It’s embarrassing, but I woke late that morning. My head hurt, my perfected body whined at every move. I snuggled tight into my wife’s welcoming, curvaceous body to shield my poor, defenseless eyes from the burning sunlight. My legs entwined with her own full, healthy thighs and strong shins.
The legs she lost. Years ago. Centuries ago.
Still groggy, I groaned. Too tender to dare look, I listened.
She conveyed the same old fears of abandonment and isolation. Frustrations at trust betrayed. The same unwavering determination to see her ideals realized. That unflinching spirit that first drew me in. Then something else slipped through.
A sense of protectiveness. Not for her descendants or allies. For youkai. Not some youkai. All of them. Or most of them, at least. All underlaid with a broad distrust of humanity.
…And a wish to repent for severe misdeeds.
I groaned again, louder. She stirred, conveying similar physical discomforts and a distinct yearning for a good cup of sake. That one puzzled me.
Straining, I peeked one eye open.
A full head of fluffy purple hair, transitioning to brown around her shoulders.
Just as I’d thought. The grand monk herself shared this futon with me. Not Tojiko. I’d rather have awakened to Yoshika.
We were both quite clothed, but that only worried me more. Judging by the sensation, it appeared that I had slept in my common dress. A masterwork that didn’t deserve the wrinkles it would soon suffer.
[ ] Look around.
[ ] Wake her.
[ ] Get away.
[ ] Write-in.
No timer today; votes close when I post the next update.
I planted my still tired hands against her shoulders and shoved. Cool, moist air hit my poor, exposed shoulders as I left the futon’s gentle embrace. Sunlight stabbed through my eyelids as they left the embrace of the monk’s bust. I heard a shift in her desire.
Confusion. A desire to know what happened. She had begun to wake in earnest. I rolled around, planting my hands and knees beneath me. A push brought my still waking body upright, freeing my hands to shield my tender eyes.
I took a step back, then stopped. Something else floated to my ears. Someone else. Irritated and impatient, a desire to improve her lot in life. To earn the respect and trust she felt she deserved. To drop a bombshell on a pair of clueless freeloaders. Shutting that out, I squinted. Bare, cheap wood lined this room, with a matching ceiling above you and similarly cheap tatami beneath you.
I took another step back, finding the floor to support my weight, at least.
Byakuren stirred. She blinked. She looked up, staring into me.
I took another step. I patted myself down, my heart sinking at the expected, ugly folds in my shirt. I found both my cape and my sword to be missing.
Byakuren spoke first. “How did we…”
“We did nothing.” I considered that to be the complete, inerrant truth. I gave her another glance.
There was this movement to her throat. A redness to her eyes. She had likely…
She eyed me. “Someone drugged me.”
“It’s just alcohol.”
“Which I don’t…” She stared off to the side.
I followed her gaze, fighting through the glaring light to see a front porch and the young woman sitting there. The bright red ribbon perched behind her auburn hair told me all I needed to know of who this was, though the red dress with detached white sleeves helped.
[ ] I excused myself.
[ ] I interrogated Reimu.
[ ] I corrected Byakuren.
[ ] Write-in.
Voting ends in:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/03(Sat)20:00
I stepped through the open doors, stopping just short of the shrine maiden. I rubbed my eyes and coughed. It rattled it my throat. Reimu’s desires shifted almost imperceptibly.
She reached down to a short row of cups on one side. A small pot sat behind them. She filled a cup and handed it to me.
I accepted, of course, as I eased myself down beside her. I took a sip. Tea. Some herbal blend with a nostalgic aroma. One that took me back to my days studying under Seiga. She would no doubt have loved to learn of this misfortune, assuming she had not already done so.
She picked up another cup, taking a sip herself. “’Morning, highness.”
A hint of pride, of a need to show off, lurked at the edges of her psyche.
“Good morning, Ms. Hakurei.”
She groaned at that. “Don’t get weird with me. Reimu’s fine.”
“Of course. Tell me about the party last night.”
She smirked, this time. “I’m impressed you pulled that together, given how it ended.”
I took a long, slow slurp. It glided down my throat, it’s cool moisture seeping into my body. A good brew, though one clearly meant to be served much warmer than this.
I rubbed my eyes, still shaking off fatigue as I scooted closer. “And just how did it end, Reimu?”
She threw her arms up, stretching them. “With a bang.”
“Reimu!” We both turned to see Byakuren’s offended visage. “I don’t know what you mean to suggest, but I—”
“Congratulations, by the way.” Reimu nudged me back.
I might have reveled in just how fast Byakuren’s jaw snapped shut, had a similar fear not settled into my own gut.
I leveled what was not, strictly speaking, a glare at our (assumed) host. “What is it?”
She pulled a small, folded paper from her shirt and handed it me.
I took my time unfolding it, careful not to smudge the already smeared handwriting. Byakuren settled in next to me.
Hand shaking, I took another drink. Given Reimu’s demeanor, seeing my own name there surprised no one.
Byakuren gasped. Okay, it surprised one person. Or perhaps it was seeing her own name that shocked her.
The tea did little to ease my nerves this time, but I continued drinking. Then I caught something that did surprise me.
Reimu’s desires. She no longer sought to surprise us, and instead desired to see my reaction. That was it.
Byakuren trembled beside me. “We can’t do this. I’m sworn to celibacy. The temple trusts me.”
Celibacy? Really? Did she think I’d stoop so low as to—
I coughed, my confidence returning. It seemed we did nothing more embarrassing than signing a contract we’d cancel and forget about the next day.
Reimu still expected me to react.
[ ] I hammed it up.
[ ] I pressed Reimu for details.
[ ] I calmed Byakuren down.
[ ] Write-in.
Voting ends in:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/04(Sun)20:00
I steeled my nerves. Even I knew better than to confront her directly if I had other options.
“Then you should start from the beginning.”
Reimu sighed, long and heavy. “There’s not much to say. You two got drunk out of your skulls, someone egged you,” she pointed at me, “into confessing. A ‘test of courage,’ I think. Someone else goaded you,” she pointed to Byakuren now, “into accepting.”
I narrowed my eyes. “And Tojiko?”
Reimu groaned. “What about her?”
I huffed. “She wouldn’t have just discarded our time together. Would she?”
“What do you want? It was a party. She didn’t drink as much as either of you two,”—Byakuren flinched at that—“But she still got blitzed.”
I held my tongue. It seemed I’d need to get the story from Tojiko herself.
“Ah, um. Excuse me, Reimu.” Byakuren massaged her forehead. “There’s something I don’t understand.”
“Spit it out.”
“I don’t remember any ceremony.”
“Like I said, you both got wasted.”
“Yes, well. That’s just the thing. Leaving aside that I wouldn’t do that, we should have been incapable of performing our parts, right?”
“Yeah, duh. That’s the whole problem!”
Byakuren and I both flinched.
“It was barely a ceremony, okay? I said a few lines and asked if you both wanted to be together and stay loyal and all that crap.” She stood up, stomping a few paces away. “The tengu, the tsukumogmai, that vampire brat… everyone laughed their heads off!”
She sighed, spirits deflating. “I thought it was funny, too. But now…” She turned around, staring Byakuren dead in the eyes. Then turned her gaze to me.
“Look, I’m not expecting you to kiss or get all lovey-dovey. I just…” She hunched over. “It’s bound to hit the papers soon, if it hasn’t already.” We both paled at that. “Everyone knows where this is going. The one really good, non-exorcising ceremony I perform this year, and it’s all just one big joke.”
I stepped up, but Byakuren cut me off. “You’d rather it end in conflict?”
Reimu rubbed her brow. “I don’t know, okay? I’m still not cancelling it. Not yet. I…”
Byakuren and I watched her straighten back up. “How about this? If you go along with it, just for a little while, I…”
She turned red. Her mind twisted itself in knots, her desires moving too quickly to follow.
Well, too quick to follow with any real precision, anyway. “I’ll do one favor for each of you.”
Byakuren wanted that. She set her cup aside. “Reimu, what do you mean by ‘go along with it?’”
“Just act like you enjoy each other’s company. Be seen with each other every now and then. Make it look like you have a comfortable relationship.”
I tapped my chin, wishing I had my shaku with me. “How long?”
“I don’t know, a month?”
[ ] I haggled her down. (How long.)
[ ] I negotiated terms. (Ground rules, her favor, etc.)
[ ] I consoled her.
[ ] I refused.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/06(Tue)22:00
Reimu sounded… not quite herself. Perhaps I’d missed the forest for the trees.
I stepped forward, facing down a hardened gaze.
I stood before her, close enough to hear her heartbeat as I spread my arms. She glared back. I couldn’t help the small smirk. Pride and indignation aside, she wanted comfort. Someone to hug her and tell her it’s all right. She wanted this.
I must have twitched, for her eyes went wide as realization struck. A moment too late. I threw my arms beneath hers, circling them around her back and sliding them up to her shoulders. I pressed myself to her, nuzzling into her collar.
“There, there…” I slipped one finger to the edge of her hair.
She sputtered and squirmed, of course. But only for a moment. Then she eased into my embrace.
“You really should learn to respect someone’s space, you know.”
I sighed. “But you make it so hard.”
We stood there for a moment. Then she shoved me off.
She folded her arms. “Says the womanizer.”
“Lies, slander! Byakuren, back me up.”
I heard a long, noisy slurp. “Support my mortal enemy?”
“Oh, come on. Shouldn’t truth matter more than petty disagreements?”
“Yes. You’re married to two women right now.”
“You and I both know that doesn’t count!”
She grumbled but set her cup down. “Very well. It’s probably true, Reimu. She doesn’t deliberately pursue other women.”
Reimu suppressed a snicker. Mission accomplished.
I huffed, then reached out and squeezed Reimu’s shoulder. “It’ll be fine, I promise. Just give it a few days and you’ll forget all about it. Before you know, we’ll be back here like it never happened.”
She pushed my hand back off. “I’m not so sure.”
I circled around to give her a pat on the back. “Tell you what. Byakuren and I will each treat you to a delicacy of our choice. How does that sound?”
“Hey! Don’t just decide these things on my behalf. Besides, we don’t even have—”
Byakuren shut up. “Well, I suppose I could consider this a form of discipline.”
“I’ll take you up on that offer.”
Perfect. Now was my chance to make a get-away, but…
I glanced back to Byakuren. Seeing her so flustered this morning was a rare opportunity, one this ‘arrangement’ would offer in spades. It would also offer a chance to see into the inner workings of her temple or to engage with people I otherwise wouldn’t see.
Opportunities I’d be forced to offer her as well.
It would embarrass me more than the story itself, but her as well. Perhaps I could even use it to turn the tables back on Reimu, bothering her in return.
If I could keep on top of Byakuren.
[ ] I made my escape.
[ ] I re-negotiated. [ ] Diplomatically. [ ] Aggressively.
[ ] I pressed Reimu to drop it.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/07(Wed)22:00
I shot a wink at Byakuren, ignoring her perplexed stare. A smile creeped to my lips. One born of that ancient, heady mixture: excitement and terror. I steadied it into a more casually confidant display as I faced Reimu down.
“I’ll play along, if you’ll let me.”
Her eyes flitted left and right. “R—” She coughed. “I mean, of course.”
“Wait! I haven’t agreed yet.”
I took a breath. “Take your time, my ‘wife.’”
Byakuren huffed. “Unlike you, Miko, I take my oaths seriously.”
“The old ones or the new ones?”
She held up a finger. Then let it down, desires still swirling.
“I… I shall participate in this farce as well.”
I tapped my waist. “Great. Let’s figure these rules out, then.”
Reimu scratched her shoulder. “Uh, no fighting. No insults. Do something together at least once a day.”
“Where others will see us.”
“Is that it?”
“Well, the occasional romantic moment would help.”
Byakuren blushed, just a little. “What are you asking?”
“Well.” Reimu paused, thinking.
“How about we just do something alone, as well. Something a bit more… private.”
I glanced back to find Byakuren burning red and her mouth floundering.
Reimu hummed. “Yeah. That sounds great.”
Byakuren stomped up next to me. “Don’t you think this is too much?”
I tapped my chin. I really needed that damn shaku. “They just need to see us depart together. We have to sell this, honey.”
She froze. Really, I just wanted better access inside the temple.
“H-How long would we need to spend together?”
“Long enough to convince the reporters.”
I sighed. “That is the challenge, isn’t it?”
“You want a blank check from me? This is what it takes.”
“I won’t lie, anyway. If we maintain our vows, we will at least try to fulfill them.”
I gave her a look.
She rubbed her wrists. “In part. In the… platonic part.”
“That’s it, then? We just sell the story.”
“That’s it, yeah.” Reimu sighed, stepping back toward the shrine. “Convince them for a month and you get a personal favor of your choosing. Fail and, uh… you don’t.”
“Excuse me.” Byakuren cleared her throat. “I don’t think a month is necessary. Perhaps you could settle for two weeks?”
“Urgh. I don’t know. Ask me in a week. Anything else?”
I smiled. “Sounds good to me. Darling, how about you?”
“Well, I suppose it will suffice. But I have so many people to reassure now. Please, excuse me.”
Come to think of it, so did I.
“Alright, fine. Shoo. But don’t forget your appearances.”
“So long as you remember your favor.”
She grunted. “Fine. If this works.”
Two weeks of playing nice, possibly more. Opportunities for fun, for profit, and for disaster. The play had begun.
[ ] I ran to Tojiko.
[ ] I calmed Futo down.
[ ] I consulted Seiga.
[ ] I followed Byakuren.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/08(Thu)21:00
Update's on the way, but I wanted to revise a previous statement: Tuesdays and Thursdays (my time) don't look like they'll just be 'late' days. I'll still try to get something out on them, but there's a good chance the updates will be especially small, from a different perspective, or missed entirely. When I miss them (like yesterday) I'll try to get an extra out to compensate, but I can't promise too much.
After a brief exchange of farewells, I found myself taking to the sky, almost fleeing the shrine. I wanted to see Tojiko, to feel her embrace after the bizarre morning I’d been through. But I also had that twitchy, slimy feeling in my gut when I thought about it.
Now that the initial rush had ended, I felt only endless tension. A nagging sensation rung at the back of my head. My proper marriage would weather this… whatever this was, just fine. It wasn’t the first hurdle it suffered, and it wouldn’t be the last.
Byakuren though, she worried me. She behaved so simply at times, so straightforwardly, that you’d forget just how canny she could be. I had her on the back foot now, but she would adapt.
It was about then that the rising din of needs and wishes drowned out every other thought I had. The voices of hundreds of people rose unbidden to my ears. Desires for food, money, safety, distraction. Every need, wish, and want jostled, as if for my attention. I shut them out.
But not before one desire floated to my ears. A driving thirst for vengeance.
I dropped out of the sky, landing just outside the farms surrounding the human village. Men and women tilled soil and sowed crops behind me as I scanned the tree-line. The tip of Myouren Temple’s roof peeked out from between tree-tops.
That’s when I heard a familiar hum. Pale gray hair, tied in a topknot, bounced away, her tall blue hat bouncing with it. She wore her usual white, billowy shirt atop a simple, pleated blue skirt. I even caught the familiar yellow and green folds beneath this shirt.
I had to check all these things as she also carried a heavy cask, slung by a rope over her shoulder, and marched straight toward the temple. Liquid swished inside.
I followed her, trudging through dry forest bed as she continued her journey.
“Visiting the Buddhists, Futo?”
“Indeed, Crown Prince. They…” She stopped and spun around. She scanned my wrinkled dress, her gaze turning black. “Was their foolery insufficient? Had they to despoil you too?”
I had no answer for that, not knowing where my possessions went.
“It’s fine, Futo. We just got a bit carried away.”
“Do you not remember the horrors you suffered?”
“You kissed Byakuren. On the hand.”
I sighed. How best to handle this?
[ ] I introduced her to the ‘in-laws.’
[ ] I brought her to Tojiko first.
[ ] I explained it carefully.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/10(Sat)03:00
I leaned in and whispered into her ear. “I’ve got something I need to tell you.”
She perked up as I walked off, deeper in the woods. She followed.
I poked at a few trees, then found one to have a nice deep crack running down the trunk. I grabbed Futo’s hand and stepped inside, dragging her with me.
We fell through the earth, plummeting through space until we glided out the other end, floating just above an expansive pool. I let go and flew across it, Futo following close behind.
“Pardon me, Crown Prince, but does there be a reason to hold our conference here?”
“How cold, Futo. Just because I chose to greet you first does not leave me free to neglect my lifelong companion.”
“But I’m right here!”
I chuckled. “The other one.”
“What? Oh, of course—”
“About fucking time.”
We turned around to find the stern scowl of a bold woman wearing a beautiful head of soft green hair and a darker dress, with healthy wisps trailing out beneath. This, ladies and gentlemen, was Tojiko of the late Soga clan. My wife.
In a moment, my previous trepidations evaporated.
She huffed, hands on her hips. Yes, she still had those. They were quite fine. I flew to her, wrapping my arms underneath hers and across her back. I nuzzled her with far more intensity than I ever bestowed upon the shrine maiden. “It’s so good to see you again.”
She pushed me back. “So, how’s your marriage?”
‘My’ marriage. Not ‘our’ marriage. Ouch.
“It’s…” I glanced back to Futo.
No. I had some questions of my own first.
“About that. About last night. Did you deny our own bond?”
She pinched her nose. “I died. We’ve done jack shit for vows since.”
I stared at the Mausoleum in the distance, narrowing my eyes.
“You mean to say…”
She sighed. “It’s a technicality, but you’re only married to the monk. Did you get that cut off?”
I folded my arms, studying the Mausoleum. “No. I’ve committed to it for the next few weeks.”
“WHAT!” Futo screamed. “To ally with that witch! Crown prince, I must say, yo—”
A thunderclap hit the wall behind me. “Calm down, Futo. I’m sure she has her reasons. Right, Miko?”
A twisting mess of desires floated through Tojiko’s head, all converging on a similar general feeling: Worry. There was a fair chunk of annoyance too. She did not approve, but her desires made it seem more a great headache than a threat.
I vowed to renew our vows once this affair ended.
Futo probably trusted me too. But her desires, while still raging, failed to achieve coherence.
I turned around to face them, meeting a pair of scowls. I grabbed hold of Tojiko’s hand, giving her a soft squeeze as I beckoned Futo over. She hesitated but floated forward. I ran a hand through her hair, ending with a quick rub under her left ear.
She winced, still frowning. She also leaned into my touch. I let go and floated down, beckoning Tojiko and Futo to follow. They did, of course.
I passed into a wide tunnel, touched down, and leaned against the smooth rock wall.
Tojiko floated to the opposite wall and Futo stepped before me, still carrying that cask. I gestured they come closer. Futo hopped forward. Tojiko glided in. I wrapped an arm around each shoulder and pulled them into a group hug.
Futo squirmed. “Is this truly appropriate, crown prince?”
Tojiko draped her own arm across me, grumbling.
“It’s fine, every now and then.” I sighed, pulling back from a hug into more of a huddle. “You can trust me, right?”
“I trust you’ll survive.”
I gave them both a soft clap on the back, then let go.
“Well then, let’s…” I glanced at Futo’s cask one more time. “Futo. While this is going on, I need to try to keep the temple calm. So…”
“Don’t fuck them up, Futo. Not yet.”
Futo heaved a sigh. Long, sad, and slow. Then set the cask down.
“Excellent. Then it’s time to make my appearance.”
Tojiko floated in close, stroking my cheek. “How long?”
I rested a hand on her side. “Two weeks. Care to plan our ceremony for the moment it ends?”
She smiled. “Of course. Don’t embarrass yourself too bad, okay?”
“Me? Embarrass myself? Please.” I scoffed and turned. Then stopped. “Say, Tojiko. Would you know what happened to my possessions?”
Perfect. I turned and searched the wall for another crevice, only for Tojiko to poke my back. I turned.
“Take me with you.”
I smiled and linked arms.
It was a short, uneventful trip. I found a crack, whooshed in, gave token greetings to some fellow hermits, and found my chamber. Once there, I closed and locked the door.
I found a fresh, folded set of clothes lying in wait on the floor. Toijko rested on the bed as I stripped down and pulled the undergarments on.
“What’s your plan?”
I pulled the skirt on. “Get close to Byakuren, figure out how she works and how more of her followers think.”
“Is that all?”
I threw my shirt on. “I’ll also embarrass her a little, but that’s just for fun.”
She scoffed. “You sound like a villain.”
“Do I?” I buckled the belts around my waist, finally reunited with my vessel. “I’m not going to kill or destroy her.”
“But you’re going to deceive her, play with her heart.”
I sighed, pulling the golden bracers over my hands. “She knows as well as I do it’s all fake. It’s closer to extortion than deception.”
“Extortion over what?”
I tied the sandals around my feet. “A deal we’d made with the woman who married us. Byakuren wants what she offered, and she needs to treat me like a wife to get it.”
“And you treat her like one as well?”
I threw the cape over my shoulders. “Correct.”
“So she can insist she sees our places as well.”
I ran a comb through my hair, getting out the worst of the kinks.
“…Yes. Make sure she doesn’t find anything too sensitive, okay?”
I plopped the earmuffs over my head and grabbed my shaku.
I stepped back and sat down beside my true wife. I scooted close, pressing my hip to hers, and wrapped an arm around to hold the other.
I leaned back and let out a heavy sigh. “This might be our last chance to do this for a while.”
I leaned into her shoulder as I listened to the distant, muffled sounds of soft footfalls, turning pages, and quiet conversations. I felt her shift as she wrapped her own arm behind my back, pulling me close.
Time passed as a muted whiff of incense floated through the air.
Tojiko giggled. “It feels good.”
“Seeing you get clingy for a change.”
I pinched her side. “I’m not being clingy.”
“Sure, sure. I’ll miss you too, by the way.”
“Mm.” I wasn’t normally the quiet type, but words failed to escape my throat.
Another moment passed and Tojiko’s luxurious chest sat still. That took some getting used to when I first awoke. She had no trouble breathing, but because she no longer needed to, she rarely bothered unless speaking or deliberately emoting.
“How have things been at the mausoleum?”
“Quiet, just the way I like it.”
“Should I apologize for the noise I’ll inevitably bring in?”
Tojiko inhaled, rubbing my back. “No. I’ll live.”
“Good.” I patted her side, then let go and stood up. “I’m afraid I can’t put this off any longer. Wish me luck, Tojiko.”
“Yes. Putting up with her.”
“May you put up with her, then.”
“Thank you.” I flicked my cape out and stepped away, holding my hand out.
She took it, hugging me as I escorted her back out of the temple and through the crack we took back to Gensokyo. I hugged her back, of course.
We came out near the mausoleum, floating above the water, with the great, hexagonal tower before us.
I cleared my throat. “Goodbye, Tojiko. I’ll see you as soon as I can.”
She nodded. “Goodbye, Miko.”
I turned back to the crevice we came from and stepped back inside.
[ ] To the human village.
[ ] To Myouren Temple.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/13(Tue)21:00
I slipped through, coming out a pace from the road. I trotted from bare dirt, scattered with leaves and dry branches, to lush grass as I left the woods. From there, the ground transitioned back to dirt as I reached the road.
I followed the road up a hill, humming. Now shielded by my trusty earmuffs, listened at leisure to the desires floating through the air. Wild, impatient and impulsive urges drifted to my ears, infrequently punctuated by the more restrained wants of what I assumed to be adult humans. As opposed to the numerous youkai inhabiting this temple, with perhaps a few children among them.
As I crested the hill, the full splendor of her temple rose to greet me. A wide, heavy roof atop a well-engineered base with fine-crafted windows. The dry, prickly aroma of incense mixed with grains wafted from its doors. It was no Senkai, but it represented the second most exquisite religious center here.
Sutra chanting reached my ears as I approached, carried by an enthusiastic but wavering voice. Other sounds echoed from inside the temple, hidden beneath her louder tune. Discontent murmurs and hushed arguments.
The sutra cut off, its speaker staring me in the eyes. Timid and shaking, but very focused. She wanted to be anywhere but here. Plain, pink dress, short green hair, and a large fluffy dog ears. She held a broom in one hand, poised just beside a small pile of leaves.
I sympathized with her desire, half me feeling the same. Nonetheless, I continued forward.
“Good morning, Kyouko.”
“Good. Morn…” She gulped. “I mean, stay away! No one’s home!”
I sighed, tapping the shaku to my chin, even as something crashed inside the temple.
She glanced back inside, just as a thin, willowy woman burst out, a blue cloak and dark vest barely hanging from her otherwise plain, white dress.
“Good morning, Ms. Toyosatomimi.” She nodded her head, assumedly in place of a bow. Gulping air, she elbowed Kyouko. “What, what brings you here today?”
I raised a brow. Kyouko wanted to help her friends. Ichirin—the other woman—wanted to… She didn’t know what she wanted, but she wanted it not now.
[ ] I asked about the temple.
[ ] I offered my assistance.
[ ] I requested my ‘wife.’
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/15(Thu)00:00
[x] I offered my assistance. As much as I would like Miko to go full emperor/empress mode and ham it up about getting their Wife, the first thing to do while infiltrating the enemy is NOT freaking everyone else out. The ham is for when we're in public and the paparazzi are around.
I smiled, a little tight. “Please, let me help you.”
Ichirin Kumoi stood firm. For a few seconds. Then she… she didn’t scream, but just sorted of groaned. Loudly. Then collapsed, her butt hitting the temple platform as her back leaned forward, frizzled hair hanging low.
I stepped onto the wooden floor and sat next to her, sword bumping against the wood. I leaned back, making sure to keep my hands away. Even from here, I got the sense that I played a significant role in her frustrations.
So, I simply sat back and waited.
Kyouko tip-toed back inside.
Finally, back heaving, she spoke. “Don’t you have things to do? Places to be?”
A placed the shaku across my lap, stroking my chin. “Naturally. But I have more urgent business here.”
“Are you sure you don’t have anything else you could do right now?”
“Do you know what happened last night?”
“Don’t remind me.”
“Then surely you understand how I’m obligated to help.”
“…What?” She stared at me, blatantly incredulous.
I pressed a hand to my chest. “As your master’s wife, of course.”
I heard a sinking feeling in her gut. Yes, the metaphor’s a bit strange, but that’s what I heard.
“You’re really committing to this joke, aren’t you?”
I heard something else. She had something to hide. Not for power or protection, but for self-image. Something she found… humiliating, perhaps?
I stretched my arms out. “It’s not a joke.” A farce, perhaps, but I had a story to keep.
“I don’t believe you.”
I waved her off. “Is this the extent of your troubles? Fear of how I’ll treat your master?”
She looked off into the distance. “No. You’re mostly correct, but I must also help protect the temple itself.”
“Then if there’s nothing I can help with, I suppose I’ll just have to find my wife.”
“Wait!” Ichirin leapt to her feet, grabbing my skirt. “Hiji—I mean, um, oh! Nue smuggled beer into the temple recently. Maybe you could chastise her for us?”
“And she would listen to me, but not you, because…?”
Ichirin wanted me away from the temple. She also kind of wanted Nue to get away with it. I doubted that chasing this task would solve any of her concerns.
[ ] I offered to let her ‘chaperone’ us.
[ ] I challenged her to fight me if I went too far.
[ ] I promised to treat the temple well. I also ‘offered’ to keep her secret.
[ ] I smothered her in newly-wed gushing. In my style, of course.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/16(Fri)00:00
[x] I smothered her in newly-wed gushing. In my style, of course.
“Your concerns, Ms. Kumoi are noted.”
She looked back to me, hopeful.
She frowned and lifted her ass, trapped halfway between either giving in or literally fighting me just to keep me out. I sighed. Now was the time to go all out.
“Because my cherished wife awaits. Would it not be cruel to deny a loyal, loving woman the jewel of her life?”
She stared back, jaw hanging, utterly bemused.
“She is, after all, utterly marvelous.”
I swallowed. “The radiance of her smile. The exquisite, joyous sound of her laughter. That master’s touch displayed by every curve in her body.”
Ichirin turned a little green at that moment. I continued. “The sheer… brilliance of her mind.”
I stepped off, onto the dirt, and walked a few steps away. “She’s so… so kind, loving, and generous.” Or at least I felt she wanted to be those things. Perhaps I’d even help her with that.
Ichirin groaned. “Since when did you value these things?”
I turned, gasped, and clenched my chest. “What sort of monster do you take me for? I’ve taken dozens under my wing and I’d take dozens more!”
I walked back, stepping up onto the platform. “Now, I must see her. Byakuren of the Toyostamimi!”
“Oh? Would you prefer Miko Hijiri?” I certainly didn’t.
Ichirin groaned. “Look, I’ll let you in. Just, please. Shut up.”
“Lead the way, my sister.”
“In spirit. An in-law of sorts.”
Her lips parted, then shut. She stepped up and pushed the door open. I followed, tapping the shaku to my chin.
We walked through the common rooms into side halls, passing men and women, decorated with a wild range of animal ears and other appendages. With a few humans scattered among them. As we progressed, the faces and bodies grew rarer. Then new voices floated our way.
“—sn’t make any sense.” A familiar voice. Proud and civilized, but with a very distinct touch of the feral still clinging to it. “Just break it off. Surely you—”
“Enough, Shou.” A long, deep breath. “Please, just trust me. Everything will be…”
Ichirin pushed the door open, revealing Byakuren sitting firm on one side, chastising the tiger youkai on the other.
“Lady Hijiri, your husband is here.”
I stepped before them. “Wife, Ms. Ichirin. I am her wife.”
I knelt to one knee and took her hand in mine. “I’m so glad to finally see you again.”
A quick glance to the corners of my vision revealed a flat, uncertain stare from Ichirin, and a blank, vacant gaze from Shou. Based on what I heard of their desires, I’d almost thought that Shou had just attained Nirvana.
[ ] I suggested a quiet one-on-one (to get our stories straight).
[ ] I offered to take her to a play.
[ ] I invited her to a friendly brunch. [ ] I also invited… (Write-in.)
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/16(Fri)22:00
>[ ] I suggested a quiet one-on-one (to get our stories straight). There is no chance in hell we could possibly get a real one-on-one when we're right next to Byakuren on her own turf, surrounded by the consideration of her worried followers.
>[ ] I offered to take her to a play. I wonder whose~ No, really, I do wonder. It is an off balance choice indeed, but I really don't know what would happen.
>[ ] I invited her to a friendly brunch. Safe enough, unless we decide to do a belly flop on the relations and like, bring her and her disciples out for meat skewers.
I guess risks can come later then.
[X] I invited her to a friendly brunch. [X] I also invited Ichirin and Shou.
They're right there. Unless there's other people we could bring in, a clarification on that might help.
“There’s a splendid play coming on soon, darling. Would you care to join me?”
“Eh?” Byakuren blinked at me. Gears turned in Ichirin’s head and I still heard nothing from Shou.
I gave her hand a kiss. “Don’t you wish for some time alone? Just the two of us?”
Byakuren’s eyes fluttered as she caught her breath. She bit her lip. “…Yes. I suppose I do.”
“Good. This way, then.”
She stood, I linked arms with her, and we walked back through the temple. Back into the commotion of untrained youkai and barely-better humans. Although she sometimes stressed how her adherents—the youkai especially—were a work in progress, I had trouble seeing just where this ‘progress’ had occurred.
We passed back into a common room and from there to the front gate. And off we went down the main road to the village.
It felt strange. The soft curve of her body reminded me of Tojiko, but it was the uncanny sensation of a skilled forgery. Comfortable but disconcerting. We walked several minutes in silence.
“When does the play start, Miko dear?”
‘Dear.’ My stomach clenched. “About half an hour.” Well played, Hijiri. Well played.
“Don’t you think we could fly there, just to be safe?”
“I prefer to take my time.”
She put a finger to her chin. “You’re not…” she glanced around, lowering her voice, “really in lo— interested, right?”
I felt a strange twisting to her desires. Something hidden in there that her other wants and duties piled atop each other to snuff out. Not that it was any of my business.
I nodded, almost imperceptibly. “I have no idea what you mean.”
She shook her head. “Never mind.”
We walked on, soon approaching the village. After a brief but polite exchange of greetings, we passed through the gate and moved on our way down one of the wide, outer roads. Whispers and hushed questions broke out like wildfires around us, accompanied by a surge of curiosity among the villagers. We turned into a smaller road, entering one of the village blocks.
We reached a cozy amphitheater, seating perhaps a couple hundred. I pulled out a small handful of coins and passed them to a tired young man outside and stepped inside. Byakuren kept quiet the whole time, even as I sat down at the back row.
She sat next to me, twisting and fidgeting as an older, heavyset woman announced the cast for this play.
There were a couple actors I had my eye on, but no one of great import yet.
“Excuse me.” A familiar, flat voice.
I turned to see a stone-faced young woman with long, fluffy pink hair and a pumpkin-like skirt with faces cut out of it. Kokoro. She wore the Fox mask above her head.
“What’s the incident?”
“What is it?” She reiterated.
I turned to Byakuren. She blinked.
I turned back.
The audience went quiet as the play began. Kokoro scooted forward and sat down by Byakuren, staring at us.
[ ] I focused on the play.
[ ] I asked, quietly, what had her concerned.
[ ] I introduced her to her new ‘family.’
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/17(Sat)20:00
[x] Inform her about the marriage youkai that has been wreaking havoc and matrimony recently.
I sat quietly through the first few scenes, introducing the hero and setting. Then, with the audience distracted, I leaned over Byakuren’s lap, setting a hand on her thigh, and beckoned to Kokoro. She leaned in.
I leaned further, until my face nearly pressed to her ear. “There appears to be some youkai running around, sowing discord and marriage.”
Byakuren frowned. I pulled back and slid a hand around her back, resting on her side. Kokoro blinked, parsing what I’d said. I returned to the play, keeping half an eye on her.
The lead actor, Eito, delivered a very by-the-book performance. Lines well projected and enunciated, with the standard level of emotion, where applicable. I held out hope that he would start to experiment and find a unique style to offer. He had the talent for more understated performances like Hibiki or Reiji, or perhaps something a bit more playful. Still, his technical competence won the common crowds over.
Really, the actor who most caught my eye was Kenzou. He played a minor role here and lacked the practiced efficiency that Eito displayed, but there was something to the way his movements flowed, the way his voice shrunk just that little bit when his character suffered.
It was very likely accidental on his part, but it held the potential to become part of a distinctive style. One that, once trained and rolled into a more expansive repertoire, would help bring an engaging color to his roles.
I turned back, finding Kokoro now leaning over Byakuren. Byakuren sighed as Kokoro stared me down.
I leaned in again. “It’s as you see, Kokoro. Some wicked creature has made me fall head over heels for this terrible witch here.”
She pinched my side. Gently.
“Miko, dear, could you please not fill her head with such absurdities?”
“Please, darling, you can’t deny there’s something odd to our sudden affections.” I cast a glance to the play, now entering the second act. “We’re married and seeing plays together, Kokoro. This must be the work of some marriage youkai.”
Kokoro stared back. Her desires suggested she wasn’t impressed. Byakuren wanted us off her lap.
[ ] I invited Kokoro to lunch with us.
[ ] I clung to Byakuren to prove the story.
[ ] I proposed an investigation.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/18(Sun)23:00
I nodded and walked toward the shop. Byakuren paused, holding me back.
I shrugged. “Let’s let the child have what she wants.”
“Child.” Now Kokoro stopped, placing her palm to her impassive face. “Am I?” She turned to me, tilting her head. “If I am, would that make y—”
I tugged on Byakuren’s arm. “This way, ladies.” Byakuren grumbled but followed my lead. Kokoro followed behind.
I passed through the curtain hanging over the entrance, taking in the aroma of tofu, eggs, and assorted spices. It was a small establishment with a bar at the front and a cooking table behind it. Steam rolled off a basket of fresh noodles as the chef dipped tofu strips in sizzling oil.
I settled myself atop a barstool. Byakuren took my right and Kokoro my left.
He turned around, pausing as he saw us. Smooth but untrimmed black hair descended nearly to his shoulders. No wrinkles had yet scarred his otherwise mature face.
“H-How may I help you?”
Byakuren muttered to herself.
“I’ll take a dish of Tempura Soba. My companion will have some Kitsune Soba.”
He turned back to the table.
Kokoro turned to me. “The youkai?”
I stretched and tapped the counter. “Well, the most suspicious event is the marriage itself, so perhaps the…”
“There wasn’t a youkai, Kokoro.”
I pouted at Byakuren. She just sighed back.
“But it is suspicious. Someone set it up, someone who may have had some ulterior motive…” She stared at the counter. “We can’t say it’s a marriage youkai, yet. It could just have just been an impulse decision, but I suppose we can’t rule out foul play just yet.”
A pair of bowls clanged on the table. “One Kitsune Soba and one Tsukimi soba, ladies.” I look up as he turned back to the table and drummed my fingers.
Byakuren poked at her bowl. Kokoro slurped from hers.
I nudged Byakuren. “It’s just buckwheat and tofu. Perfectly safe.”
“I know, Miko.” She nibbled on a noodle.
Kokoro stopped, face somehow clean. “Who set it up?”
A bowl hit the counter before me, with a small cup beside it. I looked up.
He winked. “One the house. Think of it as an apology for the wait.”
I lifted the cup and took a short sniff. I took a tiny sip.
Sake. Standard, run-of-the-mill sake. Unless this man was a literal god of medicine or poison.
I turned back to Kokoro. “We don’t know. Personally, I suspect the Buddhists.”
Byakuren coughed. “Excuse me? Did you see the temple?”
“Have you seen Shou drunk?”
Kokoro rubbed her mask. “She’s not clever enough, is she?”
“She’s emotional, not dumb.” A quiet smirk touched Byakuren’s lips. “But maybe Miko’s wicked friend had something to do with this.”
I folded my arms. “Seiga wouldn’t do it.”
Byakuren gave me a flat stare. Kokoro joined her.
[ ] Well, maybe…
[ ] What about Mamizou?
[ ] Maybe the Moriya gods?
[ ] It was probably some small-fry.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/20(Tue)22:00
errr actually I don't what the vocab is when it comes to polygamy. I mean, Miko's still married to Tojiko (should do one of those vow renewal things after this whole thing's dealt with). Someone ask a Mormon what the relation between a daughter and one of the wives that's not her mother is called.
[x] I figured the answer to be stepmother. Let's see. We've got Miko. Tojiko, Byakuren and technically speaking Okina. The more you think about Miko's family situation the more complex it actually is isn't it?
I grabbed a napkin to wipe my face off. “A stepmother, I think.”
Byakuren’s face flushed. “I’m not… aren’t there other people involved in her creation? Couldn’t we consider them her parents instead?”
“They played a role in her awakening, but I’m the one who created her.” I turned back to Kokoro. “I’d hoped to discuss this all later, but there’s your answer.”
“So, I’m not only a wife now, but a mother too…”
I rubbed her back. “Come on, she won’t be sleeping with us or getting private tutors.”
Byakuren sagged. “Sleeping with…”
I stared at Kokoro. She stared back. Curiosity tugged at her mind.
“You don’t need to.”
She pouted, set the bowl aside, and stood up. “Thank you for the food.” She turned to us. “Excuse me.” She walked out.
I turned to Byakuren, who simply shrugged and took another sip of her dish. I sighed and returned to my own bowl, working to finish it off.
“Miko…” Byakuren paused, thinking through her words. “Did you ever have children?”
I sighed. “I don’t live in the past.”
“Except when it’s convenient.”
I downed the sake cup, then planted a hand to my shoulder, rubbing it. “I had one.”
“How did you—”
I placed a finger to her lips, staring her down. “Let’s talk about that another time.”
Byakuren pushed the finger away. “Would you want another?”
The chef scrubbed a pot, face turning red.
I put a hand to my mouth. “Oh darling, just what are you asking?”
“What do you… mean…” She trailed off, face burning.
I patted her back. “It’s alright. But Kokoro might be more than you can handle.”
Byakuren massaged her forehead. “I doubt you could handle her any better.”
I shrugged. “I have fewer unruly disciples to worry about.” Then I turned to the chef and counted out a small pile of coins for the three meals and set them on the counter. “Thank you for the meal.” I rubbed the broth off my face and stood.
“Thanks for your business.”
I nodded his way and offered a hand to Byakuren. She sighed, finished her bowl, and stood.
Then walked out ahead of me.
I followed her. “Got somewhere to be?”
She walked down the street. “You were right.” She moved toward the front gate. “I have disciples to watch over, a sermon to prepare, and meditation to do. I can’t spend all day on this…”
She stopped. “It’s distracting. I don’t have the time to spend here.”
[ ] I agreed, taking the time to visit the mausoleum.
[ ] I proposed we visit the mountain instead.
[ ] I insisted that she needed the time off.
[ ] I offered to join in her activities.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/22(Thu)22:00
I stepped up beside her. “As companions, shouldn’t we try to learn about each other? To better understand and participate in each other’s faiths?”
“You want me to let you inside during our ceremonies?”
“Would you turn me, your wife, away?”
“Think about it this way. We get to spend time together without slowing you down.”
She wrung her hands.
Then marched off again.
I followed her out the gates, down the road, and ultimately back to her temple. I had trouble determining what she wanted.
“Welcome back!” Kyouko bounced on her feet as she greeted Byakuren, then froze as she saw me.
Byakuren barely acknowledged her as she passed. I stopped to ruffle her hair.
“Hey! Stop that.”
“Sorry, newlywed business.” I pressed my hands together, smiling, and spun after Byakuren.
Dozens, possibly hundreds of desires hit me as I tried to find her again, this time with clearer trends among them. Word had spread of our deed and our failure to have broken it off, but none of them knew what to make of it.
After some concentration, I heard her again and wound through the halls, into a quiet side hall where I found her talking with Shou.
They argued about something. Shou let out an almost cute whine, one remarkably girlish for someone of her size and nature.
Shou flinched once she saw me. Byakuren patted her on the shoulder.
I stopped just before them. “Lovely day, ladies.”
Byakuren turned around. “You want to help?”
I smiled. “Of course. I can’t leave my wife in such a troubled state, can I?”
She grimaced, but only for a second, wiping it off before Shou caught her.
Shou giggled. Byakuren all but glared at her. Shou quieted down.
Byakuren turned back to me. “Thank you for the offer. We have a food shipment coming in. Would you like to help Shou sort it out?”
Shou frowned. “Please, Hijiri. I can handle this myself.”
Byakuren wanted to be rid of me, and… something else. She felt curious about something. She wanted to know more about… Not me, but something that involved my presence.
Shou wanted to handle the shipment privately, for some reason.
[ ] I helped Shou anyway.
[ ] I insisted on a short one-on-one with Byakuren.
[ ] I offered to help out elsewhere.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/23(Fri)22:00
As we left Byakuren behind, I heard something from her. A stray desire, once smothered under her confusion. She didn’t just want me away, she wanted me with Shou.
We wound through a few small corridors before coming out through a side entrance to the temple. Shou sat down, running her feet through short-trimmed grass.
I chose to lean against the wall.
A cool breeze disturbed the otherwise peaceful warmth of a late spring afternoon.
A pair of figures approached, carrying a loaded cart. Shou stared hard at them, then sighed.
I did too, though to a happier tune. “Feeling better?”
She sagged. “I don’t know. Hijiri’s serious about it though, so I guess I’ll just try to support her. Don’t humiliate us, okay?”
I huffed. “I don’t know what you’re trying to imply, young tiger, but I’m no monster.”
She didn’t respond.
A few minutes later, the cart rolled close to us. A man pulled it, with some assistance from the woman beside him. Their relatively mundane kimonos, combined with the simple, rustic appearance of their hair and faces, suggested human villagers. Or farmers, which may have been the better bet. Large bales of grain filled the cart, mixed with a large basket of common vegetables.
I felt a twinge of surprise, having suspected something more… illicit in this delivery.
I stepped off the platform and stood before it. Shou pulled herself up and stood beside me.
The carters’ eyes widened as they recognized me. I simply smiled and waved at them.
Finally, the cart rolled to a stop as the man, somewhat wrinkled yet almost barrel-chested, pulled a bale off the cart. The woman, with only subtle wrinkes to hint at her age, approached and gave us a short bow.
She blushed, stealing glances my way. She leaned into Shou’s ear, whispering, but not quiet enough for me.
“Is it true? Is she really…”
Shou groaned. “Yes. They’re married.”
That stepped back, turning to me. She breathed fast. “I thought the biker outfit was strange, but getting married, and to another woman at that…”
“Damn dykes.” The man muttered, hauling a second bale off the cart.
I sniffed, conveying just a hint of aristocratic offense amid condescending disinterest.
The woman turned her gaze to me. “So, how is she? Tender? Thoughtful? Cute?”
“She’s beautiful and sweet.” That was the wonder of romantic clichés, they made it easy for someone like me to slip this past any surface inspection.
“Oh, I can imagine. But, how is she—”
“Oi.” The man hauled the third bale off. Two more remained, plus the vegetable basket. “A little help here?”
“Of course.” I stepped into the cart and slung a bale over my back, then stepped back off. That’s when I noticed the crate underneath the vegetables. I shot a glance to Shou, not even needing to see her shudder.
She wanted to have the contents of that box and to keep me away from them.
[ ] I pretended not to notice.
[ ] I let Shou know I’d let it slide. [ ] If she showed me the contents.
[ ] I offered to ignore the box, for a price. [ ] An unspecified favor. [ ] Write-in.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/24(Sat)21:00
[x] I let Shou know I’d let it slide. [x] If she showed me the contents.
I set the bale down and stepped beside Shou, leaning into her ear. “Trying to sneak something in, Shou?”
“Ahahah. Of course not. I wouldn’t…”
“Shhh. I can keep this between us.”
She looked to me, eyes shining.
“…If you show me what it is.”
She sighed. “Alright.”
I turned around and grabbed the last bale, as the woman grabbed the basket and the man got the crate. I set the bale on the grass as the woman handed me the basket. Shou took the crate.
The man lifted the cart as the woman waved goodbye. They traveled back down the road.
Shou turned back inside, crate on her shoulder. I followed. We wound back into the temple’s side corridors, traveling down a flight of steps. The frantic confusion had faded from people’s hearts, most settling back to more mundane pursuits, though I still heard a common thread of curiosity. And far more gossip than any temple should hold.
We walked through empty, quiet halls made of lighter wood than you’d expect from a normal temple, but cut to make thick, almost imposing walls and supports. We entered a wide room with a scattering of other crates, bales, and baskets. Their food stores, as far as I could tell. Shou set the crate in a corner, shifting older crates and bales beside it.
She turned around and went back up the stairs. “Let’s get everything in first.”
I cast a glance back to the crate but chose to follow her. I trusted Shou more than Byakuren and knew I had little to lose. We went back out and Shou hauled two bales up, one over each shoulder. I chose to carry only one. We took them back into the basement and set them near the mystery crate.
We took one more trip, this time carrying one bale each, and brought them down to set beside the rest.
Shou sat down on a nearby crate, panting slightly.
I rested by the wall, waiting, tapping a simple rhythm into it.
Shou stood back up, slipped her fingers under the crate lid and heaved. Nails ripped free of their holding as she forced it off, setting it aside.
I took a step closer. I found pickled fish, salted beef and bacon, plus a few brown paper parcels of what I could only assume to be fresher meats.
“You’ve got quite the haul there.”
Shou blushed. “It’s not just f…” She stopped, changing subject. “It’s supposed to be spaced out.”
I hummed. Her meat smuggling had run the way to the temple’s stores. Now I just wondered how far the booze traveled.
[ ] I took the time to ask about… [ ] The temple. [ ] Shou. [ ] Byakuren’s interests. [ ] Write-in.
[ ] I returned to Byakuren. [ ] I discretely sought her out. [ ] I asked around. [ ] Write-in.
[ ] I explored.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/25(Sun)21:00
[x] I took the time to ask about… [x] Shou. [x] Byakuren’s interests.
“So…” I put a finger to my chin. “How have you been doing, lately?”
Shou just gave me a look. Angled eyebrows, mouth curled in weird directions, that sort of thing.
“Are you feeling okay?”
She sighed, pulling out a strip of dry beef. She bit down and ripped a chunk off. “I’m doing just fine. We’ve finally got the village off our backs and…” She nibbled on the strip some more. “I’ve been cutting down, by the way. Only one piece a day.”
“And that’s your piece for the day?”
She rubbed her head. “Today’s an exception. Because of, you know…” She gestured to the room in general, through with her gaze focused on me. “Everything.”
She fiddled with the meat. “Say, you wouldn’t have any sake on hand, would you?”
I lifted my arms, palms open. “Maybe next time.” I set them down. “I’m sure we could go drinking sometime, though.”
I folded my arms. “What about Byakuren?”
She looked back to me, slow and cautious.
I blushed. But only a little. “This whole wedding was a little rushed. Would you… know what sort of things she likes? Or what she does for fun?”
“You don’t know?”
“I just said it was rushed. You want her to have a good time, don’t you?”
Shou blinked, then smiled. “I guess I could let you in on a few secrets.” She patted a crate next to her. I approached and sat down on the crate above and behind it, my feet tapping the wood beside her legs.
Shou shrugged and passed me a similar strip of meat. I gave it a taste. It was as you’d expect. Simple, tough, and very salty.
Nonetheless, I nibbled on it.
“It’s hard to tell. She spends so much time preaching, mediating, or meditating that we don’t get too many chances to see what she enjoys. I’d try to break her out of that routine first and just see what she does.”
“And what if she runs back to it?”
She looked up, shutting her eyes. “Um… Try again?”
“So you have no ideas?”
She scrunched her brow. “Music, maybe? We always have someone playing something during recitations these days. Or maybe something involving soft, cuddly things.”
I sighed. “Well, thanks for talk.”
I chewed the rest of the strip as I walked back to the hallway. It seemed that playing the wife to an ascetic would prove quite the challenge.
Still thinking, I walked back upstairs.
[ ] I pursued Byakuren to ask her directly.
[ ] I looked for one of her close followers. [ ] Ichirin. [ ] Murasa. [ ] Nazrin.
[ ] I polled her temple.
[ ] I consulted Seiga.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/26(Mon)21:00
I passed by a young sparrow youkai and a human boy. As the muffled hum of wants flowed around me, I considered how best to solve this problem. And then decided that conventional solutions wouldn’t do.
So, I walked through the temple wall, coming out in a quiet, cozy room. The sharp, unpleasant aroma of sulfur, mercury, and ginseng wafted through the air as the woman before me beat a pestle against the interior of a small, wooden bowl. I sat down, folding my legs together as I rested against the wall.
She sat before a table, her twin loops of vivid blue hair bobbing as she pounded the bowl.
She ground the pestle into it, crushing the roots. Then, after a few finishing whacks, she tossed the contents into a cup, then dipped a small rod into a bowl of mercury and dabbed a few drops into the cup. She set the rod down.
“It’s rude to spy on ladies, you know.” She said, her voice sour.
“Oh, you’re a lady now?”
“More than you are, prince.”
“Such cold treatment. I merely wished for a share of your wisdom.”
I felt more than saw the roll of her eyes.
“You also barged into my private room.”
Now I rolled my eyes. “So, you wish to talk of pots and kettles, then?”
She paused, setting the pestle down. “What do you want, Miko?”
I pressed the shaku to my lips, thinking. “I’m having some relationship trouble.”
“You’ve been married for what, twelve hours?”
“A little longer.” I shifted my weight. “You would know how to… entice someone away from their inhibitions.”
“Choose your next words carefully, Miko.”
I sniffed. “I wish to entertain her. Nothing more.”
She turned around, lounging against her medicine desk. “I think I’m just the woman for you.”
I rubbed an earmuff. Her desires reeked.
“If you want to tempt someone like her…” She picked her wand up from an empty corner of the desk, twirling it in her hands. “Well, I know a show she’d never forget.”
I knew where that was headed. “No.”
She frowned. “How about you just ask her? I can arrange a meeting place where no one will listen in.”
“I could just bring her to Senkai if I wanted that.”
“On neutral ground.”
“What if I wanted to surprise her?”
Seiga turned sideways and tapped her fingers on the desk. “I suppose I could give you a few pointers in the art of… entertainment. But only if you swear to follow through.”
[ ] I opted for the meeting.
[ ] I chose to learn from her.
[ ] I considered a proposal of my own. [ ] Cute things. [ ] Music.
[ ] I asked for that show.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/27(Tue)21:00
[x] I considered a proposal of my own. [x] Cute things.
“Let’s consider a different approach.”
She gave me a flat, almost bored look.
“An associate of hers suggested she may enjoy things that are cute.”
“So, you want me to… what?”
“Provide me a chance to get her away from her…” I looked aside. “Meditation, or preaching, or whatever she’s doing right now. And get her around something utterly adorable.”
She chuckled. Then cackled. I sat there, waiting for her laughter to die down. Finally, sighing long and happy, she spoke. “Aww~ How charming. The prince wants to spend some soft, sweet, cuddly time with her wife.”
I couldn’t help a tiny, quiet smirk myself. “I guess I do.”
She leaned back. Tapping her stick to her chin. “I think I could make that work. Now,” she flicked her hand toward me, “shoo. Go talk to her, I’ll have your heart-stopping encounter ready when you leave the temple.”
I gave her a curt nod of the head, knowing by the mere fact of her acceptance that she’d get something out of this herself. I stood up, turned around, and walked through the wall and out of the mausoleum.
I returned to the temple, finding the hallway smothered in a deep, pink fog. I heard a manly squeak, followed by a quiet, embarrassed grunt. Then the fog receded, rushing down the hall. The fog wanted to hide.
I blinked, momentarily confused, before the bearded face of a billowing cloud poked its head around the corner. Recognition dawned.
“Nice to meet you, Unzan.” I gave him a calm, charming smile. “Do you work out? Because your fi—”
I sighed, shook my head, and walked forward. Really, he had such splendid fists.
Keeping my ears open, I noticed Ichirin ahead, just by Unzan. A pair of young, youkai novices sat in a nearby room, trading ghost stories. Byakuren sat much further away, meditating.
Despite Seiga’s assurances, I knew I had some time before she’d be fully prepared.
[ ] I visited Ichirin.
[ ] I visited the novices.
[ ] I visited Byakuren.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/28(Wed)21:00
I pondered my future as we passed into a cozy interior room. Two long, thin tables ran almost from end to end, each lined with a simple bench. She walked between the two, wanting to know why I still followed her. In truth, Byakuren still worried me.
Ichirin sat down at the far end. I stepped around and sat opposite her. Unzan settled over the bench behind her.
I thought for a moment, then decided to rip the bandage off at once.
“Do you prefer men or women?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Excuse me?”
I leaned back, almost touching the wall behind me. “Would you take a boyfriend or a girlfriend?”
She looked away. “I-I don’t know. Does it matter?” Unzan frowned.
I sighed and looked back to the door, drumming one hand. “I need advice.”
She stared at me, perplexed. “And you’re asking me?”
I set the shaku down between us and stared her in the eyes. “Yes. I need your help, Ichirin.”
She looked down. Unzan shifted behind her, staring me down.
“What do you even want me to say?”
I picked the shaku back up, tapping my chin. “Would she prefer sweet nothings and the occasional white lie, or blunt honesty? Careful, intimate caresses, or polite, studious affection? Candlelight dinners or—”
Ichirin, cheeks turning red, held her hand out, palm flat.
“You’re talking about Byakuren, aren’t you?”
I blinked once, smiling. “Who else would I want to romance?”
She let out a shaking breath. “Okay. Okay. Just- just making sure.”
“Are you feeling okay? You look a little pink.”
“Fine. I’m just fine.” She leveled her eyes back to me. “Just… take it slow. And be honest. Tell her she looks fat if you have to.”
I gasped, pressing a hand to my lips. “I would never do that. But…” I leaned over the table, letting out sly grin. “What about a more intimate setting? Would she like a kiss? A cuddle? Or would even handholding be too much?”
Ichirin’s face turned beet red. “I-I don’t know! Why should I know?” Unzan shifted forward, misting over her face.
I backed off, chuckling. “I’m sorry. Perhaps that was a bit too much.” I stood up. “I wonder what sort of gift she’d like.”
“A gift?” Ichirin shook her head, folding her arms Unzan receded and her blush faded. “The temple could use a few more statues. She might also appreciate a good amulet or staff.”
“Hm…” I rubbed my chin. “I’ll think about it. Thank you for your time, Ichirin.” I walked toward the door.
I heard a rustle behind me. “Wait. Unzan recommends flowers.”
How cliché. Yet I turned around. “Thank—”
A woman elbowed past me, carrying two bowls of rice with thin strips of salted meat on top. Greenish-black hair bobbed above a white sailor’s shirt and skirt as she passed down the aisle. Minamitsu.
Ichirin glared at her, getting only a shrug back. Minamitsu wanted to ‘share the spoils.’
[ ] I stopped by the grounds for flowers.
[ ] I stopped by Senkai for an amulet.
[ ] I gave them a halfhearted lecture.
[ ] I visited Byakuren.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/30(Fri)21:00
I shrugged them off, walking back to the halls and soon outside the temple. I stood before the great stairs and tiered grounds at the front, took one look down, and wandered around the temple’s side.
A flower, huh? I closed my eyes and listened. Outside the noise in or near the temple itself, I heard little. No one I heard I heard wanted to view something a little longer or to understand why something appeared the way it did.
I sighed and wandered off. Myouren temple spent no effort that I could determine in cultivating flowers, and its head monk would not likely appreciate a gift from her own garden anyway. Senkai told a similar story with gardens made of rock and sand rather than common vegetables or living ornaments.
I strolled across the grounds, winding a slow, lazy circle around the temple itself. I stopped at the humble stone walls marking the cemetery border. Cherry blossom trees hung over one side and I found myself tempted to pluck one of them to have this done with. But I shrugged and moved on.
I was not a woman of half-measures. Not when it came to matters of true love, nor political arrangements, nor even false romances like this. I would move on to a far better woman than Byakuren, and she would no doubt move on as well, but I had no intention of letting her forget these two weeks.
I walked into the cemetery. Plain, block headstones passed as I wandered deeper, moving instinctively toward the rocky outcropping that lead to my mausoleum.
I heard a desire. For something.
“What are you doing out here, Miko?”
I turned around to find Tojiko sitting on a headstone, her wispy tails wafting across it. I half-drew my sword. “You have five seconds to change.”
Her form flickered, resolving to a thin woman in a simple black dress and similarly simple black hair. Those familiar red scythes and blue tendrils hung from her back. I sheathed my blade.
“Good afternoon, Nue.”
“How’d you catch me?”
“You thought you could imitate the woman I spent half my life with.”
Nue rubbed her neck. “I guess that was a dumb move. How about this?” Her form rippled again, this time resolving into the white dress and gray topknot of Futo.
“Thou wilst never see mine true face!”
I snickered. “Nice try.”
“What’d I mess up this time?”
I turned and continued walking. “Talk with her. You’ll find out soon enough.”
She floated forward, landing and walking beside me. “And what are you doing here?”
“I’m looking for a flower.”
She folded her arms. “I do not get you hermits. Why a flower?”
“You’re talking in riddles now.” She stopped. “But, I guess I could be persuaded to help you out.”
I smiled. “How kind of you.”
“Wha-hey! That’s the part where you’re supposed to make an offer!”
No timer this time for reasons I need to explain. I'll be taking a few days off from this thread, hopefully no longer than a week and almost certainly no longer than two. I don't plan to do daily updates when I return, but I hope to be able to do three to four a week.
Futo—I mean, Nue—glanced across the headstones. She licked her lips. “Can’t say I have.”
“Would you like to?”
“Is that your offer?”
“Hmm.” She hopped backward, landing on a taller headstone. Standing on one foot, she scanned the scenery. “Wait here.” She lifted off.
She stopped, floating just above me. Mischief reigned in her head.
“Do you a good wine, or the cheapest I can find?”
She narrowed her eyes. “What’s your game?”
I chuckled. “That I don’t play one right now.”
She stared a moment, then groaned. “Fine. I’ll get you something good.”
She flew away.
I chose to rest against the headstone she took off from. A slow breeze ruffled my radiant hair.
I cast a glance around, half-hoping to find Tojiko float near. I sighed. This would be a long two weeks.
Rough earth crunched under heavy feet, hitting the ground two at a time. I looked to the side, where I found Yoshika hopping my way. Her talisman fluttered, and her black skirt swayed with each leap. She stopped a short distance away, making room for her outstretched arms.
“Hey, you there.”
“Miko.” I smiled.
“Yeah, Miko. What are you doing here?”
I stared at her. She stared back. I reached forward and patted her head.
“Good job, Yoshika.”
“Huh? Good? What did I do?”
“You protected my body.”
I chuckled. “Yes. And thanks to you, I got all the sleep I needed.”
I sighed. Yoshika appreciated the praise, but I doubted she’d remember it for long. She’d already forgotten why she approached me, a choice made in part on forgetting why she visited this graveyard.
She was a good girl, but a somewhat erratic one. Thanks largely to my former teacher.
She poked my gut. “Uh, do you just rest here?”
I closed my eyes, listening to the wind. “I’m waiting for someone.”
“Is he a good person?”
“She’s okay. Say, has Seiga told you to do anything recently?”
“Seiga? I don’t think so.”
That was a no. She hadn’t been around here recently.
I heard Nue’s desires approach, alcohol now taking prominence in her mind.
I opened an eye. “Yoshika, how about you stop by the mausoleum?”
“Uh, okay.” She hopped away, toward where I knew the cave entrance lied.
Futo-Nue touched down, holding out a deep red carnation. I lifted it from her hand to study. They were remarkable flowers, really. Few looked quite so much like a ball of frills as these. A good choice for lovers, though a rather ironic one, given Byakuren’s disposition.
“Thank you, Nue.” I turned back toward the temple.
“Hey, what about the wine?”
“Good wine demands a good atmosphere. You’ll get it soon.”
I felt her eyes narrow. “Are you trying to pull something?”
I turned back to her. “Have you ever had truly good wine? The real, top-shelf stuff?”
She grinned. “Yeah. Of course.”
“Didn’t you take care at least to get a good ambience when you did?”
I returned to my path. “You’ll thank me later.”
She huffed, but she left me alone. I carried the carnation back to the temple. I entered through a side door and wove back through the now calmer corridors. Judging by the atmosphere of desires, most visitors had left and those still here had started eating. I took the stairs into the basement, until I approached a closed door, from which I heard the quiet recitation of what I guessed to be some sutra.
Shou stood nearby, staring at the door with a bowl of plain rice cupped in her hands. Byakuren’s lunch, based on Shou’s desires.
“I’ll take care of that for you.” I took the bowl from her.
She fretted, then looked at me. Then sighed in relief and walked behind me. Her steps echoed off the thick walls as she went upstairs.
[ ] I waited outside.
[ ] I snuck in.
[ ] I barged in.
[ ] I sang back to her.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/12/07(Fri)19:00
I held the rice bowl in one hand and the carnation in the other as I stared at the plain oak door. A different wood from the rest of the basement. They must have installed it after the temple’s construction. Or transformation.
Byakuren’s chanting continued. We had only recently gone out to eat. Did she forget to tell them? Did they forget she said anything? I pushed the rim of the bowl with my thumb, rotating it through my hand. Was there another purpose to this bowl? A token of concern?
Well, I wasn’t one to fret over small details, so I patted the wall, found a crack only a hair’s breadth wide, and squeezed in. From within the infinite space between spaces, I found…
No outlets. None where I wanted, anyway. I stepped back out. I stroked my chin, considering the oddity that this presented. I wished to make myself known, but also to do so inconspicuously. I ran a hand down where the door met its frame. The same principles that allowed me to travel through cracks did work on other gaps, but things could get strange when I used those.
Down here the doors had hinges and levers, which did not help me. But I was not about to wait any longer, so I slid the lever down and nudged the door inward. Metal slid against metal and wood against wood, but it did so in small, slow increments.
I got it open just far enough to squeeze through, then slipped to the other side and guided it closed. With a quiet snap, the latch caught, and I turned around.
Byakuren sat, legs crossed with each foot resting on the opposite thigh. Her hands laid, palms up, over her knees as her chant continued. I considered my own body quite well-honed, and yet I couldn’t help but wince at witnessing her contorted legs.
I sat down across from her, merely crossing my legs as I rested my back against the door. The turmoil in her heart had eased, but barely. Though the relative calm, I made out one thing. Her desire for transcendence had overcome the rest, but that a yearning for something still gnawed at her. What that was, I couldn’t tell.
Her chanting drifted off.
She gave me a tired sigh. “What do you want?”
I set the rice bowl in her lap. She opened her eyes and picked it up.
“Your followers are quite attentive.” It was the one thing they had over mine, after all. Except Futo. No one beat her in raw enthusiasm. I preferred the quiet of my own side, of course.
“They’re good people.” Byakuren ran a finger along the bowl’s rim. “But it seems they forgot to include a utensil.”
Sure enough, no chopsticks adorned the bowl’s rim.
She set it on the floor beside her. “I suppose it’s the thought that counts.”
I cleared my throat, lifting the flower from my lap. “I have a gift for you. My love.” I extended it toward her.
Byakuren looked down on it, frowning in consideration. Gingerly, she reached out and took it. “Thank you.” She held it before her eyes, thinking.
I reached out and slid a hand down her arm. “Need some company?”
She blinked, cheeks flushed. “Company? I don’t… no. I’m fine.”
“Perhaps some entertainment? A song, perhaps?”
She set the carnation in her lap and stared down at it.
I clicked my tongue. “This is the problem.”
She looked back up, blinking.
“We have an act to perform, but we’re both crap at our roles.”
“No one’s watching us, Miko.”
“They will be.”
She sighed. “I know, I know. It’s just so confusing. You…” She looked to me, then bit her tongue. She leaned down again. “It’s different. It feels strange. And it’s not an act.”
I studied her eyes.
She faced me back. “We’re married, Miko. We have duties to each other now, and we’re going to fulfill them until they end.”
I listened to the temple. A couple desires to know our conversation emerged, but none approached the basement yet.
[ ] I argued with her.
[ ] I listened to her concerns.
[ ] I invited her to an outdoor stroll.
[ ] I insisted on some practice.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/12/11(Tue)19:00
I scooted to the side, resting my back against the wall proper. I looked her in the eye. “If we’re talking duties, then I suppose mine is to hear your concerns right now.”
She frowned. “Shouldn’t you already know?”
I smiled. “Please, I’m attentive, but not a mind reader.”
She didn’t speak.
I sighed. “Humor me.”
She raised the flower to her nose, taking a long, slow breath through her nose, savoring the scent.
“I… don’t know what to say. We’re enemies. Rivals, even. I don’t… working so close to you, it sets my hair on edge.”
I hummed. “Afraid I’ll stab you in the back?”
She laughed, quiet and brittle. “I suppose I am.”
I closed my eyes. “Yet you agreed to this inanity. Before I did, even.”
“That… is true.” She exhaled, slow and steady.
I tapped my shaku across my knee. “Do you want to back out?”
Tap, tap, tap.
“No. I don’t.”
I peeked an eye open. She’d puffed out her chest.
“Then you’ll need to trust me, won’t you?”
Her chest deflated. “Yes.” She rubbed her fingers down the flower stem. “But I don’t know about my temple.”
I rested my eyes again.
“I don’t think it’s right to demand such trust from them as well. But if we’re to be proper partners, I don’t see a way not to do so.”
I giggled, just slightly. “I’ve already given them a good scare. I doubt I could worry them much more.”
“I just… I don’t know who I am anymore.”
I set the shaku down. “Please, explain.”
“I’m a monk, Miko. My duties are first and foremost to the noble eightfold path and helping guide others on the path to Nirvana. But now I’m also married. I have duties to love and care for my husband. You.”
I cleared my throat. “Wife. I’m your wife.”
She groaned. “Yes, dear. The point is that romantic love is a desire that binds us to the unending cycle of death and rebirth. I have a duty to give that love, but another to guide others away from all worldly desires, in part through example.”
“Is a duty to others not something that by itself binds you here?”
She sighed. “It’s complicated.”
“Then let’s just complicate it a little more.” I listened again. Someone had begun to tiptoe down the stairs, but they weren’t in hearing range yet. “It’s just a few weeks anyway.”
“I don’t know.”
I opened my eyes. She stared into her lap, running a finger through the petals. “Is that really an acceptable action for a spiritual leader?”
“Do you want to pretend?”
“No. I refuse.”
“Then we’re getting romantic.”
She sat there, still unsure.
[ ] I hauled her out for a surprise.
[ ] I suggested a ‘chaperoned’ date.
[ ] I dragged her out for a ‘talk.’
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/12/18(Tue)19:00
I set a hand on my knee and stood up. She stared back up at me, eyes cool. I smiled back down at her. I also leaned in, grabbed an arm, and pulled.
She didn’t budge. I yanked once, then twice. Damn muscle mages. I sighed and let go. “Now’s not the time to get stubborn.”
“I’m serious, Miko.”
I rubbed my scalp. “Fine then, how about this: please, will you come with me?” I put my hands together, tilted my eyebrows outward, and moistened my eyes just a little.
She gave me a flat stare, then sighed and stood up. “Very well.”
“Excellent.” I turned and threw the door open. Byakuren followed, prim, behind me as I took the stairs back up two at a time. I threw a hearty wave at Murasa as I passed, halfway up the stairs. She evaporated behind me.
I emerged back into the more sedate commotion of the temple’s common halls, a pair of plain-robed disciples walking past as I strode toward a side gate. A pair of short, floppy bunny ears adorned one’s head, who chatted in a loud, cheery tone with her very human counterpart. The very image of Byakuren’s dream, no doubt.
Especially in the way that human kept his hands close to his body, head just slightly bowed, stride firm but unassuming. The rabbit was excited, the boy was nervous. Not terrified, or he never would’ve come here on his own. They passed out of earshot, preventing me from picking out precisely why the rabbit bothered him.
It could’ve been genuine prejudice on his part, for all I knew. But Byakuren followed close behind me, unaware that he had any concerns at all. I stepped onto the grass and listened for fuzzier sensations.
Nothing. I heard nothing but the usual buzz of desires moving about the temple. I took a few steps out, concentrating, before I noticed something off.
Then I heard a memorable heart, desires muted by careful, arcane training. Seiga herself waited for us just inside the tree-line. I rubbed my scalp as if to ease the coming headache. Nonetheless, I walked forward, toward the woods. Byakuren followed close behind as I passed into the cool shade of heavy, aged trees.
Seiga hid nearby, though neither my eyes nor ears told me enough to determine where.
Dexterous hands wove around my earmuffs, wrapping a silk bow atop them. I spun around to find only the edges of Seiga’s dress as she passed by. She dropped a toy in my hands, then vanished into the shadow. Showoff.
I turned back to Byakuren’s wide, blinking eyes. I looked down, holding the toy up to face me. It was a doll. Lean, wearing a complex and lacy, black dress. Expressionless, save the flat mouth, with a well-crafted scar running across one blind eye.
Fingering the body, I suspected a peculiar porcelain construction, though it also held the slightest hint of softness, implying some other material.
Byakuren snickered. “It looks good on you.”
I gave her a flat stare. Then stepped forward and tossed the doll into her hands. “Here, my wedding gift.”
A wry grin settled on her face. “I thought it was the husband who gave gifts.”
“Then feel free to give me something tomorrow. Perhaps something white and three times as valuable?”
She huffed. “This isn’t chocolate.”
I sighed, stepping back into the light. “What do you think of the doll?”
She played with it, angling it around. “Is it evidence for something?”
“Only evidence of a disturbed mind.” For a moment, I half wondered what would’ve happened had I gotten stuck with Seiga instead. I shivered.
She held the doll out, flower tucked into the straps on the front of her robe. “So, what did we come out for?”
[ ] To check back in on Kokoro.
[ ] To set ground rules.
[ ] To talk fashion.
[ ] To spar.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/12/27(Thu)19:00