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File 15085008455.png - (528.07KB, 1269x901, we seem to have lost a head.png) [iqdb]
40679 No. 40679
Thread 1: >>38346
Thread 2: >>38909

[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.

"Grooosss!"

"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.

"Wah!?"

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.

...umm.

"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~?"

KER-CRACK

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.

Seriously, wow.

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.

"Yep!"

"...is she always like this?"

"Pretty much!"

Medicine looks at Kokoro.

Then she turns around and walks back the way we came.

"Total rejection!?"

"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.

...huh?

"I think your friend needs cheering up."

I look where the woman is indicating, and see Kokoro on all fours.

"But-"

"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."

Silence.

"You're a bit intense, but that's not a bad thing."

Silence.

"You helped me get my umbrella back, and you didn't ask for anything in return."

Silence.

"Well, a lot of things happened, but you were trying, and it worked out in the end, right? That's what really matters."

Silence.

"So, um, thank you, is what I'm trying to say. I never did get to say that, did I?"

"...I failed..."

"Huh?"

"...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.

"Err-"

"You can't tell what I'm thinking at all, can you?"

"Well, ob-"

"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?"

Kokoro blinks.

"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."

"U-um, thanks?"

"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.

"Bu-"

"We should look for Medicine. I think I owe her an apology."

"Wha-!?"

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?"

"...but why?"

"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?"

"Yes."

"...good."

I wait for the next two words, but they don't come.

Quiet footsteps approach from beside us.

"Miss Melancholy?"

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.

"Yes."

"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.

"Hmm?"

"...thanks for the flowers," Medicine finishes.

"Why, thank you. Take good care of them for me, will you?"

Medicine nods.

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."

"Like what?"

"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.

Sekibanki's 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.

---

I can't pace for shit.
Expand all images
>> No. 40682
[X] I hope Sekibanki's doing okay. I haven't seen her since this morning.

...That was both fairly easy to follow and quite confusing, if that makes any sense at all.
>> No. 40684
[X] I hope Sekibanki's doing okay. I haven't seen her since this morning.

I like your Yoshika.
>> No. 40685
[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?
>> No. 40686
[x] That villager looks suspicious

Human village protector go!
>> No. 40688
[x] I hope Sekibanki's doing okay. I haven't seen her since this morning.
>> No. 40689
File 150855964581.png - (1.12MB, 1200x600, don't need a reason for hina.png) [iqdb]
40689
>>40682

Uh, care to elaborate? If I went overboard with the weirdness, I'd like to know for next time.
>> No. 40693
[x] That villager looks suspicious

Tide pissing for the win
>> No. 40694
[x] That villager looks suspicious.

We are as gods.
>> No. 40695
[x] I hope Sekibanki's doing okay. I haven't seen her since this morning.

'banki tiiiiiiiiiiiiime
>> No. 40726
File 150907428475.png - (199.70KB, 1074x1517, the head's back.png) [iqdb]
40726
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.

"...hey."

"Mmm?"

"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.

"Egyaaark!?"

"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.

"Yep!"

"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!"

"But Reimu-"

"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.

"Ah... I'm Tokiko," hood girl replies. "Don't laugh!" she adds indignantly.

"I'm not laughing! Why would I?"

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-"

CRACK

"...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!"

I choke.

[ ] 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...
>> No. 40727
[x] That villager looks suspicious...

If you make another one today, it still counts!

Also, voting this everytime until it wins.
>> No. 40728
[X] !?

The Mystery Box. Also uh, that was certainly something you never did Clownpiece.
>> No. 40732
[X] !?

What is a cardboard box doing over there?
>> No. 40733
That was all kind of incredible, but Medicine removing her head was my favorite.

[X] !?

Snake???
>> No. 40736
[X] !?

What could it be? Also, dammit Keine, now I really want to know what happened!
>> No. 40737
[X] !?

Only choice.
>> No. 40783
[X] That villager looks suspicious...
>> No. 40785
[X] !?

Mystery box option is a go

secret goddess plot progression is ahoy!
>> No. 40786
File 150993823137.jpg - (72.60KB, 900x648, special delivery!.jpg) [iqdb]
40786
[x] !?

"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."

"Why not?"

"My body's... not in good shape."

"Oh. Kogasa did say you got hurt."

Sekibanki glances at me. "Did she say how?"

"Not really."

"...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?"

Wait what.

"...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.

"Yes! Exactly!"

"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..."

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?"

[ ] Leave.
[ ] Stay.
[ ] Drag her along.
[ ] Write-in.

---

Sorry for the wait. And the underwhelming result. I'm so tired you can see the tread marks.

Also I couldn't find a single pic of Solid Sanae sneaking shenanigans. This is unacceptable.
>> No. 40787
[x] Drag her along.

Have fun or die trying.
>> No. 40788
[X] Leave.

Best to back off a little. Pushing too hard on solitary types can lead to them pushing back.
>> No. 40789
>>40788
Makes sense.

[X] Leave.
>> No. 40790
[X] Leave.

Sometimes the introverted types just need their space. Banki, on the other hand, has no such excuse. Time for dinner and a movie!
>> No. 40794
>"Got you!" Sanae says, grinning triumphantly. "Are you surprised?"

Kogasa turns into a living god and Sanae picks up surprising people. I love this fucking story.


[x] Stay.

If she wants some alone time, leave her in her room or something. But we have to be here for her.
>> No. 40796
[X] Leave.

She knows where we'll be if she needs us.
>> No. 40797
[X] Leave.
>> No. 40816
File 151096493726.jpg - (470.34KB, 800x1250, too tired to find a better pic.jpg) [iqdb]
40816
[x] Leave.

"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.

"...why?"

"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."

"Like what?"

"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."

"How so?"

"You'll see~!"

...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!"

"Let go!"

"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."

"...I see."

"'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.

"...what?"

"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."

...urk.

"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-"

"Shoo!"

"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.

"Boo."

"Gyaaah! Nue!"

"Hehehehe~"

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?"

"Well..."

---

"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?"

---

""GYAAAAAAAAAH!!!!""

"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-"

"""NUE!!!"""

"Okay, okay, it was a joke! A joke! You don't need to - OUCH!"

---

"Awoooo!"

"Knnnnk-"

"Godsdammit Nue, you completely ruined the moment!"

"It's only a shadow puppet!"

"Exactly!"

"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 -"

"GYAAAAAAAAAAH!!!"

"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.

"Nope!"

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.

"Oof!"

"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.
>> No. 40817
[x] Yes!

greatest prank heist in history
>> No. 40818
[x] Yes!

Yes! Yes! Yes!
>> No. 40819
>"Boo."
>"Gyaaah! Nue!"
>"Hehehehe~"

Is everyone trying to steal Kogasa's thunder?

[x] YES
>> No. 40820
[X] Umm, not really?

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.
>> No. 40821
[X] Umm, not really?

Yeah, I kinda want that too.
>> No. 40822
[x] Umm, not really?

BEGONE THOT
>> No. 40823
File 151106763938.jpg - (187.75KB, 600x849, hina is life.jpg) [iqdb]
40823
>>40820
>>40821

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.
>> No. 40824
> No friendships will be broken, whichever way the tie is.
K den
[x] Yes!
>> No. 40825
>>40823
Alright, if we don't have to worry about that, then I'll change my vote >>40820 to

[X] Yes!

Vengeance shall be ours!
>> No. 40826
File 151143572864.jpg - (1.97MB, 1700x1800, when you see it.jpg) [iqdb]
40826
[x] Yes!

Surprise Sanae? Count me in!

"Yes!" I say.

Nue grins. "Well come on then!" She resumes dragging me along at full speed.

"Wah! Where are we going?"

"You'll see~"

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.

"...how?"

"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.

"And pounce!"

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?"

"...not really?"

"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.

"OhgodsKogasahelpmenorunawaytellLady-"

"It was a prank!" I blurt out.

"...eh?"

"Th-the alien! That was me!"

Sanae stares at me, still shaking and hyperventilating. "You... you..." She squeezes her eyes shut and -

"You...! Stupid...!"

- 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.

"Geez, don't scare me like that," she says.

"False alarm, then?" Kanako says, looking relieved.

"Sorry," Sanae says, grinning weakly.

"Sorry," I echo, looking sheepish.

"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."

"Umm, okay?"

"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?"

"Always."

"Show me."

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."

"Seriously?"

"Yep!"

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."

"Good night!"

"Good night."

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.

"Sleep well?"

Medicine nods, and yawns.

"Where's Sekibanki?" I ask, noticing her pillow is empty.

"...dunno."

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.

"Bwuh!"

"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.

[ ] I'll go.
 [ ] Mokou.
 [ ] Kagerou.
 [ ] Eientei.
 [ ] Senkai...?
 [ ] Somewhere else (write-in).
[ ] I'll stay.

---

Fuck it, incident arc is go. Hope I haven't given anyone mood whiplash.

Also shit's busy like you wouldn't believe. Apologies in advance for any unscheduled delays or drops in quality.

...heh. Quality. That's a good one.
>> No. 40830
File 15114428849.png - (390.69KB, 344x594, at risk.png) [iqdb]
40830
[x] I'll go.
-[x] Mokou.

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.
>> No. 40831
[x] I'll go.
-[x] Mokou.

Hopefully Keine won't go berserk while Kogasa's away.
>> No. 40832
[X] I'll go.
 [X] Mokou.

Hopefully we'll be able to find her, that forest has its name for a reason. Still the best option though, first reply has the right of it.
>> No. 40833
File 151146584036.png - (100.58KB, 512x512, hidden blade.png) [iqdb]
40833
>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.

She sensed the danger to the village!

>I twist the bottom segment of my umbrella's handle and slide it out, just enough to show the blade.

Now all we need is a giant Byakuren.
>> No. 40834
[X] I'll stay.

If Kogasa goes then that only leaves various youkai who are also being affected by whatever this is to defend the village.
>> No. 40835
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40835
>>40830

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.
>> No. 40836
[X] I'll stay.

Keine can find Mokou far faster than we can. While sure we could probably find Tenshi in the same amount of time, Mokou is probably going to be more helpful here.
>> No. 40838
[X] I'll stay.

Damn Kogasa that was some ice cold samurai shit. No wonder Banki is totally 110% gay for you.
>> No. 40839
>>40832
Switching my vote to [X] I'll stay.

If it's already going to be Mokou, might as well let Keine take care of it and play defense while nobody else can. Also...

>...it's like everyone has forgotten she freaking decapitated someone in the middle of the village.

SON OF A BITCH THIS WAS PLANNED FROM THE START WASN'T IT.
>> No. 40840
[X] I'll go.
 [X] Mokou.

She barely trusts us, so we're asking her to leave us as the sole defender of the village... yeah, no.
>> No. 40841
[X] I'll stay.

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.
>> No. 40842
[ze] I'll stay.

Agree on the staying here part.

I just got back to this by the way, and let me say that this is really interesting. Well written too, even if you have a hard time believing it.

So keep going like this, good luck!

(Clownpiece's party was so damn hilarious. Now I wish to throw a huge festival with her.)
>> No. 40843
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40843
[x] I'll stay.

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!?"

"Yes, actually."

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."

"Oooookay?"

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."

"Sounds rough."

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!"

"Sorry."

"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."

"Very 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."

"...really?"

"Yeah. Really."

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.

>>40839

Told you it was underwhelming.
>> No. 40844
[x] ...the walls. There were some big things stirring in the forest, so I should make sure they can't get in.

>bringing in historical figures properly
You're one of the only people on this site that has any idea on how to write good stuff.
>> No. 40845
[X] ...the humans. They're who I'm supposed to be protecting, after all.
>> No. 40846
[x] The humans

This keeps getting better
>> No. 40847
[ ] ...the humans. They're who I'm supposed to be protecting, after all.

Other youkai being crazy inside would be quickly known, and the village's walls won't stop any big threat from the forest. Better make sure those that can fight are prepared.
>> No. 40848
>>40847
[X] ...the humans. They're who I'm supposed to be protecting, after all.

Same anon, forgot the check. Sorry.
>> No. 40849
[X] ...the humans. They're who I'm supposed to be protecting, after all.
>> No. 40850
[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...
>> No. 40851
>>40850
Maybe gloves or something like that?

Not being bothered by the mere proximity of the charms unlike Banki before the carnival, despite being burned by touching them, could be that she's too strong for that effect.
>> No. 40852
[x] ...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.

That was pretty neat.
>> No. 40854
File 151304323293.jpg - (73.58KB, 600x847, couldn't find a relevant pic.jpg) [iqdb]
40854
[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 -"

KERCRAAAAAASH

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."

"Miss Tatara!"

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.

Urk.

[ ] 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.
>> No. 40855
[x] I have questions for Seija. Cirno seems harmless enough for now.

sounds like Seija flipped Cirno's power level
>> No. 40856
[X] I have questions for Cirno. Seija won't be any use until she calms down anyway.

Do we slice ice fairy next?
>> No. 40857
[x] I have questions for Cirno. Seija won't be any use until she calms down anyway.
>> No. 40858
Not sure what you see wrong, writefag. The quick pace is how things go with action moments.

Maybe the transition between scenes is a bit rough? That's all I could find to complain about.

[X] I have questions for Cirno. Seija won't be any use until she calms down anyway.

Not sure if trusting Seija was good, but we couldn't leave her alone with... no, wait, let's ask Cirno what the fuck is going on.
>> No. 40859
[x] I have questions for Seija. Cirno seems harmless enough for now.

Aren't we supposed to stay inside the village?
>> No. 40860
[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.
>> No. 40861
[X] I have questions for Seija. Cirno seems harmless enough for now.

As long as Cirno doesn't invade the village, she's Not Our Problem.
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