[x] Kokoro is learning about this sort of thing too, right? Maybe talking to her might help!
Before I can come up with an answer to that, Medicine surprises me. She slowly and awkwardly puts her arms around me and hugs me back.
...umm, what's that smell? It's kind of... sweet? And it's coming from Medicine's hair...
"You smell like flowers," I say.
"It's su-san's smell," Medicine mumbles.
"Er... aren't suzuraan poisonous?" I'm not going to get sick from hugging her am I?
"Only if you eat them."
Oh. That's okay, I guess?
I let go, and a moment later so does Medicine. Her expression hasn't changed, but her eyes are definitely a little watery. She rubs at them tiredly.
"Feel like taking another nap?" I ask.
Medicine shakes her head. "I'm not sleepy anymore."
"You sure? You can stay here as long as you want, you know?"
Medicine shakes her head again. "I have to stay in the village. It's my punishment after all."
I reach up... and flick her in the forehead.
"Ouch!" Medicine flinches, which is the most reaction she's shown to anything so far. "What was that for!?"
"This is the village, silly," I say. "If Yuuka sent you here to make friends, that means she wants you to stay with someone else!"
"But I hate humans!" Medicine says.
"So?" I ask, smiling. "I'm not human, am I?"
Medicine huffs and looks away.
"Like I said, you can stay here as long as you want." I gently rub Medicine's forehead where I flicked it, and she slumps again. "That's what friends do."
"But I don't need your help," Medicine mumbles.
"That's the point," I say, sighing. "Friends help each other even when they don't have to. That's what makes them friends."
Medicine says nothing, staring at the floor in a sulk.
"Well, if you don't like humans and you don't like me, then let's go visit some of the other youkai living here," I suggest, putting as much cheer into my voice as possible.
"...why are there youkai in the Human Village?" Medicine asks, finally looking at me again.
"Why not?" I reply, shrugging. "Not all youkai are on the same side."
"But youkai eat humans," Medicine points out.
"I don't. Do you?"
Medicine shakes her head again. "Humans taste bad."
That's... huh. That's actually pretty unusual, even for a tsukumogami.
...wait, that's it!
"Let's go visit Kokoro!" I say suddenly.
Medicine tilts her head to one side. "Who's Kokoro?"
"She's a tsukumogami, like us. I've been living with humans since forever, so I kind of take these things for granted, but Kokoro's only just learning, like you! I bet she'd be able to explain it all a lot better than me!"
Medicine doesn't look convinced.
"...let's just go talk to her, and then you can decide, okay?"
Medicine doesn't offer any more objections, so we close up and head out right away.
...and then I realize I don't actually know where Kokoro lives. If Futo's looking after her, that probably means she's living in Senkai, but... I don't know how to get there either.
I do know someone who does, though!
Medicine stops short when we come to the village gate.
"Yuuka said I'm not allowed to leave," she says.
"It's only for a little bit, okay?" I reply. "I, um... I don't actually know the way to Kokoro's place, so I need to go ask someone who does."
Medicine looks at the gates, then back at me.
"...you can wait here if you want, but..." I gesture behind her.
Medicine turns around.
The crowd behind us instantly starts to disperse. Everyone who had been following us or pointing and murmuring in suspicion suddenly tries to act innocent. Except for the guards, who start to shake even more.
Medicine scowls, an expression of pure contempt and loathing. She passes through the gate without another word.
We walk the rest of the way in silence.
"GOOD AFTERN- huh!?" Kyouko booms, then jumps back in alarm. "M-Miss Melancholy?"
"U-um, Medi?" I say. "The humans are gone now, you can stop-"
"Don't call me Medi," Medicine growls.
"Miss Medicine, then. Just... take a deep breath and calm down, okay?"
Medicine surprises me again, by doing exactly as I ask.
"...sorry," she mumbles, looking downcast again.
"It's okay. They were being pretty rude, after all."
"...is everything okay?" Kyouko asks.
"Yep! Well, more or less," I reply. "Good afternoon! We, uh, we were looking for Yoshika. She is around, right?"
Kyouko grins. "Do fish swim? Is the sun shining? Yeah, she's hanging around the graveyard as usual. More importantly, are you okay?"
"Huh? Me? Sure, why wouldn't I be?" I ask.
"Weeeell, a little birdie told me Reimu forced you into a miko outfit and made you help gather donations this morning," Kyouko says. "But I guess she must've made that up after all."
Urk. "Uh, no, I really did do that..."
Kyouko's grin vanishes. "Wait, seriously? What happened?"
"...it's kind of a long story," I reply, grinning sheepishly. "A long, dumb story."
"...ah. Well, I won't pry... unless you wanna talk about it?"
"...maybe later," I reply, glancing at Medicine, who looks up at me curiously.
Kyouko grins again. "Okay! Look after yourselves!"
Kyouko goes back to her endless sweeping as Medicine and I enter the temple grounds. By now all trace of the storm is gone, but of course it rained again last night so everything is still a bit damp, particularly in the shady spots.
I avoid the buildings and head directly for the graveyard. It's as gloomy and silent as ever, but there's no sign of any lurking youkai. Nue's good at hiding, but her power always has an ominous feeling, like you're being watched. Mamizou hangs out here too sometimes, but... well, I don't mean to brag, but I've spotted her transformations more times than not.
After methodically combing though almost all of it, I finally spot Yoshika. She's lying on a low wall, still as a... well, I guess she really is a corpse, isn't she?
...I guess sometimes the absence of something can be creepy too.
"Umm, Yoshika?" I say, poking at her. "Are you awake? Err, do you even actually sleep? Hey, Yoshika! Wake up!"
"I think she's dead," Medicine says. "She's not breathing."
"Well, yeah," I reply. "She's a jiang-shi, so she only breathes when she HYIPE!?"
"Ha ha ha ha."
"H-hey! Cut it out!" I squeak, trying and failing to pry Yoshika's cold, clammy hand off my leg.
"Don't raise your voice in the graveyard, you might wake the deabluraghpfl!? Heeey, that's not faaaair!"
Yoshika releases me in order to wipe the slobber from my umbrella's tongue off her face.
"That's what you get for tying to pull the same trick twice!" I say, sticking my other tongue out.
"I wasn't trying to scare yoooou. You should have played aloooong!"
"Medicine is a youkai, like me!"
Yoshika turns her head to look at Medicine, neck popping loudly. Medicine stares back, looking more bored than scared.
"...oh. Well there goes my entire script."
Yoshika gives up on the spooky voice and lurches to her feet. The sound of her joints cracking like a minature avalanche makes me wince, as usual.
"Ssssooooo," she begins, inhaling rather than exhaling, before apparently remembering that's not how talking is supposed to work. "If you're not here to scare people, what are you doing here?"
"Looking for you, actually."
"Me? Whatever for?"
"Well, um... do you know Kokoro?"
Yoshika freezes in thought for a moment, rolling her eyes around independantly, which is really, really creepy!
"You mean Miss Hata? Yes, I know her. She's staying with the Crown Prince."
"Aha! Err, we wanted to talk to her."
Yoshika sighs. "What has she done this time?"
"Nothing! We just wanted to talk to her! About, umm... tsukumogami stuff, I guess."
"Oh. Well, she said she was going to rehearse today, so she's probably still at home."
"That's, umm... we don't know how to get there..." I explain.
Yoshika does the thing with her eyes again.
"You can get there from anywhere, you know?"
"But I don't know how!"
Yoshika sighs exaggeratedly, a smirk on her face, and turns as if to walk away. But then she jerks to a stop, and I nearly crash into her.
Yoshika awkwardly rummages around in her pocket, and pulls out a piece of paper.
"I need to wear this," she explains "or Seiga will get angry." She sticks the paper to her forehead and stretches her arms out straight in front of her.
And then she starts hopping.
"So, err, do we need to do anything special to whoa!?"
Now it's my turn to stop suddenly, and Medicine's turn to bump into me.
We're not in the graveyard anymore. We're standing in front of a huge, fancy building, in a style I haven't seen in a long, long time. But it looks new and pristine, as if it was finished yesterday. Even the paving stones we're standing on are perfectly smooth, clean and white.
"Wooooow," I say at last.
"Is this a big house?" Medicine asks, peering around me curiously.
"It sure is!" I say.
"Yoshiiikaaa~" a voice calls.
"Seeeeiga?" Yoshika slurrs.
Suddenly, someone pops out of the ground! Someone with blue hair, done up in a fancy loop with an ornate hairpin holding it in place, and wearing a fancy dress made from the finest, lightest material I've ever seen. She looks like a rich noblewoman from a thousand years ago, and somewhere far away.
"You're late, Yoshika," 'Seeeeiga' says, lifting Yoshika's chin with a stroke of a long, white finger. "And you were followed again!"
"I was?" Yoshika asks vacantly.
"You were!" 'Seeeeiga' replies, draping herself over Yoshika's outstretched arm and tapping her on the nose. "You're supposed to keep the youkai riff-raff out, not lead them right here!"
"Wha- riff-raff!?" I exclaim. 'Seeeeiga' ignores me.
"So why don't you make up for it and drive them off for me, hmmm~?"
I blinding flash and a deafening boom blast me off my feet and onto the ground - or rather, onto Medicine. I quickly roll off her and look around, trying to figure out what just happened.
Yet another newcomer, a woman in a green dress, calmly takes a bite out of an apple. She lifts the paving stone 'Seeeeiga' emerged from with her free hand and flips it back into place.
"Sorry about that," she says, and takes another bite of her apple.
...wait a minute, where are her legs?
"Ooooooow," Yoshika groans, levering herself up off the ground. "You could have waited until she let go of me."
No-legs shrugs, still munching on her apple as she floats over Yoshika and approaches me and Medicine.
"Welcome to Senkai. I'm Tojiko," she says, offering a hand to help me up. "I presume you have business here, since Seiga was trying to get rid of you."
"I, well, uh," I begin, staring at her in confusion. Aside from the lack of legs and the swirly mass of mist blowing her skirt around in their place, her skin is way too white, her eyes are way too blue, and her pupils...
...are white, and shaped like lightning bolts. Um.
"...what just happened?" I ask lamely.
"Seiga happened." Tojiko takes another bite of her apple, chews and swallows. "And then she unhappened."
"Are you a ghost?" Medicine asks. She's sitting up as well, and staring at Tojiko curiously.
"Uh-huh. You gonna get up or just sit there all day?"
I realize her hand is still outstretched and quickly scramble to my feet.
...she's even colder than Yoshika.
"So, what brings you to the Divine Spirit Mausoleum? No offence, but you don't look the type to become hermits."
"Err, we were looking for Kokoro..."
"Rear courtyard," Tojiko says, jerking a thumb over her shoulder. "Follow the flute."
It takes me a moment to realize that's all she has to say.
"Oh! Umm, thank you?"
"You're welcome. Just don't make a mess or anything."
Feeling a little bit awkward and more than a little bit confused, I head toward the big mansion. Er, mausoleum. That... seems like a strange thing to call the place. I mean, isn't a mausoleum for dead p...
...oh. Oooooh! I get it now!
"Really now, that was uncalled for," I hear Seiga's weak voice say behind us as we enter.
"Sorry, I missed," Tojiko replies. She doesn't sound sorry at all.
...what was it she said? Follow the flute? I stop for a moment and listen. Sure enough, I hear music. It's faint, but the rest of the place is so eerily silent it's easy to follow. We don't see a single sign of life, or even a sign that there ever was life, save for the plants, until we reach the rear courtyard. And then we stop short.
Futo is playing a flute. A very ornate flute, made of something pure white with a dragon painted on it. And the song she's playing is even more beautiful still; I tune I've never heard before, with a quick, festive rhythm to it, that also somehow sounds graceful and traditional. She dives, soars and flutters between notes with the sort of skill that only comes from decades of practice.
And in the middle of the courtyard is Kokoro. She has a folding fan in each hand, and she's... dancing is the only word that comes to mind, but it isn't enough. I can see obvious traditional elements in her routine, but there are also things no dancer I've ever seen before would have attempted. Partly because none of them could fly. Or had even half of Kokoro's dexterity.
And then, with one final flourish, Futo's song comes to an end, and Kokoro's performance finishes, right on cue, in a theatrical bow.
I find myself clapping. To my surprise, Medicine is too.
Kokoro rises mechanically, and the mask on her face flies off, circling her head and coming to a stop on the side as usual... wait, it's a different mask now!
Then she strike a dramatic pose.
"How long have you been there!? How much did you see!?" she asks. Her completely blank face ruins the effect completely.
"Umm, not long? We only saw a little, but it was really good!"
"Thine artistry dost draw an audience wherever thou art performing!" Futo agrees, grinning widely.
"Um, your music was really good too!" I add.
Futo brushes off the praise. "'Tis no skill so grand. Merely a hobby of mine from some years past."
"Then get serious at it, so you can help me with my plays!" Kokoro says, raising both fists above her head.
"Ah, but my calling is not upon yon stage! It is here, in the service of the Crown Prince!"
"But Taishi told you to look after me! So do it properly!" Kokoro whines.
"Thou needest not a babysitter, as thou hast said thyself," Futo replies, leaning away from Kokoro. "Or dost thou recant on the wearing of the bib?"
"This and that are two different things!" Kokoro puffs out her cheeks.
Futo ruffles her hair.
I try not to laugh. Kokoro is a full head taller than Futo, so the gesture looks downright silly.
"You're making fun of me again," Kokoro complains.
"Your pardon; 'tis a weakness of mine old age," Futo replies, but her smirk doesn't go away. "Alas! This old lady shall withdraw for now, for she can see her presence is but a burden!"
Before anyone can stop her, Futo swoops out the door.
"She's strange," Medicine concludes.
Kokoro stares after Futo for about a second, before her mask changes again and she jumps into her 'surprised' pose again.
"Who is this strange person!?"
"This is Medicine Melancholy!" I say, stepping out from between the two of them. "She's a doll tsukumogami who lives on Nameless Hill."
"Ah! A fellow tsukumogami!?" Kokoro flicks her fans open and performs the most elaborate bow I've ever seen "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance!"
"...hello?" Medicine says uncertainly. "Haven't we already met?"
"...we have?" Kokoro asks, straigtening up.
"Two days ago, in the village. Futo beat me up."
"Oh! Yes! We have!" Kokoro says, striking another overly-dramatic pose. "...I didn't get your name though."
"I still don't know yours," Medicine points out.
"What!?" Kokoro says, posing yet again. "Have you not heard of me!? I am none other than Hata no Kokoro, the Expressive Poker Face!" Wait what where did the cherry blossoms come from!?
"...this is that Kokoro person you were talking about?" Medicine asks me.
"...is she always like this?"
Medicine looks at Kokoro.
Then she turns around and walks back the way we came.
"Ah! Hey! Wait!" I hurry after Medicine and put myself in front of her. "Don't just walk out! She's actually really nice!"
"I don't wanna learn to be like her!"
"I never said you should!"
"Then why did you bring me here!?"
"Because she's just like you! She's still learn-"
"She is NOT. She's a weirdo! A whackjob! I'm nothing like her!"
"Wha- how can you say that about someone you've only known for five minutes!? You should apologise for that, right now!"
"No! I'm leaving! This is stupid! And so are you!"
Medicine shoves me hard in the stomach, almost sending me flying. I try to grab her arm and stop her, but I snatch my hand away immediately. A searing pain shoots across my palm, followed by an angry red burn. I stumble back and clutch my wrist as the pain continues to grow, and the burn bubbles, peels and starts bleeding profusely. What is that!?
"My, it sure is noisy today."
Soft fabric swishes over my shoulders. A hand gently lifts my arm. Cool water pours over the wound. I yelp at the sharp sting, but then the coolness washes all the pain away.
I look down at my hand to find it wet but uninjured.
I look up into the face of someone who looks like she just got out of bed.
"Um, sorry? Did we wake you?"
"No, but I needed to get up anyway," the woman says, with a smile.
"I think your friend needs cheering up."
I look where the woman is indicating, and see Kokoro on all fours.
"Don't worry, there's no-one here she can hurt."
I look around in confusion. Whoever it was has disappeared.
I get up and approach Kokoro.
"...are you okay?"
"Weirdo... whackjob..." she whispers.
"Er, Medicine is a bit... she's not having a good time right now," I say awkwardly. "I, um, I thought you might be able to help her out but... I'm sorry she took it out on you."
Kokoro says nothing, still staring at the ground.
"...that really hurt you, huh?"
Kokoro says nothing, but I hear her take a long, ragged breath. Is she crying?
...I think she is.
I kneel beside her and hug her as best I can in such an awkward position.
"I don't think you're weird."
"You're a bit intense, but that's not a bad thing."
"You helped me get my umbrella back, and you didn't ask for anything in return."
"Well, a lot of things happened, but you were trying, and it worked out in the end, right? That's what really matters."
"So, um, thank you, is what I'm trying to say. I never did get to say that, did I?"
"...I'm still... no good..."
"What are you talking about? You haven't failed at anything!"
Kokoro jerks upward suddenly, knocking the wind out of me. I quickly let go, and let her sit up. Her face is still blank, and her mask has vanished completely.
"I'm hard to understand, aren't I?" she asks.
"You can't tell what I'm thinking at all, can you?"
"I want to know the truth. How do you think I feel right now?"
"Ummm..." I lean backwards as Kokoro puts her face right in front of mine. "You're... angry? Because I said something dumb?"
"You're sad, because Medicine said something really mean?"
Kokoro blinks again.
"...you're mad at yourself, because you drove Medicine away?"
"All wrong," Kokoro says. She stands up suddenly.
"Then what are you feeling!?" I ask, jumping up as well.
"I'm... frustrated," Kokoro says. "I can control the emotions of others, but not my own."
She picks up her two fans from where they were lying on the ground, and tucks them into hidden pockets in her bizzare skirt.
"It was a trivial thing, what Miss Melancholy said. I shouldn't let one person's criticism get to me like that."
"So you are upset!"
"No. I was upset. I'm no longer upset, thanks to you."
All at once, Kokoro hugs me.
"You are a good friend. Miss Melancholy is lucky to have you."
"Will you be my friend as well?"
"H-huh? Of course!"
Kokoro lets go as abruptly as she started. "Then please tell me when my behaviour is bothering you."
"It's not bothering me! I'm just, um, not used to it..."
"That's what I mean," Kokoro says, staring at me blankly.
"We should look for Medicine. I think I owe her an apology."
I give up on trying to follow Kokoro's logic and let her drag me thorough the Mausoleum's gardens. It's very different to anywhere else I've been. It seems to be laid out like it's indoors, with hallways and rooms and so on, but there's no roof. There's white stone paths, red wooden bridges, and plenty of neatly-trimmed greenery, even in places you wouldn't ordinarily have plants.
And all totally silent. Even the water features have been carefully designed to make no sound. It's surreal, almost dream-like.
After zig-zagging around seemingly at random, never slowing down, Kokoro suddenly stops.
Medicine is sitting in front of a garden bed, hugging her knees to her chest.
Kokoro pokes me in the back, prodding me forward. Seeing no reason to do otherwise, I quietly walk closer.
"Medicine?" I say quietly.
"Go away," Medicine mumbles.
"...if you really want me to, I will." When Medicine doesn't reply, I continue "but I want to help. Even if it's just by listening."
Medicine buries her face against her knees. "I wanna go home."
I sit down next to her, put my arm around her, and lean my head against hers.
Eventually, Medicine speaks up again.
"Why are you doing this?" she mumbles.
"You know that already. I want to be your friend, remember?"
"Why not? I don't need a reason to help people."
"...I don't need your help."
"We've been over that too."
"...would you really go away if I asked you to?"
I wait for the next two words, but they don't come.
Quiet footsteps approach from beside us.
Medicine stirs, and looks up at Kokoro. Kokoro bows low.
"I wish to apologize for my earlier behaviour. It seems I have offended you without meaning to."
"...why," Medicine croaks, and then clears her throat, "why were you acting all weird?"
"I'm a menreiki. A mask youkai. I can't change my face, so I perform instead."
Kokoro mimes a series of actions. She steps back, bringing her arms up in front of her face. She drops one hand and straightens the other into an accusatory finger. She curls it into a fist and raises it, looking up. She stands up straight, raising both arms above her head. And finally, she covers her face with her hands and hangs her head.
"...but even though my ability is causing emotions, I'm not good at reading them," Kokoro finishes. "If it bothers you, I won't do it."
Medicine stays quiet for a while.
"...you can control emotions?" she asks.
"Can you make someone who's sad not be sad anymore?"
"Easily. But it wouldn't fix whatever they're sad about."
Medicine pauses again.
"...why'd Kogasa want me to talk to you?"
Kokoro simply looks at me.
"Err, because she's learning the same things Yuuka wants you to," I say. "Making friends, getting along with humans-"
"I don't want to get along with humans."
"...well, okay, maybe just learning more about them? It can't hurt, right?"
"Taishi once told me, 'keep your friends close, and your enemies in your pocket,'" Kokoro offers. "It's important to learn more about everyone, whether you like them or not."
"I get it already," Medicine grumbles, resting her chin on her knees and staring at the flowers again.
"...you know, we could plant some suzuraan in the village, if you like," I suggest.
"I'm sure Taishi would let you take some flowers to plant elsewhere," Kokoro adds.
Medicine abruptly shrugs off my arm and gets to her feet. She rubs her eyes again and looks around.
"...I should go back to the village," Medicine says. "If the flowers tell Yuuka she'll beat me up again."
"W-well if it comes to that just tell her it was my idea, okay?"
Medicine slowly turns to stare at me.
"...you're nuts," she says finally.
"H-hey, I'm trying to help you!"
Medicine looks away.
"...thanks," she says quietly.
Before I can respond, she starts off along the path... and then comes to a halt at the first intersection.
"Umm, how do we get out of here?" I ask.
Kokoro takes the lead. She leads us on an oddly winding course toward...
...a path we just walked along.
"We've gone round in circles," Medicine helpfully points out.
Kokoro huffs and drags us on a series of increasingly convoluted paths, walking in circles in different directions and crossing through areas only to loop around immediately after. And each time we end up in front of the same pathway.
After the third time back at our starting point Kokorostomps on the ground and throws up her arms.
"Taishi! Stop fooling around!" she shouts.
"Ahahahaha, my bad, my bad!"
The messy-haired woman from earlier suddenly appears behind us.
"I'm impressed, though. You remembered every route I showed you perfectly, even from the times I thought you weren't paying attention."
"But they don't work anymore, so I wasted my time!" Kokoro fumes.
"Oh? It looks like they worked fine to me!"
Taishi gestures at the path in front of us - or where it was, anyway. We're now standing in front of the gate leading out of the garden.
"You're making fun of me again," Kokoro complains.
Taishi ruffles her hair. She's taller than Futo, but not by much, so it still looks ridiculous.
Kokoro puffs her cheeks out, without otherwise reacting.
"Sorry, sorry, you're just too cute, you know?" Taishi says, still smiling. "Now, this is for you."
She offers a flower pot she wasn't holding a second ago to Medicine.
"You'll have to take good care of it every day if you want it to thrive. The right amount of water, the right amount of sun; if you have any questions, I'm sure Futo will be thrilled enough to talk your ears right off your head."
She chuckles as Medicine takes the potted suzuraan.
"I'd offer you something as well, but it seems you have matters well in hand," Taishi says to me. Does she ever stop smiling? "Don't hesistate to ask if that changes, though! After all, one must always be grateful for divine intervention, hmm?"
"Bwuh?" What does that even mean!?
"Taishiii, you're saying weird things again," Kokoro drones.
"I guess I am, aren't I?" Taishi laughs again. "My bad, my bad. How about this one instead: there is a long trip in your near future!"
Kokoro pulls a colorful hammer from somewhere and bops Taishi on the head with it. It makes a squeaky noise.
"No good, huh? Ah, well. Maybe I'll have better luck in tonight's battle!"
"Never!" Kokoro says.
"I'm not giving up until I've won at least once!" Taishi replies.
Medicine tugs on my shirt, pulling me away from the weirdness.
"Yes, yes, don't let me keep you," Taishi says.
"Um..." Medicine begins, not looking at her.
"...thanks for the flowers," Medicine finishes.
"Why, thank you. Take good care of them for me, will you?"
Kokoro drags Taishi away, and Medicine and I walk down the short flight of steps at the Mausoleum's entrance.
May the humans of Gensoukyou be safe in the coming times.
I whip around at the sound of Taishi's voice, but she's nowhere to be seen.
...am I hearing things?
"What's wrong?" Medicine asks.
"...nothing," I reply, turning back. "I just thought I heard something."
"Just someone saying something. Probably wasn't even to me. Umm, how do we get out of here?"
"Where are you bound?"
I spin around again, and this time spot Futo standing not far behind us, hands clasped inside her loose sleeves. She definitely wasn't there a moment ago!
"Umm, back to the village," I reply.
"Then you need but look over yonder," Futo says, pointing.
I turn, and find myself staring at a shopfront.
Medicine and I are standing in the middle of the village, with people all around us.
"...that was weird," I say.
[ ] I think that's enough excitement for one day. [ ] I hope Sekibanki's doing okay. I haven't seen her since this morning. [ ] That villager looks suspicious... [ ] Write-in.
[X] I hope Sekibanki's doing okay. I haven't seen her since this morning.
That was really weird, but in a fun and interesting way. Good to see that the Taoists are having a good time, especially Miko. I hope we get to see more of her later, especially if she can help Kogasa with the whole becoming-a-god thing. And what's this about "coming times?" Is there a dangerous Incident on the horizon?
Weirder still, none of the people around us seem to have noticed us yet. They were all keeping their distance and pointing and whispering less than an hour ago.
"Well, how about we find a place to put your new flowers?" I suggest.
Medicine looks down at the plant pot she's holding, and then hugs it to her chest, looking the most content I've seen her today. She really does like suzuraan, huh?
We wind our way though the back streets to my house, and hunt for a good place to put a house plant. We end up having to settle for just leaving it on the veranda at the back. It looks kind of lonely sitting there all by itself.
Medicine surveys the rest of my 'yard'. She doesn't look very impressed. I don't really blame her; it's not much to look at. There are no other plants, and even the few tufts of grass are dry and yellowed. Just the blank stone walls and foundations of the adjoining buildings.
"You need more flowers," she decides.
"Umm, I'm not sure that'll work out..." I say, a little self-consciously. "They'd only get sunlight around noon, and the drainage is a bit..."
Medicine scuffs her shoe on the ground. Despite all the rain, and the shade, it's already dry and dusty.
"...yeah," I finish. I'm not even sure how that's possible. Maybe the builders didn't want their walls getting waterlogged?
Medicine just sits, and starts kicking her legs back and forth idly. I sit down as well.
"That stuff you said about me staying here... is it really fine?" Medicine asks, staring at the ground.
"Of course," I reply. "It's... well, it's not exactly a big house, but it's heaps big enough for three people!"
"...three?" Medicine turns to look at me.
I sit up straight. "Ah! That's right! Umm, do you know Sekibanki?"
Medicine tilts her head to the side in thought for a moment, then shakes it.
"Well, umm, she got hurt recently, and can't really look after herself properly, so she's been staying with me for a while... I, uh, kind of left her by herself all day though." I slump again. "Some friend I am, huh?"
Medicine frowns slightly. "What happened to her?"
"She, er... well, she got in a fight, and... I think she'd rather I didn't go telling people about it. Sorry."
Medicine goes back to swinging her legs and staring at the dirt. After a moment, she hops to her feet.
"Let's go then," she says.
"Huh?" I ask intelligently.
"To find your friend."
"Oh! Right!" I jump up. "...I have no idea where she'd be by now, though."
"Where did you last see her?"
"Umm, somewhere near the east gate? I'm not even sure she's still in the village..."
Medicine looks from side to side.
"Well, she's not here, so let's go look somewhere else."
...I can't really argue with that logic.
We head out into the village again and start wandering more or less aimlessly. I try to remember what kinds of place Sekibanki would be likely to hang out, but I end up drawing a blank. She... doesn't really have a whole lot of friends. Or, well, not in the village anyway. She keeps her distance from the other youkai, and the humans keep their distance from her.
It doesn't help that the best description I can come up with for Medicine is 'red hair'. There are quite a lot of youkai with red hair, when I think about it... but not many of them live in the village, I suppose. There is that one human noblewoman... but her head doesn't come off. At least I don't think it does. She's sure strange enough for it!
At least Medicine's mood seems to have improved. Her expression is stil bored and tired, but she's not bothered by the crowds of scared humans like she was earlier. And it's kind of cute the way she keeps doing things like putting a hand to her eyebrows to shield them from the sun and peering all around... while checking an empty dead-end alley.
"Maybe she went back to Eientei," I suggest.
"By herself?" Medicine asks.
"Well, it's safe enough for humans to go there during the day, and she's not completely helpless..."
"Red hair sighted!" Medicine interrupts.
"Ah, that's her! Heeeey, Sekibanki!"
Sekibanki lurches to a stop and turns around. The hooded figure next to her bolts like a spooked horse.
"Ah, hey, wait! She's - gaaaaaah, you idiot!" Sekibanki takes off after her companion.
Whoever she is, she's fast! Youkai fast! She tears through the crowds, bumping into people left and right. I'm a bit more careful, hurriedly apologizing to the people she hit as I run past, but thanks to that I almost lose sight of her.
Until she takes a wrong turn and finds herself facing a dead-end.
She makes an odd high-pitch screeching noise when she turns around to find me already blocking her only exit, and stumbles backwards.
"I'm sorry! I-I was just looking for something I'm not up to anything I swear pleasedon'texterminateme-"
Sekibanki swishes past me and headbutts the girl, knocking her over.
"She's a youkai, you moron!" Sekibanki shouts.
I gently grab Sekibanki and rub the red bruise on her forehead.
"Braaaaaaaack," the girl on ground groans, a decidedly bird-like noise.
She struggles dizzily into a sitting position, and her hood falls down. She has blue and white hair that immediately makes me think of Miss Keine, a pair of small grey horns, and a single wing with pretty red feathers sprouting from the side of her head.
"Ow, ow, ow, ow," she whimpers.
"Are you okay?" I ask.
Her eyes snap back into focus on me, and her expression changes to one of fear.
"Aah, I know I'm not supposed to be here, I was just le-"
"If you'd just shut up and listen-"
"It's okay, I'm not here to hurt you!" I say over the top of Sekibanki. "I'm Kogasa, and, uh, this is Medicine. We're tsukumogami who live in the village."
Sekibanki twists around in my hands, noticing Medicine for the first time. She looks up, mouth open as if to say something, but then closes it and turns her attention back to the girl in the hooded cloak.
"...you're a youkai?" hood girl asks.
"B-but I've seen you coming and going at the village all the time!" She points an accusatory finger at me.
"That's what I've been trying to tell you," Sekibanki fumes exasperatedly. "Everybody knows there's youkai in the village, dammit! Long as you keep your head down and don't borrow trouble, nobody gives a shit!"
"Reimu is an asshole!" Sekibanki explodes. I cringe and look around hurriedly, making sure Reimu isn't around to hear that. "She beats up youkai for fun! For the love of fuck, the rest of the human race is more scared of you than you are of her!"
"H-hey! Language!" hood girl retorts, face reddening in embarassment.
"So! Umm, who are you, exactly?" I ask, clamping a hand over Sekibanki's mouth to stop her making things even worse.
Tokiko looks away. "...I'm an ibis. I didn't choose it, okay?"
Tokiko gets to her feet and brushes herself off. Underneath the threadbare old cloak, she's wearing a neat dress and a well-made pair of boots, definitely fancier than most villagers could afford. I also catch a glimpse of two large, feathery wings as she adjusts them, which explains the hunched look.
"So, if you're really that scared of humans, why are you in the village?"
Tokiko fidgets awkwardly. "I heard there was a library here," she says. "...I like reading, okay? Ugh, why did I come here..."
"You were doing fine until you took off like a startled pigeon," Sekibanki says, twisting free of my grip. "No, seriously, that Motoori girl is cool with youkai. You'd have been fine."
"...can we forget about it, please? I just want to get out of here. I've made enough of a fool of myself already."
"Sure," I say with a friendly smile, before Sekibanki can reply. "Let's go the back way, okay?"
I lead the way out of the village, keeping to the less-used streets, where we meet very few people. There are some unscrupulous types and youkai who live back here, but, well, nobody in their right mind would pick a fight with Medicine around, even if they were dumb enough to attack me.
"So, uh, what's this about you living in the village now, Med - err, Miss Melancholy?" Sekibanki asks after a while.
"She's staying with me!" I say cheerfully.
"Yuuka said I need to learn more about humans," Medicine says neutrally. "I thought it was dumb at first, but then I realized she was right. How am I going to overthrow humanity if I don't know anything about it?"
"Err... I don't think that's quite what she had in mind..." I say. Tokiko glances around nervously.
"Yeeeah, uh, let's keep this overthrowing business to ourselves, okay?" Sekibanki says.
"Okay," Medicine replies, still without a trace of malice. She finally turns to look at Sekibanki. "What happened to the rest of you?"
"...I'm a rokurokubi. My head comes off."
"Oh. That sounds convenient." Medicine looks thoughtful for a moment.
Then she twists her own head off.
"GYAAAAAAAAAAA!!!" I exclaim. Tokiko retches and clamps a hand over her mouth, eyes wide with shock.
"Oh. Thi-" Medicine coughs, spitting out blood. "This is pretty neat." She holds her head up and turns it around, splattering blood everywhere.
"What the hell!?" Sekibanki splutters. "Are you trying to kill yourself!?"
"It's okay, I'm a - cough - I'm a doll. My head comes off too!" Medicine replies, and smiles.
"No, no matter how you look at it that's not normal!" Sekibanki hurriedly retreats as Medicine holds her head out towards her.
"Put it back!" I shout. I hear Tokiko throwing up behind me.
"Awww," Medicine says.
She puts her head back on her shoulders, and does something to fit it back into place, making a sickening crunch in the process. Her flesh knits itself back together in a matter of seconds, with a squelching noise that makes even me feel queasy. It's echoed by more sloshing behind me.
"...don't ever do that again," Sekibanki says.
"Eurgh!" I say, making a face. "Uh, you okay?"
Tokiko coughs, spits and moans, shuddering.
"Hey, hey, I'm fine. See?" Medicine says.
Tokiko takes one look at Medicine's bloodsoaked clothes, squawks - an actual bird squawk - and throws her cloak off with her wings as she takes to the air. A wingtip grazes my face and the backdraft nearly knocks me off my feet.
And then she's gone.
"Well shit," Sekibanki grumbles. "So much for that idea."
"Man, that was awesome! I like you already!"
I turn around. Clownpiece is standing behind us, grinning from ear to ear.
"Oh gods, not you again," Sekibanki groans.
"Why the long face?" Clownpiece replies, petting Sekibanki on the head with a long-fingered hand. Sekibanki scowls and pulls away. "You sound like you need cheering up." Her eyes light up. "And I've got just the ticket!"
Clownpiece flips her crazy hat off and rummages around inside it again. Sekibanki and I edge away, but Medicine just stands there watching as she produces a large, red, dome-shaped object, with the word "PARTY" painted on the top in large letters.
"Get ready for the time of your life!" Clownpiece declares.
I grab Medicine by the scruff of the neck and run.
Clownpiece brings her fist down on the dome.
"What is going ooooooooon!?" I wail over the cacophony. "When did the village have all these flashing lights, why is there a giant moon floating just above us, where is my umbrella and what's with this outfit!?"
I tug futilely at the skin-tight purple thing with no legs or arms or neckline that for some reason is far too loose around the chest, which is making me feel really, really uncomfortable right now! And what's with the rabbit ears and tail!?
"I think that outfit is your umbrella," Sekibanki squeaks. Squeaks, because instead of a floating head she's now a fluffy pink thing with stubby arms and red shoes. That also can't fly.
"Whaaaaaaaaaaat!?" I shriek.
Medicine just stares blankly at the scene of utter chaos behind me. She only has a skirt made of grass and two strategically-placed seashells to preserve her modesty, but she doesn't seem to have noticed.
"Why so serious?" Clownpiece asks. She's wearing purple Western clothes (I think Flan called it a 'tuxedo' once?), ghastly red and white face paint, and for some reason her hair is now bright green.
"Of course I'm serious! This is an Incident! This is a top-grade Incident! Reimu's gonna kill you, and probably us too just for being here!"
Clownpiece idly fiddles with her lacy sleeves. "So?"
"So!? How can you-"
"Which one of you is responsible for this?"
I swallow. And turn around, very, very slowly.
Miss Keine is standing at the entrance to the alleyway, fists on her hips. She's wearing nothing but a very abbreviated pair of pants, a shoulder strap made of some kind of fur, and a fake moustache. It's obviously not something a woman should be wearing, but either she takes better care of her body than I thought or Clownpiece's magic has bulked her up, because she manages to make it look terrifying.
All of which pales in comparison to the fact that she also has horns and a tail.
I wordlessly point at Clownpiece. Sekibanki and Medicine do too.
"Ya got me," Clownpiece says, smirking and shrugging. "Now what are you gonna do ab-"
"...daaaaaamn lady, you got some moves!"
How is she still conscious!?
"See you Miss Kasa!" "Goodbye Miss Kasa!"
I set down my tea and wave back.
"Goodbye! Be careful on your way home! You never know when a scary youkai might jump out and get you!"
The children giggle and scurry on.
"Thank you for helping with the class this afternoon, Kogasa," Miss Keine says as she gathers up her books.
"No problem!" I reply, smiling back.
"Ah! Lady Hieda!"
I look back at the Temple School garden, and see the departing children bowing to someone on her way in.
"Did you study hard today?" Hieda no Akyuu asks.
"Yes, Lady Hieda!"
"That's good to hear. Now run along, I need to talk to your teacher."
"Good afternoon, Lady Hieda," I say, rising and bowing.
"Good afternoon, Miss Tatara," she replies.
"Akyuu? Did you need something?" Miss Keine asks.
"Yes, actually. Could I have a moment of your time?" Lady Hieda glances at me meaningfully.
"...can it wait a moment? I have some business to attend to, but it'll only take a few minutes-"
"I'll get straight to the point then. What just happened?"
...now that she mentions it...
"...of course, you of all people would still remember," Miss Keine sighs.
"Umm, I do too. Where's Clownpiece?" I ask.
"Gone." Miss Keine's tone makes me shiver.
"I feel like I'm missing something important," Lady Hieda says, frowning ever so slightly, "but if you're sure it's better this way..."
"The less I talk about it, the better," Miss Keine says tiredly.
"...I'll trust your judgement on this one, then," Lady Hieda replies. "I am somewhat surprised you'd let a youkai anywhere near your class, though."
"Kogasa has been very helpful today," Miss Keine says, and smiles at me. "Whether she remembers it or not."
I try to remember what she's talking about, without much success.
...the sun was definitely higher in the sky last time I looked.
"I see," Lady Hieda says neutrally. "Well, since it seem you have everything under control, I won't keep you."
"I'm sorry!" Miss Keine says, bowing apologetically.
Lady Hieda takes her leave.
"Your friends are waiting out the back," Miss Keine says softly. "I'd like to talk to all of you before you go."
"Oh! Umm, okay."
I wander around behind the schoolhouse, and find Medicine and Sekibanki on the veranda. Sekibanki is resting on a cushion, and there are two empty cups of tea beside them.
"All finished?" Medicine asks.
"Almost," I reply. "Sorry for making you sit around..."
"It's fine. It's nice and peaceful here." Medicine resumes staring at the flower garden.
"...does something feel off to you?" Sekibanki asks as I sit down beside her.
"It's just Miss Keine's power. Nothing to worry about," I assure her.
"...this is what she does? Damn, that's creepy. She could do whatever she liked and nobody would even remember it."
"But then there wouldn't be any point, because whatever I did would never have happened."
I jump slightly at Miss Keine's silent approach.
"Gaaaah, how do you do that!?" Sekibanki says, startled.
"I walk. Quietly." Miss Keine sits down on the other side of me. "My ability isn't as powerful as it sounds. It affects both memory and reality, but the two have to remain consistent. A history nobody believes in is just a fantasy, after all."
"So, uh, wait," Sekibanki says, "did all that crazy shit happen or not? I mean with the-"
"It didn't," Miss Keine interrupts, "and I'd like it to stay that way, so please don't talk about it."
"Oookay, so talking about it will undo your... whatever it was?"
"...something like that."
"Right. Got it. Didn't happen. I'm down with that."
Miss Keine smiles. "I hoped you'd see it that way."
"What are you guys talking about?" Medicine asks.
"Nothing important," Miss Keine replies, rising. "Thank you for your patience, Miss Melancholy, and I'm glad to hear your situation is improving."
Medicine looks away uncomfortably.
"We should get going," I say, jumping up. "You'll be wanting to get home and have dinner and all that soon."
"Thank you for you help once again," Miss Keine says warmly.
"It was nothing! And, uh, sorry."
"Sorry for what?" Miss Keine asks, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, um, I meant, sorry you had to... oh. Heh."
A youkai like Medicine hanging around near the school would probably cause a panic, so we quietly slip back toward the commercial districts.
Medicine stops and looks back just as the Temple School goes out of sight.
"...what is it?" I ask.
Medicine turns around, frowing slightly as if trying to remember something. Then she smiles.
"She looked good in that strongman outfit!"
[ ] That really is enough excitement for one day. [ ] That villager looks suspicious... [ ] !? [ ] Write-in.
This update was finished yesterday but I came down with a bad case of asleep. So much for NaNoWriMo this year...
"I-is that what it was called..." I say, and quickly change the subject. "Well, um, I don't know about you two but I'm pretty tired. It's been a long day, after all..."
"Tell me about it," Sekibanki grumbles.
So I do. Or, well, most of it, anyway. She only really missed my time with Sumireko and Medicine. And Medicine also saw me running around the village in Reimu's clothes, so there wasn't much to tell there. Though Sekibanki does take the opportunity to make fun of me again. Urk.
Then she starts ranting about her own day. It sounds even busier than mine! First she and Shinmyoumaru discovered Clownpiece had followed us to the village as well, and was planning some sort of mischief right under Reimu's nose. By the time they put a stop to that, we were already gone, and when they returned to the shrine they found Reimu asleep and me nowhere to be seen.
Sekibanki returned to the village alone, where she ran into one of the few humans she knows that are comfortable associating with youkai. She ended up helping with some errand or other - she doesn't say what - before Clownpiece showed up a second time. Without Shinmyoumaru's help Sekibanki was no match for her, and ended up fleeing all the way to Kourindou, where she met Tokiko.
"And you saw how well that ended," Sekibanki grumbles.
"Wow, we really kept missing each other!" I say.
"I don't get it," Medicine says. "If taking your head off is such a bother, why do it?"
Sekibanki opens her mouth, then closes it again. "...I don't really have a choice right now."
"My body's... not in good shape."
"Oh. Kogasa did say you got hurt."
Sekibanki glances at me. "Did she say how?"
"...right. Well, it's not that important. I'm just stuck like this for a while."
Medicine looks thoughtful, but doesn't say anything.
We round the final corner on the way to my house. It was only supposed to be somewhere I could put my forge, but I'm feeling a little self-conscious about it now. I really should fix up the roof. And repaper the doors. And-
"I'll need to dig my spare futon out," I realize. "You are going to be staying here, right?"
Medicine looks away. "I guess so."
"Uh, Kogasa?" Sekibanki asks, looking around the corner of the house.
"Yes?" I reply.
"Was this here when you left?"
"Oh! That's the flower that..."
I trail off mid-sentence. Near Medicine's flowerpot is a box. A large box, made of that super-thick paper stuff popular Outside. Kourindou has a lot of them.
"...uh, no, that wasn't here before," I finish.
"You expecting a delivery or something?" Sekibanki asks.
"Err, no?" I take a step closer, peering at the hole at the end of the box. It seems to be empty? "And besides that, it's ups-"
The box flips into the air and a blur of green surges up at me. I try to shield my face and leap away at the same time and fail to do either, instead toppling to the floor as it crashes straight into me.
"Got you!" Sanae says, grinning triumphantly. "Are you surprised?"
"...eeeeeh!? Hey, don't steal my line! That's not fair!" I make a face and hit Sanae with the only part of me not pinned, my umbrella.
"Nuh-uh, turnabout is fair play!" Sanae says, cheerfully ignoring blows that are probably strong enough to give a human bruises, now that I think about it. Oops.
"Whatever, just get off me already!"
Sanae rolls off, almost headbutting me in the process. I leap up as fast as I can, but she still beats me.
"Why are you even here?" I groan.
"Weeell, I wanted to invite you to the shrine tonight, but I couldn't find you anywhere," Sanae says. "So I asked around, and found your house, buuuut you weren't home. I could have just left you a letter, but then I saw this." She lifts the box. "I knew what I had to do. It called to me."
I eye the box apprehensively. Is she just joking, or is that some actual shrine maiden thing?
"How long have you been waiting?"
"About an hour."
"...please tell me you weren't hiding under that thing the whole time."
"Sure I was!"
Sanae beams. I stare at her in disbelief.
"...so, um, what did you want to invite me for?" I ask.
"Movie night!" Sanae declares smugly. "We managed to get our hands on a new digital projector, so we're going to re-watch all our DVDs on the big screen!"
"...that doesn't mean anything to me," I remind her.
Sanae visibly deflates. "Oh. Uh... it's like that game you were playing, but with a story you just watch and listen to instead."
"So, like a play?" I ask, remembering what Sumireko said earlier.
"Well, that sounds fun, but, um... why invite me?"
Sanae blinks, confused. "Why not? I mean, you're a friend of everyone at the shrine by now!" Urk. "You're welcome too of course, miss... Sekibanki? Err..."
I peer around the corner to see what Sanae's staring at. Medicine is hugging Sekibanki to her chest and glaring daggers at Sanae. It would almost look cute, if I didn't know firsthand how dangerous she can be.
"Umm, Medicine, it's okay," I say. "Sanae won't hurt you. Not unless you go attacking the villagers or something."
"Hello Miss Melancholy," Sanae says, smiling and bowing politely. "Would you like to come too?"
"Why would I want to come to some stupid shrine?" Medicine all but snarls.
Sanae's smile falters, but only for a moment.
"...that's not very nice, Medicine," I say gently.
Medicine's gaze flicks over to me for a moment before she looks away in a huff.
"Uh, you two have a history or something?" Sekibanki asks.
Sanae shakes her head. "We've never even met before. If I've done something to offend you, Miss Melancholy, I assure you it was completely unintentional."
Medicine's shoulders slump, and her face goes from angry to sullen.
"I get it already," she mumbles, and turns to go back inside, releasing Sekibanki as she leaves.
"...did I come at a bad time?" Sanae asks uncertainly.
"No... well, um, did you hear what Yuuka did?" I ask.
"Kazami Yuuka? The flower youkai? No, what happened?"
"...Yuuka sparked her home, basically. She's staying with me for now."
"That's terrible! Why would she do such a thing!?" Sanae exclaims.
"Medicine really doesn't like humans," I say. After a pause, I add "Yuuka's boyfriend is human."
Sanae looks between me and the door a few times, her mouth moving but no sound coming out.
"...whoa," Sekibanki says. That's right, she hadn't heard that either.
"Yeah," I say. "She forced Medicine to stay in the village to learn to get along with humans better. It... hasn't worked out well. She'd been starving for three days when I found her."
Sanae covers her mouth in shock.
"...I'm such a dolt," she says at last. "Pulling childish pranks on you when you're dealing with all of this... I'm sorry."
"H-huh!? Uh, no, um-"
"You're all still welcome, to dinner as well as movie-watching. Including Miss Melancholy, if she changes her mind." She takes a deep breath, and smiles again. "I should be off. Gotta get started on the cooking!"
"Ah, hey, wai-"
Sanae takes off before I can stop her, the wind blowing with her instead of away, like always.
"...still scares the hell out of me," Sekibanki sighs.
I look at her, then back at the rapidly-shrinking shrine maiden. Then I quietly head inside.
"Medicine?" I ask softly, spotting her slumped at the table. "Are you okay?"
"'m fine," Medicine mumbles into her arms.
I sit down next to her. She stirs slightly, but doesn't look up.
"...not going with your friend?" she asks.
"I can't just run off and leave you here! You're a guest in my house, that would be rude!"
"I don't mind."
I sigh. "Look, I should at least get you some dinner-"
"Not hungry. Big lunch."
Medicine finally lifts her head off the table. "I'm fine. Really. I just... I want some time alone. To think." She looks up at me at last. "Please?"
"Well, if you're sure..." I say, doing my best to look unconvinced.
Medicine looks down again, but doesn't say anything. I think that's all I'm going to get out of her for now.
I take a moment to fuss over the house, making sure anything Medicine might need is easy to find. But there's only so much I can do before it starts to feel awkward, and I soon find myself back outside, where Sekibanki is watching the sun set.
Or, well, watching the sky darken anyway. You can't actually see the horizon from my walled-in house. In any direction.
"Well then! Let's go!" I say brightly.
Sekibanki jumps slightly. "Huh? What?"
"To the shrine, silly! Did you forget already?"
"Eh? But - I thought - what about Medicine?"
"She's fine. She wants some alone time anyway."
"Then, uh, maybe I should stay and..." She trails off as I pluck her out of the air. "...I'm not getting out of this, am I?"
I smile. "Nope!"
Sekibanki looks away uncomfortably. "...do we have to? I mean, Sanae's... well..."
My smile fades. "You're not still feeling guilty about what happened, are you?"
"No! Well, okay, yes, but - dammit, she nearly friggin' killed me! So sue me for being maybe slightly terrified of the idea of spending the whole evening with her!"
"...uh," I say, slightly taken aback. "But... Sanae's not like that. You saw how she felt, when she apologised to you -"
"I know," Sekibanki groans. "That just makes it worse." She takes a breath and lets it out in a rush. "Look, it's dumb, and I know it, but she... she gives me the jitters, okay? I nearly had a damn heart attack when she burst out of that thing." She nods at the box Sanae left behind. "Next thing I knew I was facefirst in Medicine's chest." She looks away again. "That little outburst was probably my fault. Must've assumed Sanae attacked me."
After a moment of thought, I move one hand up to stroke Sekibanki's hair.
"...er, what are you doing?" she asks after a while.
"I'm petting you," I reply.
"You don't like it?"
"I, uh, I don't mind it, but, why are you doing it?"
"Because you look like you need it?" I say, still petting her. "If you really don't want to go to the shrine, that's fine. We can do something else instead."
"Weeeelll..." I tilt my head as if in thought. "...we could go on a date!"
Sekibanki makes a choking sound.
"We could go out to dinner, just the two of us!"
"What - why - no - ack - lemme go!" Sekibanki splutters. She tries to get loose, but my grip is too strong.
"Does that mean you don't want to?"
"Of course not! I'm straight, you dumbass!"
"Then why are you all red?" I ask cheerfully, leaning closer.
Sekibanki finally tears herself free, and immediately zips out of arm's reach. She stares at me for a moment as she catches her breath.
"...are you serious or are you just messing with me?" she finally asks.
"Yes," I reply, somehow managing to keep a straight face.
"Auuuugh! Alright! Fine! Let's go to the shrine! Just knock it off already!"
Sekibanki remains silent all the way to the Moriya Shrine, avoiding conversation by flying too far ahead to talk. As a result, we get there quickly, despite taking the high route to avoid the tengu. The public buildings at the front are all closed up, but we ignore them and circle around to the living quarters.
It's not hard to find where everyone is - the sun has set completely by now, and the building is lit by lights that are brighter and whiter than anything in the Village. Suwako and Nue, of all people, are sitting outside.
"Yo," the frog goddess says.
"You made it after all," Nue adds, grinning. "Sanae was worried you weren't coming."
"Well, some things happened," I reply. "Where is Sanae?"
"In the kitchen. I'd stay out of her way if I were you."
"Nue tried to put human blood in the soup," Suwako explains with a smirk. "Sanae hit the roof. I tried to tell her not to knock it 'till she's tried it, but that got us both thrown out."
"Gee, I wonder why," Sekibanki deadpans.
Suwako shrugs theatrically, a goofy grin on her face. Nue waves me over impatiently, and I sit next to her.
"Are you here for the, um, 'movie night' too?" I ask.
"Heck yeah!" Nue replies, grinning even wider. "This is gonna be awesome!"
"You've done this sort of thing before, then?"
"Kinda. I've watched movies with Mamizou, but this is something special."
...I'm not sure if I should be worried or not, with Nue acting like that.
"So, I heard you decided to dress up like Reimu and parade around the village this morning," Nue says conversationally. "There something I should know?"
"Say what now?" Suwako says, straightening up. "This I gotta hear."
"Why has everyone heard about that already!?" I whine.
"Word travels fast in Gensoukyou!" Nue says smugly. "Now spill."
I resign myself to my fate as a laughing stock and explain the prank that went horribly wrong, again. Sekibanki is all too happy to provide eyewitness accounts.
"Woof," Nue says when she finally stops laughing. "I wish I'd seen that. Please tell me one of the tengu got a picture of it!"
"I hope not," I groan.
"You hope in vain, girl," Suwako says, smirking from ear to ear. "The minute Hatate hears about this, she'll have a hundred."
Sekibanki snickers. I bury my face in my hands.
"Oh come on, it's not that bad!" Nue says, poking me in the side. "Just think about it! A youkai shrine maiden! What a surprise!"
"If Reimu's already bored of it, I'm sure Sanae wouldn't mind a junior!" Suwako adds.
"I wouldn't mind a what?" Sanae asks, poking her head out the door.
Nue grabs me and yanks me upright, spinning me around. "Kogasa wants to be a shrine maiden!"
"I do not!"
"Please teach her!"
"Can we keep her? Pleeeeease?" Suwako adds, holding her hat by the brim under her chin. Sekibanki drops out of the air.
"Will you two ever grow up?" Sanae sighs tiredly.
"It's true! This morning she hohhweig hahh Weihu aww -" Nue breaks off as my weight knocks her over, and struggles to pull my fingers out of her mouth.
"If you're finished fooling around, dinner is ready. Will you be staying, Lady Suwako?"
"Nah, I should get moving," Suwako says, plopping her hat back on her head and hopping to her feet. "Kanako's probably planning frog soup for dinner already."
"Where are you going?" I ask, still wrestling with the troublemaking nue.
"Some tengu ceremony or other, everyone who's anyone's gotta be there. So, naturally, Kanako had to remind them I exist." Suwako rolls her eyes and sticks out her tongue. "Sucks to be a goddess, I tell ya. Anyway, later!"
Suwako takes off, waving both arms as she does so. Sanae waves back, more normally, then turns to the rest of us.
"Glad you could make it," she says, smiling at me. "Is Miss Melancholy not with you?"
"No, she, uh, she wanted a break after today," I reply.
"Completely understandable," Sanae says quickly.
"What's this about Medicine?" Nue asks, having finally given up on trying to pull my cheeks in retaliation. "We are talking about Medicine, right?"
"It's a long story," I reply.
"If you're going to tell it, please do it inside," Sanae says. "Dinner's getting cold."
Nue and I scramble to our feet and follow Sanae inside.
"What's with these lights, anyway?" Sekibanki asks, squinting up at the one over the table.
"Outsider magic. It's called 'electrickery'," Nue replies.
"Electricity," Sanae corrects as she sets the table. Nue looks slightly put out. "And it's not magic, it's technology. One of the benefits of Former Hell's nuclear reactor."
"So they have these Outside too?" I ask as I sit down.
"Yup, everywhere," Nue says. "Night's as bright as day in a modern city. Looks real pretty from the air; rivers of light everywhere."
"You make it sound like you've actually seen it."
Nue grins. "I have! Mamizou showed me one time. Scary how much stuff's changed."
"I was never game enough to try that," Sanae says, returning from the kitchen. "Always worried I'd get spotted or hit by plane or something. Guess I'll never get the chance now..."
"Homesick?" Nue asks, her usual sly grin softening into a friendly smile.
"Maybe a little," Sanae replies.
"...it's not that hard to get some time across the Border, if you know the right people," Nue says. "I could pull some strings, trade a few favours -"
"No," Sanae says sharply, before her tone softens again. "No, thank you. I made up my mind when we decided to come here. No regrets, no looking back." She takes a deep breath, and puts on her usual smile. "But more importantly, food!"
She finally steps out of the doorway and puts the tray she's carrying down on the table.
"Thank you for waiting! There's more where that came from, so eat as much as you like!"
"Ooooh!" Nue says, already helping herself.
"Did you make all of this?" I ask.
"Yep! I had some trouble getting all the ingredients, but it worked out in the end!" Sanae replies.
"Wow! You're a really good cook!"
"Ahaha, well, I had a really good teacher!"
"Maaan, I haven't had meat in so long," Nue says, savouring her first bite.
"You're gonna get in trouble when Hijiri finds out," I remind her.
"Why would she? You gonna tell her or something?"
"Err, well, no, but..."
"...why are you a Buddhist, again?" Sanae asks, finally sitting down herself. "I mean, I know you must have your reasons, but you always seem to be complaining about it."
Nue pauses, chewing thoughtfully and swallowing before she answers. "You'd follow your goddesses anywhere, right?"
"W-well, they have done a lot for me!"
"And Hijiri's done a lot for me. For all of us." Nue glances at me. I can't meet her gaze. "We owe her this much."
"'Sides, she's not really that bad. She knows we're youkai. She knows we have needs, even if she tries to pretend she doesn't. But rules are rules, so she makes a show of badgering us, and we make a show of whining about it, and it all works out in the end." She takes another sip of her soup. "...I still say this would've been perfect with some blood in it."
Sanae's eyelid twitches. "Some of us would prefer to avoid cannibalism, thank you."
"Cannibalism? What cannibalism? There aren't any humans here!"
"I'm - I mean, my body's still human! And it's my job to protect humans!"
"It's nobody you know!"
"Not. The. Point!"
"Well, um, I think it's great the way it is!" I interrupt. "Human blood's not that tasty anyway."
Nue slowly turns from Sanae to me.
"You've, er, tried it then, have you?" Sanae asks, looking uncomfortable.
"W-well, it's pretty common at youkai banquets, so..."
"You don't like human blood?" Nue asks.
"Well, no! It's really salty and never seems to work well with anything!"
Sekibanki is now staring at me as well.
"Nope, that does it, I'm taking you to Eientei." Nue gets up and grabs the back of my shirt. "You need your head checked out, kiddo."
"Wah! Hey! Let go!"
"Nue, stop fooling around," Sanae says. "It's fine if a youkai doesn't want to eat humans. Even some of the tengu don't like it."
Nue throws her arms up in half-serious disbelief. "What's with youkai these days? What happened to all the ravening monsters? What is the world coming to?"
"Now you sound old," Sekibanki says.
"I am old," Nue grumbles, sitting back down. "Over a thouand, sealing notwithstanding."
"Uh, okay then," Sekibanki says, moving slightly closer to me.
The conversation is a bit more subdued after that, as we all busy ourselves with our food. It really is good. It's all traditional Japanese style - in some places very traditional, and I can't help thinking Sanae must have learned them from her goddesses or the tengu - but there are some additions I don't recognise, which Sanae says are modern recipies from Outside. Some of the ingredients are hard to find in Gensoukyou, so Sanae is pretty proud of herself for pulling them off.
"Thanks for the food!" I say when we're finished.
"Thanks for the feast, more like," Sekibanki says. "I'm stuffed."
"Where does it all go?" Nue jokes, peering under Sekibanki as she gathers the dishes. Sekibanki edges away from her.
"I cooked a bit extra in case Miss Melancholy or Lady Suwako joined us," Sanae says. "There's still some left, actually!"
"What? Damn. I can't eat another mouthful," Sekibanki says.
"It would be a shame for it to go to waste..." I say, helping carry the dishes back to the kitchen.
Sanae smirks. "It's fine, we have a fridge!"
It takes me a moment to remember what that word means. "...oh! You have one of those too?"
"Of course. They're a basic necessity in the Outside." Sanae pauses. "But who else in Gensoukyou would have one? The kappa?"
"Mamizou," Nue says simply.
"...the bakedanuki? Really?"
"Yup. Her place is even more modern than this one."
"Seriously? But she always seemed so... so..."
"Old?" Nue smirks.
"...I was going to say traditional," Sanae says defensively.
Nue just smirks wider, and starts washing the dishes.
"Umm, are you feeling okay?" I ask, putting a hand on her forehead.
"Eh?" Nue replies, looking confused. "Uh, I feel great, why?"
"...I've never seen you volunteer to do housework before."
Comprehension dawns on Nue's face. I dart out of the way of her wet, soapy swat.
"Get out of here, you little rascal," Nue says, grinning, and prods me toward the door with her wings.
"Eep!" That tickles!
"Go wait in the living room, we won't be long," Sanae says.
"Er, I could help-"
"Hyaa!" Stop doing that! "Okay, I'm going!"
I go wait in the living room, as instructed. With nothing better to do, I peer at - but don't touch! - the funny-looking Outsider gadget sitting on a stool at the back of the room. It wasn't there last time, and looks like it's been set up in a hurry.
Or, well, it looks that way to me. All I can really figure out is that it's a box with wires coming out of it, and weird buttons and stuff on it. The wires run to various places around the room, where other things have been changed or moved around. A large white sheet has been hung on the opposite wall.
Suddenly, the lights go out.
"Sorry to keep you waiting!" Sanae says as she enters. She hurries across the room to one of the low cabinets against the wall. Then the lights outside go out as well and the room becomes too dark for me to see anything.
There is a click, and suddenly the wall is glowing blue.
"Whoa!" I exclaim.
Sanae yanks a book - no, a box - out of somewhere, and removes something round and flat from it, then puts the book - box! - back where she got it from, all in one smooth movement. A machine whirs, a tray slides open, and Sanae puts the flat thing inside.
The wall goes dark again.
Someone grabs me from behind.
Nue lifts me off the ground like I was a little kid, and deposits me in the middle of the room. Then she sits next to me.
A cushion hits me in the back of the head.
"Waagh!" I complain.
"Sorry!" Sanae calls.
"So, um, is this the - Nue! I can do that myself!" I complain as Nue lifts me up and shoves the cushion under me. Nue just cackles.
"Yup, it's movie time!" Sanae says. "Prepare to be amazed!"
"So, uh, this is something like a play, right?" Sekibanki asks, looking at now-moving image on the wall. "What's it about?"
"Don't get closer, you idiots! That's obviously a youkai nest, run away before the mother comes back!"
"What kind of youkai lays eggs that big, anyway?"
"Well, crow tengu eggs are pretty big..."
"Seriously? How would that even fit out their -"
"La la la la I can't hear yoooou~"
"...um, well, maybe not that big..."
"Uh, wait, is that an egg or a flower?"
"Coooooool! Hey, did you know I saw Hijiri rip a guy's heart out once?"
"Nue, that's gross!"
"What? It's really hard to do! I've been practicing on fairies but-"
"Okay, okay, it was a joke! A joke! You don't need to - OUCH!"
"Godsdammit Nue, you completely ruined the moment!"
"It's only a shadow puppet!"
"Shaddup, I'm trying to hear what she's saying!"
"No, wait, put down the gohei! Sanae! Hey!"
"Uuh, I think we should -"
"No, it's fine, they're just -"
"Um, Sanae, that's a bit..."
"...I'm not gonna be sleeping tonight," Sekibanki concludes.
"Why'd you have to put out all the lights?" I whimper, hugging Sekibanki tightly.
"You can't watch a horror movie with the lights on! It spoils the fun!" Sanae says. How can she be so cheerful after watching that!?
"That blasted cat," Nue grumbles. "Why?"
"Enough about the cat already," Sekibanki groans.
"Did that seriously not scare you at all?" I ask.
"Oh, come on!" Nue replies. "Fear of the unknown is what I do!"
"So you're not scared of a monster that grows inside your chest cavity, has acid for blood -"
"Pffft, I've seen worse. And besides, it's not even real!"
"...yet," Sekibanki says.
We're all silent for a moment.
"Wh... what do you mean?" Sanae asks nervously.
"Well, youkai are born from fear..." Sekibanki points out. "If enough people are scared of it..."
"...maybe you shouldn't show this movie to too many people," I suggest quietly. "Just in case."
"You guys are such wimps," Nue says. "I'm more worried about Hiijri tearing me a new one for staying out late."
"...you did tell her you were going out, right?" Sanae asks.
Sanae sighs. And probably facepalms. I can't actually see her though.
"I should probably head home too," I say.
"You could stay the night," Sanae suggests. "Make it a sleepover!"
"Do you really want Hijiri to think we've been doing things together all night?" Nue asks.
"Nue!" Sanae shouts, before promptly tripping over me in the dark.
"Nyahahaha!" Nue cackles, her voice coming from further away suddenly.
"S-sorry, it's dark and I wasn't thinking -" Sanae stammers.
"Um, no, it's fine, I can't see anything either," I reply as I get up.
"Thanks for the food, and the fun, but we gotta go!" Nue says, suddenly behind me. A hand grabs my arm and starts dragging me backwards. "Bye!"
"Ack! Nue! I can't see!" I complain, stumbling in the dark as she drags me towards what I hope is the door. "Why are you dragging me with you!?"
"You don't want me to keep you company on the long, dark, flight home to an empty house in a silent village?" Nue teases. I just groan.
"Safe journey!" Sanae calls after us.
Nue keeps her hand clamped around my wrist like a vice long after we're in the air and flying away from the mountain.
"Nue, seriously, I can get home by myself," I complain. "Let go already!"
"And here I was thinking you set that up on purpose," Nue groans. "Can't you see it? This is your big chance!"
"What are you talking about?"
"Alright, fine, I'll spell it out for you." Nue pulls me closer. "Kogasa. Do you, or do you not, want to scare the hell out of Kochiya Sanae?"
[ ] Yes! [ ] Umm, not really?
I envy people who write better when sleep deprived.
Honestly, while I can see wanting to get her back for earlier I think the nicer and more helpful Kogasa is a really fun direction to take the character in and I don't want to backslide on that, especially not towards someone who considers us a friend.
Don't worry, there's no derailing the character development train at this point. In fact I was originally going to railroad Kogasa into agreeing, but the update was already huge and I wasn't sure if it was getting boring.
No friendships will be broken, whichever way the tie is.
Nue grins. "Well come on then!" She resumes dragging me along at full speed.
"Wah! Where are we going?"
Nue leads us straight to Myouren Temple. She makes a gesture to be quiet, and we slip soundlessly in though the back door. There's just barely enough light inside for me to see where I'm going, so I stick close as we float down the halls and sneak into the storeroom.
"Where is it, where is it..." Nue whispers, hunting quickly and quietly through the shelves. "Aha!"
She shoves a jar of some kind into my hands. It's followed not long after by what feels like a large writing brush.
"Now all we need is..." she zips out of sight. A rustling sound comes from somewhere, and she returns holding what looks like a thick wad of paper. "Got it! Let's go!"
We're halfway back out again when a voice comes from behind us.
"And just what do you think you're doing?"
Nue and I both freeze, and turn around slowly. Ichirin is standing behind us. Even wearing plain white pyjamas and without Unzan looming over her shoulder, she's still scary!
"Papercrafts," Nue says innocently, holding up the paper.
Ichirin's eyes narrow. "In the middle of the night?"
"It's a surprise," Nue says, nodding towards me. I grin nervously.
Ichirin scowls and folds her arms.
"Completely harmless, wouldn't hurt a human," Nue adds. "Honest."
"You expect me to believe that?" Ichirin asks.
"It's just paper!" Nue insists. "You won't even hear about it. I promise."
Ichirin keeps glaring. Then she sighs. "Alright... but if I do, you're in big trouble."
"Thank you~" Nue sings, already pulling me along again.
We fly through the sleeping quarters, towards what is presumably Nue's room, but once there Nue abruptly picks up speed and loops back to the other side of the temple. She gently eases open a heavy door and closes it again behind us.
"Soundproof meditation room," Nue explains quietly, "shouldn't wake anyone up in here. Just don't break anything or Hijiri'll skin us alive."
She darts over to a well-hidden closet at the back of the room and returns with a thin mat, which she puts in the middle of the room, and drops the paper on top of it.
"What are we doing, anyway?" I ask.
"What, you haven't figured it out yet?" Nue asks. "We're making a monster!"
I look at the paper, then at the jar and brush in my hands.
"You can make stuff move on its own, right?"
"Uh, sort of?"
"Right! So we make something scary, and you make it move."
"What kind of something?"
Nue holds up a sheet of paper, grinning from ear to ear. "Something with eight legs, a long tail and roughly this color."
My eyes widen. "...oh! But, um, paper isn't going to look very scary..."
"Hey, who do you think you're talking to? Once I work my magic, she'll see what she's expecting to see! And after what you said..."
"...she'll be expecting the real thing," Sekibanki finishes, and shudders.
"Exactly." Nue grins smugly.
"Umm, I don't think I can make something that complicated move right..." I say.
Nue shrugs. "You'll figure something out. Now come on, let's get started!"
Nue, it turns out, is really, really good at paper maché. I have no idea why, and I'm not sure I want to know. But between the two of us we manage to turn a stack of paper, a pot of glue and and a few clumsy dabs of magic into something that actually looks a lot like the hatchling from the movie.
But then I have to make it move around somehow. That... doesn't go so well. I can't just control things remotely like Alice and her dolls. I have to kind of... well, I'm a tsukumogami. An umbrella that can move on its own. I can't actually make more tsukumogami, at least not easily, so I just tear off a bit of my own spirit and put it in something else.
It's not all that different to splitting my power to make my humanlike form, but that's something I do all the time. This isn't. It's not a natural ability, and it isn't something I'm really all that good at. The hardest part is it's not really me anymore. It's kind of like splitting yourself into two seperate people, except one is really weak and stupid and in a completely unfamiliar body, and you can only communicate by finger taps.
Needless to say, it takes a long time, a lot of mistakes, and several paper limb reattachments before I manage to get it to walk around convincingly.
"Man, this is awesome!" Nue gushes, following the paper alien as it scurries around the room.
"Guh..." I reply, face screwed up in concentration as I furiously try to guide my blind quasi-tsukumogami clone between Nue's legs without tripping over its own.
"The wall! Do the wall!"
I move my trail of mental 'taps' up the wall, and the 'monster' obediently scurries after them.
I bounce a strong burst of my own energy off the construct, making it fling itself off the wall. This time it spreads its legs properly, and latches onto Nue's face perfectly. Nue stumbles back a step from the impact, then flips me a thumbs-up. I signal it to play dead, and it goes limp, dropping off into Nue's waiting hands.
I collapse onto my knees, panting with exhaustion.
"Wow," Sekibanki says. "I'd, uh, applaud, but I'm a little short on hands."
"This is really hard work," I groan.
"It only has to work for a few seconds," Nue reminds me.
"But if Sanae starts shooting at it..."
"Then that means you've already freaked her out, and you'll just have to settle for that," Nue finishes. She grins. "Ready to try it for real?"
"Ready as I'll ever be," I reply.
After a moment to clean up after ourselves - and double-check we didn't spill any glue - we're on our way back to the shrine.
"How am I even going to get close enough?" I fret. "Every time I try to sneak into the shrine she spots me. It's like she can feel me coming."
"She can," Nue says. "She has some kind of connection to the shrine, lets her know where everyone is. I don't know exactly how it works." She grins again. "But I know for a fact she can't tell exactly what everyone is. All you gotta do is make yourself feel different."
"And how do I do that?"
"You ever freaked someone out by making them feel like they're being watched, without actually seeing you?"
"Ooookay then, what about the opposite? Doing like Mamizou does, keeping humans from noticing you're a youkai?"
"Loads of times!"
"Great! It's just like that. Except instead of trying to make yourself feel human, you're trying to make yourself feel... smaller."
"Like a youkai wolf or something?"
"Exactly!" Nue grins yet again.
"...I think I can do that," I decide.
"Well, it's now or never."
Nue reaches over and does... something, to the paper monster I'm carrying. I don't notice any change, but that's because I already know what it is.
"Good luck!" she says.
I take a deep breath, and fly down to the shrine.
I lower myself to ground level outside the shrine proper, and float in cautiously, keeping an eye out to make sure I'm not spotted too soon. There are a few lights on inside. I listen carefully at the door for a moment, and let myself in.
The room I'm in isn't lit, but the adjoining one is, so there's plenty of light for even me to see by. And in the late-night silence, I can hear someone moving around. Coming from the... kitchen, I think? I try to remember the exact layout -
"Who's there? Hello?"
- practically right next to me! I make it into the next room, also dark, and watch Sanae's shadow approaching. I put what I'm carrying on the ground, and slip carefully through another door, out of sight in the dark.
"I know you're there, you can't hide from me!" Sanae calls. She sounds confident, but I don't think she knows it's me. Yet.
Tap. Tap. Scuttle.
Sanae comes into view. She's still wearing her miko outfit, but she doesn't have her gohei with her. She turns in a slow circle, scanning her surroundings.
I direct my 'spider' through the door behind her. She whips around, obviously having seen something, but not sure what it was yet.
"I don't have time for games. Stop fooling around and show yourself!"
Sanae follows the spider back the way she came, looking a lot more wary than she did a moment ago. Carefully probing both its surroundings and mine, I follow. Sanae's confidence rises again once she's back in a fully-lit room.
"Alright, that's enough. You've got until three to come out, or I'll exterminate you for real! One!"
Following Nue's advice, I reverse my usual concealment, making my youkai nature flare up as obviously as possible. Sanae freezes, and slowly turns around, looking right at my hiding place.
The spider scuttles up the wall behind her. Sanae whips around again, hand raised - and the spider hits her squarely in the face.
Sanae staggers backwards, almost falling over, arms flailing wildly. Then she finally gets a grip on it and tears it off, throwing it on the floor. I wince as a blinding flash of divine power incinerates it, leaving not even a whiff of smoke.
Sanae sways slightly, breathing heavily. Then she takes a deep breath -
- and screams at the top of her lungs.
Next thing I know the door is flung open and Sanae slams into me, gibbering hysterically.
"It was a prank!" I blurt out.
"Th-the alien! That was me!"
Sanae stares at me, still shaking and hyperventilating. "You... you..." She squeezes her eyes shut and -
- starts pounding her fists on my shoulders why is Sanae as strong as Ichirin I think something just broke ow ow ow ow -
"I s-seriously th-thought I was g-going to diiiiie!" she wails, before finally breaking down in tears and sobbing into my shirt.
"I'm... I'm sorry..." I say uselessly. Sanae squeezes me uncomfortably tightly, but only for a moment.
"What's going on here!?"
I look up at the sound of another door being thrown aside, and see Kanako and Suwako standing in the doorway, both in their pyjamas and looking very worried.
"Sanae? What happened?" Suwako asks, making a beeline for us. Sanae just shakes her head.
Kanako pads past us and peers through the other door, frowning anxiously as she looks around. The simple sunset-red nightdress she's wearing somehow makes her look younger than her usual severe outfit, almost as young as Sanae.
"Sanae, talk to me," Suwako says, putting a hand on Sanae's back.
"'m fine," Sanae says, lifting her head. "It was nothing." She wipes the tears from her eyes and abuptly stands up. "See?"
"That didn't sound like nothing," Suwako says, obviously not fooled.
"There was a youkai in here," Kanako says sharply. "I could feel it. Did it do something to you? Are you hurt?"
"No, it just caught me by surprise, that's all," Sanae says. "It's gone now. Kogasa got rid of it, right Kogasa?"
Wait what why would she -!?
"R-right!" I say, scrambling to my feet, trying to play along and not wince because I just put weight on my shoulder and it really hurts owwwwwwwww.
"Why are you here, anyway?" Suwako asks, glaring at me suspiciously. "You weren't here when we got back..."
"Well, umm, actually..."
"She was trying to surprise me. Again." Sanae says, smiling. "But she ended up helping instead."
"Urk..." I don't even need to pretend to look guilty!
"Really, I'm fine. I'm just a little jittery after watching that movie, and, well..." Sanae scratches the back of her head, looking actually embarassed. "Sorry I woke you up. Can we just forget about it, please?"
Suwako stares for a moment, then chuckles and grins. She floats off the ground to hug Sanae.
"You need a good night's sleep," Suwako says, letting go of Sanae.
"I'll be along in just a minute," Sanae says.
Kanako and Suwako head back to bed, and I follow Sanae back outside. She walks quite a way from the shrine and uh is she going to -
"Umm, I'm really so-"
"Thank you," Sanae says, turning around.
"...bweh?" I reply. "Uh... what are you thanking me for?"
"For reminding me what it means to be human."
"...I don't understand," I finally manage.
Sanae smiles. "It's... it's a long story. Maybe later, okay? Just..."
She puts a hand on my shoulder. My knees reflexively buckle in an effort to shake it off as I flinch hard from the pain.
"Ouch! Um... I think you broke my collarbone back there..."
Sanae's faltering smile is instantly replaced by a mixture of dread and horror. "Oh no... no no no no please not again -"
"Sanae? What's wrong?"
"I can't... I don't..." Sanae takes a deep breath. "Promise you won't tell anyone." She glances meaningfully at the shrine. "Anyone at all."
"Lady Kanako..." Sanae begins, then hesitates. "...she's been trying to get me to, well... to be more of a goddess. To keep more faith for myself, instead of just passing it all on to them." She takes another deep breath, and lets it out in a rush. "I can't handle it. I can't control it, I keep going overboard, first your friend, now you -"
"I'm fine," I interrupt. "Really. I'll be all healed up by morning. You don't have to -"
"But I do have to worry!" Sanae insists. "What if it's a spiritual attack next time? I'm practically leaking faith everywhere, and youkai are weak to -"
"Do you have any of your ofuda on you?" I ask. "Youkai extermination ofuda?"
Sanae reaches into her sleeve (Why always the sleeves? Is it some shrine maiden thing?) and draws out one of her ofuda, with the familiar star symbol.
I pluck it from her hand and hold it up, uharmed. To prove my point, I close one eye and stick out my tongue.
"See? I'm surprisingly sturdy!"
Sanae's eyes widen. Then she giggles. "How are you doing that? What's the trick?"
"No trick," I say, passing it back to her. "I can even pick up Reimu's yin-yang orbs."
Sanae frowns slightly. Then she presses the ofuda lightly against my forehead.
I keep smiling.
She pulls it away, revealing no injury whatsoever.
"See?" I repeat. "You don't have to worry about hurting me. Not accidentally, anyway."
Sanae giggles again. Then she takes a step forward and gingerly pulls me into a rather awkward hug.
"...sorry for causing trouble again," I say, returning the hug as best I can without making my shoulder hurt even more.
"Don't be," Sanae replies. "I needed that. Really. Thank you." She lets go. "I should get back before Lady Kanako and Lady Suwako get worried again."
Sanae waits until I've flown clear of the shrine before turning around and going back inside.
Nue and Sekibanki are waiting for me where I left them. Nue is grinning from ear to ear, but Sekibanki's smile fades once she catches sight of my face.
"So? How did it go? We heard a nice scream~" Nue says.
"...I'm not going to try to surprise Sanae anymore," I reply.
"...eh? What?" Nue says, her grin giving way to confusion.
"You, um, probably shouldn't let Sanae find out this was your idea," I add. "She might exterminate you. For real."
I start flying back to the village.
"Hey, wait! What happened!?" Nue calls after me. "...what'd I do this time?"
She doesn't give chase.
"Hey," Sekibanki says, floating along beside me as usual, "you okay?"
"...yeah," I say eventually. "Just tired. And sore."
The village is dark and quiet by now. I stick to the rules and pass by the guardhouse anyway. Normally a youkai would have a lot of trouble getting into the village at this hour, but now that I'm living here they let me through with nothing more than a bit of grumbling about night shifts and paperwork.
Back at my house, we find Medicine curled up on the floor next to the table. I don't think she's moved from that spot since we left. I get that she seems to like sleeping on the floor, but it feels wrong to just leave her there, so I carry her into the bedroom anyway, using a bit of magic to compensate for my injured shoulder. She doesn't stir at all.
I fall asleep almost as soon as my head hits my pillow.
I wake up very suddenly.
There doesn't actually seem to be a reason for it, though. No loud noises, no nightmares, nothing unexpected. In fact, it's surprisingly quiet. I'm just instantly wide awake. Well, it's morning anyway, so I sit up, stretch and test my shoulders. They're stiff and a bit cramped, but fully healed.
I hear a rustling noise, and turn to see Medicine sitting up and rubbing her eyes. A small doll is lying on the ground next to her. It looks exactly like her, so I guess it must be her main body? I've never seen it before, though.
"Good morning," I say.
"Good morning," Medicine replies, looking around sleepily.
Medicine nods, and yawns.
"Where's Sekibanki?" I ask, noticing her pillow is empty.
Well, I do seem to have slept in later than I usually do, so it's not impossible she simply woke up before me for once. I get up and go about my normal morning routine, before heading into the kitchen to make breakfast.
"Oh, there you are!" I say, spotting Sekibanki. "You should've woken me up if you were hungry."
Sekibanki doesn't reply, and continues biting at a cupboard door.
"Hey, don't do that, you'll damage your teeth." I gently pull Sekibanki away from the handle. "Are you still half a sleep or something?"
Sekibanki lets out a frustrated moan and snaps at my face.
"Wah! Hey! What are you doing!?"
Sekibanki still doesn't answer, instead struggling uncoordinatedly and trying to bite my fingers.
"What's gotten into you!? Cut it out!"
I slap her. Hard.
"Sekibanki? Can you hear me? What's wrong?"
Sekibanki's eyes finally focus on me. She looks dazed and woozy.
"...I feel like shit," she slurs.
"You look awful too! What happened?"
"...I 'unno. I woke up, I was hungry... and it's all kind of a blur..." She shakes herself, then reels. "Urp. Think I'm gonna be sick..."
A shrill scream comes from outside.
I spin around, but spot only an equally-startled Medicine standing behind me, doll floating next to her.
"That's... we're in the village, right?" Sekibanki says.
All three of us rush outside. It's immediately apparent that something is very wrong; a small stampede of panicked humans are scrambling to get away from something near the west gate. I immediately run in the opposite direction.
"What's going on!?" I ask one of the less-frantic humans.
He doesn't answer, instead fleeing from me as well.
A moment later I'm through the crowd and into the open. A small group of village guards are trying to fend off a shrieking, winged youkai, and are very clearly outmatched. Shredded armor, broken weapons and at least one of them has a savage red gash across his chest -
"Mystia, what are you doing!?" I shout.
Mystia shows no sign of having heard me, still hellbent on eviscerating one of the guards. I take a flying leap over his shoulder and kick Mystia hard in the face, sending her sprawling.
"You okay?" I ask.
The guard nods, too out of breath to talk, and frantically points behind me.
Mystia is on her feet. Her eyes are wild and bloodshot. Her talons are fully extended. She lets out a loud, grating screech, completely at odds with her normal singing, and charges at me in a blind rage.
"What's going on!?" I yell, dodging her first clumsy swipe. "Mystia, snap out of it!"
Mystia lunges again. I take another step back and bash her across the face with my umbrella. She spins all the way around and swipes in my general direction. I twist under it and plant my foot in her stomach, kicking her flying again. She clumsily backflips, lands on all fours, and charges again.
I grip my umbrella with both hands.
"I'm really sorry about this," I say.
Mystia takes a flying leap, reaching for my throat.
I sidestep at the last possible moment.
Mystia thuds limply to the ground behind me.
Mindful of where I am and who's watching, I quickly flick the blood off my sword and snap my umbrella back together before turning around.
Mystia's head is lying a foot away from her body. The guards are hovering warily at a safe distance, weapons raised.
"Is she dead?" one of them asks.
"Not permanently," I say, moving closer to double-check. "But she won't be getting up any time soon."
The guards breathe a collective sigh of relief.
"You should clean any wounds she gave you as soon as possible," I say, eyeing the blood on one of their chestplates, "and maybe pay a visit to the shrine afterwards, just to be on the safe side."
The oldest of the guards - presumably the one in charge, though I haven't really paid enough attention to figure out what ranks they have, if they even have ranks - nods slowly, and opens his mouth to speak, before being roughly shoved aside.
Next thing I know I'm pinned to the wall by someone's forearm crushing my windpipe.
I try to speak, but I can't even breathe. One arm frantically tries to lever Keine's off me while the other catches her fist before she can pound my face in. She leans back for her trademark, but I wrestle her free arm across, jamming her fist under her chin. I'm clearly stronger, but she's in a much better position -
"Nobody kills humans on my watch!" she snarls furiously. "Nobody!"
"I'm - trying - to - help!" I manage to gasp out.
"She's telling the truth, Miss Kamishirasawa. She was defending us."
Keine's eyes dart sideways, toward the guardsman I can't see. Then she locks eyes with me again.
I loosen my grip on her fist. Slowly, she releases the pressure on my throat.
I sag against the wall, panting for breath.
Keine pops her dislocated knuckles back into place with a sickening crunch.
"What happened here?" She demands, not taking her eyes off me.
"Miss Lorelei entered the village looking dazed and confused," the senior guardsman efficiently reports. "When we approached her she became agitated and began attacking anything that moved. We were able to avoid serious casualties until Miss Tatara arrived on the scene. As soon as she ascertained that Miss Lorelei was not to be reasoned with, she took steps to neutralize her."
Keine glances back at Mystia. "How?"
I twist the bottom segment of my umbrella's handle and slide it out, just enough to show the blade. Keine glares at it, then at me. I put it away again.
"What's going on?" I croak.
"All the youkai in the village have gone beserk," Keine replies, "attacking humans and each other like mindless beasts." Her eyes narrow. "Why aren't you affected?"
I raise my hands defensively. "I don't know! I feel fine! Medicine is fine too. Sekibanki was... a bit weird, but she snapped out of it. We didn't even know there was anything wrong until we heard screaming."
Keine glares at me a while longer, considering something.
"...I'm going to have to ask the three of you to leave the village."
"What!?" I exclaim, jerking upright. "If there's some kind of Incident going on we should be helping to protect it! You can't be everywhere at once -"
"I can't trust you!" Keine snaps. "What if it's only a matter of time before you end up like them? Think of the damage you or Medicine could cause all by yourselves! I can't protect the village against either of you! Keeping both of you around is madness!"
"I could say the same about you!" I retort.
Keine growls. No human, or even a humanoid youkai, should be able to make a sound that deep.
Then her eyes widen and she takes a step back. She looks down at her hand, flexing it slowly, then at her shadow, where her horns are clearly visible.
"...you're right," she says quietly. "I'm already more affected than you are."
She looks around. The guards are still hovering nearby, though most of them are busy, and a few other humans have returned and are watching the scene from a safe distance.
"...we need someone we know we can trust," Keine says.
"Reimu? Marisa? Sanae?" I suggest.
"Probably already searching for the cause," Keine says. "Or if not, they soon will be."
"Who else is there?"
"...Mokou promised she'd come to the aid of the village if it was ever needed. Imaizumi is half human, so she should be... relatively unaffected. Eieintei... probably wouldn't help, but it couldn't hurt to ask. And as much as I hate to owe them anything, Toyosatomimi and her followers would be all too eager to help. If they don't have problems of their own."
"But how are we going to contact them? If the youkai elsewhere are affected too..."
"...then one of us is going to have to go."
Keine looks at me uneasily. She opens her mouth again, but hesitates.
She's a friendly face in the village, literally immortal and will help stabilize Keine.
Miko has her own agenda that she might put before human lives, as the real Miko did; Kagerou is relatively weak; Eientei probably won't help much; Sakuya and Youmu have to put their masters first; Patchouli and Alice are not reliable, Kasen might be affected, Tenshi and Sumireko are hard to find and lack tact; Kotohime hasn't appeared as far as I remember and Hijiri probably has her hands full trying to control her own Temple.
Since I can't expect folks to remember after years of hiatus: Alice is injured and unable to even defend herself. Kogasa knows exactly where to find Tenshi. Sumireko is Outside and thus unreachable. And who even is Kotohime? Just kidding. She has in fact been referenced in this very thread.
Also, since it seems to have been overlooked: Kogasa staying means Keine getting help. There are no subvotes because that's up to her, but it shouldn't be hard to guess.
Whether she likes it or not, Keine already admitted we're stronger than her and realised she's more affected than us.
I'm worried that the rest of Banki is still affected, as well as all the youkai of Eientei, but worst-case scenario she'll regrow a body as long as we keep one head alive ... and we'll have an army of killer rabbits to deal with and no holy hand grenade.
I take a deep breath, not sure how Keine will take what I'm about to say.
"I'll stay," I say. "I don't know many people who could help and I don't think many of them would listen to me anyway." I try to look confident. "But I can keep the other youkai under control, especially if they're not thinking clearly enough to fight properly."
Keine gives me a long look, frowning. She looks anxious and conflicted, but doesn't reject my suggestion right away. In fact, after a while she nods slowly.
"Promise you'll do everything in your power to protect the village," she says at last.
My grip on my umbrella tightens. "I will."
Keine turns and gets the attention of the guard captain.
"I will be leaving the village for a while," Keine says. The guard looks alarmed. "Kogasa will be acting in my stead; heed her advice as you would mine."
"But she -" the guard begins.
"- is older and wiser than she looks, and just as capable as I am, if not more," Keine interrupts. She glances at me again before continuing. "She's clearly unaffected by whatever this is, and can be relied upon to keep her word, if nothing else."
Keine takes a step back, and lifts off the ground. "I'll return as quickly as I can."
And with that, she's gone. The guard captain turns to me.
"It seems we'll be in your care, Miss Tatara," he says uneasily.
It's only then that I realize a large portion of the village is watching.
"I'd better do something about Mystia," I say. "Don't let anyone too close to the, uh, mess. Youkai blood is dangerous to humans."
It doesn't take long for me to carry Mystia back to her home, and make sure she won't be disturbed while she recovers. But I see something on the way there that worries me. A lot.
"Call everyone inside and close the gates," I say as soon as I get back to the village.
"But the farmers -" the guard captain begins.
"All the youkai in the forest are in an uproar, even the ones that are normally only awake at night," I say. "I've never seen them this violent, not even during the full moon. It's not safe."
The guard captain nods grimly, and starts barking orders.
"I'm going back to my house to prepare," I add. "If anything happens, you can find me there."
I hurry home and head straight for my room. It only takes a minute to assemble everything I need; even after all this time I still keep all the materials on hand, tucked away in drawers and cupboards where nobody would think twice about them.
And even after so long, the work still comes naturally.
A thud from the kitchen breaks my concentration. Jumping up to investigate, I come face to face with Sekibanki.
Who flings herself backwards immediately.
"S-stay away from me!" she blurts out.
"Er, Sekibanki?" I say, raising my hands as nonthreateningly as possible. "It's me, Kogasa. I'm not going to hurt you."
Sekibanki stares at me, eyes wide and red like Mystia's, looking ready to bolt at any moment.
"What the fuck was that?" she hisses.
"Um, what?" I ask.
"What do you mean what? You lopped her fucking head off!"
"You mean Mystia? She wasn't herself -"
"So you had to chop her fucking head off!?"
"She was attacking the villagers!"
"She was your friend!" Sekibanki screams. I wince at the volume. "And you fucking decapitated her!"
"Sekibanki, please calm down -"
"And then you just carried her off like a fucking sack of rice! What the fuck!? What the actual flying fuck!? Don't you fucking feel anything!?"
I open my mouth, but nothing comes out.
"People don't just do things like that! What are you, a fucking assassin!?"
I flinch, stepping back as though slapped.
"...I'm sorry," I mumble, staring at the floor.
"You're sorry? You fucking kill someone close to you and you're sorry?"
"She's fine!" I insist. "I took her back to her house, made sure she'd be safe. She's a youkai, she's probably survived worse. I know I have."
"You ever had some crazy swordswoman take your head off!?"
Sekibanki doesn't reply at first. I finally work up the guts to look at her again.
"...seriously?" She asks, blinking dazedly.
I manage a weak smile. "Yeah. She didn't try to put me back together afterwards, either." I take a deep breath. "Look, I'm really not going to hurt you. You don't have to be afraid of me."
Sekibanki eyes me warily. "Yeah, well, I am."
"...I'm sorry," I repeat. "Um, are you feeling okay? You look terrible."
"I feel terrible," Sekibanki groans. "My face is on fire, my skull feels like it's about to split open, my eyes won't stop watering, I don't have hands to wipe the damn things and I can't stop thinking about food."
"Well, we did miss breakfast," I point out.
"Not that kind of food," Sekibanki says ominously.
"...umm, you're not going to start attacking people or anything, are-"
"No!" Sekibanki says hurriedly. "Hell no! Not after seeing what happens to people who try that on your watch."
"...I don't want to hurt you. I mean it."
"But you will if you have to," Sekibanki says quietly. "Right?"
I look away, but force myself to make eye contact again. "Yes."
Sekibanki swallows. Then she grins defeatedly. "Guess the humans are safe with you after all, huh?"
She sways in the air, and I take a step forward. She lurches away again.
"I want to help you," I say. "Please?"
"Uuuuh... okay. Don't think I could stop you if I wanted to right now."
I quickly catch her before she falls. I can immediately tell she has a high fever, which is rare for youkai. The whites of her eyes are almost completely red, and the veins on the rest of her face are bulging slightly in a decidedly unnatural fashion.
If the situation were different I'd be taking her to Eientei, but as it is I have to settle for wiping her face with a damp cloth and feeding her some water and senbei. Fortunately, that does seem to help.
"Thanks," she says. "I, uh, I actually feel a lot better now."
"You look a bit better, too," I say. "Not by much, though. Are you still scared of me?"
"Well, uh... yeah. Sorry."
"...it's okay." I stroke Sekibanki's hair in silence for a while, trying to decide if I should tell her or not. Then I take a deep breath. "Look, this probably isn't going to help, but... there's something I should show you."
I carry Sekibanki back to my room. As soon as she sees what I was working on, she shrinks back, pressing against me.
"Uuh, Kogasa? Are those what I think they are?" she asks, voice shaking slightly.
"Yeah," I reply quietly. "Youkai extermination ofuda."
"...and you have them why?"
I take another step into the room and sit down, well away from the table, for Sekibanki's sake.
"Okay," I begin. "You probably know this already, but a long time ago, when youkai were more numerous, we used to fight each other a lot."
"I, uh, didn't know that, actually. I was born in Gensoukyou."
"Really? Well, there used to be more youkai. A lot more. We weren't all squeezed into one place, of course, but... we didn't get along like we do now."
"...this is getting along?"
"Compared to back then? Yes. Humans and gods were still scarier, of course, but you could just as easily get on the wrong side of a powerful kitsune or oni. And the tengu had whole armies that fought all the time."
I nod, not that Sekibanki can see me. "It was very might-makes-right. And I didn't have a lot of might. In fact, I was one of the weakest youkai around. So I hid." I smile slightly. "It was the only thing I was really any good at. The last place anyone would look for a youkai back then was among humans, so that's where I went. And I don't eat humans, so as long as I stayed out of trouble, nobody ever found out."
Sekibanki shifts in my lap, finally taking her eyes off the table and looking up at me.
"But spending so much time among humans meant I learned more about them," I continue. "They were weak. Even weaker than me. But they could exterminate youkai better than anyone. If they can do it, I thought to myself, why can't I? So I put on my best disguise, found a strong youkai exterminator, and tricked him into teaching me."
"Okay, hold the hell up," Sekibanki says. "You tricked a youkai exterminator? A guy who specializes in tracking down and killing youkai?"
I grin slightly in spite of myself. "Yep. And not just any youkai exterminator, either. Abe no Seimei himself."
Sekibanki stares at me. "...you can't be serious. Even I know that name. He's, like, one of the most famous youkai exterminators ever."
"Well, he wasn't famous back then. If I'd known what he could do, I wouldn't have tried to fool him. I'd have run as far away as possible and waited until he died of old age."
"Speaking of old age, uh... I'm not great at history, but I'm pretty sure he died a thousand years ago," Sekibanki says. "Sooo... how old are you?"
"About the same age as Futo, I think. One thousand four hundred or so."
Sekibanki stares at me again.
"I, uh... I know youkai live a long time but... holy shit," Sekibanki says. "Here I was thinking you were around my age."
"Why, how old are you?" I ask.
Sekibanki squirms, looking embarassed. "...I'm twenty three. And a half."
I grin again. "Wow, you're young enough to be human!"
"Well, I was born in the village," Sekibanki retorts. "It's not funny, dammit!"
"So, uh," Sekibanki glances at the table. "You learned onmyoudou."
My grin fades. "I didn't just learn it. I used it. Improved it, even. Eventually I went back to wandering between human settlements, except instead of being a travelling merchant, or a labourer looking for work, I was a youkai exterminator."
I close my eyes. "A real one."
"So... you actually..." Sekibanki trails off.
"...killed people for money? Yes."
Silence falls. Sekibanki doesn't make a sound, and I can't bring myself to face her.
Finally, Sekibanki speaks up. "And... the sword?"
I let out a long breath. "I needed another weapon. Onmyoudou doesn't work on everything. And sometimes I had to fight humans, in spite of my disguise. I tried all kinds of things, but I kept breaking them. Youkai weapons would have given me away, and I wasn't exactly on the best terms with them, so I ended up learning how to make my own. It worked once, after all, so why stop there?"
"That's when you became a blacksmith?"
"...that's how it started. I don't forge swords anymore, but I did for a while. Then my skill at wielding one caught the attention of someone important, and I ended up fighting in a war."
I hang my head.
"For all the time I spent killing youkai, I never really thought of it as wrong. It was me or them, and they had to have done something bad for me to be hunting them. Maybe living with humans for so long had made me think like them, or something. But now I was killing humans. Humans who weren't exterminators out to get me. Humans who were only fighting me because they had to. Humans who had families who would mourn them... and humans who just wanted to run and hide, because there was nothing they could do to stop me."
My eyes snap open, already staring right at Sekibanki.
"Humans who were just like me."
I look up at the table. The ink has dried on my ofuda by now.
"It was wrong, it was horrible, and it was far, far too familiar. It was the the same thing I'd seen on the faces of thousands of youkai, right before I ended their lives."
I look down at Sekibanki again.
"That's when I became a blacksmith."
Sekibanki swallows, staring back at me with wide eyes.
"...damn," she whispers, when she finds her voice again. "I... I'm sorry."
I blink in confusion. "...sorry? What for?"
"For, uh, for saying that stuff before." Sekibanki looks away. "Calling you an assassin. That stuff."
"...you're just saying that because you're scared of me."
Sekibanki's eyes widen. "No! No, uh, I mean... I am scared of you. Very. Very scared of you. Right now. But, uh, I didn't know, okay? You... you obviously regret that stuff, and I... yeah. Sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
I stroke Sekibanki's hair carefully. "It's okay. It's only the truth."
"It still hurts though. Right?"
I close my eyes. "You don't have to be nice about it, you know. You can hate me, I won't mind."
"I don't hate you!"
"Even though you know what I did?"
"Because I know what you did! Kogasa, look at me. Uh, please."
I open my eyes and look at Sekibanki.
"You... you killed people, right?" she says, obviously afraid but pretending not to show it.
"Lots of people," I reply.
"And that's bad."
"You regret doing it."
I take a deep breath. "...more than anything else in the world."
"See? You're a good person!"
"Wha... how does that make me a good person!?"
"Because you know it was wrong!"
"But I still killed people!"
"You're a youkai! Youkai are supposed to kill people!"
"Not other youkai!"
"That's even better! Most humans wouldn't think twice about it!"
"That's dumb. You're dumb."
"Yeah, well, you're dumber!"
I glare at Sekibanki. Sekibanki glares at me. She looks like she's about to wet herself, but she doesn't back down.
And then we both break down laughing.
"That really was dumb," I say.
"Yeah," Sekibanki agrees. "I meant it, though. Not hating you, I mean."
I pull Sekibanki into a hug. A very gentle one.
"Just, uh... sorry if I freak out around you from time to time," she adds.
I rest my chin on Sekibanki's hair. "That's okay."
We stay that way for quite a while.
"...hey," Sekibanki says, breaking the silence. "Don't you have a village to protect?"
"Yeah. I should go." I let go. "You can stay here if you want. I'll put out some -"
"I'll come with," Sekibanki interrupts.
"...are you sure?"
Sekibanki nods. "Just, uh... try to keep those things away from me, okay?"
I grin. "Okay."
I get up, and sweep the ofuda into my pockets with praticed ease. Then we hurry back out into the village proper. Nothing looks wrong, at least, no more than any other Incident. The activity is a bit more subdued than normal, but it's not like it's stopped completely.
First things first. I should check on...
[ ] ...the humans. They're who I'm supposed to be protecting, after all. [ ] ...the youkai. I'm fairly sure I know where all of them live, and it would be bad if any of them ended up like Mystia. [ ] ...the walls. There were some big things stirring in the forest, so I should make sure they can't get in.
So this is what writing yourself into a corner feels like.
[X] ...the humans. They're who I'm supposed to be protecting, after all.
Holy shit that backstory got a lot darker than I was expecting. It was really well-done though, so kudos for that. I would have never seen any of this coming back in the first thread, but it still seems to work thematically somehow. I wouldn't call it "underwhelming" at all, it's actually pretty great. Also, one quick question: how was Kogasa able to use the charms/wards without burning herself before? I doubt she was already quasi-divine back in the day. On the bright side, it's good to have more proof that the Banki relationship should be able to survive this. Was definitely not expecting Banki to practically be a kid, though. No wonder she's so terrified...
[x] ...the humans. They're who I'm supposed to be protecting, after all.
...the human villagers. They're the ones I'm supposed to be protecting, after all!
But even if I say that, there isn't actually anything I can do, except sort of wander around town while keeping an eye out, and trying not to look awkward and out-of-place. Sekibanki floats silently beside or behind me, trying to make herself as inconspicuous as possible.
A few people give me nervous or even panicked looks, like they used to before word got around that I was living here and properly minding the rules. I give them my friendliest smile. Not too cheerful, or they might run away, but not too half-hearted or it they won't think I mean it.
...I'm really not good at dealing with people. Urk.
We don't find more than a general feeling of unease until we turn toward the markets. Ahead of us, in pride of place on a busy intersection near the middle of the village, is one of the most popular taverns in town. It's a common meeting place for all kinds of people, even youkai. Right now, though, a large crowd of humans is gathered in front of it.
"What's going on?" I ask someone near the edge of the gathering as I approach. "Did something happen?"
"It's her!" a boy further in shouts, pointing at me. "She's the one I was telling you about!"
"Oh, it's you," a weatherworn old man with an impressive gray beard grumbles. "What's this all about, then? The guards won't let me out to tend to my fields, and they say they're following your orders!"
"Is it true Kamishirasawa has left the village?" a woman adds. The entire crowd is now looking at me. Uh.
"I saw her with her horns and tail out in broad daylight!" another voice cuts in. "Is something wrong?"
More people speak up, talking over the top of each other.
"Ah, hey! Slow down!" I shout over the din, holding up both hands. "One at a time please!"
"Quiet!" old man graybeard rumbles. Everyone who hasn't already shuts up immediately.
"In summary, it's an Incident," I begin, talking louder than I'm used to to make sure everyone can hear. "Something is making youkai run amok. Some of us have it worse than others, but even Miss Keine is affected. She decided the village would be safer with more people to protect it, so she's gone to call for help."
"Who's protecting us while she's away?" a serious-looking man asks. I don't know his name, but I know he works as a youkai exterminator. "If it's bad enough to worry the Village Guardian our lot don't stand a chance."
I try not to look as uncertain as I feel. "I am."
A murmur runs through the crowd. There's some uneasy mocking laughter, and a lot of suspicious looks.
"And how can we trust you?" a particularly haughty woman asks.
I try to look serious. "I promised Miss Keine I would protect the village. And I keep my promises."
"Did you reall kill Miss Lorelei?" the boy from earlier asks.
"Er... it takes more than that to kill a youkai," I reply. "She'll be back on her feet in a day or two. But the important thing is she won't be able to hurt anyone for a while."
"And as for locking us in the village?" the old man asks impatiently.
"The forest youkai are in a frenzy. It's a bloodbath in there, and sooner or later it'll spill over into the fields. It's not -"
Everyone ducks reflexively as a crack like a thunderclap rattles the village. I rapidly scan the sky, but there isn't cloud in sight. It sounded like it came from the east, but I couldn't say more than that.
"...it's not safe," I finish.
"Then all we can do is wait," the old man concludes, looking wary instead of angry now.
I smile reassuringly, or at least I hope it looks that way. "I'm sure Miss Hakurei and Miss Kirisame will have it sorted out in no time."
"Bet that was them just now," a young man says, grinning.
A wave of reluctant agreement passes through the crowd, and it slowly starts to disperse. A few groups stay behind, talking about one thing or another. I spot several of the village's youkai exterminators discussing something among themselves. They shoot me suspicious looks and move away when they notice I'm watching. They're no threat to me and they know it, but they're paranoid about me taking offense to their work.
The irony makes me want to cry.
"Such a nice atmosphere, isn't it?"
I turn and spot Medicine sitting on a bench in front of the tavern, legs swinging.
"It feels like someone could drop dead at any moment!" she adds with a smile.
"Err..." I reply.
"Will there be a sudden attack in the middle of the village? Or will people start disappearing one by one, when nobody's looking? I wonder, I wonder~"
"Umm, I hope you're not planning on killing anyone," I say uneasily.
"Of course not. Then I'd know who did it. Where's the fun in that?"
"Just making sure. Attacking humans in the village is forbidden, even during Incidents."
Medicine frowns. "You're no fun. Nofunbrella, that's what I'll call you."
Sekibanki coughs. I glance at her, but she's looking the other way.
"U-umm, that aside, how are you feeling?" I ask.
"Boooored," Medicine drones. "I wish something would happen."
"So, you don't feel, uh, strange, like Sekibanki? Or... Mystia?"
Medicine shakes her head. "Nuh-uh. That sort of poison won't work on me."
"So it's a poison that's causing this?"
Medicine shrugs. "When people lose their minds, it's because of the body's poison."
"Can you do anything about it? Change it back?" I ask.
"Eeeeeeeh," Medicine replies, looking disinterested. "Maybe. It'd just go weird again afterwards though."
I spin around at the sound of my name being called. A young guard jogs up to me.
"There's a problem at the south gate," he says, with the usual nervous politeness of a human addressing a youkai.
"Another attack?" I ask, already tensing for a fight.
"No, but, ah... please come see for yourself."
I hurry after him, not wasting a moment. Medicine hops up and follows at a distance.
Nothing is obviously wrong when we get there, but several guards are standing behind the closed gate, including the older captain from earlier.
"What's the matter?" I ask, looking around.
"Listen," the guard captain replies.
"I know you can hear me, dammit! I'm begging you here!" an anguished voice shouts, muffled by the thick timber. "Let me in!"
"Who?" I ask, looking at the captain in confusion.
He gestures at a hatch in the gate. I slide the heavy iron bolt aside and pull it open.
"Please!" the voice half-sobs.
It's Seija. The amanojaku. I'd recognize her anywhere... but not as she is now. She's bleeding from scores of cuts, scrapes, abrasions and what appear to be claw wounds all over her body. Her bizarre clothes are torn in a dozen places, and streaks of dirt and smudges of plant matter cover almost everything else. She's cradling her right arm against her chest, grimacing in obvious pain and shaking like a leaf.
She takes a step back when she sees the hatch open, and twists around to look over her shoulder frantically.
"You gotta help me," she begs. "Please."
"What happened to you?" I ask, frowning.
Seija grits her teeth. "...I'm as weak as a human. Can't fly, can't fight, can't even run properly. Barely made it out of the forest with my life." She sucks in a shuddering breath. "I don't care if you lock me up, just let me in! Before the ice fairy comes back!"
"What's this about an ice fairy?" I ask the guard beside me.
"The fairy from the lake has been circling the village for a while now," he replies in a low voice. "She hasn't done anything yet, but she's up to something."
"I'm telling the truth, I swear!" Seija howls, now actually crying in earnest. "I don't want to die out here!"
I close the hatch, lock it, and turn to the guards again.
"Let her in."
The guard captain frowns, clearly uncomfortable. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"
"Well, look at it this way," I say. "What would she gain from this if she were lying?" I look around at all the guards. "Nothing she couldn't already achieve by just flying over the wall."
"What would we gain from helping her?" one of the younger guards counters.
"We get to keep an eye on her," I reply.
"And if she attacks someone?" another asks.
"I'd have cause to ignore the spellcard rules. And so would the rest of Gensoukyou. She's not exactly popular... but she's not stupid either."
The captain nods slowly. Then he takes a heavy keyring off his belt, and unlocks the smaller side-gate.
Seija scrambles inside, and falls to her knees.
"Thank you," she whispers.
"Get up," I reply humorlessly.
Seija struggles back to her feet, which are bare and bloodied like the rest of her. She lifts her head to find one of my ofuda an inch from her face.
"If this is a trick," I warn, "you will regret it."
Seija's eyes nearly pop out of her head, staring at the weapon in abject terror. They're red from crying, but not unnaturally so like Sekibanki's. She shakes her head frantically.
"No tricks," she whimpers, "no nothing, I swear!"
"Good. Stay out of trouble, and stay where the guards can see you."
"Y-yes Ma'am! Anything you say!"
Seija edges past me. As soon as she's sure I'm not going to follow, she bolts down the street.
Several of the guards chuckle.
"That put the fear of the gods into her," the captain says. "That's one of the Moriya girl's charms, isn't it?"
"Err..." I say, quickly tucking the offending piece of paper away and looking guilty.
"Bit of an odd thing for a youkai to be carrying around, isn't it?"
"Well, um... not all youkai are on the same side, so..." I say evasively.
"Then I'm glad you're on ours," he replies, before turning to shoo the others back to work.
[ ] I have questions for Seija. Cirno seems harmless enough for now. [ ] I have questions for Cirno. Seija won't be any use until she calms down anyway.
I'm not happy with this update, but I can't find any way to improve it, which means it's time to post the thing and move on.
[X] I have questions for Seija. Cirno seems harmless enough for now.
If Cirno wanted in, she'd either fly right over the walls or break through. For now she didn't, so we should take that time to get some info out of Seija before seeing the ice fairy. Staying inside the village also means being there faster if a youkai attacks.
[x] I have questions for Seija. Cirno seems harmless enough for now.
Well, no use standing around. I turn and start after Seija. She may well be telling the truth, but there's definitely something she's not telling as well. Starting with how she ended up in this situation. I don't know of anything that can weaken a youkai like that, not without killing them or having some other obvious side-effects.
And there's another thing that's bothering me. Youkai aren't afraid of death. Not in the same way humans are. We can fear for our lives, sure, but not in the abstract sense. Seija could have been running from the youkai in the forest, from an angry Reimu, or even from Cirno... but that's not what she was afraid of. I don't want to die out here. That's not something a youkai would say. Not even as a slip of the tongue.
There's also the matter of Cirno herself, but I don't think she's going to be a problem. She hasn't rushed the village in a mindless frenzy, after all.
Another scream snaps me out of my thoughts. Everyone around me jumps, fight-or-flight reactions kicking in, but I'm already heading right for it. Sekibanki is right behind me.
We come to a narrow residential street, where we find a guard and two braver bystanders trying to calm a woman on the verge of hysterics.
"What happened?" I ask.
The three men all start at the sound of my voice, clearly on edge, but visibly relax when they see me.
"Not sure," one of them says. "She went to check on someone who didn't show up for work... and that's all we can get out of her." He gestures at an open door. "Whatever she saw, it's in there."
I head inside without hesitation, alert for anything out of the ordinary. No sign of a fight. No smell of blood. But I can hear - oh.
I loosen my grip on my umbrella as I find the house's occupant. He's alive, awake... and thrashing violently as he tries to tear free of the ofuda gluing him to the floor. The ears and tails tell me he's a kitsune. The whites of his eyes are red, even redder than Sekibanki's, and he's snapping, snorting and frothing at the mouth like a rabid dog, clearly not aware of anything around him.
"Oh hell," Sekibanki breathes.
I move closer, inspecting the seals. Crude. Wasteful, using so many. But effective. Too effective, actually; they're searing their way into his skin in half a dozen places. Sane or not, he must be in agony.
I take out one of my own seals and press it onto his forehead. Even in his current state, the effect is immediate. His entire body convulses. His frenzied struggles degenerate into a seizure so violent he rips several of the seals free. The foam around his mouth turns pink; he must have bitten his tongue. But a moment later it's over, and with one long final exhale, he stops moving altogether.
"You didn't just -" Sekibanki gasps.
"He's not dead," I reassure her, double-checking and finding exactly what I expected to, "but he may as well be until the seal is removed."
I unsheathe my sword and make short work of the remaining seals. With a bit of alcohol to soften the glue - and a few careful pokes to ensure that I can, in fact, handle them without hurting myself - I peel them off completely. The burns start to heal straight away. His tongue has already stopped bleeding. By the time I'm finished, he looks no worse than if he were sleeping off a particularly wild night at the bar.
I carefully gather up every last scrap of paper. They're not the sort of thing that a youkai would want lying around his house.
"Whose are they?" Sekibanki asks, examining them from a safe distance.
"Hard to say," I reply. "It's a very generic design. Not dedicated to a particular god like a miko's would be. Not skilled enough either. But it's an old design, one humans stopped using a long time ago, and there's no youkai elements. That narrows it down a bit."
Sekibanki looks impressed. "You can tell all that from a bunch of squiggles?"
I grin weakly. "I'm a professional, remember? Anyway, if I had to say who's using them, it's almost certainly Keine. They wouldn't do anything to a half-youkai. She may have made them herself, or got them from someone like Akyuu, Mokou or maybe even Morichika." I pause for a moment. "On second thoughts, not Mokou. She's actually pretty good at this, and she has a very unique style."
Sekibanki grins. "You mean they're not on fire."
"They're not fireproof," I counter. "Everything of hers is."
I step outside, closing the door behind us. By now more guards have arrived, and everyone else is gone.
"Miss Tatara," one of them says, nodding respectfully. That's... new. "How bad is it?"
"Nothing to worry about, actually," I say.
The guard's eyebrows go up.
"You know I'm not the only youkai living in the village, yes?" I ask.
He glances at Sekibanki, who is currently trying to hide behind me.
"...I've heard rumors," he says carefully.
"Well, this house belongs to one of us. He was in much the same state as Mystia."
"Was," the guard repeats slowly.
"Miss Keine has been here already, and sealed him inside. Quite safe, but not a pretty sight. She was obviously in a hurry, and he was hurting himself, so I made him a bit more comfortable." I smile reassuringly. "He's not getting out until someone breaks the seal, though."
"I see." He takes a deep breath as he digests that. "What should we tell his employer?"
"That he's sick, obviously. Hopefully he'll make a full recovery once the Incident is resolved. Along with all the other youkai."
The guard nods slowly. "I take it we're not needed, then?"
"You could post a guard here, but that'd make it obvious something's wrong. It's probably better if we just leave."
I thank the men (and the woman - it's hard to tell under all that armor!) and leave. I don't return to the main streets yet though. If one of the village's resident youkai ended up in that state, others probably did too, so I resolve to check on all the ones I know about.
It's as bad as I feared. Nearly everyone I visit is the same or worse. Some of them are just children, much more vulnerable to even these relatively weak seals and by now in need of proper medical attention. I know a thing or two about first aid, at least for youkai, but I'd be much happier if someone like Reisen were available to treat them.
I really hope Reisen isn't like this herself.
It's not all bad news, though. Some of the youkai, including a futakuchi-onna that I know from one of the local tea houses, are still semi-lucid, and have been locked in voluntarily. They're clearly not all there though, and even the best of them are still not as coherent as Sekibanki. But other than asking if they need anything - sometimes repeatedly, since some can't seem to remember the question long enough to answer - and reassuring their neighbours, there isn't much to do.
So it's quite a while before I get back to looking for Seija. She isn't hard to find, surprisingly - she actually seems to have obeyed my instructions. She still looks pathetic, huddled in a corner by herself. Or she would be by herself, if Medicine wasn't leaning over her.
As I get closer I realize that whatever Medicine is doing, it's causing Seija extreme pain. The amanojaku is almost howling through clenched teeth, tears pouring down her cheeks.
"This is fun~" Medicine sings, beaming.
"What are you - " I begin, then break off as I realize Seija's right arm is bent in one too many places. Sekibanki winces and looks away. "You didn't just break her arm, did you?"
"Nuh-uh. It was like that already," Medicine replies. "Look! She's so weak, it's just like playing with a big, soft doll!"
Medicine grabs Seija's head and rolls it around as she talks. Seija's good hand is clamped around her wrist so tightly that the knuckles have gone white, and her arm and shoulder are working furiously, but it's not hampering Medicine in the slightest.
Then Medicine digs her thumbs into the corners of Seija's mouth and pulls it into a rather sickening imitation of a smile.
"Umm, Medicine?" I say. "I think you're hurting her. A lot."
"But she's an amanojaku. They do everything backwards. So that means it's good, right?"
Seija shakes her head with as much strength as she can muster.
"I don't think it works like that."
"Oh." Medicine's smile fades. She regards Seija with the same look a little kid would give a bug they'd been told to release.
Then her smile returns. But this time it's not innocent at all.
"Weeeell, I'd say she deserves it. Riiiight?"
Seija make a feeble attempt to squeeze herself even further into the wall. If Medicine terrifies her any more I think she's going to pass out.
"...maybe she does," I say hesitantly, "but I kind of want to talk to her, and I can't do that if you torture her into unconsciousness."
Medicine scowls. "Fiiine. Be nice. You really are no fun."
She lets go of Seija and wanders off, looking bored. I watch her go, not sure whether I should feel relieved or guilty. Then I turn my attention back to the crying amanojaku.
"What did you do?" I ask.
Seija's eyes widen and dart around guiltily. Mine narrow.
"Your arm. What did you do to it?"
"I t-tripped," she chokes out.
I raise my eyebrows, unimpressed.
"I mean it! I tripped over my own stupid feet, rolled down a hill and crashed into a rock!" She sucks in a long, shuddering breath through pain-clenched teeth. "A lousy, stupid rock. And it's not healing. None of it's healing."
I frown. As incredible as it sounds, she's right. The cuts she had when I first saw her, even the shallow grazes a youkai should be able to heal in minutes, are still bleeding.
"You really expect me to believe you're completely powerless?" I ask.
"Yes! It's true, I swear! If you never believe another word I say, believe this!" She slumps back against the wall, squeezing her eyes shut. "...I'm sorry. Whatever I did to you, I'm sorry."
No, it can't. And whether she deserves it or not, I can't bring myself to leave her like this.
"Watch her," I say to Sekibanki. She looks at me in surprise, then fixes Seija with a stern glare.
By the time I return Seija's sobs have died down to quiet sniffling. She hasn't moved from the same spot, sitting slumped against the wall. She looks up and swallows at my approach. Wordlessly, I kneel beside her, and take hold of her broken arm.
Seija yelps and whimpers in pain as I set the break with the splint and bandages I brought back. She looks on in silent confusion as I start to clean her wounds, every now and then hissing at the sting of the alcohol. Most of them are shallow, superficial, but she's covered in filth and I don't know if whatever this is has left her susceptible to infection, so I clean them anyway. Others are deeper, and bleeding a little too profusely.
I'm not sure I want to know how she ended up with all these.
"Stand up," I command. Seija lurches to her feet. There's even more wounds on her back, great gashes that have ripped her dress to shreds and left her skin a bloody mess.
Finally, I wipe the mixture of dirt, tears and snot off her face. She struggles and leans away, so I grab the back of her head to hold her still.
Then I fashion a crude sling out of the last of the bandages, and Seija stares at the dirt, her face a mixture of embarassment and shame.
"...thank you," she mumbles.
I study her for a moment longer before responding. "If you really want to thank me, you can tell me how you ended up in this mess. Starting with - "
I break off, tilting my head and listening intently. Seija glances up at me.
There it is again. A crackling noise, like rocks breaking.
A high-pitched voice shouting in anger.
The roar of a hungry animal.
I have just enough time to see Seija's eyes widen in understanding before I shoot straight up, Sekibanki in hot pursuit. A quick aerial survey of the village spots nothing, though more than a few humans are looking up at me. But as soon as I turn my attention outside the walls, movement catches my eye.
Cirno is standing in the middle of a rice paddy, facing down something that looks a bit like a youkai bear, except it's three times the size and has no eyes, scales instead of fur and about five times too many teeth. It's also charging straight at the ice fairy, not slowing down a bit as it plows into the mud.
Until Cirno freezes the mud, that is. Then the roles are reversed, as the bear jerks to a halt and Cirno surges forward with a massive spear of ice she conjured out of thin air. The bear must have some kind of sight, because it twists its head aside and bites down on the spear, chomping it in half with ease.
Cirno closes in undeterred and smashes an ice-encrusted fist into the side of the bear's head, rocking its lower jaw so far to one side it makes me wince. When did Cirno of all people get that strong!?
Then the bear yanks a gigantic paw out of the ice and swings, taking Cirno's head off in an instant.
I look away, waiting for the inevitable death-blast.
It doesn't come.
I look up. Cirno is still on her feet, fists flying, without a head. There's no blood, of course - fairies don't bleed - just a sort of icy mist. Mist that rapidly grows upward, forming a forest of ice crystals that fuse themselves into the shape of Cirno's head, hair and all. It's transparent at first, but then it frosts over and starts to take on a familiar shade of blue.
I gape at the sight. Fairies can't do that!
Cirno hollers something I can't understand at the top of her voice, before venting a huge blast of snow into the bear's face. The bear reels, and the recoil launches Cirno back to the other edge of the field. She hits the ground in a crouch, without slowing her fall like she usually does, and slams both fists into the dirt.
A forest of icy needles explode out of the instantly-frozen ground around her. The bear yowls as it narrowly avoids getting skewered. A magic circle of a design I've never seen before forms at Cirno's feet, an intricate pattern of interwoven blue lines etching themselves into the ground before winding their way up into the air... and onto Cirno's wings and skin.
With a battle cry that somehow manages to be intimidating despite her childish voice, Cirno charges the bear. Ice parts before her. More ice, tinted with that strange blue light, gathers in her hands.
A frozen hammer smashes into the bear's chin with enough force to flip the hulking monster over. The shock of the impact reaches all the way to the village.
I shake myself out of my stunned silence and look up. More youkai are emerging from the edge of the Forest of Magic.
A lot more.
"Oh no," is all I can think to say.
I look down at the village, mouth open to yell a warning, but there's no need. The entire village is in motion. Guards are flooding to the walls, bows and antique rifles in hand. Youkai exterminators are racing to prepare. Important figures are shouting orders, workers are scrambling to obey, civillians are hurrying to safety.
A wall of giant insects is heading my way.
"Gyaaaaaaaa!" Sekibanki screeches. "Why does it have to be bugs!?"
I scan the swarm, and spot a familiar figure. "Wriggle," I say simply. I glance back at Sekibanki. "Stay back over the walls, catch the ones that get past me!"
"You're not seriously going to - " I don't catch the rest of Sekibanki's reaction, because I'm already hurtling forward.
I regret it almost instantly, as every bug in the sky converges on me. I don't have anywhere near enough wards for all of them - I used up most of them in the village already. My sword can only cut one at a time. And my projectile magic isn't good for much more than danmaku. If only I'd thought to put up a barrier or traps or something.
Well, no use worrying about it now.
I grab hold of my most powerful natural ability, weather manipulation, and pour my energy into it. The heavens answer with rumble of thunder and a deluge of hail. I can't keep something of this level up for a long time or over a wide area, but I don't have to. Everything I want to hit is headed right for me, right now.
I smash the first giant wasp by simply kicking my foot out as I barrel into it. I quickly dart to the side, snapping my sword out to slice a monstrous dragonfly's wings off. I keep moving as fast and unpredictably as I can, never giving them enough time to mob me as a group. It works on the youkai insects, but not the mundane ones. Bees, wasps, mosquitos and other things I don't even know the name of plaster themselves all over me, crawling into my clothes and stinging me everywhere.
The hail brings down some of the youkai outright, and rattles many more. A few intense bursts of danmaku shake up the swarm, not actually doing much damage but giving me much-needed breathing room. I don't even need to watch where I'm shooting - the air is so thick with insects I can't see the sky or the ground. I can't see the village, so I don't know how many are simply flying past me, but at the very least, I'm keeping the bulk of them distracted.
Suddenly, a giant hand surges through and around the larger bugs, fingers closing around me. I whip out one of my ofuda, charge it to the point of overload, and fling it straight down.
The blast wipes a large chunk of the swarm out of the air, and propels me upward at the same time. I crash through a wall of sharp-shelled creepy-crawlies and out into the open air, ears ringing, and manage to right myself.
The hand reaches up after me. I blast it with all the danmaku I can summon. The normal insects are slowly peeled away, leaving a single figure.
She doesn't look anything like the youkai in the village. Her eyes are faceted, buglike, with that dark blob that follows you wherever you are, and glowing with an unholy green light. Insects crawl over and under every inch of her skin. But the scariest thing about her is her face. She isn't glazed over in a world of her own, or frothing at the mouth in mindless fury.
She spreads her hands, and the bugs around her mimic her on a massive scale.
"Wriggle! Snap out of it!" I shout.
Wriggle just laughs. The buzzing of the insects rises and falls with her voice. She heard me. She understood me. And she's not listening.
She spreads her arms wide, and then slaps her palms together.
The bugs swoop in to swat me.
"HEADS UP!" I powerful voice bellows.
I spin around and immediately fling myself at the ground.
Fire roars overhead.
For a moment, the fields around the Human Village turn into a vision of hell. The entire sky is burning. Towering crystals glow red and purple in the light, strewn over a pockmarked landscape. Flaming meteors crash down around me.
And then the inferno dies down, and the clear blue summer sky beckons cheerfully.
A figure lands next to me, wings of flame slowly extinguishing at her back.
"Yo," She says, hands in her pockets and a cigarette clamped in the corner of her mouth.
"Mokou!" I leap to my feet and almost hug her, before remembering I'm covered in bugs and she'd probably burn my clothes off right now.
"Looks like I'm just in time," Mokou says, nonchalantly puffing tobacco smoke. "Almost missed the party."
"Yeeeeek! There's a bug in my clothes! A bug! It's on my back! Get it out! Get it out! Hyaaaaaa!"
I peer around Mokou, and see Kagerou dancing around, arms flailing wildly, while Keine simultaneously tries to help and avoid goring her with her horns.
I try not to laugh, and fail.
"Sorry we took so long," Mokou continues, deciding to ignore them. "Had a bit of a hold up."
A loud crack makes us look around. Cirno is leaning on her hammer at the edge of the forest, watching the last of the youkai disappear inside. The ground between here and there is littered with frozen bodies. Then Cirno turns around, does a double-take, and launches herself in our direction like a shot.
"Mokou!" Cirno cheers, crash-tackling her.
"Oof," Mokou replies.
Steam sizzles loudly from the two of them. Cirno yelps and lets go, but doesn't stop grinning.
"That was so cool!" The ice fairy declares. "You just went like vwooooosh and took 'em all down in one hit! Pow!"
"Uh, sure," Mokou says. "Say, nice tats."
"Eh?" Cirno replies blankly.
"Tattoos," Mokou clarifies, waving a hand in Cirno's general direction.
Cirno looks down at her still-glowing arms. "Oh! Uh, hang on a minute..." Cirno steps back, scrunches her eyes shut, and makes several strange hand gestures. The blue light fades.
"Gottim," Cirno says. "Man, I haven't had to use that trick in ages!"
"Did you really beat all of these?" I ask, staring at the icy warzone in awe.
Cirno grins from ear to ear, putting her hands on her hips. "'Course I did! I'm the bestest fairy in all o' Gensoukyou! Ain't no animal gonna stop me!"
"What happened here?" Keine asks worriedly, finally making it over to us. "Is everyone alright?"
"Umm, everything was fine until the bugs showed up a few minutes ago," I reply. "I think I kept most of them out of the village -"
"You did," Sekibanki speaks up, surprising all of us. "A few of them made it over the wall, but the guards and the exterminators had them down in no time."
Keine sags with relief. "Then nobody got hurt?"
"Er, I don't think the farmers are going to be too happy though..." Kagerou says, tiptoeing around the scorched insects.
We all stare at the ruined fields. Most of them are frozen over.
Cirno grins sheepishly and scratches the back of her head. "Eheheh... oops? I can get some o' my buddies from the flower fields to help fix 'em up, once this is all over..."
"I think we'll have to let the farmers decide on that," Keine hazards.
"Can we get away from the stink now?" Kagerou asks, wrinkling her nose.
"Yes, let's," Keine agrees.
"I'm goin' back on patrol," Cirno says, hopping into the air. "Yell if ya need me!"
The rest of us fly back over the village walls...
...to a round of cheers from a very large crowd indeed.
"Uh," Mokou says, looking uncomfortable.
"Um," I agree, looking around.
"Ugh," Kagerou grunts, hanging back and trying to hide in the depths of her hood.
Keine joins in, turning around and clapping as well.
Sekibanki just smirks, as if she already knew this was coming.
"Yeah, yeah, we get it, enough already," Mokou grumbles. "We're not out of the woods yet."
"It was a hell of a show though," Sekibanki says.
"Miss Kamishirasawa, Miss Fujiwara," the guard captain says, bowing to each as he speaks.
"How is everyone?" Keine asks.
"Shaken but unhurt," he replies. "Miss Tatara has been every bit vigilant as we could have asked for."
Keine turns to smile at me. Urk.
"Er, no offence, but I think you need a shower," Kagerou quietly points out.
I look down at myself. I'm still covered in bugs, bug guts, bug bites and all manner of other awful things.
...speaking of bugs...
"What happened to Wriggle?" I blurt out.
"Pardon?" Keine asks.
"Wriggle. She was leading all those bugs. I hope Mokou didn't roast her too badly..."
Keine's face creases with concern. "I suppose we should go look for her."
"I'll go," Kagerou says. "May as well make myself useful."
"But - " I begin.
"I'll go too," Keine says. "If she didn't fall to the fire, she might still be dangerous."
I open my mouth again, but close it without saying anything. Instead, I take out one of my last few seals, and hold it out to her.
"Here. If you have to restrain her, this'll work a lot better than yours."
Keine's eyes widen slightly as she studies it. Then she looks up at me and smiles slightly. She gingerly brushes her fingernails against the paper before touching it, confirming it won't harm her.
Kagerou watches the exchange with mild confusion.
"Thank you," Keine says. "We'll take care of your friend."
I nod and smile in return, and the two half-youkai leave.
I take a deep breath and let it out. I flick a few remaining bugs off my arms. They fly away harmlessly, now that they're not being controlled by youkai power. The stings are really starting to hurt now, but I have something at home that can help with that.
If I can get there, that is. The crowd around us still hasn't dispersed. Mokou is currently the center of attention, discussing something with the guards. So I quietly slip back toward the gate, take to the air, and fly around the edge of the village to my house.
Just as I'm about to descend, however, I spot someone else flying this way.
[ ] A miko. [ ] A taiko. [ ] A biwa.
So suddenly I'm at my computer with an update, a hangover and no memory of the last four hours. Not sure if good or bad.
"So suddenly I'm at my computer with an update, a hangover and no memory of the last four hours. Not sure if good or bad." Isn't that how Zun works? Well, the update was great in any case. Loved Cirno.
It's Reimu. She's in full Incident mode. Gohei in one hand, ofuda in the other, yin-yang orbs spinning lazily around her.
And she's headed right for me.
For one horrible moment I think I'm about to be on the recieiving end of Fantasy Nature. But once she draws close enough for me to see her face I realize she doesn't look angry. In fact, she looks completely exhausted. She slows to a stop in front of me and claps both divine-weapon-holding hands on my shoulders.
"I need a drink," she says.
And then floats past me.
"Er, Miss Reimu? Are you okay?" I ask, hurrying after her. "What happened?"
"Oh, nothing much," Reimu says casually. "Giant oni nearly stomped the shrine flat, crazy taiko nearly burst my eardrums stopping her, went out to see what all the fuss was about, found total bedlam. The usual." We smoothly transition from flying to walking down the main street. "Anyway. Gensoukyou-wide insanity, and not the spellcard kind. Not many people who can do that. So, naturally, I decided to visit Yukari." She suddenly stops and looks straight at me.
"...and?" I ask carefully.
"And now I'm going to get drunk," Reimu finishes, with a faraway look in her eyes. Then she resumes making a beeline for the tavern.
As much as I'd like to ask about it, I don't think getting between Reimu and alcohol is a very good idea right now. That and my everything is starting to get really, really itchy by now, so I turn around and head back to my house. A quick wash, a change of clothes - the old ones are going to need mending - and some Yagokoro-brand ointment for skin irritation later I'm feeling like new. This stuff is pricey and has a really strong smell, but it sure works!
I also prepare some more ofuda before heading out again. I really hope I won't need them, but I don't want to be caught out again.
Once that's all attended to I go looking for Keine. The mood in the village has lifted considerably now that she's back, and Mokou has demonstrated how much safer everyone is with her around. The humans are a lot more comfortable with youkai like me wandering the village when they know someone is on hand in case things go sour.
I don't find Keine, but I do find Kagerou. She looks a bit odd, squirming around like she's brushing things off her clothes and making weird faces as she walks.
"Kagerou!" I call out, getting her attention. "Did you find Wriggle?"
Kagerou looks up, blinks, and nods. "Yes. Yes we did."
"Is she okay?"
Kagerou cringes. "That depends. Is she supposed to have... things crawling out of her?"
"She does that sometimes," I confirm.
"It looks like... maggots... crawling around under her.... euuuurgh!" Kagerou shudders and shakes her hands. "Talk about something else! Anything else!"
"Uh, okay, um... how are you feeling?" I ask.
"Me? I'm fine. Why?"
"You don't seem to be bothered by the Incident much," I point out.
Kagerou shrugs. "Everything's pretty normal at my place. I mean, I knew something was up, since it can't be full moon in the middle of the day -" she points at her hood, which twitches slightly "- but I'm not even fired up like last time. So I thought I'd just wait it out at home. Then Keine smashed the door off its hinges and said the village was in danger."
"...really?" I ask.
Kagerou nods. "Yep. Didn't even use her hands, just ran right into it. Took a chunk out of the doorframe with her horns too."
"I know! And she's normally so calm! What happened to her?"
"It's the Incident," I reply. Seeing Kagerou's confused frown, I add "have you seen any other youkai today?"
"Only you and Sekibanki. And Reisen, I suppose."
"Reisen? How was she?"
"Hangover. Moaning, throwing up and still trying to do her job."
I wince. "What about the other rabbits?"
Kagerou waves her arms. "What other rabbits? I haven't seen a single one all day."
"Not even at Eientei?"
"Especially not at Eientei. There was someone in the emergency room when we stopped by, and the Princess was filling in as a nurse! The Princess! Mokou couldn't believe her eyes."
"Was Sekibanki okay? Did you see her?"
Kagerou shakes her head apologetically. "One look from the good doctor and we were out of there. She looked like she'd give anyone who interrupted an endoscopy."
Kagerou suddenly looks awkward. "Er, nevermind."
"Uh... okay. So you haven't seen any other youkai today?"
Kagerou shakes her head. "Is it really as bad as Keine said?"
I take a deep breath. "...it's worse. Almost everyone I've seen has turned into a mindless animal. Mystia started attacking the villagers, and wouldn't stop until I... well. Until I took her head off."
Kagerou covers her mouth with her hand. "I thought she just meant everyone was getting violent."
I shake my head. "A few of the youkai in the village can still talk, but they can't even remember what they were doing five seconds ago."
"You don't seem to be affected though," Kagerou points out.
"Me or Medicine. I haven't seen any other tsukumogami yet, but maybe it doesn't work on us?"
"Er, actually, Sekibanki was kind of affected. She snapped out of it though. Mostly."
"Speak of the devil," Kagerou says, pointing a sharp-nailed finger behind me.
"There you are," Sekibanki says, zipping up as I turn around. "I was afraid you'd already left."
"Left? Left for what?" I ask.
Sekibanki gestures with her chin. I look that way.
"...the dango shop? But it's right here in the village!"
"Look up, stupid," Sekibanki groans. I look up.
Youkai mountain is on fire!
Or, well, something up there is! A thick column of black smoke is rising from somewhere near the peak.
"Is that coming from the shrine?" Kagerou asks.
"I sure hope not!" I exclaim. "What do we do!?"
"What can we do?" Sekibanki counters. "I mean, if those two goddesses can't do anything about it..."
"Maybe they don't need to?" Kagerou suggests. "It could be a ceremonial fire."
I stare up at the plume of smoke. It's awfully big.
"...no, something is definitely wrong. Very wrong," I say. "I can feel it."
Sekibanki frowns up at me. "You want to go up there, don't you?"
"...yeah. But I promised Keine I'd protect the village, so..."
"Just go," Kagerou says. "We've got Keine, Mokou and Cirno."
"And Reimu," I add.
"Reimu's here?" Sekibanki asks, eyes widening.
"Yeah. She flew in about twenty minutes ago and headed straight for the bar."
"Well there you go," Kagerou says. "Nobody messes with humans around Reimu and gets away with it, especially if she's drunk."
"I'll let Keine know," Kagerou says. "She'll understand."
I take a deep breath. Then I turn to Sekibanki. "You coming?"
Sekibanki closes her eyes and lets out a long sigh. "Sure."
"Um, you don't have to if you don't -"
"I said sure," Sekibanki grumbles. "Don't ask again or I'll change my mind."
I grin weakly. Sekibanki grins back. We make our way out of the main street, and then take off, headed straight for -
I stop and look down. Seija is standing a side-street below, looking up at us.
[ ] No time. Must find Sanae. [ ] Hear what Seija has to say. It might be important.
[x] Hear what Seija has to say. It might be important.
For a moment I consider just flying away. I'm in a hurry, and it's not like she can follow. But considering how terrified she was of me earlier, she probably has a very good reason for stopping me.
She better have.
"I'm suprised you know my name," I say as I land in front of her.
"One of the guards told me," Seija says quietly, not quite looking at me, "when I asked where you were."
"What do you want?" I ask, getting straight to the point. "I'm kind of busy right now."
Seija finally looks me in the eye, but only for a moment. She opens her mouth and closes it again, twice, and takes a step back. Finally, she takes a deep breath and stares at the ground.
"...I did it," she mumbles.
"Did what?" I ask impatiently.
"Everything." She gestures vaguely with her good hand. "All of this."
My eyes widen, then narrow. "How?"
"...there was this mirror," Seija says slowly, shifting uncomfortably and fiddling with a tear in her dress. "Divine artifact. Shows the true nature of things, or something. Useless junk. But I found a ritual to... broadcast its power, over a large area."
"And you thought this was a good idea?" Sekibanki asks venomously.
Seija cringes and waves her arm aimlessly. "It was a prank! I was only trying to make everyone look ugly! I didn't think -"
"No shit you didn't!"
Seija flinches, looking genuinely guilty. "I'm sorry," she whispers. "I didn't mean to cause any of this."
"You mean you didn't mean to shoot yourself in the -"
"Where's this mirror now?" I ask, cutting Sekibanki off before she can get any more worked up.
Seija shakes her head, eyes watering again. "I don't know."
"I don't remember!" She hisses. "I blacked out as soon as it was finished. I woke up in a puddle of vomit, it was dark, and things were trying to eat me! I'm sorry!"
I take a moment to think. Something is wrong on youkai mountain. I don't know how I know, but I'm sure of it. And if Seija's telling the truth, that something can be stopped. Any help I might be able to give in person is unlikely to be as good as removing the cause in the first place - for all of Gensoukyou.
"Show me," I say.
"What?" Seija asks, blinking up at me.
"Show me. You ran out of the forest, right? If we retrace your steps, we'll find the mirror."
"I can't go back in there! I'll die!"
"You'll die even sooner if you don't do exactly what your friendly neighbourhood karakasa tells you to!" I say with false cheer, flicking an ofuda out between my fingers. Seija immediately goes still and pale. "On the other hand, if you're really helpful, she might just protect you on the way!"
Seija swallows once, twice. Then she nods jerkily. "Okay. Okay! I'll do it! I'll do anything! Anything you say!"
"Then what are you waiting for? Move it!"
Seija nearly trips over her own feet in her hurry to scramble away from me. I follow her back toward the gate at a steady pace.
"Holy goddamn shit," Sekibanki splutters, staring at me with wide eyes, "you're as scary as Reimu."
"U-um, really?" I stammer. Sekibanki nods. "Er, I'm not going to attack you, you know..."
The guard at the gate doesn't even question me when I ask him to let us out. Seija leads us in a straight line from there until we approach the the treeline, glancing over her shoulder fearfully every thirty seconds. Cirno circles past, watching us curiously for a moment, but then goes back to scanning for intruders. She's really serious about this job.
Then Seija swerves off the path and into the forest. She hesitates at the edge until we catch up, apparently deciding that whatever's in the forest scares her more than me, at least as long as I'm not openly threatening her. Then we plunge into the undergrowth.
Seija is shaking like a leaf as she picks her way through the trees, stopping every now and then to get her bearings. I'm not exactly a skilled tracker, but I get the feeling it wouldn't help if I was, because there are fresh tracks everywhere. Trampled bushes, scraped bark, gouged rocks, bloodstains - everywhere we look, we see signs of fighting.
We can hear them, too.
Sekibanki glues herself to my side, alert and looking in every direction, mostly behind me. Even Seija strays no more than two steps away from me. I move swiftly but silently, concentrating on keeping track of the myriad presences I can sense around me. I can't pick up humans very well, or fairies or traps at all, but youkai stand out strongly, as long as they aren't actively trying to hide themselves. And there's nothing in this forest capable of that right now.
I put my hand out to stop Seija a few times, pausing or detouring to avoid particularly violent youkai. But as we travel deeper into the forest, maybe even straying into the Forest of Magic itself, avoiding them all quickly becomes impossble.
That's when I start killing.
Youkai of all shapes and sizes fling themselves at us in a feeding frenzy. None of them are even remotely humanlike, and none of them last more than a second. Some don't even make it into sight. The noise and the bodies only attract more of them, until I have to fight almost constantly to keep them at bay. I use my limited supply of ofuda sparingly, with all the tricks I know to stretch them out, and take advantage of the fact that my sword is literally a part of my body to stab and slice far beyond arm's reach, something I normally keep a closely-guarded secret.
I must have depopulated a wide swathe of the forest by the time the attacks begins to subside.
"Holy shit," Sekibanki gasps once there's a lull in the fighting. "Holy godsdamned shit. This is a fucking nightmare." She lasers another nameless tree-climbing monster with no eyes or hair behind me. "I wanna go home!"
"Where?" I prod Seija. She shakes her head, shaking so hard she can barely stand and panting from exertion and fear.
"I don't know. I don't recognise this spot. Must've taken a wrong turn..."
"There's a clearing up ahead," I say. "We'll rest there for a minute."
We make it to the clearing without serious incident. Seija stumbles into the sunlight and falls to her knees.
"You don't have a speck of blood on you," Sekibanki says from behind me. "How is that fucking possible?"
"Practice," I say tiredly.
Then I whirl around, sword raised, moments before something radiating far more power than anything we've encountered so far hits the ground in the middle of the clearing.
"H-halt! Don't come any closer! Youkai mountain is under quarantine, by order of Lady Yasaka!"
I lower my sword, sighing with relief. It's Himekaidou Hatate, the tengu reporter. And from the sound of her voice, she's perfectly sane.
She doesn't look it, though. Her eyes don't have a trace of white left in them, her sickly white skin is covered in bulging, black mockeries of veins, and her wings are much larger and more ragged-looking than I remember any tengu in Gensoukyou having.
"Quarantine?" I ask. "What's going on?"
"Some sort of infection is driving the youkai of the mountain into a killing frenzy," Hatate replies, voice shaky but clear. "We're trying to stop it spreading further but -"
"It's already spread," I interrupt. "All of Gensoukyou is affected, even the human village."
Hatate gasps in shock. "W-what!? B-but the humans -"
"The humans are okay," I reassure her. "They're not affected, and me, Keine, Mokou and Cirno have been keeping them safe. How bad is it on the mountain? We saw smoke earlier..."
Hatate shakes her head. Her wings droop to the ground. "It's... it's horrible. Everyone in the village just... they just started killing each other! Th-they're all turning into monsters, with feathers and claws and beaks and... and..." She swallows. "Even Lord Tenma. A-Aya is c-completely unrecognisable a-and I can feel it happening to me t-too - I don't wanna turn into a monster!"
I step forward and pull Hatate into a hug.
"H-huh!? Ah! Wait! What if it gets you too!?"
"It won't," I say. "It's not an infection. And it doesn't get worse over time. You're not going to end up like them."
"How can you possibly know that!?"
"Because we know what's causing it," Sekibanki speaks up behind me. I let go of Hatate and turn.
Sekibanki nods at Seija. "Her."
Seija just slumps even lower.
Hatate frowns at the amanojaku. "...there's no way she could cause something this big on her own."
"She didn't," I say. "There's a divine artifact around here somewhere, a mirror. Seija set up a ritual to spread its power all over Gensoukyou. We're trying to find it and stop it."
Hatate blinks. She pulls out her strange camera and flips it open.
"Divine... mirror... Seija... is this it?" she asks, showing the device to me. It has a picture of Seija drawing a diagram on the ground, with something round and shiny in the middle.
"Seija?" I ask. Seija looks up. Hatate strides over to her and shoves the camera in her face. Seija leans away from the admittedly scary-looking tengu, and glances down at the image.
"...yeah. Yeah, that's it," Seija says, nodding.
Hatate straightens up, thumb already prodding away again. "I should be able to find this," she says. "I've been on patrol around here a bunch of times, and from the look of things it should stand out. If I can get the right angle..." She looks up at me. "I'm going to do a quick flyover, see what I can see."
I nod. "We'll wait here."
Hatate moves back a few steps and rockets into the air.
I sit down, close my eyes, and let my mind focus on my surroundings. Hatate hurtles in and out of range at breakneck speed. If the forest youkai are candles, she's Patchouli's Royal Flare. It's hard to see the others against her glare.
After about five minutes, Hatate returns.
"I found something," She reports. "A glow under the canopy. Almost invisible from the air; I'd never have spotted it if I wasn't looking for it."
"Where is it?" I ask, already on my feet.
Hatate points. "That way, about five chou."
Sekibanki looks at Seija. "Looks like you're not useless after all."
"Let's go," I say.
We dive back into the forest. A few more wild youkai attack us, but they're a breeze with Hatate almost doubling our firepower. She leads us unerringly through a particularly thick part of the forest, to a horseshoe-shaped land formation that looks too convenient to be natural, but shows no obvious signs of being artificial. It makes for an excellent hiding place, which is probably why Seija picked it.
Something small and very bright is inside, floating at about waist height. I can just make out a multicolor circle glowing on the ground beneath it.
"That's it," Hatate says, shielding her eyes and glancing at her camera. "That's definitely it."
"How do we stop it?" I ask. "Seija?"
I turn around. Seija is on her knees, clutching at her throat, choking. Sekibanki moans incoherently, eyes rolling back into her head.
Hatate and I look at each other, then scramble over the ridge. Hatate hisses and shields her face with her arm. Wait, are those feathers growing on her face!?
"Now what?" she asks. "Shoot it? Hit it with a hammer?"
I squint at the circle, mind racing. "There's a lot of divine energy in there. If we break it, it'll probably explode... and since we're youkai, it'll probably kill us. Removing the mirror from the circle is probably the safest option, but..."
"...but how are we going to do that? Stick our hands in and pull it out?"
We look at each other in silence.
Hatate looks back at the circle. "What the hell. It's worth a shot."
Before I can stop her, Hatate reaches for the mirror. The air above the circle resists her, but she pushes through it seemingly unharmed. For a moment it actually looks like it's going to work. Hatate grunts with effort and inches closer -
- before shrieking in pain and yanking her arm back out. Her fingers have warped into scaly talons, and her forearm is covered in feathers. Hatate stares at it in horror.
I look over my shoulder. I can't see Sekibanki or Seija.
I look back at the shining mirror.
I can hold Reimu's yin-yang orbs.
I can hold this.
I reach for the mirror. As soon as I pass the circle, I feel a strong force pushing me back. It's like reaching into a furnace, a blazing heat rushing out and away. And just like a furnace, it can't hurt me at all. I press forward, effort increasing the closer I get, until I can feel my feet starting to slip on the ground.
My fingers close around the mirror. Its rapid spinning comes to a halt, stinging my hand. I brace myself and pull as hard as I can -
- and stumble backwards as it comes loose without any resistance. With a sound like glass breaking, the light goes out.
I stand there blinking stupidly for a few seconds as my eyes grow accustomed to the sudden gloom.
"Well that was anticlimatic," I say to nobody in particular.
I turn to look at Hatate. Her hand has returned to normal and the feathers are rapidly falling out. Her skin is regaining its color, the ugly black veins are fading, and the whites of her eyes are slowly becoming actually white again.
"...we did it. We did it! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!" Hatate throws both fists in the air and jumps for joy. "Yeah!!"
I look at the mirror in my hand. It looks, well, ordinary. Shabby, even. Seriously, I can make mirrors way better than this! The only thing that suggests it's anything more than a normal mirror is that I don't have a reflection. My umbrella is visible, but the rest of me isn't.
I climb back up the slope. Seija is slumped against a tree, catching her breath. Sekibanki is wobbling in the air, blinking blearily and looking around. I look at them through the mirror. Sekibanki looks more or less the same, but there's a long trail of black smoke coming from where her neck should be and winding off through the trees. Seija... huh. I see what she means by ugly.
"Is it over?" Sekibanki groans.
"I think so," I reply. "How do you feel?"
"Like I've been trampled by a herd angry of oxen. With plows," she replies wearily. "Other than that? Never better."
Seija struggles to her feet, staring at the mirror in my hand. "You found it? All done?" She swallows, then grins rather forcedly. "Great! Well, uh, I guess you don't need me any more so -"
I clap my hand on her shoulder. "Not so fast. I'm not done with you yet!"
Seija slowly slumps again. "...yeah," she says quietly. "Didn't think you would be."
"What's all this?" Hatate asks, climbing up behind me with a sack. I peer inside. Statue, umbrella, lantern, camera -
"Evidence," I reply with a grin.
Hatate grins back. "Let's take our suspect down to the station, shall we?" Seija shudders in my grip.
We trek back the way we came though the forest. We could have flown, but Seija insisted she still couldn't fly on her own and neither me nor Hatate wanted to carry her. Fortunately our journey back is much less eventful. The entire forest feels quieter, even peaceful. A giant youkai boar spots us, grunts in confusion and wanders off.
If it wasn't for the trail of corpses, everything that happened earlier could have been a bad dream.
Seija, surprisingly, makes no further attempt to escape. Not that she could, with someone as fast as Hatate escorting her, but the total lack of resistance makes me uneasy.
Back at the village, the guards open the side-gate before I even reach it.
"Welcome back, Miss Tatara," one of them says, bowing.
"Um, thanks?" I reply, not sure how to act in this situation. "Er, is Reimu still in the village?"
"Miss Hakurei? I think so. I heard she was making rounds, to help put people at ease."
That sounds... unusually friendly, for Reimu. I thank the guards, who still don't even ask why I'm leading a disembodied head, a tengu and a wanted criminal into the village in the middle of a state of emergency, and start looking for Reimu.
She isn't hard to find. She and Marisa are wandering down the main street, arguing about something. Marisa looks a bit unsteady, but that could just be the effects of alcohol.
"Miss Reimu!" I call out.
Reimu turns around and scowls she sees me. "What are you so cheery about?"
"I brought you a present!" I reply, smiling, and nudge Seija forward. Reimu frowns. Seija hangs her head.
I hold out the mirror, angling it so I can see Reimu's face, and she mine - or the lack of it. "We found this in a magic circle in the forest."
Reimu peers at the mirror from various angles. Her eyebrows go up when she looks toward Seija.
"Along with these," I add, holding up the sack.
Reimu looks inside.
And then up at me.
And then she smiles.
"Seija~" she sings, "is there something you'd like to tell me~?"
"I, uh, I can explain," Seija stammers, backing away as Reimu advances on her. "I-It was a prank. An accident! I didn't mean for anyone to get hurt! I had no idea it would do all that!" She slips over, yelping in pain, and continues to scramble backwards. "I'm sorry! I mean it! I nearly died! It won't happen again, I swear!"
She backs into the wall of a shop. Reimu looms over her. She swallows hard.
"Please don't kill me," she whispers.
"Kill you?" Reimu echoes, leaning down. "You wish! You'll be begging for death by the time I'm through with you!" She grabs Seija by the hair and yanks her to her feet. "Noooo, I have something way worse in store for you!"
"Ow ow ow ow! Stop! I can't fly!"
"Then start walking, 'cause I'm not letting you go until I've got you all tucked in up at the shrine!" Reimu starts dragging Seija away, other hand on her hip.
"Marisa!" she calls over her shoulder. Marisa freezes in the middle of rummaging through the sack that I - hey wait a minute when did she -
"Make sure nobody else gets their hands on that magic junk, okay?"
Marisa's grin threatens to swallow the rest of her face. "You betcha!"
Hatate finally stops taking photos.
"Wow," she breathes. "It really is a different feeling when you're right there, huh?" Then her expression sobers. "I should get back to the mountain. For... for the cleanup."
[ ] Go with Hatate. I'm still worried about Sanae. [ ] Stay in the Village. I promised, and I should release all the sealed youkai. [ ] Check on... [ ] ...Myouren Temple. They were probably hit pretty bad. [ ] ...Eientei. I hope the rest of Sekibanki is okay. [ ] ...somewhere else. (write-in)
Well, this is a surprise.
See, I never actually intended Kogasa to resolve the Incident. The whole scenario was taken from a scrapped Raiko story, just to set the stage for some Surprisingly Helpful Umbrella. But since all the ingredients were right there, in the village, I figured it was only fair that I gave her a chance. A slim chance. If you voted the right way every time. And I actively tried to trick you out of it twice.
[x] Stay in the Village. I promised, and I should release all the sealed youkai.
>See, I never actually intended Kogasa to resolve the Incident. The whole scenario was taken from a scrapped Raiko story, just to set the stage for some Surprisingly Helpful Umbrella. But since all the ingredients were right there, in the village, I figured it was only fair that I gave her a chance. A slim chance. If you voted the right way every time. And I actively tried to trick you out of it twice.
[X] Stay in the Village. I promised, and I should release all the sealed youkai.
On the one hand, I really am worried about what this must have been like for Sanae, but at the same time... well, we did promise. And hey, we solved the incident, so hooray for Friendly Neighborhood Umbrella-Girl! As to reading your notes, I wish I could say that we have magic hacking powers but I think it was just a mixture of luck and paying attention to detail. Incidentally, credit where it's due for that, I wouldn't be paying nearly as close attention to this story if I didn't enjoy it so much, so well done once again. Keep up the good work!
This is going to sound like a stupid question, but what exactly is it that you enjoy about this story? What good work do you folks want me to keep up? Serious question here; I know what I like, but I'm not the one reading this thing.
And I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but is there anything you'd rather I stop doing? Other than hiatuses, that is. Can't do much about those.
Speaking of which, no update today. No idea how I ended up posting four updates in four days...
> attention to detail
So, anyone figured out why the guards mistook Kogasa's ofuda for Sanae's? It's a bit of a stretch, but it gave me a good chuckle when I noticed.
>>40893 >This is going to sound like a stupid question, but what exactly is it that you enjoy about this story? What good work do you folks want me to keep up? Serious question here; I know what I like, but I'm not the one reading this thing.
I like what you like so far. It would be a shame if you changed course because some faggot on the internet told you so, so you should shut the fuck up and update more.
There's quite a few things I like about this story, but if I had to narrow it down I'd say:
1. The balance between lighthearted comedy and more serious action/adventure scenes. Gensokyo canonically has both in some measure, and I like that you're not going too far to one end of the spectrum or the other like many authors do. It makes this story feel like some kind of mix between WaHH and FS, both of which I enjoy, which in turn makes this that much more enjoyable as well.
2. The characters. Good lord, the characters. A story lives and dies by how its protagonists are written, and I fucking love your take on Kogasa and Sekibanki, especially Kogasa. I know I've already gushed about this before so I don't want to overdo it, but I never would have guessed any of these things about her yet you've still made it feel like it could be a part of her canon self that we just never get to see, which is something I love in derivative works. It's not just Kogasa though, you've got a really good grasp of making the characters feel like real people with both good and bad qualities, which is really hard to do, at least in my highly limited experience.
3. The pacing. On the one hand, this is probably the one thing I could criticize a little if I had to say I disliked something about this story, but even if it's not always consistent you're still doing an excellent job there overall. The story doesn't feel like it's going too fast or too slow outside of a few minor hiccups, but mostly it's been just right.
4. Tying back into the first two points, your setting feels like this is a look into what Gensokyo might really be like, just at points that we never get to see in the games or print works. Sure, there's dangerous parts and people need to be aware of that, but there's also youkai living and working in the village just trying to get by like everybody else, and there's always some really stupid commotion going on in the background. Which only makes it even better because that's what real life is like sometimes, one bullshit incident after another with little rhyme or reason as to why.
So to sum it all up and embarrass myself a little further: your characters are awesome, your Gensokyo feels natural and realistic, and your pacing is generally pretty good if occasionally slightly uneven. You've got a good thing going on here and I'm genuinely curious and excited to see what will happen next. Hence the "keep up the good work!"
As to your other question: I assume there's some connection between Abe no Seimei's technique and the Moreya goddess/myth? I'm not a student of Japanese history and I don't actually know anything about Abe no Seimei aside from that one time Getter Robo punched him in the face, but that's my best guess.
[X] Stay in the Village. I promised, and I should release all the sealed youkai.
I really want to go check on Sanae, but leaving the youkai we've stopped without removing the seals doesn't sit well with me.
Personally, I really like the way you manage to mix comedy and seriousness, and give characters personalities that I think fit well. We can see Kogasa grow with her many interactions, and it really feels like the story isn't just stuck around her but that things move even without her around, like we can truly miss on important events if we go right instead of left, but at the same time going left still leads to more stuff anyway so it's not actually a loss. That's great.
[x] Stay in the Village. I promised, and I should release all the sealed youkai.
"...right," I say. "Um, I'm still needed here, at least for a while, but if there's anything I can do..." I trail off, not really knowing how to say what I want to. "Well, you know where to find me."
Hatate smiles tiredly. "After something like this, we're going to need all the help we can get." She glances up at the mountain. Smoke is still rising, but it's much thinner than before. "But you've been a big help already. No, that's too modest. You just saved Gensoukyou. Thank you."
"E-Er, well, it's not like I actually did anything special?" I splutter. "I-I mean, you were the one who found the mirror, and I never would have even known to look for it if Seija hadn't told me about it..."
Hatate blinks. "She was helping you? Willingly?"
I nod. "She came right out and said it was all her fault. I feel kind of bad for letting Reimu beat her up."
"You haven't seen our village. Whatever Reimu has in store, it can't be worse than that."
I put a comforting hand on Hatate's shoulder. She gives me a small smile in return. Then she glances around the street. A few humans are casting polite but cautious glances in our direction. Tengu are normally fairly welcome in the village, but everyone's still a little on edge.
Hatate takes a few steps into the open, spreads her wings, and takes to the air. She accelerates straight up for a few seconds, then turns sharply and puts on a burst of speed, streaking off toward the mountain so fast I have trouble following her even at this distance. A dull boom reaches the ground a few moments later.
"Showoff," Marisa grumbles. I jump slightly; I'd forgotten she was behind me! By the time I turn around, she's back to her usual smug grin. "So! Incident resolution specialist Kogasa now is it? Thinkin' of musclin' in on my business, eh?"
"H-huh!? No! Uh, I mean, I was just -"
"Bwahahaha, only jokin'! Loosen up a bit, will ya?" Marisa puts an arm around my shoulders, leaning on me just a bit too heavily. "I been hearin' good things about ya since I turned up today. Sounds like yer really puttin' in an effort to get in people's good books."
"Nnnot really? I'm only trying to help. I mean, I do live here now, so..."
"So you're gettin' on with the neighbours. Good to hear." Marisa lets go of me and wobbles worryingly.
"Er, Miss Marisa... are you okay?" I ask.
Marisa grins again. "Teensy weensy lil' hiccup with a potion this this mornin'. Just gotta walk it off." She turns to face down the street, planting her feet a bit wider apart to keep her balance. "Heh. Walk. Anywho, I'll be hangin' around for a bit, so if anythin' goes wrong just gimme a yell! I still got me hakkero if anythin' needs blastin'!"
"Er, right." I guess it's no worse than a strong youkai getting drunk?
Marisa strolls down the street, whistling tunelessly, and I quietly head in the opposite direction.
Not that I'm avoiding her or anything! It's just that my first order of business is to see if all the village youkai have recovered yet, and she happens to be walking away from the residential districts. That's all.
To my great relief, everyone turns out to be doing okay. The youkai that didn't go crazy are pretty much back to normal already, just a little bit tired and disorientated. I take down the wards Keine used to seal them in and let them get on with their day. I talk quite a few of them into helping me take care of the less fortunate ones - while I'm reasonably sure they'll make a full recovery, I have no idea how quickly they'll return to their normal behaviour, and I can't watch them all by myself.
A lot of the youkai I unseal just keep on sleeping. I'm not overly worried about them; at least they're getting some rest. The ones that do wake up are dazed, confused, and weak. They're not violent anymore though, and they do seem to recognise and understand me, even if some of them aren't really up to responding. Sekibanki does her multiple-heads thing a few times to keep an eye on some that don't have friends or family to look after them. I'm worried she's overdoing it a bit, but she insists she's fine.
Our final port of call is Keine's house. I haven't seen her since she went to look for Wriggle, but I know that she found her and she most likely brought her here. Mokou is sitting outside when we arrive.
"Yo," she says absently as I approach.
"Hello!" I reply cheerfully. "Um, have you seen Keine?"
Mokou nods her head to one side. "She's inside, asleep."
I stop short. "Asleep? In the middle of the day?"
"She fainted, right after her horns and tail vanished," Mokou explains. "Probably just overexerted herself, so I didn't take her to the Doc. Besides, she'd probably crack my skull if I did."
"It would heal," I point out.
Mokou's mouth quirks up slightly. "That it would. What did you want her for?"
"Er... I was looking for Wriggle."
Mokou nods toward the open door again. "She's in the guest room. You can go in if you want, but be careful; Keine warded it to hell and back."
"I'll be okay."
Mokou just nods, staring thoughtfully at the garden again.
I head inside, moving quietly so as not to disturb Keine. I find the guest room without any trouble. Sekibanki hangs back as I slide open the door, and I quickly see why: the walls, ceiling and even floor are covered in haphazardly placed ofuda.
...did Keine put these up for Wriggle, or was it like that already? I don't know which worries me more.
In any case, in the middle of the room is a futon, and in that futon is Wriggle. The ofuda I gave Keine is stuck to her forehead. Did she recognise it for what it really was, or did she also mistake the star-shaped seal for Sanae's? She is a historian, so it's not out of the question. I know any youkai old enough to have seen the original would recognise it immediately.
I tiptoe into the room, ignoring Keine's own seals completely, and kneel beside Wriggle. She looks suprisingly uninjured. There are obvious burn marks, but she is a youkai and they're all well on their way to healing. There are still a few insects around, but not crawling all over and inside her like they were before.
I reach out and carefully peel off the seal. Wriggle start to wake up right away, groaning softly and shifting under the covers. Her eyes open a few seconds later, revealing her normal, human-like blue eyes.
"Wriggle?" I ask quietly. "Can you hear me?"
"...hnnnnnnda..." she groans. Her eyes are focused on me though, so I think she does recognise me.
"Don't try to move too much, okay? Just take it easy and rest for a while."
Wriggle takes a long, slow breath, and closes her eyes again. I stand back up and pad back to the door, crumpling the ofuda in one hand.
"Knnngntha..." Wriggle mumbles from behind me, louder this time.
I turn around. Wriggle twists her head to the side, and her eyes eventually find my face.
I smile gently. "It's okay."
Wriggle's eyes droop shut again.
I close the door behind me.
"Think she'll be okay?" Sekibanki asks quietly.
I nod. "She'll be fine. Even if she can't recover on her own, I'm sure Doctor Yagokoro will know what to do."
We take our leave, letting Mokou know that Wriggle's on the road to recovery, before making our way to the village gates.
"Well, the Incident has been resolved, the youkai are back to normal and the forest is quiet again," I say to the guard captain, or at least I've come to think of him as one. "I'd say it's safe to open the gates again."
"The fields are still in a right state," he grunts.
I grin sheepishly. "Well, yes. But the sooner we get started the sooner we'll finish, right?"
The old man chuckles. "Right you are." He turns. "Well don't just stand there, get those gates open! We've got work to do!"
Work is certainly the right word. Between Cirno's rapidly-thawing ice sculptures and Mokou's incinerated insect husks, the fields are littered with dead or dying youkai. And I contributed to the mess as well. So the farmers aren't the only ones that set out to scour the fields; the village youkai exterminators, along with a few nonhumans like myself and Kagerou also get drafted. Even Medicine helps out for a bit.
Cirno disappears for half an hour or so and returns with a massive swarm of fairies. Apparently her claims of being something of a big shot among her own kind aren't just hot air. All the enthusiasm in the world couldn't help them tell the difference between crops and weeds, of course, but at least they help get rid of the bodies.
The sun is almost setting by the time I return to the village.
"I wanna sleep for a week," I groan.
"More like two," Sekibanki says. "Uh, not that I actually did anything."
"You were affected by that mirror thing, so it's fine. Plus you helped supervise all those fairies, and then there's your other selves taking care of the sick youkai, and you're not well to begin with..."
"Talk about the blind leading the blind," Sekibanki grumbles.
I open my mouth to reply, but stop as I spot a familiar head of green hair.
"Ah! Sanae!" I call.
Sanae whirls around, wide eyes darting about wildly before fixing on me.
"Kogasa..." she murmurs, before half-running toward me and pulling me into a crushing hug.
"You're alright," she whispers. "Thank goodness..."
Her head droops onto my shoulder, and her entire body weight limply slumps on top of me.
"Wah!? Sanae? Sanae! Sanaaaaaaaae!?"
I look up from the game of hanafuda - which I'm losing for the fifth time in a row, how is Medicine so good at this - when I hear Sanae start to stir.
"Hey. Are you okay?" I ask, abandoning the game and scooting over.
"Where... oh. This is your house." Sanae starts to rise. "I'm sorry, I'm being a bother again -"
"No, um, I mean, don't worry about it!" I say, stopping her from getting up. "You scared me when you suddenly passed out like that! What's wrong? I mean, you don't look injured, but..."
Sanae looks down at herself. She flexes her fingers a bit, then pats herself down, carefully feeling her shoulders, neck, face, back of her head... everywhere she can't see. But I can, and there isn't so much as a speck of dust or our-of-place hair on her.
Then the looks around the room, taking in the tea on the table, the cards, me, Sekibanki and Medicine. Other than Medicine smiling cheerfully, everything is perfectly normal.
"...it was all a dream, right?" Sanae asks hopefully. "Please tell me it was a dream. None of it actually happened."
"Umm, I don't know exactly what you're talking about... but it probably wasn't a dream," I say quietly. Sanae draws her knees up, hugging them. "...would you like some tea?"
I pour some of the still-hot tea into a cup and pass it to Sanae. She blows on it and sips at it in silence.
"...do you want to talk about it?" I ask.
Sanae stares at me blankly for several seconds.
"I think I died," she says finally.
"Um, what?" I ask blankly. "...you look alive to me."
"But I died, I'm sure of it," Sanae says. "I got my head twisted off. I remember picking it up."
"And I got stabbed. Right here." She points to a spot on her chest. There's no mark there.
"...maybe it was a dream after all," I suggest.
Medicine leans over to Sanae, sniffing at her. Then she turns to the side and sneezes.
"Human," she says, rubbing her nose. "Not a ghost."
"I don't think ghosts are heavy, either," Sekibanki says.
"I'm sorry!" Sanae exclaims.
"It's fine! Uh, if you like, we could go to Eientei -"
"No, no, it... it doesn't matter, one way or the other," Sanae says. "It's just... today's been really weird."
"You can say that again," Sekibanki grunts.
"Today's been really weird," I repeat. Sanae giggles, just a little. "So, er, are you sure you're okay?"
"I'll be fine," Sanae replies.
"...are you hungry? It's almost dinnertime, so -"
"Whoa now, hold it right there!"
We all turn to see Marisa lying on her stomach in the doorway, propped up on her elbows. Why does everyone know where I live all of a sudden!?
She waves a finger at us disapprovingly. "Can't have ya sneakin' off by yerself now, 's rude."
"What are you talking about?" I ask.
"The after-Incident party, dunderhead," Marisa replies, rolling her eyes. "Ya didn't think ya were gettin' outta this one, didja?"
"What is she talking about?" Sanae asks me.
"I don't know!" I reply.
Marisa massages her forehead. "You resolved the Incident," she says, jabbing a finger at me. "Reimu's throwin' a party. Attendance ain't optional."
Sanae looks at Marisa, then back at me. "You resolved the Incident?"
"Uh, well, kind of? I mean, I had help -"
"So'd Reimu, half the time," Marisa says.
"Really?" Sekibanki asks.
"I'm talkin' 'bout me, jackass."
"You seriously resolved the Incident?"
"Like I said, I didn't really do much -"
"Ahem." Marisa clears her throat. "So! As I was sayin', there's a party at the shrine with your name on it."
"Along with a coupla others, fine. But we can't have a party without the leadin' lady now, can we?"
"Anyway, invite delivered. Pass it on to whoever, the more the merrier. I gotta go load up on booze. See ya!"
I stare at Marisa's departing back, lost for words.
"A party at the shrine, huh?" Medicine says thoughtfully. "Sounds fun."
"I could do with a party after today," Sekibanki says.
"So you're an Incident resolver now too, huh?" Sanae says. "Congratulations!"
"Why is everyone making a big deal out of that!?" I whine.
"Because it is a big deal! It's like, becoming a playable character or something!"
"What does that even mean!?"
"It means everyone's going to turn up at Reimu's, get drunk out of their skulls and forget all about it by morning," Sekibanki explains.
"Plus you don't have to cook tonight," Sanae adds.
[ ] Head straight to the shrine. If I help Reimu set up, she might not exterminate me in the morning. [ ] Detour via Myouren Temple. I should check on Kyouko and Nue, and invite them along if they're feeling up to it. [ ] On that note, I wonder how Kokoro and the Taoists got on? [ ] Next stop, Scarlet Devil Mansion! I wonder if they'll let Flan come... [ ] What about Tenshi? She might even get to show off her cooking! [ ] Write-in. Author has forgotten who all is in this story.
> "The mystical symbol of the equidistant five-pointed star, referred to in the West as a pentagram, is known in Japan as the Seiman or the Seal of Abe no Seimei." -- Wikipedia
Didn't really expect anyone to know that, but I found it while I was reading up on him so I threw it in.
Whoa. Thanks for taking the time to write all that up.
> wall o' text the first
Someone (probably you) commented on that back in the first thread. Funny you should mention FS and WaHH, because that's exactly what I was aiming for. I was worried this whole incident deal was too grimdark, but it looks like I was wrong.
> wall o' text the second
You lost me.
My biggest problem with this story is the cardboard characters. They're all flat and one-dimensional and inconsistent and talk like me and An error has occurred in TAPE.EXE. Please restart your writefag.
> wall o' text the third
Yeah, I can't pace to save my life. Something to work on.
> wall o' text the fourth
I was thinking I was overdoing it with the wacky background nonsense, but you're right. IRL is pretty bullshit.
> it really feels like the story isn't just stuck around her but that things move even without her around
I actually kept track of the comings and goings of some of the other characters during the story. For example, Clownpiece rampaging around the SDM happened at a particular point in time, and if you'd voted to go there you'd have seen it unfold. But you didn't cross paths with her until after Sanae beat her up, so you got different scenes instead.
> like we can truly miss on important events if we go right instead of left, but at the same time going left still leads to more stuff anyway so it's not actually a loss
I like it when votes have consequences, but they don't have to be good or bad. You'd have seen some crazy shit if you'd decided to leave guarding the village to Keine, but at the same time you wouldn't have been around to be nice to Seija, guilt her into confessing and solve the Incident.
[X] I wonder if Keine, Mokou and Kagerou would like to come. -[X] Maybe Kagerou can see about the mermaid of the lake? [X] Detour via Myouren Temple. I should check on Kyouko and Nue, and invite them along if they're feeling up to it. -[X] Maybe we can find Koishi and she'd like to come too? [X] On that note, I wonder how Kokoro and the Taoists got on? [X] Let's see if Alice is okay and invite her. [X] Can't forget to go see the Prismriver sisters and the tsukumogami musicians and invite them! [X] Let's go find Cirno and invite her. [X] Next stop, Scarlet Devil Mansion! I wonder if they'll let Flan come... [X] She probably won't be able to, but we really should try to invite Hatate. [X] What about Tenshi? She might even get to show off her cooking! [X] We should check on Eientei.
[X] Detour via Myouren Temple. I should check on Kyouko and Nue, and invite them along if they're feeling up to it. [X] On that note, I wonder how Kokoro and the Taoists got on? [X] What about Tenshi? She might even get to show off her cooking!
We probably don't have to stop at just one, but let's not overload the poor writer, yeah?
>re: the Seal of Abe no Seimei
So I was right about it being an Abe no Seimei thing at least, that's good to know. Also might lead to an interesting conversation with Sanae if it ever comes up, which it probably will sooner or later. Moving right along...
>the cardboard characters. They're all flat and one-dimensional and inconsistent
I'm not sure how else to say it at this point, but they really aren't. Maybe some of the side characters that we haven't seen much of might be, but pretty much everyone we've interacted with for any length of time has displayed at least some level of depth and nuance. Hell, even the fucking America fairy isn't just a caricature, and that was the last character I was expecting any degree of depth from. Kogasa dealing with her guilt, Sanae struggling with her faith situation, Banki being hilariously outclassed by most of Gensokyo: these are not one-dimensional characters! They have problems, they reflect on them and talk to each other, and they grow from the experience. That is how character arcs work, and that is exactly what you've been doing over the course of this story. Sure, it might be in the background sometimes, but that doesn't mean it's not happening. It's sometimes awkward and doesn't always make perfect sense but, and I don't want to harp on this too much, neither does real life. The characters fumbling around trying to figure things out isn't a weakness, it's a strength that makes things feel more natural, especially in a story with as many slice-of-life elements as this one. And the wacky background nonsense is a feature, not a bug. I don't want to keep rambling and take up too much of the thread with awkward walls of text, but this story is seriously better and more engaging than I think you've been giving yourself credit for, and that starts with the characters. So good work, well done, and please keep it up because I like what you do and I want to see more.
[x] Detour via Myouren Temple. I should check on Kyouko and Nue, and invite them along if they're feeling up to it. [x] On that note, I wonder how Kokoro and the Taoists got on? [x] Next stop, Scarlet Devil Mansion! I wonder if they'll let Flan come...
>>40900 >I'm not sure how else to say it at this point, but they really aren't. Maybe some of the side characters that we haven't seen much of might be, but pretty much everyone we've interacted with for any length of time has displayed at least some level of depth and nuance.
FFfffffhold on just a second here because this is partially, but VERY fucking wrong. Allow me to elaborate on my extrapolations. Touhou is a japanese series centered around japanese culture and their fairy tales that eventually became youkai in those stories. Japanese are very, VERY traditional and the first point is that realistically, they would not talk about everything nonchalantly like OP does, which is possibly what he referred to in his reply. Relaxed, sure, but not this. People tend to have weight in their words and actions and even more so when you're stuck in deathkillyoukailand - as a human you're confined to the village unless you're really strong, as a youkai you can't kill anyone inside the village and if you don't attack people outside you might just disappear or something. Acting casual when you're on fire might look good, but it is not a good survival strategy. It might be handwaved for this story because muh SOL, but it's still a central problem for the series. That's not right.
Second point is, first you gotta quote
>They have problems, they reflect on them and talk to each other, and they grow from the experience.
You see this? This is your brain on extreme overthinking. You'd think an almost one-and-a-half-thousand-year-old youkai would think better than just revealing the fact that she's a top-tier youkai exterminator all the sudden. You'd also think that a 23-years-old youkai would freak the fuck out instead of being accepting - and if she was accepting, it'd be a big show of trust, like really big. Different people (or beings, in this case) have different characters and reactions to different things, and that's something you have to keep in mind as you write - possibly what he meant by his characters being one-dimensional. You can write better by getting into the mindset of a character and thinking about the situation, but it's kinda hard. Again, free pass because muh SOL but keep in mind that most youkais here are way above an average human lifespan and to think that everybody would act like they're pushing thirty or fourty requires some serious suspension of disbelief.
Third point is completely unrelated to characters. It's story arcs. Almost every fucking story is afraid to make those because presumably either you see those from five miles away, characters are hard to pin down or because of some other reason. Make them. It's unlikely that SUPER FUCKING GRANNY characters in terms of age will get their turn at chardev, but at this point it's not about that - it's getting their reactions to certain situations down, be it FUN, fateful or otherwise. Take a couple of touhou doujins off danbooru and think of the potential, of what you can do with this setting. It'd be fun.
And that's all, folks. OP I will dress up as Santa and ram a sleigh into your house, deers and all if you stop updating, so keep doing it~
>>40903 Not the same anon you're responding to, but let me join in.
"as a youkai you can't kill anyone inside the village and if you don't attack people outside you might just disappear or something." Actually, it's shown that it's not the case for all youkai. Kogasa is said to need to surprise humans to survive by eating their souls, yet survives despite being bad at it and actually tries to work for humans. Rumia talks about eating humans during her banter and thinks it's her job to attack them, but she slacks more than Komachi because even waiting is too much effort for her and she'd rather just fly around and do nothing. Mystia fucks with people's vision, sells eels and loaches while saying they're lampreys when she can't get some and will sing even if you don't want to, but that's not exactly an attack, more like shady business and sudden concert advertising. Wriggle just wants to make people like and respect bugs and other creepy crawlies more, and is afraid to attack. So really, some youkai, at the very least, don't actually need to attack humans, at least as long as they stay in Gensokyo. They just want to. Others need some stuff to eat, like blood or souls, but even Remilia won't fully drain a human. It's more that she likes the taste of flesh rather than a need for it, if anything, so a human can end up dead because of that anyway.
"You'd think an almost one-and-a-half-thousand-year-old youkai would think better than just revealing the fact that she's a top-tier youkai exterminator all the sudden. You'd also think that a 23-years-old youkai would freak the fuck out instead of being accepting - and if she was accepting, it'd be a big show of trust, like really big." This is the same place where people will shoot colorful shits in patterns at each other because they're bored, block the sun with mist to go out without an umbrella, stop spring from replacing winter to make a soul-eating death-tree bloom, go full "i am become death destroyer of worlds prepare for the tan of your life" and then still follow the rules of a children's card game (on a motorcycle if available), Earthquake your house like they're a Gliscor to say "hello" and invade the moon for shits and giggles. I don't think a youkai that just so happens to be better at killing other youkai would be much more problematic than, say, a time-stopping Dio fan, the Manga Ghost of Christmas Go-Kill-Yourself, a moon rabbit that shoots insanity with her eyes or the love child of a human and a phoenix. I also don't think her friends would reject her for that when they know she's not going to go on a rampage if someone looks at her funny.
"keep in mind that most youkais here are way above an average human lifespan and to think that everybody would act like they're pushing thirty or fourty requires some serious suspension of disbelief." Not even taking into account the fact that Touhou runs on suspension of disbelief, this series is the one where thousand years old ladies will challenge little girls at a game of paintball-but-without-the-paint and tease them just because they felt like it, with the little girls talking to things that could rip them in half with a snap of their fingers like they were some annoying neighbours that turned the music too loud. I mean, yeah, you've got the guys like Yukari and Kanako making plans for the future thinking they're the one going to win the game of 3D chess while everyone else is playing Monopoly and trying to figure out if you get the money in the park or not, but even they still play along. Really, the average mental age seems closer to thirteen than forty.
Now don't get me wrong, there's plenty of dangerous youkai running around and not everyone is friendly, but not every youkai would act like a stiff shithead trying to beat you into submission with its aura of death for daring to talk to it. I think we just get to see the ones that are more relaxed simply because those are the ones Kogasa would interact with the most.
TLDR: I don't think there's much problem with personalities and OP is doing a fine job as far as telling a story and having an interesting lead goes.
>>40903 >Touhou is a japanese series centered around japanese culture and their fairy tales that eventually became youkai in those stories. Japanese are very, VERY traditional and the first point is that realistically, they would not talk about everything nonchalantly like OP does
You don't say? An English speaking author writing a story in English on an English speaking website being read primarily by people who only speak English does not sound like something a Japanese person would traditionally write? Who would have guessed.
I can see where you're coming from, but I don't agree with the conclusions you're reaching. With regards to your first point:
>they would not talk about everything nonchalantly like OP does
I think they would, actually. Many Touhou characters have a tendency to be rather forthright and even downright rude by traditional Japanese standards in their interactions with people, and neither Kogasa nor Sekibanki seem like the type to stand on ceremony based on their admittedly brief appearances in canon. In regards to your second point:
>You'd also think that a 23-years-old youkai would freak the fuck out instead of being accepting
She did freak out, remember? She called Kogasa a freak and a killer and told her to stay away, then calmed down when Kogasa opened up about her past and gave her the chance to talk about things like an adult. And even after that she viewed her as being as scary as Incident-mode Reimu, which I can't imagine is a comparison that any youkai would make lightly. Hell, if the Banki story is still canon, which I'm assuming it is until the writer says otherwise, she's still uneasy around Kogasa on a primal level even months after the fact. It's clearly a pivotal moment in how Banki sees her, and I think it was communicated pretty well.
As to the story arcs vs character arcs: you've actually got me there, that's a much better way to describe what I was going for in that instance and I apologize for not explaining my point better. I do still disagree with your assertion that character development is impossible for certain characters or has been particularly weak in this story, however.
> Japanese are very, VERY traditional and the first point is that realistically, they would not talk about everything nonchalantly like OP does, which is possibly what he referred to in his reply.
This. I don't know shit about Japanese culture, or any culture other than my own, which thinks tact is something you use to keep paper on the wall.
I dunno if you've noticed, but I've been specifically trying to avoid this. Or the opposite extreme.
> You'd think an almost one-and-a-half-thousand-year-old youkai would think better than just revealing the fact that she's a top-tier youkai exterminator all the sudden. You'd also think that a 23-years-old youkai would freak the fuck out instead of being accepting - and if she was accepting, it'd be a big show of trust, like really big.
...ouch. That was exactly what I was trying to portray. What with Kogasa's soul-crushing guilt, Banki screaming her head off, and the awkward not-quite-okay-but-not-noping-the-fuck-right-out-of-there deal. Oh well.
> Different people (or beings, in this case) have different characters and reactions to different things, and that's something you have to keep in mind as you write - possibly what he meant by his characters being one-dimensional.
Right on the money again. I have the hardest time trying to get two characters with different personalities to interact. They keep bleeding over into each other.
> third point
I have no Earthly idea what this paragraph is about.
> I will dress up as Santa and ram a sleigh into your house, deers and all if you stop updating
It don't snow here and there ain't no deer. What now?
> I don't think a youkai that just so happens to be better at killing other youkai would be much more problematic than, say, a time-stopping Dio fan, the Manga Ghost of Christmas Go-Kill-Yourself, a moon rabbit that shoots insanity with her eyes or the love child of a human and a phoenix.
The way I see it, a youkai being a professional youkai exterminator is like someone IRL telling you they're a contract killer... but everyone hangs out with the crazy vampire living in a shack halfway up the mountain anyway.
Kogasa has nothing on Reimu.
> I think we just get to see the ones that are more relaxed simply because those are the ones Kogasa would interact with the most.
Pretty much. She rates herself pretty low on the totem pole, so she hangs out with the quiet folks.
Anyway, as much as I'd like to wall you all, I'm not going to make Kogasa run around inviting half of Gensoukyou. So, multivote away, and I'll pick the three most popular individual votes for Kogasa to visit, and wedge the others in at the party as best I can. Right now the Taoists, the Buddhists and Tenshi are in the lead.
All five of my regular voters (dunno where the other three went) seem to have turned out already, but I'll give it another day or so before I start writing in case someone wants to change their vote in response.
>That was the idea, but I could have sworn she hadn't had enough screen time to show off anything more than lolrandum.
I can't say we've gotten to know her all that well, but between helping clean up after herself (even if she had to be kinda conned into it) and hanging out with the Moriyas she's clearly got more going on than just 'lol explosions,' which is about what I was expecting from her to be honest.
>...ouch. That was exactly what I was trying to portray. What with Kogasa's soul-crushing guilt, Banki screaming her head off, and the awkward not-quite-okay-but-not-noping-the-fuck-right-out-of-there deal. Oh well.
See, I think you actually did portray that pretty well, you just didn't waste a ton of time retreading it after their initial conversation. Banki freaks out, they talk about it like adults, and they do their jobs. She's clearly not entirely comfortable with the idea, but it's not the end of the world. Maybe they'll talk about it more later once they've had time to sort out their feelings, but there was kind of an Incident to deal with. Personally, I think that was the right call for you to make, but maybe not everyone sees it that way. Then again, I still had the Banki story on the brain, which might have helped out a little bit there for getting into her head.
I think what he's getting at (and please correct me if I'm getting this wrong) is that my point was more related to story structure in general and plot development in particular than character development, and that I should have phrased it differently, which for the record I agree with.
That being said, I still like the story and the characters, and I don't think the bleedover is that big an issue, although it is slightly more noticeable now that I know what to look for. I'm just some anon on the internet, though, so take my opinion with as few or as many grains of salt as you please.
[X] On that note, I wonder how Kokoro and the Taoists got on? [X] Next stop, Scarlet Devil Mansion! I wonder if they'll let Flan come... [X] What about Tenshi? She might even get to show off her cooking!
>>40909 I'm that anon -> >>40898 As much as I'd like to get everyone here (didn't mention Sanae because I'm sure she's a given), if we have to choose three, I'll go with [X] I wonder if Keine, Mokou and Kagerou would like to come. [X] Let's go find Cirno and invite her. [X] She probably won't be able to, but we really should try to invite Hatate.
I'm calling it for the Buddhists instead of the Scarlets because Senkai is the top vote and the only entrance Kogasa is aware of is in their cemetary, but the SDM crew will catch wind of it on their own. Otherwise, that's a heck of a list, so I'll just see what works and go from there.
> Banki story
The real reason I dropped that story (and tried to delete it, but Teruyo seems to have had other ideas) is that it's chock full of spoilers. Using unwritten stuff for backstory is just what I do, but I got chewed out for it something fierce so I decided to write the in-between stories first... and here we are. If you've read it closely, the next two updates probably won't surprise you.
Nor will the next two or three stories I write, if I ever get around to them. There's a 21-month gap between this and Head over Heels, by my current reckoning. Maybe I'll condense them into shorts or something, so it doesn't take the rest of the decade to get back to where I left off.
Speaking of shorts, >>/shorts/2053 is in the same continuity, if anyone cares. Might distract you hold your interest for a bit while I procrastinate through the holidays continue to write dilligently.
[x] Detour via Myouren Temple. I should check on Kyouko and Nue, and invite them along if they're feeling up to it. [x] On that note, I wonder how Kokoro and the Taoists got on? [x] What about Tenshi? She might even get to show off her cooking!
"I get it already," I groan.
"What are you so mopey about?" Sanae asks. "It's a party! And you're the hero of the hour!"
"The last time I went to a party at the Hakurei Shrine, someone poured sake down my throat until I passed out," I explain slowly. "I woke up behind the donation box. Which was full of vomit."
"Hoooo boy," Sekibanki says, wincing.
I shudder. "Hungover Reimu is scary."
"...I suppose there's that," Sanae admits.
Medicine raises her hand. "What's a hangover?"
All three of us stare at her.
"You've never heard of a hangover before?" Sanae asks, looking stunned.
"Sure I have," Medicine says, "but I don't know what it means."
"Er, well, you know what you get after drinking too much?" I say. "Um... headache, dizziness, tiredness, thirstiness..."
"Don't forget the puking," Sekibanki adds.
Medicine tilts her head to one side. "No?"
"...you drink booze, right?" Sekibanki asks.
"Enough to get drunk?"
Medicine nods again.
"And you don't get sick afterwards?"
Medicine shakes her head.
"I control poison. Alcohol is a poison."
We all stare at Medicine again.
"That sounds both incredibly useful and incredibly unfair," Sanae says at last.
"Oh bullshit," Sekibanki agrees.
I just groan and change the subject. "Let's just go already. Maybe if we help out Reimu won't exterminate us in the morning."
Sanae pushes to her feet. "I'll come too. She won't exterminate you if you're with me!"
"Um, are you sure you're okay?" I ask, getting up as well.
Sanae opens her mouth, smiling, but then hesitates. Her face falls and she looks away. "...no. No, I'm not."
"Um, we can go to Eientei, if you like -"
"No, no, that's not what I meant." She looks at me again, smiling apologetically. "It's... it's hard to explain to someone who's not... like me."
"...I think I understand," I say quietly. "Um, if you want to talk about it..."
"...maybe later," Sanae says, glancing in the general direction of Medicine and Sekibanki. I nod. "For now, er, do you mind if I tag along for a while?"
I smile as cheerfully as I can. "Of course not! I don't mind at all!"
I busy myself putting away the cards and clearing the table, and a few minutes later we're all outside, including Medicine.
"Are you coming to the party too?" I ask her.
"I'm supposed to stay in the village," Medicine replies. Then she tilts her head to one side again and smiles. "But if it can't be helped then it can't be helped~"
While I'm still trying to process that, Medicine wanders past me and out into the street.
"She's a lot more cheerful than yesterday," Sanae observes.
"Yeah," I reply.
We watch in silence as Medicine walks straight up to Marisa, who is fumbling with several large sacks. After a moment of conversation the bags are distributed and both of them continue walking toward the east gate, one smiling, the other grinning.
"...who is that and why does she look like Medicine?" Sekibanki asks.
"It's not a very good likeness. The face is all wrong," Sanae replies.
Sekibanki and I turn to stare at her.
"What?" She asks. "Look! She's smiling!"
Sekibanki shakes her, uh, head.
"Er... okay?" I reply. "Should we bring anything to the party?"
"Well, Reimu never says no to more food," Sanae suggests. "Or sake."
"I think they have enough sake," I say, looking at the bag obscuring Marisa's back. "And I can't really cook all that well, so..."
"You could just bring the ingredients. Or buy some drinking snacks here in the Village."
"Or find someone who can cook," Sekibanki suggests.
"Like who?" I ask.
Sekibanki... probably would have shrugged, if she had a body to shrug with. "That peach hat girl seemed pretty into it."
"It... feels a bit rude to invite someone to a party just to cook..." Sanae says hesitantly.
"I dunno. Work hard, play hard sounds like a good deal to me," Sekibanki says. "Eh, we can just invite her along like everyone else. The more the merrier, right?"
"I guess so," I say. "I don't think she's very popular with Reimu though."
"Who is?" Sekibanki shoots back.
Sanae tries not to giggle. "So, we're helping out by spreading the word?"
"Uh, wouldn't a bunch of extra people showing up make Reimu mad?" I ask.
"Nah, that's just how these parties go! Reimu appreciates the company," Sanae says. "...though I'm sure she wouldn't mind if they cleaned up after themselves."
Note to self: help Reimu clean up!
...if I survive the night.
"I guess we can invite Tenshi," I say. "And maybe some other people too."
"Er, you're talking about that celestial, right?" Sanae asks. "How do we even find her? It's not like we can just fly up to Heaven, you know?"
"Wooooooow," Sanae breathes. "I had no idea this was up here!"
"Neither did we, until Tenshi showed us," I reply.
Somehow, using the gates of Hakugyokurou as a reference point, I managed to find my way back to the same floating island Tenshi brought us to. At least, I think it's the same one. It's got the same field, the same stream, the same bridge, and the same lonely tree.
But no Tenshi.
"I'm pretty sure she lives around here somewhere," I say.
We all look around. Other than the little wooden bridge, there's no sign that anyone was ever here. Not even a path, just grass and flowers everywhere.
...wait a minute. Is that music? It sounds like a flute... no, someone whistling. A jauntier melody than I'd expect to hear in Heaven of all places. It sounds like the sort of song Minamitsu would start singing once she's had too much to drink, only whoever this is can actually carry a tune.
Sanae looks at me. I shrug, and follow my ears.
The song leads us further upstream, through a grove of very green trees. There's nothing actually wrong about them, but they're oddly bushy and far apart, making the area look more like a haphazard hedge maze than an actual forest. On the other side, we find a large pond, and beyond that, yet more grassy hills. There still isn't a single path or building in sight, but there is a simple wooden pier.
And on that pier is Tenshi. She's sitting with her legs dangling over the water, facing away from us, fishing rod in hand.
And whistling. Tenshi is really, really good at whistling. I don't think I've ever heard someone whistle a tune that complicated, let alone with perfect pitch! She's better than a lot of musicians I've heard, and they were playing instruments!
At the sound of my geta clacking onto the pier, Tenshi stops whistling and looks over her shoulder.
"Oooh, visitors!" She says brightly. "How rare!"
"Catch anything?" I ask, matching her cheerfulness.
"What are you using for bait?"
Tenshi yanks her line out of the water. The hook is bare. "Nothing."
"...how are you going to catch fish without bait?"
Tenshi casts again. "There are no fish in this pond."
"Then why are you fishing here?" I ask, confused.
Tenshi lets out an exasperated sigh. "Because that's what celestials do, apparently."
I look at Tenshi, at the pond, and back at Tenshi. "That's dumb."
"Welcome to Heaven!" Tenshi says brightly, jumping up. "What reason could you possibly have for coming up here?"
"Er, well, there was an Incident today and -"
"WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!?" Tenshi bursts out. "Why didn't you tell me!? I wanna have fun solving Incidents too!"
"Um, it wasn't a very fun Incident..."
"Anything's better than fishing in an empty pond," Tenshi grumbles, carelessly tossing her fishing rod onto the grass behind me.
"...well, that aside, there's a party at the Hakurei Shrine tonight, to celebrate its successful resolution."
"By this girl right here!" Sanae says, stepping up behind me and pointing at my head with both hands.
"So you're in the hero club too, huh?" Tenshi says.
"Cut it out! Seriously!" I whine, trying to knock Sanae's hands away.
"Just go with it," Sekibanki says. "They'll forget all about it in a couple of hours."
"Anyway!" I say. "Reimu's throwing a party. Marisa said I could invite whoever I want."
"And you're inviting me?" Tenshi asks.
"Is there any reason I shouldn't?"
"Other than the fact that I've never been invited to the surface before?"
"You were at the Carnival," I point out.
"That was different. I was helping out."
"I'm sure Reimu wouldn't mind help with the cooking!"
"I'm sure Reimu wouldn't even let me into her kitchen."
"Then cook outside," Sekibanki says. "She'll be dragging you in once she tastes your cooking, I guarantee it."
Tenshi looks thoughtul. "Eh... a danmaku battle would be fun anyway." She grins. "Okay! Count me in!"
I grin back. "Great! We're going to invite some other people, but if you want to come along..."
"Naw, I'm going down to the Village for ingredients," Tenshi says. "I actually earned some money last time, so I can buy stuff now!"
We fly back down to ground level as a group. Tenshi continues on to the Human Village, but the rest of us stop just outside it, in front of Myouren Temple.
It's quiet. Unusually quiet.
"Hello? Is anyone home?" I ask. I rattle the gate, but it's locked.
"It's not, like, meditation time or something, is it?" Sanae asks.
"It shouldn't be," I say, peering over the gate, "and the gate wouldn't be locked if it was. Hey! Kyouko! Are you there!?"
Nobody answers our calls, so I float over the wall.
"Er, should we be doing this?" Sanae asks, looking around guiltily. "This is what they call trespassing, you know?"
"They're my friends, and something is obviously wrong," I say, justifying it to myself as much as to her.
"The temple is closed for the day," a stern voice says from behind us, making me jump. "While I appreciate your... enthusiasm, I'm going to have to ask you to - oh. Hello Kogasa."
"Miss Toramaru!" I exclaim. "Are you okay?"
Miss Toramaru blinks. "Me? I'm fine. There was a bit of an... episode earlier today, but I'm none the worse for wear."
"What happened?" I ask.
"It's something of a private matter, I'm afraid," Miss Toramaru says, looking pointedly at Sanae.
"Er, we've had problems too," Sanae says. "I mean... the tengu village is a smoldering wreck right now."
Miss Toramaru looks shocked. "Was anyone hurt?"
"...it would be shorter to list who wasn't hurt. And I could do that on my fingers."
Miss Toramaru covers her mouth. "Oh my. Well, nothing like that happened here. Most of the temple got very... excitable, and Lady Hijiri was beside herself keeping them in check, but nobody was seriously hurt."
"So Miss Byakuren wasn't affected?" I ask.
"She mentioned that she felt unwell, and her temper was... shall we say frayed, but nothing that couldn't be expected under the circumstances."
Miss Toramaru shrugs apologetically. "I was told I looked scary. I didn't notice anything myself. Why do you ask?"
I give Miss Toramaru an explanation of the Incident, the mirror and Seija's involvement. Sanae listens closely as well.
"I see," she says when I'm finished. "Yes, that would explain a great deal."
Miss Toramaru makes an odd gesture with one hand. "As an avatar of Bishamonten, I handle divine power on a daily basis. Even an artifact as powerful as you describe would have little effect on me. Lady Hijiri, Ichirin and Unzan are all accustomed to it by proxy, and have undertaken the strictest training. They were all clearly under some manner of influence, but were able to resist it."
"Just like -" everyone looks at me, and I quickly cut myself off "- um, never mind. What about the others? Are they alright?"
"Kyouko spent the day in meditation, of her own volition. She was coherent when I spoke to her a while ago, but very tired. A number of others followed her example. Minamitsu... disappeared entirely for the duration, and returned some time after with little memory of her absence and in great distress." Miss Toramaru hesitates for a moment. "The rest were less fortunate, and had to be restrained."
"How are they now?" I ask quietly.
"Subdued, but recovering. Most of them are asleep."
"I won't bother anyone then," I say. "But, um, there's an Incident resolution party at the Hakurei shrine tonight, for anyone who's well enough to attend."
Miss Toramaru smiles. "I'll pass the word along."
I lead the others back out of the main temple building, and start quietly circling around to the back.
"I hope Nue's alright," Sanae says worriedly.
"Me too," I reply.
"Er, why are we in the graveyard?"
"Well..." I pause and look around. I can't see Yoshika anywhere, but... "it was around here, right?"
"I... think so?" Sekibanki says hesitantly. Sanae just looks even more confused.
"So, um," I retrace my steps from last time as best I can, feeling more than a little silly, "past this lantern... turn this way... aha!"
I stumble slightly as Sekibanki smacks into my back, right between my shoulder blades.
"Right on the nose," she whimpers.
"Sorry!" Sanae exclaims.
"Ow," I add, rubbing at the awkward-to-reach spot.
"You have a very hard spine," Sekibanki grumbles.
"W-well, at least it was soft from behind, right?"
"I'm sorry!" Sanae repeats, face flushing slightly. "I just... we suddenly..." she waves her hands at the Mausoleum in front of us. I turn around again.
Yoshika and Seiga are dangling upside-down from a tree, each wrapped in so much rope only their heads are visible. They both appear to be unconscious, and Yoshika is... uh, actually, I'm not sure that's all drool. Ew. On the other side of... whatever this area is, Futo, Kokoro, Taishi and Tojiko are sprawled out around a campfire.
On the paving stones.
"...must've been one hell of a party," Seibanki offers.
Wordlessly, I approach the fire. Futo stares blankly up at me. She looks like she's awake, but...
"Umm, are you okay?" I ask.
Futo blinks. "'Tis not often that one can remark, without auxesis, that one knoweth such sensation of flatness as a plate."
"A jarring feeling, to be sure," Taishi adds from the other side of the circle.
"Thy tongue art as sharp as thy sword, Crown Prince."
"Shut uuuuuuuuuup," Tojiko moans, lifting her face from the ground. She looks like she's been crying a lot.
"What happened here?" Sanae asks.
"A sorry state of affairs, it must be said," Futo says, struggling to sit up. "But one now resolved, praised be the gods. Thou amongst them, I will wager."
"I... uh... but... huh?" Sanae stammers in confusion.
"Er, Kokoro? Are you awake?" I ask, poking at the sleeping menreiki.
Kokoro's eyes snap open. A moment later she sits bolt upright, arms and legs outstretched in front of her.
"Is it morning already?" she asks.
"Um, no, it's still afternoon."
Kokoro turns her head towards me jerkily. "Ah! It's you!"
"Er, what did uff!?" Kokoro is on her feet and hugging me before I can finish my sentence.
"Taishi said you were the one who got everyone back to normal," she says.
"I, um, okay," I say, deciding not to ask. "Does she know why I'm here too?"
"She does," Taishi says, still staring at the sky, "but she supposes it would only be polite to let you tell everyone yourself."
"Ooooo... kay?" I reply. I seem to be saying that a lot lately. "Well then, there's a party at the Hakurei Shrine tonight, and you're all invited! Um, if you feel up to it, that is."
"Party!" Kokoro throws her arms up, face comically blank.
"And it please thee, I think I shall rest a while yet," Futo says, finally sitting up straight, her back making a noise like breaking porecelain. "But wait not on mine account!"
"We'll be there," Taishi says, waving lazily. Then she lets her arm fall and winces. "...if only in spirit."
I throw myself backwards just in time as Tojiko spews lightning in all directions. Sekibanki was already keeping her distance, but the others are less fortunate. Kokoro spasms violently and tumbles to the ground. Sanae yelps and stumbles, but somehow stays on her feet. Futo just raises an arm protectively, and Taishi doesn't seem to have the energy to do even that.
For a minute or so, nobody moves. Tojiko continues wailing incoherently. Sanae blinks and shakes herself, looking frazzled. I sag with relief. Then Kokoro struggles upright, totters over to Tojiko and - ow. Ow. That has to hurt!
"...let's just go," I suggest.
Sanae and Sekibanki are right behind me as I find my way back to the graveyard.
* * *
Remember how I said I wasn't going to wall you all? I take it back.
Yay, you're back! Glad to see more of this story even if we haven't quite gotten to the party yet. Seems like Tojiko had an especially rough time of it, maybe because she's a ghost? Also, don't worry about walls of text too much as long as the material is still interesting, I know I'm not going to say no to more content.
We arrive at the Hakurei Shrine just as the last sliver of the sun dips below the horizon. It's a lot more subdued than normal, but there are quite a few people around and party preparations are in full swing. Tenshi is cooking in her outdoor kitchen, Marisa and Medicine are laying down mats, Sakuya is busy doing something I can't quite see and a trio of fairies are lighting lanterns.
There's also a giant scorch mark on the ground, part of the path has been smashed to bits and there are wards ringing the entire shrine, including on the torii. Thankfully the latter don't seem to be affecting anyone, not even Sekibanki.
"Ah, there you are," a voice says almost as soon as we touch down.
Suwako is headed towards us, face grim.
"Look, I know we said you should take the rest of the day off, but -"
"What happened?" Sanae interrupts.
Suwako sighs. "Two words: Former Hell."
Sanae's face rapidly loses color. "...how bad?"
"Way bad. Okuu's running the place, because she's the only one who can. Poor girl's on the verge of a nervous breakdown; it's just her and a bunch of fairies between -"
"I'm on my way," Sanae says, already turning around, but Suwako grabs the back of her shirt to stop her.
"No you're not. I'm going down there."
"It's not a pretty sight, Sanae."
Sanae sags tiredly. "What do you want me to do, then?"
"...I need you to fill in for me at the shrine. Kanako's barking orders, like she does best, but we need someone in ops. Think you can handle it?"
Sanae nods, face set.
"U-um, can I help with anything?" I ask before Suwako can take off.
"Thanks for the offer, but we really need people who know the ropes," Suwako replies. "We've got plenty of helping hands now, but the guys who are supposed to be in charge... well, talk to Aya. You'll see what I mean." She glances back at Sanae, already disappearing into the evening sky. "I gotta go."
I watch them leave with an anxious expression.
"Girl needs a vacation," Sekibanki says.
"Yeah," I say, turning back to the party. I scan the crowd and spot a familiar red-white back.
"Ah! Miss Reimu!" I call out, starting forward.
'Reimu' turns around, and I realize it's not Reimu at all. It's Seija, wearing one of Reimu's miko outfits, complete with hair bow.
"Welcome to the Hakurei Shrine!" she says, with a smile so forced it looks actually painful. "The Wonderful Shrine Maiden of Paradise is currently busy, but if you're looking for out donation box, oh god I can't do this."
Seija slumps, leaning on her broom.
"So this is your punishment, huh?" I ask, grinning just a little bit.
"Uh-huh. Step right up and take a gander at the biggest freak in Gensoukyou. If you've got any tomatoes, now's the time to throw 'em," Seija says, raising her arms out to the side and scowling.
"Your wounds have healed," I point out.
"Just in time for Reimu to put me to work," Seija groans, letting her arms fall again.
"You've got a lot of it ahead of you if you want to make up for today," Sekibanki says.
Seija's sarcastic façade shatters. "Yeah. Guess I do," she says quietly.
"Seija!" Reimu's voice bellows. "Quit yapping and get back to work!"
"I'm doin' it, I'm doin' it," Seija mutters.
"Guh! Yes Lady Hakurei! At once Lady Hakurei!"
Seija stumbles away, rubbing her bruised temple. Reimu glares after her, one hand on her hip, the other hefting the yin-yang orb menacingly.
I wisely decide not to bother her.
Instead, I wander over to where Hatate, Aya and a white wolf tengu I recognise but can't name are sitting. Hatate spots us approaching and smiles warmly.
"Well, if it isn't the hero of Gensoukyou herself!" she says.
"Oh, you're that karakasa obake. Kakasa or something, right?" Aya says, looking up at me with a strangely vacant smile.
"Kogasa," I correct.
"Right, right. What brings you to the mountain?"
"We're not on the mountain, Aya." Hatate says, sounding almost motherly. "We're at the Hakurei Shrine, remember?"
Aya looks around. "Oh. Right. Why are we at the Hakurei Shrine?"
"It's a party," Hatate says.
"Oh. Well then, cheers!" Aya raises her cup to her mouth and takes a gulp, then promptly chokes on it.
"Careful, Aya," Hatate says, dabbing the spilled drink off Aya's chin.
"Ahaha, my bad, my bad," Aya rasps. "So, what's the occasion?"
"Kogasa here just resolved an Incident," Hatate says, smiling again.
"An Incident? Where's my camera!? I gotta -" Aya yelps in pain as her cup shatters in her hand.
"Careful, Aya," Hatate repeats soothingly.
"Ehehe, oops?" Aya replies. Hatate gently tugs Aya's hand open and starts picking bits of broken cup out of it.
"I almost wish she was this docile all the time," the wolf tengu grunts.
"...is she okay?" I ask, peering at Aya worriedly.
"She's heaps better than she was an hour ago," Hatate says.
"Who are we talking about?" Aya asks.
"Nobody important," Hatate replies. The wolf tengu chuckles.
"I'm Momiji, by the way," she adds. "Hatate tells me we have you to thank for giving us out sanity back."
"Er, well, she actually did quite a bit of it herself..." I say awkwardly.
Momiji shrugs slightly. "Be that as it may, you have my thanks regardless."
"You don't seem too badly affected, though."
Momiji stares into her sake dish. "I don't remember much of it, to be honest. I had a duty to carry out, and I did. That was all I had left." She looks up at the crow tengu in front of her and smiles slightly. "I do remember it was Hatate giving me orders toward the end, though."
"Only because you asked me to!" Hatate says defensively. "You were practically shouting 'Give me orders!' to anyone who'd listen!"
"Just like Momiji!" Aya says, grinning lopsidedly. "Who's a good poochie-woochie?"
Momiji leans away from Aya without changing her expression. "It was the only thing keeping me from ending up like the others. You kept me sane, Hatate."
"You can't eat that, Aya," Hatate says patiently, stopping Aya from putting a shard of ceramic in her mouth.
"What is it?" Aya asks.
"It's a piece of your cup. You broke it, remember?"
"I did?" Aya blinks in confusion a few times, then looks up at me. "Oh, you're that karakasa obake. Kakasa or something, right?"
"Kogasa," Hatate corrects.
"Right, right. What brings you to the mountain?"
"U-um, actually, I was just leaving..." I say awkwardly, retreating before I get stuck having the same conversation over and over again. "Wah! Sorry!"
...and almost crashing headfirst into Raiko. Who seems to have decided that her normal outfit wasn't, er, modern enough. She's wearing her usual weird shoes and worryingly short skirt, plus an Outsidery thing that... well. It covers her boobs, and not a whole lot else.
In her defence, she does have some impressive muscle tone to show off.
"Hey!" Raiko says brightly, apparently not noticing my embarassment. "Good work out there! I heard all about it."
"Is there anyone who hasn't heard yet?" I groan.
"Not a chance!" Marisa says, clapping me on the back as she comes up behind me. "Ya found 'em then?" she asks Raiko.
"Yep! Safe and sound," Raiko replies, grinning.
"Could you possibly show any more skin?" Reimu's voice grumbles.
"I could take my top off," Raiko suggests matter-of-factly.
"I don't need to see that!" Reimu squawks. Marisa cackles with laughter.
"The Prismriver sisters may or may not be coming later tonight," Raiko continues as if nothing had happened. "If they aren't, I suppose I can play solo, but..."
"...I don't think folks'll be in the mood fer a taiko performance tonight," Marisa finishes.
"I can play other styles too, you know," Raiko reminds her.
"What about that new pair, the tsukumogami?" Reimu suggests. "The other ones, I mean. They can do calm."
"They showed up at the Village this afternoon," Sekibanki says. "So, uh, I can confirm they're fine, but I have no idea where they are now."
Reimu shrugs. "Well, if they show up, ask them. Otherwise, you're on. Just be ready to duck."
"Roger!" Raiko says with a grin and a thumbs-up.
Everyone disperses to their respective preparations, leaving me and Sekibanki standing around by ourselves. I start looking for some way I can help out, but then Reimu throws another orb at Seija and I decide to just stay out of the way again.
I can help out afterwards. With the cleanup. Like I was going to. Yep.
"Phew... I'm going to be ever so fit once this is over..."
I jump slightly and turn around. "Miss Alice!"
Alice is standing under the torii, leaning on it slightly as she catches her breath. Shanghai gives me a cheery wave and Hourai does a polite curtsey in midair. A third doll, the one in green, waves a minature staff with a little crystal ball on the end from her perch on Alice's shoulder.
"Hello Kogasa," Alice says, smiling tiredly.
"Are you okay? You look exhausted."
"I'm fine," Alice says, and straightens. "It's a long walk, that's all."
"You walked all the way here!?"
"I did! I've had to get used to not flying around all the time, these last few days."
"You can't even fly?" I ask, frowning.
"Technically I can, but it would be disastrous for my health at the moment."
Alice smiles again. "It's not as bad as it sounds, actually! Doing things the old-fashioned way has improved my fitness in leaps and bounds already."
"Um, speaking of health and fitness... were you okay today?"
"But of course. Those Hakurei wards functioned exactly as advertised." She smirks slightly. "Not that they stopped some of the little ones from trying to deal with the issue personally."
Shanghai suddenly tackles Hourai and starts tickling her. The violet doll flails around, angrily trying to shake her off.
"No, uh, I mean... most humanoid youkai were affected too."
Alice's eyebrows go up. "Really? I suppose I haven't been in the best of moods today, but nothing that terrible."
Shanghai, having finally let go of Hourai, mimes growing horns behind her master's head.
Shanghai zips back to floating innocently at her master's side as Alice turns around.
"Kyouko! Mystia!" I exclaim.
Kyouko swoops under the torii as well, one arm supporting a woozy but whole night sparrow.
"You should have come in and said hello!" Kyouko says, cheerful as ever.
"Well, Miss Toramaru said you weren't feeling very good, so..."
"Eh, nothing a good night's sleep won't fix," Kyouko says, grinning.
"I feel like I've been guillotined," Mystia moans.
"E-ehehehe... um, sorry..." I say, grinning sheepishly.
"...sorry? What for?" Kyouko asks, glancing between me and Mystia.
"W-well, she was attacking humans, so I... kind of... uh, stopped her."
"I don't remember a thing," Mystia groans. "What'd I do?"
"...you were very, um, violent. And loud. And you tried to rip some humans apart. And then me, when I tried to talk sense into you."
"Ugh. Then what?"
"She took your head off," Seibanki says. I cringe. "In her defence, you were trying to do the same to her."
Mystia just groans.
"...let's find somewhere to sit down," Kyouko suggests, gently leading Mystia toward the shrine.
"Wait up... think I'm gonna be sick..."
Kyouko hoists Mystia off to the side just in time.
"That's most of Gensoukyou right now," Sekibanki says.
"Oh dear," Alice replies. "I had no idea it was that b-"
Alice ruffles Flandre's hair. Or at least I think she does; Flandre's head is on top of mine so I can't actually see.
"So you're a hero now too huh?" Flandre says, still not letting go. "Solving Incidents just like Reimu and Marisa!"
"I didn't actually -"
"C'mon c'mon c'mon! The party's starting without us!"
"Why won't anybody listen to me!?" I wail as Flandre drags me through the crowd. Sekibanki and Alice follow at their own pace, smirking. Dammit.
Flandre leads me to a spot near the back of the shrine grounds where all the Scarlet Devil Mansion residents are gathered. Remilia, Sakuya, Patchouli, Koakuma and even Meiling are here, plus Cirno and Lily for some reason.
"We were starting to think you weren't coming," Meiling says.
"As if the party could start without the hero of the hour," Remilia scoffs.
"I really didn't do much..." I groan.
"Alice?" Patchouli says, noticing who's behind me. "I'm surprised to see you -"
"I walked, don't worry," Alice interrupts, holding up a hand. "And right back at you."
"Cirno here has been regaling us with the tale of you heroic quest," Remilia says. I bury my face in my hands and groan. "But I'm sure we'd all like to hear it from the heroine herself."
Sekibanki bursts out laughing. Meiling joins in, and soon everyone else is laughing too. I resign myself to my fate and start telling everyone about what I did today. Without exaggerations, thank you very much.
A small crowd gathers to listen as I go on, and even more people start arriving as the party proper gets underway. Thankfully most of them are more interested in food, drink and relaxation than listening to me drone away. Kagerou trots up carrying Wakasagihime, all the way from Misty Lake, and Patchouli fills a tub with water for her. Keine and Mokou show up a little while later, the latter draging the former instead of the other way around for once.
The Prismrivers do eventually make an appearance, but they don't end up performing, and after one look at them not even Reimu can blame them. But the Tsukumo sisters also arrive, and are more than happy to take to the stage with Raiko. I think I even spot Reisen at one point, though she either doesn't stay long or ends up sitting somewhere I can't see.
And then Rumia turns up in torn and dirty clothes, looking almost as bad as Seija did. Cirno immediately rushes over to her, but Rumia shies away from her, then prostrates herself and starts sobbing uncontrollably until Cirno hugs her. Reimu comes to investigate the commotion and herds them both into the shrine. When they return, Rumia is wearing borrowed clean clothes, and ends up falling asleep with her head pillowed in Cirno's lap. I don't have the slightest idea what that was about, but at least it seems to have turned out okay.
I think I've finally managed to get the spotlight off myself when Marisa suddenly smashes her glass on the ground.
"Awright, quiet! I'mma say words!" She bellows, clearly roaring drunk.
The musicians stop playing and everyone shuts up.
"So! This here party's fer a successful Incident resolution, if'n any of ya still 'member that after the sake an' all." A few people chortle. "But! It ain't me or Reimu that saved the day this time. Or even wossername or the other miko, nope. Sooooo..." She looks around theatrically. "Will the real Incident resolver please stand up?"
I try to make myself as inconspicous as possible, but Flandre and Meiling grab an arm each and shove me to my feet.
"SURPRISE!!!" Marisa roars. "Betcha didn't see that one comin', eh?" The entire crowd starts booing her. "Awright, awright, I'mma get on with it. THREE CHEERS FOR KOGASA!!!"
"Hip hip!" Raiko calls.
"An' cheers!" Marisa adds, holding up a new mug.
I finally sit back down, face as red as the mat I'm sitting on.
"Well well well, look who's popular," Sekibanki says, grinning.
"Cut it out," I mumble.
Sekibanki doesn't answer, but settles back down on my lap.
"...hey, Kogasa?" she says after a moment.
"Thanks. For everything."
"I mean it."
"Not still scared of me?" I ask.
"...a bit," Sekibanki admits. She takes a deep breath. "But I'll get over it. Eventually."
"You don't have to keep hanging around me, you know."
"No, it's okay. I, uh... I like being around you."
I scoot backwards, slipping slightly off the mat so I can lean on the tree next to it. Then I pick Sekibanki up, wrap my arms around her, close my eyes and rest my chin on her hair.
Isn't there still that whole "Kogasa is turning into a Goddess" plotline that has yet to be resolved? All of Gensokyo knows that she is a hero by now, that has to be worth at least a few hundred Goddess faith points right there.
It can't be over already, there's still plot hooks left to resolve! That being said, well fucking done, this is (was?) an excellent story and I'm glad I read it, and if you do feel the need to stop this is a decent point to do it at. That being said, I want to see more and I'll keep reading it if you keep writing it!
Alright, alright, calm down, there's more Kogasadventures on the way. Eventually.
But this really will be the last arc, okay? I need to detour through /youkai/ to resolve the goddess business. Then it'll be back to your regularly-scheduled /shrine/ antics for a while before Sekibanki finally spits it out. Assuming I get that far before we all die of old age.
If there's anything else you were waiting for, speak up, 'cause I've probably forgotten about it and need a kick in the pants to jog my memory. This thing has dragged on for nearly three years and just tipped the 120k word mark. Yesterday I caught myself wondering what happens next while re-reading my own shit. It's time I quit while I'm a head.
>>40947 > I don't remember what's going on with Alice at all.
That would be because it's not in this story at all! It's from >>/forest/29465, which I really need to fucking update already. I threw a reference to it in during the Carnival when I was running out of ideas and now I'm stuck with it. Sorry for the confusion.
"Good morning Medicine!" I reply, matching Medicine's smile as I wander into the kitchen to start preparing breakfast.
It's been about a week since the Incident, and life in the Human Village is back to its old self again, except for three things.
First of all, the Bunbunmaru and the Kakashi Spirit News - the only two tengu newspapers distributed in the Village - are out of print. Sanae wasn't exaggerating when she said the tengu village was a wreck. But the tengu are a proud people, and as soon as they got all their marbles together again they threw themselves into the reconstruction effort. I - and quite a few others, including the oni of all people - offered to help, but the tengu insisted they had it under control.
Kanako told me the best thing I could do for the mountain was to drag Sanae away for some enforced time off. So I did. No work, no worship, no worrying, just relaxing with friends. It was fun!
Second, Medicine Melancholy is still living with me. And smiling. And helping people. She still has a really creepy sense of humor, and can say the most morbid things with a great big smile on her face, but she's living in the Human Village and nobody's died yet. That I know of, anyway.
She still can't cook though. At all. Not even making onigiri with Sekibanki hovering over her shoulder telling her what to do. Which is why I'm the one getting breakfast for everyone, even though Medicine has been up at sunrise every morning without fail. She doesn't seem to mind waiting, though. Just like she doesn't mind sleeping on the floor, or spending hours staring at a single flowerpot.
Medicine is weird.
Last but not least... well, this one concerns me more than anyone else. But it's definitely something different about the whole village, even if nobody else has noticed. Or rather, everyone has noticed, but they haven't noticed that they've noticed, because they all changed at the same time and it doesn't actually affect anyone but me because nothing has actually changed, just... gah!
Nobody is afraid of me anymore. Well, they already weren't afraid afraid, but now they're more... augh.
Respectful. They're being respectful. Not hello-Miss-Kazami-lovely-day-isn't-it-please-don't-kill-me respectful, but hello-Miss-Kamishirasawa-please-excuse-me-but-there's-something-troubling-me-and-I-would-like-your-advice respectful. Well, not quite. Maybe more hello-miss-Kirisame-I-heard-you-do-youkai-extermination-can-you-take-a-look-at-my-field respectful. Except they're not actually asking me for youkai extermination. Because that would be really really weird and I wouldn't be comfortable with that at all.
"Something on your mind?"
"Gyaaah!" I jump hard and nearly throw the plate I'm holding across the room as Sekibanki suddenly speaks up right next to me. "N-no! I was just concentrating on what I was doing!"
"You sure? 'Cause that rice looks uncooked to me."
I look down.
"I... I grabbed the wrong thing by mistake!" I splutter, feeling my face heat up. "I'm still half asleep!"
"Suuuuure you are," Sekibanki replies.
Medicine pops a few grains into her mouth and chews.
"It's hard to eat," she says, straight-faced.
"I'll... I'll fix it already! Gah!"
I chase them both out of the kitchen and set about cooking it properly.
Once I've finished bumbling my way through breakfast, we go our seperate ways. Sekibanki goes to check in at Eientei and visit Kagerou. Medicine wanders off to the Dragon knows where. And I head for the markets to stock up on food, so I don't make myself look even worse by trying to cook with something I don't even have next time.
At least I didn't forget to bring money! Some youkai don't even bother with it at all, but living with humans, I kind of have to. I'm not exactly rich, but being a skilled blacksmith pays well, and there's plenty of demand for it. Well, most of my customers end up being from outside the village, but youkai materialistic enough to want what I make usually have the means to afford it anyway.
I'm so wrapped up in thoughts of commerce and trying to find the right merchants that I don't notice someone coming up behind me.
"Good morning, Miss Tatara. May I have a moment of your time?"
I turn around. Standing behind me is someone I've rarely even seen in person: Yakumo Yukari herself.
"M-Miss Yukari!?" I blurt out, taking a step back.
"Oh my. You even remembered my name!" Yukari says, smiling pleasantly. "It's nice not being forgotten just because I haven't shown my face in a mere century or two."
"I... don't think it's been that long since you last appeared in public?" I hazard.
"But it certainly has been that long since we last met, hmm?" Yukari's smile widens. "You've changed a great deal, Little Umbrella."
"U-ummm..." I say lamely. I don't remember talking to her before at all! "...what did you want to talk to me about?"
"Why don't we take this somewhere less crowded, first? It wouldn't do to worry these humans' dear little heads with our stuffy old youkai business, after all."
I swallow. Now that she mentions it, everyone is giving the two of us a lot of space.
"...did you have somewhere in mind?" I ask.
It turns out Yukari does have somewhere in mind. She leads the way down to the canal, the one with all the willow trees. It's a popular spot among the Village youkai, since it's close enough to the village for humans to feel safe, yet spooky enough to make them uneasy.
"Tell me," Yukari says suddenly as we walk, "do you remember why Gensoukyou was created?"
"...to give youkai a place to live, when humans stopped believing in us?" I reply.
"Close, but not quite," Yukari says. "If Gensoukyou is for youkai, then why are there humans here?"
"Because without humans to believe in us, we'll just disappear?"
"Hmmm... six out of ten."
"Wha- that low!?"
Yukari laughs. It's a noblewoman's laugh through and through.
"Well, to begin with, youkai like you or I can live in the Outside World just fine. Youkai whose existence is less concrete will have more trouble, of course, but rather than dissappearing, it's more a matter of not appearing. As easy as it may be to forget at our age, youkai do not live forever. Everything in this world will pass eventually; yes, even me."
Yukari smirks for a moment at her own joke.
"But what happens when we go? When the youkai of today are no more, who will take our place? Very few youkai truly bear children. For the tengu it is a point of pride, and there are families among the kappa as well, but for the most part, we were all born of one thing."
Yukari leans toward me conspiratorially.
She straightens up and smiles normally again.
"So, technically, you are correct. If humans cease to believe in us, we will, ultimately, cease to exist. The young and weak will be the first to go, soon followed by those who have yet to grow into their power, suffocated before they could reach their full potential. And then, one by one, those of us who have cemented our place in reality will fall, be it by destruction or decline into lesser beings."
Yukari stops, and stops smiling.
"But you have missed the most important thing at stake here. Belief is a part of it, yes, but only as a prerequisite to what we really require." She lowers her parasol and folds it, resting the tip on the ground. "And in order to cultivate that, youkai must attack humans." Yukari pokes my nose with a finger. "No exceptions."
I swallow. "But -"
"Oh, your actions of late have been noble indeed," Yukari interrupts. "Far be it from me to deny you that! In fact, I commend you for it. Yes, really! But," she leans in close again, "that which does not attack humans is, by definition, not a youkai."
She smiles again. "You have explored the alternative, of course."
My eyes widen as it dawns on me what she means - and more importantly, what she knows. She straightens up again.
"And it pleases me to see that you haven't jumped at the first opportunity. Truly it does. Such loyalty to the cause!" Yukari puts her hand on her chest theatrically. "...but it's a fine line you walk, and I'm not entirely convinced you can walk it on your lonesome."
She turns to face me fully for the first time, and rests both her hands on the handle of her umbrella.
"So, Miss Tatara, I propose a test. Just a small one. Along with a reminder of exactly what it is you're fighting for." Yukari smiles yet again, this time without overdoing it. "Do try your best; I really am rooting for you."
I swallow again. "What do you mean by wah!?"
Suddenly the ground gives way beneath me. The tiny gap between the flagstones suddenly yawns wide as a chasm, edges far out of reach. Before I get the chance to even think about flying, they're already far above me, the distance shrinking them back down to their normal size as I tumble into the...
...eyes? Eyes! Eyes everywhere, all looking at me! I try to right myself, or at least stop spinning head over heels, but nothing I do seems to have any effect, as if the eye-filled void is moving to counteract it. I plunge helplessly toward one of them, which looms larger and larger as I get closer, until the dark pupil fills half my vision -
After a moment to let my head stop spinning, I peel myself off the ground and rub the dirt off my face. Once I've got my breath back, I lift myself onto my knees and look up...
"Wooooow", I breathe.
On either side of me is a wall. Above me, way, way up, as high as the gap between the flagstones was from the giant eye, is a tiny sliver of sky. Which extends all the way down to the horizon, in front of me and behind.
In other words, they're the walls of two of the biggest buildings I have ever seen. Seriously, not even the tengu build anything this tall!
I get to my feet and stumble awkwardly. I feel heavy, like I've been swimming all day and just climbed out onto land. The feeling doesn't pass, but I do manage to find my footing in spite of it. The ground I'm standing on looks strange. It's hard like stone, but warmer and rougher, like sand, and it looks... wrong. There are rough patches and bits sticking out like dried mud.
I creep toward the end of the alley - it is an alley, right? - and peer out. More strange stone, more towering buildings, both near and far, and that black not-gravel stuff Sumireko showed me in her photos.
Lots of cars. Making lots of noise and doing lots of moving.
I'm in the Outside World.
I retreat back into the alley and force myself to breathe deeply. Don't panic. Don't panic! It's just like Yukari said, I'm not disappearing or anything just from being here. It's not any different to when I was out in the real world before I moved to Gensoukyou and the Border went up around me. Except the people here are different. So, it's like being in a far-away country. Except I'm still in Japan.
At least, I hope I am! What if nobody here speaks Japanese!? I don't know any other human languages!
Okay. Okay, I know this. It's just been a while, is all. I have two options here.
One, I can stay out of sight. Nothing will happen to me if nobody sees me, but it'll limit my movement a lot. And I'm not sure how well I can stay hidden in a place I know nothing about.
Two, I can stay out of mind. Nobody will look twice if I look like I belong. It's what I'm best at, but again, I'm not sure how well I can keep my cover when I don't even know where I am.
Wow, I knew she was going to be mad at us but I didn't think she was going be this petty about it. Still, we'll manage; city folk get up to all kinds of weird shit on a daily basis, so it's not like we're really going to stand out all that much unless we make a point of doing so. Which Kogasa might actually be able to get away with, come to think of it, but even so we probably shouldn't.
I look down at myself. My body looks human enough; I've never had trouble blending in with humans before, and I don't think the Outside could have changed that much in a century and a half. My umbrella, on the hand... I don't think many people use paper umbrellas anymore. Definitely not ones with tongues, eyes and shoes, and on a clear sunny day at that.
So I swallow my pride as a tsukumogami and merge my two bodies into one, hiding the real one completely. Feels weird not carrying anything around, but that won't kill me.
Not much I can do about my hair or eyes right now. I don't think blue hair would be all that common among humans without magic permeating everywhere like it does in Gensoukyou. But then, there was at least one person in Sumireko's photographs with blood-red hair, so maybe science can do that too? I'll worry about that later, I guess.
I don't think my clothes are very Outside-y either, but that's another thing I can't help.
I walk up and down the alley a few times, making sure I can walk around normally. Something still feels way off, but I think I can manage not to show it.
And then, finally, I step out of the alley and stroll down the street.
At least I think it's a street. There's so many things I've never seen before, so many strange sights to take in! Big buildings, little buildings, buildings made of metal and glass, colorful signs (written in Japanese, to my great relief, though I don't understand many of them anyway), glowing signs, moving signs, roads that rise up into the air on enormous stone bridges, cars, and trains. Trains are scary! Though these ones don't appear to be used for hitting people. In fact, they seem to have people inside them!
I do my best not to look like I'm being overwhelmed by all the newness around me. The trick is to look around without looking like you're looking around. Walk casually, use your peripheral vision a lot, and do what other people are doing.
And there are lots of other people around.
On the bright side, humans here still look more or less the same as they always have. Every now and then I spot someone who looks obviously foreign, and everyone is just a bit taller than I remember being the norm, but otherwise the only thing that's changed is the clothes. Which actually works in my favour - Western-style clothes seem to be really popular nowdays. There are plenty of people walking around in even more outlandish outfits than mine. Many of them even have writing on their clothes!
Nobody has blue hair, though. And my dress being the same color only makes it stand out even more. I can tell I'm getting a few stares, but most of them politely look away again. Or avoid looking at me at all. It's not all that different to how youkai are treated in the Village, really.
Unfortunately, part of pretending I belong is pretending I know where I'm going, and that's really not working out. Every turn I take seems to lead somewhere even more crowded! I've never seen so many people crammed into one place before! Crowds I can handle, weird looks I can live with, but it's getting harder and harder to go with the flow, especially when I can't even see the ground in front of me!
And then I see something that douses my rising panic like a tub of water on a candle. Somebody I recognise!
"Heeey, Sumireko!" I call out.
Sumireko looks over her shoulder, scowling as she scans the crowd - and then freezes when she spots me. Her eyes go wide for a moment. She turns back to the girl she was talking to, says something, and makes a beeline towards me.
Then she grabs me by the shoulder and drags me around a corner.
"What the hell are you doing here!?" she hisses. An invisible force crushes me against the wall. "Spying on me? Stalking me? You're working for that tanuki, aren't you?"
"No! No! Nothing like that!" I protest, raising my hands inncocently - or at least trying to. "Yukari dumped me here out of the blue! She said it was a test of some kind!"
"Who?" Sumireko asks, still glaring suspiciously.
"Yakumo Yukari! One of the Sages of Gensoukyou? Super powerful, always planning something?"
"Never heard of her."
"Well, um, she's more or less in charge of Gensoukyou, sort of like Reimu, only she's a youkai. She can cross the Border at will, and, uh, I think I might have done something wrong because she sent me out here all of a sudden!"
"And she just happened to drop you right next to where I live, miles away from Gensoukyou?"
"I didn't know you lived here! I don't even know where here is!"
"You really have no idea where you are? Or why you're here?"
"No! All I know is she said it was a test!"
Sumireko's glare turns into a frown. She takes a step back, out of my personal space. The pressure on my torso fades.
"You're in Tokyo," she says.
"...Tokyo?" I repeat. "This is Tokyo?" I look up at the buildings around us. "Uh... wow. It's, um, different. Very different."
"Been a while, huh?" Sumireko asks, raising an eyebrow.
"So, this 'Yukari' is someone important in Gensoukyou." Sumireko says.
"One of the most important of all," I reply.
"And you did something to get in her bad books."
"Well, er... maybe?"
Sumireko's eyes narrow. "What did you do?"
"I've, uh... been being nice to people, I guess?"
Sumireko folds her arms, looking unimpressed.
"...I'm a youkai. I'm supposed to attack humans. It's... it's an image thing," I say lamely.
"That makes you sound like a gang of thugs."
"Well, youkai do kind of need fear to survive, so... it's pretty important."
"If it's a matter of life and death then why aren't you doing it?"
"Well, technically I do need people to be afraid of me, but... it's not like I have to go around beating people up or anything."
"You two done making out or whatever?"
I look up. A girl who looks a bit like Sumireko is standing by the corner. She's about the same age, wearing a similar style of clothes, has her hair tied in one tail instead of two and her glasses are bigger. Also she has her arms folded and a bored frown on her face.
"Up yours, Hasegawa," Sumireko growls, turning on her heel and heading back out into the street.
'Hasegawa' looks between the two of us. "So, a lover's tiff then."
Sumireko throws a punch at her. She leans out of the way. Sumireko keeps walking.
"Come on, let's get this over with," she says, not turning around.
I hurry after her. 'Hasegawa' gives me an odd look as I pass, then falls into step behind us.
"What was that all about?" one of Sumireko's earlier companions asks as we return.
"None of your business," Sumireko bluntly replies.
"Who's your friend?" the third girl asks.
"This is Tatara. She's from Nagano."
"Sorry for dropping in unannounced!" I say, bowing.
"The great Usami has friends. Wait'll everyone hears about this," Hasegawa snarks.
Sumireko rolls her eyes. "These are my classmates Hasegawa, Asakura and Okazaki."
"A pleasure to make your acquaintance," Asakura says. She's tall, haughty, and looks like she's put way too much effort into her appearance, especailly her long, wavy hair.
"Hi there!" Okazaki chirps. She's the shortest of the group, has her hair tied back in a tight braid, and her grin makes me think of Marisa.
"Yo," Hasegawa adds. She still hasn't changed from her default bored expression, or put away the phone she keeps fiddling with. It looks more like Hatate's camera than Sumireko's phone.
"We're trying to find something called 'fun' on a pointless little group excursion around the city, since apparently I'm not allowed to spend summer break by myself," Sumireko continues.
"It's good for you and you know it," Asakura says.
"It's raising my blood pressure something awful," Sumireko retorts.
"I don't want to hear that from you," Hasegawa says.
"You can come along if you want!" Okazaki offers, either oblivious to or ignoring the sarcasm flying around her.
"Er, I wouldn't want to be a bother..." I reply.
"Not at all. The Usami Socialization Project needs all the help it can get," Asakura says.
"Why can't you experiment on rats like everyone else?" Sumireko asks with a false smile.
"Their union's better," Hasegawa butts in again. Sumireko hits her on the shoulder.
"Come on, we're burning daylight!" Okazaki calls, having already started walking.
"More like it's burning me," Sumireko grumbles. "You coming?"
"Er, I guess so?" I reply.
I hurry to catch up with the others before we lose sight of them. Sumireko sighs and follows. Okazaki and Asakura lead the way, chattering constantly, while Hasegawa trails behind, still fiddling with her phone and casting frequent glances over her shoulder at the two of us.
After walking for a while and crossing a few roads - I watch how the 'traffic lights' work with fascination - we come to a park of some kind and the crowd thins out.
"Don't suppose you can make it rain or something?" Sumireko says quietly, making sure Hasegawa doesn't overhear.
"Not convincingly, no," I reply.
Sumireko sighs again, then gives me a sidelong glance. "What say you we ditch these ditzes and go somewhere interesting?"
[ ] Sounds like fun! [ ] But seeing the city is interesting to me! [ ] I have a better idea. Let's get spooky~
Feels rushed, but this arc is even harder to write than I thought it would be and I want to get it over with.
According to my meticulous (cough) notes, I came up with this arc on 2016/06/25. The first mention of the "plot twist" in the next update wasn't until 2017/03/31, but even that was still early enough for me to spoil it in the 'Banki story on 2017/05/12.
TL;DR I am the slowest writefag this site has ever seen. I still haven't posted my entry in the 2014 writing contest. Seriously. You people must have the patience of saints to still be reading this turd-glacier. Doubly so if you're still reading this paragraph.
Update is 2200 words and counting. Life is holding at 'bullshit'. Please wait lukewarmly.
Don't tempt me. That sounds way more entertaining than my shitty writing.
[x] But seeing the city is interesting to me!
"But seeing the city is interesting to me!" I reply.
Sumireko gives me a pained look, but just sighs instead of saying anything.
A few minutes of silent walking later we come to the end of the park and plunge back into the city. Only this time it seems we've reached our destination: shops! A dizzying number of them selling a dizzying array of different things. I inwardly scoff at the cheaply-made "jewellery" - I can do way better than that, for real! - and I don't really think any of the Outsider clothes would suit me, but the others are having a ball.
Well, Asakura and Okazaki are. Hasegawa seems to be more interested in trying to push Sumireko into wearing the most ridiculous outfits she can find.
"Hey Wasa, check this out."
"Stop. Calling me that."
"Ooooh, what about this one?" Okazaki asks, holding up... some kind of bathing outfit?
"Like hell I'm gonna wear that!"
"What makes you think she was talking about you?" Asakura says, smirking. "You don't have the figure for something like that."
"That's why you need something cuter," Hasegawa says, holding up her latest 'recommendation'.
"Nope," Sumireko says instantly. "I am not wearing that. Not in a million years! Kogasa, back me up here!"
"Hmmm," I say, pretending to consider the very frilly, very pink outfit. "I don't think it would suit her."
"See? At least one of us -"
"It needs..." I snatch a headband from one of the shelves behind Hasegawa "these!"
"...I like the way you think," Hasegawa says, over the sound of Asakura and Okazaki's laughter.
Sumireko just glares at me. I think I'm in for a painful spellcard duel later.
It's another hour or two before we finally finish looking through all of the shops, Okazaki and Asakura laden with bags (most of which promptly get dumped on Hasegawa, not that she seems to mind) and Sumireko with her dignity still mostly intact.
"I swear their stupidity is contagious," Sumireko grumbles as we leave.
"Um... sorry about the cat ears," I say. "I was just going with the flow..."
"Whatever. I'm used to it."
"Heeey, you guys want a drink?" Okazaki calls in our direction.
"As long as it's normal soda and not some weird pumpkin juice or something, sure," Sumireko replies.
Asakura fiddles with yet another Outsider machine, which makes some loud clunking noises, and hands us two metal things. I nearly drop mine right away - it's cold!
"Um, how do I...?" I ask.
Sumireko gives me a blank look, then holds her tin up, hooks a finger under a little metal tab and pulls. I imitate her -
- and promptly bonk myself on the nose as the tab tears off completely, almost crush the tin in surprise and slosh cold, fizzy water all over myself.
Sumireko and Okazaki howl with laughter. Asakura politely tries not to, without much success. Hasegawa just stares at me as if she can't believe I just did that.
"Ahahaha... oops?" I say.
After cleaning off the sticky, sugary water - and insisting I'm fine with drinking the half that's left when Asakura offers to buy another one - we walk a bit more to find a place where we can sit down for a break.
Somewhere that just happens to be most of the way up a really, really tall building.
"Woooow," I say, staring at the view.
"Surely you've been this high up before," Sumireko says. "You know, uh, mountains and stuff," she quickly adds, since the others are right next to us.
"But it's different when it's a city! And you can look straight down and -"
"Don't lean over the edge!" Asakura snaps, grabbing the back of my shirt and yanking me off the handrail. "Are you trying to throw yourself off!?"
"I-It's okay, I have good balance!"
"Can we go home now?" Sumireko groans.
"It's not even lunchtime yet!" Okazaki says, still busy packing her bags full of clothes into yet another bag to make them easier to carry.
Sumireko sighs. "So where are we going next?"
"Well," Asakura begins, "I've been meaning to check out -"
"No more clothes," Sumireko interrupts. "Or makeup or hairdressers or pedicurists or accessories or friggin' pet stores."
"Well what else is there?" Okazaki says. Sumireko rolls her eyes and buries her face in her arms.
"Looks like we've got no choice then," Hasegawa says, finally flipping her funny folding phone shut.
"If you're about to suggest paintball again -" Sumireko begins.
"No, but you're close. Drop the 'a' and the 't'."
"...speak Japanese, dammit."
"Pinball? How is anyone supposed to guess 'arcade' from that? What decade are you living in!?" Sumireko fumes.
"They have pinball machines here," Hasegawa says, pointing, "down the back."
Sumireko snaps something else back, but I'm too busy staring at the sight in front of me to hear it. It's like someone stuffed a room full of the loudest, brightest and most outlandish video game machines they could find. At least I think they're video games. The only way I can tell is by the glowing screens with moving pictures on them. Everything else about the place is like nothing I've ever seen before.
"I should have known," Asakura says, shaking her head. She looks a lot less impressed with the place than I am.
Okazaki is already headed for one of the machines. From what I can see of it, it looks like players have to use their feet?
"So having no friends means I must like computer games? What kind of logic is that? And what makes you think I'd want to play some money-grubbing machine in a room packed to the rafters with sweaty, nerdy boys? I get enough jerks leering at me at school!"
Wow. Sumireko's really getting worked up.
"I thought you of all people -"
"How about you stop dissing stuff you've never tried and people you've never met and blow off some of that steam on the games?" Hasegawa says over the top of her.
"Were you even listening? I can't afford this stupid stuff!"
"Have you forgotten who you're here with?" Asakura asks haughtily.
Sumireko pauses for a moment, then throws up her arms. "Alright, fine. If Miss Moneybags here is paying I'll give it a try."
"Finally," Hasegawa says. Then she claps a hand on Sumireko's shoulder and drags her away before she has a chance to protest any more.
"Uh... um..." I say, finding myself alone with Asakura.
"Go ahead, I'll pay for you too," she says.
"Uh, no, that wasn't... er, thank you," I say, giving up on whatever I was trying to say.
But despite that, I mostly just follow the others around and watch. Hasegawa drags Sumireko from machine to machine, always picking games that take two players and competing against her. She seems to know what she's doing, so she almost invariably wins the first few rounds, but Sumireko is much quicker and learns fast, so she always starts winning consistently after a while.
"Oh, what?" Hasegawa says after Sumireko beats her for the third time in a row on the fifth game. "This is bullshit."
"Nobody can stop the great Usami for long!" Sumireko gloats.
"Hey Tatara, you wanna try?" Hasegawa asks. "You've just been watching all this time."
"E-er, me?" I stammer.
"You just want someone you can beat," Sumireko says, looking smug.
"No, I want someone else for you to beat. Come on, give it a try." Hasegawa unceremoniously shoves me into her place.
"Er, what do I do?"
Sumireko leans over to stab something with her finger, and instructions of some kind start flashing up on the screen.
"Okay, so... ah, hey, I was reading that!"
"Wasn't me, it's on a timer. Hurry up and pick your fighter."
"B-but who do I -"
"That one," Hasegawa says, leaning over my shoulder and poking the screen.
"Hey! You didn't help me when I started!" Sumireko protests.
"You didn't need it," Hasegawa says.
I don't take my eyes off the screen. That man looks like the one Hasegawa was pointing at, so that one -
"What do I do? What do I do!?"
Hasegawa starts giving me rapid-fire instructions that I don't understand at all.
"How do I move back? What's a quarter circle?"
"...seriously? Don't tell me you've never -"
"She keeps hitting me! I can't do anything!"
"Geez Sumireko, cut her some slack will you?"
"This was your idea!"
"Hey! I hit her!"
"...here, let me -"
Hasegawa grabs the controls, putting her hands on top of mine and squeezing herself a little too close to me for comfort.
"Hey! That's cheating!" Sumireko complains.
"There. You get all that?"
"I... think so? Wait, how did you - ah!"
"Hah! Not even both of you together can beat me!"
Sumireko wins the next match as well, making it my loss since it was apparently best of three. I shake Hasegawa off for my third match, though she still keeps feeding me advice, for all the good it does me.
Even though we keep changing fighters and arenas, I start to learn some of the things they have in common. The hardest part is getting used to how slow they all are! I guess it makes sense for a youkai to have trouble when limited to human speed, even if I'm not that much faster.
"I'm gonna win the next one!" I declare.
"You two are both freaks," Hasegawa grambles from behind me.
"Nah, you just suck," Sumireko says.
"Nnng, move faster!"
"You should've picked a faster character if you wanted to -"
I'm suddenly aware that, besides the machines, the room has gone very quiet.
I lift the broken "control stick" up to eye level.
"Youkai strength must be a pain sometimes, huh?" Sumireko says, glancing up and down the alley we entered as a "shortcut" to make sure nobody is around to overhear.
"I'm sorry!" I repeat for about the hundredth time. The arcade owner insisted it was his fault for falling behind on maintenence, but, well, he didn't know I'm a youkai. "I don't normally slip up like that! Everything's been weird since I ended up out here!"
Sumireko's smirk fades. "...you're not sick or something, are you?"
"No! Or, well, I don't think so? It's just..." I gesture aimlessly with my hands as I try to figure out how to explain the problem "...you know how if you're swimming for too long, and then you climb out, you walk funny for a bit? It's sort of like that."
"And it started when you crossed the Border?"
"Yeah. I noticed it right away."
Sumireko frowns. "Well I don't feel any different inside Gensoukyou, and none of the others I brought out here mentioned anything."
"I could understand if it was making me weaker, but it seems to be doing the opposite," I groan.
"Well, Gensoukyou is full of -" Sumireko suddenly cuts off.
I look up. A man in black Western clothes is raising his arm toward us. Wait, is that a -
Sumireko stumbles backwards
sharp pain in my left shoulder
overestimated my swing, broken arm instead of disarmed
where did the car come from
doorframe broke off in my hand
could catch them if I flew but
"Sumireko!" I shout, dropping the piece of not-metal and spinning around.
Sumireko is on her knees, staring at a piece of spinning metal floating in front of her. As I approach, she slowly raises her hand - and slaps herself. Hard.
"Th-th-this is real," Sumireko says, rubbing her cheek and shaking like a leaf. "Th-this is a-actually happenning. S-s-someone j-just t-tried to -"
"Sumireko," I repeat, touching her shoulder to get her attention. "Are you hurt?"
"N-no..." Sumireko finally takes her eyes off the bullet. Her eyes widen and her face pales even further. "Oh god, you've been shot."
"I'll be fine," I quickly reasure her, "I'll heal up in no time. I just need to get the bullet out..." I wince as I touch my shoulder.
"Y-yeah, uh, it's still in there."
"...you can see it? Can you get it out?"
Sumireko blinks. "Uh, yes, but it might make things worse -"
"Just get it out. I'll handle the rest."
Sumireko takes a deep breath. "Okay, hold still..."
I wince slightly as the bullet seems to pull itself out of the wound, then clamp my hand over it to stop the blood that follows.
"That's a lot of blood, oh god oh god oh -"
"I'm fine. Really. I'll be right as rain in a few minutes." As if to prove my point, I spring to my feet. "I, uh, should do something about the blood before it dries though."
Sumireko scrambles off the ground and looks around a little too wildly.
"Okay. Okay. Uh, we should be able to get to the restroom without being seen -"
"Just lead the way," I tell her.
Sumireko leads the way. I'm not really concentrating on where, just that it's private and has a washbasin a bit like the ones in the Scarlet mansion.
Also, Sumireko's hydrokinesis is really good at getting blood out of clothes.
"It really is almost healed already," Sumireko says, staring. Then she turns away, looking pale and ill.
"...you okay?" I ask.
Sumireko takes a deep, shuddering breath. "...no."
"What are you two doing in here?" Suddenly, Hasegawa. Sumireko and I both jump more than we should have.
"Do you ever mind your own business?" Sumireko groans.
"Is that blood?" Hasegawa presses, ignoring her. "Is everything okay?"
"Cut myself, that's all," I say, grinning sheepishly.
"Then what's wrong with you?" Hasegawa asks, advancing on Sumireko.
"N-not good with blood," Sumireko says, conveniently backing toward the washbasin to block Hasegawa's view of it as the worst of the blood suddenly drains out of it.
Then Okazaki pokes her head in.
"We good to go yet?"
"What is this, a train station!?" Sumireko snaps.
"I dunno, I think Tatara hurt herself or something," Hasegawa says.
Okazaki is suddenly all business. "Let me see."
"I-I'm fine, really, it just looks bad -"
Okazaki ignores my protests and pulls my hand away to look. I feel a strange pressure at the last moment, and realize Sumireko is holding the wound closed.
"That's pretty deep," she says, frowning. "What's it from?"
"It's... not important," I reply awkwardly. What am I supposed to say!?
"She was doing something silly again. I already told her off for it," Sumireko lies.
"Well, you should go to the hospital and get that looked at," Okazaki instructs in a no-nonsense tone. "You'll probably need stitches, at least."
"I don't think -" I begin, but stop when I notice Sumireko nodding in the corner of my eye. "...uh, okay."
"Safety first!" Okazaki says with a warm smile, and starts guiding me outside.
"All set?" Asakura asks politely.
"Almost," Okazaki replies. "Tatara cut herself. We're taking her to the hospital, just in case."
"No, I'm taking her to the hospital," Sumireko says.
"A minute ago you looked like you were about to pass out," Hasegawa snaps.
"I'm fine as long as she isn't bleeding all over me," Sumireko counters. "And if she is I'll call an ambulance."
"I'm okay, I can walk myself there," I offer. "Except, uh, I don't know the way."
"See?" Sumireko says, before anyone else can get a word in. "We were going to the museum next, right? We'll meet you there."
"Well..." Asakura says, frowning.
"Stop treating me like a kid already, geez," Sumireko says, already dragging me away. I smile and wave reassuringly, or try to. It doesn't really seem to have that effect.
I wait until I'm sure we're out of earshot.
"...we're not going to the hospital, are we?" I say quietly.
"Where to, then?"
Sumireko hesitates. "...I dunno. Where do you go when someone's trying to kill you?"
[ ] Continue the charade. Pretend to visit the hospital and rejoin the others. [ ] Avoid the others, but stay where there's people. They won't dare attack in public. [ ] Go to ground. There has to be somewhere to hide in a city this size.
Holy shit it's not dead! Welcome back, missed this story.
[X] Continue the charade. Pretend to visit the hospital and rejoin the others.
If it was a one-off incident, we have nothing more to fear. If it's part of a conspiracy, we can feign overconfidence and really lay into whoever comes after us for round 2. Plus I don't want to give Yukari the satisfaction of seeing us running scared, and most importantly of all the more time we spend with her classmates/antagonists the more we can unintentionally bully Sumireko, and that will never not be fun to me.
[x] Continue the charade. Pretend to visit the hospital and rejoin the others.
Given our relative durabilities, Sumireko's safety is priority number one. And while a no-witness environment could be a double-edged sword in offering us a greater range of solutions, it could also leave us screwed if they get past Kogasa.
As I see it, what we really need right now is to know what we're up against, and this seems to best way to figure out without giving away too much ourselves. Even though it could, potentially, expose us to the greatest immediate danger.
That said, I am tempted to vote elsewhere, just for some one-on-one time with Sumireko.
[x] Continue the charade. Pretend to visit the hospital and rejoin the others.
"Well..." I begin, then hesitate. It's been a long, long time since I've been in this sort of situation. The world has changed a lot since then, and I don't know what - if any - experience Sumireko has with it either.
"...we should try to act like nothing has happened," I decide. "So, we go to the hospital, or pretend to, and then meet up with the others. For one, they'll be expecting us, and if we don't show up for some reason..."
"...they'll call the police, or something, eventually," Sumireko finishes.
I nod. "Yeah. And second, whoever they are, they waited until we were out of sight. They don't want witnesses."
Sumireko swallows. I can feel her fear. "What if they decide to silence the witnesses?"
"We'll be ready for them." I give Sumireko a grin. A non-happy grin. "They won't surprise us a second time."
Sumireko looks at me nervously, then takes a deep breath. We continue walking in silence.
Our journey is actually pretty long, all things considered. We wind our way through crowds of people, descend some stairs that go underground and get on a train. It should be exciting, and I try to soak up all the newness around me, but I'm already busy trying to look like I belong and simultaneously keep an eye out for anyone else who doesn't belong, all while not looking like I'm looking for anyone looking for me. It's a lot to keep track of.
We come to the building Sumireko says is the hospital, but don't go inside. Instead we take a detour into a shop that sells medicine of some kind and find a large, sticky bandage-like thing to cover the wound on my shoulder. Which by that point is already fully healed. But Sumireko says that, and the sharp alcohol smell of the stuff she cleaned the spot with, will convince the others we really did go to the hospital.
Modern humans sure are complicated.
Then we wander through even more crowds, board another train, and wind up in yet another huge building. This one must be the museum Sumireko was talking about. It's a quiet place, and all the people are busy staring at things on display in glass cases. Things even I recognise, with signs explaining what they are.
I'm older than pretty much all of them.
"Nostalgia much?" Sumireko whispers, when she sees me staring too.
"Nnnnnot really?" I reply. "It's just so strange to see everyday stuff on display like this."
Sumireko muffles her laughter into a snort.
After a few minutes of searching, we find the others.
"We're back," Sumireko says as we approach.
"That was quick," Okazaki says, frowning. "I thought you'd need stitches for sure."
"They use this gluey stuff nowdays," Sumireko says casually.
"Modern medicine is weird," I confirm. No acting required!
Okazaki's eyebrows go up, but she seems to take our word for it.
"You're okay, and that's what matters," Asakura says, with a well-practiced warm smile.
Sumireko grumbles something I can't quite hear under her breath. The others ignore her.
We wander around the exhibits for quite a while, with the others pointing, chattering and joking about various items of historical interest. I have an unexpectedly hard time not speaking up about things I probably shouldn't know. I do slip up a few times, but manage to brush it off as the result of coming from an old-fashioned farming village. Thankfully they misinterpret my embarassment as a result of being so behind the times. Which is true, sort of.
It's a good cover for my growing sense of unease. Something isn't right, and it feels like I should know what, but I can't put my finger on it.
"We're being followed", Sumireko suddenly murmurs, without looking at me. "Five o'clock, round sunglasses."
I have no idea what the time has to do with anything, but when I do find an excuse to turn around I easily spot the one person wearing round, darkened glasses. A thirty-something man, wearing a Western-style suit of some sort, with a seemingly permanent smug grin on his face. He oozes an easy air of casual confidence, and his hair and shirt are carefully and deliberately mussed slightly.
He's a world away from the two immaculate, stony-faced professionals that attacked us in the alley, but that may well be the point.
He's also definitely following us.
"C'mon, we'll lose him in the lift," Sumireko whispers.
She waits until our group has finished exploring everything on the current floor, and then, instead of taking the stairs like we have been doing, moves to the self-opening doors next to them. The others jeer and keep walking - Okazaki starts running, taking the steps two at a time - while we get into the odd metal dead-end room.
Sumireko presses a button, the doors close, I feel a really disconcerting sensation of motion, and then they open again.
The round glasses man is standing outside.
"Excuse me, ladies," he says, smug grin widening as he holds up a... badge of some kind? "I'm Chief Inspector Sarutobi." He thumbs over his shoulder at the wide-eyed and fresh-faced young man behind him. "And this is Sergeant Matsuda. We'd like a word with you down at the station." His grin widens even further. "We've heard some... interesting things about you."
The police station isn't quite like anything I've seen before, but I can tell it certainly wasn't designed for comfort. Quite the opposite, in fact.
"So, Miss Tatara, as you can see, there's nobody matching your name and description living in Nagano. Or anywhere else in Japan, for that matter." Sarutobi - who still hasn't taken off his glasses, or stopped grinning - laces his fingers together on the uncomfortable metal table and leans forward slightly. "Let's try this again, shall we? What's your name?"
"Tatara Kogasa," I repeat, barely managing not to squirm in my uncomfortable metal chair.
"Where do you live?"
"Come on now. We already know that's a lie. And it's a serious crime to lie to a police officer. But you're not in trouble just yet! All you have to do... is tell the truth."
I look up from the papers on the table, and meet his gaze squarely. "That is the truth."
The interview drags on for hours. They're clearly trying to wear me down, tire me out, make me slip up. It's not going to work, because I'm really not lying! It's almost funny, but I don't really feel like laughing about it right now. More like screaming. But not that much.
Once they give up on trying to figure out who I am, they bring in one of those moving picture things. It's blurry and jumpy and colorless, but clearly shows me and Sumireko leaving the arcade and walking out of sight. Then the picture changes to the other end of the alley, showing a man getting out of a car. Nothing happens for a while, until the man comes running back, one arm cradling the other. He scrambles into the back of the car, and then I burst into view, moving so fast I'm only recognisable after I've stopped and ripped a strip off the car.
The car speeds off, and I blur back into the alley.
"Care to explain what that was all about, Miss 'Tatara'?" Sarutobi says, gesturing at the screen.
I don't know what to say to that, so I say nothing.
"Forensics pulled five bullets out of that alley this morning. All fired sometime today. Any idea how that might have happened?"
I remain silent, and stay that way as the interrogation continues, presenting the rest of me and Sumireko's activities until we reached the museum. There are a lot of gaps and the pictures are hard to recognise, but the important points, like my bloodied shoulder, and the fact that we never actually entered the hospital, are all brought up. I haven't seen Sumireko since we were brought here and I don't know what she has or hasn't told them, so I keep my mouth shut. Whether she's come up with a convincing story or not, anything I could say would only make things worse.
At long last, once the questions have dried up and I'm finally able to get off that awful chair, they take me to a different room. It's modern and colorful and clean, but there's no mistaking what it is.
It's a prison cell.
Stone walls, metal door, hard 'bed' bolted to the wall.
Really heavy lock.
After the footsteps of the sergeant - who was friendly and apologetic, seemingly genuinely so - have died away, I pace around the room a few times, mostly to get the feeling back into my legs. Out of curiosity, I stop at the door, and tap at it once or twice.
...I could totally melt my way through that in a few minutes. Maybe even quicker. But it would be loud, and bright, and unmistakably inhuman. And also permanent. The sort of thing the bad guys in a story would do.
We're not the bad guys here, right?
No, real life's not that simple. Be kind of boring if it was. But sometimes...
I sigh, and sit down on the bed. It's actually pretty comfy, though that might just be relief after sitting on a metal chair for so long.
___ ___ ____ __?
I kick my legs a bit and look around. The lonely light in the middle of the ceiling is obviously artificial, so I have no way of knowing what time it is.
_e_! _an _o_ h_e__ m_?
I do know it's been hours, at least, since we last saw the others. They're probably worried about us by now.
...Sumireko's comment about them calling the police is pretty depressing in hindsight.
Hellooooooo, testing, testing, one, two threee!
I straighten slightly at the sound of Sumireko's voice coming from... somewhere. I look around again.
If you can hear me, sit with your back against the wall, facing the door.
I take a slow breath and slump again, then scoot back up onto the bed, leaning on the wall as instructed.
YES! The energy in Sumireko's voice makes me wince. Oh man, I've never got this to work before! Okay, I can't read your mind, but I can see you. Kind of. There's a camera on the back wall of your cell, but if you tilt your head down a bit, like you're dozing off, it won't be able to see your face.
I fidget slightly, getting comfortable.
Yeah, like that! Okay, blink once for yes and twice for no, okay?
Did they realize you don't have any records?
Right. They kept asking me who you were too. Did they show you a video of the alley?
Me too. Did you tell them anything about it?
Okay. I said you did something silly, tripped and cut yourself, like I told the others. We headed for the hospital but you'd already stopped bleeding so we just cleaned it and put a plaster on it instead. Because that's totally what two stupid high schoolers would do. I pretended we didn't see anyone in the alley. I didn't stuff anything up by saying that, did I?
Pause. Blink blink.
...phew. That's it for what I know. None of this makes any sense! How'd they find out about the fight so fast? They even had time to find the stray bullets! And won't even say what they suspect us of! They're not supposed to lock us up without charging us, right?
Oh. Right. Wrong person. Well, I kinda lost it a bit and demanded to talk to my family or a lawyer or something, but that didn't go so well. Not that my parents would do much more than chew me out all over again for getting into so much trouble, but what am I supposed to - someone's coming.
I make sure to stay right where I am until I hear the door being unlocked. Grin-and-glasses Sarutobi steps into the room.
"Sorry little miss, but it's time for nighty-night."
Why does everyone here have a gun I don't like guns quick dodge -
At the last moment the pistol jerks to the side and the bullet lodges in the wall. I launch myself feet first, kicking him savagely into the doorframe before he can react. He bounces off, spinning haphazardly and sprawling on all fours in the hall.
"What the -"
Thinking quickly, I retrieve my umbrella and swing it at the back of his head with all the strength I can muster.
His face hits the floor with a crack, and he lies limp... but still breathing.
I glance at the doorframe. That first hit wasn't supposed to be gentle, and I'm positive I kicked even harder than I meant to. Again. The second... well, I'm not that strong, as far as youkai go, but...
I've crushed human skulls before. Without a wind-up.
His nose isn't even broken!
I jump hard as I realize Sumireko is standing across from me.
"I'm, uh, fine. Um, thanks. How did you get out?"
Sumireko grins. "Psychic, remember? I can pick locks in my sleep." Her grin quickly fades as she looks down at the unconscious policeman. "So... he's with them, right?"
"Maybe..." I bend down to roll him over -
I leap up, bracing for an attack, but when the smoke clears, he hasn't moved.
But now he has fluffy ears and a tail!
"That's it!" I almost shout.
"What!?" Sumireko yelps, looking around in a panic.
"I felt something at museum, but I couldn't think what. It was a youkai! He must be using some sort of trick to make himself hard to spot."
"If you say so..." Sumireko looks down, wide-eyed. "Tanuki, right?"
"Yup. I should have known - if Mamizou was living out here, there'd have to be others."
"So there are youkai here too. Great." Sumireko sighs. "Now what?"
"Sir? Are you in there?"
We both freeze at the sound of Sergeant Matsuda's voice outside the hallway door.
"I've got those reports you asked for, but... it looks like somebody's turned off the security cameras. Hello?"
Sumireko and I look at each other. Time to...
[ ] Escape. We shouldn't take any risks. [ ] Ambush. We need answers.
Sorry for the delay, and the quality drop, and the research failures, and oh goddess I'm falling asleep at my keyboard what is a typo I don't even
...I'm just gonna go sit over here and try not to hurl on anyone...
Did this guy not realize Kogasa was a youkai or something? I know he's probably not all that strong, but I would expect a tanuki to know better. Ah well, sucks to be him, he and his buddies started this fight but we're gonna be the ones to finish it.
I raise a finger to my lips, then glide quickly and quietly behind the door at the end of the hall. Sumireko follows my lead and ducks into one of the empty cells.
I flatten myself against the wall as the door opens.
"Sir!" Matsuda immediately rushes forward to check on his downed superior. He pauses in confusion when he notices the ears. And the tail. Which are kind of hard to miss.
"What in the world...?"
The door clicks softly as I push it closed. Matsuda whirls, hand going to his hip and not finding anything. He swallows and rises slowly to his feet, hands half-raised, glancing around for a way out - too late. Sumireko is already behind him, and doing a surprisingly good job of looking intimidating.
"Who wants us dead?" I demand. Short and sweet.
"What?" Matsuda asks, wide-eyed, backing toward the wall as we advance and he tries to keep both of us in sight.
"Two thugs attack us in an alley, then your boss tries to shoot me in my cell. Why?"
"He what?" Matsuda glances between us and the unconscious bakedanuki. "No. No way. We're cops, we don't do that! What have you done to him!?"
"Nothing you need to worry about," I reply coldly, "as long as you answer the question."
He shakes his head. "I don't know! We got a tip-off. Shots fired. Possible lead on the yakuza activity we've been trying to trace for months."
"Do we look like yakuza to you?" Sumireko suddenly snaps.
"You don't hire contract killers to take out random civillians," Matsuda counters, pouncing on the opening. "And you had them on the run! What are you people?"
"Youkai, like your boss," I say, going with the flow.
Matsuda once again glances between us and Sarutobi in confusion. "What?"
"What's the matter? Never seen a tanuki before?" Sumireko asks. I fight back a groan.
Matsuda's hands drop slightly. "You don't seriously expect me to believe -"
"They don't come off." My umbrella pivots in my hand and opens slightly, squinting at him with its one (fake) eye. "And bakedanuki aren't the only ones who can change their appearance."
To complete my little stunt, I awkwardly attempt to focus as much of my 'aura' on him as possible, and take advantage of the lack of ambient magic to deliberately disrupt my own form. I can just barely see the outline of my umbrella through my hand, and red and blue lights are reflected in his pupils.
Matsuda's eyes threaten to bulge right out of his head. He presses himself against the wall and starts to hyperventilate, unable to tear his eyes away from mine.
...I, uh, I think I overdid it again. Oops?
Sumireko comes to the rescue, waving her hand in front of Matsuda's face and snapping her fingers smartly.
"Don't look into their eyes," she says with a grin. "It's not good for your health."
Matsuda promptly makes eye contact with me again, but looks away instantly. He licks his lips nervously. "Ssso, you're not some kind of monster too?"
"Nah, I'm just an ordinary high school girl," Sumireko replies. Then Matsuda's gun floats up beside her, and she smirks. "With psychic powers."
At least, I think it must be Matsuda's gun. The barrel is a lot shorter than the others. It's almost like it doesn't have one... or the others had an extended one?
"I think he's telling the truth," Sumireko says, bringing me back to the matter at hand.
I make a show of sniffing at the air. I can't actually smell anything, but I can sense his fear. And there's a lot of it. "With that reaction, I think so too."
Matsuda glances downward for a moment and awkwardly tries to regain his composure. "Look, what do you want?"
"To be left in peace," I reply as I step back and turn slightly to check on Sarutobi. Still out cold, and likely to stay that way for a good while yet. I nod toward him. "Have you noticed anything odd about the Chief Inspector recently?"
"Not that I can think of?" Matsuda says cautiously. "I mean, he's been a bit gung-ho, and, well... arrogant... but he's always like that."
"Then this must be his long-term cover. The man you know was likely never human."
"And the hitmen?" Matsuda presses, slowly regaining his confidence. "Were they... youkai, too?"
"No. Too fragile. And they weren't armed to fight youkai either. So either they weren't told, or..." I shoot a glance at Sumireko. She looks away immediately.
"What's the Chief likely to do if he finds out I know about this?" Matsuda asks uneasily.
"Kill you," I say simply. "Unless you're willing to serve his real masters?"
Matsuda looks like he's just swallowed a bug.
"We could give him an alibi," Sumireko suggests. "Knock him out, let him pretend he didn't see anything."
"Can you do that without killing him?" I ask. "I can't."
Sumireko shrugs. "Sure."
"Do I get a say in this?" Matsuda asks, looking between the two of us nervously.
"It's your life," I reply. "How well can you lie?"
Matsuda hesitates. "I'm good at poker."
I raise my eyebrows.
Matsuda squares his shoulders. "...do it."
"What about the cameras?" Sumireko asks, nodding at a small black dome in the corner of the ceiling.
"Off," Matsuda replies. "The Chief must have turned them off before..." he glances at me "...before."
"Trust no one," I say ominously, "and good luck."
Matsuda nods. Sumireko steps in front of him, so close her face almost touches his.
Matsuda's head immediately droops, eyes rolling up into his head as they close. Sumireko lets him slide down the wall, then drops his gun on the floor by his hand.
"Let's get out of here," she says.
"What is this place?" I ask, looking around.
"Dunno," Sumireko replies. "I think it used to be a hotel or something. It's been condemned for years now though. Watch your step; the upper floors are starting to collapse."
"...isn't that dangerous?"
Sumireko shrugs. "Not to me."
We're standing in the remains of a large hall of some kind. I probably wouldn't have recognised it even when it was new. Now it's barely more than rubble. Chunks of that strange artificial stone are strewn around everywhere, most of it probably from the holes in the roof, which are also the only source of light, rapidly fading in the afternoon twilight. A frame of heavy metal beams has been exposed in many places, slowly rusting away.
If this were Gensoukyou, it would probably have been inhabited by ghosts. I don't sense any here, though. Somehow that only makes it feel even lonelier.
"I used to come here all the time to practice," Sumireko says. With a casual upward gesture, she levitates half a dozen of the larger rocks, holds them there for a moment, then drops them with a heavy clunk. "Got carried away and broke things, sometimes," she adds, looking up at the patches of orange sky.
"...I used to wish I had someone else I could show this stuff to," she says quietly. "Or even just talk to. When I found Gensoukyou, it was like a dream... because it was, really." A rock rolls smooth-side-up and she carefully sits on it. "But now you're here, in the real world... and everyone's trying to kill me." She smiles sadly. "Be careful what you wish for, huh?"
"I... don't think this and that are related," I say.
"Aren't they? I spend my whole life daydreaming about superheroes and monsters, and now I find out there are tanuki pretending to be policemen. And I'm not a superhero." Sumireko draws her legs up to her chest and hugs them. "What am I going to tell my parents? Where am I even going to sleep tonight?"
"Come on out, Wasa! We know you're in there!"
Damn it, why is it so hard to sense humans out here!?
"Oh what," Sumireko says flatly. "Seriously?" She gets to her feet and hurries toward the entrance. I follow.
I see a white light dancing around, then wince as it shines directly into my eyes.
"There you are," Asakura says, lowering her... phone? The light seems to be coming from the back of it. They sure do everything! "What are you two doing in a place like this? It's dangerous!"
"What am I doing here? What are you doing here!?" Sumireko counters.
"Looking for you, duh," Okazaki replies. I think that's the first time I've heard her sound anything but cheerful.
"How did you even find me!?"
Hasegawa holds up her own phone, screen facing toward us. It doesn't mean anything to me, but Sumireko immediately whips out her own.
"Ah, crap! I forgot to log out!"
"Enough of this nonsense," Asakura snaps. "You're coming with us, and you're going to explain what this is all about!"
"Arrrgh!" Sumireko stamps her foot and clenches her hands into fists. "Why won't you just mind you own business!? Get out of here already, before you ghack!?"
Sumireko suddenly yelps and stumbles forward slightly, as though someone shoved her in the back. She whips around and snatches something out of the air.
Another bullet. Bigger this time.
[ ] Protect Sumireko. She's the target. [ ] Protect her classmates. Somehow. [ ] Seek and destroy. Better me than her...
No I did not fuck up posting this like the total newfag I am. You're imagining things.
I spin around, planting myself between Sumireko's classmates and the building, eyes searching. Then I realize that was the worst possible move, because -
I grab Asakura and Hasegawa by their clothes and yank them out of the way just in time. Okazaki is further back and more athletic, diving out of the way on her own. I drop them at the base of the wall, where anyone trying to attack them would have to stick their heads out the window, as gently as I can in a hurry.
"Stay down!" I hiss. Then I dart around the wall.
My would-be assassin is expecting me, and has excellent reflexes. I throw myself to the side not a moment too soon, then use my feet and my flight together to make a right-angle turn in a flash. I surge forward and then explode upward, catching the remains of the balcony railing as I pass. It breaks, but I've already redirected my momentum, spinning through the air. I snag the man's elbow as I hurtle past, holding on for a half-turn and then releasing him to smash into the wall.
The wall cracks, and he flops to the ground lifelessly. I land facing the way I came, just in time to see Sumireko doing much the same thing - only she moved the wall.
The entire wall.
It collapses with a tremendous crash, and the already-dim air fills with dust and debris. I hear several muffled screams, followed by coughing.
"Sumireko?" I call softly.
"I'm okay," a shaky voice replies.
"Are there any others?"
"Not that I can see. Hang on." A wave of pressure washes over me, a disconcerting sensation that makes my ears pop. "No, just the two of them."
I quickly rifle through the dead man's pockets. He's not exactly able to answer any questions, so -
"Usami?" Okazaki's voice. "Usami, are you alright?"
I hop off the balcony and reach at the entrance at the same time as Sumireko. Three shocked faces greet us.
"What. The hell. Was that?" Hasegawa asks, half-standing with her hands on her knees.
"Uuh..." Sumireko glances at me "...CGI?"
"Oh. Right. LIKE I'M GOING TO BELIEVE THAT, YOU FLUFFY-HAIRED IDIOT!!!"
"Ack! Let go!"
"That's it, I'm calling the police," Asakura says.
"No!" Sumireko shouts. My hand fastens around Asakura's phone before she even opens her mouth. Asakura looks startled for a moment, but then her face hardens.
"Why not?" she demands. "Tell me why I shouldn't!"
"All right, start talking," Asakura says, planting one hand on the table.
The table we're all sitting at, in a mansion large enough to have guards and servants. Just who is this Asakura girl?
Sumireko takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and lets it out in a rush. "The yakuza are after me."
"What did you do?" Hasegawa growls.
"Sumireko..." I begin.
"Gnnuh!" Sumireko throws her arms up in frustration. "It was a stupid occult ball! I thought he was a collector, like me! How was I supposed to know he was a career criminal!?"
"So they want it back," I say.
"I can't give it back. I don't have it anymore. Reimu confiscated it 'for the good of Gensoukyou!'"
"Have you told her?"
"Of course I friggin' told her! I tried to beg, bribe, beat and 'borrow' it off her, but nooooo, she just gave me some crap about living with the consequences of my actions!"
"Well good for her!" Asakura interjects. "It's about time someone put their foot down on this ridiculous hobby of yours! I don't know how you managed to get yourself mixed up with -"
Sumireko abruptly lunges across the table, grabs Asakura's glass of water, and throws it in her face.
Only, it never actually hits her.
"It's not a hobby," Sumireko snarls as the water swirls in midair. "It's my life. I'm psychokinetic. I can move things with my mind, fly, and teleport. They're all perfectly normal things that I've been able to do since the day I was born but nobody believes me."
Asakura slowly opens her eyes, and stares at the water floating an inch from her face. Hasegawa's phone clatters onto the table.
Okazaki slowly leans forwards to poke at it. It swirls around her finger just like water should.
"...okay, hold up," Hasegawa says, pushing her glasses up to rub her eyes. "Let's suppose that, hypothetically, we believe you. Why didn't you say so before?"
"I did say so before."
"You've never done anything like this before!"
"Uh, hello? Levitating chalk anyone?" Sumireko flicks the glass into the air and levitates that as well. The water forms into three orbs that start chasing each other around and dodging Okazaki's finger. "Or how about that time I broke my arm? Hell, I flew up the stairwell twice!"
"Of course nobody's going to believe all of that! You were boasting about it and spouting all that junk about urban legends!"
"Well what should I have done then!?"
"I don't know - act normal!"
"I am normal. You guys are all weird."
Hasegawa sighs and rubs her forehead. "What about you?" she asks, turning to me. "Where do you come into this?"
"I'm a karakasa obake!" I say brightly. I open my umbrella and spin it to face them. "See?"
Everyone stares blankly at me. Including Sumireko.
"...seriously?" Hasegawa deadpans. "What's with the tongue?"
I slump dejectedly. Outsiders are mean.
"Okay," Asakura says, trying to sound composed and not quite succeeding. "Okay. So the yakuza are after you. Why not go to the police?"
"Been there, done that, got shot at," Sumireko says. "The cops are in cahoots."
"Actually, I'm not sure they are," I say.
"What? You were there! That tanuki tried to kill you!"
"Wait, hold up. Tanuki?" Hasegawa asks with a tired scowl.
"Youkai are real," Sumireko replies without looking at her.
"One of the assassins had this," I continue, pulling out and unfolding the piece of paper I found. Everyone leans forward to look.
"...what is it?" Sumireko asks.
"It's fox script."
"What's it say?"
"Nothing important. It's fox script."
"Foxes and tanuki hate each other!"
Sumireko stares blankly for a moment. "Oh. Right."
"Let me get this straight," Hasegawa says, holding one hand up and massaging the bridge of her nose with the other. "You stole some occult whatchamacallit -"
"- occult whatchamacallit off the yakuza. Who are run by foxes. And the police are full of tanuki."
"We've only seen one tanuki, and this, but that's the most likely scenario," I say. "Where there's one, there's bound to be more."
"Right. So, which manga is this?"
"...what's a manga?" I ask.
Hasegawa drops her head onto the table, knocking her glasses off.
"It... does sound rather unbelievable," Asakura says, still eyeing the levitating water warily.
Sumireko deposits the glass on the table and the water back inside it. Okazaki makes an 'aww' sound.
"Welcome to my world," Sumireko says, slumping forward onto her elbows. "Sumireko the freak. Soon to be Sumireko the dead."
"Don't say that!" I exclaim.
"Why not? It's true." She sniffles.
"It is not!"
"There are youkai out to kill me. Real, live youkai."
"I can handle youkai! And humans, if it comes that!"
"And? Then what? When the real police find the bodies, what next?" Sumireko half-sobs. "Dammit, I just killed someone!"
Sumireko's classmates all pale.
"...we'll figure something out. And if we can't, then... then you can come to Gensoukyou."
"Hah. Fat chance. Reimu'll never allow it."
"I'll make her allow it! I'll, I'll get Sanae and the other goddesses to back me up!"
"Where would I live? What would I do?"
"You could live with me. And you're young, and smart. You could do anything you set your mind to."
"Why would you do that?" Sumireko whispers. "I barely even know you."
"Because I can. Because I should. Someone has to help the helpless, right?"
Sumireko chokes out a laugh. A tearful laugh that opens the floodgates.
I pull her into a hug.
Okazaki immediately gets up and hugs her from behind.
Asakura sighs, walks around the table, and puts her arms around both of them.
Hasegawa rolls her eyes, pushes her glasses back up and joins in.
"What a crybaby," she mutters.
Sumireko buries her face in my shoulder and starts openly sobbing.
Once Sumireko has gotten it all out of her system, Asakura summons a servant and orders food for all of us. The servant, for his part, doesn't seem perturbed in the slightest, and returns with the meals in no time. Not quite Sakuya quick, but still. The Asakura household must be awfully rich.
All five of us eat in silence. Sumireko and I missed lunch, so we're too busy stuffing our faces to talk. Asakura looks on dissapprovingly at our poor table manners, but doesn't say anything. Okazaki and Hasegawa also eat with gusto, and Okazaki declares it's the best food she's tasted in years. If I hadn't been spoiled by the likes of Sakuya and Tenshi, I'd agree with her.
I do anyway, just to be polite.
"So," Sumireko says once the table has been cleared. "What do we do now?"
"Well..." I look around. "...I don't suppose you have a map of Tokyo?"
Sumireko pulls out her phone, taps a few buttons on it, and presents it to me.
"Um, no, I need something bigger," I say.
Asakura raises her eyebrows, then leaves the room for a few minutes. When she returns, she unfolds a large paper map that covers the whole table.
"Perfect! Um, could I trouble you for some paper and something to write with, too?"
Asakura procures all that and more from the drawer on the other side of the room, and I set to work. The others all watch in fascinated silence.
"What are you doing?" Sumireko eventually asks.
"Divination," I reply. "I'm divining the location of every the youkai in city."
"You can do that?" she asks.
"Better than anyone I know." Dowsing is different, Nazrin doesn't count!
Besides, I doubt even Nazrin could find these youkai. Most of them are hiding themselves in some way or another, and they're really, really good at it.
But not good enough to fool me.
"...and that's everything I can find," I say, adding one final mark.
"So, wait, each one of these is a person?" Hasegawa says, looking up from her phone. "They're awfully specific. Wouldn't they be moving around or something?"
"Not exactly. Most of them have anti-divination measures up, so I'm not actually looking for them directly," I explain. "But youkai sort of shed magical residue constantly, so I can pick up where they visit most frequently, or anywhere they make heavy use of magic."
"Can you tell what kind of youkai they are?" Sumireko says.
"Not accurately. Not at this distance, using this method."
"What about you?" Asakura asks. I blink in surprise and twist around to look at her behind me. "Can they do the same thing to find you, here?"
Sumireko suddenly looks worried.
"I... don't show up on this at all," I say carefully. "It's... complicated. They could find me if I used my powers, or if they looked for exactly the right thing... but it's unlikely to ever occur to them."
"Does this count as using your powers?" Asakura asks, pointing at the table.
"Nnno, this counts as 'exactly the right thing'."
"Well, I hate to say this, but a lot of these are right on or near police stations," Hasegawa says, glancing between the map and her phone.
"I was afraid of that," Sumireko says.
"That's tanuki for you," I say.
"So what's that?" Asakura says, tapping the map, at a spot where I've placed a cluster of marks.
"I'm... not sure," I reply. "It's definitely frequented by half a dozen distinct youkai, but they've done a very good job of covering their tracks. And there's something... odd, about it."
"Odd how?" Sumireko asks.
"Un-youkai-like. Almost like a human magic user, but not quite."
"Humans can learn magic?" Okazaki asks, speaking up for the first time.
"...depends," I reply. "You'd need the right tools, the right mindset, and extra precautions, but it's technically possible for most humans."
Okazaki looks thougthful. There's a glint in her eyes I'm not sure I like.
"According to 'net, there's nothing there," Hasegawa says. "Just some industrial warehouses down by the docks. No idea what they're used for."
Asakura leans over the table and peers at the tiny phone screen.
"Iron ore," she says confidently.
"...how the hell could you possibly know that?" Hasegawa asks, staring.
Asakura looks smug. "You mean you haven't heard of Asakura Engineering? We run, among other things, an integrated steel mill. And I just happen to know that depot belongs to our main supplier of iron ore. In fact, I've seen that exact address on dozens of shipment invoices."
We all stare at Asakura in stunned silence.
"...oh, come on. You didn't think the sole heir to a company that size would sit around doing nothing all day?"
"You're still in high school!" Sumireko protests.
"So are you, and look where it's taken you."
"...don't remind me."
Asakura's smirk vanishes. "Sorry."
"Okay, so what would a bunch of youkai, and/or magic-using humans, want with a warehouse full of iron ore?" Hasegawa asks.
"Well if it were me, I'd want to make stuff out of it!" I say cheerfully, getting a few odd looks. "Buuut I wouldn't go around stealing it. It's not valuable or anything, is it?"
"Not in quantities practical to steal," Asakura says.
"And it's not like it'd take a whole bunch of youkai hanging around and using magic to do it."
"Unless they were stealing it in quantity?" Hasegawa suggests.
"But then someone would notice, right?"
Hasegawa glances at Asakura. "Yeah."
"So it's probably just an out-of-the-way spot to hide," I conclude.
"Hide what?" Sumireko asks.
A grin starts to spread across my face. "Why don't we find out?"
Sumireko blinks. "What?"
"Well, we know the yakuza want you, and at least one of them is a fox. We know there are youkai in the police, and at least one of them is a tanuki. So whoever is after you has not one but two reasons to avoid the police, and is somewhere on this map."
"And whoever it is can afford to send goons with submachineguns after a single high school girl," Hasegawa adds. "So they're not small-timers."
"Exactly!" I say, and tap the marks on the warehouses. "Fox youkai don't think small, and they're well-known for their magical prowess. This is just the sort of thing they'd be up to."
Asakura sighs. "I never thought I'd be having a serious conversation about youkai foxes and magic."
"Sounds like a great movie plot!" Okazaki says brightly.
"Or a really bad fanfic," Hasegawa mutters.
Sumireko smirks. "Speaking from experience, are we?"
"Shut up, occultician."
"Enough, you two," Asakura says. "Even if this the right place, what are you going to do about them? This is the yakuza we're talking about. Hardened criminals. Who apparently want you dead. If you can't trust the police, then what?"
All eyes turn to me.
"Convince them to stop wanting us dead," I say solemnly. "By force, if necessary."
"Ahahahaha, hang on a minute," Sumireko says. "Didn't you say there was, like, six youkai in there? Are you seriously suggesting we can take them all?"
"Sure we can. We've got the best weapon of them all." I grin. "Surprise!"
Sumireko looks unconvinced.
"...we can't just keep running, Sumireko." I say gently. "Things are only going to get worse from here. Unless you want to head for Gensoukyou now, we need to go on the offensive. And the sooner we do, the greater our chances of success. If we wait until they've seen all our tricks, things are going to get messy. Very messy."
Sumireko hangs her head. "...I don't know if I can do it."
"You don't have to if you don't want to. I can go alone-"
"No!" Sumireko's head jerks back up again. "...no. This mess isn't your fault. It's mine. If anything I should be the one going alone."
"Absolutely not," Asakura snaps. "Usami, if you even think of running off on your own I'm going to the police, tanuki or no tanuki."
"And if I go with her?" Sumireko challenges. "What then?"
Asakura hesitates, then shakes her head. "This whole thing is insane. All of it. I can't believe I'm taking either of you seriously." She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. "I'll wait until this time tomorrow. If I haven't heard from you by then..."
Silence. Asakura looks around the table. Hasegawa sighs and rubs her forehead. Okazaki stares at the map with a complicated expression.
"...so," Sumireko says. "How are we going to do this?"
[ ] Surprise and exterminate. It's a time-tested formula, with guaranteed results. [ ] Investigate and negotiate. Maybe we'll find some leverage if we snoop around for a bit. [ ] Infiltrate and manipulate. It's a long shot, but we might just be able to trick the tricksters.
Last vote. Probably. Let's see if I can finish this thing while I'm in the groove.
[X] Surprise and exterminate. It's a time-tested formula, with guaranteed results.
I think Kogasa might be on the way to earning herself a few worshipers now. As for the foxes... they made their choice. They don't get to complain about the results. And if that means we have to dust off the old skills, then so be it. In fact, this way might be better in a sense; great and terrible vengeance for even minor slights is certainly a famous trait among the gods, is it not?
[x] Surprise and exterminate. It's a time-tested formula, with guaranteed results.
"The simple way," I decide. "We sneak in, make sure it's them, and hit them with everything we've got."
"What if it's not enough?" Sumireko asks, frowning anxiously. "There's only two of us, and who knows how many of them."
"That's why we sneak," I explain. "We don't need to fight them all, just the leaders. Bite the head off the snake and the body will die with it."
Sumireko's frown deepens. "You sound like you've done this before."
I hesitate for a moment, then let out a long sigh. "I have. It's not something I like to advertise, for obvious reasons, but..." I shrug, grinning sheepishly.
"What are you, some kind of ninja?" Hasegawa asks.
"...close enough," I say evasively. "I, uh, have a few preparations to make before we head out. Can you spare some more paper, and a brush...?"
"Anything in those drawers is yours," Asakura says promptly, pointing.
"Thank you," I say, bowing awkwardly. "Er, it's probably safer if you don't watch, this time..."
Asakura takes the hint immediately. "We should contact your parents and let them know you're staying over," she says to Hasegawa and Okazaki. "Unless you'd rather go home?"
She swifty herds the others out of the room. Hasegawa gives me one last suspicious glare, and Okazaki pauses in the doorway.
"Stay safe, okay?" she says, casting a concerned look at Sumireko.
"She'll be safe with me, I promise," I say.
Okazaki smiles and leaves.
"You want me out of the way too, or...?" Sumireko asks.
"You can stay if you want, but... well, don't try to copy any of it. Or tell anyone."
Sumireko nods, and starts helping me clear the table.
I set my brush down and take a deep breath. I've really gone and done it this time. Not just the basics, like I did during the Incident; this is the nasty stuff. Stuff that should have died out centuries ago, and for good reason.
I remember it all as though it were yesterday.
Sumireko looks up from her own work. She helped me prepare the paper and ink and other mundane tasks, then started making something she called 'Zener cards', more to pass the time than anything else, or so she said. They're a lot simpler than my ofuda, and use some kind of Western symbolism that I'm not familiar with.
"Here," I say, picking up one of the freshly-dried ofuda and offering it to her. "Hide this somewhere on you, in contact with your skin."
"What is it?" she asks, taking it.
"A concealment charm. It... makes you hard to find. It won't make you invisible or anything, but if they do notice you and you manage to get away, they'll have a lot of trouble finding you again, even if they try divination or your hiding place is really obvious." I grin. "They also won't recognise you if they see you again later, which is the important part."
"What if we get caught on camera?"
"I don't know. Try not to. It also won't do much to stop people who already know you from identifying you, but it's better than nothing."
Sumireko gestures at the table. "What do the rest of these do?"
"Bad things," I say grimly. "Most of them target youkai specifically, since they're the bigger threat, but some of them work on humans too." I point carefully at specific sets of characters. "This is youkai writing. Foxes sometimes use designs like these too. Both them and these will injure, incapacitate or kill you if you touch them, so watch out."
Sumireko swallows. "Thanks for the warning."
"Normally I'd give you a youkai-repelling charm as well, but every youkai in the city would notice it." I grimace. "And if they knew anything about history they'd be competing to see who could kill us first."
"Bad idea," Sumireko says, nodding.
"Very," I agree. "Are you done with yours?"
"Huh? Oh, these." Sumireko casually tosses the cards she's holding into the air, and they rapidly fan out around her. "They're just a little easier to manipulate than ordinary paper. Nothing magical like yours."
A through occurs, and I offer her another ofuda.
"This is a barrier charm, a bit like Reimu's. It's limited-use and can be avoided, so save it for if a youkai throws a spell or something you don't think you can stop yourself at you. Just hold it up with the writing facing outward. You have to be quick though, and it can slice your fingers off if they're in the way, so stick it to your palm or use your levitation ability."
"R-right," Sumireko says, taking it very carefully. "It won't go off in my pocket, will it?"
"You have to be touching the back and something else has to strike the front, at the same time," I explain. "It wasn't really designed for humans, I'm afraid. I'm not sure it's quick enough to stop bullets either. Save it for magic."
"Got it." She sticks the first charm down her shirt, and carefully tucks the second into her pocket.
Then she takes a deep breath. "We're really doing this, then?"
"It's now or never," I reply.
Sumireko stares at the backs of her hands as they grip the table for a moment. Then she pushes to her feet, Zener cards flying into her pockets.
I scoop my own weapons up and follow her out the door.
It's a long trip to our destination, cutting right across the city. We make most of the journey by air, relying on the darkness, Sumireko's ESP and my concealment charms to avoid being spotted. It's a little nerve-wracking, but on the upside, we don't run into any more ambushes and we make much better time.
And Nue was right about the view.
We circle the docks for an aerial survey, then approach the warehouses from the landward side, where there's more cover to hide our approach.
"Five youkai, all kitsune," I confirm. "I can tell there's humans around too, but I can't tell where. Can you?"
"Yeah," Sumireko says, eyes staring into the distance as she concentrates. "There's about... thirty or so people around. And a whole lot of guns." She shivers.
"Not dock workers then?" I ask.
Sumireko shakes her head emphatically. I turn my attention back to the buildings.
"The strongest youkai is almost always the leader, and the strongest youkai here is... there," I say, pointing. "Right near one of the others."
"That building, at the far end. I think it's on the top floor Can you see anything there?"
Sumireko frowns. "Point straight at it again?"
I point. Sumireko leans over to look along my arm.
"...okay, got it. Let's try another angle."
We carefully skirt around the site, getting closer to where I think our target is. Sumireko asks me to point at it another two times.
"I... think I've found it," she says at last. "There's an office or something on the top floor, overlooking... whatever is in the rest of the building." She scrunches her eyes shut. "I should be able to see it perfectly from here, but it's... blurry, for some reason."
"It's warded," I say. "I can feel it too. Whatever's in there, they really don't want anyone to see it."
"Well it's not iron ore, that's for sure," Sumireko says, opening her eyes. "Way too much movement going on in there."
"Can you find a way to the office?" I ask.
Sumireko turns to face me, eyes unfocused for a moment. "...yeah, that part of the building's clear. There's a lot of guards though."
"Leave them to me. Can you spot cameras too?"
Sumireko nods. "Yup. Loads of them. I think I can dodge them, though."
I grin. "Having someone with sight like yours sure is handy!"
Sumireko looks away. "I'd rather not be using it to plan an assassination, if it's all the same to you."
"...they tried to kill you, Sumireko. Twice."
Sumireko sighs. "I know." She stands. "Let's go. Before I lose my nerve."
We make our way back around to a spot I picked earlier and jump the fence with ease. Sumireko uses gestures and the occasional telekinetic nudge to direct me around cameras and guards I can't see. Modern technology, and the absence of ambient magic to highlight human presences, makes me very uncomfortable.
We come up against the back wall of a small brick extension to the main warehouse. I double-check there's no spells at work - I haven't felt any magic at all outside the building - and gesture towards my mouth and ear.
"We can talk here," Sumireko replies softly, "but keep it down."
"What's on the other side of this wall?" I ask.
"Is anyone using it?"
"Can we get into the main building from here?"
"...yes, but how are we going to get in?"
I turn my attention to the small window next to me. It's protected by heavy steel bars, welded into a frame and held in place by large sturdy bolts. There's no way I could break through that undetected.
The wall, on the other hand...
I grip the bars, feeling around the bulky frame carefully, and give the whole thing a sharp tug. The bolts rip clean out of the masonry with a crunch. I wince at the sound, and pause, listening carefully.
...nothing. I put the bars down.
Sumireko is staring at me with wide eyes.
"...what?" I ask. "I've seen you move things that big loads of times!"
"Not with my bare hands!"
Sumireko shakes off her surprise and unlatches the tiny window so we can slip inside, a maneuver that would have been a lot harder if it weren't for the fact that we can both fly.
We continue flying afterwards, too. There are spells that can detect magical flight, but whoever is in charge here seems to be restricting magic use to the warded section, and they wouldn't pick up Sumireko anyway.
Sumireko suddenly stops and starts to back up. I catch her shoulder, and she holds up two fingers.
I point up.
Two guards round the corner, both carrying the large, bullet-spraying kind of modern firearm, among many other weapons.
Three seconds later, they're both dead.
I point at the bodies and gesture back toward the restroom.
Sumireko hovers in place, staring, hand clamped over her mouth.
I move closer, a concerned frown on my face, and reach toward her shoulder gently.
Sumireko backs away.
I offer my hand instead.
Sumireko looks between it, my face, and the two dead guards.
I smile reassuringly.
She takes a deep breath, and the bodies begin to float.
Two more guards suffer a similar fate.
Then, after ascending to the top floor, Sumireko stops in front of an unremarkable door. I already know why, but she mimes fox ears to confirm it.
I pause in throught for a moment. Then I turn to Sumireko.
I point at her hand. I hold up mine, and make a scratching motion across the palm with my other hand. I hold up an ofuda and mime wiping my palm on it. Then I raise the ofuda to my nose, sniff at it, and point at the door.
Sumireko hesitates for a moment, then fumbles in her pocket, and pulls out a metal object. She fiddles with it briefly, and unfolds a tiny knife. She offers it to me.
I shake my head and point at her.
Sumireko looks alarmed.
I point at myself, open my mouth in a snarl with my fingers as fangs, point at the door, and finally mime punching myself in slow motion. Then I point at Sumireko, point at the door, and lick my lips.
Sumireko looks really alarmed.
I quickly point at the door again, mime walking with my fingers, then point at myself with my other hand, and use that hand to pound the first.
Sumireko frowns worriedly.
I smile cheerfully.
She reaches for my ofuda.
I shake my head and point at her pockets.
She pulls out one of her zener cards and holds it up.
I nod. I point at her hand, the knife, the card, and then at the floor in front of the door. Then I point at her, motion toward the stairwell, point at myself, and gesture at the ceiling.
Sumireko looks at the door and swallows.
She levitates the card, cuts her thumb, smears the blood on the card, drops it on the floor, sticks her thumb in her mouth and flees.
I press myself against the ceiling and wait.
A minute passes.
Finally, I feel the fox stirring.
The door opens.
A multi-tailed figure emerges.
She spots the card.
I sit up, upside-down, and slap an ofuda over her mouth.
Three things happen at once: she looks up, eyes wide with panic and pain, her back arches, and her knees buckle. She claws frantically at the seal, but only succeeds in snaring her fingers as well. The seal rapidly starts spreading over her, wrapping around her like paper bandages before starting to constrict. Her writhing form is slowly crushed smaller and smaller, until only the original seal remains, before it, too, burns away into nothing.
All without the slightest sound.
I drop down from the ceiling and quickly dispose of the bloodied zener card as well.
Sumireko returns from the stairwell, eyes wide and hands covering her mouth.
I give her a friendly grin.
The room on the other side of the door is empty.
The door on the other side of the room is open.
A four-tailed fox woman is glaring at me.
"You!" she snarls.
I have just enough time to make an aborted shoving motion in Sumireko's direction.
The next thing I know I'm on the floor and my vision is full of stars.
I freeze, already on all fours, and instead turn my head slowly toward the voice.
The fox woman is standing where I was a moment ago, one arm held out to the side, one clawed hand fastened around Sumireko's throat. Sumireko is as white as chalk and unmoving, save for her eyes.
"It really is you," the fox woman says, a nasty grin slowly spreading across her face. "Remember me, you two-faced bitch?"
"N... not particularly," I wheeze.
The fox woman hisses in fury. Her eyes actually glow like hot coals. And more importantly, she shakes Sumireko violently. Sumireko makes a choking sound and claws at the fox's hand, trying in vain to loosen her grip.
"Maybe this will jog your memory," fox woman says.
Her form ripples and changes. The black 'turtleneck' sweater and jeans (at least I think that's what they're called) disappear, to be replaced by a fancy kimono. Her blond hair lengthens from chin-length and winds itself into an elaborate bun. Makeup appears on her face, her claws turn into painted nails, her tails vanish and an ornate kiseru appears in her free hand.
"A long time ago, in city not so far away," she begins, slowly advancing, still effortlessly holding Sumireko up with one arm, "I was a simple courtesan. Fooling great men with my looks, marrying into greatness, sleeping my way to the top. Forgettable, maybe even contemptible, but most importantly, harming no-one."
She shakes Sumireko like a ragdoll again.
"Then along comes a grubby little youkai exterminator. Poor, homeless, wandering vagrant, or so he says. My then-husband, magnanimous idiot that he was, took him in at once. So I tucked in my tails and minded my manners, waiting for him to move on."
She smiles. It's not a nice smile.
"But she wasn't all that she seemed. In fact, I soon learned that she was a youkai, just like me. Quite a crafty little one, hiding she was least expected. And she had a downright devious scheme to go with it. 'Accidentally' out myself as a fox, she said, and play along with her little 'extermination', and we could split the reward money."
The fox lady puts her pipe-holding left hand on her hip and shifts her weight onto that foot, highlighting her curves.
"I'd grown quite tired of my husband's antics by then, so naturally I agreed. It was a win-win situation for all involved; she'd get the money, I'd be free to go on my way with a tidy little nest egg, and he'd learn a valuable lesson about thinking with his big head instead of his little one. There was only one tiny little problem."
Here eyes narrow and she leans forward slightly to glare at me.
"It was all lies. When the big day came, there was no play-acting. That traitorous, tanuki-humping whoresomehow managed to hold onto the seals of the legendary Abe clan itself long enough to seal me under an Inari shrine for EIGHT. HUNDRED. YEARS."
A trickle of drool runs down Sumireko's chin as she struggles to breathe.
"And now you have the NERVE, the GALL, the FILTHY, DESPICABLE ARROGANCE to show your face in front of me AGAIN." The fox woman looms over me, eyes burning like minature suns. "WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF, YOU CRAWLING MAGGOT?"
Sumireko's fist connects with the fox-woman's ribcage, just below the armpit.
My barrier charm fires, slicing the youkai's arm clean off.
The fox woman yowls and staggers in surprise and pain, illusion crumbling back to her modern appearance. Sumireko tears the severed-but-still-moving limb off her throat, ripping one of the fingers clean off with the sheer explosive force of her telekinesis, and throws herself down the stairwell.
The fox woman lets out an ear-splitting roar that sounds somewhere between a scream of pain and rage and the cry of a fox.
The floor where I'd been kneeling explodes from the impact of her fist.
The fist she didn't have a second ago.
The second punch narrowly grazes past my chin.
Suddenly I'm on my back, with what feels like a hole in my stomach, looking up at the ceiling, between a desk and a filing cabinet.
The desk vanishes explosively.
A hand grabs my throat, crushing my windpipe like an overcooked noodle.
I slap a youkai-killing ward on its wrist.
The fox woman tears her arm off and throws it across the room.
I struggle to breathe with a crushed windpipe and no diaphragm. I fail.
The fox watches my charm devour her arm.
"...again. Again." She rounds on me, her face twisted with pure fury. "YOU. YOU ARE AN ABOMINATION." She grabs me by the shirt and flings me across the room. "LET'S SEE HOW YOU LIKE A TASTE OF YOUR OWN MEDICINE!"
I bounce off the wall and land on all fours. My body is furiously healing enough damage to get air into my lungs, but I still barely have the strength to stand.
A hand slaps my back.
PAIN IN MY BACK
PAIN IN MY CHEST
PAIN IN MY EVERYTHING
"Hahahahahahaha! Looks like you burn just like the rest of us!"
I raise my eyes to glare at the fox-woman. She's not very steady, but...
...I can see her!
She stares at me, eyes wide, brows furrowed.
"You have got to be fucking kidding me."
"...go... to... hell..." I rasp.
Her eyebrows go up.
She grabs my hair.
"One one-way ticket to hell, coming riiiiiiight up!"
She grabs my umbrella.
My arms are too weak to resist.
"Step right this way for our first-class service!"
She kicks a door open and drags me thought it, onto a metal walkway.
I can see machines.
Lots of machines.
"Give my regards to Satan, wretch!"
She whacks something with my umbrella. A lever.
Loud grinding. Growling.
She holds me up to her face.
"You'll be seeing him real soon."
Hard to breathe.
I struggle against my leaden limbs, trying turn onto my back, keep my face to the searing but breathable air.
I shake my head and blink furiously to clear my eyes.
The ward on my shoulder.
The youkai writing that I recognise so well.
The weight falls away from my limbs in an instant. I complete my half-turn onto my back with ease, and suck in a deep breath.
I'm lying in a pool of molten metal in the biggest furnace I've ever seen. A blast of furiously hot air is constantly beating down on me, and it, from above.
The fireproofing magic I learned as a blacksmith just saved my life.
...ow. Still smarting from the fight, but I'm alive.
I lie there for a moment longer, gathering my strength, but it really isn't a good spot to relax in.
After a bit of paddling, and searching, I find a way out. Molten steel flows past me. It's small, but it doesn't seem to be obstructed.
I wiggle through.
As soon as I'm out, I stop and wring every last drop of molten metal out of my hair and clothes. It's impossible to get the stuff out after it cools. I speak from experience on this one.
Then I look around.
I'm in the warded portion of the warehouse. It's a wide, open space, full of loud, metal machines, crashing away.
Molten metal is flowing out of the seal-covered furnace, being poured into molds, set, removed, and further machined, into...
They're making weapons!
My little revelation is interrupted by a chunk of heavy machinery flying at me.
I dodge it just in time.
Total pandemonium erupts.
People and machines are flying everywhere.
A giant, misshapen steel fist pounds a fleeing kitsune into a bloody stain.
I dive behind one of the many pieces of machinery and scramble away from the main furnace.
Away from the roar of the machines, and the magical ringing of so many seals in such a small space, I can hear voices.
"Stop her! Shoot her!"
"She's a monster!"
"Let me out! I didn't sign up for this!"
"You cowardly fools! Run the other way!"
"Save me! Please god save me!"
Sumireko is floating in the far corner of the room. Her eyes are wild, tears a streaming down her face, and her mouth is lock in something between a laugh and a scream. Two giant metal hands are flying around the room, mimicking her own hands, pulverising everything.
Machines. Youkai. Humans.
"You useless, spineless, incompetent -"
The fox woman that nearly killed me is barking orders at the top of her voice, but nobody is listening.
So she attacks Sumireko herself.
Sumireko swats her out of the air like a bug.
She slams into a nearby piece of machinery with force to embed her in the metal. She spasms a few times, trying to free herself.
I pour all the power I can muster into her, channeling more and more heat, burning her head, burning her body, melting the machinery, melting the floor.
I don't stop until I run dry, and all that's left is a molten puddle.
I drop onto all fours, panting for breath.
The warehouse falls silent.
After what feels like an eternity, I get to my feet.
I step over a piece of unrecognisably mangle metal and cast my eyes all around.
After a minute or two, I spot her.
Sitting in a corner, hugging her knees, shaking.
She doesn't seem to notice my approach, staring sightlessly ahead, breathing in shuddering gasps.
I triple-check that I've cooled off, and gently grab her shoulder.
She yelps and scrambles away from me.
"K-K-K-Kogasa?" she gibbers, looking around wildly.
"I'm right here."
Sumireko finally seems to notice me.
"I... I t-t-though you were dead."
"T-t-t-the fox youkai, she -"
"She's gone now. It's okay."
I pull Sumireko into a hug, as she breaks down sobbing.
"...feeling better now?" I ask.
"...a bit," she whispers. "Oh god. I... I've never been so scared..."
"You're safe now. It's okay."
Sumireko stirs, and I help her shakily to her feet. She just stands there for a while, head down, steadying her breathing.
Then she looks up.
She takes an unsteady step forward. I hover beside her, ready to catch her if she topples.
"Oh god. What have I done?"
Sumireko shakes free of my grip, and her steps get steadier as she approaches the nearest piece of debris.
The head and shoulders of a crushed human being stick out from under the pile, in a growing pool of blood.
Sumireko dry heaves. She clamps her hand over her mouth, but doesn't look away. She takes another step forward and retches again.
Then she squeezes her eyes shut and vomits as if her life depended on it.
She continues long after her stomach is empty.
"Hey." I gently rub her back.
"...I killed them," she whispers.
"You were defending yourself."
"I'm a mass murderer."
"They were tying to kill you."
"They were running away."
I don't have a response for that.
"They were running away, and I killed them. Crushed them like ants. Oh god. I'm a monster."
I pull Sumireko into a hug, ignoring the smell.
"I'm sorry," I say. "I failed you. I promised I would protect you and I didn't."
"I wasn't strong enough."
Sumireko puts her arms around me, slowly. "Thank you. For being here."
"What!? I dragged you into this!"
"It wasn't your fault."
"It was entirely my fault!"
Sumireko shakes her head. I can feel her hair tickling my neck. "It was my fault. Reimu was right. I was stupid, and I paid the price."
I release Sumireko and look her in the eyes.
"No, okay? Don't think like that. You made a mistake. We all make mistakes. I made mistakes. I shouldn't have sealed that fox. I shouldn't have underestimated her. I shouldn't have let her get you. Those were my mistakes, and I'm sorry."
"You made mistakes. You shouldn't have stolen that occult ball. You shouldn't have angered Reimu and lost it. Those were your mistakes, and I forgive you. Can you forgive me?"
Sumireko stares at me. Then lets out a single 'heh' of a giggle, and drops her head onto my shoulder.
"Of course I forgive you," she whispers.
We stand in silence for a moment.
"...now what," Sumireko asks.
"...we leave," I reply. "Before the cops show up."
I pause, and look at Sumireko.
"This... still happened," Sumireko says, gesturing at the wreckage. "I still did it."
"We can't just walk away, like it didn't happen!"
My mouth works soundlessly as I try to form a rebuttal.
I'm interrupted by the sound of a door scraping open. A woman steps into the room, and looks around. She spots us in short order.
"...well, well well," she says. "Credit where credit is due, Miss Tatara, you work fast."
"The Commissioner!" Sumireko gasps.
Three more people file in behind the 'Commissioner'. All of them have tanuki ears and tails.
One of them is Sarutobi, still grinning smugly.
"Here we've been trying to find the foxes' hideout for years, and you wipe them out in an afternoon," the bakedanuki Commissioner continues. "Messily, might I add, but all things considered, I think you've saved us a great deal of trouble."
"Got the foxes out of your turf, you mean?" I ask.
The Commissioner snorts. "I mean you busted their gun-running ring before any more innocent bystanders got hurt."
I snort back. "You're a tanuki. What do you care?"
The Commissioner gives me an incredulous look. "My dear girl, I'm a policewoman. It's my duty to care."
"You're a tanuki," I repeat.
"Yes. Quite. How very observant," she smiles humorlessly. "But as strange as it may be to you humans, I am also a policewoman. And I do care." Her smile softens. "Which is why I would like to offer you a deal."
My eyes narrow. "What kind of deal?"
The Commissioner raises her hands plaintively. "Don't worry, I'm not trying to trick you. In fact, I'm not asking you for anything at all. All I'm saying, is..." she gestures at the carnage, "you've made quite a mess here, Miss Tatara. But you've done us, and the city, a great service, so I'm willing to use my influence to make it... go away." She smiles knowingly. "And all I ask in return is that you leave use peaceful, law-abiding tanuki alone."
"Law-abiding," I repeat flatly.
"...well, okay, maybe we do have a few..." she makes a wavering gesture with one hand "...legally gray operations running on the side. But nobody gets hurt. Not for any price." She smiles widely. "Tanuki's honor."
"You tried to kill me," I retort.
"Ah, yes, that." The Commissioner turns to Sarutobi. "I believe Chief Inspector Sarutobi here owes you a most profound apology." Sarutobi somehow manages to look smug and contrite at the same time. "While we do prize initiative, as a rule, there is a fine line between that and... jumping the gun, as it were. He will be appropriately reprimanded, mark my word." She flashes a professional smile. "Thank you for sparing his life, by the way. It was most generous of you."
...as strange as it may be to you humans...
Thank you for sparing his life, by the way.
...that it. That's what I'm missing here!
The four tanuki in front of me are absolutely terrified of me!
"What about the Sergeant?" I ask, taking a step forward. "Matsuda, I think it was? I didn't hurt him too badly on my way out, did I?"
"Oh, he's fine," the Commissioner replies. "Rattled, but fine. You got him good; he doesn't even remember what hit him."
"And Sumireko?" I press.
"Who?" The Commissioner replies, eyebrows rising. "I don't know any Sumirekos, I'm afraid. Chief Inspector?"
Sarutobi shakes his head, still grinning. "No ma'am. Don't know anyone by that name."
"...and it's going to stay that way?" I ask, smirking.
"Of course," the Commissioner replies. "Can't remember what I don't know!"
This time it's my turn to put on a professional smile. "Well then, Madam Commissioner, I'd say it's been a pleasure doing business with you."
She bows low. "The pleasure is all mine, I assure you."
"Maybe next time I'll be able to enjoy my stay a bit more, hmmm?"
"I ferverently hope so."
"Come on," I say to Sumireko, still smiling, "we wouldn't want to get in the way of a police operation, now would we?"
* * *
That's the most words I've ever written in one go. Final part coming as soon as I've caught my breath.
As soon as I'm sure we're out of sight of the warehouse and prying youkai eyes, I stop and sag against the nearest wall.
"Ow," I summarize.
"...ow," Sumireko agrees. She touches her throat gingerly and winces.
"You okay?" I ask.
"Just bruised, I think." She winces again. "I'm gonna look like hell in the morning. How am I going to explain this..." She sniffs at the air, then her hand, and finally me.
"...you smell like burnt metal."
"Molten metal, actually." I grin weakly. "I, um, went for a swim in the furnace."
Sumireko looks at me like I'm crazy. "You're not even singed."
I grin. "Yup! I work with hot stuff all the time, so I learned how to make myself fireproof. Safety first!"
I let my face and head fall, and go back to being really, really tired. Sumireko remains silent for a while too, before speaking up again.
"The story that fox youkai told... was it true?"
I close my eyes. "Yes."
"...why'd you do it?"
I take a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "I panicked. She saw through my disguise, I panicked, and... I silenced her. I thought if I sealed her instead of killing her, she'd have another chance after I was long gone, but..." I lapse into silence for a while. "Maybe shouldn't have sealed her. Maybe she wouldn't have turned out like... that. Or maybe I wouldn't be around to wonder. I try not to think about it."
I finally gather the courage to raise my head. Sumireko watches me with a neutral expression.
"She wasn't the only one," I say softly. "Not by a long shot."
Sumireko shifts her weight from foot to foot. The corners of her mouth twitch up slightly. "Sounds like you have some experience at this whole monster thing."
"Sooo... any advice?"
I stare at Sumireko tiredly, suddenly feeling every bit of my age.
"Just keep moving forward," I suggest. "You can't change the past, so make the future better instead."
I nearly jump out of my skin at the sudden cacophony of honking. I spin around - regretting it already - and spot...
...Yakumo Yukari, sitting in a car with no roof, smiling broadly.
"Need a lift?" She asks cheerily.
"...Miss Yukari?" I ask, mind still catching up with my eyes. "What are you doing here?"
"Oh, I just happened to be in the area," Yukari replies with an airy wave. "And you two look dead on your feet! Come on, hop in. I'll take you home!"
"...who is this?" Sumireko asks, frowning suspiciously.
"You remember who I said sent me out here? Yakumo Yukari?" I ask. "This is her."
"How do you do, Miss Usami?" Yukari says, extending her hand out of a gap.
"Gyah!" Sumireko squeaks and hides behind me.
"Now, now, no need to be shy," Yukari chides, withdrawing her hand. "I'm not here to spirit you away or anything. Unless you want to go with your new friend?"
"You'll take me back to Gensoukyou?" I ask, cautiously approaching the car.
"Certainly! It wouldn't do to leave you here to fend for yourself, would it?" She makes an impatient 'come here' gesture. "Chop chop, night's not getting any younger you know!"
I tug carefully at the door handle and sit in the seat beside Yukari, feeling a bit awkward. Sumireko looks between the two of us with a worried expression, and climbs into the seat behind me. She pulls a strap of some kind across her shoulder and waist and fastens it with a click. I fumble around trying to do the same, until Yukari reaches across and does it for me.
Then she twiddles something I can't see, and the car roars to life. It's a much deeper sound than I was expecting, from the other cars I've heard.
Yukari pulls at a lever and turns the big wheel-shaped thing in front of her, and the car rolls smoothly forward.
...this is kinda neat.
"Anyone feel like stopping for some ice cream on the way home?" Yukari suddenly asks, glancing our way and smiling. "It's my treat. I have a bit of spending money thanks to a certain someone, after all."
"...money?" I ask, not really sure I want to know.
"Ran and I had a little wager going on whether you'd beat that old fox." Yukari smiles wider. "I bet on you, naturally."
"You were watching!?" I exclaim.
"But of course!"
"Why didn't you help then!?" Sumireko demands from behind me.
"Where's the fun in that?" Yukari asks. "Oh, stop looking at me like that. I'd have stepped in if you'd landed in serious trouble." She smiles infuriatingly again. "But you pulled through all by yourselves! Now isn't that something?"
"I didn't have to kill all those people!" Sumireko fumes.
"No, you didn't," Yukari replies, all teasing gone from her voice. "Yet you still chose to. Why was that, I wonder?"
I twist around in my seat. Sumireko gapes at Yukari with a horrified expression before looking away.
"It was quite a feat for a human, if I may say so. I'm honestly impressed."
"Don't talk about it like it's a good thing!" Sumireko snaps. "I'm human, not a, a, maneating youkai!"
"Well if you're that worried about it, I know some excellent therapists!" Yukari replies cheerfully.
Sumireko glares daggers at her.
"I'm serious, Miss Usami. There are people you can talk to about this. Don't take my word for it; I happen to know that your little friend thinks quite highly of them too."
"I do?" I ask.
"Who, then?" Sumireko asks sullenly.
"For a start, I'd suggest talking to Reimu." Yukari glances at our reactions and smiles, gently this time. "Yes, really. Just tell her you want a proper consultation, and make a donation to show you're serious."
"But Reimu hates me," Sumireko objects.
"I highly doubt that. And even if she did, she can be impartial when she needs to. It's quite literally her job. Now," Yukari steers the car off the road and stops, then turns to us.
"Vanilla, chocolate or strawberry?"
I stare at her, then turn around. A glowing sign says... ice cream?
...it's some kind of food?
"Or do you prefer caramel?"
Sumireko looks just as lost as I do.
We do end up getting ice cream. It's like shaved ice, but creamier. And sweeter. So sweet it burns my tongue, and so cold it makes my teeth hurt. But I slowly keep eating it until it's all gone. It's a refreshing snack for a hot summer night.
We're too busy eating to talk, until Yukari stops the car somewhere else.
"Well, here we are!" Yukari says.
"...this is my house," Sumireko says, voice rising in alarm. "How do you know where I live!?"
"Oh, just... practice~" Yukari teases. "Do be sure to call your friends and tell them you're home safe!"
Sumireko scrambles out of the car and stares at Yukari in horror.
"Stay in touch now~!" Yukari calls as she drives off.
"One last detour before we head home," she adds to me.
It turns out to be a rather long detour. It's a good thing this seat is really comfy.
So comfy, I almost doze off.
But eventually Yukari stops, and the car falls silent.
In its place, I can hear...
"Been a while, has it?" Yukari asks as I lean on the handrail and stare out over the ocean.
We both gaze in silence for a while, in the dim light of the stars and the waning moon.
"Sake?" Yukari asks, offering me a small dish. I take it, and sip slowly.
"...I almost couldn't believe my ears when Ran told me what she'd found out about your handiwork during the Incident," Yukari says. "She didn't think much of it, of course; but I knew that Kochiya girl didn't have the skill. I had to see it with my own eyes."
"...you tricked me," I say slowly. "You arranged all of this... just to catch me out?"
"Oh, but that was the beauty of it! I didn't have to arrange a thing! Your skills, your meddling in the village, that girl playing with fire - it all just fell into my lap, three birds with one stone. And to think it would end with you facing off against an old enemy... really, it was almost too good to be true."
"I see." I glance at my sake, then back at Yukari. "So what happens now?"
Yukari looks at me and smiles. "Oh, don't worry. Your secret is safe with me. I know better than to threaten a pupil of the legendary Abe no Seimei while I'm standing within arm's reach."
"Are you... seriously... afraid of me?" I ask slowly.
Yukari positively beams. "Isn't it wonderful? Me, the great Yakumo Yukari, in mortal peril! I haven't felt so alive in centuries!"
...I'm fairly sure she knows all of my ofuda burned up in that furnace, but I don't say that out loud. Just in case. "What about your 'test'? Or was that just an excuse too?"
"Hmm? Oh, that. You passed with flying colors, I'm happy to say."
"Uh... okay? What was it supposed to be about, anyway? I still don't get it."
Yukari watches the waves in silent contemplation for a while before answering. "...I've poured my heart and soul into Gensoukyou. Really I have. To save youkai from extinction, in the face of human advancement... I would give anything to achieve that. Yes, even my life. But in the end, all I've been able to manage is... a stopgap, at best."
She turns around, leaning on the rail, and gestures expansively at the lights of the city.
"Someday all of this will be forgotten. Someday it too will fall into Gensoukyou, just like everything else. The only constant in this world is change. To stop changing is to stagnate. To die. Even Gensoukyou is advancing, little by little; those meddlesome Moriya goddesses are just speeding the process along. I've bought us all some time, but how much? Can we find a solution in time, if there is one at all?"
She stares down at her sake dish, lost in troubled thought.
"I've devoted all the time I can spare to the problem. Run countless simulations. Can humans and youkai ever truly coexist? Can we come to support ourselves without them? Do we flee to another world, like the demons to the Hells? Or do we destroy this one, and start the cycle anew?"
"You can't seriously be considering that!" I blurt out.
"Oh, but I can." Yukari smiles darkly. "It would be so easy. The right whispers in the right ears, the right codes... mankind would destroy itself for us."
"Millions of people would die!"
"Billions, even. And it would be worth it, no?"
I shake my head vehemently. "No. A thousand times no."
Yukari smiles. "You really are noble, aren't you? Such a unique viewpoint for a youkai." Her smile fades. "You're right, though. Even I'm not that callous. But I am desperate. And growing more so, year by year. Sooner or later..."
She pours the last of her sake out on the sand, the wind scattering it in front of her.
"...please prove me wrong," she says softly. "If you can find a way, something I haven't considered, whatever it may be... reach out and take it, with both hands."
I swallow, not sure what to say. This is way beyond me. What could I think of that she couldn't?
"...and as for your meddling in the village," Yukari continues, her old smile returning. "I think you might just have what it takes."
I blink. "What?"
"You've gained a great deal of influence over the village in a very short space of time," Yukari says. "A lot of other youkai are crying foul. Even the tengu, busy rebuilding their own village, are positively beside themselves."
"Some are even calling for you to be eliminated, for so blatantly and openly interfering from within the village itself, in violation of the highest rules of Gensoukyou."
Yukari smirks. "I think I'm going to tell them to put up and shut up. How does that sound?"
"I, uh, eh, huh?" I ask eloquently.
"In fact, I think you're the perfect candidate to act as a peacekeeper."
"Just think about it: you're not affilated with any of the major powers in Gensoukyou. You're certainly not a threat to any of them in person, at least not that they know. And you've repeatedly shown you can be relied upon to put the best interests of the village itself first. Who better to take up the slack? After all," Yukari leans closer conspiratorially, "this little battle has been getting somewhat rowdy as of late, what with the menreiki and the religous war and all that. The thought of you, as a trusted figure in the village, suddenly gaining even more influence, should they overstep their boundaries..."
"U-um..." I lean away from her nervously.
"Oh, don't be like that. All you have to do is keep doing what you have been doing. Lead by example. Simple, no?"
"I-if you say so..."
Yukari nods. "I do." She smiles again. "Now that I've given you so much to think about, how about we get you home and let you sleep on it?"
"Yes please," I say, sagging.
"Don't be a stranger now. You're welcome to visit anytime~"
Sorry (again) for the rushed and crappy ending, but it really didn't match the rest of the story (No 'Banki!? Heresy!), it was hard to write, the plot sucked ass... it was a dumb idea from start to finish. But I covered everything I was going to. I'm a lot of bad things, but a quitter ain't one of 'em.
Thank you to everyone who stuck with me for almost three years of whining, hiatuses, shitty writing, outright shitposting and generally being a tremendous faggot. You're awesome. I'm not worthy.
If you have any questions, flames, gaping plot holes or other critique to throw at me, now's the time. Just about everything in this multi-story pileup is a reference to something or set my easily-distractible mind rolling down the path not taken, so who knows. Maybe I'll turn it into a story.
Speaking of which, I have no intention of stopping writing, if I can have anything to say about it at all. If there's something you want to see more of, let me know. If you want me to go and stay go, let me know. And yes, UMBRELLA (/DOLL) UPDATES WHERE is a perfectly valid option. I actually have a list of stuff I want to write, and might put it to a vote here if people are interested (I'm allergic to decisions), but I'll wait and see if anyone has an idea that's actually good first.
I, ah, prooooobably should have been a bit more specific there.
This story is finished. Completed. Over. Done. Thank you for playing!
I have a second umbrella-centric story all planned out, but there's the small matter of there being another story in between. I'm quite happy to round up my notes and get started right away, leaving all the in-between happenings as (appropriately enough) a surprise, which might even make the story that much more interesting.
But on the other hand, you'd miss out on (actual spoilers here)(Last warning, real spoilers ahoy!)Sanae getting a promotion and her replacement as miko, which I thought was significant enough to warrant its own story.
On the gripping hand, you probably don't want to wait another three years for the return of best tsukumogami either.
So. Yeah. If you want more umbrella, please specify hot or cold.
To echo what's already been said so far, if you're writing it then I'm gonna be reading it, timeskip or no timeskip. This was my favorite currently updating story on the site and I'm sad to see it go, so rest assured that I'll be following along with whatever you decide to post in the future. That being said, if we have a choice in the matter then I'm voting in favor of the timeskip, nothing against Sanae but I want to see more Kogasa and Sekibanki shenanigans given the chance. And as a fan of the umbrella, I certainly have no problem with mysteries and/or surprises. Ultimately you should write whatever you want to write though, I have faith that it'll be good reading whichever way it goes. Looking forward to what comes next, and congratulations on finishing a good story!
> I'd read just about any of these except the /at/ stuff
You did read the first two words of what you're voting for, yes? Just making sure, because this is where >>/at/38248 came from.
...but then I wised up and realized nobody would read a VN where only shitty OCs have routes. There will be plenty of AFT-style shenanigans anyway, but the protag is still butleranon. Who better to drag all of Gensoukyou into a giant groan-inducing clusterfuck of a cricket match, Flight of the Lost Soul style?
> Yuggi vs. Nergigante. You know you want to. > Youmu with Twin Swords, Eirin with the bow, Nitori with a Gunbow, Kokoro with a Longsword... A wet dream.
> Sanae briefly mentioned that she remembered dying, but seemingly respawned. She didn't elaborate. What was up with that, and was there a path that would allow for an explanation?
That was one of the sequel hooks for the Sanae story that nobody showed any interested in. To make a long story short, she was so amped up on faith that she resurrected herself without realizing it. Twice.
How that works, and how badly Sanae freaks out when she finds out, we may never know, since everyone wants more umbrella instead.
> Also relating to the incident's aftermath, Rumia showed up covered in blood iirc and Cirno comforted her. What happened there? Presumably nothing good, but I still want to know if it's possible.
Rumia tried to eat Cirno that morning. You'd have learned that if you'd gone to question Cirno instead of Seija. (But then you wouldn't have solved the Incident.)
Cirno, Rumia and Lily are best buds in my headcanon, thanks to a long-ass backstory I came up with for one of the short story contests but flaked out on (as usual). You may remember them acting close at the Grassroots meeting and the Carnival too.
They show up in the fairy story, incidentally. Might be the only place I get to use all that worldbuilding...
You know, I honestly didn't think of that when I voted for it. I suppose in hindsight the name "Waifu Wars" does make it kind of obvious and maybe I'm just a dumbass, but the thought really never crossed my mind. Still going to vote for it as a distant second to umbrella updates where even so, as you have put the image of fairies playing cricket into my mind and now I can't get it out, which is worth skimming/skipping the occasional uncomfortable segment. That is, unless the lewd content is going to make up the majority of the story, in which case sign me up for the continued adventures of Shanghai and her troublesome sisters, as /at/ stuff is just not my cup of tea at all, sorry.
Like I said, now that I'm seriously thinking of writing it instead of just going "hey that sounds neat let's throw it in" I just can't see it working anymore. Mixing cute antics and sexy time is kind of like molesting your cat. On the off chance it does get any worse than Francesca asking why people wear clothes I'll link off to /at/ proper so you can skip it if you want.
The Chireiden one on the other hand is indeed mostly lewd.
Hey guys. Sorry about the disappearing act. All I have to say for myself is "shit happened".
I haven't even visited THP since my last post here, so it's time I grew a pair and officially declared myself MIA. Hina willing, I'll be back someday, but I don't know when (or even if) that'll be, and trying to pretend otherwise at this point would just make me even more of a loser.
So until then, so long and thanks for all the votes.