human."
Sumireko raises her hands dramatically, and the air between them bursts into flame.
"Oooh! So there are still humans that know about magic in the Outside World?" I ask.
"It's not magic, it's pyrokinesis."
"In short, I'm psychic. I just have to think about it and -" she snaps her fingers and the cards from before shoot out of her shirt "- it happens."
"So, kind of like my umbrella -" I toss my umbrella up gently, making it pop open and hover above me "- but you can do it with anything?"
"Like you wouldn't believe," Sumireko replies, grinning.
I let my umbrella fall, and rest it on my shoulder like I usually do. Sumireko pockets her cards again too.
"So!" I say, "first time at a Gensoukyou festival?"
"First time at any festival," Sumireko replies, looking around as we start walking. "I mean, we have festivals over there too, but they're not like this."
"They're not like this here either. It's not normal for youkai to be openly mixing with humans."
Mystia and Wriggle walk past just as I say that. Wriggle even has a cloud of fireflies around her.
"It's supposed to be a Western-style carnival too, but it seems to have ended up being a regular festival," I add.
"Well, we are in Japan, so everyone here'd be Japanese anyway," Sumireko says.
"Not everyone! Miss Remilia said she's from England, and I think Patchouli's from somewhere around there too."
"...when you say 'Miss Remilia', you mean..."
"The vampire lady who owns the big mansion."
Sumireko looks apprehensively up at the Scarlet Devil Mansion, outlined against the darkening sky. "Riiiight."
"She's really not that scary!" I say. "Well, I guess she would be if you made her mad. She's nice if you're polite though!"
"I'll take your word for it," Sumireko says.
"She does have some really creepy things in her house, though. Like the big empty suits of armor, or the hobgoblins, or her pet chupacabra-"
"Wait, chupacabra?" Sumireko interrupts, suddenly looking interested. "A real, live chupacabra?"
"Yeah! She calls it 'Chupai' or something like that."
"Wow! I've never seen one in real life! I wonder if - oh, right. Vampire. Ahaha, no thanks!"
"There's no harm in asking! She likes to show off her things, and it's loads scarier than she is anyway."
"She's not here at the festival, is she?" Sumireko asks, looking around nervously.
"She could be! It's earlier than she usually gets up, but the sun's not shining on the grounds anymore so..."
Sumireko gulps loudly enough for me to hear. I smirk. An opening!
"Oh come on, the other youkai here are way scarier than her! For example, Rumia is -"
- currently over the moon about having won a big fluffy teddy bear, while Cirno of all people ruffles her hair -
"- a bad example. Aha! Lady Saigyouji Yuyuko -"
- is using one of her terrifying death butterflies to cheer up a little boy who dropped his shaved ice. Youmu is nowhere to be seen.
"...never mind. Okay, so Kazami Yuuka -"
- is walking side-by-side with some human guy! I mean, it's not like they're doing anything more than talking, but the last time I saw her smile I ran all the way to the other side of Gensoukyou! This time it... actually looks really pretty?
"...WHAT IS GOING OOOOOOOON!?" I wail in confusion.
"Knnnnk... hahahahahahaa!" Sumireko cackles. This isn't how it's supposed to go!
"I see your career as a spook is going as swimmingly as ever."
I whip around to see Kasen the hermit giving me an apologetic smile.
"Ah, Kas!" Sumireko says. Wait, 'Kas'?
"It's not fair!" I whine. "All these people are really mean to me, so why are they so nice to everyone else!?"
"There there," Kasen says, petting my on the head, "they're only being nice because Reimu, Marisa and Sanae asked them to."
"You're not helping," I growl, glaring at her. It doesn't work.
"I think she is, actually," Sekibanki says.
"W-well, I may have had a word with a few people here and there," Kasen replies, smiling again. "Speaking of which, a little bird told me you made up with Sanae."
"Ugh... yeah, kinda. I'm already reflecting, I don't need -"
"I wasn't going to! Did you really think I'd start lecturing you after all you've been though?"
"You do get a bit... preachy, sometimes," Sumireko offers.
"...I guess we all have our character flaws to work on," Kasen says, smiling awkwardly. "That said, keep up the good work, both of you."
"Huh? Me? What did I do?" I ask.
"More than you know, I think," Kasen replies cryptically. I pout at her.
Kasen turns to say something to Sumireko, but stops and frowns.
"Reimu's not going to be happy when she sees you, Missy," she says at last.
"I know," Sumireko meekly replies.
"Well, it's your head on the chopping block, not mine." She looks around. "Let's just enjoy the festival for now, shall we?"
"Yeah!" Sumireko says.
Sumireko and Kasen start making their way toward the main stage. I decide to...
[ ] ...go with them. I'm curious about the Outside World. [ ] ...find Hina. I haven't seen her in ages! [ ] ...find Clownpiece. Not knowing is worse than knowing. [ ] ...find Patchouli. I bet she's still locked up in her library. [ ] ...just wander around and look at some of the stalls.
I think I might have finally gotten a grip on this characterization business... for now. What do you guys think?
[X] ...find Patchouli. I bet she's still locked up in her library.
Your characterization is fine, I don't really know Kasen or Sumireko well enough to criticize on that front but I like what you've done with Kogasa and Sekibanki. There's an odd mix of fun and dangerous in Gensokyo and how youkai act that I think you've done a very good job of depicting. Keep up the good work!
[x] ...find Patchouli. I bet she's still locked up in her library.
After a brief look around, confirming that the festival grounds are Patchouliless, I find my way to the Scarlet Devil Mansion gates. That's actually a lot harder than it should be thanks to the maze of stalls. I could have just flown over them, but nobody else is flying so it's probably best not to.
When I do finally get there I'm greeted by a familiar pair of fairies, and a somewhat less familiar sign with 'PRIVATE PROPERTY, NO ADMITTANCE' written on it in flowing calligraphy.
"Hello again!" the blond-haired fairy says.
"This seems to be becoming a habit," the black-haired fairy adds.
"Or a running gag," blonde hair continues.
"Aren't you tired of guarding the gate by now?" I ask.
"We haven't actually been guarding it much at all," black hair says.
"You guys just keep turning up during our shifts," blond hair says.
"Uh, okay. Can we go in?"
"Sure. Same as before."
After self-consciously making sure nobody's looking, I fly over the gate and hurry inside. I find the library a lot quicker this time, but it still takes a long time.
The repairs are also a lot further along than when I left. The bookshelves and other furniture are all in perfect condition, as if they'd never been broken, and the walls and ceiling are completely fixed. If anything, it looks like a whole new building - in fact it looks like the layout has been changed completely. Unlike the rest of the mansion, the library has always been arranged the same way every time I've seen it. But it's not the same now.
The main entrance used to open straight into one of the major aisles. It's now a half-story above the floor, with a rather grand staircase leading down to a circular open area. There's a gap in the floor above to make room, and the two-story view really shows off just how huge the place is. The handrails, carpet and other decorations look a lot more ornate than before, though I never actually looked at them too closely so it could just be me.
"...wow," Sekibanki says.
"Wow," I agree.
Patchouli's desk used to be directly in front of the door, so I walk in a straight line and hope I'm going in the right direction. While the repairs are complete, the sorting obviously isn't, and books are still piled up everywhere. The really big pile is gone at least.
After what feels like a good deal further than it used to be, I find Patchouli's desk. It was once an ordinary desk crammed into the space between three towering bookshelves. Now it's a fancy desk and a tall-backed chair on a raised platform, surrounded by a wide open space with several dozen exits. The area in front of the desk is particularly spacious, and there's a huge magic circle inscribed right onto the carpet. It doesn't look active but I walk around it just in case.
"Patchouli? Helloooooo? Is anyone home?" I call. Not even an echo comes back.
"This place is giving me the creeps," Sekibanki says.
"It is awfully quiet," I say, hopping up onto the platform to take a peek at Patchouli's new desk.
There's a great big glass ball sitting right at the front, a pot of ink and a quill in a neat little stand, a silver tea tray off to one side, a few smaller books in neat stacks, and one gigantic grimoire open in front of the chair. Seriously, this book's so big it would hang over all four edges of a normal-size kotatsu, and probably crush it into firewood too! The pages are crammed with writing of a kind I've never seen before, which seems to be written in the paper rather than on it.
"...magic, right?" Sekibanki asks.
"Definitely," I reply. I'm pretty sure this grimoire contains more magic power than I do.
"Can you understand any of it?"
"Not really," I say, slipping between the desk and chair for a closer look. "I did ask Patchouli to teach me some Western-style magic once, but this is way too complicated for... huh?"
I blink. I'm standing in a large grassy field, and the sun is high in the sky.
"Sekibanki!?" I call hurriedly.
"Right behind you. What just happened?"
"I have no idea."
I look around. Dry grass, coming up to about knee height in places, covers the ground, which is more or less flat, rising to a very gentle hill in the middle of the field. Surrounding the field are tall trees of a kind I haven't seen before. The grass is different too, just enough to be unfamiliar. Something is moving on the other side of the field; a large grazing animal like a cow or horse. There are strange scents and bird calls on the wind.
I'm positive there's no place like this in Gensoukyou; it's big enough to be easily visible from the air.
"...where are we? Have you seen anywhere like this before?" Sekibanki asks.
"Nope! Let's fly up and take a look around," I suggest.
After we take to the air, I figure out that we're on a ridge of some kind, just above a series of oddly rounded peaks. I can't see any other mountains... wait, is that-
"Kogasaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa..." Sekibanki says from behind me, backing into my shoulder blades. She sounds absolutely terrified.
I turn around.
It takes me a moment to figure out what I'm looking at; what I thought at first was a bank of clouds turns out to be a face, made of some bluish-gray stone. It's old and roughly carved, with blank features and no recognisable ears. There are dirty green marks along the side of its neck, like some kind of moss or lichen has started growing there. My eyes wander further down, past the shoulder, the upper arm...
...and to the ridge we were just standing on.
I look back at the rounded 'mountains'. They're definitely knuckles.
"Wha-wha-wha-wha-" "It's fucking huge!" "-what is this thing!?" "Oh gods let me out just get me out of here-" "What do we do!?" "You tell me you were the one that started reading that godsdamned book I should never have-"
A very loud whistle snaps us out of our panic. Looking back up the forearm ridge I spot a tiny speck of purple waving at us.
Sekibanki presses herself harder into my chest.
"Wake me when it's over," she whimpers. I wrap my arms around her and speed off toward Patchouli.
...who, as it turns out, is sitting at a perfectly normal outdoor table drinking tea, not far from the top of a really, really high cliff. Koakuma is sprawled on the grass behind her.
"Welcome," Patchouli says.
"...ummm..." I say.
Patchouli gestures at the teapot, cups and snacks on the table. "Care to join me?"
I slowly take a seat. Sekibanki opens her eyes.
"...what happened to Koa?" I ask finally.
"Nothing," Patchouli says. She peers over her shoulder for a moment. "I think she's asleep."
...I don't think I'd be able to sleep comfortably face-down in the dirt, but okay.
"So... um... where are we?"
"I uncovered a few of my old projects while we were reorganising the library," Patchouli says vaguely. "I'd forgotten all about some of them."
"So this is..."
"A golem, naturally. An experiment in the scalability of alchemical processes in phantasmal environments. While I agree that it is of little practical application, it did provide a great deal of insight into my research on-"
"I, uh, don't understand a word you're saying."
Patchouli blinks, and finally stops staring into space instead of looking at me.
"My apologies. Finding this project again after several centuries has been quite fascinating, especially since it seems to have changed a great deal in my absence."
She puts down her teacup.
"You are familiar with the basic premise of the Great Hakurei Border, correct?"
"Uh, kind of?" I reply.
"Well, this operates on a similar principle. The main difference being that where Gensoukyou and the space it occupies are the same size, here the internal space is significantly larger."
"Like how the Mansion is bigger on the inside?"
"Precisely. In most cases the container is a physical a model of the enclosed environment, however, as my skill is greater with the written word, I opted to construct it from first principles."
"...In simple terms, this is what the book looks like from the inside."
"...okay, so, what is that?" I ask, pointing at the huge head in the distance.
Patchouli turns to look. "A sculpture, more or less. Do you like it?"
"You made this!?"
"Of course. It's quite crude compared to my later efforts, but it's only natural I would have improved over the course of two hundred years."
"But it's bigger than all of Gensoukyou!" I protest.
"Quite significantly so," Patchouli agrees, sipping her tea.
"Where would you even get that much stone!?"
"Ah. There we have the second most significant difference with the Border: nothing in this space is real."
I look down a the ground, and poke at a clump of grass with my foot.
"...it sure looks real."
"As long as it remains here, it is. If you were to collect some of it and attempt to leave, however, it would cease to exist." She takes another sip of her tea. "That is one of the primary reasons for the vast scale and complexity of the Great Hakurei Border. Imaginary food is very poor sustenence."
"This food isn't imaginary though, is it?" I ask, looking at the table dubiously.
"Of course not. I had Sakuya bring it here. She was quite unsettled when she accidentally found her way in, so I gave her a familiar task to take her mind off it."
"Um hnph m gmph phff fmm m phnknk," Koakuma adds, before peeling herself off the ground. "Haaaaaooonnnhhh... I wanna sleep for a week..."
"I'm afraid that's going to have to wait," Patchouli replies. She drains the last of her tea. "Was there something in particular you wanted from me, or were you just admiring the new décor?"
"Oh! Uh, well, actually, I came to try and talk you into coming to the carnival..."
Patchouli sighs. "I really don't have time for such distractions."
"Why not? The library will still be here when you get back!"
"But my research will not be advanced, and I'm well behind schedule as it is."
"Is there something you have to be finished in time for?"
"Not as such, but -"
"Then what does it matter if it's a day or two late?"
"...there are many things I wish to accomplish in my lifetime, so I cannot allow -"
"Patchy, you're a youkai. Your lifetime is as long as you want it to be!"
"Yes, but -"
"But you're not even living if you just shut yourself up and work all day! You need to take the time to enjoy life!"
"For the record, boss, I think that's a pretty convincing argument," Koakuma offers hopefully.
Patchouli opens her mouth but no words come out.
"...very well," she says at last. Koakuma pumps both fists in the air.
"Does this mean you're coming to the carnival?" I ask.
"I suppose it does. Koakuma!"
Koakuma lurches to her feet. "Yes boss?"
"You are dismissed from my service until sunrise. Do as you please, but remember that your behaviour reflects on myself and the mansion." She looks over her shoulder at the devil. "Don't do anything silly."
"Yes Ma'am!" Koakuma chirps, grinning from ear to ear. Then she simply vanishes.
"Now then," Patchouli says, standing up. I get up as well.
There's a flash of light, and suddenly we're standing inside the magic circle in front of Patchouli's desk. The table is there too.
"Thank the gods," Sekibanki moans.
"I must admit I haven't attended a large social gathering in quite a long time. It will be interesting to see-"
"No notes! No studying! Come on!" I grab Patchouli's hand and drag her away from her desk.
"I am - mukyu! - quite capable of walking by myself!" Patchouli protests, sneezing mid-sentence.
"Mukyu! At least let me get my handkerchief!"
We come to a stop just outside the library door.
"See, this is why you shouldn't stay cooped up in a dusty library all day," I say.
"Mukyu! There isn't a single speck of duss lef in the untire - mukyu! - library. Sakuya made quite sure of that. Mukyu! Auugh!"
"Maybe you should ask Yagokoro if she has anything for hayfever," Sekibanki suggests. Patchouli grunts.
"I was perfectly fine until that dratted miko decided to dunk me in the lake," she grumbles.
"Ah," Sekibanki says.
Once Patchouli's sneezing fit is over we head outside. Patchouli unlocks the gate with a gesture rather than fly over it, and the two fairies snap rigidly to attention as she passes. Patchouli ignores them.
"I must say it's turned out quite lively," Patchouli says.
Where should we go now?
[ ] Games! [ ] Masks! [ ] People! (optional: specify who) [ ] Just wander around and see what we find.
"Where exactly are we -" Patchouli starts, but I cut her off.
"Aha! How about target shooting?"
"Step right up and try your luck!" the big, cheerful man running the target shooting game calls as we approach.
"I really don't see -" Patchouli begins again.
"Come on, Patchy! At least try it once!"
Patchouli doesn't look very enthusiastic. "If you insist. What are the rules?"
"All you have to do is use one of these slingshots to fire these pellets at the targets! Anything you knock down is yours to keep!" the man explains, launching into his spiel.
Patchouli stares at the selection of toys and sweets with obvious disinterest.
"Here, I'll show you how it's done! One try for me, please!" I say.
...I don't have much luck. The pellets are light and the slingshots are weak. But more than that, I can't hit anything! I'd have been better off just throwing them, but that's against the rules. I'd probably damage the stall if I threw them full force, so I guess that's fair. I still end up wasting my money though.
Patchouli's first shot goes wide, her next one bounces off, and her last three drop two boxes of sweets and a plush owl.
"...wow," I say.
"Hohoho! Excellent shooting, young lady!" Errr... "Would you like to go for a second round?"
"No thank you," Patchouli replies bluntly.
"Where did you learn to do that? Can you teach me?" I ask as we walk away. Patchouli just keeps staring at the toy she won.
"...it's not a very good likeness of an owl," she says at last.
"That's not the point," I reply. "It's cute, see?"
Patchouli doesn't respond. She does, however, perch it on her shoulder, and somehow make it stay there.
We wander around checking out some of the other festival games. Patchouli vetos everything that involves live animals or children's toys, but she does win some more sweets and a couple of odd trinkets. She tries to give most of them to me, but I refuse, even if it does mean I walk away empty-handed.
"Okay, how about a test of strength?" I suggest as we come to a kappa-run stall.
"Pass," Patchouli says instantly.
"Sorry lady, this one's for humans only," the kappa says, thumbing at a sign. "We haven't gathered enough data on different kinds of youkai to calibrate it fairly, and I don't think it's even possible to build a machine that'll survive everyone."
I try to imagine an oni picking up the hammer. The wooden hammer. Even I could probably break that thing.
"I guess you're right," I say.
"What about fairies?" a high-pitched voice behind me says. We step aside as two fairies push a slightly larger fairy toward the stall. They're not wearing maid uniforms, but they're different enough that I can't imagine them being from anywhere but the Mansion. In fact, I think they look familiar...
The kappa raises her eyebrows skeptically. "I guess there's no harm in letting you have a go, but it's rated for human strength, you know? And I'm not about to give you a discount, so don't even ask."
"That's fine, we can pay," one of the smaller two says.
"But I don't want to do it!" the larger fairy protests.
"You don't want to do anything, you soggy biscuit," the third fairy says. "Come on, one try! No-one's going to laugh if you fail!"
"You're good with a sledgehammer, aren't you?"
The two smaller fairies quickly count out the money, while the bigger one picks up the hammer and swings it around a bit.
"Go Florence!"<br> "Imagine it's Sunny!"
'Florence' ignores the others and swings. The ball in the machine just barely falls short of the bell at the top.
"Well I'll be darned," the kappa says.
"In your face!"<br> "Don't underestimate us fairies!"
"They're sure fired up," I say.
"What's going on over there?" Sekibanki asks, ignoring the fairies.
A noisy group of people have gathered at one of the places selling food. As we get closer, I spot Suika and a girl with big black wings sitting at a table. A tengu?
"Please tell me this isn't a drinking contest," Sekibanki groans.
"It isn't," Sanae replies. We all jump, especially Sekibanki.
"What's happening then?" I ask.
"Suika and Okuu were competing at all the festival games, but the test of strength doesn't allow youkai," Sanae says, "so they decided to arm-wrestle instead. They've been at it for seven minutes already."
She sighs exasperatedly.
"Seven minutes against an oni? That's one tengu I don't want to mess with," Sekibanki says.
"She's not a tengu, she's a hell raven," Sanae corrects.
"...that explains a lot."
The crowd suddenly gets noiser. Some of them are cheering and some of them are booing. Looks like Suika finally won.
"Okay, show's over, break it up people!" Sanae says, stepping in to shoo away the spectators, much to the relief of the owners of the food stand.
"Ahahaha, guess I'm still no match for one of the Big Four," Okuu says, standing... up... whoa. She's tall! Taller than even Miss Yukari! She's not lanky either, just... big. I only come up to her boobs. Umm.
She also has a giant eye on her chest, just below her collarbone. It's a deep, fiery red, and seems to glow from the inside.
It's looking right at me.
"Have we met?" Okuu asks.
"W-wah! I, uh, n-no! I mean, er, I don't think so?" I stammer.
"Oh. Well, My name's Utsuho!" She bows politely. "I work at the Geyser Center in Former Hell."
"K-Kogasa, blacksmith from the Human Village," I reply, bowing back.
"Oh? Ahahaha, I thought you were a youkai!"
"Er... I am."
"...really? A youkai in the Human Village? I thought that wasn't allowed."
"It's permitted as long as we don't cause any trouble. There's actually quite a few youkai living there in secret."
"Sounds tough. Who'd want to live like that?"
"Well, some youkai are more human-like than others."
"I guess so? I thought most surface youkai ate humans, though."
"I'm a tsukumogami, so I don't do anything like that."
"Me neither! There's only vengeful spirits in Hell, after all!"
"If you two are quite finished, you're scaring the daylights out of the humans," Sanae interrupts.
"Oops! Sorry!" Utsuho says, waving apologetically to the stall owners as Sanae drags her away.
I look around. We seem to have lost Patchouli, and all the humans seem to have fled too.
"Sorry!" I call to the the stall owners, ginning sheepishly, before hurrying away as well.
"Well, that was something," Sekibanki says, finally coming out of hiding behind me.
"That Utsuho was really surprising! Did you see where Patchouli went?" I ask.
"I think she went toward the main stage when Sanae started chasing everyone off."
"Huh? Now that I think of it, is that music?"
I stop and listen for a moment. Slow, traditional Japanese music is playing in the distance.
"Sounds like those two newcomers, the Tsukumo sisters," Sekibanki says.
"Yeah, it does! Let's go and listen!"
"Uh, before that... all that talk about food made me kinda hungry."
"Oh. I guess we can go get something to eat first," I say.
After a bit more looking around, we find quite a few interesting looking places.
[ ] Phoenix Fried Chicken [ ] Café Myourenji [ ] Heaven's Kitchen [ ] Night and Day Noodles
One of them is hidden away on the very edge of the carnival grounds. If it weren't for the plain sign out the front saying "Heaven's Kitchen" I'd have missed it entirely; there's no stall, cart or other structure to be seen, just a bunch of tables and mats spread out on the grass under the open sky.
Most of them are occupied, too. The place seems to be really popular with humans, including families with children. It has a very relaxed and friendly atmoshpere compared to the light and noise of the carnival proper. The fact that it's away from the carnival lighting and is lit by its own soft, faintly bluish lanterns probably helps.
Once I get used to the slightly dimmer light I spot Tenshi working at a stove plopped right in the middle. There's a table next to it and various boxes, bags and barrels nearby, but she's out in the open just like everyone else. A few other girls in clothes similar to Tenshi's are helping out with the cooking and waiting on tables.
"Hello Tenshi!" I call out, waving as I approach.
Tenshi looks up from the vegetables she's chopping. "Ah, Kogasa, Sekibanki! Welcome!"
"Looks like you're good enough after all," Sekibanki comments. Tenshi adds the freshly-sliced radishes to a pot on the stove.
"All I really did was rope a few other celestials into helping out and set up a few tables," she says. "Then more people kept turning up so I had to borrow some more tables, and I was running out of ingredients until these two goddesses showed up out of the blue..."
One of the other celestials passes Tenshi a piece of paper.
"...and now I'm really busy because I'm the only one of us who can cook." She grins. "It's fun!"
"Mind if we make you a little more busy?" I ask.
"Not at all! I don't have time to chat, but there's plenty of tables -"
All of a sudden someone grabs me from behind.
A firm hug lifts me right off the ground.
"Surprise~!" A familiar voice says. I twist my neck around until I can look up.
"Hina!" I exclaim.
"Hello, Kogasa," Hina says, smiling down at me. "And you must be Sekibanki," she adds.
"...Lady Kagiyama?" Sekibanki hazards, looking a bit taken aback.
"Just Hina is fine," Hina says. She finally lets me go. "Sanae told me you were coming to the festival, but I must have kept missing you."
"Same here!" I reply.
"How are you doing?" Hina asks, looking me over. "Have you been looking after yourself?"
"Staying out of trouble?"
"The villagers haven't been bullying you, have they?"
Hina laughs and ruffles my hair. I puff out my cheeks at her.
"So, mind if I join you for dinner?" she asks.
"Sure!" I say. I turn around again. "Uh, what are you serving?"
"There's some menus around here somewhere," Tenshi says, looking around.
One of the other celestials passes me a clipboard with a menu on it.
"Anything with meat in it?" Sekibanki asks, peering over my shoulder.
"There's plenty of fish..." I reply.
Once we've made our selections we seek out an empty mat at the outer edge of the grounds. I can hear a strange rushing noise coming from somewhere nearby. After a moment of confusion, I realize it's raining! The rain ends sharply a few meters away. Several children are playing around at the boundary line.
"...what the hell?" Sekibanki asks, staring at the rain.
"Patchy's work, probably," I say.
"I think it's quite soothing," Hina says. "But getting home is going to be a bother for everyone."
"Sounds like a job for an umbrella!" I say cheerfully. Hina chuckles.
"So, what have you been up to, Kogasa?" she asks.
Sekibanki and I start retelling our adventures over the last few days. Our food arrives before we even get to the underground city. It's just as good as last time, despite being a completely different style. Tenshi must really be serious about cooking.
"What about you, Hina?" I ask once we've finished our story.
"Ah, well, you know. Nothing much happens at the base of the Mountain," Hina says almost apologetically. "Yamame finished the repairs to the shrine, and Nitori came to visit."
"It sounds peaceful at least," I say.
"That and hot," Hina says. "All these rainy nights have made it awfully humid."
"Really? We've been flying around all the time, so we haven't noticed."
"And your umbrella makes a great parasol," Sekibanki says. I grin.
"This is changing the subject, but how has life in the Village been for you?" Hina asks.
"For me?" I ask, and frown. "Most of the humans seem to have gotten used to me being around. Well, it's not like anyone was ever actually scared of me, and they're still really stiff and formal when they talk to me, but they don't go out of their way to avoid me anymore."
"They treat you as a stranger rather than an outsider?" Hina asks.
"I guess that's one way of putting it."
Hina is silent for a moment. "Would you say they feel safe around you?"
"...maybe? They don't seem to act like they think I'd attack them. I never actually hurt anyone, after all."
"That's not what I was getting at... do they feel you would protect them, from other youkai?"
I open my mouth to say no, but then I remember the two humans I escorted back to the village not long ago. They certainly seemed that way.
"...I guess I have protected a few people, so maybe?" I say, looking away uncomfortably. "Why are you even asking?"
Hina just looks at me for a long while. She sips the last of her soup.
"You and I are opposites," she says at last. "Humans... do not trust me to protect them."
"Hina -" I begin.
"And that is how it should be," Hina interrupts. "Just as humans trusting you... is how it should be."
I stare back at her.
"...you're being weird again," I say at last.
Hina doesn't say anything for a while. Then she suddenly grins.
"I think you should ask Sanae to teach you how to be a miko!" she says brightly.
"What," I reply. Sekibanki chokes on her food and bursts out laughing.
"What do you think, Sekibanki? She'd look cute in a miko outfit, wouldn't she?"
Sekibanki laughs so hard she drops out of the air.
"How did you get from that to this!?" I demand.
"Well, it's a miko's job to protect humans from youkai, isn't it?"
"But that's absurd! And anyway Reimu would exterminate me!"
"So ask her for lessons instead!"
"That doesn't even make sense!"
I turn around and fold my arms in a huff until Sekibanki stops laughing.
"...so, I hear your friends Kyouko and Mystia are going to be performing soon," Hina says. "Apparently they've joined forces with one of the tsukumogami that came to Gensoukyou recently."
"You mean Raiko?" I ask, turning back around.
"Is that her name? I haven't met her. Shall we go and listen to them?"
[ ] To the main stage! [ ] Maybe I should go somewhere else first... (write-in)
"Okay," I say. I pick the last few grains of rice out of my bowl and stand up.
We say goodbye to Tenshi and start walking back toward the main stage. Along the way I spot Reimu. She's in an unusually good mood, talking to a couple of humans from the village.
...this is a bad idea.
This is a really, really bad idea.
But it just might work.
"I'll meet you at the stage," I tell Hina. "I just thought of something."
"Don't take too long or you'll miss the opening!" Hina replies.
I wait until Reimu is finished talking. I feel like it takes forever.
"Miss Reimu!" I call as I approach.
"...oh, it's you," Reimu says. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Er, not very long?"
"What do you want? I'm kind of busy right now."
"It won't take long, I promise! I just wanted to ask you something!"
"Hurry up and ask it, then."
I take a deep breath.
"Teach me how to be a miko!"
"I said sure. In fact, why don't we start tomorrow? Meet me at the shrine in the morning, bright and early."
"W-w-w-w-wait!" I shout as Reimu turns away. "I d-d-didn't mean it! I was just trying to surprise you!"
"Reeeeeally?" Reimu says, turning around again. She's smiling gleefully. "Well too bad, so sad! I said yes, so you better be there! And you better be ready, 'cause I'm gonna work you to the bone! That's what you get for trying to surprise Hakurei Reimu!"
Then she twirls around and strolls away, humming to herself.
My knees give out.
"S-scary... happy Reimu is scary..."
"Kogasa?" Sekibanki says.
"Yes?" I ask.
"I'm gonna miss you."
I groan and bury my face in my hands.
I don't go to the stage after that.
I turn around, walk up to the first place I find that serves alcohol, and buy myself a strong drink.
"Haaaaaa..." I moan.
"Long day?" one of the fairies manning the stall asks as she dries a glass.
"I don't wanna talk about it," I mumble into the table. The fairy leaves me alone.
"I'll find a way to surprise her eventually..." I mutter to myself.
"I really, really think you should stop with the whole 'surprise' thing for a while," Sekibanki says tiredly.
"No!" I say, slamming my cup down and making the two fairies jump. "I'm gonna see it through! I'll just have to surprise her with how hardworking I am!"
"...that's the dumbest idea you've had yet," Sekibanki replies. "Give up already, you suck at surprising people."
"That's not true! I'm great at surprising people! I could surprise you right now!"
Sekibanki smirks at me. "After you just told me you're going to? Try me."
And grab her.
Her smirk disappears, replaced by a frown.
Then I kiss her.
Sekibanki make a surprised noise and tries to pull free, but I'm not done yet.
I can do fun things with my tongue when I'm drunk.
Sekibanki goes limp.
"...are you surprised?" I ask when I finally let go.
Sekibanki blubbers incoherently for a few seconds. Her face is almost the same color as her hair.
"W-w-wh-where the hell did that come from!?" she shrieks, her voice an octave higher than it normally is.
"You have really soft lips," I tell her.
"You... you... crazy... stupid... drunk..."
"Hey Sekibanki," I ask, "are you gay?"
Next thing I know I'm on my back.
Oh well, I was sleepy anyway.
Huh. It's cloudy tonight. I wonder if it'll rain...
Uff! Ow. I think I just rolled out of bed... uhhh, wait, bed?
"You okay down there?"
I roll over - uergh no why did I do that - and squint upwards.
"Hi Meiling," I mumble, "why's there two of you?"
"...how much did you drink last night?"
"I 'unno. A lot."
"Well, maybe you'll think twice before doing it again."
"Tha' was the idea..."
I try to haul myself to my feet, overbalance, end up on all fours and ooooh spinniiiing -
"Not on the carpet!"
"No, I'm good."
I straighten up, slowly and carefully. One Meiling. Kinda wobbly though. And why's she holding a feather?
"Think you can make it downstairs?"
I follow Meiling through the halls. Green and white is really easy to see against red and black. We end up in the main dining hall. I flop down at one of the smaller tables and rest my poor head on the nice cool tabletop.
"Here, drink this."
I gratefully take the glass of water and down it in one gulp -
- and promptly end up inhaling half of it. My stomach is on fire! Cold fire! I can't see, I can't smell, I feel like I've wet myself - I feel like I've got frostbite!
After what feels like years of choking I can finally breathe again. I wipe the tears away from my eyes and shake my head, shivering.
"What - gack - what was that?" I ask weakly.
"Hangover cure. Also good for hayfever and constipation!"
I blink a few more times and stare at the chair opposite me, willing the mass of red, white and blue to make sense.
"Nothing like the smell of minty freshness in the morning, eh?" Clownpiece says, grinning, with her hands behind her head and her feet on the table.
I shake my head again, just to check. No pain. No nausea. Still feel rotten otherwise though.
"It... worked?" I fidget a bit, discretely making sure I haven't actually soiled myself as I straighten up my clothes. "What are you doing here, anyway?"
"I... kinda sorta may have been roped into cleaning up," Clownpiece replies, letting her chair fall back onto all four legs and looking off to the side. "After getting double-teamed in a totally unfair, rigged match -"
"- that you agreed to, so you lost fair and square," Meiling says from behind me.
"I was drunk!"
"So was Yukari."
Meiling puts a steaming bowl and a glass full of something orange-colored on the table in front of me.
"Nothing fancy, but it should help with the head," she says.
"Um, actually, my head feels pretty okay now." I give it another shake and marvel at the lack of pain or spinniness. "Clownpiece gave me something."
"Did she now?" Meiling cracks her knuckles.
"Hey, hey, time out!" Clownpiece raises her hands in surrender. "One hundred percent oni-made medicine, nothing shady going on here!"
"...oni get hangovers?" I ask. "How much alcohol would that even take?"
"All of it," Clownpiece replies.
"Well, if you're sure you're okay, I should get back to work," Meiling says.
"Urk... um, I'm sorry..."
"Don't worry about it," Meiling says, patting me on the shoulder. "Looking after guests is my job too." She shoots Clownpiece a glare. "Behave."
"Geez," Clownpiece grumbles once Meiling is out of earshot, "one little rampage and everyone thinks I'm some kind of hooligan. Can't take a joke, any of 'em..."
"You did kind of blow holes in the walls," I remind her.
"That wasn't me! Well, okay, maybe a little. But Dame Laserlots and One Coin Wonder did most of it!"
I don't answer, instead starting on my breakfast. It's just like Meiling said, plain but easy to digest. My appetite slowly returns as I eat, and I end up finishing all of it. Clownpiece stays quiet the whole time, idly balancing her chair on two legs again while staring into space with a thoughtful expression. I didn't think a fairy could sit still for that long.
"So, um, if you lost a duel and they made you clean up, why are you still here?" I ask after I drain the last of my juice. "You don't seem to like the Scarlets much."
Clownpiece blinks, and her chair thunks to the floor again.
"Who said I didn't like 'em? This place is great!" she replies, face breaking into another grin. "Well, except for mean ol' headwings. I asked if there was anything I could do to help and she set me on fire!"
I wince. It takes a lot to make Koa actually get violent.
"Saaay... what's the deal with you and the headmistress?"
"...who?" I ask.
Clownpiece makes a slicing motion across her throat.
"You mean Sekibanki? Um... wait, where is she anyway?" I look around as I try to remember when I last...
"That's a reeeeeal nice face you're makin' there young lady!" Clownpiece says, leaning forward with a smirk on her face.
"N-n-no, it's nothing like that! I just remembered I was drinking because I asked Reimu to teach me how to be a miko as a prank and she said yes and I have to be at the shrine first thing in the morning and what time is it!?"
Clownpiece suddenly looks like she's about to die laughing.
"It is currently seven minutes past nine," Sakuya's unflappable voice says from beside me, followed by the click of her pocket watch closing.
"She's gonna exterminate me!" I yelp, scrambling out of my chair -
- and smacking straight into Sekibanki.
Sakuya catches me before I fall over and crack my head on the table. Sekibanki jerks backwards out of my chest, face red.
"Godsdammit are you doing this on purpose!?" she wails.
"No! Ow! That hurt!"
"Shall I kiss it better?" Sakuya asks. I hear a chair falling over and a hell fairy struggling to breathe.
"I'm fine!" I shrug off Sakuya's hands and stand up on my own.
"If you say so, Miss Tatara. Would I be correct in assuming you were on your way out?"
"Er, well, I really shouldn't keep Reimu waiting so..."
"Understood. Will you be going with her, Miss Sekibanki?"
"I, uh, I guess so?"
"As you wish. This way, please."
I fall into step behind Sakuya, who looks like she's walking at her usual pace but is moving so fast I almost have to jog to keep up.
"So, um, about last night -" I begin.
"I have no idea what you're talking about! No idea at all!" Sekibanki blurts out, not looking at me.
We don't say anything else until we reach the front door.
"Thank you both for your assistance once again, and please do visit again soon," Sakuya says as we leave.
"Uh, it was nothing, and, um, sorry for getting drunk and being a bother!" I reply, already in the air. Sakuya just smiles pleasantly.
I head for the Hakurei shrine at top speed. Reimu is waiting under the torii, broom in hand.
"You're late." Somehow the fact that she doesn't sound angry only makes it even scarier!
"I'm sorry! I had too much to drink and slept in!"
"Whatever. Come on, let's get started already."
Reimu leads the way into the shrine, and I follow meekly behind. Sekibanki wisely keeps her distance.
"S-so, what am I actually supposed to do?" I ask.
"First," Reimu says as she closes the door, "you're going to strip."
"This is, um... kind of breezy..." I say, fiddling with my sleeves. I'm wearing one of Reimu's not-quite-traditional miko outfits, complete with the trademark exposed armpits.
"Get used to it, it's the uniform," Reimu replies.
"...can I at least have my sarashi back?"
"But the chest is too tight, people are gonna see-"
I quickly shut up as a big stick stops right in front of my nose.
"Well?" Reimu prods (literally). "Hurry up and take it."
I gingerly take the stick. It has folded paper on the other end - one of Reimu's oversize gohei.
...is this a real gohei? I mean, is there such thing as a not-real gohei? They're made for purification, so they're dangerous to youkai... it's not burning my hands like the seal yesterday at least.
"Alright, go wait outside. I'll be out in a minute."
I do as I'm told, stepping out into the morning sun. It feels weird to be wearing tabi again after so long. At least she let me wear my own geta; she only has one pair after all.
Someone whistles loudly. I whirl around to see Sekibanki watching me with a huge smirk on her face and Shinmyoumaru perched on top of her.
"Lookin' good," Sekibanki says. Shinmyoumaru gives me a wink and a thumbs-up.
"Cut it out," I whine.
"No, really, it suits you. You won't scare any humans at all in that outfit!"
"Grrr, you - I'll exterminate you!"
I swing my gohei at her and she darts away, leading me on a chase around the shrine grounds. I keep from getting too close, just in case, and quickly stop when Reimu comes out.
"Umm, how do I use this?" I ask her.
"So, uh, what's all that for?" I ask, rubbing my forehead.
"This is the Portable Hakurei Shrine Donation Box!" Reimu declares. "I've been thinking it's high time I did a little bit of advertising in the village, and guess who volunteered to help out!"
"So this is just cosplay then?"
Reimu smiles menacingly. "Pretty much!"
...um. Well, I didn't actually want to become a miko (can a youkai even do that?) so I guess it's fine?
"Well don't just stand there! It's time to go drum up some faith, and more importantly, donations!"
We spend the next four hours walking around the Human Village, without a single break. The clouds from yesterday have completely disappeared, and Reimu made me leave my umbrella at the shrine.
I think my armpits are sunburned.
If Reimu's bothered by the heat, she doesn't show it. The smile she gives the humans look genuine - and the smiles she gives the youkai look terrifying. Even more terrifying is how quickly she can go from one to the other. One moment she's cheerfully praising a little boy's manners, the next she's all but extorting money out of an 'undercover' kitsune.
I don't get to spend much time watching though - I'm too busy doing! My face hurts from all the smiling! How does Kyouko do this all day!? I get the feeling Reimu would have been much better off with a human helper, or at least someone less familiar. Everyone in the village knows who and what I am so they're just as guarded around me as they usually are.
I do manage to talk a few people into donating so it's not a total loss. I fall into a routine, moving far enough away to talk to people Reimu hasn't but staying close enough not to get left behind. Reimu pays no attention to me whatsoever so I get used to keeping one eye on her.
So when Reimu ducks into an alley I follow without even thinking about it.
The next thing I know she has my (bare, sunburned) shoulders in an oni-like grip, and her face is almost nose-to-nose with mine.
"Why are you so popular?"
"Wh-wh-what do you mean!?"
"Everyone is happy to see you. Everyone. Without exception. Have you bewitched them or something?"
"No! Nothing! I haven't been doing anything weird!"
"Then why does everyone like you?"
"I don't know! I don't know what you're talking about!"
Reimu glares at me for a full minute.
Then she lets go. Her shoulders slump. Her face goes from terrible to tired.
"So that's it, is it? That's all there is to it. I'm less likable than a youkai."
"You're here every day getting to know people while I'm stuck halfway up a mountain tending to a border nobody can see. It's no contest."
"Ugh, I got loads of donations but it still feels like I lost. Stupid tsukumogami..."
Reimu leaves the alley and walks back the way we came. I hurry to catch up.
"So we're not going to keep going?" I ask.
"Do you want to keep going? I thought you said you were just trying to prank me."
"I don't care about that anymore! I want to help!"
Reimu stops so suddenly I nearly crash into her.
"You want to help me?" she asks, turning around.
Reimu slaps something onto my forehead. I go cross-eyed for a moment trying to look at it, and realize it's a piece of paper.
"...oh! But I thought I was supposed to be a miko, not a jiang-shi?"
Reimu doesn't answer. I peel the paper off and look at it.
It's an ofuda. An anti-youkai ward, just like the ones from yesterday.
W-well, if she was trying to hurt me then it would be burning me again, right?
I look up, and realize Reimu isn't in front of me anymore. I tuck the ofuda in my sleeve and hurry after her again.
Reimu is silent the whole way back, and when we arrive the shrine is deserted. I'm sure I saw Sekibanki and Shinmyoumaru follow us into the village but I lost track of them while I was working. As soon as we touch down Reimu heads straight for the kitchen and brews a pot of tea.
"You're still here," she says when she returns to the table.
"W-well, I do need to give the uniform back, and get my umbrella..."
Reimu wordlessly pours two cups of tea, and places the second on the other side of the table.
Reimu stares at me, expression unreadable.
"...is there something on my face?" I ask nervously.
"No," Reimu replies.
She takes a sip of her tea.
"...and that's the problem, isn't it?"
It takes me a moment to figure out what she meant.
"You mean you were trying to hurt me!?"
Reimu waves her hand lazily. "You'd have recovered in no time."
I pull out the ofuda and look at it again. "So why isn't it working?"
Reimu abruptly stands up, walks around the table and takes the ofuda off me.
"Close your eyes," she orders.
"Wh-what are you going to do?"
"Just close them!"
I squeeze my eyes shut.
"Now, just... I dunno, think good thoughts."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"How the heck should I know!? Think about helping people or something!"
I try to think about all the helpful things I've done lately. Or tried to do. Even when I'm trying to be good, I'm not very good at it...
Something cold touches my hands.
"What are you doing?"
"Testing a theory. Okay, you can open your eyes now."
I open my eyes. Reimu is sitting in front of me, scowling.
I'm holding a yin-yang orb.
"Looks like I was right," Reimu says. She looks annoyed.
"Right about what!?"
"The Hakurei yin-yang orbs are my strongest weapons. A youkai shouldn't even be able to touch them."
"But I'm touching one right now!"
"Exactly. Which means," she narrows her eyes at me, "you're not a youkai."
"At least, not entirely."
"Wh... what are you talking about!?" I hold the yin-yang orb a bit further away from myself.
Reimu gets up and goes back to her spot.
"There isn't much difference between youkai and gods, you know. Fox youkai become gods all the time. You could become a goddess of umbrellas pretty easily."
"Who'd worship that kind of goddess!? And besides that I'm not goddess-like at all!"
Reimu idly sips at her tea. "What have you been doing in the village lately?"
"I haven't been doing anything! I've been properly following the rules!"
Reimu pulls a newspaper out of her sleeve (why did she have that with her!?), unfolds it and throws it in front of me.
It's the Kakashi Spirit News, and the page she opened it to is the article about me guiding two humans back to the village two nights ago.
"It looks to me like you've been protecting people."
"But if I'd just left them there Miss Keine would have thrown me out of the village! And I didn't actually do anything to stop Seija!"
"It doesn't matter why you're doing it or how good you are at it. What matters is what people think about it."
"What's that supposed to mean!?"
Reimu leans over the table and taps at the photograph. "These people trust you to protect them." She leans even closer. "They have faith in you."
Reimu sits back down. "Only a tiny little bit, but that's all it takes to start the process."
"But I'm not even a good person." I stare at the floor. "I've done loads of awful things..."
Reimu shrugs. "Doesn't matter. There are evil gods as well as good gods. Though mind you, youkai or god I'll kick your butt if you cause trouble."
"I wasn't thinking of it!"
"Good. I have enough pests to deal with already."
I carefully put the yin-yang orb down on the table, then reflexively wipe my hands and check them for damage. There is none, which only confirms what Reimu said.
"What if... what if I don't want to be a goddess?"
"Stop helping people," Reimu says simply. "They'll forget about it, the sliver of faith you've gathered will fade and nothing will have changed."
Reimu closes her eyes and sips her her tea in silence.
[ ] ...I should go find the others. [ ] ...I should ask someone else about this. [ ] ...I need time to think.
The only thing shittier than my life is my update rate aaaaaaaaaaaah.
>Kogasa becomes Goddess of Umbrellas >Umbrellas are used when its raining >Through the transitive property of mathematics, Kogasa becomes a Rain Goddess >Kanako is already a Rain Goddess >Kanako is also a War Goddess >OHSHIT.jpg >Kogasa vs. Kanako. Winner takes all.
For a while neither of us moves. We just quietly sit and drink our tea.
The shrine sure is quiet with nobody else around.
When the tea runs out, I get up and go looking for my stuff. I change back into my own clothes and hug my umbrella to my chest. Reimu is lying down on the floor where she was sitting, and seems to have fallen asleep, so I decide not to bother her any more.
The hot afternoon sun is still beating down, but with my umbrella for shade and a nice cool breeze at higher altitudes flying around is actually quite pleasant. I drift aimlessly for a while, letting the wind take me where it will, as I think about what Reimu said.
I don't really believe it, to be honest. But she doesn't exactly have a reason to make something like that up, does she?
Becoming a goddess...
...no matter how I look at it, that's too weird. Hina, Shizuha, Minoriko, Kanako, Suwako... they all have a sort of protective aura. Almost motherly in a way. Hina's always mopey but spends all her time protecting people in her own way. Shizuha's really shy, but she's always so kind. And even though Suwako seems to spend all day playing around she's probably the scariest of the lot whenever someone's actually in danger.
Now that I think of it, Sanae's a goddess too, isn't she? She's more of an older sister figure than a mother, but she takes her job as a youkai exterminator really seriously. Though since she started spending time with Nue her idea of 'extermination' has gotten a lot less brutal.
...umbrellas are made to protect people from the rain, I guess. I never got to do that much, so it's not weird that I want to make up for it.
But umbrellas are just tools. Something you bring out when you need it and put away again when you're done. People take good care of their tools - or they should! - but in the end the owner is the one in charge. Being a tsukumogami means I have a mind of my own, of course, but I'm still... I don't want to be in charge. I just want to be helpful. Most other tsukumogami I know do too.
Which I guess is why we get along well with others, even humans. Raiko, Benben, Yatsuhashi, Kokoro... okay, Medicine hates humans, but that's because she was thrown away instead of being used properly. It's only natural she'd harbour a grudge after that. But even then, she's been spending a lot of time in the village lately, hasn't she? I'm not really sure if she wants to or if Yuuka is forcing her into it but either way she's trying, right?
Anyway, that aside, we can all come and go in the village without trouble. We are still youkai, so the humans are still mindful of us, but they're not actually scared of us. There, I said it! I'm not scary at all! Kokoro maybe is a little, because she's weird and she stirred up all that trouble in the village, which youkai aren't supposed to do. But any of us can show up at a festival or walk into a bar and get drunk without causing a panic.
If someone like Wriggle, Mystia, or even Kagerou did that... it wouldn't be pretty.
I guess where I'm going with this is... uuuh... I dunno actually. But tsukumogami really aren't goddess-like, least of all me! We're more friends and helpers than leaders and guardians. And youkai... don't change much. Humans do, because they want to, and gods do, because their followers want them to. Even fairies change, when nature changes. But we're stuck as whatever humans believe we are.
That's the whole reason Gensoukyou exists, after all.
I guess if I was to become a goddess then that wouldn't apply to me anymore, but... it's still a bit much. In fact it's weird that I'm even thinking about it to begin with.
...well, I guess there is a reason for it. But...
...in the end, that just means...
I don't deserve it.
I slap myself and shake my head. Don't think about that!
I blink, look around, and realize I'm flying low over the edge of the Forest of Magic. I know this place. It should be somwhere around... aha!
I touch down on the little-used path leading up to Kourindou. Mister Morichika built his little curio shop on the edge of the Forest because it's the border between human territory and youkai territory, so he reasoned he could get customers from both sides. But in the end it only ended up being equally out of the way for both sides, so nobody really visits it much at all.
I do come here from time to time though. Most of the things he sells have been thrown out or abandoned by other people. I like to rescue the umbrellas and give them a chance at a new owner. And sometimes I buy other things too. You never really know what you'll find in Kourindou. For instance, this time I'm not the only one here!
"...and if you press this button it stops again," a vaguely familiar voice says, followed by a loud click.
"I see," Mister Morichika replies. "Thank you for your explanation once again, Miss Usami. Despite knowing the name and purpose of every item, it's still fascinating to learn how they're actually used."
"Don't mention it! Even on the Outside these are pretty uncommon nowdays!"
I find my way to the counter, and see the owner of the shop talking to a girl in purpley Outsider clothes. A boxy silver thing is sitting on the countertop. It looks almost like it has a face on it, with two big circles at either end for eyes, a little rectangle in the middle for a mouth and a row of stubby 'teeth' at the bottom.
"Good afternoon!" I call cheerfully.
"Good afternoon, Miss Tatara!" Mister Morichika replies, with his usual professional warmth. "I'm afraid I still don't have any karakasa in stock, but you're welcome to look around as always."
"Heya! Fancy meeting again so soon!" the girl says.
"Err..." I reply slowly. She seems familiar, but I don't quite recognize her.
"Whaaat? You can't have forgotten me already!" A bunch of random objects fly off the shelves and swirl around in front of her as she strikes a pose. "Sumireko the psychic Outsider, remember?"
"Oh! I'm sorry, I had a bit too much to drink last night so it's all a bit muddled..." I bow apologetically. "You look really different in those clothes, too."
"Do I?" Sumireko asks. The odds and ends float back to their places, and Morichika lets out the breath he was holding. "It's only a school uniform..."
"You have to wear a uniform to school on the Outside? That sounds rough."
"It's just another stupid rule." Sumireko waves her hand dismissively.
"Why are you wearing it here, then?"
Sumireko smirks. "Because I'm at school!"
"...but you're in Kourindou," I say, stating the obvious.
"Astral Projection," Sumireko says smugly, as if that explained everything. "My spirit is here but my body is asleep on my desk."
"You're sleeping at school? Won't you get into trouble?" Miss Keine sure wouldn't approve of it!
Sumireko shrugs, smirking again. "What're they gonna do, give me detention? Besides, my grades haven't dropped so who cares?"
...I don't really get what that means, but okay. "If you're just a spirit on this side then why were you so worried last night?"
Sumireko's smugness evaporates. "Ah, that. I wasn't a spirit last night, I was the real deal." She grins sheepishly. "Reimu gave me an earful for it, she hates me crossing the Border without her permission. But what's the point of coming to a festival if you can't eat and drink properly?"
"Wait, you can cross the Border!?"
Sumireko's smug grin returns in full force. "Nothing is impossible for me!"
"I can't really object to having my shop used as a meeting place," Morichika interrupts patiently, "but I would like to remind you to take any duels outside, before they get started."
"I wasn't starting anything!" Sumireko says.
"Just making sure," Morichika says, before turning his attention back to the boxes behind the counter.
"So!" I say, changing the subject, "if you're an Outsider then most of this stuff must be pretty boring to you."
"Not really," Sumireko replies. "Most things that fall into Gensoukyou have been forgotten in the Outside world, so it's a real blast from the past!"
Sumireko starts showing off her knowledge by pointing out all sorts of things she recognises. There's a little red and white thing a bit like the game I played with Kanako and Suwako, lots of the big bulky boxes that show pictures, all manner of different music-making devices, something called a 'mouse' that doesn't look much like one at all and doesn't really look like it would be helpful for pointing at things... most of them require electricity to work, so she can't actually show me what they do, but they all sound interesting!
"Outsiders sure make a lot of machines," I say, peering at the shelves.
"I guess so? They're kind of like our version of magic," Sumireko replies.
"They sure sound magical! It's a pity most of them don't work here."
"They're not that interesting. Flying around in real life is way cooler than a game!"
I turn around. "Can you fly?"
"Huh? Sure." Sumireko floats into the air and stays there.
"No, I mean, on the Outside."
"Of course. My powers work anywhere."
"But that's not normal, right?"
"Nope! I'm the only one who can do it."
"What do other people say when they see it?"
Sumireko lands and sighs. "They think it's a trick. They make up all kinds of stupid rationalizations to say I'm just fooling around."
"People really don't believe in magic anymore, huh?"
"Nope. They say they want to, but actually they don't."
That's... kind of depressing, actually.
"Ah! That reminds me!" Sumireko says. "I wanted to take a look around the village."
"The village? Why there?"
"Because that's where the humans of Gensoukyou live, right? Even if it's not fancy and magical and everything, it's still totally different to the Outside!"
"Err, okay, but just so you know causing trouble in the village is forbidden. Reimu'll give you a lot more than an earful if you so much as think about it."
"I know, I know. That's kind of why I brought it up." Sumireko grins awkwardly. "See, I was kind of hoping I could get a local to show me around. That way I've got someone keeping an eye on me, plus it's way better than just wandering around by myself gawking at things."
"...so you're asking me to show you around?"
"Well, yes. More or less. Please?" Sumireko puts her hands together and smiles as innocently as possible.
"You do remember I'm a youkai, right?" I'm not a goddess yet, whatever Reimu says!
"Yes? But Kasen said you live in the village and you're on good terms with humans, so... umm, did I say something bad?"
"No..." I say, straightening back up. "I'm okay with not being scary, I'm used to it by now..."
"Err, if it's a bother then don't worry about it!"
[ ] No, it's fine. I can show you around the village. [ ] I really think you'd be better off finding someone else...
[x] No, it's fine. I can show you around the village.
"No, it's fine," I say. "I can show you around the village."
"Are you sure?" Sumireko asks. "You don't look very happy about it..."
"It's nothing." See? I'm smiling! "But why didn't you ask Kasen? You two seemed to be on good terms."
"Well... she already did show me around Gensoukyou a bit, but I got the feeling she wasn't really taking me seriously."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, she insisted on doing it at night, and all of the people we met acted like cartoon villains..."
"Yeah, 'umm'. Some of them even forgot their lines. It was painful to watch."
I try to imagine the Kasen I know doing that as we step out of Kourindou. It's not working. She can be a little bit odd sometimes, but I always chalked that up to her being a hermit.
"Erm, is there any particular reason why we're walking?" Sumireko asks. "Not that I'm in a hurry or anything, but I do have to wake up at the end of class, and it's hot in the sun..."
"Hmm? Oh! If the sun's bothering you, we can use my umbrella!"
I swing my umbrella up and open and fall back to walk beside Sumireko, but she jumps away.
"H-hey, wait a sec! We've only just met!"
"Huh? Um, I'm not trying to eat you or anything..."
"...ah." Sumireko stares at me blankly for a moment, then puts a hand to her forehead. "Urgh, stupid classmates, making me say stupid stuff... forget I said anything, okay?"
"...okay?" I reply, still confused.
We end up flying the rest of the way to the village anyway. It's not that far but the breeze is nice. I put on my most cheerful smile as we walk past the guards at the gate, who watch us warily. I guess a known youkai and a stranger in Outsider clothes make a pretty suspicious pair.
"Man, it's totally like walking onto a movie set, only for real!" Sumireko says.
"A... movie set?" I ask.
"A place set up for filming movies. Like a stage for a play."
"Oh! So, you're saying villages outside don't look like this anymore?"
"Nope. It's weird to see somewhere like this without cars or asphalt."
"...I don't know what those are either..."
"Here, let me show you!"
Sumireko pulls somthing out of her pocket. It looks a bit like a thin notebook, but it doesn't open up. Instead she taps the cover and it lights up, showing a picture with words and numbers drawn on it. A few more taps and swipes and the picture changes. I crowd closer to look.
"I don't have a lot of pictures of random normal stuff, but..." Sumireko flicks her fingers across the picture, flipping it through all different angles and places at a dizzying rate, "...I took these during a field trip. That black stuff on the ground is asphalt, they use it to make roads hard, flat and rough, so that cars..."
My original goal of showing Sumireko around the village is forgotten for quite a while as she shows me around places I've never actually been. Each new picture has so many new things I've never seen before that I can't help asking more questions, which leads to more pictures and even more questions!
"Wow, the outside world sure has changed since I last saw it!" I say once I finally manage to tear my eyes away from Sumireko's "mobile phone".
"That must have been a long time ago if you've never seen a car before," Sumireko replies.
"Well, I was already living here when the Barrier went up so... about a hundred and thirty years, I think?"
Sumireko looks at me strangely.
"...seriously? Er... how old are you, if you don't mind my asking?"
"...um," I reply, stopping to think. How old am I? "When was I made again? About... thirteen hundred... no, fourteen hundred-"
"You were born in fourteen hundred!?" Sumireko exclaims.
"Nnno? I am fourteen hundred, or thereabouts. Prince Shoutoku's reign was about that long ago, right?"
Sumireko stares at me, wide-eyed. It takes her a few seconds to realize her mouth is open. She closes it and swallows.
"You... you were born in the Asuka period?"
"W-well, I was just an umbrella for most of it, but, uh, yes?"
Sumireko continues to stare at me. Then she suddenly starts laughing.
"Ahahahaha, youkai really are in a whole different league!"
"Er, are you alright...?" I ask. Sumireko's face has gone very pale.
"Y-yeah, I'm fine, It's just, I've barely even seen anything that old, let alone a person! Ahaha..."
"Uh, well, do you want get something to eat?" My stomach chooses that moment to remind me that I haven't eaten anything since breakfast, except for tea at the shrine.
"Ah, no, lunch break just finished, I'm good." Sumireko says. She looks kind of unsteady. "I could do with some water though, I think the heat's getting to me..."
"Well, I know this place that sells dango..."
I lead Sumireko to the dango shop where I met Kokoro and all but force her to sit down on one of the benches outside. It's only a snack for me, but after a a glass of water, a few dango and lots of mundane smalltalk, Sumireko seems to have recovered from whatever it was that came over her.
"...his father wants him to take over the family business, but he's fascinated by woodworking. I've spotted him sneaking out to visit old Yoshinobu at night several times. I bet the old man was all too happy to teach him - he's been pestering his grandsons about it since they could walk. I don't really blame him either; it's easy to see he loves his craft and it would be a shame if he didn't get to pass on his skills just because no-one in his family wanted to learn it."
"So Gensoukyou has family troubles too, huh?" Sumireko says, with a sympathetic grin.
"Doesn't everywhere?" I reply. "Family is part of what it means to be human."
"...that sounds kind of weird, coming from someone who's not human." Sumireko glances at me again.
"You really don't have to be nervous about me, you know," I reassure her. "Attacking humans in the village is forbidden, even if you're not from here."
"No, no, it's not that, it's just..." Sumireko takes a deep breath, staring up at the sky. "...what's it like, living for a thousand years?"
"...painful," I reply after a while. "We... youkai don't get stronger with age; it's more that we have to be strong in the first place to live that long. I'm... kinda weak, as far as youkai go, so I spent a lot of it... well, hiding. Running. And... other things I probably shouldn't have done." I look down at my hands, fiddling with my dango skewer.
"Ah, sorry, I didn't mean to bring up bad memories."
"No, it's fine. I need to remember all that stuff, 'cause it's what makes me me. But, well... some of it I'd rather forget. Most of the Sengoku period, for a start."
"The warring states? Hey, did you ever meet Nobunaga?"
"What? No!" What kind of question is that!? "I did see him once, though."
"Really? What was he like?" Sumireko leans toward me eagerly.
"Scary. All the daimyou were." I stand up. "Can we talk about something else please?"
"Sorry, sorry!" Sumireko jumps up as well and bows apologetically. "It's just so weird talking to someone who was actually around for that kind of stuff!"
"Well excuse me for being old!"
Sumireko's response is cut off by a strange chirping noise. She whips out her - what was it called again? Phone, that's it, phone! - and checks something on it.
"Ah, crap!" she exclaims. "Class is nearly over!"
"Does that mean you're leaving already? We hardly got to go anywhere yet!"
"No, but I learned heaps! Way more than I did in Kasen's tourist trap!" Sumireko bows again, properly this time. "Thank you very much for taking the time to tell me all those things."
"Ah, um, it was nothing! Maybe next time we'll actually get to walk around for a while..."
"I'll look forward to it!"
And with that, Sumireko just... fades out of existance, as if she was never there.
"...huh," I say, to nobody in particular.
[ ] Food! [ ] Sekibanki! [ ] ...Medicine?
FIFTIETH UPDATE WOOO
Random silly fact I found while trying to improve my CAVE-worthy Japanese history: the Hakurei Barrier went up the year the car was invented. Huh.
Let me know if you're sick of the carboard monologuing. I should have some more carboard slice-of-life or cardboard shenanigans lying around somewhere.
Since my reason for coming to the Village has literally vanished into thin air, I'm a bit lost for what to do next. I still haven't eaten a proper lunch, and I still don't know where Sekibanki went... or even if she still wants to hang around me anymore, for that matter. I kind of went overboard last night, didn't I? Urk...
So I just wander around for a bit, watching the other villagers going about their day-to-day business. Even doing that much makes what Reimu was talking about painfully obvious - people aren't avoiding me. The glances I'm getting are looks of recognition rather than fear. They still keep a polite distance, but I'm no longer surrounded by an island of empty space in an otherwise busy street.
And then I notice someone who is: Medicine Melancholy. She's wandering down a less-used side street, which has suddenly become even more conspicuously empty than usual. I start to call out to her but the words die in my throat as I get closer. As if sensing my presence, Medicine turns around.
Her clothes are smudged and dirty. Her hair is dull and messy, like she's only combed it with her fingers. There are dark bags under her eyes. And on top of that... well, there's no nice way to say this. She stinks. Which is sort of to be expected from a poison youkai, but she doesn't smell like poison.
She smells like she hasn't bathed in days.
"Umm, are you okay?" I ask before I can stop myself.
"...huh?" Medicine replies, blinking blearily at me.
"I, um, I don't mean to be rude, but... you look awful."
"Oh." She pauses for such a long time that I almost think that's all she's going to say. "Yuuka said I can't leave."
"Leave what?" I ask, confused.
"Well, er, where have you been sleeping then?"
"...what have you been eating?"
"But... you've been here for three days!"
Medicine doesn't respond.
"...come with me," I say, holding out my hand.
Medicine doesn't move.
"You can get cleaned up at my place, and I have food, so..."
Medicine stares at me.
"...why?" Medicine finally asks.
"You don't want my help?" I ask.
"Why help me?"
"That - why wouldn't I!? You look terrible! Who'd leave someone on the street for three days with no food!?"
Medicine tilts her head slightly, her face still dazed and vacant.
"...you're not thinking right after going without eating or sleeping for three days straight," I say. "Please at least let me treat you to lunch."
Medicine still doesn't seem to acknowledge me, but when I tug on her hand she follows without resistance.
"It's nothing special, but please dig in!"
Medicine stares blankly at the food in front of her for a few seconds before slowly picking up her chopsticks. She's wearing my bathrobe while her clothes are drying, and looks (and smells!) a lot better now that she's all clean.
After the first mechanical bites of food, her appetite slowly returns. She doesn't exactly start wolfing it down, but she keeps at it for a long while - I deliberately cooked enough to feed four people, and I almost end up going hungry!
"Thank you for the food," she says quietly after picking the last grain of rice from her bowl.
"You're welcome!" I say, smiling. "Feeling better now?"
Medicine rubs her eyes and takes a deep breath.
"...yeah." She stretches a little and looks around, finally noticing her surroundings. "Where is this?"
"My house, on the edge of the Village. It's not much, but it's home!"
"...it's big," Medicine says, leaning to one side to peer through a doorway. "Bigger than Yuuka's."
"Really? I thought someone as important as Yuuka would live in a big fancy mansion, like the Scarlets."
...come to think of it, I've never seen Yuuka's house, not even when flying right over the Garden of the Sun. It's just sunflowers as far as the eye can see. Maybe it's hidden somehow?
"I haven't been into any other houses, so I don't know about that," Medicine says.
"What about your house?" I ask.
"I don't have one."
"But... then... what do you do when it rains?"
"I get wet," Medicine says simply.
"S-so, um, what happened with you and Yuuka, anyway?" I ask. "I mean, I heard she attacked you, but..." I trail off as Medicine looks down with a frown on her face.
"I hurt her male," she says after a while.
"...you mean her boyfriend?" I ask.
Medicine half-shrugs. "She called him a friend too. But I don't have a friend, so she hurt su-san instead."
"So, why the village?"
"Yuuka said I needed a friend. But I don't know what a friend is. So she said I had to stay in the village until I understood." She finally looks up. "I don't understand. What's a friend?"
...what. I knew she was different, but this is too much!
"You... you really don't know?" I ask, too stunned to say anything more intelligent.
"No. Is that bad?"
"W-well, I guess... maybe? Um. How am I supposed to explain this... a friend is someone you do things with." Wait no that's a terrible explanation -
"So a friend is a person?" Medicine asks.
My head hits the table.
After what's possibly the weirdest conversation I've ever had, Medicine falls asleep. Or rather she starts nodding off in the middle of it and just curls up on the floor. I try to move her to my futon but I come back later to find she's thrown the covers off and rolled onto the floor again, so in the end I leave her be.
I take the opportunity to do some housework and air the place out a bit. Even if it is walled in on all sides at the end of an alley and never gets any visitors, that's no excuse to let it end up like Marisa's! Besides, I've been having people over regularly for almost a week now, as strange as it is to think about.
Medicine doesn't stay asleep for very long, though; it can't be more than an hour before she shuffles into the kitchen, already dressed in her own clothes again and tugging fruitlessly at her messy hair.
"Ah! Looking for a comb?" I ask, rinsing off one last bowl and drying my hands. "...you do know what a comb is, right?" I add in response to her blank stare.
"Of course I do," she replies. "I don't have one though."
"That's okay, you can borrow mine!"
Medicine frowns in confusion as I slip around her and into my room. Her expression only grows even more confused when I return and pat the floor next to the kotatsu.
"Hey, don't just stand there!" I say cheerfully. "Sit down!"
"Why?" Medicine asks.
"So I can brush your hair!"
Medicine stares at me for several seconds, but eventually sits.
"Your hair's all curly like Miss Marisa's," I say as I get to work, gently teasing out all the knots. "It's really pretty."
"...why are you doing this?" Medicine asks, holding almost eerily still.
"Because I want to?" I reply.
"...I don't get it. It doesn't help you."
"So? Sometimes people just want to do nice things for each other! Were you already asleep when I said that?"
Medicine remains silent for a minute or two before she speaks up again.
"Does this mean you want to be my friend?" she asks.
"Hmm? Of course I do. Us tsukumogami should stick together after all!"
Another long pause.
"...I still don't understand."
"That's okay. Friendship isn't something you can learn in an hour or two, or even a whole day." Finishing up with the comb, I move around in front of her. "As long as you keep trying, you'll work it out eventually."
I gently tug Medicine's ribbon out of her hands and attempt to tie it in her hair. It's a very different style to Sekibanki's or Reimu's, and feels kind of anemic from being so thin, but eventually I get it just right.
"There! All done."
Medicine runs a hand over her head carefully, which makes me realize I forgot to get a mirror.
"...thank you," she says quietly.
"Hey, hey, why do you look so sad? Smile!" I put on a big smile of my own, but Medicine's expression doesn't change.
"...I miss su-san..." she says, looking down again.
I pull her into a hug. This won't do at all! Operation "Cheer Up Medicine" starts now!
...but, um, where should I start...
[ ] If she can't go back to Nameless Hill, what about a potted flower? There's a florist right here in the village! [ ] Kokoro is learning about this sort of thing too, right? Maybe talking to her might help! [ ] It's a long shot, but... Byakuren helped cheer me up. And it's hard to stay miserable around Kyouko! [ ] Write-in.