[x] To spar. [x] Loser has to sleep at the opposite abode.
I strode back out, into the open. She wouldn’t get out of those habits on her own, so I decided to shake this up. Byakuren waited by the trees.
I turned and faced her, resting my left hand on my sword. Seiga didn’t help, but I still had one card up my sleeve. I threw my right hand out, shaku pointed at Byakuren. “We’re here to duel.”
She stepped out of the shade. “Excuse me?”
I shrugged my shoulders and let my right hand descend to my side. “We’re not reaching each other through conventional means. So, I’ve decided we need to speak in a more common language.”
She cocked her head. “Violence?”
“Magic bullet duels.”
She shook her head as she rolled her shoulders. “I can accept that. What are your terms?”
She froze, turning pink. “Excuse me?”
“The loser must rest in the winner’s abode. We’re companions now, after all, so we ought at least to do that much.”
She stared back, a slant to her eyes. “I think you want to sleep here.”
“Oh ho. You’ve got some fire now.”
She shook her head, face still as she balled one hand into a fist, which she pointed at me. “How many cards?”
“As many as you have.” Or in other words, the fight would continue, all out, until someone wore out or gave in. A choice normally reserved for intense, almost desperate encounters. Or extreme workouts, as in this case.
“So, you do want to sleep here.”
I growled back, half-playfully. “I’ll still win, darling.”
Lights gathered around us both as I swallowed my fears. Byakuren was savvy, but not as proficient as I in the social sphere. Yet in direct, one-on-one combat, the tables turned. I lifted off, into the air, my cape fluttering as I ascended. Byakuren hung below, hovering barely above the grass. Her head flitted between me and the temple.
I had beaten her almost as often as she bested me. Almost. And yet, despite the odds, I had no intention of suffering even this embarrassment here. I would win.
Byakuren fired off a volley of mixed, large and small, blue orbs. I glided out of the way, only to find her retreating away and into the sky.
Cross, I pursued her, right into a solid wall of large blue balls with smaller tails. One of the tails clipped me as I slipped through. I grunted through its sting, but otherwise shrugged it off.
I fired off my own volley of golden arrowheads, wide and tightly packed, as I wove through her own bullets. This would have come across as a spectacular show of fireworks at night, as very few natives commanded the level of firepower we wielded. But even as I wove between the heavy blue spheres and their deceptive tails, I only found myself wondering who would be the first to start this battle in earnest.
Then, in a flash, Byakuren had surged across my vision in tight, impossibly quick zig-zags. I lurched back, anticipating the utter swarm of tiny bullets that followed. She chose well, too. My talents gave me an edge in baiting out and misdirecting aimed shots, but these floated at random. Perhaps we’d fought a few too many times. She stopped, almost within arm’s reach before floating back.
I feel like we should respect her choice to start off with a powerful spellcard by reciprocating with one of our own. That, you can't just sleep on 「Superhuman - Byakuren Hijiri」like it's a fodder spellcard.
I floated back as the swarm approached, flicking my head left and right, up and down. I shifted, barely, as I watched the gaps fan out or fill in. Byakuren shot through our impromptu battlefield again, now zig-zagging sideways. The first swarm had barely begun to ebb as her jumps toward and away from me conjured up the next.
I kept my own golden bolts flying out from my body but kept my cards in reserve. Much of our battles lately had become games of chance to me. Do I rush in early, betting I’ll overwhelm her, or wait for better opportunities, hoping one will come before I tire? Or do I do something strange, assuming it will surprise her at least enough to overcome my resulting vulnerability?
I often command the tactical edge, but time favored her impressive stamina.
She fired through another zigzag, now zipping away from me. I kept moving, hair’s breadth at a time, but my joints had grown tight. It was a shame that she had no need to dodge when bolting back and forth like this, as it left my openings only to the short lulls between such bursts.
Nothing landed, of course. It would have been a miracle to catch someone of our experience out during such tiny windows with only common fire. Even for our own brand of ‘common’ fire.
I squeezed through a pair of tight bullets that wandered close, barely slipping my gut between them. I dared not lose. Our first night would land where I ruled, damnit. Not in her testament to utopian tunnel vision.
Our first night, under the same roof. Possibly in the same bed. I shook my head, wobbling through a bullet corridor to a nearby gap. The rumors would last well after our union ended. A bullet grazed my ankle, bringing me back to the fight before me.
A near-solid wall of meandering bullets approached. I flung my eyes around, failing to find any hole I could squeeze through. I floated back, hoping for one to open before they hit. The bullets followed, never wandering far enough to slip between. Their light filled my eyes as I drifted as far back as I dare—Byakuren was a dangerous opponent to lose track of—before an opening finally appeared.
Too far away. I lunged to the side, but the bullets came too quick, their heat washing over me long before I…
The wall came, then faded away. The card had ended just before they hit. A thinner host of bullets followed behind, one I had no trouble keeping between. The thoughts still tugged at my mind. My mind had returned to the battle at hand, but I couldn’t count on it remaining here. Some of the very worries that had kept her so distracted the past few hours had now seeped into my own head.
Would we go shopping together? Training? We would no doubt spend quiet nights alone together. What would we even… No. I had to end this fight soon.
Flowery patters appeared behind her as the next wave of bullets soared toward me. Thin, faint lines shot out, soon to bloom into irritating lasers.
[ ] I responded with lasers (and talismans) of my own.
[ ] I brought subtle, delayed waves to bear.
[ ] I hit her with pure bullet spam.
[ ] I closed the distance.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/01/05(Sat)19:00
It looks like I might get a bit busy this month, slowing updates to about a weekly basis in a worst-case scenario (hopefully). A best-case scenario looks like about twice a week. That said, there should still be one coming today, depending on your time-zone.
Her lasers had barely flared to life when I called out my own card. A bit of a hidden treasure. A secret jewel.
A sphere of bullets flowed out from me as a vast, messy field of similar spheres faded, almost, into being. As one, they revolved around me, forcing Byakuren to move. She slipped between the expanding sphere even as the field of bullets flared to life, then faded back out as the next sphere rippled out.
The next field lurked as well, now revolving in the opposite direction. Byakuren flinched but followed suit. And here the chaos of danmaku rose to the surface.
She moved, jiggling right and left, which in turn jostled the bullets pouring out from her. Her beams had faded off, but that still lead to a chaotic spray coming my way. So, I jostled and twisted to avoid her barrage, which in turn shifted the field of bullets that orbited me.
It was an almost pretty mess of twisting, shifting, and jiggling as we bobbed and weaved around each other’s changes in pattern. Byakuren had to work quite a bit harder as she now stared down the barrel of superior firepower, but she held out better than I did under her card.
So, I changed things up, just a little. Much of these battles came down to what you brought in. Cards had to be created, consciously or otherwise, beforehand. These cards consistently followed certain rules, such as allowing escape for a sufficiently skilled contender and displaying some sense of the user’s history or personality.
These cards, once created, could not be changed in the heat of battle. But they did not dictate every detail. Against someone like Seiga or Eirin, I might speed my cards up. It exhausted me faster but made them difficult for more tactical opponents to keep up with.
But speed and reflexes were her domain.
So, I slowed the next wave down. I suppressed it. The next spherical burst came out sluggish, easy for Byakuren to find a hole in, but she held back. She slowed down herself, gliding almost with the wind. Then she startled.
Her head flicked to the left and right. Even her bullets came out slow as she realized. By suppressing the card, I made the coming wave almost invisible. Her bullets came back in force, even as she flitted around the field, trying to pick out a safe spot.
Fully invisible bullets would have been illegal, of course.
The swarm appeared, blasting into her back but throwing her into a gap as they spun around me. She followed, rattled but focused. Good. I had a bed to visit tonight and it wasn’t here. She slipped through the sphere just as the wave died down.
My next sphere fired out, slow once more. She practically ignored it as she floated through the faint lights. The swarm ignited once more, not touching her. But it did distract her, letting a bullet from the sphere clip her.
I fired off a couple more waves, which she dodged flawlessly, so I ended the card. I had taken the lead, commanding a full hit over her, but I had to finish this before I tired.
Her bullets thinned out as she warmed up her next card.
[ ] I interrupted her with waves of ‘sticky’ bullets.
[ ] I brought blinding light to the battlefield.
[ ] I switched from arrows to knives, but kept my cards close.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/01/10(Thu)19:00
[x] I interrupted her with waves of ‘sticky’ bullets.
I didn’t give her a chance. Barely out of the first card, I fired off another. She blinked, once, at the vast wave of bullets forming behind me. I felt a sense of nostalgia as the force rippled through my body, popping more of them into existence. This was final card I’d used against the very maiden who got us into this mess.
I let go, unleashing them in a staggered, uneven mess. One that barreled forward, right in her direction. This formed a field not unlike the ones I conjured last time. A field she dodged through almost flawlessly. But that was fine.
With a flick of the wrist, this swarm changed, cooling down in both speed and luminosity. The darker, slower bullets now flowed directly toward her. They too missed. I fired off another wave, as I warmed up the twist to this card.
But Byakuren chose not to abide my pressure. Just as I had my third wave readied, she activated a card of her own.
That flowery backdrop still behind her, four great, red beams lanced out, pushing her back before they dissipated. Not one landed, but my stomach fell. That was a near-perfect choice for interruption.
A second later, long chains of small, angular bullets streamed out from the glowing frame behind her, undulating as they approached. Some came directly for me while others pushed out in flanking streams, limiting my escapes.
My own wave fired off, bright and quick like before, but with a twist her card would, gratefully, do little to help. The might of her card was the variety of fire, not the invulnerabilities or density of her earlier card.
As my wave reached her, its nearest bullets flashed dark and slowed down.
The first addition to Byakuren’s card now appeared in the form of red bullets, both large and small. But even as I jumped between them, a small cluster of dark bullets built up around her, closing off many of her options. And yet she slipped through them, nudging her streams closer to me.
I floated away, firing off my next wave. More bullets flashed dark, limiting her movements again as I ducked through the growing horde of red bullets and blue streams. I pushed my card, urging the next wave out faster. Adrenaline coursed through me as I slipped through a cluster of red. My great, white balls kept flashing out near Byakuren, penning her in more and more.
Then her red beams returned, firing out and penning me in as well. And now, like the undulating blue streams, they moved about, rotating in their own narrow cones. Which jittered, in turn, as she shifted through the dark bullets around her.
One such bullet clipped Byakuren, pushing her into a nearby cluster of bright orbs, turning them dark and constricting her further.
And in the process of watching her, I skipped around a large red orb, only to get clipped by a smaller neighbor. I fired off one more wave, sweat now beading on my skin. We’d both pushed ourselves far harder and faster than usual. Idly, as I squeezed myself between a string of small reds, I wondered if she suffered from distractions like what afflicted me earlier.
My card ended with no further hits I could detect. Her own fire continued, though somewhat more stable now.
I breathed heavy, readying my next card when I slipped a hair’s breadth too close to the streams. It wobbled, clipping me again.
I grunted as I fired off one last card. Something simple and straightforward. Four consecutive spheres thick with bright yellow bullets fired out from me as her card ended. Only for one of her red giants to strike my gut. I teetered, barely airborne, as my sunburst expanded, still sailing toward her.
She wobbled herself, almost meandering through the air as her card died down. I could hold out for maybe a moment or two, praying my bullets would down her first, or I could bow out, surrendering my bed in return for a more dignified exit.
[ ] Hold On.
[ ] Surrender.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/01/17(Thu)01:00
I sighed and ceased fire, descending. Byakuren took the hint and eased her fire off as well, floating closer. I groaned as I touched down inside a dense cluster of trees. I rubbed under my earmuffs, between my great tufts of hair. I almost had it, certainly. Just a few more moments.
But I couldn’t be certain how many moments. How many it would take, or how many I even had. The point was to shake her out of this useless stupor, anyway. On that count, I…
She touched down, walking close, her eyes neither wide open nor especially narrow. Guarded, I would call it. “Are you sure you didn’t just want to sleep here?”
I groaned, stretching out my hands. “I’ll get you next time.”
Her desires had shifted, but only subtly. A mess still tangled her head.
I sighed again, long, loud, and a bit melodramatic this time. “You win, Byakuren. We sleep in the temple tonight.”
She smiled, her eyes open now, but her lip curled. An expression trapped between open happiness and the competitive relish of victory. Then, just like that, the smile vanished.
“Why did you call this duel?”
I turned away, looking back to the temple. I had to squint to identify any distinguishing traits other than its size. I chose to start walking back, slipping out of the trees to a small side road. It was more to keep the blood flowing than to travel. Byakuren jogged up beside me.
She stared at me, sour. I maintained a neutral visage.
“How did you feel?”
She folded her arms, looking down. “I’m flustered. What are you thinking? Insisting we get close, then fighting?”
“It’s what we know. It’s…” I paused, glancing to the sky. I shook my head, resuming my march. “You needed to clear your head. Maybe we both did.”
“Your methods are too violent.”
“Would you rather we sniped at each other in public?”
She snorted. “If you’d be so kind as to take them.”
“Without retaliation? Of course not.”
We skirted around a bend in the tree line, coming back up to the temple’s steps.
“Have you thought about our relationship? Whether or commit or…” I paused, listening to a twist in her desires. “About how you’ll commit to it?”
She scowled, again. “You’re far too nosy.”
“And you’re far too ambivalent.”
“I have a sermon to prepare for.”
“That’s still hours away.”
She stopped. I followed suit, looking back.
She shook her head and marched ahead of me.
I fell in line behind her, listening hard to her desires. They still churned, though in another direction, precisely what that meant…
I jogged up beside her. “Excuse me?”
“We’ll meet this evening, after the sermon. We can call it a date, I suppose.”
That would be about sunset.
“Excellent. We’ll get some drinks, then—”
I groaned. “Then what will we do?”
She wrung her hands. “We’ll… dance?”
“Then, excuse me.” She jogged up the steps, the fabric of her dress shifting and bouncing across her…
I turned around. Two weeks. Now, what would I do for the next few hours?
[ ] I’d scope out our room.
[ ] I’d check in on my disciples.
[ ] I’d visit Kokoro.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/01/24(Thu)01:00
I walked down the road, listening to Byakuren’s messy head fade away.
Where would Kokoro be around now? Her… ideas about herself, especially with me and Byakuren, worried me.
Yes, if you had to assign parentage to a tsukumogami, I would be the father. No, the mother. The masks would have been more like an egg than its counterpart. This would, of course, have made many, many men ‘mothers’ in precisely the same sense. Perhaps that thought required some meditation of my own.
I shot up and off, soaring back toward the village. It didn’t matter. Her ideas alone failed to concern me too much. I had made peace with them. But she was not the sort of girl to keep quiet about something like this. She’d want to learn more.
She would talk to people. She would ask questions.
If they were the devious sort, they would fill her head with strange ideas. Strange ideas that would make the ultimate reunion with my gentle, ghostly wife more difficult. With Byakuren and her temple out of the way for now, I had to get in first.
I dropped back out of the sky as I reached the walls, skidding across the hardened dirt. I took a moment to straighten myself back up as I approached the guards, giving polite but clipped greetings as I strolled through the gate. Keeping my ears open, I tuned out the village’s words, listening only to the textures of their internal voices and the… flow, I suppose, of their thoughts.
I heard a scattering of beast youkai nearby, some tengu, and a few spirits. Only two tsukumogami, neither of which sounded much like a menreiki, much less her.
I jogged through the village, listening near the edge of my hearing. Throngs of busy, tiring people pushed past as I marched on. Then I heard the familiar greed of a kappa I suspected I’d fought before.
Listening in, just barely, I caught a hint, a whiff, of her. She wanted to spend her time away from Kokoro.
Just a few more blocks, and—
A heavy arm fell across my shoulder, accompanied by the stink of a fluffy, conniving scavenger.
“How’s it been, little prince?”
Mamizou. She wanted gossip. Gossip and dirt.
I shrugged underneath her arm. “It’s been much the same as it always is.”
She snorted. “Ye mean to say these affairs always happen?”
“Of course not.” I stepped out of her ‘embrace,’ palming the tip of my shaku. “I mean to say it changed little.”
“Sounds like ye don’t even care for her.”
I listened out. The kappa still hung nearby.
“You’re quite eager today, Mami.”
She cocked her head. “I ain’t sure how I feel about ye using my name like that. But, what can I say? Ye made quite a stir.”
The kappa moved away.
[ ] I took the time to explain myself.
[ ] I excused myself to seek out the kappa.
[ ] I counter-interrogated Mamizou.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/01/28(Mon)19:00
I thought I'd get an update out by now, but I've got some family stuff (good stuff, but time-consuming) going down that could delay it another few days. Just stopping by to warn y'all that this one could take more than a week.
On the plus side, I'm almost out of the busy streak, so hopefully the updates will speed back up a little soon.
“Perhaps you could ask my new housemates. I’m sure they’ll love the attention.”
Mamizou rubbed her chin, eyes narrowing as a grin grew. “New housemates, eh? What made ye leave yer crack home?”
I sputtered, eliciting a chortle from her.
“It’s an extra-dimensional dojo, not a ‘crack home.’ But…” I spun around, putting a finger to my lips. “You’ll need a better offer to steal that from me.”
She chuckled. “Would ‘home in a crack’ have treated yer ears better? Well, I think I’ll jus’ ask these roommates instead. We be talkin’ about the missus’ place, yes?”
I groaned. “I’m the ‘missus.’ But yes. I hear you might be one of these housemates yourself, is that true?”
She tilted her head, wearing an innocent smile. “No so much as ye’d think, but I suppose ye could say that.”
“I don’t need to put wards around our room, do I?”
“Now what do ye take me for? I’m just a proud, innocent tanuki.”
“Innocent tanuki? What a novel concept.”
I smiled. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to give you a chance. Besides,” I waved a hand, “not like I could trust the others much more.”
She chuckled again. “Ain’t that right.” She paused, putting a hand to her chin as she looked me over. “I ain’t sure what to make of ye lately.”
“Perhaps I could share my most intimate feelings during a tour of the temple.”
“How ’bout ye visit me later and I tell ye who spilled the beans.”
“Ye’ll see when they spill ’em.” She strolled away.
She had something to hide, something serious. But when I stepped out after, I turned in another direction. I’d already spent a bit too much time here to press her on that. Opening my ears, I listened to the afternoon urges. Plenty of humans interspersed with youkai. Hunger, success, affection, belonging, security, envy, love. All the usual desires in much the usual ways, nothing standing out.
Several kappa appeared, some with a greed akin to the first, but none quite the same. None thinking of Kokoro. Either she left, or her thoughts moved on. I preferred not to pester random kappa in the hopes of snagging the right one.
That kappa wanted to avoid her. Did she scam Kokoro? Did Kokoro harass her?
I sighed and marched back to and through the gates, greeting the guards in passing. I knew at least that I would not have found Kokoro here.
Absent-minded, I walked down the road toward the mountain. A few voices appeared, spread wide outside the walls. Wide enough for me to listen a touch closer.
An elderly couple hoping to enjoy the day, a young man pining after a merchant’s daughter, a wandering goddess worried about…
About a menreiki climbing the mountain.
[ ] I stopped by to learn more of my ‘daughter’s’ fate.
[ ] I cut out the middle man and flew up myself. [ ] After listening a little closer.
[ ] I visited the ravine to check in with the local kappa, first.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/02/11(Mon)19:00
[x] I stopped by to learn more of my ‘daughter’s’ fate.
I turned toward the nearby forest, following that voice. Stepping into the trees, I heard the sound a nearby brook babbling as dead twigs and leaves crunched beneath my feet. I soon found the goddess, who flinched as she turned to face me.
She was a beauty, in her own way. Long emerald hair flowed from her scalp, around her neck, into a shared ribbon resting on her chest. Sure, the hair was rather frizzy, but the crimson ribbon atop it and the matching dress below served as excellent contrasts to that distinctive color.
The green swirl on the side was a bit much, though. She blinked, seemingly hoping I’d be the first to speak.
An opportunity I could not turn down.
“Good afternoon, Lady Goddess. May I ask your name?”
“Oh? I’m Hina. Hina Kagiyama. You shouldn’t be here.”
I took a step back. “How rude. Should the menreiki avoid these woods as well?”
Her eyes widened. “The menreiki? Do you know her?”
“Of course. I’m her father. Mother…” I paused, thinking. “Let’s just say I’m her parent. One of them.”
“Your familial ties are no concern of mine. Humans don’t belong here.”
I held a hand over my mouth in mock offense. “Me? A human? Please, that was centuries ago.”
“Do you wish to play word games?”
“I’m quite straightforwardly ex-human. Hermit, if you must know. Now, could you let me know what happened to my poor daughter?”
She scowled. “Nothing yet. You should teach her some manners if you’re so worried.”
I waved it off. “I think she might be akin to a child. We’re trying, but she’s stubborn. If you’d be so kind as to point me in the right direction, I could try to help you.”
Hina blinked again. “A child?”
I paused. “Did you… miss the event? Big religious brawl? Tore through half the village, plus some countryside?”
“Oh, a religious fight.” She rubbed her head. “I watched a couple fights by the river. She had something to do with that?”
“She instigated them, in her own way. We had to fix her up a little.”
She wanted to get back to her… doll floating thing. Something about curses—no—misfortune…
Ah. The Nagashi-bina. She carried away misfortune, most likely.
“Has she caused you harm?”
Hina sighed. “No. She just hounded me about some conspiracy theory.”
[ ] I asked about Kokoro’s actions.
[ ] I asked where Kokoro went.
[ ] I asked about the mountain.
[ ] I offered my condolences.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/02/20(Wed)19:00
“You could use some company. I want someone the tengu would find less threatening.”
“They don’t trust me either.”
“They like me less. Trust me.”
I floated forward, glancing back over my shoulder. She held still.
I sighed. “It would be an excellent chance to voice your complaints to her, wouldn’t it?”
“She didn’t listen last time.”
I smiled. “You have me now, don’t you?”
I sighed. “You’d have my ear, at the least.”
Hina huffed. “Very well.” She stepped forward.
I took off, flying high over the trees and toward the foothills. As I climbed ever higher to keep pace with the earth’s rapid ascent below, I heard hints of Hina’s problem close behind.
Kokoro’s attention was… wrong. That did not surprise me. It wasn’t that it was too hostile, though. Instead it was too… pointed. Directed.
“…I don’t get many visitors.”
I tapped my chin, thinking as I crested the first hill. “Something to do with your domain?”
“I gather misfortune.”
“It scares people away, doesn’t it?”
Disappointment there, a desire expected and unmet. Perhaps Kokoro had only rattled this goddess.
“I could perhaps—”
I halted. I floated above the highest hills, just before the mountain’s face. Two white wolf tengu flanked me, both wielding round shields, the left armed with a glaive, to the right a scimitar. The one with the glaive had her hair in a ponytail, the other short and choppy. Both wore plain tengu dress of subtly different colors and decorations, with dark skirts and those detached sleeves that became so popular since I revived.
And the usual red tokin caps with their fuzzball strings.
The left spoke first. “State your business.”
Their eyes and their concerns flicked between myself and Hina. She worried them more than I.
“I am Miko,” I paused. Their hostility flared, now focused almost entirely on me. I harrumphed, staring back at them. “I’m here for my daughter.”
They hesitated. Perhaps there was some value to treating her like family after all. I softened my eyes. “I heard terrible stories about her behavior. Did she come this way?”
The wolves exchanged glances.
The scimitar-armed one spoke next. “Is this your business?”
“Of course. What other business could I have here?”
The glaive-wielder spoke up. “We can handle whatever trouble she may or may not have caused. If we need restitution, we’ll visit you.”
Kokoro caused them trouble. Her voice alone told me that.
“So, she’s here.”
Ms. Glaive flinched, wishing she’d kept her mouth shut.
Her companion groaned. “I’m sure we can send a delegation tomorrow. If you have questions, you can ask them then.”
Did Kokoro embarrass them? I preferred not to needlessly antagonize them but had already left her alone with strange ideas a bit too long.
I glanced to Hina. She shrugged back.
[ ] I requested an audience with someone higher up.
[ ] I insisted they forward my request for her presence.
[ ] I visited the nearest neutral village.
[ ] I retreated to the Moriya Shrine.
[ ] I actually retreated, choosing instead to speak with Hina further.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/03/07(Thu)19:00
Nah bro, we'll just use the good ol' Call of Duty cop-out. If I win a 2v1 it's because I'm skilled, If I lose, well...it's cuz it was a 2v1. There's no downside unless the news media gets wind that a respected political and religious icon started an international incident after violating border security laws and picking a fight with local nationals. Which would be pretty bad. But also pretty funny. But mostly bad.
[x] I insisted they forward my request for her presence.
“Let’s compromise. I’m confident you know where she is.”
The scimitar wielder sighed. “Yes.”
“Good. Tell her I wish to speak with her immediately. Perhaps you could point me to a good place to wait for her arrival?”
“You could just tell us where you want to wait so we can tell her.”
“I’d prefer to wait on the mountain.”
We floated there, air tense.
Scimitar growled. “What would your second preference be?”
I didn’t need my exquisite ears to sense her frustrations. Indeed, she gave me the sensation of an underling trapped between two bigshots’ mutual belligerence. I felt a pang of sympathy at her unenviable position but worried about the implications of this trouble going further up the chain of command.
So, in turn, I pressed the issue. “Perhaps a nearby town or outpost?”
“The human village is close.”
I winced. So cold. Functionally, there was no intrinsic difference between waiting close or far. I could perhaps luck into overhearing a thing or two if I was nearby, but I could find other things to do if I waited further away.
What mattered was that my continued presence near their domain would… incentivize them to expedite this process.
We held a moment longer. I glanced to my new companion. “I don’t suppose you have anything to add?”
She shook her head. An exchange passed between her and the sentries. Something I preferred not to meddle with at the time. I locked eyes with them for a long moment, neither budging.
Growing tired, I chose to relent. But not without trying to get something more out of this exchange.
“Very well, tell her to visit my dojo. She’ll know where to go.”
Scimitar stood to attention, soon joined by her companion.
A peculiar, even amusing sight at dozens of meters above the earth and against the backdrop of a mountain face.
I smiled bright. “I appreciate your…” I thought a moment, “patience. If you could help convince her to leave within the hour, I would appreciate it.”
She frowned. “I’ll… see what I can do.”
And so, with my mission stalled, we departed. Hina followed, close behind but tight-lipped.
I scanned the land ahead, keeping an eye out as we returned to the sky above the smoother plains and forests of the valley, looking for good crevices. I spared a fleeting glance back to her almost impassive face. “I sense frustrations from you.”
“That should be obvious.”
Another moment of silence.
“…That was intended as a hint, my dear. Please, let me shoulder your troubles.”
“I’d rather know what it is you want.”
I thought a moment. In truth, I wasn’t quite sure. My journey to the mountain had been put on hold, and yet I preferred not to depart just yet.
[ ] I held out hope she would yet assist with them in some form.
[ ] I wanted to address Kokoro’s indiscretions.
[ ] I simply desired company.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/03/12(Tue)19:00
I wanted to Mom it up. You know, the cliche making-the-teen-apologize scene, where like the first time they do it they clearly don't mean it and then the parent forces them to give more of a real apology, that's how much I wanted to Mom it up.
Hina’s expression darkened as we descended, just south of the village.
“As I had said, she is a daughter of mine… in a sense. I’ve chosen to try to educate her properly.”
“Again with that language. In precisely what sense is she your daughter?”
I scratched my hand. “I created the masks, naturally. It’s a tragedy you had to meet under such poor circumstances. Their beauty would’ve dazzled you.”
I turned toward the front of the village walls, banking toward the gate as I descended.
“You speak with such pride, yet you left them to rot sufficient to create a youkai.”
“Hey!” I stabbed a finger in her direction. “I died. It’s not my fault my successors discarded them.”
She hummed a dour tune as we approached the ground. I twirled as I touched down, only to find Hina mimicking me when I did, smiling again.
I approached the village, but Hina slowed behind me, a desire to turn around growing.
I cleared my throat, turning toward the woods. “I suspect my daughter has overstepped her bounds.” It felt strange to use that word so many times. Strange, uncomfortable, and… exciting. I had an abundance of emotions tied to that concept. Too many. “I would like to see her correct her error.”
She folded her arms, shifting her weight. “You don’t need my presence for that.”
“Oh, but I do.” I turned and stood by a nearby pine tree, scanning the road I’d left. “Apologies mean the most when spoken directly, do they not?”
“I’d most appreciate getting my time back.”
“And yet, you’re here.”
I smiled. “Let me hear what troubles you.”
I sighed and sat down, lifting my cloak as I crossed my legs. The bark behind tempted me, but my dress deserved better. “I’m aware of that trouble. Let me hear what else bothers you.”
Hina leaned against a nearby tree, frowning. “I’m a goddess of the nagashi-bina festival. I guide dolls infused with the misfortune of troubled humans safely away. In truth, I’d prefer to hear your troubles.”
I blinked, then chuckled. “I’m afraid it’s all rather confidential.”
“We may start with your name, then.”
I stared. She stared back. She wanted to know about me but shared no desire to exploit that information.
“I am Miko of the Toyosatomimi clan, formerly known as the legendary Prince Shotoku.”
“Do you feel content with your current life?”
“Quite so.” I paused, remembering my upcoming date. “Mostly so.”
She stared, just a hint of curiosity flickering across her face. And quite a bit bouncing through her head.
“As I said. Very confidential.”
She frowned, just a little sad.
I huffed. “Very well. I’ve married recently, but my wife and I are quite different in most ways. I’m not certain how best to…”
She giggled. Giggled. She cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, please continue.”
“I’d like to hear what you find…”
I heard it. Kokoro approached the village. My dojo proper was, of course, Senkai. But I had plenty of young disciples who couldn’t reach there, so I’d arranged for periodic lessons to be taught in the village.
Usually by more experienced disciples, but I’d stopped by myself once or twice, so it still counted.
I grunted as I stood, flattening my cloak back out. Kokoro touched down just before the guards.
I clapped once, quite loud. She turned to face me, impassive, a closed fan in one hand. Hina stood behind me, still irritated. I cleared my throat, approaching Kokoro as…
[ ] A patient mediator.
[ ] A stern mother.
[ ] A curious detective.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/03/16(Sat)19:00
I held my shoulders up and my back straight as I marched forward. It seemed that today would prove a time of many new experiences and risky investments. Kokoro wanted answers and I felt… something. A nagging itch I’d thought to be buried before I was.
I cleared my throat, placing a hand on the hilt of my blade. It was a gesture entirely for show, though it did provide a sense of comfort to feel my true body at times like this.
I used a cool, level voice, but not cold. “What have you been doing?”
I waited a moment, staring her down as I felt a short pang of envy toward the satori. For all the anger and distrust that they suffered, times like this had me wishing I could truly read another’s mind.
An instant, really. Then I would hear the subtle shifts and remember just how superior my ears were.
Whatever Kokoro had done, she wanted to finish it. She desired to know more. Despite the bravado she showed in Hina’s tale, she genuinely sought the truth.
Kokoro stepped forward, adopting her red Hannya mask. “I almost had them. You stopped me.”
She flinched, now recognizing Hina. She swapped in the Monkey for only a second before returning her ‘angry’ mask.
I stood straight. “I hear you bothered this innocent goddess.”
Kokoro growled, face flat. Such contradictions amused me, though they no doubt vexed most others.
“She tried to stop me.”
I glanced back at Hina, more for her benefit than mine.
Hina clasped her hands by her knees. She did not quite glare. “I only tried to warn you.”
“You got in my way.”
“Because you weren’t listening.”
“I don’t need warnings.”
“You could have simply said as much.”
“I shouldn’t h-”
I held an open palm up, fingers straight. They quieted down.
“Kokoro, did you accuse her of conspiring with the gods of the Moriya shrine?”
She spared me only a glance, otherwise keeping her eyes locked on Hina. “She tried to keep me away from them!”
“I did not.”
I chose to try a different approach. “Was she actually involved?”
“…No. Probably not.”
“Don’t you think you’d acted prematurely, then?”
Kokoro pouted. “She was suspicious.”
I wanted to groan. “I’m sure you could spare an apology.”
“Not before she does.”
“It was my duty. I can’t apologize for that.”
…And they continued staring each other down.
[ ] I separated them, hoping for a more conciliatory attitude once they’d calmed down. [ ] I spent some time with Kokoro. [ ] I spent some time with Hina.
[ ] I held firm until we all ironed this out.
[ ] I asked Kokoro about her investigation first.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/04/01(Mon)19:00
>>41982 Sorry for the delayed response, but I'll try to answer.
Individually, the masks (as youkai) would be more than a millennium old (about 1300-1400 years, I think) but it was maybe two or three decades ago that they all merged to form Kokoro.
Due to the nature of tsukumogami psychology, hers in particular, her emotional development lagged far behind most human peers and even much of the rest of her own mental growth.
If you're asking for what human age her mental or emotional maturity would match, that may just have to be something for Miko to find out, but Kokoro's nature may or may not prevent such an answer from existing.
I'm afraid I need to put this story on hold for awhile. My primary reason is that it's been too long since I committed to writing a reward and this thread currently takes the most time.
I'd hoped at least to get one more update out before the pause, but I think I'd rushed some of the recent updates a bit too much and now I need to take a step back to reorient again.
I cannot express in this medium how upset I am to have to do this and promise to return just about as soon as I can. At the very least, expect progress updates if this takes more than a few weeks.
Status UpdateMibya!gO4r86/FCw2019/06/05 (Wed) 00:37No. 42102▼
I said to expect progress updates if it takes more than a few weeks. I did not provide such updates. All I can say is that I screwed up there.
On the plus side, I think I've completed the rough for this project. So I hope to upload it within two weeks, or within the month at the most. I apologize for how long this pause has dragged on for, but once that's done, the next update shouldn't be too far behind.
I stood back, watching the two stare each other down.
They paused a moment, dragging a heavy silence into the road.
“You helped the villains get away, you bastard.”
Hina startled, eyes growing dark. “Excuse me?”
“They were planning something. If not for you, I’d have learned their schemes by now.” She conjured her light blue glaive, bringing it low to the ground.
A weapon much prettier than the tengu’s version.
Nonetheless, this was not as I’d intended. I debated stepping forward to stab my shaku between them but decided against it.
Hina started floating first, summing green balls of light around her. With a groaning sigh, I turned around. This was how Gensokyo operated.
I folded my arms behind my back as the duel began. Kokoro would win, of course. She excelled most in the more hand-to-hand fights, but she commanded an excellent repertoire of danmaku as well. Once it ended, I’d need to peel her off Hina. Convince her to be gracious in her victory.
Then I might have to duel her myself. She’d been rather hot-headed lately.
I sighed, the Byakuren issue still unresolved. Just what was that damn monk thinking?
“Why do you even care that I slowed you down? What schemes?”
“Getting Miko and Byakuren married.”
Silence fell. Not one bullet sounded.
“They’re married? When did this happen?”
“They don’t suit each other. It will tear the village apart.”
I turned around. Hina descended, Kokoro following shortly behind. Hina stared me dead in the eyes.
I shrugged. “Could you not put it together? Byakuren, I, and a marriage? That seems by far the most natural conclusion.”
Hina’s mouth opened, then closed. “I had assumed it was too inane to be a possibility. What do you even share in common?”
“We’re religious leaders, are we not?”
I turned to Kokoro. “What did you mean by ‘tear the village apart?’”
“I meant what I said. You’ll make fools of each other. It will embarrass your followers and they’ll get mad at the others. Then…”
“You may be looking a little too deep into this.”
She kept silent a moment, pouting. “I know emotions.” She looked back toward the mountain. “The tengu refused to let me see their gods. They’re hiding something.”
I frowned. “Be that as it may,” I turned to Hina, “would you apologize to Kokoro for slowing her down, if she apologized to you first?”
Hina huffed. “I’d consider it.”
Kokoro frowned. “What are you scheming, Miko?”
I held my face firm. “Didn’t you want her apology?”
“…You’re too devious.”
I couldn’t help a chuckle at that.
Kokoro glanced between Hina and I. “I’ll think about it.”
Hina sighed. “Then, if your business with me is finished, I’ll return to my duties.” She turned and walked away.
I groaned, but chose to settle for the small victory, considering my next action. I’d come here to spend time with Kokoro, but all this business with the mountain did intrigue me. Between them and the tanuki, there seemed far too much intrigue for such an absurd event.
[ ] I chose to return to the mountain myself.
[ ] I chose to invite Kokoro back to my dojo.
[ ] I chose to invite Kokoro for a stroll through the village.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/06/28(Fri)19:00
[X] I chose to invite Kokoro for a stroll through the village. Of course we'll embarrass each other, however it won't inspire anger, but jealousy! "Ah," they'll think, "if only I could be so lovey-dovey..." or maybe it will inspire anger. reeee normalfags explode and die
[x] I chose to invite Kokoro for a stroll through the village.
“Let’s go back to the village.”
“The culprits are still loose.”
“We can’t reach them with the mountain so paranoid.” I strode down the road, back toward the gate.
“This was my investigation. You don’t need to follow.”
I glanced back to find Kokoro walking close behind, her blue glaive now gone.
“And the investigation’s over until the mountain eases its borders or these culprits descend from it.”
She wore the Hannya near her face. I sighed and gave an idle wave of my hand as I turned to exchange pleasantries with the gate guards. Stepping back inside the village, I stepped through the crowds with half an eye on the peddlers and hawkers at the edges of the street. I listened close to the crowds. The tanuki had vanished, of course. But so had the kappa.
Kokoro followed me in.
I shot an idle glance her way. “Not pursuing the villains?”
“Help me get past them.”
I sighed. “To what end? What could you learn by recklessly charging in?”
She pouted. “It works just fine for you and the monk, doesn’t it? Just fight, crash, boom. Then get your answers on the way.”
I groaned, scanning the nearby stalls. Dango, manju, sake…
Kokoro wanted to know what they’d hid from her, obviously. And, as usual, she wanted to better understand emotions as well as how to convey them. But she also wanted to know much more about Byakuren and myself.
A desire that reminded me of my purpose for coming here.
“The monk’s not as wise as she thinks she is. Proper battles are often best saved for more serious engagements.”
“Was the fireworks festival a serious engagement?”
An awkward silence descended as I glanced toward more distant shops. The danmaku fireworks festival, a silly idea that had no less proved an irresistible chance for many to show off their abilities. I had not only participated in that event, I’d stolen the show, regardless of what some of the rabble said. I counted the shops off. More food, tools, textiles…
A new dress would have done me good, but few in the village would have had the needed skill. I exhaled. “What I mean to say is there are ways to learn what you want without confronting the source in open battle.”
“You think I should ask their friends?”
“It’s a good start, but you should also consider visiting the places they frequent and listening in on their conversations there.”
Kokoro stopped, having traded the Hannya for the fox. I halted too, turning back to her.
“That sounds shady. And it would take too long.”
I rapped a knuckle across my shaku. “Stick to battles and gossip if you wish, but dynasties don’t survive without knowing their enemies’ secrets.”
“I’m not you.” The Hannya returned to her face.
I let out a quiet chuckle at her childish response, before old memories choked it out. I took a long, slow breath. I waved it off. “I’d hope not. I never intended to be anyone’s tool.”
Her eyes darkened. I parted my lips to correct the blunder but found her desires… odd. She wanted not to correct an offense, but to strike back at a deeper scheme. I’d need to talk with her in greater detail, but I’d also need a setting that could ease her mood.
And I preferred to wait for a more opportune time to probe her on that. I’d started to feel somewhat disrupted.
[ ] I purchased some manju and found us a quiet spot.
[ ] We returned to the amphitheater.
[ ] We stopped by the dragon statue for luck.
[ ] I parted ways with her, returning to Senkai.
[ ] Write-in.
Votes close in:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/07/10(Wed)19:00
Needing a chance to clear my head, I simply started walking. I listened to the desires around me, letting them float in, then out. In, then out. I had a destination in mind, of course, as I am not one for idle wandering. But it was the journey that mattered right now.
This was not a time to dwell on past troubles.
Dirt crunched in a rhythmic pattern behind me. The menreiki had chosen to follow, silent. It was not, however, the silence of reflection or suppression. As angry as she had gotten at my sidelong comment, I had worried her too.
I turned away from the shops and stalls, the homes and warehouses, walking out into a quiet walkway at the village’s edge. A relatively humble abode for the monument to such vital entities.
The dragon gods. Said to be the most powerful beings in all Gensokyo. A most fitting location to take my rest, as I intended to one day take their place. Almost idly, I checked the statue’s eyes.
They glowed a dull, faint gray. I turned my eyes to the heavens, finding clear, open skies. To the east, however, I found a heavy cloudbank. It seemed the statue was right. My “date” would occur under an overcast sky.
I clapped my hands together and bowed to it, terse and shallow. Let me make fools of the temple and see Tojiko soon.
“I want another mask of hope.”
I blinked, turning to Kokoro. She came up from a deeper bow of her own, then turned back to me.
She glanced aside, wearing the Fox. “That’s how this ritual goes, isn’t it? I don’t think this is a Taoist practice.”
I waved an idle hand, swinging my shaku. “Humility is key to any successful pursuit of the Tao. I’m seeking guidance from beings clearly more in tune with the universe than I.”
“I’m shocked. You admitted to someone being above you.”
I groaned, finding myself tempted to bonk her for that. “I may be an administrator first, but I do take my path seriously.”
I rubbed my shaku. “I never did teach you much of the Tao, did I?”
I sighed, staring at the statue. “Rather than Byakuren’s dogged pursuit of giving, submission, and asceticism, the Tao begins with a simple, three principles.”
“That’s a funny way to talk about the woman you love.”
“…” I flipped my shaku front to back, then back to front. I needed to answer her but found myself unsure of the right approach.
[ ] Mentorly. Teach the Tao.
[ ] Defensive. Love does not require I respect all ideas.
[ ] Clarifying. What I love about her is…
[ ] Evasive. [ ] I acquired snacks. [ ] I invited her to the baths.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/07/17(Wed)19:00
[x] Evasive. [x] I acquired snacks. [x]Cunning [x] Some might say belief is the first step to finding hope. Are you truly against embracing this opportunity to grow and learn?
“Do you feel hungry?”
“You’re changing the subject.”
I sighed. “Love’s not a topic you can grasp with a few snappy lines. Excuse me for just a moment.”
I turned on my heel and, striding back into the village, made my way toward the nearest cluster of food vendors. To everyone else, I felt I could comfortably play the lover for a few weeks. I could get under Byakuren’s skin, leave the crowds questioning, and have a laugh at it all when the dust cleared. After all, the two women who’d truly be hurt were already in on the joke.
But around the menreiki, I found myself drawn to acting with excessive honesty.
I stopped by a quiet stall, purchased a package of mitarashi dango skewers, and made my way back to the statue. Simple, syrup-glazed dumplings.
I wouldn’t cut it off just for her. I could wait at least a day, after all. At the very least, I’d have to honor the terms of my duel with Byakuren and spend one night under her roof. But I would have to pay Byakuren and Reimu back for my troubles. Perhaps when I retired for the evening, depending on how close Byakuren and I slept together…
I stopped at the statue, finding it vacant. Sighing, I settled, cross-legged, on the grass. Plopping the package in my lap, I peeled it open and brought a skewer to my lips. I bit down on the first dumpling, savoring the sweet but rather plain taste. I’d allowed all this foolishness to shake me a little too much. And yet… Kokoro needed direction, preferably away from Byakuren. She also needed to buy our story, for which I would need to-
She stood behind me, desiring my sweets. Holding the skewer in my mouth, I pulled another from the pile and lifted it above my shoulder. She snatched it from my hand and dropped to sit beside me, gobbling the first dumpling down.
I swallowed what was left of my first, then cleared my throat. “Compassion, moderation, and humility. Those are the three treasures.”
“Is that why you love her?” She plopped the second dumpling into her mouth.
I rubbed my shaku, thinking. “It’s a long story. They’re an excellent starting point, and they’re principles she does indeed adhere to from time to time. But abstinence is not moderation. Righteous zeal is neither compassionate nor humble.” I turned to her. “You still wish to learn more of emotion and hope, don’t you?”
She stared back. “Why?”
“Spirituality provides a key foundation for this in many people. If you wish to understand them, it would help greatly to practice it yourself.”
She put a finger to her chin as she set down her nearly empty skewer. “You two really are made for each other.”
I chuckled, a little woodenly, squeezing my shaku as I munched on my skewer. We were nothing alike. She grew quiet. For a few moments, we ate in silence, watching the statue and the sky. The cloudbank inched closer, but it would still be a while before it arrived.
When the dango ran out, she brushed her poofy skirt off and stood. A bit of syrup stuck to her cheek. Sighing, I reached to my pockets for something to wipe it off, only for those sensations to return. She stared back at me for but a moment, blinking. Then she turned and walked away.
Despite my intentions, I found myself sighing in relief. The sun began to approach the horizon, but I still had some time left and I needed to clear my head for this anyway. I chose to turn and seek out a new gap. I would need the tranquility of Senkai for my meditation.
I chose to spend the remaining time…
[ ] Meditating on Kokoro.
[ ] Meditating on Byakuren.
[ ] Sneaking in a visit with Tojiko.
[ ] Pursuing Kokoro.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/07/24(Wed)19:00
I turned back to the village, inspecting the architecture. With a pat or two, I found a good crack and slipped back to the space between spaces. From there, I stepped back upon the road to my grand temple. Marching back to, then up, the steps, I listened to the idle desires floating on the still air.
The disciples here sought peace, wisdom, power, sometimes food or water, occasionally entertainment. All very common needs and wants for my followers. But I heard a recurring, uneasy undercurrent in almost every one.
A quiet churning confusion accompanied by an acute hunger for answers. Even the most cursory listen to the subtleties of any one made the underlying reason clear. They’d learned of either the marriage itself, or of our upcoming date. I’d need to answer them, of course. But now wasn’t the time. I myself had been too bothered by recent events to bring the tranquility they’d need. First, I’d calm myself, then seek to extend that calm to them. So, I exchanged only token pleasantries with the few hermits idle enough to address me as I made my way through the halls to my personal suite.
Stepping back into the comfortable, familiar embrace of my chamber, I exhaled, long and slow and heavy.
I passed the low table in the center to enter a small room with only a small, soft mat in the center, a dim lamp hanging from the ceiling, and full-length mirrors to each side. Turning to face the door, I closed it and sat down, setting my shaku to my right. I leaned back and, taking a token glance at my left reflection, closed my eyes.
For a few moments, I simply sat and meditated, seeking to return to harmony with the universe’s primordial nature. Slowly, my mind cleared and my heart calmed. ‘Inner peace’ often seemed to be the objective of my rival’s believers, when they engaged in this practice. This approach often made such believers easier to deal with, which was one of the many reasons I chose to preach that faith while I ruled. But with the occasional, gradient-haired exceptions, it did little to truly empower practitioners. Without a great nation to keep stable, I saw little virtue to these practices.
Great nation, huh…
As troublesome as my faltering attempts at ‘romance’ had proved with the monk, I found myself even more flustered by the menreiki. Kokoro. She fancied herself a daughter to me and I had mistakenly chosen, however briefly, to indulge in this whim. Youkai like her had creators, not parents.
Certainly, the thought of being returning to parenthood intrigued me. In fact, I dare say I’d have loved to once more have a son or daughter. To once more teach a child, from the beginning, how to navigate the world. To revel in their first great accomplishment, to fret over their first date. To bring into the world someone nearly as wise and powerful as myself.
But I’d already had one such child and, despite the several centuries since his passing, I found his final moments difficult to shake. Over my millennial slumber, I had managed to forget which clan to blame, to seek what would now be unjust and fruitless vengeance upon. But his face, the way his body…
I shook my head.
To address the menre-no, Kokoro properly and to keep my cool, I’d need to do one of two things. I’d need either to address and overcome my first failure, or I’d need to sever the possibility of any familial relationship between us.
Now that she reawakened that desire, I found both possibilities quite difficult.
Despite a while longer of thinking on the issue, I found no immediate solutions. I meditated a moment longer, then rose.
I grabbed the shaku as I stood, then slid the door open. The sun would be setting soon. It was time to return to the monk’s temple, first for the date, then to sleep. Despite myself, I couldn’t help a faint blush at the thought. As a person and as a woman, Tojiko beat that monk in just about every way.
But I couldn’t deny the fruits of Byakuren’s vanity.
I sighed as I stepped back into my main room, taking a moment to consider my final preparations. My raised futon laid to my left, my study to my right. I’d promised Nue a drink, but this would be a very sensitive moment, one that alcohol could easily ruin.
Then there was the question of how I should dress for… oh, who was I kidding? I dared not attend such a dramatic moment in anything but my finest dress and cape. Which I was, of course, already wearing. It seemed that there was only one question left in my mind: the attitude I’d take when I returned to the temple.
[ ] I’d play the tender, lonely lover.
[ ] I’d keep calm, acting only as needed.
[ ] I’d play the proud empress.
[ ] Write-in.
[ ] Hold the booze. (For now.)
[ ] Sneak the booze in.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/07/31(Wed)19:00
[x] I’d play the tender, lonely lover. [x] Sneak the booze in.
I stepped back into the halls, striding through them as swift as I could while maintaining decorum. With a few practiced turns around the right bends, I found myself facing a flight of stairs downward, which I then proceeded down. The air grew cool and damp as I descended into my temple’s underbelly.
Dim light from faint candles, cast across simple but rich woods and a smooth, tiled floor, offered a quiet atmosphere. Like the Buddhists, we stored a wide range of things down here. Clay, textiles, some food, ink, plenty of reagents, and incense all rested down here in crates, chests, or drawers. I stepped past them all to reach the wine racks on a far wall. Idly, I ran a finger along the caps. I couldn’t help a touch of frustration as I studied their makes; Gensokyo had access to a wide range of exotic climates and crops to brew from, yet few of the exotic brews agreed with my palate. Once I’d narrowed it down to good, ‘proper’ sake, my range was more limited than before.
I found the kaleidoscopic tastes of this land thrilling, but too often perplexing. To say nothing of, apparently, the classifications they used now.
So much happened while I slept. Much of the sake I’d known before would likely be called ‘Futsushu’ now, marking it as outright plebian. Honjozo simply didn’t exist back then, though it failed to impress me in this time, anyway.
I sighed, pulling out a random bottle of Junmai Ginjo, double-checking that it wasn’t one from my favorite brand. I’d promised her the really good stuff, but not literally the best bottle I could possibly offer. Rooting through the rest of the supplies, I found a small crate, stuffed some spare paper in it, and set the bottle down. Closing the crate, I fished out a few talismans and sealed it.
Despite her protests, I suspected Byakuren knew as well as I did what her temple would do to this treasure if allowed.
Slinging the box under my arm, I didn’t bother leaving the basement. I simply found a gap and put one foot toward it, then stopped. I never did settle on a good location to use as my regular entrance. I shook my head and stepped through, coming out in their own basement.
Theirs’ was a fair bit plainer than mine and less organized. But that suited my purposes just fine. I found a pile of boxes, then nestled my package in a corner of it. Now, to…
A hand clapped my shoulder. I jerked forward and spun around. How did she just…
“Yo, what’s in the box?”
Minamitsu flickered green, just once, as she sat on the crates beside my package.
I groaned. “It’s a gift for a special woman. A thanks for helping me in my efforts to woo my dearest love.”
“Do you ever talk about not-romance?”
“She’s the light of my life.” I paused, stroking my shaku. “Have you ever met a newly-wed?”
“Pretty sure I sunk a few. Does that count?” The ‘captain’ stopped and sighed. “Look, she’ll be out soon, but she’s still sermonizing. How about we have a chat first.” This girl wanted to know what the box contained. Badly.
I turned away. “I can’t bear another moment without her.”
Her desires scattered into the air, before she flickered green again, now floating, cross-legged, before me. “Best not to interrupt her right now, babe.”
I sniffed, turning my nose. “Only she gets to call me such things. And I would not be so uncouth as to interrupt her anyway. I’ll simply watch until she’s done.”
“You realize if she’s feelin’ the same way you do, that might just be a tad distracting?”
“But…” I fluttered my eyes, turning to stare into the distance. “I can’t bear another moment without her.”
A moment passed. I sniffled, blinked, and rubbed my eyes. I couldn’t hope to force actual tears out, but I could still put on a show.
She groaned. “Fine, fine. Go see your lover.” I turned back to see her waving me off. I stepped around her and moved toward the stairs, only for her to clap a hand on my shoulder. Again. “But uh, you wouldn’t deny me a bit of what you brought, would you?”
I sighed. “It’s a very special gift. But I suppose I could consider it.”
“Much appreciated, dame.”
I shrugged her off and made my way up. A small cluster of excited fear mingled among more sedate desires somewhere to my left as I rose, coupled with intense desires to feel even more terror. Adrenaline junkies, huh?
I shook my head. I could do this. I held my arms close, glancing hopefully but aimlessly from door to door as I made my way to the cluster. Incense and a calm practiced chant floated on the air. I couldn’t hear the details yet, but the delivery suggested a story or sermon. No doubt Byakuren’s evening activity.
Yeah, whatever. Sutra chanting, got it. Instead I chose to focus on the vocal texture as the doorway approached on my left. Smooth and crisp, with a good dose of reverence. I stopped at the opening, leaning around to stare in. The heavy presence of horns, odd ears, and odder skin-tones made it clear that more youkai than humans kneeled here, facing Byakuren’s serene form as she recited her admittedly elegant nonsense.
I clasped my hands and stared on, lip curling in a quiet, tense smile. As empty-headed as my ‘wife’ could be at times, she really did have an excellent voice. I hugged the wall, gripping the edge and pushing my torso out just slightly, like a lost little girl watching her crush sing.
Then Byakuren’s eyes opened, testing every acting bone in my body as she saw me and fumbled her next ‘gyate’ before clamping her eyes shut and returning to her previous rhythm. I mostly held my expression through the whole thing, letting only a quiet, amused wheeze past my lips.
Even under the waning light, I caught a rosier tint to her skin as she continued. Despite all this, she managed to get through to the end the way she started. Rushing through a closing statement and ‘thanks for coming,’ she excused herself and marched my way.
My act was yet unfinished, but I found an opportunity fast approaching. Just before we joined for this date, I would…
[ ] Grab her hand.
[ ] Hug her.
[ ] Kiss her. [ ] On the hand. [ ] On the cheek. [ ] On the lips. [ ] With tongue.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/08/10(Sat)19:00
Less than 24 hours left to vote, if anyone's interested.
Votes entered after the timer expires are still appreciated and may still count for tie-breaking, if I choose to do so. Otherwise, if you haven't voted and wish to do so, I encourage you to try to get it in with the next 17 - 18 hours.
Her face grew stern as she approached, bothered by my untimely presence. I waited until just before she would have stopped. I threw my arms forward, around her sides, and pulled her into a tight hug. Between the remaining distance and our relative heights, I found this pressing my face into her generous bust.
Shutting aside a growing desire to separate and play this off, I held her close. I sidled forward, pressing my gorgeous, slender body to her rather full, curving form. In doing so, I got my head to the crook of her neck, though the heavy, soft pressures now applied to my own relatively modest chest did little to ease my tension.
She was silent, of course, her desires swirling and conflicting worse than they had before. Her hands hovered near my waist, twitching in a way that made two of those desires rather clear. She wanted to embrace me back but didn’t dare make a move so bold. The incense-stained scent of her hair filled my nose as I nuzzled into her neck. I should have said something then, to embarrass her more or to produce some distance, but I found my tongue tied.
Then two of those desires resolved themselves and I found her warm hands sliding across my back. I didn’t yelp, but I did come rather close.
It was when we heard the first “D’aww” that we separated, both of us rather pink and anxious. A good quarter or more of Byakuren’s audience had stayed behind, seemingly for no purpose other than to witness our display. We had set out to sell this farce, and for once, it seemed we’d begun to succeed. I should have taken pride in that. I’d begun to worry if we even had a chance, after all.
And yet, I found my mind rather preoccupied with other things. I’d found myself suddenly grateful she was such a prude, for I worried I’d be unable to hold myself back the entire duration.
Byakuren cleared her throat. “Th-there’s a small festival being put on, in honor of our union. Shall we attend, dear?”
I chuckled, a little too shrill. “Already? Didn’t they have one just yesterday?”
She sighed. “This land seems quite fond of its celebrations.” She then turned her eyes to me. “It would be a good opportunity for us, don’t you think?”
“Was this your idea for our date?”
She glanced aside. “It is now.”
I waited a moment, holding my shaku to my lips. “Very well.” I took a sideways glance at the peanut gallery, noting the dominance of horns and odd skin colors among them. “Let’s leave this place behind.”
She nodded and strode forward. I fell in step behind her, relieved to have her taking the initiative in our ‘romantic’ affairs for a change.
We walked through the halls and out of the temple together, down the front stairs, onto the road, toward…
A mess of stalls and the growing sound of excited revelers, easily within eyesight of the temple itself. “I gave her a quizzical glance.
She shrugged. “Both our temples are essentially at the same place, so this seemed only fitting.”
I tapped my shaku against my chin, taken aback by just how fast they’d managed to get all that together. I made no comment, listening instead to the desires in the distance.
Everyone wanted either to have a good time, or to sell their wares. Many of them wanted both. The party had settled on the first intersection of the temple road, where one path went to the human village, the other to the eastern mountains and Reimu’s shrine.
I stepped forward, advancing to Byakuren’s right side, too abashed to show any further physical affection. Soon, specific people and stalls came into view.
And of course, a couple kappa had managed to snag one of the two stalls directly before us. An old human couple got the other. A purely coincidental arrangement, I was sure. And yet, an arrangement oddly fitting, too. The festive atmosphere tended to attract both humans and youkai to it, but only rarely did it truly bring any of them together, and the few exceptions tended to involve especially powerful humans, such as the Hakurei or thieving witch.
As we stepped into the festival grounds, I heard a new sound thumping beneath the commotion. Drums. They pounded in a rhythm I’d never heard before. Something slow but… wild, in a way. Undisciplined, but…
“Why, if it isn’t the lucky couple? Would y-”
“Commemorative badges! Get your badges here!”
I turned to find the kappa selling a series of small, tin circles with a yellow yin-yang in the center, surrounded by a somewhat compressed, violet dharmachakra. A Buddhist wheel, that is. I snapped one up from the booth, tossing a coin back.
The kappa scowled, then glanced up. She stared at me, then sighed, shaking her head. “You get that one, but I you’ll need to pay full price for a pair. And I’d better see you showing it off.”
I glanced to Byakuren, she shook her head. I held the ‘badge’ out in front of me. “It’s only fitting they’d make my faith the centerpiece.”
Byakuren snatched it from me. “Doesn’t it look like we’re fencing you in, though?”
I snatched it back. “Nonsense. It just symbolizes the way I spread it during my reign.”
She grew quiet at that. “That dishonesty doesn’t bother you?”
I glanced aside. “Not when I’ve got the needs of an empire on my shoulders.”
“You don’t, not anymore.”
“I’m not professing Buddhism anymore either, am I?”
“I… no, you’re right.” She sighed. “We should focus on this date, shouldn’t we?”
I chuckled. “Yes, we should.”
The beat stopped. I turned away from Byakuren to find a proud redhead in a very outsider-like white suit walking toward us with a pair of taiko drumsticks in her left hand.
She gave a full, but very short bow. “Hey there, lovers. Name’s Raiko. I’ll be your musician for the evening.”
Byakuren gave her a standard bow, I gave her a rather shallow one. Not out of disrespect, of course. “Pleased to meet you.”
I took a quick glance around the area. Beyond the various vendors, I found Ichirin, Murasa, and Shou to my left, drinking. To my right, I found Futo juggling plates before a handful of excited children. Tojiko wasn’t here.
All for the best, most likely.
Raiko cleared her throat. “So, what sorta song would you like to start with?”
I paused, something tightening in my chest. She wanted to have fun, and to see a show between us. I held my tone level as I asked my question. “What for?”
She snickered. “For your performance.”
My mouth slid open. Of course. Byakuren said we’d be dancing. Together. My mind wandered back to her…
I swallowed. Subtly, of course. A couple dozen people lingered around us, their desires and curiosities sliding our way. At least a quarter of them waited on friends or relatives, too. This crowd would grow before we finished.
[ ] Something soft. We’d give them a show.
[ ] Something exciting. I’d drag them in with us.
[ ] More ambience for a just a moment, while I… [ ] Grabbed a drink. [ ] Greeted the attendees.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/08/21(Wed)19:00
My mouth curled into an uncertain grin. “Give us something lively, would you?” I cast my gaze across the crowds that had started to grow still around us. “I think we all need to let loose a little,” I turned my eyes back to the drummer, “wouldn’t you agree?”
Her mouth curled into a knowing smirk. “Are you sure you want that?”
I rubbed my shaku. “Of course.”
She giggled. “I like your spirit, but don’t come complaining to me if it’s not to your taste.” She turned her back to me, twirling her sticks as she returned to her drums.
Byakuren cleared her throat. I turned to her, eyebrow raised. She frowned. “I said we’d dance, but don’t you think this might be too rambunctious?”
I rolled my eyes and the beat started, low and quiet. Small, subtle bounces and sways moved through the crowds, but no one jumped in. Strange. I’d heard that impromptu dances had become more popular since my time. Yet no one wished to begin. I groaned.
“Futo! Join us!”
She jumped, scrambling to catch her plates before they could crash to the ground. Naturally, she caught them all. “I am most apologetic, Crown Prince. This art is not to mine understanding.”
I turned my eyes toward the Buddhist side. Minamitsu glanced my way, then to Shou and Ichirin, then back to me. I glanced to Byakuren. She sighed, glancing aside.
The beat paused with a heavy drum strike. “Alright, people! Let’s get this party started!”
A cymbal crashed, followed by a heavy drum beat. Something deep within that sound struck a chord in me. I threw my right hand up, pointing my shaku to the sky. I swayed my hips to each drum strike that followed, then dropped my right hand to my chest, where I clapped my left hand against it to her rhythm.
I glanced around the crowd as I tapped my feet to the beat. Futo fidgeted, glancing away. Reimu wandered around, behind the stalls. Minamitsu grinned, looped her hands around her companions, and marched them forward.
Ichirin squeaked. “Hey! Don’t…”
With another cymbal crash, I found myself spinning, then pulling Byakuren to my left as I slowed and stopped. I must have looked strange, possibly even stupid, but the music called to me in an exotic but familiar way. Something about this rhythm, this beat, had resonated with me. I’d never heard such a sloppy, uncouth musical styling in my life.
There was a raw, enthusiastic sincerity from it. It was much like the awkward movements of the Buddhists beside me. Of Futo’s fidgeting sways. And more, it commanded an energy so raw, so fervent, and so…
Byakuren looked away, but I felt the subtle rhythmic tapping of her feet.
Primal. That was it.
I spun around to her right, lopping an arm around hers.
The drummer’s strikes, crashes, and rolls moved in a rhythm more of instinct than practice, stirring the audience one at a time to dance. As if without any goal or ultimate objective, but to be in the moment. To flow with the energy around her, and to amplify it.
I pulled, she refused. I swung off, toward the others.
It was this primordial movement that had harmonized with my soul. Even as I stomped and clapped to the beat alongside Futo’s struggling efforts to follow, as I spun, shaku high, by Ichirin and Shou, as I wrapped my arms around Byakuren’s sides and lifted her into the air…
I smiled. Our temple’s next festival could have benefitted greatly from her talents. I was sweating hard by the time I set Byakuren down again. I spun around to face her, closing in to…
I halted, as had Byakuren. Her bright red face filled my vision, her firm, frozen lips far too close to my own. My left hand rested around her chin. Half her desires pulled me in as the other half pushed me away.
What blasphemy was this, that my unconscious action, my spiritual intuition, would guide me here?
The beat went on, with much of the crowd following. But plenty of them hadn’t. They’d slowed or stopped, surrounded by the more fervent dancers, wanting to see what we’d do next. There were now dozens of them, filling much of the space around us. Given the nature of this party, I should not have been surprised where their interest would lie.
Minamitsu and Futo had begun something of a dance-off to my right, both displaying tricks and moves I could not comprehend. But even that failed to call the whole crowd’s attention from us.
I gulped, then…
[ ] Gave Byakuren an air kiss.
[ ] Scooped Byakuren into my arms and rushed back into the temple.
[ ] Separated to… [ ] Catch my breath. [ ] Dance with other partners more.
[ ] Kiss Byakuren.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/09/02(Mon)19:00
My other story's been giving me enough grief that it's pushed even my update for this one back. I apologize for the delay and hope to get it out soon, but it probably won't be ready for at least a couple more days.
And then I pressed my lips to hers. I could not comprehend why the universe would push me to her, but I could not refuse such a clear invitation. The music faded away. I separated soon after, the faintest hint of incense on my lips. For a short moment, the two of us just stood there, music and people paused around us. Byakuren’s lips parted, then shut, then parted again.
An eager, excited holler rang through the crowd, riding on a stunningly familiar voice.
Minamitsu pumped her fist in the air, staring at us as her voice died down. Ichirin looked pale, Shou’s eyes jumped between her, Byakuren, I, the rest of the crowd, and back. A few, similarly eager participants applauded our display, though most held quiet.
I couldn’t help a quiet giggle, turning back to Byakuren to give her my best, haughtiest bedroom eyes. Then my mind finally caught up with my actions. My hands twitched. Grasping my shaku, I spun around and pressed it to my moistened lips as Byakuren’s fingers crawled up to her own. I glanced around only a moment before the tsukumogami interrupted my thoughts.
“Now, let’s take this down a notch.”
The beat, having cut out at some point after our kiss, resumed, slower this time. Quiet and gentle. As if on some unheard que, the revelers joined into couples, holding each other close as they stepped and swayed around us. That rhythm from before ran through me, drawing my hands to Byakuren’s. Hers floated toward mine before they halted, twitching to Raiko’s beat.
We stared at each other only another moment before parting. We had to do so. For… appearances. It would… It would have looked bad on her to engage in such intense affection so quickly. Yes. That was why, even as my hips swayed to the quiet thumps and trills, I looked studiously away from the woman I’d entangled myself with. I had to remain on her good side for at least most of our time together, after all.
The fact that my shaku had returned to my lips was pure coincidence. Uncertain of how I ought to have felt about the matter, but certain I didn’t want to confront it here, I stepped forward, away from the dancers. Turning, I found Byakuren do the same, returning to her people to seek companionship and copious distraction.
I felt a twinge of offense at that. A gentle, respectful kiss like mine should not require near as much diversion as she sought. I turned back to my own group, only to find Futo wandering, hips swaying, to the dancers I’d just left. My eyes followed her, until I heard a great desire from the disciples she’d left.
A desire to hear my story. Well, who was I to say no?
Taking another few steps forward, I lowered my hips to the ground and settled in. The disciples she’d been showing off to soon gathered around me, eyes bright and ears eager. They sat there a moment, in reverent anticipation. They wanted to know how the kiss went and how I’d sedu…
I ignored the young and spry, rather young man to my right. Besides, they wanted me to demonstrate my talent almost as much as to hear the story itself.
Slowly, I lowered the shaku from my lips. I took a breath, fixing my gaze on the young woman to my left. Thin and sharp-featured, but with a subtle, soft hint to her body. I listened but a moment to her alone, then grinned. “Their temple’s spacious, but just as restrictive inside as out.” I turned to the man directly before me, wide-set but muscular. “She’s difficult and naïve, but…” I sighed, tempted to complement only my new wife’s body, “she’s passionate and energetic.”
I turned to the man on my right. He locked eyes with me, then flung his gaze away, fixating his red face on a nearby pebble. I sighed, smiling. “You’d be surprised, young disciple, what the universe brings you when you’re in harmony with it.”
I turned my ears to the last two disciples, a young couple sat just behind them, hearing a heavy sense of distrust. A desire to be reassured that…
Another desire blasted through my ears. An insecurity ripped open. And nearby, yet another one, this one a growing resentment of…
I turned to find Shou leading Futo through that strange, rotating, stepping ‘dance’ that everyone else had settled into. A yearning for matches and oil floated to me, loud and clear. Further off, Byakuren and Ichirin stared hard at one another, with Minamitsu staring pointedly away from them. So many troubles, so little time. Even for a brilliant administrator like myself. I…
[ ] Stepped into Byakuren’s quarrel.
[ ] Peeled Futo away from Shou.
[ ] Reassured my disciples.
[ ] Tried to distract them by shilling the kappa’s badge.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/10/08(Tue)19:00
If I ever take this long on another update, without some major warning first, someone needs to ... chew me out or something. That was ridiculous. Hopefully I'm back to more regular updates for a while.
[x] Tried to distract them by shilling the kappa’s badge.
I cleared my throat, fished that badge out of my pocket, and held it aloft.
Some eyes turned toward me, but the sea of desires, at large, continued floating to the musician’s beat. I breathed in, raising my hand higher.
A few more turned toward me. I sighed. Tucking the shaku under my arm, I slid my spare hand around my sword handle. Angling it down slightly, I ripped half its length free of its sheath. The glorious light of my vessel burned itself into the air, searing through the desires and the eyes around me.
Satisfied, I sheathed it again. Now all eyes had returned to me. Shou’s dance had calmed, which in turn cooled, very slightly, Futo’s arsenous urges. Byakuren gave me this look. One that I promptly ignored. Clearing my throat one last time, I brought the coin back into the air.
I then paused, unsure how well I had planned this.
“Ladies and gentlemen. I bring you a symbol of this historic day. The truth, wisdom, and ultimate health of Taoism, united with the useful struc… the firm guidance of Buddhism. Let us save our quarrels for another day and instead think on the many magnificent occurrences, the strange coincidences, and the…”
Byakuren still gave me that look, but she was a lot closer now. She folded her arms, only a few steps away. “Think on this wisdom: The future is not a thing to be seized, but to be embraced, the way you would a new wife. To kiss a head monk, you must-”
Byakuren leapt into the space before me. Seizing my right wrist, she turned and marched toward the temple, dragging me along for the ride. Wasting not a moment, I threw my free hand into the air in a jovial wave, bidding the partiers goodbye.
We walked at a brisk pace until we approached the temple steps, out of earshot for most of the guests.
She stopped and spun to level a blushing scowl my way. “Miko, dear. What was that?”
For once, I felt genuine pleasure at her embarrassment. It felt good, to have my feet on familiar ground once more.
“Life’s about patience, Byakuren, is it not?”
“Marriage is not about testing it, though.”
“That’s not quite what I mean, darling.”
“Then perhaps you should explain it, dear.”
I groaned, taking an idle glance back. Between the distance and Byakuren’s desire for…
I shook my head, trying to focus on the distant partiers. I found Byakuren’s soul too loud to make anything out. Hopefully, Shou would leave Futo alone for a while.
I tapped my shaku. “What was it that got you so bothered with your followers just now?”
She turned away. “You’re dodging the question.”
I sighed. “On the contrary, I’m answering it.”
We stood in silence as, in the distance, the tsukumogami brought the beat back. From Byakuren, I heard a desire I better understood than the last. Fear of embarrassment. I stepped close and wrapped an arm around her back, rubbing her right shoulder. “I’d hate to be on bad terms with the in-laws, you know.”
“You’re too fond of touching people.”
“You still haven’t told me your trouble with her.”
She huffed, throwing my arm off. “It’s temple business.”
So, it was no good. Whatever their quarrel, I would need another approach to address it. Smiling and shrugging, I took a step toward the temple entrance.
Only for a short yamabiko in a dress of black leather to rush past. She was a familiar figure in a strange costume.
“WAIT FOR ME!”
I clutched my earmuffs tight to my skull, jarred by Kyouko’s sheer volume. That girl feared being left behind, somehow. I took an idle glance back to the party that girl had run off toward. The beat grew a touch louder as a pink bird girl flew toward it. Already I could tell that more trouble would soon brew there. Trouble I wouldn’t mind getting back into the thick of. And yet…
I took a glance toward Byakuren, who directed her own worried gaze to the party, then to the temple. That temple would be quite empty by now.
[ ] I invited Byakuren inside. [ ] So we could drink and watch the sunset. [ ] So she could give me a personal tour.
[ ] I suggested we return to the party. [ ] To eat and speak with her followers. [ ] To socialize with the musician.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/10/21(Mon)19:00
[x] I invited Byakuren inside. [x] So we could drink and watch the sunset.
I shrugged and turned back to the temple. “Come, darling. Let’s enjoy this evening somewhere… away from the rabble.”
Byakuren glanced back to the party, lip curling. She then turned my way and, taking hold of my hand, marched forward, soon knocking me off my feet. I stumbled for a step or two before I fell into her rhythm.
I pouted. “Hey! This is my role!”
She giggled. “I thought you wanted to be the wife, not the husband.”
“Wives can still be suave and charming, can’t they?”
“You can be charming later. Let someone else enjoy the lead, for once in your life.”
I paused as we reached the temple, passing a disciple who’d come out to gawk at our bickering. Thinking fast, I fished a couple coins out and tossed them his way.
“Hey! Get us some drinks, will you?”
“Miko! He’s one of my disciples. I will not have you—”
“Fine. Get me some drinks. Something strong!”
I took the lead from her, dragging her forward as we passed through the front door. We entered the rather quiet, temple halls, and I slowed to a stop. Briefly, I wondered why Byakuren had let me drag her. Then she grumbled and took my lead away again, leading me rather forcibly through the halls and up a flight of stairs.
Then she spoke. “Why did you insist on that role if you also wish to act like such a prince?”
I studied the plain, wooden walls we passed. “Does it matter? This is only for a couple weeks.”
She threw a door open, drawing my eyes to the balcony beyond, a simple but wide platform that overlooked the nearby woods.
“If I’m going to go so far as to dance and…” she fingered her lips, looking away, “do other things with you, the least you could do is open up a little.”
I stepped forward and dropped my butt to the balcony floor, stretching my limbs. She sat beside me, shifting back into a full lotus pose.
I rolled my shoulders. “I’m already a husband.”
A moment of silence passed, the only sound a quiet breeze.
“That’s it? All this fixation over that?”
I sighed, long and slow. No. That wasn’t even close. But there’s opening up, and then there’s ripping your heart from your chest.
“I’ve never had the chance to be a wife before. If I’m going to have a fling like this, why not experience something new while I’m here?”
“You, ceding the chance to be in charge. I refuse to believe it.”
“Step outside your cloister, and you may just learn some things.”
“Why does the pond think itself an oc—”
A quiet knock struck the door. Byakuren pulled away from her pose, but I leapt to my feet. Throwing the door open, I found that disciple carrying a bottle and a couple cups. I clapped a hand on his shoulder and accepted his delivery. “Good man.”
He exchanged glances with Byakuren’s frowning—no, pouting—face, then excused himself, closing the door behind him.
Settling down, I filled both cups and plopped the bottle between us. I offered one to Byakuren, which she waved away. So, I set it down beside her.
I took a sip of my own, wincing at the taste. This was peasant crap. Sighing, I took another sip, then set the cup down.
Another quiet moment passed. I took another sip. “So, how’s your brother’s temple these days?”
She sighed a very complex sigh. There was some sorrow to it, but only the faintest trace. A tense energy dominated the sound, tinged with offense.
[ ] I offered her my shoulder.
[ ] I talked about my own troubles.
[ ] I changed the topic to where I’d sleep.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/12(Tue)18:00
I held quiet a few moments, but Byakuren refused to speak up. Her desires had already grown messy again, too. So, realizing I’d need to carry this conversation, I did what I did best. I brought it back around to the most important topic in Gensokyo.
“My disciples suuuuck.”
…Okay, the second most important topic.
Byakuren almost jumped at that, whipping her face toward me. Taking another sip, I chose to continue.
“Half of them try to get away with doing only the minimal work expected of them and slack off when you’re not looking. What the hell?” I thumped a fist against the floor. “I mean, come on. You’re studying under the best, wisest teacher you could ever get! You have a chance to cultivate your wisdom and power to heights that others would envy. And wh-”
“Excuse me, Miko.”
I paused, sighing, and turned to Byakuren.
She frowned. “How much time have you spent teaching them?”
“Some! I’m a busy girl.”
She stared at me. I brushed it off.
“If that’s not bad enough, some think I’m going to betray their expectations now! That I’ll turn around and feed them to youkai or something! Why? And all this after just one weird night and day?”
“Did they expect you to spend more time teaching them?”
I pouted. “I have other disciples for that.”
Byakuren narrowed her eyes.
I grumbled. “I…” This was the time to share something personal, to lower her guard. But… no. Not that. I needed something else. “It’s not just my new disciples, you know. Even Futo and Tojiko are starting to grow complacent. This place should be a golden opportunity. Magic! Ancient Sages! Target Practice! Opp-”
I flicked a hand out in a vague, dismissive gesture. “Forget I said that.”
Byakuren sighed. “You don’t kill them, do you?”
“No! …Not usually.”
Byakuren frowned. I took a couple more sips of the bland sake.
I grimaced. “The humans are too damn lazy to protect themselves, so someone else has to do it for them.”
Byakuren leaned back. “I suppose I should expect nothing else of you.”
She snatched her cup, clutching it tight between her hands. “You always run off and do things your way, no matter what other people think.”
I smiled. “No one knows what anyone should do better than I.”
She smirked. “Oh? Then what should I do, crown prince?”
I turned back to the trees beneath us, running a hand through my glorious locks. “Why, renounce Buddhism, fall head over heels for me, and beg me to prolong our marriage.”
Byakuren’s brow furrowed. She grabbed her cup and dumped the contents straight down her throat. With a clack, she set the cup down again and stared me in the eyes. “You’d refuse, of course.”
“Then it’s just pointless debasement, is it not?”
“Pointless?” I stared in mock shock. “This is me. Even the slimmest of chances would easily make it all worthwhile.”
Byakuren sat back, sighing. “You’re awfully blusterous today. If I didn’t know better, I’d be tempted to think you had something to hide.”
“Me?” I paused, listening to her soul. Tension, concern, and a strange sort of… greed. “Please, I’m-”
A sound floated on the air. A harsh, discordant noise that very vaguely resembled music. Byakuren’s eyes went dull as she turned her head toward the sound’s source. The party.
I took another sip, thankful for the change of topic. “They’re a rather rowdy bunch, aren’t they?”
“Kyouko could do with much better company.” She paused a moment, sighing. “I would like another sample of this… infinite wisdom.”
The noise cluttered my ears, throwing static into the signal of her already messy desires. Nevertheless, I held still, knowing how she’d behave.
“Suppose you have a young boy and a young girl. The boy’s a human, the girl’s an animal youkai. They’re young and in love, much like we are.”
“That’s a lie on both counts, and you know it.”
Byakuren scowled, playfully. “Hush, dear.” Clearing her throat, she continued. “The youkai girl wants to take things further, but the boy knows her species has killed and eaten humans in the past. He loves her as much as she loves him, so how should he proceed?”
I adopted a quiet, meditative pose. “Does she eat people?”
“Not as far as he knows.”
A piercing screech rang through the air, tempered only slightly by distance, coming from the party. I exchanged a worried glance with Byakuren. It echoed, then died down, making way for more of that discordant din. No feelings nor sounds of concern followed.
[ ] I told her the boy should… [ ] offer himself as her next “meal.” I also waggled my brows. [ ] continue this relationship, but with extreme caution. [ ] separate from her.
[ ] I hinted that I would think on her dilemma, choosing to spend my time now to… [ ] ask her if this story had come from anywhere specific. [ ] suggest we move deeper into the temple. Perhaps a bedroom? [ ] insist we spend the night at Senkai, instead.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/29(Fri)19:00
I'd originally, accidentally, set the timer to expire right around the end of Thanksgiving and that just felt super weird to me. So, whether or not it matters to anyone else, I'm extending it another 24 hours from then. If anyone still wants to get their votes in, now would be the time.
Apologies for the false update and the late notice.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/11/30(Sat)19:00
[x] I told her the boy should… [x] continue this relationship, but with extreme caution.
“I suppose he should continue, but make sure to watch his back.”
Byakuren pouted, but with the faintest hint of warmth slipping in. “So cold. But you would not stand between them, then?”
I took a few more sips of my cup, only subtly wincing at the swill’s flavor. “Naturally.” I paused, staring up, into the sky. “Even I can’t stop a young couple from doing crazy things together.” I sighed, then brought my gaze back down to her. “But if a mouse falls for a tiger, I cannot simply stand by without offering a warning, can I?”
Byakuren frowned, rotating the empty cup in her hand. “They don’t have that kind of relationship, you know. Besides, the tiger has more reason to fear the mouse, sometimes.”
I paused, taking a long gulp. There’d been a shift in her heart, moving to… of course.
I chuckled. “Oh, yes. Your avatar and her servant. I’m afraid I’d forgotten all about them. I wonder what they’re doing right now.”
Byakuren huffed. “They’re probably drin-” She paused, staring at her cup, then set it down by her side. “They’re no doubt making fools of themselves this very moment.”
With another sip, I found my own cup empty. Setting it down, I poured us both another round. I took another sip, hoping Futo made it out of that without too much embarrassment. I’d barely kept her off the temple last time and I couldn’t afford an ‘incident’ tonight.
Byakuren had grown quiet. I set my shaku by my side and tapped my cup. “You know, people as weak and vulnerable as your common human should exercise caution around others, anyway.”
“Even when in love?”
“Especially then. They can’t afford to make the kinds of mistakes we get away with.”
Byakuren held the cup in her lap. “Like last night?”
“Precisely. That kind of thing could ruin someone without our power or connections.”
She sighed, fighting with a desperate yearning to do… something. Then she downed her cup in one go.
Then, she passed the cup to me. I refilled it and handed it back.
We drank a few more cups, listening as the clamor from the party ever so slowly faded, to be replaced by cricket chirps as the sun sank beneath the trees. It was a quiet, introspective few drinks. Then, as Byakuren’s face grew flush, her heart slowly smoothed out, revealing what she’d fought over all day.
On one side, a desire to maintain propriety, to protect her self-image, and to continue in her path to enlightenment. On another, to know what I’d planned and to sabotage any advances on my end. All this was nothing new, simply details muddled by what she’d hidden, details that now faded away in favor of something else. That secret being-
She squinted at me in the waning light. Then, letting out a quiet burp, leaned in close, patting her lap. “Sit… dear.”
I stared back, grinning. “Why is that, darling?”
She focused her eyes tight on mine. Or at least, she tried to. Then an arm leapt out and, snatching my wrist, hauled me toward her, dropping me in her lap. She wrapped both arms around my stomach and squeezed, sighing in contentment.
The other side wanted my body.
As tacky as I just made that sound, it was technically true.
Underneath her desires to atone for past misdeeds, to guide the lost, to help the supposedly weak and downtrodden, and to set an example for them, last night had awoken a new flame within her.
To experience something her fervor had kept her away from.
Intimacy. A need to touch and connect in ways that tie you down to someone. The thought that she’d latch on to me, of all people, would have made me laugh. Did she not already have such relationships with at least the nyuudou-wielder or the tiger? Or at even the yamabiko?
If she didn’t, wouldn’t they have been better outlets for her? I shook my head. It could have been that she just wanted more, or that her need to set an example stifled it with her followers in some way. I’d need to watch her desires again once she sobered up, now that I had this insight.
But as much as I savored the thought of… “corrupting” her with such a mundane pleasure, I had to scowl once I realized I could not count on her so readily to keep even this one part of my plans safe and clean.
Her temple gave me enough grief as it was.
Besides, I had to live with her for the next several days and letting her give into anything in this state would come back to bite me once she woke up. I dared not assume the alcohol would wipe her memories. Not with her body.
She sat there a moment, shifting one hand to stroke my hair as she pressed her ill-gotten bust into my back and nuzzled her nose into my neck. As the sky grew dark, I started to appreciate how she felt. With a jolt, I realized I had some business I still had to address, and that I needed peel myself away before I got any stupid ideas of my own.
[ ] I needed to know where I’d sleep, so I could move in properly.
[ ] I was worried about Futo and chose to check up on her.
[ ] I had a made a promise to Nue and needed to address that now.
[ ] I decided to stay, anyway.
[ No timer with this one. I’ll call the votes manually when I decide to write. ]
I pushed all my worries aside, choosing instead to lean back into her and breathe in the brisk, evening air. It had been a long, tiring day, and I could imagine worse ways to spend it than in the arms of a beautiful, if silly and sometimes dangerous, woman. I had many worries to address, but they could wait. Right now, for whatever silly reason, Byakuren wanted to spend her night with me. And the universe, apparently, agreed.
She kept patting my head, pulling the hand backward in straight lines, right between the pillars of my noble hair. I couldn’t help a small pout at that. I was a prince, damn it. Not some house cat.
I hummed a sour note, seeking words to express either my displeasure or other concerns, but nothing came.
Instead I just batted the hand away. She relented, letting it fall instead around my waist. Then, still nestling into the crook of my neck, she squeezed my gut, harder than before.
I wheezed, not quite choking as her body pressed into my back. Then, easing her grip, she moved her head to nuzzle my hair, gently inhaling as she did so. I huffed but chose not to otherwise object.
Resigning my glorious locks to their fate of being sniffed by a strange woman, I watched the sky and the dim blue still lingering on the horizon. One last hurrah, the sun’s last grasp for glory after it had already fallen. A fitting metaphor for many things that I struggled to define at this hour.
As much as I would still have liked to poke at this woman’s devotion, her naïve idealism, and any number of other things, now wasn’t the time.
Instead I just sat there, feeling the way her chest rose and fell, pressing harder into my back, then softer.
Then, sighing, she pushed me off her lap and tumbled backward. She groaned as she sat up. I sighed and turned around to face her. Snatching the bottle and her cup-my own was too far away to bother crawling over to-I poured myself another drink. I found the bottle rather light as I did so. We had almost emptied it, apparently.
Leaning back, I raised the cup to my lips and took a sip as Byakuren crawled toward me. I took another sip as she settled down. Then she stole the cup from my fingers and downed it herself in one go.
I pouted as she set the cup back down, opening my mouth to-
She leaned forward and pressed her lips to mine, melting my objections away as her hands slid to my cheeks. Ooh, she felt nice. The sheer earnestness with which she mashed her face into mine, rolling hers just slightly, her hands pressing me close. The way she… She was forgetting something. Pulling back only a second to breathe, I crawled back to her lap and wrapped my legs around her. I couldn’t let an ascetic beat me here.
Wrapping my own hands in her hair, I pressed my tongue to her lips, seeking entry. I-
She shrunk back. I blinked. She paused, staring down on me. She pressed a finger to my lips. She smiled. “This… isn’t how to do it. It’s, uh… too, too soon. What if we…”
She lurched forward, wrapping her arms around my back and once more nuzzling into my shoulder. I hugged her back, patting her back.
Then she dragged out a long, slow, tired groan.
“Let’s go to bed together.”
I blinked as she pulled back and stood. Swaying just slightly, she stood and turned to the door.
Pulling myself to my feet, I grabbed the bottle and dumped what was left down my throat, then set it back down. She threw the door open and I scurried after her as she walked through. I followed close by her, uncertain but ready to take the lead once I knew where she’d be going. Slinging an arm around her waist, I left the dying twilight outside for the warm, orange glow of the temple’s lanterns.
We walked down a flight of stairs and through corridor after corridor before, sliding another door open, we reached a small chamber. I found a single, wide futon on the right and a short, low desk on the other.
Byakuren stared at the futon, briefly. “That’s not… mine.”
I stared at it too, though I had no idea whether it belonged to her or not. Then she separated from me and dropped onto it, throwing the blanket over herself.
With just a slight grin, I kneeled and crawled onto it beside her.
It was the shift of limbs and the subtle jostle of a rather voluptuous body that first made me stir the next morning. Then the rather peculiar sensation of a blanket resting directly against my skin. And more skin against my own. My head aching, I felt an unpleasant sense of déjà vu as I stared once more into the purple hair draped over Byakuren’s red, wide-eyed face.
Wait, that was different.
Wordlessly, she pulled herself back, just slightly. I peeled myself back as well, until I felt the air under the blanket on my, my…
I sat up, clutching the blanket to my chest as Byakuren stumbled out of it. At least she still wore wrappings around that enviable bust. I could not boast such protections for myself. I glanced around, finding both our outfits sprawled on the table, which Byakuren shambled over to. She threw herself into her dress as the quiet murmur of a waking temple floated to my ears. After all her consternation yesterday, I found myself impressed with her ability to keep her own desires almost dead silent this morning. Something about her had changed, but based on the fleeting, troubled glances she sent my way, it was not likely good.
Listening as close as I could, I caught a faint hint of appreciation for last night, but one accompanied by mortification. As she slid the door shut behind her, I took a fleeting listen across the temple. Beyond a few traces of curiosity regarding a dispute between the temples last evening, and what occurred between us last night, I found nothing noteworthy.
On that note, I lifted the blanket and-yep.
I was naked. Thankfully, I had not wasted myself so completely last night, and managed to recall a few muddy details. I had… discarded my clothing to… protect it, I think. And because I had anticipated something more with Byakuren then.
She had… also anticipated that, possibly. Maybe? I couldn’t read her as well after that bottle, and the results were too nuanced to stick to my mind. There was another kiss and some… touching? Either way, we had… done something, but had then fallen asleep before getting terribly far. How that happened was another mystery, but one to address another time.
Now that I’d awoken and Byakuren had parted, I had a day to prepare for. How was Futo doing? What about my disciples? Was there any fallout from the party? And what about Mamizou’s warning about the papers?
Taking a quick glance at the door to ensure it was still closed, I slipped from the blanket and dove toward the desk. Peeling my garments off it, I slid a pair of panties up my leg and considered how I’d spend the morning.
[ ] I would check in with this temple, where the events of the party, and any rumors about last night, would be clearest.
[ ] I would check in with my own disciples, where I could evaluate how they’ve handled the past day.
[ ] I would check in with the village, where I could best find any strange news stories.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/01/07 (Tue) 19:00
[x] I would check in with this temple, where the events of the party, and any rumors about last night, would be clearest.
I tucked the undergarments tight to my body, then threw my vest and skirt on. Between my cape, belts, scabbard, bracelets, and sandals, it took me a few moments to finish getting dressed. By the time I’d snapped my earmuffs on, Byakuren was long gone.
I suspect my cheeks had turned a shade of pink at this point, as I spent a half-second thinking of just what kind of state I’d snuggled up to my rival in. But I had business to attend to, and my indiscretion would have to be a subject of later meditation, not immediate paralysis.
I took a long, sharp breath as I grabbed my shaku, nudged the door back open, and stepped into the halls. The air carried only muted noises. Low whispers, quiet conversations faded and muffled by walls, distant birdsong, and the occasional thump or clack as people and objects interacted with one another.
People wanted their morning meals, to sleep in, to enjoy a good bath, and other basic things. It all melded into a simple, comforting atmosphere as I wandered from one corridor to the next. One of those desires infected me, rising to the fore as my stomach rumbled. It was a muted, tentative protest, but one I chose to address. And so, I turned, now following my nose rather than my ears.
Following the desires of other hungry denizens, I soon found the humble dining hall and sat down. About a handful of youkai, plus a couple humans, hunkered down at their tables, chewing on plain rice, sometimes topped by pickled seaweed. A large pot sat in one corner, accompanied by a couple empty bowls, each with a pair of chopsticks inside. Advancing on the pot, I found a moderate amount of rice left, topped by a wide but shallow, wooden spoon.
Shrugging, I grabbed a bowl, scooped it full of rice, then I found myself a table with a lonely-looking woman who had parties on the mind.
Settling in and taking my first bite of bland, tasteless rice, I idly wondered where others had gotten their seaweed from, and if it’d even be worth it to seek out such a pedestrian topping. I sensed a heavy air of frustration from that woman, brought on, in part, from yesterday, it seemed. She wished that Byakuren would have been more either stricter or more lenient. A familiar composite, which meant she wished for greater consistency. Finally, my ears and mind worked together the way they should. I listened to the others, catching a hope to catch some sale, wonderings of how our marriage would turn out, regrets over missing some episode on the mountain, and other s-
My eyes jerked up. Someone else had entered the room. She dropped herself on the seat across from me, setting a bowl of her own in front of her. She had a familiar face and wore a peculiar white sailor suit.
“Murasa. May I help you?”
The woman beside me nearly jumped as I spoke. A wave of concern rolled through a couple others, too. All at the sound of my voice, it seemed.
Minamitsu dropped a small chunk of pickled fish in my rice. Salmon, based on the smell. The first woman glanced my way, almost offended. I glanced to Minamitsu, then nodded my head toward our companion. Minamitsu sighed and, producing another one, dropped it in that woman’s dish. She glanced between the two of us, then stared at her bowl, debating whether to eat.
Minamitsu leaned close to me and kept her voice low. I nearly choked when I heard her desire, not that it stopped her from voicing it. “So, uh… how was your night. Was she good?”
She winked. I stared back.
“I’ll be happy to tell you.”
She paused, raising a brow.
I grinned. “Just as soon as she tells you how I was.”
She frowned. “Yer askin’ the impossible here, you know that?”
Tearing off a sliver of the pickled salmon, I mixed it with a clump of rice and gave it a bite. Her frown deepened as I chewed. Then, swallowing, I pointed my chopsticks her way. “I’m afraid I don’t kiss and tell. At least, not yet.”
“Pretty please? I didn’t tell anyone about that box of yours, did I? C’mon, just a little dirt. Please?”
“I would not…” I paused, listening. The desires around me hand shifted, subtly. At least three had clustered just outside the door, wanting to know what we said and wishing they had the courage to watch. At least two of the youkai at nearby tables listened too.
The other woman had excused herself, wanting distance from me. Some feared me, feared what I’d do to the temple, how I might try to manipulate or exploit them. Others dearly wished I’d share intimate, lurid details of our night with Minamitsu.
One of them hoped I wouldn’t hurt Shou, specifically. He seemed to think I’d have good reason to do so.
I leaned in even closer to Minamitsu and spoke yet quieter. “Is the rest of the temple as nosey as you are?”
She snickered. “Not a lot to do when you’re trying to stay all pure about things. Besides, there’s bigger fish to fear. You’ve been okay so far, but I’m watching you, too. Don’t screw us over too bad, okay?”
“I would do no such thing to my wife.” I considered subterfuge after our marriage ended, though I found myself lacking the will to scheme too much.
“Alright, alright. Still playing that role, got it.” She sighed and we both quieted down, glancing at our mostly untouched bowls. Wordlessly, we both chose to eat.
Now that I had a chance to consider the taste, that fish did a tolerable job. It was far from a proper noble’s dish, but my palate would accept it.
As my chopsticks began to clatter and scrape the empty edges of my bowl, I set them down and pulled myself up from the table. Minamitsu had finished sooner, it seemed, as she had disappeared.
I could have chosen this moment to find this wife of mine again, but I had more immediate issues to address, and I suspected she did, too. To get through the next couple weeks, and certainly to exploit anything, I’d need much more trust among her temple than I had. But I also had yet to learn much of the party’s aftermath, or to fulfill my promise to the shapeshifter.
To focus on learning about the damn party first, or to start by addressing one of my other priorities? Thinking on it, I chose first to…
[ ] Meditate and offer help to anyone interested. Temple trust first.
[ ] Listen and engage in light gossip. I would not be side-tracked.
[ ] Find Nue for a round of early drinking. Promises first.
As I noted in Magnel's update, I expect to be out of town for about a week before I'll be able to get the next part out. So expect about a week of delay on that. I've also chosen to forego a timer as a result, and intend instead to just call the votes when I'm ready, as I've done previously.
[x] Find Nue for a round of early drinking. Promises first.
I suppose I should have expected this avoidance once the novelty first faded. But if I wanted to get some trust, I decided I’d start by keeping to my commitments. So, when I strode back to the halls, I took a direct route to the flight of stairs I knew would carry me to the basement.
I encountered few people on the way. One young woman who scurried away, avoiding my eyes, and an older man who kept his attention rather decidedly elsewhere. I cracked a wry smile at this. It would get in my way later, but at this precise moment, it had played to my advantage.
Less attention on naughty old Miko smuggling booze in and out of the ascetic’s temple.
I winced as a couple rather… uncouth desires reached my ears, from separate disciples. Desires featuring both myself and Byakuren, together. They were mostly of a romantic nature, but… what kind of monks were these people?
Finding the stairs, I soon plunged into the basement. I took my time inhaling the damp, dull air as I made my way to the special crate. I had not heard any desires on my way down that would tip me off to the shapeshifter’s presence. A disappointment, to be sure, but no great obstacle. I would find her soon enough, once I had the goods in hand.
I extracted the crate from the corner I’d settled it in an and tossed the lid aside. Perhaps I ought to have nailed it in, just to be safe, but it was too late to question things. I paused, observing a hairline crack in the seal. Someone had helped themselves to it.
Brow furrowing, I popped it open and looked inside. I’d lost perhaps a couple drinks. I groaned and sealed it back up. I would find the perpetrator and see to it that justice occurred. Later.
I tucked my shaku in my belt, then picked the bottle up and cradled it between my hands. I kept it a small distance from my chest, hoping to minimize the heat it received. I turned and made my way back toward the stairs, listening close to the temple’s inhabitants. Still nothing. I took slow, measured steps back up and strode through the common halls. Again, the odd man or woman, here or there, but otherwise, they were rather quiet and still.
With one last turn, I walked back out, shoes clicking on the hard, flat stone of the outer stairs. A sense of relief floated through a few hearts as I left the building.
I clicked my tongue. I’d be back soon enough. I walked down the steps only a moment or two before I heard her, just at the edge of my range. Despite whatever protests she had to the contrary, that woman really clung to this place. I kept strolling down the crisp stone steps until I grew close enough to make out her desires.
Entertainment, attention, and strangely enough, security. Perhaps I’d need to probe into that, if she proved important enough to my…
My agenda. Another burning question I’d need to address soon. Time flies terribly fast when you have no plan. Which tends to produce terrible results, because you don’t have a plan. Now that I’d made it through the first day, I would need to detail just how I’d best utilize the opportunity. Another point to address at a later date.
I paused as her inner voice moved. In fact, it sped toward me. A second later, she sailed out, over the trees, and dropped to the walkway before me. She wore the short black hair, simple back dress, and two-colored tentacle wings of her ‘true’ form, this time. Tossing a brief glance to the bottle in my hands, she gave me a cocky grin.
I huffed. “You may be surprised how far a good dose of patience will take you.”
She shook her head, stretching as she cast her gaze around us. “Patience is for people I trust. Now, how about showing me just how trustworthy you are?”
I sighed. “Why else would I be here, carrying this?”
She just shrugged.
I shook my head. “Let us depart, shall we?”
“Lead the way, dear.” She snickered.
“You, I’m afraid, are no darling.” I turned and lifted into the air. Now, where would we be best suited to drink? She rather liked the temple, but every halfway private cubby was far too spartan to do this drink justice. My Senkai had plenty of good places to drink but I dared not bring someone as mischievous as her to my sacred abode.
So, I chose to split the difference. “Get a couple cups and meet me at the graveyard, would you?”
“Sure, sure.” She floated off, and I rose to the air andsailed back to the temple grounds.
Someday, I would need to divest my property entirely from that monk. I sighed. A possibility for my tenure here, but one to address later. Landing among the various headstones, I found the graveyard emptier today.
Yoshika was either absent or distracted. Either scenario seemed as plausible as the other. So, I simply stood by the cave mouth and waited. Soon enough, Nue returned. I held still, this time until the moment her desire to know where I was, evaporated.
I then gave her a wink, turned on my heel, kicked off, and floated through the tunnel.
I took my time, floating at a rather leisurely pace to protect the wine. As it happened, this gave her abundant time to catch up. It was a location I’d been to plenty of times, even once yesterday, but it had a rather otherworldly atmosphere, no matter the time of day.
Soon, I reached the chamber that held my great mausoleum and stopped.
Shallow water lapped at a shallow, carved cliff. Numerous lilies and lily pads rested on the water, lit from above by a warm, misty light. And of course, the mausoleum itself loomed over it all.
I settled down, crossing my legs as I set the bottle to my right. Nue dropped to the ground, across from it, and set the cups down. Simple, clay cups. Something of an offense to sake like this, but I would tolerate it for now.
She snickered. “You know, going through all of this, inviting me to this secluded place, makes me a bit suspicious. It feels like you’re either trying to backstab or romance me. Maybe both.”
I cracked the bottle open. “Another time, perhaps. Now…”
I took one cup and filled it halfway, then, handing it to Nue, grabbed the other.
Nue took it and eyed the drink as I filled the other. Then, setting the bottle down on coarsely cut but level stone, I took a long whiff of the drink. A fresh, grainy scent that brought me back to older times. I then took a sip as I stared out at the hexagonal tower before us. The sake tasted rich, much like well-cooked, high-grade rice, with just the faintest hint of cherries.
Beside me, Nue shrugged and took a sip, herself.
Ah, this was good. But…
She chuckled. “Not so popular around here, are you?”
I huffed. “It’s no obstacle for someone like me.”
She stared at me, mouth pursed and eyes narrowed, then turned back to the water. “Still, seems kinda quick for them to turn on you, doesn’t it?”
“It’s to be exp…” I paused. Something whispered from her heart. Something she wanted me to know but didn’t want to reveal. Or rather, didn’t want to be the one responsible to revealing it. I took a sip, admiring the mystic, otherworldly atmosphere. Perhaps I should spruce the edges of this place up a bit, and lead some lessons here, sometime.
“They haven’t ‘turned’ on me yet, they merely suspect me.”
She kept much of her feelings to herself, obscuring the secret she held, but a few clues still slipped through. She worried about Byakuren’s temple. And my disciples. Why?
I shook my head. Something to consider when I knew more of her secret. In the meantime, I had high-grade sake to enjoy and a potentially useful youkai to charm. To win over, that is. For practical reasons.
Nothing nefarious, of course. Just proper networking. And to that end, I chose to spend this time…
[ ] trading stories of our accomplishments, curious if I could impress her.
[ ] listening to whatever she wished to speak of, to see where she’d take it.
[ ] trading silly chants, anecdotes, and such, to entertain her.
[x] trading silly chants, anecdotes, and such, to entertain her.
I grinned. “Let’s forget the serious talk for now.” I nudged the bottle her way and downed my cup, letting out a loud sigh once I’d finished. Damn, this was so much better than last night’s crap. Though… I sent an idle glance Nue’s way. She wasn’t quite as… well, I wasn’t quite sure. But I found myself wondering how Byakuren would react, had she learned just what kind of drinks she’d been missing out on.
Maybe I’d need to smuggle another bottle in, sometime.
Nue’s mouth parted, just slightly. She wanted to press the issue, but then those lips closed and she turned away.
I shook my head. Focus. Turning back to her, I grinned. “What’s scarier than a drunk, angry shrine maiden?”
Nue giggled. “Not much. But you’re leading to a punchline, aren’t you?”
I huffed. “Hush. What’s scarier is one that’s angry but,” I swiped the bottle, “isn’t drunk enough.”
“Heh. That was… okay. But you’ve got better, don’t you?”
I groaned, pouting. “You just need to be warmed up, first.” I refilled my cup and set the bottle back down. “Let’s start with a toast.” I stood and, throwing my cape out behind me, held my cup aloft. “A drink crisp, full, strong!”
Nue glanced my way, sipping from her cup, then stood.
Taking a sip, I continued. “Duty done, day long gone~”
I took a gulp. “Bottoms up ‘till dawn!”
Nue snickered. “I’ll bet it was.”
I huffed. “We like our men thick a-”
Nue laughed. “Men, now? I don’t think that’s how you felt las-”
I flicked her nose, frowning. “Would you prefer a different tune?”
She grinned. “Oh, hell yes.” She cleared her throat and lifted her cup toward me. “Here’s to women and horses, and”-She winked at me-“the girls that ride them.” She clicked her cup against mine, then downed hers.
My skin heated at that, but I took a gulp. “That’s not even a…”
She refilled our cups, then raised her own again. “Here’s to that woman who loves you terribly. May she soon improve.”
She clicked the glass and drank. Sighing and shaking my head, but smiling, I followed suit.
Refilling her cup, she stood. “Here’s to you and here’s to me~” Another gulp. “And here’s to the girls who l…”
And she kept going. It took several drinks before I’d managed to derail her away from her lewd jabs and into better phrases and verses. The bottle was half-gone by the time we’d started winding down.
“…who never declines, just one for the road!”
Panting, we clicked our cups and downed them. Then collapsed back to the ground, giggling.
I sighed, then turned to Nue. “So, Best prank you’ve pulled on these guys. What issit?”
Now she squinted at me. “Oh, nothin’ crazy.”
I leaned toward her. “You sure ’bout that?”
She leaned toward me. “Now, which of us…” she paused, belching, “married the boss lady here?”
I giggled again. “Oh, please, little me? Doing something bad?” Nue cackled at that, but I carried on. “I’ve only had a day. No, no, no…” I leaned back, swishing my cup before taking a gulp and sighing in satisfaction. “It’s not this temple, but I did pour sake down Buddha’s bronze gut one very busy evening.”
She stared my way, eyes flat. “That’s… it.”
I shrugged. “It was… Vesak. They want you to pour water or special oils on it.”
She tilted her head, sipping from her cup. “Vesak?”
I tilted my head with hers. “Buddha’s big day. Their most important holiday?”
She sighed, shaking her head. “Whatever. That’s it?”
I pouted, turning away. “It was very sacrilegious. If people saw you, they’d get very upset.”
“If you say so. So, uh…”
I glanced back. She scratched her scalp. “When is that, exactly?”
“First full moon in, uh… May. Great time for mischief. If you get away with it.”
Sipping from her cup, she narrowed one eye, conspiratorially. “Oh? A challenge?”
I refilled my cup, grinning. “I guess it is.”
She grinned back, then emptied the cup. “Fine, fine. Boozing up the fat man, huh?”
I set the cup down. “Yep. But about you.” I stared deep into her eyes. “What pranks or jokes do you have?”
“Me? Well…” She glanced away, looking out around the fog until she settled her eyes on the tower. “Oh, not much. I guess I, uh… swore at one of those statues.”
She turned back to me. I stared harder. She hummed. “Oh yeah! I did it as the boss. Byakuren!”
I drummed my fingers on one knee. “You really scared someone with that, didn’cha?”
She snickered. “Oh, I sent them leaping away.” She sighed. “But that kind of thing’s piss-easy. No, uh… creativity.”
I leaned close to her, frowning deep. “Are you sure you’re out of stories?”
She leaned back, then smiled and winked. “Maybe next time? ’Sides, you really should visit your guys.” She then pulled herself to her feet and swiped the bottle from the rocks. “Now, I think I’ll be taking this.”
I groaned, pulling myself to my feet. “Fine, fine. Take the rest.”
She turned on her heel. “I think I will. Later.” She waved, then flew off.
I glanced back to the cups she left behind, then shrugged and flew out after her, wavering slightly in my flight path.
Hm. I may have been slightly affected. To best present myself to Senkai, I would…
[ ] Take a short stop in the village to cool off.
[ ] Run to Tojiko’s arms.
[ ] Ignore it and visit them as-is.
Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/03/10 (Tue) 19:00
[x] Rest and meditate before heading back to Senkai
Going anywhere drunk, this early in the morning, is going to make us look bad. If spending time at the village is an option, staying here seems even better. The place has a great atmosphere for meditating as well as drinking.
[x] Rest and meditate before heading back to Senkai
Grumbling, I sat back down at the water’s edge, taking in the air. I’d lost precious time on this, but I couldn’t be a proper, elegant prince if I embarrassed myself in front of my own followers. And so, I leaned back, closed my eyes, and stilled my thoughts.
The moist, warm air calmed me, as did the near-silent shifts in the otherwise still pool before me. I breathed in, long and slow. Then, exhaling, I envisioned a still, blank void. My tasks, my troubles, they would come, and I would address them as they did. For this moment, I would rest. Instead, I chose to consider my own place in the universe. I lived as a one-time prince, of a sort. After my return, I became a religious leader, only in part by choice. Now, I’d become a wife to a strange, silly woman.
The mists eddied, the lilies shifted, and slowly, the minutes passed. Then my thoughts turned from the moment, and my place, to my intentions.
More than a millennium after my reign, living in a land full to bursting with youkai, I’d managed to claw back much of the prestige I’d lost in the intervening years.
Despite my initial bouts with the shrine maiden and her sticky-fingered friend, none had complicated my new life more than the Byakuren herself. I had fought against her and alongside her. She blocked efforts to restore humanity’s prestige, prevented Taoism from rising in the land that most deserved it, and more than once had slighted me personally. Yet, in just the one day we’d spent as a supposed couple, I had found myself, more than once, drawn to her. Why?
She had quite the body, of course. But I was not so vain, so shallow, as to be drawn in by a few, fine curves, was I? Perhaps we had simply fought too often before now, so that some part of me confused proximity for affection.
And what of my role in this land? Where did I belong, here?
Was I to continue protecting the humans who cared so little for their own interests? Trying to rebuild the throne that had crumbled in the intervening years? Or attempting once more to- no. Not that.
Which of my own desires deserved my attention? Ambition? Duty? Love?
…The love-both loves-would have to wait.
And just what would I accomplish while tethered to the monk?
A day had passed since that arrangement began, yet I had achieved nothing for it. It was admirable, in a way, just how unconscious, how undirected, my actions had been on the greater scale. But I needed greater, more precise direction, or I’d find myself horribly unsatisfied by the time this deal ended.
Now that I stopped to think, what could I accomplish by clinging to Byakuren’s side? For all her naivety when it came to the dynamics between humans and youkai, I doubted I could get away with actively “seducing” her followers away from her bullheaded ways. At most, I could attempt to instill a few pearls of Taoism’s most accessible wisdom.
And stealing treasures from her? Unlikely. Spells, though… well, a good husband couldn’t deny her wife a peek, could he? …She?
Alternatively, I could just… do nothing. Show her disciples the wonders of Taoism solely through my example.
Which did I want? The power of Buddhist secrets? The glory of admiration from my enemy’s disciples? The amusement of knowing my ideas would hide and grow among Byakuren’s flock?
In fact, as I watched the subtle shifts and eddies in the mists swirling through this chamber, I felt a slow clearing in my head. A clearing that, in turn, revealed a desire to know why the hell I was still…
I blinked, glancing over my shoulder. Tojiko hovered behind me, wearing a terribly tense frown. I sighed and stood, gripping my shaku with one hand and dusting off my skirt with the other.
“Good morning, Tojiko.”
Her expression eased, but barely. “Is there a reason you chose to wait here?”
I smiled. “To avoid embarrassing myself in front of you, of course.”
“And would you care to explain what you mean by that?”
I shrugged. “Precisely that. I showed someone how to enjoy a fine sake, then found myself somewhat tipsy by the time I’d finished.”
“You chose to party in the middle of the-” She clicked her teeth. “No, forget that. Why wait here?”
I glanced back to the mists. “We needed a good atmosphere. If all went as well as I hope, we may find ourselves aided by a new friend, of sorts.”
She grunted. “So, you did hold your party here.” I nodded. She continued. “And if it didn’t go so well?”
I winced. “Then I’ll count on you to protect the mausoleum from vandalism.”
She dropped her head into her hands. “There you go again. You and your excessive ambition.”
“Please. I consider it the perfect amount for a woman of my talents.”
I breathed in the air one last time and stepped up to her. “Have things gone well, so far?”
She let out a long sigh. “It’s been one day. I’ve managed.”
“Excellent.” I leaned in to deliver a quick k-
She brushed me off. “Thirteen days left, Miko. I expect you to make a fortune from them.”
Embarrassingly, I responded by rubbing my neck. “Of course, of course.”
She floated past and I walked toward the door, preparing to enter Senkai.
She cleared her throat. “And… bring me back a souvenir, would you?”
I smiled, still walking. A souvenir? From an ascetic’s temple? Something worthwhile, that I could count on someone to just hand over? Something valuable or trophy-like, based on her desires. I sighed, frowning. As strange as her request was, I felt duty-bound at least to consider it.
As to whether I’d find anything fitting, well… I’d have to see.
Through the calm, I began to form ideas for how I’d get something from the arrangement, but I was not yet ready to commit to one path or another just yet.
I had already dallied rather long and needed to be about immediately, but… I still knew little of how I was perceived, outside our temples. And while the disciples I cared most about were usually to be found in Senkai, it would not do to neglect those less committed, either.
I chose to step next in…
[ ] Senkai. My most proficient followers needed me first.
[ ] The Village. I needed a broader understanding of my reputation.
[ ] Myouren Temple again. I would commit to Tojiko’s request and start my search early.
Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/03/23 (Mon) 19:00
[x] The Village. I needed a broader understanding of my reputation.
A couple steps later, I found a coarse fissure in the cavern wall and stepped through. From there, in the infinite between, I stepped out from a lightning-singed crack in an elderly tree. Walking up to the village gate, I exchanged short greetings with the guards at attention.
Two thick, seasoned men this time. One that worried for a young, rebellious daughter, another that looked forward to an evening with his rather boisterous friends, a few of whom patrolled the walls nearby. I passed through the gate, wandering down the main road. The scents of sizzling fish, fresh fruits, and various sweets mingled in the air, tempting my somewhat peckish tongue.
I sighed and closed my eyes, tasting the air with my ears, rather than my nose. Pockets of hunger and appetite clustered at the stalls, to no surprise of my own. Beyond them, I heard nothing that stood out. The gossip from the temple could have originated from here but, if it did, it had not inundated the village to that same degree.
The meinreiki, the tanuki, and that damn reporter were nowhere to be seen, either. So, without much further thought, I strolled around the village, listening close to those nearby for…
There. I found a small group of young men, clustered around a newspaper. Between the snippets of desires in their heads and a few fragments of their conversation, I pieced together…
“A religious coup, two disparate leaders join forces to take over Gensokyo” …roughly.
Me, joining forces with her? Well, I guess I’d already cooperated with her before, but like this?
I would never stoop so… I would rarely stoop so low.
I strode quickly away. The attention-seeking story settled poorly with me, threatening my radiant reputation. This sort of thing was quite common in my time, of course. But it explained much of the reaction I’d gotten before and would prove a rather frustrating hurdle to overcome, at this rather delicate time. Following a few rogue desires to the source, I purchased a-
The young woman working the newspaper stand flinched when she saw me, but nonetheless accepted my money. Finding a quiet, shaded wall to rest against, I read its headline story.
“Taoism meets Buddhism in the Miss-”
It was a different title, meaning a different article and a different writer. That’s what mattered. I skimmed through it, finding a more salacious slant to it. One less certain of the motive, but rather less than… savory in the way it discussed our interactions. Apart from crude innuendos though, I found little of note, other than…
“While the devious leader’s motivation remains unclear, one thing is certain. Despite continued claims to the contrary, rumors abound of valuable treasures hidden inside the ship-turned-temple. Does this former prince seek to reclaim lost wealth?”
I groaned. Treasure? Why would anyone come to that…
I paused, glancing at my gilded wrists, then sighed and continued reading. This would further complicate any effort to fulfill Tojiko’s request. Skimming a little down, I found another interesting passage.
“The monk herself may seem less threatening but the possible benefits for her cannot be ignored. An anonymous source suggests that the wedding has already sown far more discord and confusion among the prince’s disciples than her own. Perhaps she foresaw this coming and intends to destroy her rival’s following from within.”
An anonymous source, huh? Did the writer make that up, or did I have more to worry about than I’d considered before? And what discord, precisely, did it refer to?
I really should have-
“Oh, oh, oh! Ms. Miko, hey! Remember me?”
I paused, looking up to find a giggling shrine maiden with a frog’s head and a snake in her hair.
Sanae, the Moriya Goddesses’ shrine maiden.
Green hair swaying, she settled to the wall beside me.
“I’m so sorry I couldn’t talk yesterday; we were so busy. So, how is it? Is she as cute as I think she is? What’s it like, being with her? How is she in-” She coughed. “I mean, does she, like, cook or something?”
She broadcasted very few desires subtle enough to even need my ears. She did hold a rather sensitive desire to uphold the image and honor of her goddesses, nestled close to her desire to make them proud.
I considered it a testament to my perception that I even heard those desires at all, under her relentless drive for…
“If you’re worried about how weird that wedding was, I’m sure everyone would understand if you redid it. And, you know, our shrine would be a great middle ground and…”
I raised a hand. She piped down. I stared her in the eyes.
“I wouldn’t dare commit to such a thing without my husb-”
“Husband?” Sanae breathed in. “So then, that means you’re the wife, right?”
I nodded, perplexed. Why did she care?
“Do you… no. Sorry, I shouldn’t ask about that.” She fidgeted, glancing between me, the people around us, and the sky.
I stood upright, thinking. Despite my nearly dismissive attitude back at the soba shop, the Moriya goddesses did have a lot to gain from our marriage. Though, listening again through Sanae’s desires, I caught only the faintest opportunistic urges from her. Given my experience so far, I very highly doubted she’d be involved.
While that still left her goddesses on the hook, I doubted I’d get much from her.
And shouldn’t she have been worried? She represented the chief competitor to our faiths.
But she may have been better informed of current affairs than I, and if her goddesses were innocent, then they’d have much to gain through cooperation. Pondering all of this, I chose to…
[ ] Invite her to a friendly meal. I’d see if I could get her to relax before probing further.
[ ] Press her for information. I needed to know more about the village and the mountain.
[ ] Flee to my village dojo. If the article was right, my disciples needed me.
Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/04/08 (Wed) 19:00
[x] Flee to my village dojo. If the article was right, my disciples needed me.
I glanced back her way. “Let’s talk another time.”
“What? But I just found you! What’s it like, marrying your rival? Do you still fight? Do those fights ever lead to passionate make-ou-I mean, make-up sessions? Does your daughter know about…”
“Another time, another time.”
I turned and walked away, back toward my substitute dojo. It took a while, but eventually her urge to learn more of my intimate affairs had faded into the background noise of the village. Taking a few turns, I finally reached the humble building in the village interior. A single floor, one-room structure made of average wood and only barely masterful craftsmanship.
The only indication of its function was a couple banners with brilliant, golden yin-yang symbols on them, flanking the door. Even those, however, were far from unambiguous here.
I stopped just outside the closed door. Judging by the hearts I heard inside, it was only a small gathering. Maybe a dozen people. All of them wanted to know my intentions with Byakuren, but their hopes varied. Clearing my throat and straightening my shoulders, I threw the doors open and strode inside.
My sandals tapped across the polished wood floor as I passed between them. Some kneeled in meditation, others sat or lounged, having chatted with their neighbors only moments before. None one here could be more than middle-aged. No obvious signs of disguise, nor ill-intentioned desires.
No ill desires toward me or my message, anyway.
Though invisible to the common eye, their desires did hint at distinct factions that mingled mostly among themselves. The seeds of division had been sewn, but they’d be no match for my wisdom, nor my leadership. They all shifted, sitting in quiet awe as I walked between them. Awe and a little confusion. They wanted to know why I’d chosen to appear and, more importantly, what I’d come to ask of them.
…Perhaps I’d allowed my less experienced disciples to wallow without my wisdom for too long, if my appearance surprised them so much. Striding to the back of the room, I turned on my heel, dropped into a meditative kneel, set my shaku on my lap, and closed my eyes. Behind me hung a scroll bearing the first article of my constitution.
The youngest men, for the most part, hoped I’d win them treasures or fame. They hoped that by mere association, they might earn… “street cred.” Some silly teenage thing, no doubt. A couple of disciples had been thrown from their homes for choosing to follow me, and they hoped to see me mortify not only the Buddhists, but the gods of the mountain, the seasonal gods, even the god of the Hakurei.
That last one needed no help from me.
The more experienced disciples, and the few women, just hoped I’d reassure them. That all would blow over and return to a familiar, comfortable rhythm. …And a few of those hoped that my marriage would turn out well, that we’d show ourselves to be a model couple.
Apparently, this disease had spread beyond the Buddhist temple.
Slowly, I opened my eyes. I would not commit to any ill-fated religious aggression at this moment, but I could still offer reassurance.
I swept my gaze around the room once and cleared my throat. Sorting through the more precise needs, I settled my eyes on one of the youngest men. I paused to consider my words, then chose the most diplomatic way I could put it. “Yes. I am taken.”
He sighed. I turned to one of the women. Pretty green eyes, but too young for me, even were I not already doubly committed. Also, she wanted a cute boy, not I. “The village will remain safe, trust me.”
Then, I turned to what was probably the oldest man here. Early thirties, most likely. “Yes, I’ll still see to it that this dojo is taken care of.” Then, to another of the women. “No, I won’t cut my hair.”
“No, the doctrines and insights of Taoism won’t be corrupted by Buddhist thoughts. No, youkai will not attend these meetings, unless under our supervision. Yes, I’m feeling perfectly fine. No, I will not just divorce her.”
One by one, I addressed their various concerns, calming them.
“Of course, I’ll…” I paused. The disciples before me blinked. I’d already answered them all. The person I was about to answer was…
Just outside the building, hoping to hear more of what I had to say.
My brow twitched, but I let the eavesdropper be for now. That silly shrine maiden could hear every word I spoke here, for all I cared.
Meanwhile, the room held its metaphorical breath, still waiting for my message, it seemed. I exhaled, slowly. Then, I tapped the scroll behind me with my shaku. “I’ll remind you that harmony is to be cherished. To this end, I expect cooperation with Myouren Temple, where possible.” A low murmur swept through the crowd. “Relax. You’re not to bend over backwards for them. But if hostilities break out, I want the records to show that they initiated it, not us.”
The ‘elderly’ man mumbled. I sighed as his new desire floated my way.
“No, I have not seen Futo recently.” Did she visit them more often than I? Should I have been bothered if she did?
I continued, giving a few more responses before I decided I wanted to wrap up. My more common disciples felt better about me, but they also hoped I’d leave them with more than mere words. And to tell the truth, I kind of wanted to show off while I was here, too.
[ ] guided them through a special meditation session.
[ ] gave them pointers on Taoist alchemy.
[ ] offered to test their danmaku capabilities, just in case.
Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/04/21 (Tue) 19:00
[x] guided them through a special meditation session.
I clapped my hands. “Alright, while I’m here, let’s do some meditation!”
Most of the room held its breath, uncertain where I’d be taking them. “Trust me, trust me. This’ll be good. Now, backs straight, legs crossed. Let’s show those Buddhists how it’s done!”
One disciple raised a hand. I nodded.
“Um. We’re meditating, aren’t we?”
I chuckled again. “You must be new here.” He nodded. I rolled my shoulders, then leaned into the wall behind me. “Well then, you’re in for a treat.”
Folding my legs before me, I rested my hands on my knees. “Now, if you’re used to how the Buddhists do things, you’ll find the core forms very similar. The key difference will be in the mind, in where you direct your attention…”
Over the course of the next hour, I offered tips and guidance as I listened to the room’s desires fade into a hot, wild mush. A sort of giddy warmth suffused my own being as I basked in the sensation. A dozen or so people, all experiencing a hot bliss thanks to my expert hand. A bliss dissociated from their common assumptions and free to explore, but not entirely alien. Had I pushed them harder, I could have wringed far greater experiences from their psyches. Now just wasn’t the time for paradigm cracking revelations.
I needed predictability for now. Calm, cool heads. Not wild, uncertain passion.
Grunting, I pulled myself to my feet, straightened my skirt, and picked my shaku off the ground. Already, I felt a sense of eureka from a couple disciples. One who’d come up with a new way to present himself to his peers and prospective girlfriends. Another who’d rethought how to interpret the nature of reality itself. Time would tell if those discoveries bore fruit, either for myself or for them. For now, I had done my part. My disciples had calmed down and experienced the gift of unrestrained thought.
Feet tapping down the floor, I found the anomalous desire from before moving. Fleeing, really. I sighed and, sliding the door open, slipped outside.
A part of me wished to pursue it. To hound the eavesdropper and learn a bit more of her part in all this. But if she remained half as nosey as she was before, she’d find me again soon enough. I could wait until then. Tapping the shaku to my chin, I strolled aimlessly through the streets. The sun retained a respectable distance from the horizon, so I still had some time left.
A rumbling of my stomach made my next decision for me. A moment later, I found myself at a cozy little soba joint, ordering a-
“A Tempura Soba, prince?”
I paused, looking up to a familiar face framed in a smooth black mane.
He immediately set to work on preparing my dish and, in the absence of other, more important hearts to hear, I listened to his. He had a family, of course. Despite his otherwise smooth features, his heart already bore its fair share of wrinkles. Dashed dreams, stressful years, worry for his loved ones. All the usual human things. He wished he could treat his wife to an expensive hot-springs, or that he could better protect his s…
I groaned, pressing the earmuffs to my skull. The man had a good family. As he served me my dish, I hoped that family would turn out much better than mine had. As I fed on the warm, savory noodles, I glanced his way again, now noting a familiar pin on his suit. A yin-yang surrounded by a dharmachakra. Yellow and purple, just like the one from the past evening.
Swallowing the noodles in my mouth, I sighed. “Nice badge.”
He glanced down, then smiled, rubbing his arm. “Oh, this? Well, family’s real important to me, you know?”
I breathed out, quiet and slow. Yes. Yes, I knew. But wait, why did he… carefully, I listened to his heart again. He hoped that… that Kokoro’s parents would stay together, unlike someone else he knew. Kokoro’s parents. That wasn’t… she wasn’t… I wouldn’t…
I shook my head. No, I wouldn’t remain with Byakuren, but sticking closer to Kokoro… I very well might.
“It’s hardly a real family.”
He frowned, growing stern. “Then you should make it one. Kids need good role models and stable houses.”
“This isn’t your…” I caught myself, calming myself down with a couple breaths. “She’s a youkai.”
“So?” He stared me down.
I blinked, then I sighed, eating another few noodles as I collected my thoughts. “I mean that she doesn’t mature the way humans do. She’s been just fine without me and she’ll be just fine without me.”
“Oh. Well, you should still look after her, shouldn’t you?”
“I… I don’t know.” I sighed. Silence fell as I finished my meal. This may have been a good time to try to confront the one true shame of my past. But even if I did, it would be inappropriate to use another youkai, especially one with as proud a lineage as hers, as some sort of emotional proxy.
Either way, it would be an issue to address when I met her, not in conversation with a friendly stranger.
Setting the bowl down, I exchanged coin with the man and stood. Turning on my heel, I slipped out of the stand to wander back into the streets.
Striding back toward the gates I-
I heard a familiar, tangled cluster of desires. Faithful pride, a drive to be honored, to see peace, to reach a final release from suffering, to atone for past misdeeds, to uphold the strange new commitments she’d roped herself into, to achieve victory over me and my ideology, and…
And to enjoy my presence to its fullest.
I straightened my back as she approached, holding my shaku straight up, in front of my mouth. The light crowds parted as she made her way down the street, toward me.
She gave me this look. Something pensive, but with this upward twitch at the edges of her lips. Oh, I could work with th-
She slipped a hand around my right wrist and yanked, dragging me from my collected poise to follow her back toward the gate. I sputtered as I stumbled to keep up, then heard, for just a split-second, a quiet desire peeking out from the swarm. My lips cracked into a wide grin.
“Want to go again?”
She froze, then turned her cold gaze my way.
“We did nothing last night! A-a-and don’t you have someone you should be more…”
I sighed. Though uncertain myself, I suspected she’d been mostly correct. On both fronts.
Still, my affairs were my own, marriage or no. “Leave that business to me, darling.”
She sighed. “Very well.” She then pulled me close, pressing me up against the side of a very soft chest. “Now, let us make up for the time we’ve spent apart.” Under her breath, she continued. “For, for appearances’ sake.”
I suppressed a snicker. The grand Buddhist had just lied, both to herself and to me. Though I suspected there’d be more to her sudden interest than just me, it had proven quite fun to see.
But… what would we do? We had no pre-arranged event to attend this time and our mutual interests still barely touched.
[ ] Another party! But more intimate this time, just our close friends and allies.
[ ] A stroll somewhere exotic. We could compare our philosophies and spells.
[ ] Another danmaku match to decide where we’d sleep this time.
Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/05/04 (Mon) 19:00