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File 15443694987.jpg - (899.71KB, 1344x1600, parade_logo.jpg) [iqdb]
41501 No. 41501
“Platonic love is love from the neck up.”
—Thyra Samter Winslow

Expand all images
>> No. 41502
File 154436960584.jpg - (319.39KB, 850x1200, __mystia_lorelei_touhou_drawn_by_m92fs__sample-7d5.jpg) [iqdb]
41502
MYSTIA

HER COALS WERE going too hot.

The night forest breeze, threaded with wintry cold, picked sparks up and through the laden grille. A spray of fat burst from a crack in the meat. It splashed on the coals, sizzling – puffing up a wisp of white smoke.

Mystia Lorelei snuck an irritated note into her humming. She strained onto her tip-toes and reached the steel hook hung from an eave of her wheeled stall. The hook was, in a less than innocent truth, an old and blunted sickle – which Mystia had long ago rescued from a shed of a human farmstead. It did decently as a poker, however, and this was the function she had ultimately prescribed it. She stuck it with a firm, unafraid hand under the grille, and spread the glowing chips of coal out to the farther edges. The coals hissed, sparked, but seemed to calm a little all the same.

But this was not the end of her troubles.

Mystia’s clientele – opposite to her estimates – had not been bountiful that night. This was troubling because – once more, unlike herself – the eels and chicken breast spitted and laid out on the grille would not deign to wait another night. Come a few more hours, and they would cool, harden and, in the first opportunity afforded, moulder and turn rather less than appetising. A fresh batch was days away still; the fairies, which she had bullied into gathering pretty stones to bribe the lake’s guardian youkai, had not been heard from yet; and if Mystia Lorelei did not make the necessary sales, then she would need to steal her next bag of coal from the humans’ stockpiles. The delicate economy of Gensokyo’s eel-and-chicken market demanded she rid of her supply tonight, but…

… The gods of the realm were evidently watching. Watching – and not liking what they saw.

One. One human sat behind the counter of her stall, and had sat so far since Sun-down. One human male – though, to Mystia’s relief, one decent enough to order seconds and even thirds. Thrice or four times that, and she might just come clear by morning. Though, if she had the say… if she had the say, and the say did not scare anyone away, Mystia would prefer her clientele less… blatant. The man at her stall tonight was white all over – except the trim of green, red and yellow at the extremities of his robe. The front of the same was festooned with a pair of black, pom-pom boutonnieres, and atop the man’s head...

Atop the man’s shaven head stood a tall, lacquered hat, netted all around in white ribbon. A mark of court. A Taoist eboshi.

More trouble, Mystia grumbled inside. Trouble, trouble, trouble.

And her coals were still going too hot.

Her humming hitched when her customer dropped his emptied skewer on the counter. Attiring a polite smile, Mystia span her hook and faced the Tao priest.

“Fourths?” she suggested with stiff, affected humour. “These are almost done.”

The priest weighed his desires – briefly. Then gave a nod. “Please.”

Mystia’s humour softened. “You know the song.”

A few hollow-centred coins found their way from the man’s pocket to the one in Mystia’s apron. A hum of appreciation, and she returned her hands to the food, and her thoughts – inwards.

“You are pretty.”

The man’s voice jarred them out. Mystia Lorelei, whose own voice had snipped off, rounded once more on her customer.

The customer met her gaze. Though his hands masked his face – mounted in a steeple at his mouth; but its upper half shaped a slight frown, as if he were solving some logic puzzle not quite within his faculties. Nor within Mystia’s.

“… Excuse me?” she tweeted.

You-kai,” the priest syllabised. The furrow between his eyes deepened. “Monster. But pretty.”

But for the hook hooked around the edge of her grill, Mystia might have been blown away. A breath of wind stirred up a few more sparks from the coals, which pattered onto her arm. Mystia hardly felt them over her head grinding the words into an easier absorbed form.

But… the challenge wasn’t there. The crook on her (now she wished he wasn’t) customer’s brow was dumb – but not mocking. The Taoist eyed her on, content to let silence fill in the conversation; and if it was a response he was after, his posture visibly precluded one of a fight.

And yet, Mystia’s head could extract nothing else:

The words had been meant to rile.


( ) Mystia got riled.
( ) Mystia took it in stride.
>> No. 41503
(x) Mystia got riled.
birdbrains are susceptible to trolling
>> No. 41504
(X) Mystia took it in stride.

If there's anything a food service job teaches you, it's how to ignore annoying customers.
>> No. 41505
(X) Mystia took it in stride

no bulli
>> No. 41506
(X) Mystia got riled.

>chicken breast spitted and laid out on the grille

That's metal as fuck. Cookin up the fam just to turn a profit.
>> No. 41508
(x) Mystia took it in stride.
>> No. 41509
[x] Mystia got riled.
cheepout
>> No. 41510
(X) Mystia took it in stride.
>> No. 41511
(x) Mystia got riled.
This is Gensokyo, riling and being riled is par for the course.
>> No. 41512
(X) Mystia took it in stride
>> No. 41513
(X) Mystia took it in stride
>> No. 41514
The title wouldn't make sense if she takes it in stride!
>> No. 41530
>not bulli-ing
It's like some of you don't want to see Mystia snap and get saucy with a random.
>> No. 41531
(X) Mystia got riled.

Letsa go
>> No. 41532
(X) Mystia took it in stride.

Hey, he's still giving us coin. Maybe he'll hang around and try again at fifths
>> No. 41533
File 154456084680.jpg - (205.52KB, 850x1128, __mystia_lorelei_touhou_drawn_by_borushichi__sampl.jpg) [iqdb]
41533
(X) Mystia took it in stride.

The words may be… Mystia, however, was no fairy to provoke at a pinch of ill-respectful commentary. For one, she had a brain.

She racked it for a reply.

“I… Thank you?” she chirped.

This was the common return. Wasn’t it? Mystia hadn’t over-much experience being courted. Mostly village boys, on those occurrences she went among the humans to make her purchases. In costume – wings tucked in and draped behind a carrying sack – she sang a song little different from any work- or farm-girl going about the day’s errands. Little enough, anyway, to get pepped on by cavorting youths.

Adults… Yes, well, a few times. Though never so artlessly. Was this the act? Mock-courting the youkai in its own territory for a rise? It was demanding to tell past the steeple at the white-cloaked priest’s face. Hands at her skewers, Mystia Lorelei braced for the next feint.

None was forthcoming.

Not to say feints were, conventionally; Mystia simply didn’t buy the argument about standing ground. A stand-off of any fashion meant whoever wished her ill had all the more opportunity to find a softer spot in her flanks. Not that her flanks were that soft in the first place. They were stressed from inadequate sales and wasting food. Nothing more.

Mystia hummed a soothing note.

“Was… there a point attached to that?” she asked.

Seated on the outcropped bench of her stall, the Tao man did what men did. He annoyed her.

“I hope,” he said, shifting on his perch.

The stall creaked on its wheels from the motion. Arrayed on a shelf overhead, Mystia’s collection of pretty baubles clinked a brief threat. There was a precarious pause, but no delivery. Mystia breathed out – softly. The priest maintained his tune of disquieting, double S: steepling and staring. Only now, he switched his gaze from detail to detail as he spoke.

“Clothes,” he noted, “co-ordinated by colour. Clean, combed hair. That’s a pin keeps it out of your eyes. Nice, flower shape, too.”

“… Uh.”

“Your nails,” the priest counted on, “are long, but well-kept. Your wings… pretty, sooner than scary. Your shoes aren’t scavenged – rather made to fit. You wear lipstick. Why?”

“I—” Mystia began.

The Tao man stole her stanza – folding down his hands and rapping on the counter. “You cast your spell of blindness,” he accused, “then lure men with your song. You give them food, and take their coin in exchange. Why? What for? Is this what a youkai does?”

“Are… Are you with the Tengu?” Mystia choked out. “Am I being interviewed?”

The priest scoffed. “Tengu. There’s another can of… How do you say? Whores?”

“Worms,” corrected Mystia. Not far wrong, though. “Another can of… of worms.” Unaccountably, she felt a lurch of hunger. “Um, here—” She singled out the longest skewer on the grille, and thrust it out at the human. “It’s done. Salt? Pepper? Soy sauce?”

The human picked it out of her hand. “… Thanks all the same.”

An overtone of “I wasn’t finished” rode his answer; but Mystia didn’t care. The human employed his mouth with the food – rather than her – and that was for the better.

This is what you get, Lorelei, Mystia criticised herself, jabbing the hook under the crackling coals. You didn’t philosophise with humans. You toyed with them; you took from them what you needed, and gave no thought to leaving them worse for the interaction. Worse that it often was. It never ceased to stun Mystia how nosy humans could be for all their inbuilt fragility. How could such corporeal a species remain so preoccupied with the spiritual? How could those so harshly shackled to the yield of the earth begin to understand the motivations of gods and youkai? Why they did as they did? Why Mystia Lorelei did what she did?

How far be it from her, she wondered, to enlighten this crass human?

Very far, like as not; but metaphysical distances meant little when the other party was buying.

“… Because,” Mystia Lorelei murmured, ahead she could think better, “Because thievery is hard.”

The man in white eyed her over his brown meat. It was an ugly combination. “… Do tell?”

A wry smile quirked Mystia’s lips. “I’ve tried thievery,” she complained. “It isn’t easy. Stockpiles are watched; someone will always make an educated guess if you sell something that’s gone missing, and humans are wont to overreact where their food is involved. I’ve gathered it’s significant.”

“Mm. Astute of you.”

Mystia shrugged. Her shoulders were sweating under the apron. “You need to eat to exist,” she said, fanning her face with the hook. “A fairy could figure that much. Which explains none why you’ll swap it for shiny clips of metal, but… Here we are.”

“Money is a strange thing, yes,” agreed the priest.

Mystia nodded. “But that’s the reason. It is less trouble to buy your food from you. Then, I can sell it right back – along with what I’ve gathered from… other sources – for even more money. More money means I can buy more things. Simplicity.”

The man bit into a chunk of crispy meat as if it were Mystia’s own argument. “More fings?”

Mystia smiled, very much against her mood. “The pin.”

“And the shoes?”

“Ordered at a cobbler’s, like everyone’s.”

“… Hair?”

“That’s natural.”

The man mulled, then swallowed down the rest of the meat. “… Which explains none,” he aped her earlier line, “why you need these things. They aren’t just functional. They’re pretty.

He’d intoned the last one like an allegation.

And… It stung in its closeness. Mystia had but to glance below the privacy curtain at her back to feel the full, forceful bite. There, jammed under her cot, was an antique trunk replete with clothes that were far too showy for utility: all frills and floral patterns. An awkward flush crept up her jaw. Mystia’s need for pretty things was half of this song. Though, the other half… was just life these days. Her life was food and pretty things.

“I…” Mystia hesitated. No. No need to tell him that. “… No one,” she reasoned, “would buy my food if I looked like a mountain hag out from under the rain. It’s elementary. Me, I would never buy food from you.”

The priest lifted a brow. “Because I look like a mountain hag?”

“No. You’re—” Mystia bit down on a lip. “… You’re ugly.

A second brow joined the priest’s first. “Tell me how?”

“You’re bald.

Had humans been gifted a third brow, the one before Mystia would have been raising his. “I… Huh.” He ripped the side off another cube of meat to smooth over whatever it was his naked scalp was making him feel. Cold, no doubt. “… All it comes around to that, though,” he called back their refrain. “You sell food for money. You spend money to make yourself pretty. You make yourself pretty to sell food. Repeat.”

“You forgot the spell,” noted Mystia. That was an important beat.

“But why?” The priest speared the skewer at her chest. It didn’t touch, but almost. “Tell me this, Miss Cook. Where does this go? Whence does it go? Why hobnob with humanity when you’re clearly not of us?”

“‘Miss Cook?’”

“Why not? Name with a fine heap of curves. Like you.”

Mystia scowled. “That’s rude.”

The priest had no concern to show for it. “Then,” he challenged, “be rude yourself. Tell me your part. Tell me why this whole operation. Tell me why I’m being fed talk and food instead of my own screams. You youkai.

Mystia’s wing-feathers bristled.

She could tell him any number of reasons. Manifold reasons: from, “Not your pooped affair!” to “Flock off, that’s why!” A Mystia with her humours roiled might have given him those and any pigeonholed in between. But, with her anger pinned under her nails (against her palms), she had something even worse to tell. Much, much worse.

The truth.

The one behind her chicken-and-eel business. Of her fascination with pretty clothes. The truth of why, the youkai such that she was, she had been led to imitate humanity.

Mystia breathed this truth. Tasted it. Knew its tune.

“Well, because—!” she snapped.

The truth…


… What was the truth?


Mystia stuck with the words lodged in her throat. No, not the words. There were none to this song. Only an empty note which left her lips prised apart in helpless confusion. She felt as if she’d hit a glass window.

The priest before her gave her a knowing stare, all white and disappointment.

“You can’t say,” he guessed.

No. Not guessed. Known. Mystia, stunned out of her wits, weakly shook her head.

The priest sighed. “None of you can,” he complained, softly. “That’s what makes her so… vexing.”

Sooner ahead than Mystia could process his reply, the priest wolfed down the remainder of his meat. He placed the charred skewer – upright, point down – on the counter of her stall. It remained so, unfeasibly, standing on its sharp end, even after he had let it go to lick the grease from his fingers. He fished inside his robe, and dug out a fistful of shiny coins.

“For putting up with me,” he said.

The coins clattered on the buffed countertop. Mystia blinked. There was enough for fifths, sixths, and twice again. One coin trundled away from its siblings and grazed the priest’s emptied skewer. They knocked each other down.

The Tao man stood up to shuffle out of the bench.

“Ah—” he remembered. “Miss Cook? One thing more.”

Mystia started. “Um. Yes?”

The priest stared at something past her head. “Your wings,” he said. “Where do they attach?”

“Oh. Um. They… At my shoulder blades. They come out of those.”

The man squelched his forehead. “Bone and all?”

“Bone and all.”

“Can I see?”

Mystia batted her eyelashes. “Wha—” Her cheeks grew hot. “No! No, you can’t!”

The Tao man gave her a weird look. “… Shame,” he half-complained, half-noted. “Curious.” Off the bench, and he regarded Mystia and her wheeled stall one last time. “The chicken was good, though. I will try again.”

He sketched a lazy namaste: one hand up flat at his chest. Then, as ordinarily as youkai themselves might, he leapt for the cloudy, midnight sky above the treetops. Mystia watched him with her night-creature’s eyes, until he broke their ambit and melted in the darkness.

Once he did, she swept the coins from the counter, and stashed them in a pocket of her apron. They cooped up to become an awkward weight at her stomach. Mystia didn’t mind it.

What she did, was that now she wasn’t sure why she didn’t.


>> No. 41534
File 154458197115.jpg - (65.95KB, 480x360, hqdefault.jpg) [iqdb]
41534
> Mystia’s need for pretty things was half of this song.
burds
>> No. 41535
you sure you're a sparrow and not a magpie mystia
>> No. 41536
We just gunna ignore the fact that homeboy went full Naruto in that ending scene?
>> No. 41537
>>41536
yes
>> No. 41538
>>41536
He’s the guy from the Stankybonky short(s) who became a disciple of Miko’s. Hardly real surprising.
>> No. 41539
>>41534
That's only male birds...

......
>> No. 41540
>>41539

I mean like...trap Mystia could totally get it as well. No homo.
>> No. 41544
File 154464198229.jpg - (421.69KB, 744x1052, __mononobe_no_futo_touhou_drawn_by_sukage__a8396b9.jpg) [iqdb]
41544
MU

MONONOBE FUTO WAS wonderful.

The yard by the western wing of the temple – usually quiet – was this morning busy in profusion. On the neatly swept grounds, in a wide circle, acolytes in novice robes were crowded, peeking over one another’s shoulders at a small, spry woman pacing and speechifying in their middle. Scrawled all around her in the dirt lay the likeness of the temple itself: its floor plan with walls, chambers and places of focus marked – rendered with shocking accuracy by the Crown Prince’s aide herself. Each time the grey-haired (yet little wizened) master of the Tao brushed close this or that side of the circle, the novices shrank, muttering. Not at all unreasonably. For, in her small hand, Futo of the late Mononobe clan, Lord Tashi’s confidante, held something impossible:

A mass of churning flames, confined to the shape of a fist-size orb.

“—Thereby,” Futo was cheerfully explaining, “whenas thou to a focal point nearest, yon Feng doth its influence expand. Heed ye!”

The master Taoist, whom most every acolyte outmatched in height by a third, shoved the fiery orb out over a square on the ground standing in for the Crown Prince’s inner sanctum. The orb swelled: the blaze within whipped into a frenzy by an unseen, ethereal wind. An awed murmur crept across the group.

“But lo—” Futo twirled about, arms wide and full of melodrama. Novices nearest by winced away. “Near thou a place elsewise…” Here, Futo hovered the orb above the temple’s communal bedrooms. “… And Shui doth again ravenous come. Heed ye!”

Her students did heed, even as the orb appeared to wrinkle and die down. A few relieved sighs could be heard, let fly from under noses disinclined to scalding. A few of those attained the master Taoist’s ears.

Mononobe Futo smiled.

Then, casually, she slashed at them with the arm bearing the orb.

Novices bowled over each other to duck out of the way of the fiery projectile… which, in reality had never at all been released from Futo’s grip. Those who had dived, of course, had only after they had knocked themselves and others close by to the ground to realise the fact.

Mononobe Futo bent over.

Then, she sniggered. Then, began to laugh.

The tricked acolytes picked themselves up from the yard’s dirt. But, even so, a handful cracked sheepish smiles of their own. There was no spite in Mononobe Futo’s laugh. No ill-will. No slight. Only an explosion of joy at a prank struck perhaps a little truer than intended.

Wiping at her face with a hand, Futo span at those of her listeners who had been spared her fiery sense of humour. They blanched when her bright, roguish eyes took them in; yet, all that the little master of the Tao did was resume her lecture on mysterious Feng and Shui. As though a full quarter of her flock hadn’t just been floored.

One could easily love Mononobe Futo.

Here, after all, was a soul who never hid anything. Here was a woman who lived on such an extreme outside of her skin, there seemed little underneath except more Futo. Any emotion felt by her painted upfront on her face and coloured her demeanour. Any action taken – any word said, joke pulled – came of nothing else but who and what she was.

And, there was nothing Mononobe Futo was that was not Mononobe Futo.

Those on the sharp ends of said jokes, as well, did recognise this much. These were only jokes. Humorous asides to her not-always-humorous work. A manifestation of Futo’s Futo-ness.

Wonderful. This was the word. Such poise. Such confidence.

Such well-anchored legwork when she flared the orb… and whirled in the direction of the temple’s balcony.

“HANDAI MU!”

The fire ruptured its shell with a roar. Novices threw themselves down in earnest as a miniature Sun blazed past their heads: screaming toward a figure eavesdropping on the lecture from up on the shaded platform. The listener, jostled out of their distraction, forged a quick, sloppy gesture with their palms. Quick enough… but plenty sloppy.

The spinning fire-ball crashed into the ward, sawing like a wheel on a loose axle. For an illusive moment, it seemed as though a wild beast: snapping its jaws, attempting with great ferocity to devour the figure whole.

But then—

Then, as if by some divine miracle, the fire-ball gave a throb. It twitched. It twinged. It recoiled as if stung, and – sharply – veered away from its prey. Novices gaped after it as it sailed, fantastically, first over the temple’s roof, and then up into the perpetual blue of the Sen-kai’s sky.

Once they quit squinting, and looked back to who had routed it, they saw a man. A simple, unremarkable man: with a shaven head and Taoist robes – so like their own – and steadied: feet out wide, one palm ahead the other in a warding sign. Gaze ahead, scanning for danger. A picture of a warrior-monk.

… Less, perhaps, the flames eating at the coloured edges of his sleeves.

The priest jumped, flailing his arms. Almost like Futo did sometimes, when seized in enthusiasm.

“Handai Mu!”

All the stares in the yard (even the priest’s) snapped back to the little master Taoist.

Arms propped on her slight hips, Mononobe Futo stood, seeming – for the first time that day and some before – genuinely upset. Her grey eyes focussed on the watcher atop the balcony – like little torches threatening to re-light his clothes. Her somewhat copious brows joined above her nose into an even more copious V.

The priest ceased flapping. He began to sweat, instead.

“… Ye—Yes, master Futo?” he coughed.

Futo stamped a clog-encased foot. “Handai Mu!” she called a third time. “You art – correct me should I you wrong – ready initiated in Feng and Shui. Art not you?”

The priest bowed. “Yes,” he confirmed. “Yes, master Futo. So I am.”

“Then what!” demanded Futo, “What, pray, mightst you yourself avail by on young cadets spying?”

“With respect, master Futo,” the priest corrected. “I was spying on you.”

The little master of the Tao paused. Then, within a blink, she regained her poise.

“Ere aught else,” she huffed, “your of address mode! You art of rank to mine similar. But one ‘master’ doth these walls rule – and I am not she. You will me with accord to our peerage call. Yes, Mu brother?”

Acolytes as one glanced to the unremarkable priest’s (now faintly blackened) sleeves; and there, indeed, were the three colours of rank. Yellow, green and red, going outward. All missing was Futo’s final blue. Their own, red sleeves, were mean in comparison.

Abashed, or unaccustomed to such scrutiny, the priest tugged the outmost, white layer of his robes over the markings. “… Yes,” he said at length. “Yes. Apologies. It is as you propose, sister Futo.”

This noticeably mellowed the master Taoist, who frowned on for a heartbeat or two, mostly on principle. Then, she melted into a fond smile. Still, belonging to Futo, this as well was ahead long filled with more of herself.

“Ah, perchance I too soon spake,” she announced; “perchance there yet a lesson herein is.” She swivelled on a heel at the staggered novices. “Mightst ye venture,” she asked them, “what error Mu brother there did misfortunately make?”

A numb moment, and the initiates straightened to attention.

“… Used Feng against Feng, instead of Shui?” one hazarded.

Futo gave them a magnanimous nod. “Thou an aright thought makest,” she granted. “Howbeit, alack… Only forby truth.”

Flames licked out and swirled to form a new orb above her outstretched hand. Futo carried it to the section of her drawing reflecting Handai Mu’s vantage. The fire picked up current, the same it had from the Crown Prince’s chambers. A place of Feng.

Her students, fear forgotten to curiosity, drew closer about the little master as she proceeded to explain in a sagely manner why, then, her “brother” had drawn on Wind when surprised, which had fed the fire at first – rather than the opposite Water.

Overhead, in the balcony’s shadow, Handai Mu leaned on the scorched railing.

Mhm, he thought. I could easily love her.

A warm, lazy afternoon was glazing over the Taoist temple in Toyosatomimi Miko’s hidden Sen-kai. The Sun… which was not the Sun, but another trim in the Crown Prince’s ethereal weave… glared from on high, unimpeded by a single cloud. It was never cloudy in Miko’s Sen-kai. Never cold. Not outside of those rare days when she slipped in her control over the realm, and a touch of the outside weather slid in through the cracks. The Crown Prince, it was whispered in less public quarters, simply thought the full illumination of sunlight to foster a like enlightenment within. Mu thought these whispers simple… but passed them on, for no reason but their simpleness gratified him.

As he was gazing out over the rolling, golden fields with encompassed Toyosatomimi Miko’s temple palace, another impossibility loomed at the fringe of his awareness.

Above the temple’s roof, high in the tepid air, a lone, greenish cloud swam languidly out onto the otherwise unblemished sky. Though, once more… not a cloud, but something else yet, which the Crown Prince had brought into this dreamlike space. A person, this time… of a sort. A dead sort, to be rude on mark – even if the person herself made it an open display.

As a ghost, the Crown Prince’s wife… at least in his – or her – previous life (the details were confusing and Miko’s public secret)… Soga Tojiko enjoyed few pleasures but for the most basic. Many an afternoon she whiled away, basking in the warmth of her husband’s manufactured Sun. The afternoons she did not, she followed the Crown Prince around – giving any new recruit to the Tao a nasty start.

Mu liked Tojiko. Not as deeply as he liked (and admired) Futo; but the woman was more than capable of being pleasant – when one found a topic of conversation pertinent to a ghost. She was, in honesty, a dear and mannered soul… even if her moods could be a touch abrupt. The same way a sea was a touch wet.

The orb, Mu figured. The orb must have drawn her out. Even with Futo about, it was seldom that fire-balls were randomly arcing through the Sen-kai’s sky. The ghost lady might have been curious. Or furious; both were equally like.

Mu skewed an ear down, where Futo was rounding off her lecture with twice the flair it was warranted. He tapped his knuckles on the burnt railing, musing. Another gaggle of neophytes was already waiting instruction in the temple’s main hall; Mu himself had guided them in. Afterwards, daily ceremonies at Miko’s side would keep the little Taoist booked until evening. If Mu wanted her to himself (which he did), it had to be now.

So, he waited, tapping, as the acolytes below filed in twos and threes back indoors. Some did so plainly footnoting to each other what they had been told; some marched wrapped in cloaks of their own thoughts. Those, Handai Mu suspected, would flee within the week. Toyosatomimi Miko’s power and radiance seduced many; few withstood the expectation behind them. Ally to this Futo’s overwhelming passion, the thundering of Tojiko and the solitariness of Miko’s handful of elevated servants, and the turn-out for the Taoist temple attached to Gensokyo was – in a word – miserable.

Though, if the Crown Prince was bothered any by this truth, it was not bother enough to shift her benchmark.

Mu heaved himself upright once the doors below shut behind the last of the novices. Futo dusted her hands, sides, butt… before her grey eyes turned up once more at her spying brother. A smile tugged the corners of her mouth.

And then – impossibly – Mononobe Futo jumped.

The single leap conveyed the petite Taoist from the temple yard – seven metres down – up to the other side of the Mu-occupied stretch of railing. Futo clung on, vising the fingers of one hand around the singed wood. At the same time, she extended the remaining one to Mu. The priest grasped it, hauling the small woman, up and over, onto the balcony. Truthfully, Futo’s legs would happily have carried her that bit farther on their own. There were not too many things Futo’s legs couldn’t do. But, the Crown Prince’s aide relished in baiting these moments of camaraderie out of those she liked. Mu didn’t hold it against her.

He did hold her hand, though, a little longer than Futo softly pulling it away.

Futo, being Futo, made a naughty face ahead stepping back. “Well?” she asked, arms folded. “What thinkest you?”

Mu cocked his head. He joined his newly recoloured sleeves at his stomach. “Of?”

“Those.” The little Taoist thumped a heel on the balcony’s floor. “Whereof else?”

The redsleeves, Mu translated to himself. “Half won’t last the week,” he opined. “Half again won’t see their greens.”

Futo nodded. It wasn’t a cruel gesture, not even sad; but Mu could sense the pity. “I’ll fain any who stay groom,” she admitted; “mayhaps whichsoever my Crown Prince master’s eyne captureth. But I nowise hope for this lot have.” She shrugged away her own damning criticism. “Well, marry that,” she decided. “Somedeal more importunately… Mu brother?”

Mu raised a brow. “Sister Futo?”

Futo raised both of hers in an adorably askance scowl. “I you to address me with respect before the cadets asked,” she told him. “Nay to grovel. Our Taishi Lord doth solely mastery over this domain command. I am no one’s master but this body and soul’s. Nor yours. We,” she reminded, “almost of rank are. Are not we?”

“We are,” Mu agreed.

“And friends,” added Futo.

“I rather like you, yes.”

“And I, you. So, do not my like harder make. Will you, Mu brother?”

The priest bowed an obeisance. “I have had trouble addressing… people to their satisfaction since I wound up in this place. I recognise my failing and mean to amend it… someday.”

He unrolled from his bow. Futo was rolling her eyes.

“Your failing, Mu,” she moaned, “that you your puissant qualities beneath yon daredevilry hidest is.”

Mu hesitated. “… I thought you liked it?”

“Oh, soothly,” Futo allowed. “It hath its childish charm. And I do so children love.”

“… Is that what I am to you?”

The little Taoist smiled. “I a rank yet above you am. No? Now—” She bucked Mu’s forging retort by swishing closer. “What hath you so morose gotten?”

Mu startled.

It was exceedingly easy, ribbing Futo, to forget the woman was keen as well as wonderful. Not without cause had the Crown Prince designed for Futo to collocate with her into this new era; not without cause was Futo, even now, the sword of Toyosatomimi Miko. The daily repartee and excitement of her second youth veiled well that Futo of the late Mononobe clan had bloomed and aged in ancient court. Observance of others had like been the lesser of her duties. Observance and, more keenly, connecting those observations to their sources.

And, they were brother and sister in Lord Taishi’s retinue. This, perhaps, counted too.

He still asked, feigning uncertainty, “… ‘Morose?’”

Futo raised a finger, wagging it pertly in the air. “An everyday Mu,” she taught, “either our Crown Prince master like a hound attendeth, or in yon broom-closet he a library calleth his study furthereth. A morose Mu my sessions with young cadets stalketh and disrupteth. It nay a difficult match is.”

“I suppose,” gave morose Mu.

“And so?” urged Futo. “What doth my brother ail?”

Handai Mu shut his eyes. Then, helplessly, he opened them – together with his arms.

“I am in doubt, Futo.”

A common malady, she might have said. She did not.

Instead, she stole his earlier – genius – question. “Of?”

Mu’s mouth cracked into a tiny curve. Sauntered into that one, you. “I am,” he hurried to explain, “mounting an inquiry. Of a sort. Have been, for a while.”

Futo made a nod. “Mhm. I know.”

The Crown Prince’s acolytes were discouraged from re-entering Gensokyo, unless to progress their training… discouraged, but not dissuaded. Any and all goings were, of course, noted; Mu could no more hide his than he could wrest Toyosatomimi Miko’s control of her domain from her golden mind.

And yet, Futo let it lapse. “Good,” she, in fact, said. “Many a grand answer hath from inquiring begun. How doth it proceed?”

Mu flattened his mouth back into a line. “Ah…” he sighed, sidelong. “Well. Herein’s the bug. I do not know that it should.”

“… Why?”

Futo’s answer had been nothing but level. Still, when he looked, Handai Mu found the little master of the Tao frowning.

“I… am not sure of it, anymore.”

“Dost you knowledge desire, Handai Mu?” Futo asked sharply.

Mu squared his back. “Yes, but—”

The small woman shook her head. Her ponytail wiggled at its back. “Wei wu wei,” she declaimed. “Action from action precluded. Our Crown Prince master hath you with strength and means equipped; the Tao – the Way – your guide is. The Sage occupied with the unspoken is,” Futo recited, “he without effort acts; with nary verbosity teaches, with nary possession produces. He with nary regard to result creates.

“I know the adage, Futo.”

“What, then? If to wit doth what you desirest be – pursue it. Therethrough you to our Crown Prince master dost honour.”

“What if my question is wrong?” dared Mu. “What if it defies the precepts?”

“How doth it?” Futo dared back. “A mere question?”

“It—” Mu clamped his jaw. He sieved his reply. He separated the lies. “… My question,” he said at last. “It sets… people… against me. It sows discomfort. Chaos.”

“Meanest you your friends in your former home?” guessed Futo. “In the human town?”

“Can’t be,” sniffed Mu. “I’m not capable of friends. Too morose.”

Futo brushed past the joke. “How dost you this know?” she asked, all scholarly. “That your question this discomfort, this chaos sows?”

“Conjecture. Surmise. Glares and silences. The works.”

“But nay words.”

“No,” confirmed the inquiring priest. “No, never words. Why—”

A trace of discontent fogged behind Futo’s eyes. Mu cut himself short.

“Let us,” the little Taoist proposed, “your question with another question trial.” She put her hands to her sides. “Handai Mu. What dost you want, right now?”

Mu faltered. “Now?”

Futo inclined her head. The ponytail bobbed. “Here. Now.”

Handai Mu withdrew into a spell of silence, taking stock of the small, grey-haired woman. He sidestepped the undertone of his wants turning immediately to her… and let them shape.

Mononobe Futo, ancient of Shigisan, Lord Taishi’s familiar, stood before him: a bundle of stark energy wrapped inside a thin skin of discipline. Mu skimmed his gaze along the woman’s edges. The tall hat – held by a tucked clip to her hair, so as to prevent it falling off. The long-sleeved hunting cloak – many-layered, each dyed to reflect a tier of her rank. The navy skirt below, cut almost inappropriately short for ease of movement. The bare legs with scuffed knees… which could shoot her like a mortar round over Gensokyo’s mountains.

Mu’s eyes trailed up again, returning to his once-tutor’s own.

Futo held his stare, waiting – a faint smile drawing her cheeks. Audacious, but accepting. Honest. Open.

Wonderful.

And then, in a flash of insight, Handai Mu knew what it was he wanted.


( ) “I want to pick you up.”
( ) “I want your scrunchie. For keeps.”
>> No. 41545
[x] “I want to pick you up.”
-[x] "And I want to give you a piggyback ride."

Don't even front like you wouldn't.
>> No. 41546
(X) “I want your scrunchie. For keeps.”

Futo got riled! Eventually we'll get the rest of her clothes.
>> No. 41547
(X) “I want to pick you up.”
>> No. 41548
[x] “I want to pick you up.”
>>41538
a short, eh? can you name and/or link it so I can read it
>> No. 41549
>>41548
>>/shorts/1941
Not real hard to find considering how little activity /shorts/ gets.
>> No. 41551
(x) “I want to pick you up.”
>> No. 41552
[x] “I want to pick you up.”
-[x] "And I want to give you a piggyback ride."
>> No. 41553
>>41547
I'd like to state that I do NOT wish for a piggyback ride!

A simple underarms carry, thumbs near or on the chest. This is the way
>> No. 41554
(x) “I want your scrunchie. For keeps.”
>> No. 41556
>>41549
Also appeared (briefly) in Wham, Bam, KuroYam:
>>/underground/15662
>> No. 41557
>>41553

Futo seems like the kind of girl you would just pick up and throw over a shoulder.

Also, come on guys, imagine how cute hair-down futo would be.
>> No. 41558
>>41557
Consider, however: Futo's uncharacteristic squeals of laughter/cries of protest as you lift her up onto your back and carry her like a backpack.
>> No. 41559
(x) “I want to pick you up.”
>> No. 41560
(x) “I want to pick you up.”

This is all I wanted.
>> No. 41561
Officially starting the "Spray Futo With A Water Bottle Whenever She Talks Funny" Bully Brigade. Reply to this post to pledge your support.
>> No. 41562
>>41561
signed
>> No. 41563
>>41561
How to Completely Drain the Misty Lake and the Waterfall of Nine Heavens in Just One Week
>> No. 41572
File 154498350884.jpg - (1.06MB, 868x1226, __mononobe_no_futo_touhou_drawn_by_sukage__ddd2ae2.jpg) [iqdb]
41572
(X) “I want to pick you up.”

“I want,” Mu confessed, “to pick you up.”

As sagely as befit her station, Futo gave him a nod. “Then—” Her arms fanned out. “Do.”

Mu sighted down his nose at the short woman. But, no. Joke though they did often and with audacity, Futo had never made light of his tutelage. They were almost of a rank now, yes; yet, in some ways, his wardship with Futo had never ended. Nor did he want it otherwise. The colours at his wrists weren’t a restitution for losing out on the woman’s company.

A heartbeat distraction saw him pause in reaching out to execute his desire. The sleeves of Futo’s cloak hung loose, wing-like, from her outstretched arms. The likeness hatched an idea in a back-wise corner of his head.

One for later, Mu chided himself. Now… Now, he stooped half over in front of his tutor: slinging an arm under her seat, and the other round the small of her back. His hopes were dashed, ever-so-slightly, when Futo made no sound of surprise at her feet being unmoored from the balcony’s floor. Then again, what reason had a woman who could fly at will to do that? Consolation arrived in the shape of a pincer – made of Futo’s legs around his sides. All prim and ladylike, Futo placed her hands on Mu’s robe-draped shoulders. An indulgent smile, the like the Crown Prince gifted her petitioners, adorned the small Taoist’s face. The priest met it with a huff of effort – mostly faked.

Then, abruptly, he hitched her up.

Futo spluttered, clutching his head to her chest. Moments later, wisdom struck… through Futo’s knuckles digging painfully into his temples. The small Taoist unrolled a fine fan of words which proved too deprecated for Mu’s pedestrian grasp of Gensokyo’s historic language. He chuckled – then, at once, groaned – but held on to his tutor, even despite her retaliation.

Being close to Futo was… striking. Never mind the knuckles; never mind the clogs poking Mu’s kidneys through his back. Never mind the scent of Futo’s Sun-baked clothes, or that of her warm, delicately tanned skin. Never mind that Futo was – in her bright-eyed and tireless manner – a magnet for all alloys of ineligible feelings. Most striking of all was the energy. The same vigour, which burned behind Futo’s eyes and beneath her skin, was actually palpable up close. This close, it was all but tactile. A sheath of electrifying air – wrapped all around her youthful body.

Mu had never solved out this particularity of his teacher. So far, his best theory had him convinced Futo was constantly Winding some quality of the surrounding air. He had done much similarly, after all, when minutes before he had agitated the air at his palms to pressure-deflect the fire-ball. What it was that Futo was Winding here, however, remained a question with an evasive answer. Life? Excitement? It made no sense; Winding and Damping were logical processes: hemmed in by the things the manipulator blindly believed or understood, and only inside themselves or at their immediate extremities. Futo could no more exude something like “life” than she appreciated what “life” was and how it very well functioned.

But had it to make sense? The lens through which Futo observed the world was of another glass altogether than Mu’s; one had but to compare the Windings with which each defied gravity to see the difference in transparency and colour. The little master of the Tao would likely tell him all about hers – across an entire evening – had he but put her to the query, but… He liked it this way. He liked a mystery about Futo. He liked the presence of aspects of her which he hadn’t yet gotten his head around. It reminded him of something older. Older than their partnership; older than Mu’s tutelage. Older, even, than his tenure in Miko’s Sen-kai.

It reminded him of—

“Mu.”

No, not that, thought Mu, even if the age did check out. He issued a tired sound. “No, Futo,” he sighed. “This isn’t to imply you’re heavy.”

“Fie—” snorted Futo. “This? You shouldest Toziko whenas she was a babe have beheld. Yon a weight to lay you alow was.”

“I’ll tell her you told me that.”

Futo tossed her head. Her ponytail bounced. “Toziko this as well as I knoweth. We both there were. Now, Mu. If wilst you. Your question.”

Vised between his tutor’s legs, Handai Mu schooled his expression. He wiped his smile. He flushed the sensation of Futo’s body from his thoughts. It was a nice body – and he hadn’t lied about wanting to pick it up. But this was weightier. Futo had a look on her face. It was one he had come to know – and anticipate – in the months spent riding his tutor’s skirt.

“I am an ear,” he assured her.

Futo, nodding, raised a finger. “Tell, then,” she said. “How-ever hast you, Mu, that I would you to pick me up allow known?”

Mu scrunched up his forehead. “I’ve… figured?”

“Whence, Mu?”

“I’ve known you.”

“Suppose,” Futo suggested, “eke I a thorough stranger to you was. Wouldst you then know?”

“Suppose I wouldn’t,” gave Mu.

“Heyday!” The small Taoist put a hand up to her mouth in mock wonder. “Wherethrough might, in so a case, such pick-up business usward ushered be?”

Mu tilted his head. He’d hardly followed that. “… I could ask?”

“But would I yes say?” pondered Futo. “Or, peradventure, would I you puissant upwise the chin knocked? Both of these answers are; but you, Mu, mayest never either know… ere you askest. Therethrough your Way lieth. Ask – and you know shalt. Ask not – and you guess shalt… perchance forever.”

“You would have me,” Mu interpreted, “to shelve my inferences – and inquire anyway?”

“But one being mayeth the minds of tother people at but a glance know,” declared Futo, “and, parfay… you art nay He. Less radiant, for one. More morose.”

Mu made a grimace. “Lord Taishi’s gifts aside,” he argued, “there are presages, Futo. I’ve mentioned glares, I think?”

“Appearances.” Futo tugged loose the strap of Mu’s court hat, then lifted it off his head. “Appearances one astray leadeth.” She stroked a palm along his shaved scalp as she spoke. “Heed, Mu. You in a realm of illusiveness livest. Meet a figure human-like on the road – and they mayeth on your bones yonside the meeting gnaw. Meet the spryest young maiden there was – and she mayeth a sage of a thousand years of age turn out. A pretty smile mayeth nay a smile be – but a morbid warning. A glower mayeth nay one be – but a friendly challenge. Or—” she smirked, “—fie, they mayeth not. It nay a court is, of rules and rigid protocol.”

“And I,” concluded Mu, “shall never know which way it crumbles – until I ask.”

“It an odd, odd land is, Gensokyo,” Futo granted. “But, if nay else – upfront. Honest.”

“Blunt. Like a mace to the head.”

“Whereagainst we you with a blunt head of your own have equipped,” joked Futo. “Eke the powers you now wield. Use them, Mu. Both.”

Maul them all, for the Crown Prince, went unsaid.

But, irony of ironies, the bluntness had a point; and Mu had rarely ever had to run after posing his indelicate questions. The odd fairy taking them for abuse scarcely made the count; the even odder youkai to give him a… practical reply, also was nothing regular. The matter of his pursuit was, perhaps, discomfiting. But then, even more were the thorns of ignorance in his sides.

Wei wu wei, thought Mu. Futo was right. Do, don’t think. Like those you wish to understand.

Handai Mu hefted what little there was to heft of his tutor, and carried her to the edge of the balcony. There, he deposited the small woman on the railing. Futo let herself peel away, still holding on to his hat.

Hands on either side of her, Mu leaned in – and kissed his tutor on the cheek.

The arcane barrier at her skin made it a nervous, almost tingling experience. But, this was what he wanted to do. Mononobe Futo, Lord Taishi’s closest, gave him no benefit of a reaction. Or, perhaps she reacted with the absence of one; any way Mu broke it down, Futo had only a small, opaque smile to give in return when he pulled away. She rotated the hat in her hands, then placed it back atop Mu’s head.

“Will you, then,” she asked, even as she tied the straps under his chin, “your inquiry soothfast continue?”

Mu, stupidly, began to shape a nod. “… Yes,” he said in alternate. “Methinketh I will.”

Futo let the sally bounce off her lavish brows. She finished the knot – a little tightly in her earnestness – and patted Mu’s own cheek. “Heyday,” she said with teased magnanimity. “Howbeit – iwis you shouldest the same at your other duties labour. Thinkest not you so, Mu?”

Mu popped a smile. “I’ve led your next batch in already, Futo,” he informed her. “Softened them up, all the usual. They’re waiting below, in the main hall.”

“Told them nay to touch the plates?”

“If they felt attached to their limbs, yes.”

“Good man. I had best go, then. Nay much in a chopping mood today.”

The small Taoist made to flip backwards off the railing. Mu caught her arm.

“Are you sure,” he asked, “that you don’t want a piggyback ride there?”

His tutor stared up at him. Then, she sniggered. “With you as the pig?” she returned. “Never. Meseems you buck too much.”

Another time, Mu deciphered the tone under Futo’s words. He returned her grin, hoping his wasn’t too rueful. Then, he let her arm slip his grasp.

The small Taoist pitched off the balcony, pirouetting in mid-air. She punched, clogs-first, into the temple yard. Dry earth burst up in a billow. Unimpaired by the fall, Futo patted down her skirt, knees, shot her brother a two-handed salute – and rushed indoors.

The undying late Summer of Miko’s Sen-kai reinstalled itself in Futo’s turbulent wake. Silence – warm, eternal, unchanged – swiftly blanketed the yard.

Handai Mu rested his elbows on the railing, feeling himself deflate. He squinted up to check the position of the Sun (and the Tojiko beside it), then referred it to his experience with Gensokyo’s parallel time. Within two to three hours, nightfall would begin outside. The Sun in Lord Taishi’s domain would cling to the sky for a while yet, to permit the new inductees a little more time to settle in. It would also permit Mu to see to other, no less important tasks, ahead he left to resume his investigation.

Tasks wherein he…


( ) The Crown Prince like a hound attendeth.
( ) Tojiko selfish pestereth.
>> No. 41573
(x) Tojiko selfish pestereth.
I WAS CAUGHT
IN THE MIDDLE OF A RAILWAY TRACK
>> No. 41574
[x] Tojiko selfish pestereth.
Only the dankest of ghosts.
>> No. 41575
(x) The Crown Prince like a hound attendeth.
>> No. 41576
(x) The Crown Prince like a hound attendeth.

This is adorable, even if I can't understand half of Futo's dialogue.
>> No. 41577
(x) The Crown Prince like a hound attendeth.
Tough choice though
>> No. 41578
(x) The Crown Prince like a hound attendeth.

If only we could be so grossly incandescent.
>> No. 41585
(x) The Crown Prince like a hound attendeth.

@Rea: No it won't.
>> No. 41587
(X) Tojiko selfish pestereth.

NTR from beyond the grave, the final frontier.
>> No. 41592
(X) Tojiko selfish pestereth.

Both tempting options, I'll admit
>> No. 41595
File 154535548651.jpg - (174.41KB, 480x640, __toyosatomimi_no_miko_touhou_drawn_by_tori_10ri__.jpg) [iqdb]
41595
(X) The Crown Prince like a hound attendeth.

… Did to the letter as Futo had accused him.

Handai Mu vaulted the railing. At the same time, he Damped his weight to about a fourth of its normal.

The drop was crisp and vertiginous. His feet thumped on the packed dirt of the yard not two seconds later. Mu shuddered, then plastered on a wry smile. The reduced mass of his body had spared his shins from rocketing up into his ribcage, but he had felt his bones jar each other all the same. Nor had the spell slowed his fall. Some universal laws could not be duped, not even with Winding and Damping; and gravity pulled a cavalier Taoist just the same, regardless of his weight.

Mu Winded his up again to its natural level, before the nausea come of the sudden manipulation could sink its hooks into his stomach. What was it Tojiko would say? That Mononobe was rubbing off on him? And not in ways I should appreciate, Mu brooded. Futo could do these things; her distinct outlook made his frame of mind seem a disability in comparison. He wished he might rub that part of his tutor instead, but… some usances ran deep. As the twig had been bent – so the tree looked like an idiot, so to say.

Mu peered up at the Sun and its orbiting Tojiko pom-pom. In case the ghost lady had been watching him near-shatter his own legs, he waved at her the trans-vertical sign for “I’m down here, you’re so far up!” In case she asked after it later, he assumed the momentary fuzzing of her outline meant she’d waved a “You look like an ant!” back.

Courtesies satisfied, Mu smoothed his sleeves down and crossed the doorway into Miko’s home.

The interior of Lord Taishi’s temple palace ever became its name: hush and oaken panels all over. Handai Mu stalked across the empty passages almost a white-draped phantom of a man. Smoked incense swirled about in the air: cold, in defiance of the heat without, and scented with foreign spices. Diffuse light seeped from paper-screened lampions which never went out. It wasn’t a crypt; the Crown Prince still had a pronounced use for walls and doors (unlike a certain green someone). But it was the next thing in the line. Or, by that measure, the previous.

Handai Mu, however, arrived at the audience room undisturbed – at least, dead-people-wise. He gave the common entrance a wide, disdainful berth. He stole instead down an auxiliary corridor, which would lead him to a side door meant for those of his rank. The tri-coloured priest swung it open, scattering the misty smoke.

Beyond the threshold lay a sliver of ancient past. A wide chamber, lushly carpeted, hung with livery; it may well have been ripped whole from the pages of a storybook. Arranged in loose rings on the carpets were pillows for courtiers waiting their audience; in the centre of each: a kalian – a kind of water-pipe – was placed, rigged with an appropriate number of spouts. Sentinel over the empty seats was stood by bronze statuettes of strange, exotic gods. Their polished skulls gleamed in the orange lantern-light.

Mu strode into the room. Smoke churned behind him, grasping at the tails of his robe. It didn’t follow; the focused Wind of the chamber refused it entry. The priest snapped the door shut. Three heads were turned at the sound of his appearance. Two of these were mounted on the shoulders of men swathed in traditional kimonos under rough winter cloaks – and kneeling before a rise at the cardinal end of the room.

The third one belonged to a goddess.

Atop the rise, the Crown Prince, Toyosatomimi Miko, lounged on a cathedra put together from pillows stacked atop pillows. However she censured such an address, it was difficult to see the temple’s grand master as anything but divine. Glimpsed out the corner of an eye (with a helping cataract), the Crown Prince may have struck said eye as a towering, masculine figure simply for the posture and confidence that she carried. An eye trained square on Toyosatomimi Miko – as it should be – would perceive the belying reality.

The cloak of royal purple draped about her slight, feminine shoulders. The modest distension in the simple vest she wore underneath – lined down across with glowing, cabalistic runework. The diminutive fingers, each tipped with a small, lacquered nail. The circlets of pure gold clasped around the woman’s bare wrists and ankles. The subtle, golden pin earrings she put in whenever her earmuffs weren’t necessitated. One had but to glance to see that Lord Taishi… though she accepted “Lady” just as graciously… was resplendent with devices of brazen femininity.

Some in Gensokyo spoke of the Crown Prince’s fondness of jewellery as vain. Not so Mu. He understood the meaning behind the glitter. Metals were of the earth; so as well was Lord Taishi herself. Melted down, forged, reshaped – and made all the more beautiful for it. They were changed, yes – divorced from their origin. But bettered.

So as well was Lord Taishi.

This, perhaps, had been what Handai Mu had lacked for in his previous life. Something – someone – beyond the palest shade of doubt above his mundane self. Maybe it was this which had made him choose Gensokyo over the alternative. Granted that he hadn’t known the Crown Prince – even of her – as of then. But the pervading sense of wonder in Gensokyo – the Land of Illusions – and its possibilities had been a heady promise. Now, he had before him nothing less.

Without shame, from the peak to the root of his soul, Handai Mu loved the woman who sat the temple’s pillow throne.

The men eyed Mu with wariness as the priest strode across the chamber. The bolder of the two – or just longer-moustached – looked inquiringly back to the Crown Prince.

“My Lord Taishi?” he said. “Who…?”

Miko attired a politicised smile. She touched the bamboo fan she had been toying with to her lips. “Ah,” she said. “My escort, it seems. A touch overdue. Must be an effortful day.” Her eyes, however, spoke a different language. What do you think you’re about, Handai Mu?

Mu wrote back to none of the stares. Wordlessly, he stepped up onto the dais, then hunkered down behind Miko’s left shoulder. Her right one was reserved for Futo. The Crown Prince twisted about on her seat to give him a questioning frown.

Mu cocked his head. Miko tapped the fan on his nose with exasperation.

Gods, but he loved that woman.

“I apologise, of course,” said the goddess to her visitors, “for this rude and untimely interruption. But, such as it was, it suggests to me perhaps to speed our gallantry, and cut to the thrust of our meeting. There are clearly demands we must yet meet today – you and I.”

The well-moustached man tugged at his most defining feature. “I imagine,” he said, peering at Mu. The priest drew himself up, trying to appear threatening. He was ignored. “The thrust, my Lord Taishi, is this,” the man continued at Miko. “That we have noticed the comings and egresses of your… students, nearby one of our fields. We discern it is, by fortune, where an entrance to your secret plane is located. Well, I say ‘discern’… We were led, naturally, to that self-same entrance by your emissary this very evening. Queer kind of door, that. Most perturbing, I must say.”

Miko smiled. “The thrust, goodman?”

“The thrust, yes,” repeated the townsman. “My Lord Taishi, as you may have heard… There are plans in venture to renovate the mechanisms of the fields which provide feed to our town – no sooner than Spring touches the land. Waystations on the highways, crew rotation, more stringent scheduling and re-seeding. The works. Good effort, overall. Well needed for a time now.”

“But?” Miko supposed.

“But politics, ma’am,” sneered the man. “No one’s mark is eluded that some parties are already contracted preference in the coming effort. Take you, for instance, the house Itou. They are warranted first space in the warehouse to stand on the primary thoroughfare, on account – I quote – of ‘seeding the earliest and most principal grain incumbent to the livelihood of the town.’ Well, my Lord Taishi, it is known that we – the Toorima – seed the very same grain in our hereditary quarter of the fields in the same months. Yet, the town council shuts their ears to our petitions. They promise Itou support and machinery devised by ingenious Kappa of the Goddesses’ Mount, while families just as old and illustrious are made to squabble over seconds!”

Moustache man paused, his righteous umbrage (and the winter coat) beading sweat out onto his face. He shoved a hand out in front of his companion who, from earmarks, must either have been used to the treatment, or the man’s son. Mu had been staring that one down. The youth looked like he hadn’t two wits to strike together, and was looking at the Crown Prince a little too hard.

Training, still, must have stuck; for the young man dutifully dug a kerchief out of a pocket to pass to his elder. The older man wiped his moustache down. Or, it might have been his face at large; either was like as much as the other.

“The thrust, my Lord Taishi,” said the head of illustrious Toorima, “is that, in the shadow of this adversity, I must dedicate to protecting my family’s interests.”

“By becoming a Taoist?” Miko proposed half-seriously. “A Way most healthy for one’s soul… but I do not know about one’s interests.”

“Would it were, my Lord Taishi!” laughed Moustache. “Would it were. But, no. My time and my prayers belong to the land… and a certain oft-overlooked goddess who lives on the mountain slopes. I would not dare abandon her.”

“Pity.”

“I shall be truthful, my Lord. It is subject to no uncertainty that you, an Emperor of a distant era, reject our modern politics by dint of principle. I would not ask of you to break that principle – not for us. But, I cannot help… I could not help but hear of the wonders of your secret realm and think. The skies, the earth… The air here cloys with the scent of pollen. In the middle of Winter, no less. Most wondrous.”

Miko clacked her fan shut. “I must disappoint you, Kijou of Toorima. I do not lease this land. Not anymore than I would lease a part of my soul.”

Kijou… really, “Moustache” described him better… Toorima raised both his palms in the manner of someone attempting to stop an oncoming bus. Or a noblewoman with an unswerving moral compass. “Nothing so… invasive, ma’am,” he assured. “All I ask… All I present to you today is a business opportunity. I have seen your students tending the fields; I have seen the harvest they make. Trade us, then. A cart of grain, even every now and then, would go a long way to undermine the monopoly the Itou are poised to gain. If your students are strained, then raw sheaves would do as well. We can thresh the grain ourselves.”

“And what would I,” challenged Miko, “an Emperor of far past, stand to gain from said trade?”

Moustache smiled like a cat in a tub full of cream. “Honour, my Lord,” he declared. “No money nor earthly goods would satisfy one such as you. But Honour… It is a virtue you cherish over all. You will do what is right – for naught but it is right. Nor will you turn an ear from an honest plea for help. That is your own Honour.”

Miko’s eyes went wide, genuinely impressed. “Well done,” she praised. “Many who come to me do so unlearned of half of what you have said. Well researched, goodman.”

“I am not completely without my merits, Lord.”

“All the sadder it is,” said the Crown Prince, regretful, “that you request the impossible.”

The cat-smile under Moustache’s moustache curdled.

Still, the cat must have been hoary and wise; it knew a tubful of cream might well be followed by one full of cold water. Moustache locked it behind a face of mild despondence. It wasn’t a reply he hadn’t countenanced. Just one he’d ill-expected – or liked.

He took the loss with what grace he could. “… Understandable,” he gave up. “I will, of course, abide your word. But, forgive me – if for nothing else then my curiosity… Why ‘impossible,’ my Lord Taishi?”

Miko gifted him a tolerant smile. “Nothing to forgive about curiosity. Ignorance is the only evil; wisdom – the only treasure.”

The townsman’s back visibly starched by the reply. “Why, then?” he asked, bolder.

The Crown Prince leaned forward on her throne. Her fan was angled down at the rise which bore her seat. It gave a hollow tock as the goddess knocked it on the rise’s floor.

“Where do you think you are, Kijou of the Toorima?”

The townsman blinked at the simplicity of the question. “… Your temple, my Lord?” he presented.

“Yes, obviously,” Miko granted. “But tell me this. Where is this temple of mine? Where is ‘here?’ How did you come to be here – in this Winter-less realm – when not an hour hence you were suffering the cold-wracked Gensokyo? Where are you, Kijou of the Toorima?”

For the first time since Mu had entered, the moustached smallholder looked uncomfortable.

“I… I do not know, Lord.”

Miko didn’t grudge his blindness. She never did. A benighted soul was one to be given light, not thrust farther into darkness. Not unless it chose to retreat by itself.

Miko described a circle with her fan, encompassing the chamber and its unseen surrounds. “What you see around you, Kijou of the Toorima,” the goddess explained, “is but a figment of my mind. My soul, if you should prefer such nomenclature. Moulded, forged and bathed in etheric essences to allow it to shine – like a beacon – before your own. You see these walls, these fields – for no reason but I chose for you to see them so. You see the bluest, unblemished sky, because it is the sky I dreamed in my millennium of deathlessness. It is nothing more – and nothing less – than a shadow on the wall of your mind.

“There is no life here,” Miko revealed. “None beyond that which I bring into this place myself. My students toil at the fields because it whets the character, not for the yield. Nature is too esoteric a system to be emulated by the human intellect. A reality with which, I dare say, you are better acquainted than I. The fields you saw outside, goodman, would in truth feed you. They would make a savoury meal. They would delight your palate and fill your stomach. And then, feeling stuffed and satisfied, you would days later die of starvation. For it is but an illusion of fulfilment you would be feeling.

“I cannot sell you the grain,” the goddess concluded with another tock of her fan. “Not for I wish to decline you help – but because I have a better offer to make. I have acquired a student recently, named Aiko, who makes good cheer of studying methods of cultivation. Currently, she is studying methods from the Outside World from books she has procured… somewhere she won’t say. I could lend her to you, goodman. It shan’t fix the perversion which has taken in the governing ranks of your town, but… It may edge you ahead in providing for your family in the coming months. How you use her wisdom – this would be upon you.”

Moustache brightened at once. It never ceased to fascinate Mu how quickly those sorts span on Miko’s finger.

“My Lord Taishi,” the townsman intoned. “It seems I have slighted your gracious attention with my crass offer. In this, I find myself deposited within a trough of shame. I shall accept the counter-proposition you made me with jubilation. The field hands, I feature, will rue any deviation from the rule. But, if it proves to work… Kaito? What do you think?”

The youth at the man’s side lurched. He looked about, bleary-eyed. “… Sounds swift to me,” he decided.

So he had brains in his head. Miko’s bare, gold-encased ankles had just thoroughly sucked them out.

The Sen-kai’s grand master made no point of this. She gave Moustache Toorima another smile, and pretended a lapse of mind. “Ah. Goodman, one complication I failed to note.”

“None too complex than the problem you have solved, my Lord,” Moustache insisted. Mu couldn’t tell if it had been a statement or a demand.

Miko laughed: a golden sound, like the peal of a tiny bell. “None indeed,” she indulged. “The complication is this. Aiko, the student I mentioned… she has but last month received her greens. That means she is only second-bottom rank in my retinue. She has a fraction of my frugality – never mind generosity – at best. And, she is protective of her little hobby. No doubt she will demand reimburse. I ask that you give it to her. What she learns is her own wisdom, hers to do with as she sees fit.”

Moustache wiped his forehead. “My Lord Taishi,” he said, gravely, “we will kiss dam Aiko’s palms and wash her feet in cow’s milk if she aids us in spoking the wheel of the corrupt Itou. Then, if I may, I shall away to our town and trouble you no more. When do I expect dam Aiko to descend on my unworthy doorstep?”

Miko smiled, then un-crossed her legs. Handai Mu tried not to think of the word “swift.”

“She shall be with you,” the goddess promised, “no sooner than Spring touches the land.”


>> No. 41596
Good to see NPCs aren't complete idiots just to remark the importance of named characters. Cunning negotiators do the trick just as well- there's no matching such legendary figures anyway.
>> No. 41597
>>41596
All he did was not piss off the thousand-year-old immortal wizard.
That seems like a pretty low bar for a 'cunning negotiator'
>> No. 41598
>>41597

Hey, if it weren't for the fact he knew nothing of Senkai he probably could've scored a deal with Miko. He definitely knew the buttons to press.
>> No. 41599
File 154543141936.png - (541.91KB, 696x800, __toyosatomimi_no_miko_touhou_drawn_by_makuwauri__.png) [iqdb]
41599


“Why did you lie to them?”

The question fled Mu’s mouth the same minute the smallholder and his son had quit the chamber. The same didn’t see the goddess deign a reply. Handai Mu disembarked his master’s pillow ark to stand where the visitors had knelt in supplication.

Miko’s eyes were distant. Turned up and right, keeping a survey of something no other may see. With a twinge of uneasiness, Mu realised what. Her guests. The grand creator of the Sen-kai was watching her guests depart the realm of her mind. As, he reminded himself, she is watching everyone’s. Steady, Mu.

Less steady he was made by the fact that Toyosatomimi Miko looked ravishing when distracted. The golden pins in her ears and the fan tap-tap-tapping pensively on her lips cut a dash the like the Crown Prince rarely ever showed the public. She was adorable – at once vulnerable and self-reliant. Like a learner of an art, come across a passage in an old book which defied all her hitherto convictions – and not about to let the argument pass. Futo may be cute… and pop into his thoughts often and uninvited. But even his tutor paled beside the sheer radiance of Toyosatomimi Miko.

Insofar, anyway, as anything could make the hot-blooded Futo lose her colour.

The Crown Prince’s gold-flecked eyes snapped to Mu’s own, as if she’d sensed his scrutiny. Oh, right, Mu congratulated himself inside. The earmuffs are off. Best time to ogle. He flushed, but held Miko’s gaze.

A few much-too-loud heartbeats later, and the goddess exhaled her relief. The visitors must have passed back into Gensokyo. Miko set her fan down on the dais floor.

“Which part,” she asked of her red-faced acolyte, “did you figure for a lie, Mu?”

Handai Mu shook out of his shame – somewhat like a sodden dog shakes out of water. “The—” He swallowed. “The grain, Lady Miko. I mean… I drink down bowls of porridge made of the stuff every morning. And, pardon me… I do not feel half as light a soul as our dear Tojiko.”

That earned him a small, gorgeous smile. “The grain is quite real, yes. Granted. I had it seeded here. How-ever else would I feed all of you?”

“And yet you said—”

“Only the truth,” Miko interrupted. “An oblique one, perhaps. But I made no lie when I claimed the gratification from our trade would only be illusory. Goodman Kijou is not an evil man; nor was my – purportedly free – aid his first choice. Men like him, who till the earth, aren’t wont to pick the short term, which such aid would be… Not unless they are compelled by forces outside of their purview. Which, I remind you, our goodman Kijou was – by the politicking of his own kin, no less. Such things confuse men rooted in the constants of agriculture. He sought a Way of least resistance today, not because he is a lazy person at heart – but because he treads ground he has never had to before.

“My Way,” the Crown Prince declared, “will serve him better. Mine will put money in his family’s coffers not only this Spring, but the next also. My grain will feed him not only this year, but those to come. Should this realm vanish one day, and this source dry out, the Toorima family shall not face a sudden hunger. And, if… dam Aiko,” Miko fairly giggled the title, “if she does her work as I have taught her, and keeps her comments to herself… Then the Toorima and their servers shall have no reason not to feel they have achieved stability all of themselves. There is no greater motivator than that, Mu. You know this.”

Handai Mu did know this. He knew it no worse than he recalled the months of furiously absorbing the lessons Futo had bestowed him. Success, which hadn’t reared at first, had been intense enough that Futo had shared in it easily, once Mu had found his own Way to put her teachings into practice.

“… I still disagree,” he said, argumentatively.

Miko laughed. Gods, what a laugh that woman had. “Ahh—” she breathed, all contented amusement. “Jealousy, is it? You needn’t, Handai Mu. You bear the name I gave you; you bear the colours I endowed you. You sleep in my home. You are already more mine than those could ever be.”

“The youth was rude.”

“And while your concern flatters me fierce, Mu,” Miko replied, “I should think I can deal with one young man’s indecent desires. Can’t I not just?”

She’d delivered that last demand while staring right at him. Mu felt a curious punch of queasiness and arousal slam into his… let’s say gut. He grimaced. Miko raised her brows at him in feigned innocence.

“… Speaking of these matters, however,” she continued after he’d stewed for a moment. “Tell me. How goes your courtship?”

Not very good, hallmarks are, Mu thought. He squeezed out a sigh. “… I am not courting anyone, Lady Miko.”

“Tojiko says differently.”

“With respect—” Mu shook his head. “Tojiko has ideas. Futo is my sister and my tutor. Not just mine. I couldn’t in good conscience steal her away from others. We’re already enough close.”

“No one has said anything about Futo,” Miko remarked, smiling. “That is first. Second, even if I had named Futo expressly, she has easily time and attention enough to spare everyone. You would simply… get more of it. Would you like that, Handai Mu?”

“I…” There was no hiding it. “I would, Lady Miko. But—”

Miko fanned his reply away. “Hush. I understand; I will not say anything indelicate. Besides, you aren’t courting her. Are you?”

“… Right.”

“As he says,” chuckled the goddess. “But, pray. Where is our beloved Futo, anyway?”

This was flatter ground for Mu. “Making loaves of the newbloods,” he said. “Should be. Was where she was headed when I threw her off the balcony.”

Miko didn’t even bat an eye. “Once she is done kneading those loaves, then,” she suggested, “and we take to maintaining the Sen-kai’s fixtures, I shall whisper into her ear a word or two about a shy someone she is neglecting.”

“You’re too kind.”

“Never too, Handai Mu,” Miko teased. “Any other words you would have me put in her pretty head while I am there? I know how thick it can be.”


( ) More time with Futo would be plenty.
( ) Her language had been backsliding. She was confusing the novices. And Mu.
>> No. 41600
(x) More time with Futo would be plenty.

Taishi-sama is a generous goddess
>> No. 41601
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41601
(x) More time with Futo would be plenty.

Futo option is best option
>> No. 41602
(X) Her language had been backsliding. She was confusing the novices. And Mu.

Both options lead to Futo, might as well pick the fun one.
>> No. 41603
[x] Her language had been backsliding. She was confusing the novices. And Mu.
Time for the squirt bottle.
>> No. 41604
(x) Her language had been backsliding. She was confusing the novices. And Mu.
>> No. 41605
(X) Her language had been backsliding. She was confusing the novices. And Mu.

And me.
>> No. 41607
You guys are the best. Like...seriously.
>> No. 41608
(X) Her language had been backsliding. She was confusing the novices. And Mu.

M E T A
>> No. 41609
(X) Her language had been backsliding. She was confusing the novices. And Mu.
give 'er the squirt bottle, but only a little bit. Her speech was juuust a bit too much last update.
>> No. 41610
(X) Her language had been backsliding. She was confusing the novices. And Mu.

Because I know it's one of her sore points
>> No. 41611
>>41610

Prolly why so many novices keep quitting too.
>> No. 41614
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41614
(X) Her language had been backsliding. She was confusing the novices. And Mu.

“There is,” admitted Mu, “a thing.”

Miko regarded him in a quizzical way. “A thing?”

“… That takes fore,” he conceded. “I watched Futo teach today: an introduction to Feng and Shui for redsleeves. Her language has retrogressed. Quite literally… and literarily.”

The Crown Prince let the lame wordplay glance off her ears. “Causing frictions, is it?”

“Less frictions, more… fractures. Of comprehension. Some of those reds looked positively… What was it? Adrift?”

“At sea, I should think,” said Miko. “Same watery area. An oar’s difference. At any rate, I acknowledge your charge, yellow-rank Handai Mu. It shall be remedied. Ironic such as it is…”

Mu dignified himself with a shrug. “I’ve no huge issue slipping past those ‘eth’s and ‘dost’s myself,” he said. “But, owing to your assigning red-rank Handai Mu as her ward, I’ve had time aplenty to get used to them. See them coming. Futo could talk me upwise all day; I’d still understand her. Mostly.

“Would that not mean,” Miko noticed, “that you were the one who spoiled her?”

Mu hesitated. Then blinked. “I… uh, recognise my failing?”

“And doubtless you mean to amend it.” The Crown Prince swatted it aside. “It does not matter, in the end, who or what encourages Futo’s little affectation. It is, after all, nothing else than that. An affectation. A vice of character. We all have our own. Futo adores her romantic speech; I cannot disavow the lure of external politics. Tojiko loves gossip… and the occasional scream of fright from the inattentive novice. Aiko would bury you like a plant should you step on one of hers. You, I have on good authority, have yours, no different.”

“I…”

I do, thought Mu. He saw them flitting through the shoals of his memory. A house on the fringes of the human town. Nights whiled away outside the latitude of his goddess’s all-hearing ears. Bottles never left uncorked. Scathing comments never left unmade. A red-eyed face, full of derision… but never telling him to stop.

Mu shooed it away.

“… Yes. I have,” he surrendered at length. “… My sincere regrets, Lady Miko.”

“If they are,” said the Crown Prince, “then I wish you speed in amending them. This is what we have furnished you for. This is why we’ve taught you the Way. Make sure, only, that it marks no decline in your responsibilities to me… I have so few trusty servants; I ill desire to miss even one.”

Mu stared. His jaw squeaked open, but clever retorts seemed suddenly a thing that happened to other, more clever people.

“Were you expecting reprimand?” Miko wondered, all smile and patience. “Chastisement? Mistrust? When I willed this space to be, years ago, I did not destine for those to weave into its design. When I witnessed the lattice of lies upon which Gensokyo had been built, I craved a place where those could be laid down. Where humans like you – like Aiko, like goodman Kijou – could be what they desired to be, not what the Sages of Gensokyo have prescribed them.

“Have you heard of the philosopher, Epicurus? The man was possessed of concepts hauntingly similar to those propounded by students of the Way in our continental rival. Moderation. Minimalism. Interior balance and personal fulfilment. The western wight that he was, however, his application of these ideas proved more… empirical. On his own, by his own means, Epicurus established a commune of like-minded, closely-knit people, who pursued work and pastimes of their own preference, at their own pace… all in the name of their own, subjective happiness.

“There were those in that commune who tilled the land – not because Epicurus had decreed they do, but because they themselves were enamoured of the process. There were those who amassed knowledge, penned chronicles and missives – not because their lords had commanded, but for their own creative aches. There were those who pursued philosophic inquests – not because their doctrine demanded so, but because they themselves desired to.

“This Sen-kai is… not such a place.” Miko shaped a sardonic smile. “I am nowhere as selfless as that ancient, Grecian man. Yet, there are parallels between his ideals and mine; and this, my dear Handai Mu, is one of these. I may demand my novices sever their ties to their kinsmen in Gensokyo, yes. But, this is only a preventive measure. There are those who would take advantage of my generosity. They would reap the rewards of a double allegiance: to me, to Gensokyo; and that, Mu, I simply cannot let be. It is the one blasphemy I will not permit in my religion. The least because I do not wish to inadvertently step on another’s.

“Now that you are beyond that stage, however,” the goddess finished, “now that you are mine… you may walk about unfettered. As long as you respect the precepts, respect yourself… you may exercise your Way in whichever direction you desire. The paths you walk are but your own. All I require in return is that you come when I call… And, perhaps, that your Way does not tread on the younger students’ toes. Like a certain dusty-spoken woman we could both name.”

“Futo,” guessed Mu.

“Whom, may I add,” Miko, faithfully, did add, “I have nothing against being courted. Gods of the land know she could use a healthier distraction…”

“Sooner I’ll court Tojiko,” grumbled Mu. “Less like to burn the hair off my head.”

Miko eyed his clean-shaven scalp.

“… Futo’s idea,” Mu gave up.

“And you consented?”

“… Futo shaved it off. Started while I was asleep. My consent was… consequent.”

“Mysterious regard for each other you two have,” marvelled the Crown Prince. “On top of those other things I have heard… Ah, but do try not to twist this particular prank back on her. That shine on top of you complements your shining personality. Futo, however… Well, she needs the hair to help her keep balance, if nothing else.”

“Gratefully,” muttered Mu, “I prefer Futo hair-with, as well.”

Though the Crown Prince gave him a knee-melting smile, all Handai Mu could do was look away. More denigrating was that he could not call to account the reason for his pique. There were a few candidates. None of which adolescent truants he wanted to drink with. Nor, likely, would they answer even had he called. Too busy at his nous. The bastards.

Miko must have sensed his… whatever it was. Miko sensed everything. And, the beautiful, golden goddess she was, she took mercy.

“Ah, well—” she sighed, lying out her long, smooth legs. “I did not recall – and I still do not recall – sending for an escort today, but… Now that you are helpfully here, perhaps you could go fetch dam Aiko for me? I should very much like to plant this idea of lending her out early… And that address. Maybe it’ll take root by Spring. I’ve no more petitioners today, either, so… No need for anyone to glower them over, I don’t think.”

Mu bowed his head – and not because of any legs present. He joined his sleeves at his front.

“… It will be as you will,” he obeyed.

“Good enough,” the goddess praised. “Ah. And, Mu?”

“Yes?”

Miko gave him a look. “When you come back to me tonight—” she began, and Mu felt a wave of heat work up his face, “—please, do not pass into the Sen-kai with your humours all Winded. It makes a terrible report. Almost as if a youkai was breaking in.”

“I will strive not to be a toad in anyone’s shoe this time,” Mu promised.

“Yes,” Miko replied, chuckling. “You do not be that.”


>> No. 41615
time to go get turned into a toad
>> No. 41622
Don't let her off the hook so easily! Futo can thee and thou on her own time. While she's teaching, she needs to be more professional.
>> No. 41626
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41626
FUTO

FUTO SLID DOWN the temple’s hallways at glorious speed.

The best of it was, no sorcery required. No Winding her feet’s slipperiness; no Damping the wooden floor’s resistance until it felt like waxed. All Futo had to do was take off her clogs, and she could glide along on her socks forever.

It wasn’t without a check. Turning. Turning was a problem. Belike since it wasn’t part of the Way. When the Sage Laozi had first climbed the mountain above Chengzhou, Futo doubted much he’d stopped for every blade of grass in his path. Futo had to stop. If not for she would have dashed her nose on twenty different walls otherwise, then because her sliding had a definite destination.

Futo skidded right past it. She hopped out of her overshot slide, span around, and tiptoed back to the door she wanted.

No plaque. None needed; the Crown Prince’s home was intimate to those wised to it. Any new cadet would learn it soon or late. Futo cracked the door three hand-spans, then slipped inside. Thank the wicked Seiga for this compact body. She pushed the door back shut with nary a hap of sound.

An archive. This was what the room had been, once; it was long and narrow, with a ubiquitous bookcase running one, entire wall and little else of contrast. When the Crown Prince had recreated His home through arcane, hermit means, following His resurrection, the archive had been grafted a new purpose. It would be where those students of the Way inclined to knowledge in its more flammable form would bring, and store, their findings. Some called it a library. Futo called it a broom closet. It had as good been one; there was dust enough here to complete the illusion.

At the rear of the closet, an old scribe’s desk had been emplaced – with a chair underneath and a glass-window lamp atop – as though to hinder Futo’s choice of term. The lamp threw a long, bulky shadow half down the stretch of the room. Incumbency of the bare-headed man stooped in the chair.

Futo sidled on forward, depositing her clogs on an overturned book in the shelf as she went.

From behind, the man seemed he could be anyone. Futo, of course, knew wiser; the shaven stern of his impressive skull had, after all, been her own achievement. Her pupil, titled Handai – “without base” – at his ascent to greens, cut a fine chunk out of the closet’s musty air. A simple yardman back in his non-native Gensokyo, he’d had scarce care or time to exert for his outward looks. The mane of scruffy, flaxen hair he had carried into Toyosatomimi Miko’s secret realm had been a fair distinguisher in his redsleeve weeks. Once, however, the Crown Prince had turned him over, now as Handai, unto Futo’s undivided charge, it had proven something of an eyeful.

An eyeful of hair.

Futo would wait her pupil to attain his yellows, ahead she’d moved to have that bother solved. Scissors in hand, she had sat her pupil down on a stool in the temple’s modest washroom, and rid him of the mangy thing as best she could. It had been her own, personal elevation of Handai Mu: from a man merely close in rank, to one she was unafraid to call “brother.”

… Might be, to hang an eye on, too. Now, especially, that Futo had fallen into ownership of a proper razor. Overnight, Mu had become a sight more akin to Futo’s ideal of the less fair sex. In the years preceding her shikai, that image had always been filled by the paragon, the Crown Prince. An unspoken part of Futo had oft viewed the shrewd, elegant ruler with a less than moral eye. Now He was conspicuously not a man anymore, it had become easier to ignore that – niggling – facet of her attraction to her liege.

The tumults of her arrival in the modern era, as well, had diverted her something intense. The revival of the Crown Prince, reuniting with Toziko, the rite of combat with Gensokyo’s shaman priestess, the re-emergence of the lost masks, the hunt for the disastrous Occult Orbs… All they had eclipsed the day-to-day function of Lord Taishi’s court. All they had drawn Futo away from what for her sense of aesthetics had been lacking.

No sooner had she held the mirror for the freshly-shaved Mu, than she had remembered what it was.

Which might have had everything… or nothing… to do with what she did now. Futo pulled up at her brother’s undefended back. Then, smartly, she slapped one hand over his eyes, while her other strapped his chest.

Mu tensed – but of course he did. To boot, Futo sensed him Wind some attribute of his body… albeit she couldn’t sense which. He didn’t scream or squeal his surprise, though – which was more than could be said for some in the temple.

Futo smiled a pleased smile. “Guess you who?”

Her brother recomposed himself. It was a brisk process because Mu had an aptitude for breaking things up – unless they ducked under the table. “… Tojiko?” he said. “Weren’t ghosts supposed to be… um, softer? I’m disenchanted.”

“Again,” Futo ordered.

“Lady Miko? We just spoke… Two hours ago. This is unseemly affection.”

“One more, Mu.”

Her brother chewed it over. A likely third name must have been tougher to find.

“… Seki?” he said at last.

“I do not any ‘Seki’ know,” Futo informed him. “And you out of chances are.”

Ahead Mu may wiggle himself a more unassailable position, Futo squeezed the arm she wasn’t using for his eyes around her brother’s neck. Then gave it a wrick. Not too hard. No Winding her strength; no actual injury. But a twist of pain, yes. Tooth for tooth.

Mu didn’t fight back. He didn’t because he couldn’t; and only half of it was for Futo had him in a choke-hold. The remaining one… Well, she was almost certain he would have a different answer than her own. He did, though, give her an obligatory wheeze. A dutiful chokee, her brother.

Futo softened her grip, until it was merely a strong embrace.

“Awful pert,” she accused him. “For someone purported to after my company pine. Aren’t you so, Mu?”

“Lady Miko’s suggestion,” Mu griped back. “I didn’t pine… out loud.”

“Lord Taishi all hears, all knows,” Futo argued. “And He nay mis-hears.”

Mu scoffed. “Her ears are scarily big, yes.”

Futo grinned, even if their conversations on the Crown Prince always felt a little… seesawing.

At an early leg of Mu’s training, he and she had simply agreed to disagree on their Master’s gender. For Futo, who had lived beside Shotoku Taishi the emperor, it perplexed her now to think Him anything but so… except less attractive. For Mu, who had first seen Toyosatomimi Miko in vastly feminine splendour, the reverse almost had to hold true.

It vexed Futo to condone such thoughts. But, the Crown Prince did, in honesty, make a splendid display of His new femininity. Not but the visual side; not even the penchant for gold and finery. Those had ever been with the Crown Prince; He merely wore them better now. But His mannerisms, even His tiny foibles, were all at once more womanly: softer, daintier. Almost it drove Futo to question whether she had ever known Shotoku Taishi as good as she’d believed. Almost it made her wonder if He also preferred male companionship now.

Might it be He had always?

But, no. His betrothal to Toziko and its products were incontrovertible. Nor were Futo’s… other memories attesting to such a case. And, even if His desires leant at a rougher angle now, He had still declined to tutor Mu by Himself – as He would have other promising cadets. Instead, He had given that one to Futo. But if so, why? What had He seen that she had not?

Intrigue. Even in this era: petty, upper-crust intrigue. Some habits lived through death. Futo rubbed her cheek on Mu’s smooth pate. Her brother was a worthy man. He could trade repartee with ease, and had an evident passion about him. Yet, he was not domineering. He was keen and purposeful, but even-handed to a fault. He did not deserve the tail of courtly knavery she and the Crown Prince were dragging behind.

Well… He hadn’t. Futo pinched his face.

“What, then,” she asked him sweetly, “of on your lovely tutor ratting?”

“You werf confufing fe ftudenf,” Mu groaned. Futo eased up on her punishment. “… I could listen to you thee-thou all day,” resumed her brother, “but I’ve listened to you do just that. All day – for days. Gensokyo taught me to pick up tongue on the go. The students? I doubt.”

“I can speak this new, mongrel mode of the language,” Futo said, without a hitch of trouble. “Maugre it, I nay to do so choose. What you crass ‘thee-thou’ hightst, style hath. Cadence. Class. Why, pray, would I nay in it delight?”

“You can. With me, with Lord Taishi. But spare the poor redsleeves, please.”

“Fie—” Futo snorted. “No. If you would the young cadets of this joy reave, then nowise shall you yourself it fully feel. I will my silvern tongue from now on clip.”

“No more ‘heyday’s for me?” Mu lamented.

“No. It all lackadays from here on is.”

“Shame,” replied her brother.

Then, not at all shamefully, he gave an overt sigh of relief.

Futo tweaked his ears. A rational and reasonable way to fight pedestrianism. Mu didn’t sound educated once she’d finished; mostly, he sounded in mild discomfit. But of course he did. Her brother was a handsome, erudite man; but, he had a lump of wet lint for a sense of art.

It made no matter. Futo dropped from Mu’s back, and moved to wedge herself between him and the book on the desk. This, a few shoves and jiggles later, placed her comfortably astride her brother’s lap.

Mu stiffened. His mouth quirked with uncertainty. A few heartbeats in the pass, though, and he mended his expression. Then, he secured Futo in place by her hips.

He always did that. Not the hips thing. That was on occasion her butt or her shoulders. But the hesitation. Something about Futo’s closeness chipped her brother’s confidence every time. Months of nigh-familial intimacy hadn’t stripped it away. Truthfully, Futo felt a little chuffed. It was gratifying to see an easy man such as Mu in unease. It was even more gratifying to know the unease was caused by her.

Mu minced that, too – as well he did most things which stumped him. Then, when the bits were small enough, he stored them in a drawer of his mind whence he may pull them out for study later. Although, Futo rather suspected he wouldn’t.

“… On another boat,” her brother said, as if recalling. “Tell me, sister. Have you done anything… rash, recently?”

Futo cocked her head. Her hat tipped, but stayed attached by the clip sewn to its inside. “How rash?”

“Are we talking degree, or kind?” Mu wanted to clarify.

“Why not the cause whereof to ask?”

“Right. Well, see,” he told her, “I fear me the Crown Prince has been giving thought to selling you off. Maybe even into marriage, if you read the fine print.”

Futo chuckled. “I well past my edibility am,” she said. “Who-ever would a crone alike me buy?”

Her brother rolled his eyes at the ceiling. “Well, you’ve heard the rumours…”

A crumb of the unease must have not stored properly; for there it was, tinting Mu’s face. Futo rolled her eyes with him. She had heard the rumours, of course she had; there were whisperers in Lord Taishi’s palace temple whose voices thundered even when they whispered.

“Candidly,” said Mu, “I see where they derive.”

“Whence might that be?”

Her brother considered her closely. “… Futo,” he said, “let’s not pad it. You are nothing if not forward. I like that about you; I love that about you. But it spawns rumours like earthworms in the rain. I am also nothing if not easily forwarded myself,” he added with false modesty, “which like only made it rain harder. I hadn’t before, but now I’ve mused it over, I see through.”

“Yes,” Futo admitted. “It why I after respect in front of cadets asked was.”

“And I had too much fun pulling your legs to stop and think. Sorry.”

“Fie.” Futo made a derisive sound. “It idiocy is, withal. I your sister am. I haven’t aught with you done which I would not have with my blood brother.”

Mu raised a brow. “Pelted him with fire-balls?”

“Pff. Nay!” Futo smacked him. “Tother stuff!”

“Hung off of him like a high bar?”

She nodded. “When-ever no one looked.”

“Let him pick you up and kiss you?”

“To an annoying point.”

“… Took baths together?”

“Right ‘till I flowered. Afterwise… sometimes when he visited.”

Mu had the look of someone with additional questions, but ones he held back. “… Any way you tear it,” he said instead, “the Crown Prince wants us close. I’m not fooled. I think either she foretells I will do something rash, or you.”

Futo smiled. “I haven’t aught such planned,” she lied. “Have you?”

Her brother shrugged. “Not beyond what I’ve been doing already.”

“Same,” Futo agreed.

Mu gave her a stare which came as near shaking its head as it could without one. Then, in the same breath, he slid a hand up from her waist to scratch the hair behind one of her ears. He mirrored her smile. The reflection brimmed with cheerful conspiracy.

Heed, my Lord Taishi, Futo exulted inside. Heed, what you in independent thought fosterest. The man Handai, who had never made stealth of his fascination with the Crown Prince, now foiled his liege’s own advice. Had the Lord Taishi predicted this when He’d thrust cadet Mu under Futo’s wing? Had He believed her own investiture would naturally extend to her adopted brother? Mu was loyal. No mistake about it. No one would dispute the adoration in his eyes whenever he gazed upon the Sen-kai’s beautiful master. But he was loyal on his own accord. He hadn’t been conditioned to love the Crown Prince through proximity and exposure, as some of His servants were. Mu loved Him – or Her – for no fealty, training, or obligation.

He did, because he wanted to.

And that was the soul of what it meant to follow the Way. That was the hidden path. That was what Futo’s blood brother had preached – a millennium in the past.

The trouble for the Crown Prince was, such genuine love as Handai Mu’s knew its freedoms. The grander of which was to be shared with someone else. Happily, that someone was her. Futo calmed her racing enthusiasm. Then daubed on a sober face.

Soberer, anyway.

“Think you, then—” she poked a finger at Mu’s chest, “—we should that watch-each-other order have belayed?”

Mu gripped her hip. “Absolutely not. I don’t much relish the sensation of being paired off,” he admitted; “but, if it gives me an excuse to piggyback you around the temple, then I hallow the Crown Prince’s name for it. Whatever the term she sticks to it.”

“And your inquest?” Futo questioned. “Shall you it too chase, as promised?”

“I would have, Futo,” said Mu. “It is… a thing of pride, I think. I may have just wanted a second opinion. Yours.”

“Now you it have.”

“Now I do,” Mu agreed. “And even a plan to go with tonight. Thank you, Futo.”

Futo patted his cheek. “Naught less for my brother. When you victorious return, we may about satisfying the Crown Prince’s request go. Small steps. We may bathe and talk… Mayhaps a common tale match, in case something rash does one day happen. Hmm?”

“Sounds swift,” said Mu. He seemed pleased, somehow, at the turn of phrase. He began to stand up.

Futo slid out of her brother’s lap.

In passing, she cast over a shoulder at the book her brother had been perusing. The contents were nothing of moment: a guide to Gensokyo by some amateur pen with no appreciation for finer verbiage. What a love for brevity these modern Japanese had. The confines of paper must have shrunk the language as decades passed.

Futo wasn’t ignorant of the function which books served; she was, after all, lettered. It did not mean she was fond of letters. A speech from a noble mouth might accomplish what not a thousand books might… unless burned in a strategic place. One had but to consider what hers had done for Mu earlier in the day. The margins of the book on the desk may be scratched with Mu’s simplistic script, which no one understood in the temple but he. Still he had needed words from Futo’s mouth to regain his Way. What good was a book?

Futo gave that one a fiery glare for giving her brother false hope.

Mu put his hand to the lantern on the desk, and smothered the flame with a quick Wind of the air. He could have blown it instead; but Mu wasn’t above an excess of effort when it very well amused him. Futo wondered whom he was taking that after. He had used to be so stoic before his greens.

But that Mu would never have done what current Mu did now. He would never have crouched with his back to Futo, and beckoned her to latch on. He would not have said, “Hop on, and hold on to your hat. And mine, while you’re at it,” with a twinkle in his eyes. Now he did.

Futo grinned, happy all over.

There had been some tough dances to dance along the way, but she finally had a brother again.


>> No. 41636
Yep, Futo's cute.
>> No. 41640
File 154622555128.jpg - (288.15KB, 727x1108, __mononobe_no_futo_touhou_drawn_by_satomachi__0276.jpg) [iqdb]
41640


Thrice. Thrice they were espied on their way out of the temple. Twice by new cadets committing the temple’s plan to memory. Once by an established one, lately given her greens.

With the former, Futo had pre-empted the arousal of further rumours by spinning her peculiar ride into a lark. She had spurred Mu viciously with her heels – all the while yelling at the redsleeves like a herd driver on a busy thoroughfare.

With the latter, Futo’s brother had taken hold of his own reins.

Aiko – this name being also the Crown Prince’s gift – was a small, stout woman of no more and little less than twenty. An herbalist’s second daughter, she had enlisted in Lord Taishi’s service ensuing her elder sister’s belated marriage. With a scarce remaining dowry – and an even scarcer itch for relationships – Aiko had opted, instead, to wage her passions under the Crown Prince’s patronage. As many Taoshi with pre-existing… social conditions… Aiko, too, could betimes be a touch abrasive. But she was faithful and tenacious underneath; and these were the qualities which the Crown Prince sought to bring out above all.

Aiko had given Mu a nod of recognition, which Futo’s brother had loosely returned. Then, the girl had noticed Futo peering over his shoulder. She’d motioned a polite namaste.

“Adviser Mononobe,” she had said.

Futo had returned it – with slightly more flourish. “Sister Aiko.”

Mu had hiked her up on his back – almost as if to shush her. Futo had kicked at his sides. Her brotherly steed had jolted, but hadn’t thrown her.

“… Well?” he’d addressed Aiko instead. “What’s your take?”

Aiko had sketched a shrug. “I know of the Toorima,” she’d said. “Not a name I’d have dabbled with before. Now… who’s to tell me otherwise? There are a few techniques I’d much like to try on a larger scale, too. If the Toorima volunteer, who am I to tell them shoo?”

Mu had nodded. “Wash your feet,” he’d cautioned.

Aiko had blinked. “… What?”

“When you go,” Futo’s brother had explained, “and your techniques work out. Wash your feet.”

“Why?”

“Trust me.”

Aiko had stared at Mu for a moment. Then sighed. “… I’ll take that under advisement, mentor Mu,” she’d assured. “And? What about you? Sneaking out again tonight?”

It had been Mu’s turn to shrug. A feat of some weight, with his arms Futo-occupied. “Trying.”

Aiko had peered at his passenger. “Not proving good, I see.”

“I shan’t anyone tell—” Futo had grinned, “—if thou shan’t.”

“Suits me,” Aiko had agreed. “My bed don’t listen, anyway. Good-night, adviser Mononobe. Mentor Mu.”

The green-sleeved girl had bowed, and gone on down the darkened, smoke-filled passage. Afterwise, once she had quit the earshot, Mu had made an amused sound.

“I like that girl,” he’d admitted.

Futo had done the high thing and hadn’t let herself feel too jealous.

Outside, night had been allowed to fall on the Sen-kai’s sky. It shifted the hue of the surrounding landscape: from the brilliant gold of grain in harvest, to a pale, muted blue of deep secrecy.

Mu loosed his arms, and Futo slid off his back to her own two feet. She slipped on her clogs, while her brother gazed out over the night-shrouded hills. She hung back – a few paces behind him – as they embarked along the singular, packed-dirt road streaming out from the temple palace’s main access. It ran to course among the hills, ultimately to terminate on a sleek Toori gate, visible even in the dark, a handful minutes of brisk walking distant.

Mu marched enveloped in an air of quiet purpose.

His posture was not unfamiliar to her; during Futo’s childhood, her blood brother had often marched as Mu did now – usually into something to which the rest of the clan would tactfully object. Like the dissent in Naniwa. Like the disaster at Shigisan. Mu’s, of course, may never effect anything of the scale. Gensokyo was a closed, firmly garrotted system; with basic care and the Hakurei priestess’s vigil, it was implausible Futo would have to intervene again. He may rebut the existence of native gods; he may court the Hakurei priestess herself for the good that would do him. Nothing Mu desired could ever force Futo’s hand.

Not at all like her blood brother’s stone-blind fixation.

Murky thoughts, Futo told herself, swallowing them down. Murk could swamp a woman. Best not to pour it over her head.

They crested the final hill, and the base of the Toori gate loomed at the bottom of the decline. A faint shimmer – like the rime of frost on flagstone on a cold Winter morning – played along the pane of space between the tall, timber-hewn pillars. The road did not suddenly shear off at this milestone; it weaved on as far as the eye leapt – even in the day – together with the fields which hemmed it on both sides. But the eye lied; and this was the end of the Sen-kai, no different. Mu had attempted, once, walking the road past the invisible threshold. He hadn’t done twenty paces when he had turned around, his face paper-pale and nauseated as if he had Winded or Damped something of his body far beyond the impositions of his mind. He had never tried again.

Nor was tonight a time for experiments. Futo’s inquisitive brother stopped at the gateway, an arm’s breadth away from the glittering, frost-rime barrier. He turned to face his sister.

Futo was not her liege lord; but even she knew what to brace for when Handai Mu approached. She mounted no objection when he swept her up in his arms. None whatsoever. Handai Mu picked her up – the same he had earlier in the day – and Futo helped him along to anchor them both in a mutually comfortable embrace.

This embrace, however, was less reserved than its older sibling. Something in the fallacious privacy of the night had caused her brother’s arms to be tighter than usual. And warmer. Mu was already Winding his body heat in preparation for Gensokyo’s wintry cold. His body felt like one huge hot-water bottle.

“… Toasty,” Futo giggled into his ear.

Ahead any scientific cleverness spoiled the chance, Futo squirmed herself more room in her brother’s arms. Then, once she but might, she looped her arms behind his neck, and gave his left cheek a long, generous kiss.

“There,” she said when she pulled away. “Does this any wise for my neglecting you make up?”

Mu’s replying sternness was all but comedic. In fact, it very much was. “Other side,” he commanded. “Then we may check.”

Futo feigned a weary moan. Then, doing exactly as he’d said, she smacked a twin kiss on his other cheek.

“Done?” she asked when she was.

Mu gave her a sportive smile. “Now between.”

Futo huffed. “Fie, Mu,” she scolded. “Fie. I a far too pure and intricate soul to fall for that trick am. Nay, either, to mention: a thousand years old. Can you not of aught better think?”

“… Hmm,” mused Mu.

Had she imagined it, or was her brother in honesty about to— Yes. Yes, he was. He was thinking. Crazy world. And there came the effects.

“Have you ever stumbled,” Mu posed to her with not a drop of mockery, “upon the country they call France?”

Futo hadn’t. Not even with a finger on the map. Yamato had been her sole home; what use had she for Franz? “… No,” she admitted. “What of this ‘Franz?’”

“There is this one eccentricity they hold very dear in their culture there,” Mu explained, “that is relevant to my making a better try. See, the French – they love to kiss. Often, and with few inhibitions. I went there on a… let’s say business trip, once. Before now. Before Gensokyo. The whole kiss thing had me caught quite… How do you say? Without panties?”

“With pants down,” Futo prompted. “Men pants wear. Not panties. Those for womenfolk are.”

“Both work,” decided Mu. “Any way we do, imagine me as I step off the train, and that my guide and translator saunters up to me, all sunny smiles – and slaps a kiss straight dab on my dopey mouth. Woman I had never seen, Futo. Only talked to through, uh… Correspondence, I suppose. Well. Turns out, that is how they do in France. No one thinks it lesser to kiss someone else by way of hello or good-bye. Women with men, with other women. Men with men, too… if they like.”

Futo frowned up at her brother. “… Does this Franz country exist?”

“Last I saw, yes. Of course, last I saw was… when I last saw the Outside World. But, here. This is it. My better try.”

And what dost you of me expect? Futo thought, no less lost than the minute before. Well, no; Futo knew what it was here Mu was concocting. This game was no new thing; all throughout their partnership were sprinkled instances wherein they would goad each other onto uneven terrain, for no end but simply to see which relented first. This had seen Mu first pick her up; it had seen them first bathe together, and their odd, nigh-on blasphemous debates on Lord Taishi’s nether bits. This, now, was but another bout. Mu’s deadpan expression all but spelled it out. And yet, where Futo would have kissed him as ready as the Franz reportedly did had he but asked within the Crown Prince’s sanctuary, then here…

… Here, out in the lightless hills, it gave her pause to as much as contemplate assent. Alone, at night, outside Lord Taishi’s wakeful hours (for He must, unlike Futo or Mu, to sleep off the burden of retaining His Sen-kai), irrationally, Futo felt a sink of reluctance open under her heart.

Aware full well this had belike been her brother’s aim, Futo’s womanly instincts still made her delay. Those forgotten things. Those she had once fancied burned away.

Mu, that clever imp, had struck her figurative gonads. Futo had seldom felt prouder of her new brother.

Souring this pride was that she still hadn’t figured out how-wise to proceed. Wind? Water? The Way didn’t bend strong in either direction this time. This time was clearly not her ally.


( ) Boldly.
( ) Modestly.
( ) Simply put, no.
>> No. 41641
(x) Boldly.
>> No. 41642
(x) Modestly.

I'm voting for this because I just can't picture, in my head, Futo acting bashful at this point in the story. So I wanna see how it's handled, instead.
>> No. 41643
(x) Boldly.

I love this Futo.
>> No. 41644
(x) Modestly.
>> No. 41645
File 154626642230.png - (241.36KB, 800x1000, 26880656_p5.png) [iqdb]
41645
(x) Boldly.
Of course.
>> No. 41646
(X) Modestly
Kiss on the forehead I guess. That's 'between', right?
>> No. 41647
(x) Modestly.

Yea Mu has Futo pretty outmaneuvered here. He deserves a modest reward to let him know he's won the battle, but not the Futo war.
>> No. 41648
[x] Modestly.
>> No. 41649
>>41642
She has been somewhat bashful at times. But it's always good to see.

(x) Modestly.
>> No. 41652
File 154647929656.jpg - (350.62KB, 1113x1528, 72315501_p0.jpg) [iqdb]
41652
(X) Modestly.

But she had beaten time before. Fell beast though it was, care and study had laid it low the same it lay low everything else. Time was nothing.

Nor this. Futo rallied her mistaken faculties, and withdrew her arms from Mu’s shoulders. Her brother had naught to return but silent amusement in his eyes. Futo slapped a hand over it. Mu’s brow wrinkled under her touch, but the rest of her brother held faster than a bent nail. Futo tweezed his waist between her legs, and lifted herself a little higher in his arms. Then canted her head.

To her evergreen credit, she only wavered a trice. Then, Mononobe Futo, once his guide and tutor, kissed her impudent brother on the lips.

No smooching. A brush and a tiny press. Naught more modest. Nothing Futo would not have given to her blood brother. Not near.

Handai Mu’s brows squelched, even so, tighter under her palm. Futo snuck in one more press ahead she quit her brother’s feverish lips. Not the hand, though. That, she left clapped over his eyes. No use letting him see what he potentially shouldn’t. He managed, somewise, to give her a puzzled look anyway.

“… Huh,” he opined.

Futo held back a smack. “Nay enough between?”

Mu gave a soft shake of his head. “Oh no,” he said; “the geography was fine. Only I’d thought—”

“That I would alike yon Franz girl had done do,” Futo chimed in. “Fie, Mu. You a thousand years too early are. Nor am I a Franz. Take it. This all you get this time is.”

Goodly, Mu didn’t hang too long on that last part. Her brother pushed himself an inch or so taller, then produced from the depths of his soul (or just the stomach) a disaffected growl. He peered back, hungrily, at the shimmering Toori gate. That Futo’s palm was still in the way seemed airy matter. Like a greyhound in the slips.

“Rearing to go,” Futo sighed, mock-despairingly. “Are nay we?”

Mu’s mouth twisted. Then, he caught the rib. “… Yes, well,” he murmured. “Unless you can shikai the night to be again as young as you are, I am eating every minute here.”

“I can time stay,” Futo told him. Leastwise for myself. “I can nay it respool.”

Neither am I young, she added – quietly – inside. The springtide, mobile body Futo’s soul now animated was nowise that which Soga’s clansmen had laid to rest in Lord Taishi’s sepulchre. No more than a forgery. A gift of selfishness from the selfish hands of Seiga. The hermit’s Somatic wards – granted on nothing above a moment’s fancy – had allowed Futo’s gutted soul to shape its new vessel after what it had felt it had been – rather than the reality.

The ravages of age had been undone. When the Crown Prince had waked from His trans-historic journey, and Futo with Him, they had met the rising Sun of Yamato with younger, unblemished faces. In Lord Taishi’s case, His desired transformation had taken… a turn. Yet, these changes had been but physical; and His mind, as well as Futo’s, were still the same things they had been a millennium ago.

Something which Futo vowed every day to fight.

None, still, overmuch relevant to her brother – whose desires grasped toward the portal gate like invisible, lecherous fingers. Futo removed her hand from Mu’s eyes. Momentarily, they remained affixed to the gate. Then slid back to Futo.

A twinge of surprise – even if not un-pleasant – did all the same round their already oddly round edges as Futo climbed, once again, up her brother’s front – and gave him one more kiss. On the forehead, this time. Mu may have won that bout; but, that had been an exception to the rule. Futo would come back. For now, no more romantic kisses. There were rumours enough swimming about to feed a small town for a year, anyway.

Her brother had the marked set of someone about to say something clever once she pulled back. So, she kicked the heel of her clog into the small of his back. Mu winced. Then, he dropped her – when she kicked again. Futo danced back, sleeves flaring. She threw them down, and propped her hands on her hips.

Mu gave her a contrite smile.

For a moment, Futo returned it.

Then, once it was gone, she stored the feelings it had contained in a safe, backwise corner of her mind. With hope, they wouldn’t rattle out from the first next such shake.

Futo fanned her hand: like the Crown Prince did, these days, now it made Him look charming rather than ridiculous. “Go,” she told her brother. “I will you when you return sense. And heed what Lord Taishi has you this afternoon told. It me as well hurts when you all Winded burst in.”

Mu managed to humour her venture at authority. He inclined his hatted head. “Yes, sister Futo.”

“Stay warm. Never to mind: safe. I a restful bath want – nay one sticky with blood.”

“I’ll try, Futo.”

“Luck, Mu.”

“Thanks.”

Saying no more, Handai Mu turned to approach the barrier at the heart of the Toori. The gate towered, even over his tall figure. Mu sketched a focusing gesture – his own, as if he were swinging back a curtain – and desired himself through.

And then, betwixt one infinitesimal slice of time and the next, he vanished into Gensokyo.


>> No. 41659
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41659
MU (briefly)

The priest’s booted feet crunched into the mantle of frozen leaves on the forest floor.

A wrench of dislocation, a preternatural motion sickness, almost pitched him off-balance. Handai Mu swallowed hard of the stiff, wintry air. He brute-forced his mind to acknowledge it was here, and not on the golden hills of Miko’s Sen-kai.

Gensokyo, remember? he hushed inside. Our old amigo. And cold as a bastard. His Winded body heat would stave off frostbite and chattering teeth; though, being otherwise a natural process, tuned above its proclivity it would soon leave Mu positively (or negatively) starving. The better, then, that the night’s target had a relationship with food. Food that, importantly, wasn’t Mu.

As the dizziness began to rinse out, Mu reassured himself further of his scene. The skirts of a well-trodden forest. From where he stood, it was possible to make out where the trees ceded ground to the farmland which sustained the human town. Once Gensokyo took the Spring train, there would be a pair of eyes on them – prowling, watching – somewhere. Something Mu would must watch out for as well.

At his back, the slip-gate to Miko’s domain was a faint blur between two nondescript trees. No more conspicuous than a spider-web in the same arrangement, the gate would have been a right female dog to pinpoint without foreknowledge. That, and a relevant need. Mu sensed it resonate, even now, with his longing to be near the Crown Prince, and Futo, once again. Mostly near Futo. Very near Futo. In touch would be the best.

… Swung that trick right around on him, had his pretty tutor. Handai Mu scribbled a mental post-it to give some mind to self-injury. Then, he banished the memory of Futo’s lips where it belonged. With his lowest fantasies.

He Damped his weight, slowly, until his feet weren’t punching holes in the frozen carpet of leaves. All the while, he scanned the forest’s canopy for a hint of the night sky. Soon, and he found one: a patch of deeper blackness, pinpricked with stars. Mu gave his strength a flash of Wind, and kicked off the ground toward the opening.

The untamed woods of Gensokyo sprawled beneath him like the surface of a roiling, kelp-infested ocean. To the east, over the inert farmland, the walled, terracotta-roofed town burned an orange blot in the lightless landscape. Where humans dwelled, there was illumination. Glowing windows and lantern-lined streets: men and women staking a claim on the night. Mu’s thoughts weren’t with them. They strayed, wistfully, to someone – one decisively in-human – living unbeknownst among them. Then reeled back.

Another oddity to harry tonight.

Mu squinted at the forest roof below. The book hadn’t deigned a more precise clue to his victim’s location than the tatty old newspaper from the archive had. There had been report in town that Toyosatimimi Miko’s secret home – as secret homes did – contained a veritable cache of tomes on ancient, recondite subjects. This, of course, was a baseless fancy; the Crown Prince could no more have recreated whatever esoteric library her original home had held than she could recall its every book and scroll word for word. The books that there were, were the bigger share contributions from the students – meaning whatever had wound up, or been printed locally, in Gensokyo. Had the gossip been true, even, then Mu had ever little faith the tomes would list the whereabouts of a tiny, somewhat recent, business enterprise of one insignificant youkai in an arse-end-nowhere valley of rural Japan.

Futo hadn’t even heard about France. A whole country. Futo should stop intruding on his thoughts.

What was her name, again? Mu forced himself to remember. Something… mystical? Lore, lore, lay? Any how the book and the newspaper had spelled it, one congruity welded the two accounts together. That the youkai in question was capable of inducing night-blindness in passing humans at will. The latter of the two claimed, also, that she had of late been using of the skill outrageously to make a living off her blindness-curing cookery. Why, however, a youkai of all things would need to make or desire a living…

… Well, this, Mu meant to find out.

He Winded his weight up a fraction, and let mother gravity pull him back down. Father logic would have him out of his hide; but, with no more definite way to track the Lore-lay’s stall down less his sense of smell, Mu would have to resort to leaping about the vicinity of the town until the reported blindness struck him. Then, presumably, he should leap face-first into a devious bird lady.

With his Futo-wished luck, Mu hoped the bird would be a softer one than his last.


>> No. 41660
So from the third story post until now was a flashback?
Well, not that I mind, but what was the point of that? Coulda just started the story from there to begin with.
>> No. 41661
>>41660

I appreciated the character introduction before engaging with Futo. Also giving us a sneak preview of birb route before definitely influenced my decision to pick "moderatly" in the last vote.
>> No. 41662
I'd be okay with leaping face first into Mystia's chest
>> No. 41671
File 154716153044.jpg - (756.20KB, 1100x1500, __soga_no_tojiko_touhou_drawn_by_oshiaki__d12ec4b3.jpg) [iqdb]
41671
FUTO

FUTO FACED AWAY from the Sen-kai’s gate, and Winded her sky-lust. The familiar, lukewarm air embraced her like an old lover. She rose, gently, upwise, and willed herself back toward the temple.

For the twenty heartbeats of flight, Futo allowed herself to feel immoral. No fraternal excuse may disguise the things she and Mu were doing were well beyond their ken as tutor and student. Futo may once again be young and full of zeal; it didn’t mean she was once again stupid. The buzz about their relationship was naught if not an effect of their own fluttering. Neither of them imagined otherwise; neither of them, nonetheless, did aught to head it off.

Futo took solace in but one thing: whoever the unutterable prudes who would countermine her brother’s achievements with suspicions of liaison, they would now need countenance Lord Taishi’s own approval. Futo’s repute may indeed be spotted; yet, there were few souls in the Sen-kai who would gainsay the Crown Prince as they did her. Who, after all, would dare disappoint their beautiful, saintly benefactor? Except Futo?

She had but to alight by the temple’s front door and steal into the silent vestibule to remember who.

Futo’s left foot wasn’t halfway out of its clog when a splotch of greenish luminance broke out on a nearby wall. Tongues of ethereal smoke boiled out of the light-stain, as if seeping from the other side. A finger’s breadth out of the obstacle, and they coalesced into a familiar shape. A face shape.

Tojiko’s.

The ghostly likeness of Lord Taishi’s deceased wife flushed with colour as the remainder of her form birthed out of the solid wall. From corpse-grey to the cream of healthy skin; from funereal black to the vivid green of her favourite dress. Futo’s lips twitched into a tart smile at Tojiko’s full, voluptuous figure reconstituting before her eyes. Not, precisely, at the figure itself; Tojiko’s assets, while enviable, were now as useless and barren as Futo’s own. What they were besides was a stroke of sour irony. For where Futo and her liege had sought change in death, Soga’s middle daughter had remained hauntingly the same as she had been in life. For where her disembodied spirit had the power to appear however well she desired, Tojiko felt still at most ease in her original appearance. A young woman, barely on the wrong side of twenty, wonderfully recuperated from her first maternity. In Lord Taishi’s court, Tojiko had been the simmering resentment of His other consorts. In His Sen-kai, she had no such rivals. No admirers. No children to nurse. No husband to please. Not anymore.

And yet, Tojiko chose to stay her plump, motherly self. Futo was loath to think what this spoke of her own, selfish alteration.

Tojiko’s featureless tail – her sole telling part – wriggled free of the wall. The ghostly dreg of Futo’s shameful past regarded her with gorgeous, emerald-green eyes.

“Mononobe,” she said, in her sonorous voice.

Futo warmed up her envious smile. “Toziko.”

Mononobe,” Tojiko insisted.

Futo checked her cracking expression. But, Tojiko wasn’t focused on her anymore; she gazed out whence Futo had come – as though the temple’s walls were no more substantial to her senses than they were to her body.

“… Walking out late?” Tojiko asked with mild disinterest.

“I was.”

“With your latest fling?”

“Language, Toziko,” Futo chided with a wrinkle of her nose. “If thou to me taunt meanest, so leastwise with propriety do.”

Tojiko’s eyes widened into huge, cut gems bright with innocence. Mostly false. “Taunt?” she echoed. “Sooner I’ll die. Had I wished to taunt you, I would have spoken differently.”

Futo sighed inwardly. So it begineth. “… Such as?” she obliged out loud.

A full, wholesome smile opened on Tojiko’s face. “Why,” she almost sang, “I do not know. Squeeze? How about these? Toy boy. Necker. Bed warmer. Personal prick.”

“Enough!” snapped Futo. “Taunt me all thy heart thee demandeth, Toziko. But leave thou Mu of it out.”

“So defensive.” Tojiko tut-tutted. “Whatever gives?”

“Mu my brother is. I shan’t stand by and listen—”

The ghost’s face darkened. Corposant lashed from the tips of her fingers to the nails in the floorboards. Ah— Futo caught herself. Wrong excuse. Fie, me.

Tojiko crushed her hand into a tight fist, the rogue lightning contained. For the moment. “You disgust me,” she hissed. “You are a wedded woman. How long must the world turn before you learn to act your state? Your age? Have your parents taught you nothing but to rebel against your betters? What should Father say if he saw you now?”

Futo shook her head. “Umako a thousand years dead lieth. He canst nay see aught. Whenas will you let go, Toziko?”

“Let go? Let go? Listen to the rot pouring out of your mouth, Mononobe. The Crown Prince lies a thousand years dead. That preposterous, romance-play jargon you speak lies a thousand years dead. Why cling to these relics of the past, while you spit on the memory of others?”

Futo’s gaze took on an edge. “Do you begrudge me this, Toziko?” she asked. “Do you begrudge me making best of my second chance at life? After all the arguments, is that it?”

“What I begrudge you,” sneered Tojiko, “is the spite. The spite you bear under that blithe exterior. The spite that enables you to deceive your own family and feel nothing afterwards.”

“Then you resent what I have done to you?” Futo dared.

Tojiko bristled, her ethereal form blackening with barely restrained fury.

… And yet, within the same moment, as if sucked out of a hole in her soul, Tojiko’s anger vanished without a trace.

The ghost’s opulent, green eyes wandered someplace distant. Someplace far away, where no one else but she may see.

“… No,” admitted Tojiko. Her voice had fallen nigh to a whisper. “I do not resent you for that. You may never know what it is like, Mononobe. To be free of need, free of want… You may never feel the peace I feel when I close my eyes.”

Our wants, Futo thought petulantly, are what us who we are make, Toziko. Lord Taishi, me… even thou. Why else, if not so, would she have suffered the vigil over the Crown Prince’s sleep? Why else would she hover at His side, loyal as a hawk, even to this day? Why else would she have come to spoil Futo’s mood tonight? The differences of age, state and womanhood may well mean nothing before this one, grand distinction. That of the Way.

Where Futo was faithful to her desires, Tojiko would deny hers even in the grave.

And this, above all else, nettled Futo something wild.

Tojiko – curse her father’s keenness passing down – gave her a sly, knowing look. “Ah, worry not—” she said, almost off-hand; “I shan’t meddle with your romances, Mononobe. Your… brother is a decent man; unlike some, you would have a tough time of making him your bedside aide. Try, though, at your leisure. I’ll fain watch you fumble.”

“It’s not like that, Toziko,” Futo argued.

Tojiko laughed it away. “Bed him or stab him, it makes no matter to me in the end. I am but dead – and not even very well.”

“… I will do what my heart tells me to do, Toziko. Naught else.”

“As you always have, Mother,” Tojiko returned. “As you always, always have. At least your mistakes are unlike to haunt you, this time. So long.”

The final dagger punched in, Tojiko sailed noiselessly through the air toward the wall opposite whence she’d emerged. Then passed through. As if it all counted for naught. As if the entire conversation had been no more than a roadside distraction on the way to… wherever it was that ghosts went to rest.

Futo stood in the dark, empty vestibule for a long while: a clog stuck in one hand and a storm churning in her head. A storm of guilt, indignation and, bizarrely, pride. Trust Toziko to take the air out of an affair.

At the end of the while, she shrugged out her frustrations. Lord Taishi may sleep off the strain of His arts, and Tojiko may doze out of habit; but Futo had learned early her immortal body was at odds with the concept of rest. A gentle Dampening of her awareness may still put her to sleep, yes; and Futo did, on occasion, engage in the pure luxury of dreams. This night, however, she had a watch to stand. Her brother would ahead long return from his outing, and they had plans in place.

All Futo may do now was to find something sharp enough with which to kill the intervening time. An idea formed. Futo pulled off her second clog, and launched at a deft slide down the temple’s mist-filled halls.


Hours afterwise, Futo would sense the Sen-kai portal being breached. She would blow out the candle over which she had been burning pages from Mu’s book, and quit the dusty archive.

Then, much heartened, she would go to draw a bath.



For the next block:
( ) Mu
( ) Futo
>> No. 41672
(x) Futo
>> No. 41673
(X) Mu
>> No. 41674
(X) Mu
>> No. 41675
[X] Mu
>> No. 41676
(x) Futo
>> No. 41677
(x) Futo

Mother, uh? I love things like these.
>> No. 41678
(X) Futo
>> No. 41679
[x] Mu
>> No. 41680
What the hell does it matter that she was married? Wouldn't her husband be a thousand years in the grave?

What a strange butt-frustrated ghost.
>> No. 41681
(X) Futo

Give me Futo staring at his "Mu"
>> No. 41682
File 15474214924.jpg - (340.83KB, 900x1440, 70860233_p33.jpg) [iqdb]
41682
(X) Futo



Some minutes later, Futo slipped into the narrow changing room neighbouring the bath. She unceremoniously dumped the heap of towels she had gone to retrieve in an empty basket. Then, she kicked the door close, and engaged the latch.

Her brother’s robes already lay in another basket: a martially-neat stack of blacks and chalky whites. Futo unclipped and dropped her hat. She wormed out of her voluminous over-cloak, and tossed it haphazardly on top of Mu’s clothes. The blue under-shift, which comprised the inner layer of her uniform and the skirt, followed before long. Futo loosed her ponytail and shook her hair straight. Then, she skinned and stepped out of her underwear.

Naked as her birth-day, she padded for the screen dividing the changing room from the bath proper, and slid it aside.

The palace temple’s bath was one of the unnumerous touches of modernity in Lord Taishi’s secret realm. Whereas straw-mat, bamboo and cypress reigned ever elsewhere in the His home, the steam-fogged room beyond the screen was peculiarly foreign. Maroon wood of a mysterious name lined the walls endlong as well as the ceiling; and the floor had been cobbled with whitish, blue-veined stone which didn’t slicken when wet. A row of spouts jutted out the length of one wall – fitted with contrived shower-heads, which would grate the hot water from the pipes into a fine likeness of a summer rain. Quaintest of all, perhaps, was the tub – fairly, more a basin sunk into the bathroom’s floor than aught else – with its wide bottom inlaid in dark, polished brass.

Only a tiny dash behind was the man sprawled in the tub.

His chin propped on the edge, an arm laid out on the floor; Futo’s brother seemed to be doing a practiced impression of a washed-up castaway. Unlike one, he did crack open an eye as Futo pushed the screen back shut. His arm enlivened long enough to give her a lazy wave.

There was aught to be said of her: higher-ranked, carrying towels to and fro whenas her student had showered already and was taking his ease in the tub. But, Futo paid it not overdue attention. Truthfully, the brief touches with domesticity were a pleasant experience. They reminded Futo of an age when her life hadn’t been near so… stratified. An age she might count on but two hands and a few toes. An age before her blood brother’s campaign of obsession.

Though she had a more even-humoured brother now, there were more parallels between these days and those than Futo had accounted for at the start, when she had first goaded Mu into taking their baths together. More underhand of which was her brother’s one-eyed gaze trailing after her as she walked under one of the fancy shower-heads. There was little else for his imagination to fill in unassisted than the stretch of Futo’s back under the waist-long cape of her silver hair. That, too, was given up when she twisted the lever on the wall, and the hair parted under a jet of hot water.

A deep-seated part of Futo wanted to shriek.

The propriety, embedded in her in her earliest education, was revolting at the instance of nakedness in front of a man who wasn’t her betrothed. But, want though it might, Futo voiced nary a squeak of shame. No. Her will was made of sturdier stuff these days. Her right to shrieking had been forfeit long before she had first undressed before the man assigned as her ward.

And, that besides, a more immediate percentage of her felt treacherously excited. Her brother may baulk at some displays of intimacy – and, curiously, not others; yet, he did little and littler to keep himself athwart of bluntly ogling Futo’s nudity whenever they took their baths. It spoke volumes of Handai Mu’s discipline that Futo had never caught him with any hard evidence.

It spoke volumes of her, perhaps, that she had looked for it.

For all her mastery, Futo was not without weaknesses. Tojiko’s accusations, the Crown Prince’s prodding, Futo’s own half-hearted denial – all these were but rind on a fatter chunk of reality. A chunk which she had never explained to her liege lord, let alone tattletale Tojiko. A chunk which weighed down her own standing among the students, as well as Mu’s. A chunk which she had carried under her heart since her first kiss with her brother.

No simpler than this simple chunk, Futo simply enjoyed being seen as a woman again.

After the awakening, after the Crisis of Hope, after the Symposium and the Occult Orb incident, her role as Lord Taishi’s torch had been doused in the peace of the ensuing days. No more loosed on His enemies, no more permitted to take part in Gensokyo’s power struggles, Futo’s revived sense of purpose had been Damped, collared and confined in the invisible barriers of the Sen-kai. And, what torches did when denied fuel was, they began to eat away at their own handles.

Futo’s handle was that simple thing. Mu’s appearance and allotment under her care had only stoked it.

The crude, unalloyed truth was, she had thought about having sex with her brother. At length, and in scandalous detail. Mu was, plainly, attracted; and, when she detached her obligations to her liege, Futo could not lie that she wasn’t. Her adopted brother was, nonetheless of his oddities, a prize. His crash with Gensokyo’s immunity to modern sensibilities had made him by need take on work unrequiring of brains, but rather much of brawn; Futo’s own like immunity had seen him further adjusted to her liking. He was swift on his wit, and had an impressive capacity for learning. Nearly as good, even, as her own. He understood her quips. He was tall, handsome, delightfully puzzling, and she wanted to have sex with him.

But, she hadn’t. Nor would she.

Not because of Tojiko. Her blabbermouth of a daughter had anyway already pegged them for lovers. The worst Futo might do here was confirm the presumed. Nor was Lord Taishi why. The Crown Prince would pair them merely for He believed it would bind Futo’s attention tighter to the temple.

No. What was why, was Handai Mu. Handai Mu who stared and did nothing. Handai Mu who would confess to like other girls, but not her. Handai Mu who dared her to kiss him between his cheeks, and hadn’t the decency to kiss back. Handai Mu who, not three weeks before, had quit sneaking out to overnight in the Human Village, and suddenly took on some cryptic (and evidently frustrating) investigation.

Futo was not dumb. She had grown in court, and could read the courtly alphabet. Though, while she would rather her brother stopped making her hot and bothered with no release, she still loved him enough so as not to force the latter. Tojiko may blather; Futo wasn’t an animal. Her brother deserved better respect.

She grabbed a hold of her arousal and Damped it until her chest wasn’t tingling.

Mu… Well, either he’d somewise detected her focussed will, or hadn’t at all – because he was idly contemplating said chest even as Futo sat on the edge of the tub, picked up a bar of grey soap, and began lathering up her long hair. Mu’s head was, in fact, laid on its side the better to see: the drowned man’s pleading arm now delegated to the trite function of a pillow.

“… Futo?” he said after a moment.

He had a slack quality to his voice. Hot water did that to men, Futo had noticed. Hushed them. What sense did that make?

“Yes?” she’d replied. “What doth my brother ail, this time?”

Mu scrunched up his wits for a bit before saying what.

“… You’re pretty,” he said.

Futo paused. There had been a challenge in the statement, though Futo knew not what kind. Her brother’s impression of a barely live fish was lasting, however, and not telling.

Fie, Futo thought. Nay a while of rest with this boy.


( ) “Yes, I try nay to Toziko’s bubbly form imitate. Thank you.”
( ) “Belike not as pretty as some in the town, hmm?”
150posts omitted. First 100 shown.
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