[Return]  [Bottom[Last Update]
Posting mode: Reply
(Reply to 42837)
  • First time posting? Check out our site rules and FAQ.
  • Supported file types are: GIF, JPG, PNG, WEBM.
  • Maximum file size allowed is 4096 KB.
  • Images greater than 200x200 pixels will be thumbnailed.
  • View catalog
Show or hide post box

 ►
Hide Thread
Watch Thread
Expand All Images
File 158949140140.jpg - (158.09KB, 800x600, mountainpeak.jpg) [iqdb]
42837
Thread 1: >>41094
Thread 2: >>41628

[x] A stroll somewhere exotic. We could compare our philosophies and spells.

“Perhaps a trip to some dark, mysterious forest?”

“A dark forest, really?”

I pulled away from her. Clasping my hands behind my back, I strolled toward the gate. “Why? Are you afraid I’ll do anything… inappropriate?”

“What? Why would I even think that?”

Still clasping my hands, I shrugged. “Why, indeed?”

And yet, after a few steps, she fell in line beside me. “Surely, there’s somewhere better we can go.”

“Hm.” I chuckled. “Why yes, I think I know just the place.”

“Oh? Where is that?”

“Let’s allow it to be my little surprise, darling.”

She pouted. “Very well.”

Waiting barely until we left the gate, I unhooked my hands, grabbed one of hers, and dragged her toward the lightning-singed tree I’d come from. With a hop and skip, we’d returned to the infinite void and, from there, come out from another damaged tree, this time by a coarse dirt pathway, winding in switchbacks up a mountain face.

She frowned. “A dark forest on a mountain. Your wisdom impresses me, dear.”

“Oh, hush. You’ll see its beauty soon enough.” I offered her my elbow. She glanced at it, a mask of uncertainty flickering across her face before she shook her head and linked her arm with mine. Together, we began a trek up the mountainside.

I breathed in the thin but crisp, mountain air, feeling its chill touch on my skin. “So, how was your temple today.”

She sighed. “For some mysterious reason, your presence has them rattled. Perhaps we should spend our nights at your place, instead.”

I gasped in mock shock. “Why, you’re not trying to kick me out, are you?”

“Oh dear, no. Why, I believe you had to lose to accept sleeping under our roof. You wouldn’t already be seeking to return to it, would you?”

I shook my head, still striding up the steep, winding road. “Of course not. I would just hate to think I’d become unwanted.”

Her eyes narrowed at my banter, but she said nothing. And as it happened, I had no interest in further elaborating anything. And so, we walked, passing free of the trees as we reached a small, rocky ledge, not far from the mountain peak. The trail turned from dirt to rock as we continued, stepping into the open, where a vast expanse of trees laid far, far below us. A faint, multicolored shimmer ran through the air.

The sunlight had faded, growing just a hint bluer as it did so.

Slipping my arm out, I stepped forward and turned around. Grinning, I stared back at Byakuren. “So, darling, what do you think?”

She stood, sweeping her head across, to the side, as she took in the view. “What… is it?”

“The barrier, or so I hear. One of its impassible segments.”

She tilted her head just slightly, in contemplation. “I’m quite sure this is not what lies on the other side.”

I shrugged, tapping my shaku. “Reality is full of illusions. This may well be one of them.”

“Perhaps, but…” She brought a hand to her chin, rubbing it. “This would be a good place to meditate, to ponder such things.”

I approached her, stepping up to the ledge. “Now you see the beauty. Mysterious environments like this make excellent places to seek understanding of the fundamental nature of reality. To become one with the primordial force that drives us.”

She huffed. “True understanding would separate us from such base needs, not bind us closer to them.”

I waggled a finger in the air. “What if one doesn’t want to separate from them?”

She shook her head. “Then they would remain chained to the endless cycle of suffering, until they learned the truth.”

I planted a hand on her shoulder. “How sure are you that it is the truth?”

She then turned to face me, expression firm. “What else would be the truth? Do you not wish an end to suffering?”

I shook my head, stepping back on the path. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“You… don’t know?”

I placed my shaku to my chest and stepped forward, away from her. “I want to achieve. To continue to create, to change, and become something better, more glorious. What would that mean, without at least a little struggle?”

She stepped up beside me, muttering something about a conflict with my habits before clearing her throat. “What achievement could be better than nirvana? Better than the end of all suffering and the ultimate understanding of life?”

I shrugged and started walking forward. “One that doesn’t end there but instead keeps going. The greatest achievement is the one you never reach, because each one tops the one before.”

She giggled. “You know, you could’ve been a great Zen teacher.”

I snickered. “You should’ve seen me when I still preached your faith.”

At that, she paused. “I think it’s for the best I didn’t. I’ve been betrayed enough already.”

I sighed, glancing toward the mountain peak, now so very close. “So have I.” I then grabbed her arm and marched forward. “How about we do some of that meditation, eh?”

She hesitated, then let me lead her up through the last few bends, to the rocky summit. It was round but coarse, leaning out in the opposite direction from what we’d seen, toward Gensokyo. Maybe five people could’ve fit here, sitting back-to-back-to-back.

We both settled down, facing the same direction it did, staring out over the village, fields, forests, and other mountains. We breathed in deep, what little air made it to us this high up. We sat in silence a few moments, hearing only our breathing, interrupted by the occasional bird cry.

Byakuren broke the silence first. “You know, the temple has a big festival coming up in a week or so. Perhaps it would be a good idea for you to help us out.”

I blinked. “Me, help prepare a Buddhist party?” Where was that eagerness to spend our time?

“It’s not a party!” She breathed in, desires cooling. “It would be an excellent way to convey our cooperation and to endear you to the temple, would it not?”

I hummed, listening to her heart. She was troubled. She feared sabotage from inside her temple, but also worried about letting me too close to her more sacred rooms or rituals. She did want to spend the festival with me, though.

Likely for more reasons than one, though.

And above all that, she seemed less interested in what I answered with, so much as why.

She wanted to know more about me.

I rubbed my shaku. “That seems a lot of work. What would I gain from it?”

She groaned. “This would be a chance to show charity and industry, Miko. Would it bother you so much to do so out of the kindness of your heart?”

I chuckled. “I think my charity would be better spent on my disciples first. I daresay they’re in greater need than yours.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Very well. What do you have in mind?”

I tapped the shaku to my chin, thinking. I…

[ ] I wanted to learn some of her magic.

[ ] I wanted to see how she handled Taoist meditation.

[ ] I expected assistance with the next festival my dojo hosted.

[ ] I’d offer HER a favor to keep me out of it.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/05/18 (Mon) 19:00

[X] I wanted to see how she handled Taoist meditation.

Give the byaku lewd thoughts
[x] I wanted to see how she handled Taoist meditation.

I maintain what I say. Giving up on desires is an ideal, but so is achieving our every desire. Is there a middle ground?
[X] I wanted to see how she handled Taoist meditation.
[X] I wanted to see how she handled Taoist meditation.
[x] I wanted to learn some of her magic.

Just how does she color her hair like that?
[X] I wanted to learn some of her magic.

No no teach us that gold glowey spell she uses. I wish to be grossly incandescent.
[x] I wanted to see how she handled Taoist meditation.
free us from physical addictions
File 159071705169.jpg - (226.56KB, 800x527, colorfulripple.jpg) [iqdb]
42853
[x] I wanted to see how she handled Taoist meditation.

I smiled, sparing her a sideways glance. “Asking me to devote precious time and energy to the festival of another faith? How audacious, Byakuren!”

She snorted. “Can you not bear to lend a hand to your wife’s endeavors?”

I snickered. “But of course, of course, I’ll help. I just need a little show of… faith, first.”

She settled her hands in her lap. “Well then, you’ve come to the right place, haven’t you?”

“Oh, have I?”

She closed her eyes. “I certainly have more faith to spare than you, I imagine.”

“We’ll see.” I hummed, rocking back and forth. “I want to do some meditation with you, first.”

She blinked. “Meditation? That’s all?”

I grinned. “Just that. But we do it my way, not yours.”

“Oh.”

She held still. I waited a moment, breathing in the thin air as I watched the sun hover ever closer to the far mountains. Finally, she shook her head. “Your form pushes you toward pleasure and excitement, does it not?”

“It pushes us toward liberation and discovery. But those are common side-effects.”

“Then, I cannot. It would bring me closer to the base desires we must escape from.”

“Oh?” I gave her a sly grin. “You want me to show some solidarity with your faith, but you’re unwilling to do the same?”

She glanced away. “This is completely different! Offering a hand for a festival is nothing compared to this!”

“But how will my disciples see it if I help? You don’t think it could cause them confusion? That it may make them stumble in their life journey?”

She sighed. “Then, then I retract the request.”

I shook my head. “My wife is unwilling to follow me in even the simplest of my rituals. How tragic…”

She held quiet a moment longer. “You play dirty, Miko.”

“Oh ho? You don’t?”

She pulled her back straight, interlacing her fingers as she stared out over Gensokyo, pointedly looking away from me. “I expect your aid in our festival, Miko.”

“Sure, sure.”

We sat there a moment before she cleared her throat. “So… how do you begin this thing your way?”

I smiled, leaning back as I settled my hands on my knees. “Much the same way you do. Calm yourself, close your eyes, let go of outside worries.”

As she closed her eyes, mine followed. “Breathe in and out. Think of it, focus on it. In, then out, then hold. In, then out, then hold.”

As with the others before her, her desires calmed, growing slowly less intense, more still. In and out we breathed, in and out.

In and out, in and out.

Once our consciousnesses had dipped low enough, I spoke again, slow and calm.

“Now, think of what you want. Focus on it, grasp it.”

I heard a minute shuffle beside me.

“Of… what I want?”

“What you desire. Think on it. Not on how to reach it. Think only of the desire itself. Become the-”

She shuffled again, rising back up in a heartbeat. “No. I can’t.”

I groaned, slowly opening my eyes. I watched her shake her head and start to stand. I sighed.

“Giving up already?”

“Desires are precisely what make us suffer! You can’t insist that I dwell on them.”

I frowned. “An odd thing to say, given your beauty.”

I couldn’t help a snicker at the rush of hot embarrassed confusion that ignited. “What does that have to do with anything!”

“You control your appearance, do you not?”

“That’s-” She sighed, settling back down. “Perhaps I should ask you of all your efforts to lead and control. Do those really seem…” She shook her head. “What’s done is done. It would be a waste of effort to return to my previous state.”

I rolled my eyes, earning a sour look from her. “Of course, it would. Now, just give it one attempt, will you? Who knows, maybe you’ll learn how to finally cure yourself of them.”

“…Very well.”

I nodded, chiding myself for my outburst as I closed my eyes again. I breathed in, then out, then held my breath for a split-second. In, then out, then hold. In, then out, then hold.

The tranquility from before returned, though Byakuren came down far, far slower than I did. It seemed her awareness of where we’d arrive had clung to her psyche hard.

I spoke slowly, quietly. “Relax. Focus on the breathing. No future. No past. Just the moment.”

Slowly, shakily, she calmed to the needed point.

“Good. Good.” I exhaled. “Now, think. What do you most desire?”

“I… don’t know.”

“It’s okay. Don’t rush. Just let it come.”

Time passed. We held still and calm. But nothing came.

I sighed, slow and shallow. “What’s one thing you desire?”

“Transcendence.”

“Then, think on that. Imagine yourself, transcendent.”

We held still another moment, then I heard a bubbling up of-

“Ahahaha!” Byakuren broke out into raw, warm laughter.

My eyes fluttered open to behold a darkening sky. “Excuse me, but what the hell?”

She shook her head, shoulders quaking as she rubbed tears from her eyes.

“Imagine myself, transcendent? That’s just so, so…”

She broke off into a giggling fit.

I sat there, somewhat stunned as I waited for her to calm down. Finally, she did. Breathing hard, she pulled herself to her feet. “Well, I gave it my all! Time to go home.”

Disgruntled, I stood as well. The sun graced us a brilliant orange halo, burning against the violet sky, as it dipped past the mountains. “I’m to help you prepare a full festival, for that paltry effort?”

She huffed. “Really, it took great sacrifice on my part just to get this far.”

“Fine, fine. We’ll try again later.”

She flinched. “You’re awfully insistent.”

“I’m sorry, darling, but I won’t give you this for free.”

“So stubborn. So, how has your temple been today, dear?”

I shrugged, turning back toward the path. “They’ve adapted remarkably well. Why, I daresay that by tomorrow, all will be back to normal.”

Whether or not they’d remain so obedient remained to be seen, but she didn’t need to know that.

She huffed, stepping up beside me. “We’ll see. Now…” she paused, looking around, “perhaps we should head back. Just a little trip to make sure they’re not doing anything hasty. Together.”

I rocked my head from side to side. She wanted to stay a little longer, but also preferred not to continue this ‘meditation’ tonight. I could push her, but I preferred not to. It would be unbecoming for a representative of our path to defy it to the end of educating someone in it. Bringing up the topic of our disciples did also reignite a small worry in her, tugging her back to that temple again.

Still, I’d picked up an idea or two from this. Perhaps there’d be some things we could learn from one another, if we discussed our philosophies in greater detail. And of course, I had yet to show her any of my own domain. I could attempt to impress her with it, or I could keep her away from it, making things easier on both my future self and on Tojiko.

But if she wanted to make the most out of our time together, then, well…

[ ] I asked a few more questions of her take on Buddhist philosophy.

[ ] I made some grand romantic gesture, planning to bring her in for a kiss under the setting sun.

[ ] I suggested we return to her temple, finishing our ‘date’ in one of her chambers.

[ ] I invited her back to Senkai, planning to sweep her off her feet. I’d keep her out of anywhere sensitive, of course.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/06/01 (Mon) 19:00

[X] I suggested we return to her temple, finishing our ‘date’ in one of her chambers.

Time for [X]Route Stuff
[x] I suggested we return to her temple, finishing our ‘date’ in one of her chambers.

No need for overt romantic gestures or to push too much on religion. Just enjoy each other's company.
[X] I suggested we return to her temple, finishing our ‘date’ in one of her chambers.
[x] I invited her back to Senkai, planning to sweep her off her feet. I’d keep her out of anywhere sensitive, of course.

Byakuren's followers are incredibly distracting. Lets go somewhere where we have a bit more control.
[X] I suggested we return to her temple, finishing our ‘date’ in one of her chambers.

Time for lewd?
[X] I suggested we return to her temple, finishing our ‘date’ in one of her chambers.

Time for lewd?
File 159235126464.jpg - (478.86KB, 563x788, leaderchat.jpg) [iqdb]
42871
[x] I suggested we return to her temple, finishing our ‘date’ in one of her chambers.

“You’re right. Let’s go back together.”

I took her arm and walked back down the mountain path. “So, what has you so worried, anyway?”

She held firm, barely allowing herself to lean into my body. “If it turns out to matter, then you’ll see when we return.”

It was something she didn’t want to admit to, at least publicly, but… she quite wished her followers were less rambunctious.

Not surprising, but intriguing. Did they have some prank in mind? Something that would cause us trouble or embarrass her?

Sighing, I let her cling to my side as we returned through to the damaged tree. With a quick step in and out, we found ourselves just outside the steps to her temple.

She parted from me. “You have rather easy access to our sacred grounds, don’t you?”

I sidled up close beside her. “You’re not worried now, are you?”

She turned her head. “Of course not!”

She didn’t resist when I slid an arm around her waist, though. Shaking her head, she pulled me forward.

Together, we walked back up those stairs, toward the calming swarm of desires that mingled among her temple. Faint traces of concern and suspicious lingered, but something else had appeared. Something too confused by the swarm to identify, but whatever it was, it was mischievous.

I’d keep an eye on this, but I needed to know more before I had anything to act on.

As we stepped through the double doors, I rubbed up against Byakuren’s side. She stiffened, but also fought down a rather blatant desire to pull me closer. A sinister grin crept across my face as she guided me down the hall.

“Well, if you must spend your time here, I suppose I should show you where everything-”

I rested my head on her shoulder. A tiny ‘eep’ escaped her throat.

“You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you?”

I snickered. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, darling~”

“Really, you shouldn’t…”

The faintest sound of chopsticks on tableware floated through the quiet, dim halls.

“Perhaps we should have a quiet, intimate meal ourselves, darling.”

She huffed, though with a pronounced note of hesitance to her voice. “You shouldn’t put it that way. People might… misunderstand.”

“Oh? What would they find so confusing?”

I felt a light but insistent thump to my side. “This way, dear.”

She dragged me down the hall, to a modest room of counters, a wooden stove, and a wash basin.

“This is our kitchen. It does the soul good to prepare food for someone else.”

“Oh, do you want a freshly-cooked meal from your wife?”

“Th-n-yo…” She stammered, then dragged me back out of the room. I didn’t need my ears to know she’d desperately sought a change of topic. She led me next to the dining hall, then to the chamber where I’d interrupted her group meditation or chanting… thing.

“Here I teach my disciples what I can of the Buddha’s wisdom. Our sacred principles and rules, our mantras, and, when needed, how to treat one another.”

“Perhaps you should tell me then, just how should a husband and wife treat one an-”

“Miko!”

I paused, untangling myself and pulling a half-step away.

She panted, breathing hard. “There you go again.”

I shrugged, offering a soft smile. “You committed to such things yourself, did you not? First at the shrine, then in your basement. Will you run from this again?”

“Desire binds us, keeps us suffering. I, I, I… I thought I could control it, but…”

I paused a moment, listening to her soul. She feared… release? I had to wait a moment, processing that thought, to realize what it meant.

“But this is all too much of what you want.”

She sighed, slumping. “Yes.”

I clicked my tongue, grasping my shaku at both ends and holding it against my thighs. “Remember what I said earlier? Consider this a study session. Dive into those desires. See what they look like from the inside. Once you do, perhaps you’ll better understand how to suppress them.”

“It’s not enough to suppress desires, Miko. One must abandon them.”

“And how long have you been attempting just that?”

She leveled a rather flat look my way. “How many cycles do you think the average soul goes through before they finally achieve enlightenment?”

I shrugged. “A long time, I imagine. But if you haven’t succeeded yet, perhaps it’s time to try another approach? Study them much closer to learn how they cling. And from that, how to let go. It’s not impossible to be both a good Buddhist and a good partner, is it?”

She sighed, long and heavy. “No. But such bonds will hold one back.”

“Then take a step back to move forward.”

She let out a tiny smirk. “I’m starting to wonder if you’d be a better Buddhist than a Taoist.”

I shook my head. “Please. That’s a cornerstone of the Tao. Don’t fight the universe, move with it, like a wave. Let what comes, come. Make it your own.”

She hummed. “Are you sure you wish to impart this advice?”

I opened my mouth, then paused. It was time that I committed to just how I wanted this relationship to go. What it was that I’d attempt to achieve over the course of our time together. Would I try to impress her disciples, leave with them the seeds of my own ideology, or to learn something of Byakuren’s own tricks?

I drummed my fingers over my shaku, slowly raising it over my mouth. “Does something worry you, my darling?”

She clasped her hands. “Oh, it’s nothing. It’s just… I’ve already committed to some compromise, to make this work. It’s not the faith itself that holds me back this time, but…”

But the fear that, after holding back for so long, she’d dive too deep.

I hummed, considering her worry, but also my own needs. Now wasn’t the time to commit to one path or another, but long past time to start moving forward. So, naturally…

[ ] I assured her it all would be fine. I’d be quick to help, but in my own style.

[ ] I dragged her somewhere more private, where I’d suggest she follow her heart. Getting properly close to Byakuren would be the key to any future efforts.

[ ] I decided to ask what our not-so-subtle audience thought. Perhaps I’d even go full ‘Administrator’ while I was at it.

[ ] Having second thoughts, I changed the topic to asking about this festival of hers. Perhaps it would do her some good to think it over.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/06/20 (Sat) 18:00

[X] I dragged her somewhere more private, where I’d suggest she follow her heart. Getting properly close to Byakuren would be the key to any future efforts.
[X] I dragged her somewhere more private, where I’d suggest she follow her heart. Getting properly close to Byakuren would be the key to any future efforts.
[X] I dragged her somewhere more private, where I’d suggest she follow her heart. Getting properly close to Byakuren would be the key to any future efforts.
File 159269944627.png - (2.06MB, 1000x800, __hijiri_byakuren_touhou_drawn_by_tadano_shiroko__.png) [iqdb]
42875
[x] I dragged her somewhere more private, where I’d suggest she follow her heart. Getting properly close to Byakuren would be the key to any future efforts.

All in
File 159364189385.png - (752.97KB, 900x830, hijimiko sly.png) [iqdb]
42894
[x] I dragged her somewhere more private, where I’d suggest she follow her heart. Getting properly close to Byakuren would be the key to any future efforts.

I extended my free hand to her shoulder, offering a confident grin. “Let’s save this discussion for a later time, shall we?”

She blinked, frowning.

Holding my shaku out toward the wall, I lifted the hand from her shoulder to tap my earmuffs. I raised my voice, just slightly. “I’d rather save such advice for a more… private setting.”

She glanced to my hand, then my ears, then she shook her head, blushing. “No, we shouldn’t! But, well…” She clasped my hand and marched back into the halls.

A wave of surprise rolled through the temple as she hurried me along. Surprise, deepening concern, and a few pockets of delight. Pesky interlo-

“Wha-hey!” I stumbled after her. “You can’t keep dragging me around like this!”

“What?” She turned around, glancing down at her hand. “Oh, my apologies.” She let go, then returned to marching down the halls, turning up a flight of stairs. “This way.” She marched forward at a rather frantic pace, forcing me to work rather hard to keep up.

Sweating, I kept catching snippets of the temple as I jogged up to her side. Worry that I’d steal something, embarrass them, or even kidnap unwary disciples. All of them misconceptions in need of correction. I’d have a lot of work tomorrow, but for now-

Byakuren slid a door open, revealing the room we’d crashed in last night. She ushered me in but kept herself by the door. She offered an apologetic smile.

“Give me a moment, would you?”

“S…”

She was already gone, slamming the door shut.

I shuddered, feeling a pang of sympathy for her temple. How do you slam a sliding door shut?

I leaned back, grumbling. She’d gotten far too cozy taking the lead. I’d need to do something about that soon.

I sighed and took a moment to listen and ponder. The desires had moved, slightly, in my general direction. But those disciples kept far more distance from this room than they had the worship room. Did they have business to attend to? Unlikely, given their fixation on us. At most, they may have had to look busy.

More likely, Byakuren had impressed on them to keep their distance. Her, or someone of similar status here. But when and why? Was it just yesterday, to help ensure our little game worked? Or did she set this up earlier?

Did a high-ranking disciple worry about how this would reflect on them? Did Byakuren have something to hide from her followers?

I shook my head. Of course, she had secrets. More precisely, did she hide something here from her followers?

If so, the temple’s suspicion toward me could cause her grief too. I doubted it would be anything beyond her capabilities, but perhaps it would lead to something amusing to see.

Wait. The temple suspected me of wanting to steal something. Just how would I fulfill Tojiko’s request under such an atmosphere? I groaned, perhaps-

The door slid back open and Byakuren waltzed inside, carrying a couple cups of warm, steaming tea, which she set down in the middle of the relatively small room. She kneeled behind them, carefully folding her legs and setting her hands on her knees. She leveled her eyes up toward me.

She blushed, the faintest twitches plaguing her shoulders and arms.

The sheer severity she approached this all with took me aback. She both feared and desired my final comments. I shook my head, grinning. I sat down before her, crossing my legs. After setting the shaku in my lap, I, too, planted my hands on my knees, but then I leaned back, rolling my neck before staring back at her. Those tremors had grown just slightly in the intervening seconds.

I almost snickered at the sight. Instead, I cleared my throat.

“Follow your heart.”

She blinked, face flat.

“That’s… it?”

Hands still on my knees, I shrugged. “That’s it.” I put on my most winning smile. “You’ve done your thinking. Now it’s time to trust yourself. Trust where your gut leads you.”

Byakuren’s chest lifted, then deflated alongside a particularly hefty sigh.

“Then I shall hold you and your religion responsible if this goes poorly.”

“Sure, sure.”

She grabbed a cup and, closing her eyes, lifted it toward her lips. “Follow my heart? Now, just where does it lead?”

I blinked, grabbing the other cup. “You d-”

“Well, right now…” She took a long sip. “Though it pains me to say it, I may, may…” She paused, taking a deep breath. “I want to better understand last night. What I felt, what drove me to do what I did.”

I took a sip, myself. A somewhat bland tea, but with just a hint of earthiness to it. A simple, rustic flavor.

She set the cup down, beside her. Then, leaning forward, she planted her hands on my thighs. I blinked, setting my own cup down. She scooted forward, sliding her hands up my arms and around my back. Then, in a flash, she pulled me into a vice-like bear hug, squeezing me against her soft, curvaceous body.

I wheezed, feeling the hard, rigid angles of my shaku pressing into both our guts. “D-don’t tell me your really in love, now.”

She sighed. “Oh, shush. You know what I’m feeling, don’t you?”

…Yes, I did. Much the same things she’d felt last night. I suppose it made sense, that my company would be so intense she’d not yet come to terms with it. I shuddered to imagine what she’d have done had we, well…

We didn’t, right? Probably. We probably didn’t.

Slowly, the pressure eased and, as it did, I wrapped my own arms around her back. “Want to talk about it?”

She shook her head, nuzzling it into my neck. “No. I want to let it out, so I can return to my journey, and to setting a proper example for my disciples.”

“You got it.” I smiled, patting her back. “There, there. Cry into your wife’s shoulder.”

She groaned. “You’re not helping.” Her hands rubbed my back. “Besides, sometimes I think you should be the one sharing your pains with me. But it’s too soon for either of us to trust each other so, isn’t it?”

I chuckled. “Of course, it is.”

Slowly, I relaxed into her embrace.

Until she kissed my neck. Blushing, I…

The hell?

Sure, she wanted intimacy, but this? There wasn’t even any booze here. How did…

Her grip tightened again. “By the way, you’ve seen quite a bit of my temple by now, haven’t you?”

What? Where did that… She hid something underneath her need for contact, didn’t she?

“Your disciples should have a chance to see their leader’s wife, shouldn’t they?”

I groaned. “Tonight?”

She shook her head, her chest pushing and receding from mine. “First thing tomorrow.”

I sighed. That was going to happen eventually, I supposed. But I preferred not to worry about it tonight. So, before answering her, I…

[ ] Pulled her in for a proper kiss.

[ ] Slipped into Senkai to get some things and clear my head.

[ ] Asked her why her disciples avoided this room.

[ ] Sat back and waited to see where she’d take things.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/07/05 (Sun) 18:00

[x] Pulled her in for a proper kiss.

Can hear everyone's desires but not her own uh?
[x] Pulled her in for a proper kiss.
[X] Slipped into Senkai to get some things and clear my head.
[X] Sat back and waited to see where she’d take things.
[x] Asked her why her disciples avoided this room.

Can we really expect privacy anywhere in this overcrowded temple? Pretty sure we made our own entire realm to escape this kind of thing.
File 159590061326.jpg - (273.88KB, 759x939, gentlekiss.jpg) [iqdb]
42922
[x] Pulled her in for a proper kiss.

I slid my hands up her back, to nestle in her rather full, silky hair. My heart beat harder than before. Without alcohol, without the mood of noise and revelry, was I really going to do this?

I snorted. Of course, I was. It would be… easier to play my role, if it continued even behind closed doors.

Parting my lips, I pulled her head close. She closed her eyes, not puckering her lips or anything. Just smiling. I felt her breath waft over me.

Slowly, I pressed my lips to hers.

At first, she responded only with some quiet, cocky huff of her own. Then I felt a tongue pressed to my lips.

I blinked. As much as I would have loved to truly taste her, I disliked the thought of letting her take the lead here, of all places.

And yet, her challenge demanded my answer.

So, as I parted my lips for her, letting her tongue slide in, I pushed it back with my own. She resisted, but I knocked hers aside to explore her mouth.

Warm tingles traveled across my body at the sensation. While it would take far more than a kiss to truly turn me on, I couldn’t deny the quiet pleasure of this-

Her hands wandered across my back, one sliding up to keep my head pressed tight to hers. I answered in kind, even as her tongue pressed itself to mine, pushing it back. She dared contest me?

Grunting in defiance, I fought back, rolling my head as…

Her spare hand wandered down, then grabbed my butt.

I squeaked, surprised. I pressed myself forward, into her, until she fell to her back.

Well, more drifted onto it.

In retaliation, I wrapped a hand around one of her rather full breasts. The surprise came when I gave her a good squeeze. She squealed. Squealed.

And I had to admit it. Her breast… felt nice.

Shaking, I pulled back, lifting my face off her. My shaku fell out from between us, thumping into the ground below. She stared up at me, pink and grinning.

“You’re a powerful temptress, Miko.”

“Wh­-temptress?” I stared back, stunned.

She ran a hand along my forehead, nudging my bangs aside. “If you’re not careful, I may find it hard to… end our union when the time comes.”

I huffed, glancing away. “You’d be a terrible Buddhist if you still clung to it, wouldn’t you?”

She chuckled, then tutted. “But I’m afraid I must take all of this seriously, now.”

I shifted my weight, gulping at the sensation filling my hand.

She continued. “We are married, dear. What I really desire right now is to dive in. To know, to feel what it’s like to be not only a wife, but your wife.”

I swallowed, refusing to display any surprise. Whatever she felt now, she would still separate when the deal ran its course. Surely, she would.

She grasped my cheeks, pulling my gaze to hers. She frowned, sighing. “I’ll follow all of your advice for now. But in return, surely the least you could do is tell me how, specifically, you truly feel.” She smiled. “Tell me what this marriage is to you, really.”

Still feeling her breath, one hand still on her breast, I held my face neutral. “I really want that favor.”

“That’s not what I meant, Miko.”

“I think I’ll have her advertise my dojo. I bet if I put her in something really eye-catching, she could…”

“Miko…”

I shrugged. “That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? To win favors with the Hakurei?”

“You know very well that’s not what I’m asking.”

“Fine, fine.” I leaned closer. “Then please, accept this as my answer.”

I planted another kiss on her lips. She frowned.

“We already did that.”

I kissed her again, dragging it out this time. She hummed until we parted.

“You know that’s not what I’m looking for.”

I sighed. Indeed. Of all her desires, I found far more of them centered around me than I should have. But above all, she sought certainty that, wherever this weird… thing went, I’d be available to-

She dragged me back down and pulled her arms tight around me once more. Pressing my head into her shoulder, she laid back, wrapping her legs around me. She hummed, smiling.

She really did want that contact, it seemed. I closed my eyes, listening close to her heart as she rocked from side to side. I heard a vague sense of age to this desire, perhaps a few weeks? A month or two? Either way, she cared how long she’d felt it. It didn’t spring up the past couple days, nor had it lingered for years.

I felt little direction to it, suggesting I was merely a convenient outlet. That explained some things, but as to why she singled me out earlier, that must’ve been from another…

I gasped as she gave me another tight squeeze, before easing up again. She sighed.

“Tell me, Miko. Do you think we’ve done everything we could?”

I narrowed my eyes, listening for those other desires. Why did she ask that?

Close contact, atone for misdeeds, be a good Buddhist… none of that explained the question. She squirmed slightly, starting to squeeze me again. Answer the question already! No, that wasn’t it…

Fulfill the role of…

Oh. She was still on about that marriage thing.

I chuckled. She eased her grip. I pulled myself up and rolled to the side, dropping myself beside her.

“Neither of us have had to have vomit or filth cleaned off the other. That’s a pretty important part of the full experience.”

She glanced at me, then stared up at the ceiling. “Hm…”

“But never mind that.” I cleared my throat, picked my shaku back off the floor. “What really matters for a marriage is that our families grow stronger through the connection. If your lands…”

I paused, blinking. She snickered.

I grunted. “Well, neither of us have families anymore, nor do we have lands in the usual sense. So, the point to our union would be…”

“Is that what you married Tojiko for?”

“Of course. As a favored daughter of the Soga clan, she was invaluable for…”

“A clan that no longer exists.”

“That’s…” I paused. That pesky fear of death bubbled back up to the surface of her heart.

She pulled herself up, turning around to face me. Slowly, she placed one hand on my shoulder and the other on the clasp for my cape.

“Forget that. Let’s focus on this one. We should make the most of our time together, so…”

I narrowed my eyes, setting the shaku back down as she unclasped my cape and set it aside.

“So, what should we try to get from this marriage? From each other.”

Her hands wandered down, to the buttons on my vest. I placed my hands on her wrists, looking her in the eyes.

Apart from any more sinister schemes, what I wanted was…

[ ] Whatever she had in mind right now seemed an excellent start.

[ ] A deeper understanding of Buddhist magic.

[ ] The experience of being closer to her and her faithful.

[ ] Perhaps to trade or study a few texts or relics between our temples.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/07/31 (Fri) 18:00

[X] Whatever she had in mind right now seemed an excellent start.
[X] Whatever she had in mind right now seemed an excellent start.
[x] Perhaps to trade or study a few texts or relics between our temples.

Can we at least pretend we aren't horny, here?
[x] The experience of being closer to her and her faithful.
Closer and closer.
[X] Whatever she had in mind right now seemed an excellent start.

Fucking yeet one option only
[X] Whatever she had in mind right now seemed an excellent start.
[x] Perhaps to trade or study a few texts or relics between our temples.

This is a religious building, no horny permitted.
File 159736177410.jpg - (479.87KB, 1000x1399, godivajiri.jpg) [iqdb]
42972
[x] Whatever she had in mind right now seemed an excellent start.

I held her hands a minute, staring into her eyes. “Finally diving in now, are you?”

She snorted. “Will you try to stop me?”

I shook my head, smiling as I let go. “Lead the way, oh wise sage~”

She pouted, but undid my buttons, one by one. “Good, then let’s continue.”

“Only if you show me how to undo all those ribbons on your dress…”

She paused, fingers poised halfway down my stomach. My vest laid half-open, exposing my plain, cotton bra. For nights like this, I normally wore… well, never mind that right now.

Those fingers still lingered, hovering over my last few buttons. I frowned up at her. “Oh? You expected to witness my gorgeous skin, but didn’t think to spare a me your own in return?”

She glanced down, to my bra. “That’s, that’s not very fu… I mean, you don’t need to, right?”

I planted a hand around her mouth, squeezing her cheeks and dragging her eyes back to my own flat gaze. “Show me, darling.”

She lifted an arm and snapped my hand away, then returned to my vest, undoing it entirely.

“Fine. Fine.” She reared back and started work on the front of her dress, undoing the straps one by one…

Piece by falling, piling piece, her soft, smooth skin grew bare. Wide, curving breasts soon came into view, barely restrained by their wrappings. But what really made me shiver, was what I heard. Whether she did so deliberately or not, her desires made it crystal clear what would follow.

I licked my lips in anticipation.

|--------------------|

Daylight streamed through the temple windows. A sight I’d likely grow used to before we were done. Slowly, I stirred. As I did, I felt naked flesh against mine. Warm, wide, and soft flesh. The body of a woman that…

I grunted, slipping a hand between my legs to rub a sore crotch. I shook my head, baffled at her ability to… No. Not my concern right now.

She’d draped one arm over my side, resting the other up against me, her fist curled near my chin. For my part, I’d rested one over her hips and the other between them. Her warm breath blew across my face.

I grunted, pulling myself-

The arm against my body snapped out, somehow slipping beneath me to join its sister in curling around my back, pressing me closer to her. I grunted, her arms pressing me tight against her naked breasts.

Slowly, her eyes fluttered open. She blinked. I stared down at her round, fat n…

I cleared my throat. Then she did. She stared into the distance, possibly to our door. I glanced up, through the window. I pushed against her, but she held tight.

Though her face burned red as she did so. Finally, she parted her lips, licking them once before daring to speak.

“We, we, we did… it.”

I groaned, dragging a hand down over her bare bubble butt.

“Yes, we,” I licked my own lips as it started to sink in, “did.”

She sighed. “Then, what now?”

I gave her butt a light slap, getting an embarrassed grunt from her. “Do you want to… go again?”

She shut her eyes, shaking her head. Then, slowly, she opened them back up. “I, I, I… I have a temple to run!”

“Good.” I rubbed her butt. “Then let’s get dressed.”

“Y-yes. Of course!” Finally, she… still held on.

“Um, darling, I need to…”

She sighed. “You still intend to end this, right?”

I rolled my eyes. “Yes, obviously. I go back to my dojo, you go return to being a boring, ascetic monk. Why?”

“What if… what if we shouldn’t? What if I shouldn’t?”

I shifted my legs, feeling the weight and texture of her thigh between mine as I did so. “Why? Will the Buddhist leader need me even after she has her favor?”

Now she shifted, that thigh wandering a little too close to my bare crotch. “My disciples… they barely listen to me. They eat meat, they drink, they start fights and, and…”

I slipped my hand up her side, rubbing her back. “Hey. Last time was when you got drunk. Don’t go spilling your heart to me now.”

The faintest hint of a pout crept into her face, before dissolving into a calmer, firmer gaze. “I can teach humans just fine, but… I just can’t seem to get through. Even worse, you…”

She slid a hand up to stroke my cheek, then pulled me in to a short but firm kiss.

As she pulled back, she smiled. Though it was a rather tense, frustrated smile.

“You may have been right last night. Perhaps, by truly feeling my deepest, most forbidden desires again, I can begin to understand what it is that drives them. And from there, finally get them to understand. Finally learn how to reach them.”

I shrugged, squirming. “You’re still convinced you can do it, huh?”

She huffed, her eyes dropping to the pillow. “They appreciate me, and they at least try to follow my guidance. If I could just get a little closer, if I could just understand what keeps them back…”

As far as I was concerned, they didn’t try. They-

Knock, knock.

We both froze, pulling the blanket tight around ourselves.

“Ms. Hijiri! We have a visitor. She wishes to see you.”

Her panicked eyes locked with mine. She wanted time to compose herself. Given she’d just done something nearly unthinkable for her position, I supposed I could sympathise.

I turned my head, breathing in. “Give us a moment, would you?”

“W-Miko? What are…”

Byakuren rubbed her scalp, lifting her head as well. “We’ll be there soon.”

“O-oh, understood, Ms. Hijiri.”

Footsteps scampered away. We looked at each-other another moment before languidly rolling out of the futon. I found my clothes lying in a rumbled but organized pile by the futon. I first grabbed the stylish black panties and shimmied them up my leg. I then grabbed my bra and pulled it on.

I needed a new set, but I couldn’t just start streaking. Once we’d wrapped up this business, I’d take a nice, relaxing bath…

As I pulled my vest over my shoulders, I glanced back to find Byakuren working the wrappings over her breasts. She still wanted time to think, but I’d already grown tired of a temple with no special accommodations for me. So, as I got myself dressed, I decided I would…

[ ] Let Byakuren deal with the visitor while I took a quick stop in Senkai to pick up things and see how some of my disciples were doing.

[ ] Dealt the visitor myself, leaving Byakuren to her thoughts.

[ ] Insisted we see the visitor together, dealing with her feelings later.

[ ] Grabbed Byakuren and ran away to Senkai, letting the temple handle this visitor themselves.
>As far as I was concerned, they didn’t try. They-


She's pissed on her behalf? Oh wow. I thought Miko was being a stubborn egotist but Byakuren IS getting through!

[x] Dealt the visitor myself, leaving Byakuren to her thoughts.
-[x] But only if she agrees to. Otherwise...
[x] Let Byakuren deal with the visitor while I took a quick stop in Senkai to pick up things and see how some of my disciples were doing.

Dealing with the visitor for her is cool and all but what if she doesn't want us to?
[x] Let Byakuren deal with the visitor while I took a quick stop in Senkai to pick up things and see how some of my disciples were doing.

The visitor is clearly for Byakuren, and it isn't our place. Besides, the sooner we beat the rumors of this tryst to Tojiko the less electrocuted we may get.
[x] Let Byakuren deal with the visitor while I took a quick stop in Senkai to pick up things and see how some of my disciples were doing.
Once more, I've taken way, way longer than I should've to let you all know anything, but for the record: computer troubles have come up, making it difficult for me to get any kind of writing done. It's not the only hurdle I've encountered in trying to write the next update, but it's definitely pushed me back a few days more than I normally would be.

Hopefully, I'm mostly done with it, but I can't say for certain if I am. Hopefully, I'm also mostly through the other issue. Either way, I'm sorry for leaving this so quiet for so long without any explanation as to why.
File 160071884421.png - (1.21MB, 1032x1457, concernedfuto.png) [iqdb]
43014
[x] Let Byakuren deal with the visitor while I took a quick stop in Senkai to pick up things and see how some of my disciples were doing.

Gathering up the rest of my clothes, I stepped toward a wall, feeling along it for…

Another twinge of worry flitted across Byakuren’s silly heart. I turned to give her a single, cheeky but sympathetic smile, then slipped through the wall.

That would be far from the first or the last concern her temple would face without my personal aid.

I slipped back out, directly to a secluded section of Senkai. A small, calm pool nestled into the smooth stones of my grounds, surrounded by a high wall of polished pine panels. Slipping around it, I stepped up onto the temple’s walkways and, from there, to the washroom. The only room you could reach this section from.

No reason to hold off on rinsing myself down if I wasn’t sticking around to help her. Setting aside the sword that housed my soul, I went to work stripping and washing. Last night… felt good but left deep worries behind. If my followers found out that I engaged in such activities with her, of all people, would they still put their faith in me? Would Byakuren cleave more to her public image and keep these things private, or would she fall back on her other, less noble habits and try to manipulate me through it, somehow?

And what of Tojiko?

Either way, I was… I was all in on this, now. Perhaps I should have reined us in a little more, rather than hoping to count on her. But then, fortune seemed insistent on pushing me to her bosom. In some sense, this seemed the inevitable conclusion of that push.

I grunted, dumping a bucket of water over myself and grabbing a towel to dry off. Regardless, I needed to act, to show the world the confidence and smoothness it had come to expect from me.

I gave myself a quick sniff, then glanced the clothing over. The smell had barely touched them, but I felt a strange uncertainty now in returning to them.

Which is why, still naked, I slipped back out, through the space beneath the outer walkway, and into my personal chambers. Once there, strutting through my chamber, I slipped into the side room, sorted through my effects, and slipped on a fresh, new outfit. Simple but elegant black underwear, a plain, peach-colored vest, and simple skirt. Feeling casual, I opted to leave the cape behind for now.

I belted my blade back to my waist and clasped the bracelets and anklets back around my limbs. Perhaps I’d want to dip a bit deeper into my wardrobe soon, but not today.

With that settled, I glanced through my room for personal objects or affects I wished to keep on hand when I spent time at my rival-and-wife’s temple. A change of clothes, perhaps. Some fine dishes, perhaps one or two of our less-important scrolls.

I chose a single scroll containing an excerpt from the Tao De Ching, a fine cup, and a soft, white nightgown. Sorting them into a small, oak box, I snapped it shut and listened to the temple, considering where to visit first.

I felt a disturbance in the quiet desires of my temple. Futo. I hadn’t seen her for a day, having left her in uncertain circumstances. So, naturally, I tucked the box under my left arm and, swinging the shaku with my right, strolled through the halls in her general direction.

On the way, I took idle stock of the atmosphere that floated through the rest of the temple. Some hopes that I’d do something as dramatic here as I’d done in the village dojo. Some lingering concerns, some worries about Byakuren’s influence, her or her followers sneaking in here, and…

More Futo.

I sensed a lingering agitation as I turned a corner and walked up to an open door, where I found her…

Tilting her head at the furniture of a communal lounge, one that faced the back wall. She’d stacked cushions on tables and spent her time nudging one to the left, another toward the back…

She feared its previous arrangement had invited misfortune, though that was a shallow desire. One she attended to in order to cover up or calm down from something else. Something deeper.

I waited, tapping one foot, until her efforts slowed.

Then, a split-second before she moved, I heard it. Her realization that someone was near, manifested in the form of sudden curiosity; a desire to know who it was. And so, she turned around, less a smooth spin or spirited twist, more a twitchy, jerking motion.

At my visage, she sighed a sound of relief, tinged ever so slightly in frustration. “Oh, it be only you, crown prince.”

I smiled. “Good morning, Futo.”

…And she returned to fiddling with the tables.

I groaned, but waited for her to speak, as I knew she would.

And sure enough, after another couple shifts this way and that, she growled. “The youkai meddle and scheme. They’re wont to ruin us, if permitted.” She jerked one table to the side. “Break us away from them, crown prince.”

I spun my shaku, chuckling. “Now, now. They haven’t been sneaking in, have they?”

“It mattereth not.” She grumbled. “Those scoundrels will undo us. Already, they hast ruined my day.”

“Ruined your day?” I stepped inside and leaned against the wall. “That sounds quite serious. What did they do?”

She… blushed. I narrowed my eyes and honed my ears, but the faint, warm streak in her desires matched up. She wanted to… find something. Or someone. It was there briefly, a hint of a face, something… green? Whatever it was, it soon faded into a morass of unfocused frustrations.

She rotated one table a single degree or two. “They’re of no value, save their talent for mockery.”

I raised a brow. She glanced my way for only a second before fixing her gaze back on the table. I waited, studying her soul. But that just raised more agitation within her. If I wished to know what really bothered her, I’d need to confront her directly. Otherwise, I would need to wait quite a while for her to truly calm down.

My interest had been piqued, but I’d yet to spend much time with the rest of my temple, to say nothing of what might be occurring back at my ‘wife’s’ temple.

Thinking a moment, I chose to…

[ ] Press Futo for details. I could not leave a close friend in distress, not matter how much my prodding irritated her.

[ ] Return to Myouren Temple. I was awfully curious who had visited and was certain they wouldn’t mind my surprise re-appearance.

[ ] Spend time with the rest of Senkai. The others were right; I needed to show off again.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/09/26 (Sat) 18:00

[X] Press Futo for details. I could not leave a close friend in distress, not matter how much my prodding irritated her.
[x] Press Futo for details. I could not leave a close friend in distress, not matter how much my prodding irritated her.
Prod prod.
[X] Press Futo for details. I could not leave a close friend in distress, not matter how much my prodding irritated her.
[X] Press Futo for details. I could not leave a close friend in distress, not matter how much my prodding irritated her.

Koishi, did you just rait the Taoists?!?
[x] Press Futo for details. I could not leave a close friend in distress, not matter how much my prodding irritated her.

Does futo havew a cru'ush?
File 160210814583.jpg - (155.16KB, 809x1000, twiddlyfuto.jpg) [iqdb]
43020
[x] Press Futo for details. I could not leave a close friend in distress, not matter how much my prodding irritated her.

I chuckled. “Aw… you can trust me, can’t you?”

She huffed. “It was but a trifle, crown prince. Worry not of it.”

I hummed, tapping my chin. Curiosity, desire, embarrassment… quite the concoction, but one I’d have a hard time piercing through.

I gave her my most charming smile. “Come now, I can’t let my loyal friend and disciple wallow in confusion, can I? Please, pour your heart out to me.”

She paused, letting go of the table as she dropped to sit at it. She shook her head, that cute ponytail flicking about as she did so. “It is naught but an awakening of hoary feelings at the instigation of a fool and miscreant.”

I stepped around, between the tables, until I stood across from her. “Then, perhaps it’s best if you share these feelings with me. That way, we can work through them together.”

She dropped her head into a propped-up arm. “I was born to the empire’s ruling clan. I gave birth to one who would have been the emperor’s wife, had we lingered. With your pestering, I had mastered much of both the Buddhist and the Taoist arts. And yet, and yet…”

I leaned forward and patted her shoulder.

She huffed. “None take mine efforts with seriousness. Mine lessons are ignored, mine preachings dismissed.”

She thumped her fists on the table. “I am mocked. Mocked. What may I accomplish in this land, suffering under such scanty honor?”

I frowned, rubbing her twitching shoulder. “There, there. We’ve built things we couldn’t have hoped to back then, didn’t we?” I smiled. “Why, this very temple would have been impossible for mere humans to build. You don’t need the favor of every man or woman, do you?”

She sighed. “You art right, crown prince. Yet…” She glared at the table.

Grabbing my shaku, I poked it at her chin. “Let’s take a few breaths, first.” I inhaled, long and slow.

Futo frowned but followed suit. I exhaled, and she followed me there, too.

One breath, then two, then three.

As she exhaled, Futo looked down. “I was beautiful back then, you know. It was no accident my daughter caught your eye.”

“Aw~” I giggled. “You’re plenty cute now, too.”

She frowned. “I caught a dashing, charming husband. One most worthy of mine station. Why, the poems he wrote to me during our courtship, they would…”

“Ooh. Let’s hear one.”

She glanced aside. “…Perhaps another time. They wert too advanced for your young ears.”

“Oh, intimate poetry? What did he like most? Your legs, your delicate hands, or dare I say, your ne-”

“That art quite enough of that!” She fumed, face red.

I threw my hands up, waving my shaku. “Yes, yes. How about some exercises to calm you down?”

She huffed, then stood. “I boasted a fine husband, a strong clan, even a stunning son-in-law.”

I grinned as I stood, mirroring her motions. “Daughter-in-law, technically.”

She lifted her right leg. “Nay. In all respects save the most subtle part of your body, you wert my son.”

I tilted my head as we raised our arms. “Was I even that? She wasn’t the only…”

Futo shook her head. “A trifle. There art no men of such caliber here.”

I blinked. She’d changed the subject.

“Then, perhaps you should try the women? They can be quite-”

“They’re even worse! They, all of them, either cower behind their men, or they consort with youkai, or-” she paused, “it mattereth not. There are none so strong in their conviction, so gentle on the eyes, of such stature as…”

I couldn’t help a chuckle, finally hearing the depth of her true desire. “You really have reawakened, haven’t you?”

She frowned. “I said that, did I not?”

“Yes, but to love? I’d never have guessed.”

Her face turned a faint shade of pink. I answered with a warm smile. “You need a good date.”

“A d-date, huh…” She lowered her leg, then dropped back to the table. “Yea. I desire such. But as I said, there’s none to heed me. None worthy to cleave to.”

I lowered myself down as well, grinning wide. “What if I found you someone?”

She scoffed. “This task lay beyond even you, crown prince. Worry about your own wives-both my daughter and the imposter-for I shall confront mine needs alone.”

I grinned. “Your needs? That’s a bit much to share with your daughter-in-law, isn’t it?”

Her eyes narrowed, lips pursing. Then, her eyes widened and her faint blush went full red again. “That-that-that… that be not what I mean. I merely…”

I laughed. “Relax, relax.” I patted my earmuffs. “I know what you mean, of course. But you also know that I can handle multiple tasks at once, don’t you?”

She grunted, looking down. “You’ll be wasting of your time but,” she sighed, “do what you must. I shall go about mine obligations, regardless.”

“Oh, I shall certainly do as I please.”

And I pleased to…

[ ] Asked more about what sort of men or women intrigued her. If she sought love, I’d be sure to provide what I could.

[ ] Give her a little encouragement before going on my way. This was a matter to leave to her, until she understood herself better.

[ ] Asked more about who had awakened this in her, and how. Someone laid behind this change and I had to know who.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/10/11 (Sun) 18:00

[X] Asked more about what sort of men or women intrigued her. If she sought love, I’d be sure to provide what I could.
[X] Asked more about what sort of men or women intrigued her. If she sought love, I’d be sure to provide what I could.
[X] Asked more about who had awakened this in her, and how. Someone laid behind this change and I had to know who.
[X] Asked more about who had awakened this in her, and how. Someone laid behind this change and I had to know who.

The most effective path is to start with the root cause.
[x] Asked more about what sort of men or women intrigued her. If she sought love, I’d be sure to provide what I could.
File 160332946858.jpg - (608.02KB, 1000x1414, distancingfuto.jpg) [iqdb]
43038
[x] Asked more about what sort of men or women intrigued her. If she sought love, I’d be sure to provide what I could.

“So, what do you like in your men? Big muscles? Lean and firm muscles? Maybe silky hair or suave smiles or…”

Futo turned away, face pink. “Need you put these matters so crassly, crown prince?”

I grinned. “I’m only here to help~ Please, tell me what sort of man-or woman-you desire~”

She huffed. “I’m in no need of such prodding! You understand mine desires, do you not? Use those. Make not me spell this out so plainly!”

“Aw, but that’s half the fun~”

She sighed. “I’m in no need of teasing. The foul youkai hast heaped it enough upon mine shoulders.”

I rocked back and forth. “And you’ve yet to tell me anything about it, haven’t you?”

She stared at the ceiling, grumbling. As she did, I heard a rather blatant desire slip from her mind. This fretting of hers arose from a need to prove someone wrong. She wanted to prove she wasn’t interested in some specific person, but also, well…

What she’d essentially expressed already. She wanted to prove her prowess and value on the marketplace, so to speak.

I wondered. Did someone suggest she was undesirable? Would I need to correct some youkai, if so?

But of course, these were all matters to consider another time, when I knew more of the matter. I clicked my tongue, sighing. “Please, Futo. I know the hearts of people. No one can act as a better matchmaker than I.”

She thumped a fist on the table. “I need no matchmakers!”

I leaned back, answering with a light chuckle. “Humor me. If it goes poorly, you can heap all the blame upon my capable shoulders.”

She groaned. Then, exhaling, she leaned back. “Very well. I…” she breathed in, “tolerate not people who disrespect humanity, or who shirk in their duties. I insist that I not shelter my very partner behind mine own power. They must provide and protect as often, at least, as I.”

I winced. “You’re a little strict there, aren’t you?”

Her eyes narrowed, resting halfway between a glare and a nostalgic twinkle. “My past partner was most admirable. I insist that I need not settle for less than he.”

I rolled my shoulders. “Very well, very well.” I placed my shaku to my lips for only a moment. “Why, the village has its share of capable guards, even a few decent exterminators. Perhaps we should start there.”

She turned aside. “I… trust not their qualities.”

I tilted my head. “Then, perhaps the village protector?”

Returning her gaze, she tilted her head in response. “Whom?”

“Why, Ms. Kamishirasawa, of course.”

“H-her?” She leaned back. “I suppose she art a fine woman, but to wed her? Doth she even like women? Would she consider me in a generous light? Even if she did, would she be…”

I shook my head. “Who knows? Best to risk embarrassment than to let oneself be trapped in routine, right?”

“I… be not sure.”

“Then, perhaps madam Hakurei herself?”

Futo rose to her feet. “Didst you mishear me? She is far too lazy!” She turned on her heel.

Swiping up my shaku, I leapt to my feet, slipped around the table, and threw my arms around her. “Now, now. You know I’m just throwing ideas out there. If we could persuade them to take humans more seriously, how about some of Byakuren’s disciples? They’re strong, sometimes dependable, occasionally diligent…”

She shook me off. “They’re youkai. They honor the witch, and they…”

I took a step closer to her. “But imagine a youkai who tries to make humans safer and happier~”

“Impossible.”

“It’s very rare, but there are a few who’ve shown themselves to be terribly well-behaved.”

She stepped away. I followed close.

“I shall handle this on mine own. Leave me to it!”

I tapped her shoulder. “Are you sure? If you find anyone, I’m sure I could improve your chances with them~”

“I am most capable. I won a most honorable partner before and I shall do so again. I… need only find one that aligns with mine standards.”

I slowed. “And if there’s none here?”

She slowed, then stopped. She shook her head. “I am a hermit. I shalt make do on my own, then.”

I slid a hand over each shoulder and pulled her back around to face me. Gently, I slid a hand up her cheek. “At least consider a provisional partner, would you? Someone to share in your struggles while you seek out the one.”

She sighed, slumping back. “I shall consider it.”

I stepped back, tapping the shaku on my chin. She was so cute, really. I just wanted to pester her more.

But… in what way would be best? Ought I attempt to drag her to meet some fine prospect, or to let her stew?

But then, was this really the time? If I dallied too long, that temple visitor may have disappeared by the time of my return. To say nothing of other concerns.

So, I…

[ ] Dragged her to the village to meet eligible men and women. I couldn’t let such an opportunity pass.

[ ] Visited the village to find her prospects on my own. I wanted to play matchmaker, but I favored a subtler role this time.

[ ] Left her to ponder my wisdom while I looked into the youkai who’d bothered her. I was sure my ‘wife’ would be missing me, anyway.

[ ] Turned to the mausoleum to meditate on the meaning of last night. Futo’s romantic troubles had reminded me that I had plenty of my own to fret over.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/10/25 (Sun) 18:00

[x] Turned to the mausoleum to meditate on the meaning of last night. Futo’s romantic troubles had reminded me that I had plenty of my own to fret over.

Futo's ghost crush is cute, but we still have our own ghost to deal with. Lets go see Tojiko and muster up some excuse and/or lie for last night.
[X] Left her to ponder my wisdom while I looked into the youkai who’d bothered her. I was sure my ‘wife’ would be missing me, anyway.

I'm curious whether or not the hint of green really is pointing more towards a boat sinker as opposed to a mountain echo, and following this option seems like it'd clarify which of the two it is.
[x] Turned to the mausoleum to meditate on the meaning of last night. Futo’s romantic troubles had reminded me that I had plenty of my own to fret over.
>>43042

I am basing my assumption on both the green hint and the fact Futo and Murasa were dancing together at the impromptu party a few days ago. I could be wrong, but in the absence of other evidence its what the author is pointing to.
File 160487293853.jpg - (10.43KB, 275x155, mausoleum.jpg) [iqdb]
43049
[x] Turned to the mausoleum to meditate on the meaning of last night. Futo’s romantic troubles had reminded me that I had plenty of my own to fret over.

I smiled. “I trust you, Futo.”

She nodded, expression firm, but chose not to respond.

I patted her shoulder. “You’re plenty lovely. I’m sure you’ll find someone.” She pouted, but her heart told me she appreciated the thought. I smiled, then turned back to the halls and soon, from there, back to Gensokyo.

Warm, curling mists greeted me on the other side, rising from the broad pool filling the familiar chamber. I eased myself onto the smooth rocks and took a deep breath, spending a moment to prepare my thoughts.

Gently, I set my shaku before me and set my hands on my knees, closing my eyes.

I stifled a groan. I’d crossed a line last night. For good or ill, that monk was utterly useless in keeping any of our undesired urges in check. I should have known, really. She’d shown plenty of weakness before then. Taking a breath, I waited until the calm returned.

I would simply need to do what I was best at. Changing, rerouting, and adapting. It would certainly yield better results than the rather muscle-headed way she sought to approach her own challenges.

I sighed, unsure of how I, myself, ought to have felt. Fate and fortune had refused to hold back in their steady efforts to push us ever closer together. Idly, I wondered if that absurd, barely remembered night was even the first time. Perhaps our tag-team battles were the first sign.

Regardless, something had been drawing us together.

I worked through my breathing exercises, allowing myself to descend ever so slowly into the void. Into the space away from fleeting distractions, first to the stillness that came in letting go of fleeting distractions. I needed a moment of calm before turning into the more passionate side of my practices.

Passion…

We… cleaved together, last night. Why? What did I see in her? Why did I find her so alluring? Her looks alone would have failed to overcome her shortcomings. The stubbornness, the pride, the foolishness.

So… why?

She stuck so doggedly to her silly, sometimes harmful ideals. She was sincere at times, but sometimes deceptive.

The cozy, moist air eddied around me as I began to hear the universe’s primal beat.

She constantly fought against its tempo. Against the push and pull within her. All for ideology. And yet, it had failed her.

We…

My hands remembered the feel of her bust. The feverish thrusts, the grinding…

I shook my head. She was too distracting!

Her strong, lively body. The sheer power and stamina she possessed. Despite her professed values, she’d cultivated a body, a soul, truly worthy of envy. Of aspiration.

Somehow, her endless series of seeming mistakes only made her stronger.

Her mistakes…

I sighed. The universe beat a slow, quiet rhythm, refusing to bestow its wisdom upon me. I would need to make the decision myself, but…

My instincts warred with one another, one side seeking to revisit that woman’s weight and warmth, to explore the prospects of closer relations to her temple and better access to her knowledge. The other insisted I hold true to the foundation I’d already built, to trust in the people I’d already had.

The tempo held steady, but the quiet beats grew louder.

Slowly, it dawned on me where my path would lead. Timidity was not my style. To hold back merely on account of what might be, of what I might lose, would be to resist, to deny my nature. I needed to reach out, to seize for both futures.

Perhaps that was why, so long ago, I lost…

I chuckled, just a little bitter, as I rose from my meditation. I boasted no lordship, no children, and technically, not even a real wife. Not at this moment, anyway. I had my share of followers, my vast charisma, and the power of my transmuted body. Idly, I rubbed the scabbard in which it rested.

I wielded enormous potential but had little to lose. I would not choose between the two paths.

They would both choose me.

I tilted my head upward, to the monument from which I’d arisen, the structure in which my former teacher resided. Perhaps, she’d rubbed off on me more than I cared to admit. I shook my head.

Nonsense. I was plenty crafty before I’d met her and the only thing she imparted upon me was her insights on the Tao.

I rocked back and forth, taking in the smooth, fragrant scents floating on the air. This place really did soothe the soul. The only question that remained, really, was how I would go about securing my favor with the monk’s followers while retaining the trust of those who already supported me.

And… how I’d break the news to-

A desire dragged through the air.

One that poked at my heart. A desire for company. For comfort and physical intimacy.

From me.

I returned to the breathing exercises for a moment, though not to any meditation afterward. Instead, as my heart stilled, I cleared my throat and started humming. If she was here, then I may as well clear the air before it gets the chance to bite me.

In only a moment, I heard the disruption to those desires, then the shift, the movement.

Tojiko floated into the room behind me. A vague sense of nervousness clung to her. One that hurt me, knowing that I could only add to her concerns.

She huffed. “What is it?”

I blinked, keeping my face forward. “Can I not meditate at my own pool without suspicion?”

“Not like that, no. You called for attention. What is it about?”

I hunched forward, staring into my reflection upon the still waters. My dalliance with the monk was far from the first dubious action that had taken place in my quest for status and admiration, but…

What kind of person was I? How would I break the news to her?

More importantly, what about her? Which would she take best?

[ ] Tojiko was a woman of sometimes brutal sincerity. I would honor that by being blunt and straightforward. Whatever came of it, at least she would know I hid nothing from her.

[ ] Tojiko was a woman I still loved, so I would show what affection I dared and break it as gently as I could. I would show her that, at the least, I still cared for her.

[ ] Tojiko was, in some sense, a rather practical woman. I would discuss my plans with her and explain the reasoning for what I’d allowed to happen.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/12 (Thu) 19:00

[x] Tojiko was a woman of sometimes brutal sincerity. I would honor that by being blunt and straightforward. Whatever came of it, at least she would know I hid nothing from her.
 [x] Confess things are not proceeding precisely to plan and may continue to deviate.

A tough one here. We have already discussed the plan with Tojiko and that got her on board. But things have gone a bit sideways. Miko clearly loves Tojiko still, but trying to sugar coat it will make this more painful down the road. No, Miko loves her enough to tell her the whole truth. This is how good couples work. Tojiko can then choose her own path, as this update puts it. A path Miko is sure she will still be on, with all her charisma and hubris.
[x] Tojiko was a woman of sometimes brutal sincerity. I would honor that by being blunt and straightforward. Whatever came of it, at least she would know I hid nothing from her.
 [x] Confess things are not proceeding precisely to plan and may continue to deviate.

A decent compromise
[x] Tojiko was a woman of sometimes brutal sincerity. I would honor that by being blunt and straightforward. Whatever came of it, at least she would know I hid nothing from her.
 [x] Confess things are not proceeding precisely to plan and may continue to deviate.

I concur
File 160599817864.jpg - (80.27KB, 600x800, madtojiko.jpg) [iqdb]
43053
[x] Tojiko was a woman of sometimes brutal sincerity. I would honor that by being blunt and straightforward. Whatever came of it, at least she would know I hid nothing from her.
 [x] Confess things are not proceeding precisely to plan and may continue to deviate.

I breathed in, then out. “I had sex with Byakuren, last night.”

I heard, for a single moment, utter silence in Tojiko’s heart. All her desires, at once, had frozen. As to be expected from such news, I supposed. Not that such a thought brought me comfort. When they returned, they came in a messy frenzy. A drive to know why, for vengeance on me, vengeance on Byakuren, to calm down, to argue, and so on.

An utterly ugly, unpleasant mess to listen to. She’d tied herself in a knot of worry, confusion, and vexation.

But as they cleared, I couldn’t help a bit of a dry chuckle. There was something soothing about it all. As ugly as it was, I need not have worried over what she might want. How precisely she might feel or how she might behave. At the very least, I knew.

She cleared her throat, accompanied by a subtle crackle. One that raised the hairs on the back of my head. “Why.”

She said it with force, as bold and assured as she often was. I’d really miss that, if this path ended in the ruin of what we had. And yet, despite the confident tone, there was this odd undercurrent of uncertainty. Of fear.

That… that hurt.

I couldn’t blame her, but I slumped forward all the same.

I raised my voice a hair, holding a firm, level tone. She needed me to be clear, to be unambiguous, at a moment like this. “Despite her protests to the contrary, she’s not the prude I’d hoped she’d be. She’s a much more physical woman than she lets on. I was unprepared for her desire.”

She snorted. “Of course, she’s physical. That’s entirely how she uses her magic. Surely, with your profound ears, you should have picked that up, shouldn’t you?”

I sighed. “Certainly, I’d heard the occasional slip of carnal desire in the past, but she’s human…ish. It’s to be expected. But, like the true Buddhist she is, she’s remarkably skilled at suppressing her deeper urges.”

There was a pause, an awkward quiet clinging to the air. Tojiko floated out from behind my shoulder and circled around to face me. She folded her arms, her lips tight.

She took a breath. “So, what now?”

I straightened my back. “Chaos has filled the past few of my days and, I suspect, will continue to do so. I… am afraid I cannot predict how events will unfold from here. Perhaps I will return to the original plan soon, or perhaps I will only deviate further. I’m…” My shoulders sagged, if only subtly. “I don’t have the level of control over this situation that I thought I held. I’m sorry, but I cannot give you more than that. I don’t know.”

She sunk down, causing gentle ripples as her tails dip into the water. “Were I in a more charitable mood, I might just thank you for at least not trying to bullshit me.”

A thin, wry chuckle slipped from my lips. “Then let me know when you are feeling more charitable, as I would love to listen to your praises one more time.”

“I’ll… consider it, in case it ends up your last.” She turned away. “I can’t say I’m thrilled to hear you’re keeping around her, but…” her shoulders rose, then fell, “I suppose I shouldn’t’ve expected otherwise.”

Despite my instincts, I held my tongue. Her tone was one more of frankness than accusation, anyway. And sure enough, she soon continued.

“You’re still going to get us something from her, right?”

I brought my shaku close to my chest. “Of course.”

Still facing away, she nodded. “Good. I’ve been busy, you know. All sorts of weirdos pestering me and anyone around for where you were, what I thought about, well…” she groaned, “your intentions with her…” She drifted back, easing herself to the rocks, by my side. “How… how were your days, lately?”

I smiled, just slightly. Despite the turmoil still clinging to her, she made the effort to talk as she normally would.

Something melodramatically, I groaned, leaning back and rolling my shoulders. I opened my mouth to complain about the trouble of trying to date an ascetic, then prudently shut it. “Myouren Temple is an unruly place. Sometimes it feels like every single one of them wants a piece of me, a piece of whatever I bring, or to hear the darkest, dirtiest news they can get their hands on! And somehow, most of them distrust me.”

She chuckled. “Of course, of course. They really understand you, don’t they?”

As much as I appreciated her snark, I put on an obligatory pout.

She leaned forward. She wanted a hug, but also to keep her distance. After a bit, she spoke up. “Futo’s been quiet lately.”

I tilted my head, watching the water once more. The hint, the faintest foreshadowing, of a silly grin creeped across the corners of my lips. “Don’t worry. She’s just… experiencing a shift in perspective.”

“You know something.”

I shook my head. “It’s very private and sensitive to her. It would be terribly rude of me to share~”

She snickered. “Then you’re a terrible woman, taking such amusement from her private affairs.”

“Maybe I am, maybe I am…”

Finally, Tojiko leaned into me, resting her head on my shoulder. Gently, I leaned back into her. If the trend with Byakuren continued, I would miss this.

Hoo boy, would I miss this.

After some moments passed, she stirred. Then, with a start, she pulled herself off and jerked into the air. She patted down her dress and gave me a curt nod. “I have business to attend to. See you later, Miko.”

I nodded back, waving my shaku as she floated away.

Speaking of business to attend to, I had some of my own to consider.

I still had to pick up something for Tojiko and, especially after our exchange, I felt an urge to get to work in earnest. But I’d left Byakuren to herself for longer than a simple supply trip ought to have run. Out of curiosity, I wished to return to her, if only to learn who had visited and how it went. Then there was the concern not of Byakuren, but of her disciples. If I truly wanted their favor-or at least, their tolerance-I would need to start sooner rather than later.

So many things I needed to do. So little time.

I pulled myself to my feet and, with a few steps, slipped into the great between. As I returned toward the temple, I…

[ ] Returned to my other ‘wife.’ I had to know of this visitor and, frankly, we had a lot to discuss as well, after last night.

[ ] Studied the temple’s treasures and secrets. I had to know what it had to offer before I could bargain or scheme.

[ ] Mingled more with the other disciples. I would win their hearts and utilize such favor in my future endeavors.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/11/25 (Wed) 19:00

[x ] Studied the temple’s treasures and secrets. I had to know what it had to offer before I could bargain or scheme.

OOF this one hurt. This might not end well, either way.
[X] Studied the temple’s treasures and secrets. I had to know what it had to offer before I could bargain or scheme.

Gotta figure out what we're working with first and foremost.
[x] Mingled more with the other disciples. I would win their hearts and utilize such favor in my future endeavors.

I feel that the other options can be pursued while using this one, seeing how keeping the followers' eyes on Miko would hopefully help avoid accelerating Byakuren's intimacy and also take off some of the suspicion of inspecting the buddhists' assets if it's done with their approval or supervision.
[x] Studied the temple’s treasures and secrets. I had to know what it had to offer before I could bargain or scheme.

If Byakuren is busy, time to snoop. Any disciples of interest will probably stumble into us anyway as we muck about.
File 16076385954.png - (426.60KB, 600x800, shoumeat.png) [iqdb]
43059
[x] Studied the temple’s treasures and secrets. I had to know what it had to offer before I could bargain or scheme.

I came out in the quieter halls of her temple. Carefully, patiently, I listened to the voices, the desires, that hung about her temple. I paid close attention, but not so much to general trends, demeanors, or social dynamics.

I listened for desires tied to the temple itself, or what the various disciples sought from their practice. I paced, idly, through the quieter halls. Places with fewer distractions, but still a decent distance from where Byakuren might be. Sifting through the most common motivations-self-improvement, learning of reality’s most fundamental nature, improving one’s community, and so on-it took some time before the more interesting desires surfaced.

The temple housed a few lovely, elaborate statues in its major chambers, which some members loved to view. But I could not reasonably hope to acquire these without exorbitant risk both to my currency with the temple itself and with Gensokyo as a whole.

I’d need to leave them quite alone. At least, for the time being.

I tapped my shaku against my chin, wandering closer to the crowds. What else, what else?

Magic. Some of the disciples sought to learn of the special, secret spells said to be taught here, or known by its head monk. Something I might just be able to utilize, if I chose of pursue the same sorts of…

Oh? I heard whispers of something else. Reputation. Despite its dubious standing in the village itself, a fair few youkai looked favorably on it. And some disciples sought to attach such goodwill to themselves. Some rather skilled or otherwise helpful youkai favored the temple, judging by the desires.

Or simply insist that Byakuren herself spend some of her capitol on a gift. It would be a… messy way to resolve my duty, but one that, if handled with proper care, Tojiko may find a special pleasure in.

Still pondering, I slipped downstairs, into the temple basement. But no sooner had I touched down then I heard a familiar set of desires. One soon accompanied by the steady, if subdued, sound of munching.

Someone sating their drive for rich, savory meat. At least, as much as they dared. Turning around a stack of boxes, I leveled a companionable but neutral smile on the messy, blonde-and-black locks of the temple’s resident avatar of Bishamonten.

Shou sat on one of the many crates, tearing through a strip of salted meat. With a small cup by her legs. A cup filled, but with neither water nor tea.

Something else that she had, it seemed, smuggled in.

She paused, setting the remaining meat in her lap to take a swig of her cup. She sighed, satisfied, then set it down. As she did, her eyes finally met mine.

She blinked, tilted her head, and blushed. “You’re… still not telling anyone, right?”

I chuckled. “Of course not.”

“Good.” She went right back to chewing. She almost ignored me, really.

I pulled a crate beside her and settled onto it, laying my shaku across my lap. “Good day, today?”

She groaned, mumbling around a full mouth. “Fwine, fwine.” She swallowed. “Hijiri’s hiding something, but she hasn’t hassled me lately.”

I kept my face cool, hiding the faintest hint of a nervous twitch. “Hiding something, you say?”

She chuckled, taking a sip. “But, hey. Who am I to complain, right? She seems happy, at least.”

I swayed from side to side. “Happy, huh?”

She shuddered. “I’m worried, you know. I might just have you to thank for her current mood.”

I tilted my head. In response, she merely shrugged. “I don’t like having you so close to everything, but… you’ve been okay, so far.”

“Of course, I have.” I grinned. “Say, perhaps you’d like to help me ensure she stays that way…”

In a heartbeat, her shrug turned to a dark, suspicious frown. “What’s your scheme?”

I leaned toward her and slung an arm over her shoulder. She flinched but didn’t fight me.

“As fun as we’ve all found this whole arrangement, it’s troubled someone very close to me. I’m afraid, if I don’t satisfy her, it will… poison our marriage. But if I gave her something special, something I could only get from here…”

She threw my arm off. “Our disciples think you’re trying to steal something, you know. They are wrong, right?”

I groaned. “Of course, they’re wrong. I want a gift. A gift or a, a trade.”

She huffed. “And in return?”

“I’ve already committed to some efforts in support of your temple, is that not enough?” Her eyes narrowed, to which I chuckled. “Besides, I promise it’s no worse than our little secret~”

She muttered a question under her breath, something regarding my efforts. Then, she grunted and took another sip, glancing away. “What kind of gift?”

I lifted my shaku, resting it against my chin as I stared at the ceiling. What did I want? It’d need to be something I’d expect Tojiko to appreciate, but something that didn’t cost me too much with the temple. Whether or not Shou herself would be of much help, now was the best time to settle on a general strategy.

Digging into Byakuren’s scroll for a trick or two, either for Tojiko to learn, or to utilize for her, was an easy answer, but I couldn’t be certain just how protective of such knowledge its wielder would be. Otherwise, while attempting to acquire the temple’s extant treasures-the good ones, at least-would raise too much suspicion, attempting to get a commission from it or its supporters may be less onerous. And then, of course, there was the possibility of simple… services. Anyone could, in principle, wait on someone else, and massages may not be out of the question.

What I wanted most, at least right now, was…

[ ] Magic. The chance to gain a new trick or tool was too valuable to ignore.

[ ] A tribute. It wouldn’t hurt to see what sort of artisans most appreciated the temple, anyway.

[ ] A service. Nothing like a good old pampering to smooth things over.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2020/12/14 (Mon) 19:00

[X] Magic. The chance to gain a new trick or tool was too valuable to ignore.
[X] Magic. The chance to gain a new trick or tool was too valuable to ignore.
[x] Magic. The chance to gain a new trick or tool was too valuable to ignore.

Of all the possible gifts from the temple, gaining its magic would draw the least suspicion. Or specifically, gaining some of Byakuren's dark arts that she isn't supposed to have in the first place. Shou may not be the best person to ask about that, but she might just know where to look. Given her status, she must have access to even Byakuren's private stashes.
File 160955134729.png - (905.10KB, 1411x800, scroll.png) [iqdb]
43068
[x] Magic. The chance to gain a new trick or tool was too valuable to ignore.

I grinned, putting a bit of a sinister, evil flair to it. “I want a piece of your temple’s other secrets.”

Shou shuddered, shifting away. “Why?”

I straightened my back and grinned. “Because it’s the most painless ‘sacrifice,’ is it not? No labor, no funds or materials. Just a little knowledge. You can trust me, can’t you?”

She paused and pulled the meat away. Idly chewing, she glanced toward me, her eyes narrow. “No.”

I whimpered. “You wound me, my disciple-in-law-”

“Your what?”

I snickered. “Was I unclear? Disciple-in-law. Because you’re my wife’s disciple.”

I suppressed the slightest wince. I refused to let present circumstances deny me my ambitions, but… the word nonetheless felt awkward on my lips, considering those very events. Still, I felt the need to press on, to keep up the momentum. “I’m sure your cloud-wielding peer can tell you more, if you’re interested.”

She grumbled as she swallowed the meat. “…What, specifically, do you want?”

I chuckled, glancing around the basement walls, pillars, and ceiling. “Given the nature of your chief monk, I’ve no doubt this temple holds many, many secrets. But all I’m after is a little…” I wiggled my hands, “magic.”

“Whatever you think of her…” She slumped back, massaging her temple. “What kind of magic?”

“Hm-hm-hm…” I hopped up and paced around the room, weaving between the stacks of boxes. I swung my shaku around. “A most excellent question, isn’t it?”

She frowned. “You don’t know, do you?”

I, I must confess. I pouted. “I can’t be expected to know what sort of spells your temple hides if they’re secret, now can I?”

Shou folded her arms, shut her eyes, and swayed from side to side. “Well, if just any trick will suffice, I suppose it couldn’t hurt too much…”

I grinned, not quite dancing as I strolled around the room. “Precisely. Something to please, to help, or to provide convenience. Nothing so devious as teleporting into secure chambers.”

She growled. “Of course. You already do that.”

I stopped and leveled a comfortable smile her way. “You catch on quick, young tiger.”

She ignored me, so I lifted the shaku to my chin. “It’s quite clear that you lot would know something about cosmetics, but would such a shallow gift truly please my w… my companion?”

“C-companion?”

I frowned. “Oh, hush. I’m thinking. She always appreciated the spectacle of my danmaku, so perhaps something flashy would please her more.”

Shou bit into more meat. “Why don’t you ask for booze magic, if you’re so interested?”

I chuckled. “Please, if you knew how to conjure or transmute sake, you wouldn’t bother sneaking it in, now would you?”

Shou’s back went straight. Her eyes lurched from side to side, then fixated on the stairs. After a long moment, she eased back. She shuddered. “Please, don’t just bring it up out of the blue like that.”

“But then, maybe if Byakuren alone knew it…” I shook my head and smiled. “Of course, of course. It must be so stressful, hiding such a vital part of who you are from your closest friends.”

She turned away. “It’s just one-I mean, it’s not like that. Really.”

I paused. It seemed I’d hit… not a nerve, but rather something else. An insecurity. After a moment, I plopped myself back down beside her, but said nothing.

“It’s just… it’s a good idea, you know. Your next life isn’t good unless you behave well in this one, right? And, and I think I’m doing good for what I am, but it’s not easy as a tiger or youkai. So, I just let myself have these little, uh, digressions, so that…”

I rested a hand on her shoulder, barely listening to her various thoughts afterward. I heard plenty of further rationalizations, hedging, and early attempts at philosophy, but little in the way of substance.

But then, she was genuinely trying, from the way she spoke. It impressed me, even if she was among the very closest to Byakuren herself. To think that even one or two youkai would truly attempt to put those silly ideas into practice, it…

I gave her a light nudge. She paused, turning to me.

“Have you considered discussing these sorts of things with this wise, lovely teacher of yours?”

She groaned and shook her head, turning away. “Of course, not. She’s… she’s really invested in all this. Looking out for us youkai and helping us push toward enlightenment. If she found out about this, she’d…”

I snickered. She pouted. I glanced away.

“She’s silly and naïve, but not quite as unaware as you might think. Why, when we chatted with the mountain god, they’d bombarded her with such horrendous tales about-”

Shou groaned. “So, that’s why she was so upset, back then.”

I held a quiet, mysterious smile for a moment. Naturally, I refrained from mentioning my own role in such revelations. Instead, I lifted myself back up and took a step toward the stairs. “I don’t care whether she finds out, of course. But what if,” I leaned close, “your troubles help her find a better way?”

She blinked, breathing slow as she turned to study the floor.

I rubbed her shoulder. “But never mind all that. I just need to know what to give my girl.”

She growled. “Byakuren is your ‘girl,’ and if you dare break her heart, you’ll…”

Oh, dear. Speaking of secrets… I turned and bowed to her a bit deeper than I was used to. “Yes, yes. Of course. I shall do what I can to please my wife.” I then rose, spun on my heel, and took another couple steps to the stairs. “And you’ll help me, won’t you?”

I sent a pleasant, comforting smile her way, but needed not even watch her to know her answer. All that remained was what sort of magic to focus on.

[ ] Sparkles, booms, and bullets. Great for entertaining people, intimidating others, and complementing her lightning.

[ ] Arcane cosmetics. Tojiko wasn’t usually much for the sort, but if I applied to myself instead, she may think differently.

[ ] Something to bolster one’s fitness. Certainly, an odd thing to offer a spirit such as her, but I knew I’d get something top-of-the-line.

[ ] Something to help around the house. Can’t go wrong with helping make her life more convenient.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/01/06 (Wed) 19:00

[x] Something to help around the house. Can’t go wrong with helping make her life more convenient.
[x] Sparkles, booms, and bullets. Great for entertaining people, intimidating others, and complementing her lightning.

All the other options somewhat sound like declaring Tojiko's the "stay at home, pretty up, and keep the place safe and clean" spouse, which is pretty darn insulting, in my opinion.
[x] Sparkles, booms, and bullets. Great for entertaining people, intimidating others, and complementing her lightning.

Eh, the reasoning above works for me.
File 161110943614.png - (397.87KB, 952x764, shoubyakumiko.png) [iqdb]
43072
[x] Sparkles, booms, and bullets. Great for entertaining people, intimidating others, and complementing her lightning.

I stopped at the edge of the stairs. I waited there a moment, then two.

Then, to my satisfaction, I heard that tiger pull herself off the crate, pat down her lap, and shuffle toward me. I hummed and climbed upward.

“I’m… not even sure what you’re expecting me to do. We’re close, but it’s not like she comes to me for advice or anything.”

“It’s all about the journey, not the destination~”

She grumbled. “Do you have to be so mysterious?”

I sighed, then stopped at the top of the stairs. Slowly, I turned around and took her hand, pulling her up beside me. “You mean something to her and, as a result, to me.”

She blinked. I smiled. “Good company never hurt anyone. Now, please follow me.”

I turned on my heel and returned to seeking my quarry. Now, she held rather quiet as I moved through the halls. I couldn’t help a smirk as I listened to her desires. She had, for the moment, all but forgotten her reservations.

By the time we neared the final door, her thoughts had wandered to the person we’d meet on the other side.

I, of course, shoved the door aside and strode in. Inside, Byakuren spun on her heel to face us. For a split-second, I heard an overwhelming urge to bury me in a bear hug. One that she strangled, choosing instead to answer with a clipped sigh. One intended as an expression of displeasure, assumedly. Which I, of course, promptly ignored as I dropped to my feet near her.

The room was rather small - large enough for us to fit, but with little elbow room.

With a grunt, she settled down across from me. Shou settled down to my side, her eyes wandering in some degree of confusion.

Byakuren leveled a neutral but stern gaze on the two of us.

“Good evening, you two.”

Shou’s presence prickled at her, inciting her curiosity. But…

Byakuren cleared her throat. “So, Miko dear.”

I flinched. I didn’t like that tone.

“Our daughter stopped by. It seems she’s unsatisfied with your involvement in her life.”

She meant Kokoro, of course, but… it seemed she wished to keep something about that complaint concealed from me, at least for now. Interesting.

My eyes narrowed. “Oh, is she, now?”

“Y-y-your daughter…”

She and I paused and turned to Shou, her trembling body and twitching eyes the very image of a woman about to crumble.

“When did… is that why you two… so suddenly…”

Byakuren patted her on the head. “There, there. Don’t worry too much about this, okay?”

Air wheezed through Shou’s lips. “When-wait. Wait a second. How? Who?”

I groaned. “If she’s anyone’s daughter, she’s mine. Byakuren just happened to be there when she got that-”

“It may not be by blood, but I’m just as much a mother to her as anyone else.”

Byakuren’s desires dripped with a fair bit of maternal instinct, but also… a sort of religious ambition. One no doubt like her attitude toward that wandering satori.

I huffed. “She’s a tsukumogami. It can’t be by blood any way you cut it!”

Shou’s trembling eased. “Oh, thank goodness. It wasn’t a shotgun wedding, then?”

I straightened my back. “Of course, not! We’re both women. Besides,” I tossed a slanted gaze toward Byakuren, “that ‘child’ is quite literally a work of art. Clearly, she could not be born from h…”

Byakuren fixed her eyes on me. They were quite narrow, her brow hardened and furrowed.

I sighed but backed down. “Regardless, her behavior has grown erratic lately. For someone so keen on experimenting with family, she seems quite set on doing inconvenient things all on her own.”

Byakuren smiled. I closed my eyes, holding a steady, neutral expression. How odd it seemed, for her to take umbrage with my jabs now.

She shifted backward, likely easing back into a resting posture. “She’s in a difficult, questioning period of her life. I must confess that I feel somewhat sympathetic to her at this moment, however, as I’d dearly like to know what it is you came here for, dear.”

I blinked. “Surely, it’s enough that I sought my wife’s company again.”

Shou glanced aside. Byakuren sighed.

“After leaving so suddenly? I doubt it. Besides,” she shook her head, “Shou would not be here were that case.”

I turned to Shou. She kept her eyes firmly elsewhere. So, I turned to Byakuren. Byakuren frowned.

“You didn’t think you could slip such a companion beneath my notice, did you? Surely, you understand how long my lovely tiger and I have known each other.”

I felt the faintest sense that I’d been in a similar situation before, but on the other side. Shou, meanwhile, just blushed.

I adjusted my posture, shifting into a more formal, kneeling pose. I planted my hands on my knees and stared my wife in the eyes.

“You’ve seen through me, darling.” Leaning to my side slightly, I rubbed Shou’s shoulder. “Tell me, Shou, have I done well for our temple, so far?”

Shou’s face spun, from me to Byakuren and back. She swallowed. “Um, yes. I-I was a little surprised, honestly. So far, you’ve been helpful.”

Wow, what a ringing endorsement. I had plenty of hopes from this meeting beyond her support, but this was me she was talking about. She…

“Oh, is that so?” Byakuren grinned, though with a heavy sense of wariness clinging to her heart. “Then, I must thank you, dear, for your help.”

I nodded. “I’d do nothing less for our temple. But I have a difficult request to make.”

She turned to Shou. “Of course. That’s why she brought you, isn’t it?”

Shou chuckled. “Um, yes.”

“The suddenness of our union has caused some… frictions, I’m afraid. I need your help in smoothing these difficulties over.”

Byakuren rolled her shoulders. “Oh? Does you need help with someone who’s troubling you?”

She cracked her knuckles.

I shook my head, quite emphatically. “No, nothing of the sort! She’s a good woman-”

Byakuren frowned. I groaned. “You should know who I’m talking about. I’ve caused her some trouble and must insist on your help.”

Byakuren’s lips grew thin. “Speak carefully, dear.”

I clenched my fists, pressing them into my thighs. “I intend to help her learn a new spell. Something loud and dramatic, perhaps a burst of bullets or a powerful thunderclap. However, I’ve already taught her as much on the matter as I could, so I…”

“You want me to teach her?”

That was a good question. Having Byakuren herself teach Tojiko seemed a… troublesome arrangement. But then, it may also be a chance for the three of us to go over rather crucial matters together. As dangerous as it may be, it may be even more dangerous to continue to worry about keeping them separate.

On the other hand, this may not be the only such opportunity, and may not be the best time or context to bring them together. Instead, I could suggest she teach me and that I, then, pass it on to Tojiko.

Or I could suggest I be allowed to review and copy certain segments of the scroll down and pass them on. It would easily be the safest route as far as inter-personal matters went, but Byakuren might find it the most threatening to the ‘security’ of her scroll’s contents.

Hm…

[ ] Request Byakuren teach her directly. The risks to my standing would be worth it to ensure we cleared the air sooner.

[ ] Request she teach me so that I, in turn, could teach Tojiko. If nothing else, Byakuren would surely love the chance to be responsible for a Taoist’s instruction.

[ ] Request I be allowed to copy sections out. However much the proposition might worry Byakuren, it was still the simplest, cleanest option.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/01/23 (Sat) 19:00

[X] Request Byakuren teach her directly. The risks to my standing would be worth it to ensure we cleared the air sooner.

A direct interaction between the two sounds interesting.
[X] Request Byakuren teach her directly. The risks to my standing would be worth it to ensure we cleared the air sooner.
[x] Request she teach me so that I, in turn, could teach Tojiko. If nothing else, Byakuren would surely love the chance to be responsible for a Taoist’s instruction.

When we promised to bring something back for Tojiko, Byakuren herself was definitely not on the short list of possibilities. Taking the monk home would be tantamount to a direct insult to Tojiko. On the other hand, having Byakuren teach us and then we teach Tojiko gets us quality private time with them both. And we get to learn a new trick too. Win-Win-Win.
File 161231389188.jpg - (156.79KB, 1000x1569, scrolljiri.jpg) [iqdb]
43077
[x] Request Byakuren teach her directly. The risks to my standing would be worth it to ensure we cleared the air sooner.

Still bowing, I nodded my head. “Yes, darling. Please, teach her directly.”

Byakuren tilted her head, sparing a brief glance to Shou. “Oh, I just don’t know…”

Now, I met her eyes. “I need your help. Please, it would mean the world to me.”

She folded her arms and, shutting her eyes, turned them to the floor.

Shou turned to me. “Um, who are you two talking about? Why is she…”

I turned and placed a finger to her lips. Her eyes narrowed, but she kept quiet. I leaned close. “Don’t worry about it. She’s just a close, loyal disciple of mine.”

She furrowed her brow, distrust filtering out from her desires.

I sighed. “Oh, fine. If you must know, she’s-”

A hand clapped my shoulder. I turned to find Byakuren staring back. Her eyes had opened, and her desires, cleared.

She now-oh. Oh, dear. She…

She grabbed my other shoulder, then pulled me close. Her breath wafted over my face.

“Very well, dear. I’ll help you out. But I must insist on a certain payment in return.”

“This really isn’t the best time, dar…”

Her hands slid up to the back of my head and pulled me close. Slowly, gently, she pressed her lips to mine.

The most fleeting glance into her desires told me she wouldn’t let go with just this, and the difference between us, purely in terms of physical strength…

Well, I knew what had to be done.

I gripped the back of her head and pressed myself closer to her. Tighter to her. The moment just before she parted her lips, I pushed my tongue forward.

She grunted in surprise, her voice surprisingly cute and soft. Of course, she didn’t shrink back.

As I pressed my tongue to hers, she pushed it back to press her own inside me. We pushed, slid, and batted around one another a moment. But finally, I saw my opportunity.

Though, I must confess, it was not my first desire to exploit it.

Still, I pulled back. It took a second for our tongues to disentangle and for us to fully separate.

Byakuren coughed, then wiped her lips. I did something similar, myself.

Shou stared between the two of us, her face a deep red. “Uh, um, if you, I could just, maybe I should just…”

‘Go.’

That was clearly the word she’d been thinking. Between her desires, her floundering words, and the way she shuffled and glanced back, there was no doubt.

I grunted. “Oh, no. Why, if not for your presence, Byakuren would…”

Byakuren forced out a polite cough. “No, no. It’s fine, it’s fine. We were just about to leave anyway. Right, Miko?”

I shrugged. If she wanted to hide her desire for a witness, so be it.

Byakuren rose to her feet and strode between us, to the door. She slid it open, then glanced back, down on me.

I sighed, then smiled and shook my head. I stood up and, holding the shaku to my lips, walked out ahead of her. Waiting only until she said her farewell, I lead her out, through a gap, and back to the mausoleum’s chamber.

As we stepped out into the mists, she glanced around.

The shallow pool rippled, but no other movements or sounds reached our senses. All I heard were Byakuren’s desires.

Her need for control, for peace, for the enlightenment of humans and youkai, all the usual things. Except for…

She dropped to her knees, rested her hands, palm up, on them, and…

And that desire, whatever it was, faded from my ears. All I’d caught was that it had something to do with me.

And with Tojiko.

I took a step forward and stood beside her. My ears caught more than her desires, though the others were a fair bit fainter. One in the tower, the other in the nearby tunnel.

Hers still puzzled me the most. I couldn’t shake the notion that her move to meditation was at least in part to conceal her intentions. Just what went on in that head of hers?

Still holding my shaku aloft, I grunted.

“For a Buddhist saint, you sure keep a lot of secrets.”

She hummed, waiting a moment before she spoke. “I doubt you’re in a position to lecture me, dear.”

“On the contrary. Despite aspiring to things far outside my discipline, I…”

Tojiko cleared her throat. “Am back here.”

I twitched, then turned around. She floated behind us, her arms folded beneath her chest.

“Why, yes. Tojiko. I’m back and I’ve brought-”

“Your ‘wife.’ I see that, Miko.”

I huffed. “Indeed. And as it happens…”

Byakuren lifted herself to her feet and spun around. She clapped her hands on Tojiko’s shoulders, only for Tojiko to jerk away.

Byakuren sighed. “So, you’re my student, then~”

Tojiko’s narrow eyes, beneath her furrowed brow, turned to me. “What is this, Miko?”

I flicked my shaku in Byakuren’s direction. “Your gift, Tojiko. ‘This’ is-”

Byakuren adopted a wide, motherly smile. “I’m here to teach you how to terrify your enemies. How to drive them before you, to fill them with terror, shock, and awe.” She paused, letting out a faint chuckle. “That’s what Miko dear requested.”

Tojiko studied her face a moment, then turned to me, one brow raised.

I pouted. “Yes, that’s essentially what I would have said, had either of you let me speak.”

She frowned. “Your notion of a gift is to bring her to teach me? Need I remind you why I’m-”

Byakuren patted her shoulder. “Oh, don’t worry about such minor details. I’ll be nothing more than your mentor, here.”

Tojiko brushed her off, then groaned. “I don’t need a mentor like you. What I need is-”

Byakuren sighed. “Is power not enough? Why, the wisdom contained in my scroll…”

Finally, Tojiko sagged. “How strong?”

“Why, it’s the very source of much of my own might, you know.”

Tojiko mulled it over. She wanted to be free of Byakuren’s presence, but the thought did intrigue her.

Byakuren turned to me, smiling. “Miko dear. Go ahead and run off to whatever you had on mind while I teach her, would you?”

Tojiko’s eyes shot up. They narrowed, then stared deep into Byakuren. Byakuren, in response, only took a step back and held a mysterious but friendly smile.

I felt a faint sense of tension between them. Byakuren definitely wanted something with her, but Tojiko… while the offer intrigued her, she wanted to stay away from Byakuren. With my grand plan in jeopardy, it seemed it would be my responsibility to help things along.

[ ] I promised Tojiko that she could trust Byakuren, at least for this, then…
 [ ] I returned to Myouren Temple to chat more with Shou.
 [ ] I returned to Senkai to see how Futo was doing.

[ ] I consented to give the two some time alone, but only if and when Tojiko also requested it.

[ ] I refused Byakuren’s request. I’d remain by Tojiko’s side and make sure Byakuren kept on her best behavior.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/02/06 (Sat) 19:00

[x] I consented to give the two some time alone, but only if and when Tojiko also requested it.
But will she ask for it?
[x] I stepped away to attend to my own affairs, but double backed a few minutes later. Concealing my presence, I spied on the proceedings, ready to leap in if Byakuren tried something uncouth.

I don't like any of the options here, really. There is definitely something suspicious about Byakuren wanting Miko to leave before giving lessons. Tojiko isn't keen on the idea either. But if we butt in now and stay, we will upset Byakuren and never find out her true intentions. If we stake out whats going on, though, we can accomplish a few goals. We can learn Byakuren's trick, we can ensure Tojiko's safety, and possibly hear what they both have to say about Miko behind Miko's back. That can be quite valuable in of itself.
[X] I consented to give the two some time alone, but only if and when Tojiko also requested it.

If she wants Miko to stay, then Miko stays. Simple as that.
>>43079

Hm. I'll allow this vote.
[x] I stepped away to attend to my own affairs, but double backed a few minutes later. Concealing my presence, I spied on the proceedings, ready to leap in if Byakuren tried something uncouth.
File 161420776074.png - (971.16KB, 750x967, byakupout.png) [iqdb]
43085
[x] I consented to give the two some time alone, but only if and when Tojiko also requested it.

I ignored Byakuren, turning instead to Tojiko. “Want some privacy?”

She answered with a frown and a snort. “Not with her.”

Byakuren huffed, but I only leveled a steady, neutral smile toward her. “Then, there you have it.”

She pouted. “Please, dear. As your wife…”

Tojiko turned to her, her eyes narrowing to slits.

I held a neutral, steady gaze. “I suggest a bit more caution in your language here, darling.”

Tojiko clicked her tongue at my remark. Byakuren, however, sighed.

“Very well. But I don’t recall consenting to offering you a free lesson, as well.” She then turned to me, her voice a little higher than I’d have liked. “And I don’t recall you behaving this way when we were alone…”

I frowned, but settled down, barely off to their side. I breathed in, then forced a smile. “Don’t mind me~ I’ll keep my attention fixed solely on you two, not whatever arcane errata you discuss.”

Tojiko cleared her throat. “This had better be worth my time.” She eased back, floating downward until her wispy legs wafted directly across the stone. “Show me what you’ve got.”

Byakuren pouted again but, after a glance between the two of us, merely let out another, more dramatic sigh, and sunk to her knees. She produced her scroll and unrolled it over her lap. As she did, the shapes-characters? -shifted. She placed a finger on one of them.

“Can you read this?”

Tojiko leaned close, over it. “Nope. It’s all gibberish.”

Byakuren… smiled. She wore a cocky grin, even. “Very well. Think of its meaning as a sort of ‘destruction.’ It indicates the beginning of a spell one uses to summon a terrible thunderstorm.”

I tilted my head. “You’re not worried about her summoning such destruction on your own temple?”

Byakuren let out a clipped, tense breath. “Miko, dear. Your w-I know what I’m doing.”

Tojiko snorted. “You’d better. It’ll take quite the lesson to make this time worth it.”

Byakuren flinched, then straightened her back. “Please, show some patience. This spell is indeed dangerous, requiring the utmost attention to the needs and concerns of the life around you. However, with adequate humility and an understanding rooted not in the carnal self, but in the world around you…”

“You’re asking a lot of a vengeful spirit, here.”

I rubbed my shaku, gently tapping it against my chin. “Are you really all that ‘vengeful’ these days?”

Tojiko grunted. “Miko, please. Don’t interrupt.”

Byakuren leaned forward and, gently, rubbed Tojiko’s shoulder. “Anyone can change and outgrow their old nature. If you ever need another ear for…”

Tojiko brushed her off. “What I need is for you to prove the value of this ‘lesson.’ Would you get to the point, already?”

Byakuren huffed. “This lesson is about far more than some magic trick!” Afterward, however, she shook her head and returned to the scroll. “Your insistence on rewards in place of growth is dangerous, but if you insist.” Her finger moved down. “Now, to begin, you utter this phrase…”

She went through a few unfamiliar words. Tojiko kept her ears focused, hoping to learn something destructive and powerful. Something that, indeed, she could learn to impress or terrify others…

Including myself.

However, as concerning as I found that particular desire, some of her earlier frustrations had already begun to wane. Something I couldn’t help a sigh of relief at. I wasn’t entirely clear yet, but I was on the right track.

“…it’s okay if you don’t get it at first. Just keep studying, and I’m sure…”

The two had been practicing the words, it seemed. Soon, Byakuren lead Tojiko through a few motions-motions that the monk moved gracefully through, but which my companion, of course, stumbled around.

Then, as they finished the first few attempts, Tojiko cleared her throat. Before the first syllable left her mouth, I heard her desire.

I hopped to my feet and took a few steps away.

She grunted. “Oh, come on. It wouldn’t have hurt that much.”

Byakuren blinked, turning between the two of us. “What wouldn’t have…” Slowly, she turned to Tojiko and pinched her brow. “Please, tell me you weren’t planning to test the spell already.”

In response, Tojiko grunted. “I’m spending time with you, aren’t I? Of course, I have to test it!”

I shook my head, choosing to let her previous intentions slide. For now. “Would it even work, underground?”

“Ms. Tojiko, please. I must insist that you exercise more restraint. This isn’t something to just throw around all the time!”

She sighed. “Then, let’s start with something I can throw around.”

Byakuren took a sharp breath, then let it out over the course of what felt like a full minute. I patted her shoulder. “Do you need a break?”

She calmed down, slightly. Tojiko, however, grimaced. She flicked her hair and leveled her eyes on Byakuren. “You wanted some alone time, right?”

Byakuren blinked, turning a pair of narrow eyes to her. “I did request that, yes.”

Tojiko’s eyes softened and her tight lips eased into a gentle smile.

It disconcerted me, just a little, how easily she faked innocence in that moment. How easily she concealed a desire to frustrate Byakuren.

And how she focused so heavily on that desire, to the exclusion of…

Of all other desires.

I sighed and, turning around, took some leisurely steps away.

“Ah! Wait, dear!”

I paused and glance back. “Yes, Byakuren?”

Tojiko’s face twitched, then settled back down.

A moment of uncertainty passed through Byakuren’s eyes, then she smiled and shook her head. “I’ll see you soon.”

I grinned back. “I’ll see you, too.” I then swiveled slightly, to Tojiko. “And you, of course~”

She waved me off. “Yeah, yeah.”

She knew that I knew that she now wanted that space I’d offered. Conveniently, this meant I needed not explain things. However, as I strode away, I couldn’t help but wonder just what both women had wanted to hide from me.

With a careful use of pacing and perhaps a pinch of void transition, I could soon turn back without-possibly without-either of them realizing my presence. But if they did discover my deception, that could easily make things… difficult afterword.

So, I…

[ ] Doubled back. Intelligence is paramount to a competent administrator.

[ ] Departed to the village. Trust is vital to any intimate relationship.

[ ] Returned to Byakuren’s temple. No reason not to poke around when she’s preoccupied.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/02/28 (Sun) 19:00

[x] Departed to the village. Trust is vital to any intimate relationship.
[x] Departed to the village. Trust is vital to any intimate relationship.
[x] Doubled back. Intelligence is paramount to a competent administrator.

Trust is good and all, but its also important to verify. Need to see what these two are up to.
[X] Departed to the village. Trust is vital to any intimate relationship.
File 161558426256.jpg - (1.86MB, 1815x2228, wallsana.jpg) [iqdb]
43092
[x] Departed to the village. Trust is vital to any intimate relationship.

I sighed and kept moving. If trouble came up, I’d find a way to resolve it. But, in the meantime, I would put some faith in these women.

Yet, I kept my ears out as I departed, for whatever last hints I might catch on the way out. As I reached my exit, I heard an inkling of an urge in Byakuren to solidify her connection with me. In Tojiko, a need to know more.

I shook my head as I stepped into the void. If either of them betrayed the trust I was putting in them, I would discover it. And I would make sure to remember it.

A small, insignificant corner of my mind hoped that neither of them held any such objections toward me.

I came out near the village. Several steps and a few polite greetings later, I strolled down its streets. Plenty of folks-mostly human-walked and bartered and fought for space here, letting me nestle myself into the familiar, comfortable buzz of their needs and wants.

Food, money, company, security… dozens upon dozens of them, almost all of which fell along common paths and niches. This was why, although the faces often changed, I found large human groups so comfortable.

Some of the common desires differed from old Asuka, to be sure. Even back then, the fear of youkai never peaked so high, but I’d already gotten used to such feelings.

I stopped by my dojo, while I was here. I didn’t enter it, this time, but I strolled by close enough to hear the general mood inside. A few pockets of mistrust had flared back up, but most of them still floated high off yesterday’s session.

I waited there a moment, then rolled my shoulders and strolled away, basking in the afternoon sun. They’d be fine another day or two without me. Like the village itself, it seemed to manage surprisingly well under minimal leadership. I had to pause only a few steps later, however, for I had heard something.

That same nosey bundle of desires from yesterday. The one that had hovered near the very dojo I’d just departed. Without any other compelling needs to address, I cheerfully listened in a bit longer. A desire to please, one to savor juicy gossip, to know the ins and outs of our relationship-

Ours. Mine and Byakuren’s, very specifically.

And one more, to atone for some mistake. Odd. That one felt different. Out of place, perhaps?

Possibly a new one but, if so, why?

The desires moved, back toward the dojo. I held a distance away, then started to follow. It took only a moment before I found the familiar head of green hair which held all those desires. One accompanied by that white and blue dress she often wore, of the peculiar, bare-shouldered style that the shrine maidens of this realm seemed to favor. She approached the front door and pressed herself to the wall.

I suppressed a snicker, then gently approached. She was… fixated.

Neither her body language nor her desires registered any notice or attention as I slipped in, right behind her. So, naturally, I leaned in and breathed across her ear.

She squealed.

I chuckled and stepped back, a second before she whipped her gohei out and swung it where I had just been.

She paused, turned, and locked eyes with me. As she did, she froze, and her face burned a cute shade of red. Her mouth floundered for a good minute before she found her words.

“M-Ms. Miko. I wasn’t eavesdropping! I-I-I…”

I sighed, then tapped her shoulder and pressed a finger to my lips.

She shut her mouth. Then, with a simple gesture to the street, I had her following me down it. I hummed on the way, which just seemed to agitate her more. I couldn’t help it, her nervousness, in the face of her attempted espionage, was just so cute.

Finally, after listening to her tie herself in knots for a few minutes, I showed some mercy.

“You’re a very curious woman, aren’t you? Always following me around.”

Mercy of a sort, that is.

“I was just, uh, looking out for you! I-I mean, after all that’s gone down, what if something, uh…”

She wanted to convince me her motive and behavior were both entirely benign, as expected. What I expected less was that she seemed to believe it, too.

“Perhaps, you just wanted to see some fine, eligible men, deep in profound thought or working through certain exercises?”

She sputtered, face flushing. I was wrong, but I could tell…

“O-of course, not! I-I’d never!”

That was a lie. I snickered. “Perhaps it’s the women you’re more interested in?”

She let out a rather squeaky noise but deigned not to answer. Despite this, the desire still didn’t quite match up. Women, and the romance thereof, interested her. But their bodies?

Well, maybe she was interested, maybe not. But the difference was stark. Male bodies excited her far more.

Ah, the curse of knowing too many of the intimate details of others~

I leaned in close. “Or, perhaps…”

I paused, pulling back. I heard another bundle of urges. Someone else. Someone I’d…

Sanae gulped. “P-perhaps…”

I paid no attention to the weird tingle in her soul. Instead…

Ah, there. Kokoro stepped toward us, her face hard and gri… her face as flat as usual.

Her desires were rather focused though, fitting with the fox mask that hovered beside her head. I must have confused the two.

I cleared my throat. “Welcome, welcome. We’re having quite the party, aren’t we?”

Sanae flinched and spun around, then froze as she stared at Kokoro.

“O-oh! What a sight! How are you-”

Kokoro pointed a finger at Sanae. “You’re the culprit, aren’t you.”

She yelped. “What? I have no, no idea what you’re talking about! I-uh, I need to go!”

She spun on her heel and…

“You got them married.”

She froze. Again. Her desires now quite interested me. She wanted to convince us that Kokoro was wrong. She also wanted her to be wrong. But her desires showed no evidence she knew one way or the other.

For the supposed culprit, she seemed awfully in the dark.

Kokoro, too. Despite her determination, retribution did not appear among her own desires. Fitting, I suppose, given that she was not directly involved in any of the affairs. But then, why her belligerence a couple days ago?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Kokoro huffed. “Admit it. You waited until they both got drunk, then told them to get hitched.”

Sanae whimpered. Kokoro nodded her head, then turned to me. Her mask switched out for the Young Woman as a sense of pride radiated from her heart.

“It wasn’t a youkai, after all. We don’t need to worry.”

A youkai, why was she…

Wait. I suggested something like that, didn’t I? Something about ‘discord and marriage,’ or something.

Sanae turned around, however shakily, and cocked her face to one side. Now, it was my turn to respond with some degree of nervousness. She hadn’t heard of my ‘theory’ and, dearly, wished to know more.

I fought down a groan and…

[ ] Suggested we all sit down and take a breather. This was far too much to address so quickly.

[ ] Congratulated Kokoro for her deduction. We no longer needed to worry about surprise matrimony.

[ ] Turned the question back to Sanae. Was she really the one behind all this?

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/03/16 (Tue) 19:00

[ X] Congratulated Kokoro for her deduction. We no longer needed to worry about surprise matrimony.

Positive reinforcement!
[X] Suggested we all sit down and take a breather. This was far too much to address so quickly.

Let's not jump to conclusions if we can help it.
[x] Congratulated Kokoro for her deduction. We no longer needed to worry about surprise matrimony.

Yes, lets just consider the matter settled and move on to other topics as soon as possible. Stopping to think about it too hard would only bring us more trouble.
File 161661990571.jpg - (3.60MB, 2577x3500, kokolook.jpg) [iqdb]
43096
[x] Congratulated Kokoro for her deduction. We no longer needed to worry about surprise matrimony.

And I clapped my hands. “Congratulations, Kokoro! Excellent work.”

Though her face and tone remained neutral, she yearned to hear more. It played into my immediate plans, but I had to wonder if this vulnerability to praise was something I should enable.

Sanae, however, narrowed her eyes. “Ms. Miko. The youkai. What did she mean…”

I tapped my shaku on my chin. “We don’t need to worry about any more surprises, do we?”

Kokoro shook her head very slightly. “We don’t.”

“Why would a youkai be-”

I pushed out a satisfied sigh. “Wonderful. Byakuren and I are free to-”

“Miko!”

The two of us turned to Sanae who, as soon as our eyes had turned to her, pressed her hands together. Her fingers engaged in a rather hesitant, nervous dance with one another. Still, eyes shifting this way and that, she aimed them in our general direction. “A youkai, behind the marriage? Why would that-”

I clapped Kokoro on the shoulder. “Come, Kokoro. Let’s celebrate your discovery.”

Sanae pouted. “Hey! I wanna know!”

I tossed an idle wave her way as I nudged Kokoro down the road. “Another time. I must reward this tsukumogami’s diligence.”

She huffed, questions and objections swirling within her. She yearned for answers, both to her original question and my fixation on Kokoro. But my insistence had, apparently, worn her down, as she chose not to pursue us further.

Slipping away, I wandered until the warm smoke of a humble yakitori stall drew me in. There, I purchased a pair of skewers and, once they were ready, offered one to Kokoro. “So, how’d you figure it out?”

She accepted it, tapping the top piece to check its temperature. “I went to the mountain, like you and Byakuren suggested-”

We suggested that?

“-but a green goddess got in my way so-”

“I was there for that, remember?”

She bit down, her mask turning briefly to the Hannya-anger-before returning to her more serious Fox.

“The tengu also got in my way, so I had to fight them.”

I winced a bit as I bit off some chicken. Such behavior was far from unusual but would have done nothing to endear her to them. And, if they felt I was involved in any way…

“Then I got to the shrine, but the goddesses fought me too. I almost beat them. But then more tengu came and forced me away. I just needed a couple more minutes and I would have learned their secret.”

I nodded, munching as she spoke, and stepped back into the streets. “That’s when you found us, isn’t it?”

Her mask switched to the Young Woman, then back again. “Yes. I couldn’t find any answers, but some people whispered about it yesterday.”

I raised a brow as I bit off a bit more, savoring the peppery taste this one had.

“Someone said the Moriya goddesses were behind it, so I questioned all of them.”

I twitched. “You didn’t harass these people, did you?”

Her mask returned to the Hannya, this time staying there for a good moment. “Of course, not.”

I sighed as I chewed. “Then, please, continue~”

She huffed, focusing on her meat. But, a moment later, her mask returned to the Fox. “They lead me to an eye-witness. A messy woman who swore she saw the shrine maiden demand a marriage.”

I hummed. Feeling out her desires, I tapped the shaku to my chin. “Messy?”

“She had stuff in her hair.”

Despite utter neutrality in her eyes and movements, She clearly wanted to move to the next topic. In response, I furrowed my brow. “Oh, but it i-”

She turned and jabbed a finger at me. “You two should stay married.”

I groaned. “First you want us together, then apart, then together again.” I jabbed a finger back at her. “Make up your mind!”

She kept her finger leveled at me. “I did. I made up my mind three times.” Then, she retracted it. “The Moriya shrine maiden got you two married. Her goddesses must want you to stay together, but I don’t know why. If you separated, they’d panic, and their evil schemes would be too hard to discover. Wait until I figure it out, then separate.”

I nibbled a bit more as she spoke, only to sigh as she finished. “We’ll stay together or apart regardless of…”

“While you’re together, adopt me.”

I blinked, lifting my shaku to over my nose as I studied her desires. ‘Learn more of emotions,’ ‘investigate the Moriyas,’ ‘don’t apologize to Hina’… nothing weird. I narrowed my eyes, listening deeper.

Ah, ‘experiment with childhood.’ She was still on that.

I turned away. “The two of us still have a lot to address. It’s too soon to consider such-”

“The Moriyas won’t wait forever. Do it before they slip away.”

I took a couple steps. “It would be difficult to get everything settled i-”

“I’m can perform at your temples to attract more worshippers.”

I snorted. “What do you think a child is?”

“Someone who’s born or adopted by parents, who serves and is spoiled by them until adulthood.”

I snickered. “You really do have a lot to learn about it.”

“So, adopt me.”

I finished off the rest of my skewer, then tossed the stick aside and rubbed my shaku. What to say, what to say?

She spoke up again. “Besides, someone needs to watch over you two and make sure you don’t cause more trouble for the village.”

I tapped her forehead with my shaku. “I’m plenty concerned about the village’s state already. I don’t need your meddling.”

Despite a sudden urge to beat me, her mask remained fixed on the fox. Her determination must have overpowered her irritation. I sighed. She was not going to let me go until she had an answer, so I…

[ ] Gave in for the moment. I’d worry about the consequences later but, for now, I just wanted her off my back.

[ ] Relented, but insisted she move in with me, specifically. Byakuren already had plenty of company.

[ ] Insisted I could not answer her until I spoke with Byakuren, her other prospective ‘mother.’

[ ] Refused. Now was simply not the time.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/03/28 (Sun) 19:00

[ ] Relented, but insisted she move in with me, specifically. Byakuren already had plenty of company.
Now now miko, making important decisions on your own is a good way to wind up sleeping on the sofa.
[x] Gave in for the moment. I’d worry about the consequences later but, for now, I just wanted her off my back.

What could possibly go wrong?
[x] Refused. Now was simply not the time.

Kids are trouble. Kids with an agenda are more trouble. Kids with an agenda and newly formed enemies are extreme trouble. We don't need more trouble.
Sorry for the delay, but I would like to formally request a tie-breaking vote. I should have made this request a day or so sooner and wish to apologize for that. If none arrive within the next several hours, I shall flip a metaphorical coin instead.
[x] Gave in for the moment. I’d worry about the consequences later but, for now, I just wanted her off my back.
Lets bring on the chaos!
We're giving in.
File 161896321075.jpg - (207.68KB, 874x1240, cockykokoro.jpg) [iqdb]
43103
[x] Gave in for the moment. I’d worry about the consequences later but, for now, I just wanted her off my back.

I stared at her, hard and firm. She stared back.

That damn fox remained pinned to her face.

I sighed and turned on my heel, back toward the village gate.

She followed close behind.

I kept walking. She kept following.

I tossed my hands out to either side and shrugged my shoulders. “Fine. Fine. Follow me.”

“Yay.”

I turned back and gripped her shoulder. From there, I slipped out of the village and, through space, to the temple stairs.

She stopped for a moment as we touched down and turned her blank eyes this way and that. “Amazing.”

I puffed out my chest, only for her to, without further comment, march up the steps. I sighed and chose to linger back, at least for the moment. If she was still as belligerent as before, following too close would only get me into more of the very trouble I had just avoided.

“Greetings are the-hey! Don’t just walk iiiin!”

I shook my head. Those sorts of messes, precisely. Despite her insistence, I held no authority over this temple. So, naturally, I waited for Kokoro and the flustered yamabiko to disappear into it, then took a leisurely stroll up the stairs.

My sandals clacked on the stone as I ascended. I had a great deal of work ahead of me if I wanted to properly educate this stubborn menreiki. She had not responded as well as I’d hoped to simple persuasion, but if I couldn’t do better, only more confrontational methods would work. And those would not be reliable without the support of powerful people. People like…

Byakuren.

I groaned but kept walking. I’d left that monk alone with Tojiko, before learning just what they’d intended with one another. I needed them to play nice with one another and to come out of their meeting without new reasons to trouble me. I had enough on my plate already.

“Hey! I’m Kyouko! Who are y…”

I tuned the commotion out and stepped around, toward the hallways. I made my way back toward the room, then paused. I held my shaku in my right hand and, in my left…

Nothing.

I jogged back toward the chamber where I had slept with the head monk and slipped inside. I found the futon, now rolled up, and that desk from before.

But nothing else.

I groaned, then slipped, through space, back to my precious Senkai. I sifted through a few halls before retrieving my box and returning to…

I slipped back to my chambers and browsed a bit more. Statues or busts of the three immortals would prove too much-and too valuable to risk in her temple-but a couple diagrams? I shook my head. No, too much to consider just yet.

I slipped back to Byakuren’s chamber with the box.

I kneeled and took a moment to ponder as I opened it. I couldn’t just set these things on the floor, but the room was so painfully simple. I brought the box to the table. There, I retrieved the scroll and cup, then set them both on that same table, but left the dress in the box.

Closing it back up, I unraveled the scroll to the first few paragraphs, then stepped back and rested on my knees. I closed my eyes and poured my mind outward, to the…

A sense of agitation interrupted my meditation. A couple disciples tried to keep someone from barging-

The door to our room slid open.

“Where’s Byakuren.”

Kokoro. Of course. I rocked on my hips. “She’s busy.”

“With what.”

I frowned. “How’s the temple, Kokoro?”

“It’s the same as usual. Is this where you sleep.”

Of course, she’d still cling to me, but did she have to be this nosey? I grunted but patted the floor beside me. “If you’re going to keep yammering, sit down.”

She paused, then shuffled beside me. “They tried to keep me out, but I-”

“Please, stop fighting people.”

She huffed. “I didn’t fight them.”

I cocked a brow, then pressed my shaku to my chin as I answered. “Good.” I then cleared my throat. “Speaking of fighting,” I peeked an eye open, toward her blank face. “Could you tell me more about this eye-witness?”

She blinked. “Eye-witness.”

“The messy one you encountered yesterday.”

“Oh. Her. I already told you everything. She said she saw the Moriya shrine maiden demand that marriage.”

I clicked my tongue. “That’s it? Really?”

“Yes.”

I turned away, toward the table, and tilted my head. “Is this what convinced the shrine maiden herself?”

“Convince her. No. She did it, so she must already know.”

“And yet, she didn’t know. At least, not with the kind of confidence I’d expect.”

“She didn’t.”

“Indeed, she didn’t.”

Kokoro turned away, herself, pondering my answer to her uninflected question. Though uncertain, she wanted to disbelieve it.

Either way, I would need to investigate this further.

“What did this witness look like? How was she dressed? What color was her…” I paused, hearing yet more commotion from the hall.

I turned my head to the door just as it slid open, revealing first a pink cloud, then a worried, cowled face.

“Hijiri! Please, we need…” She trailed off, studying the room. Her cheeks turned… not quite as pink as the cloud, but close. “Ms. Miko, where is Hijiri?”

I shrugged. “I’m afraid that she’s busy, why?”

Ichirin studied us a moment longer, her lips tight. So instead, I listened to what she didn’t say.

She wanted answers. She, and some of her associates. They wanted to solve a dilemma that the temple faced. Something about rumors. Rumors of…

She turned away. “I-I’ll ask elsewhere. Sorry for your time!”

Rumors of obstruction? No, danger, trouble… kidnappings! Rumors that the temple disciples had kidnapped villagers. As she took a step away, I pondered how to act.

Despite her fixation on Byakuren, I heard sufficient stress that I knew they’d accept my aid, at least until the monk’s return.

This temple lacked its leader in what seemed a very troubled moment. I could leave them to their trials and figure out who this ‘witness’ was, or I could offer my help. Doing so threatened to leave me ever more entangled to the temple, but could serve a fine chance to show off, too.

[ ] I completed my interrogation of Kokoro, leaving them to their troubles.

[ ] I threw out a few vague notions on how to improve their public image.

[ ] I offered to take charge and help them organize an investigation into the matter.

[ ] I requested they give me some more info on the temple, in exchange for a complete advisement.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/04/24 (Sat) 19:00

[x] I threw out a few vague notions on how to improve their public image.
[X] I offered to take charge and help them organize an investigation into the matter.

Seems like the sort of thing that's worth looking into...
[X] I offered to take charge and help them organize an investigation into the matter.

C'mon, we're Miko, taking charge is what we do!
File 162094377519.jpg - (298.36KB, 1102x750, ichishoumura.jpg) [iqdb]
43109
[x] I offered to take charge and help them organize an investigation into the matter.

I glanced briefly to Kokoro. The girl still pondered my answer, mulling over what it may mean for this idea or that.

I shook my head and pulled myself to my feet, then strode through the door she’d just left. Kokoro barely even noticed.

Skipping down the hall, I heard bits and pieces of the problem. Worries about whether the disappearances would continue, wondering if this person or that would be next, who was behind it all…

I ran a hand along one earmuff. These weren’t the sort of desires I most enjoyed perusing. Instead, I picked up the pace and pushed through the few figures I found - most of them, as far as my ears could tell, gathered in various rooms, rather than wander the halls.

I kept marching until I caught up with the fretting monk. Distraction had fallen upon her as well, though she feared the meeting she’d arranged more than the trouble. Even as I followed close behind, I heard no notice of my presence. Not my footsteps, nor the swish of my clothes, or even the taps of my shaku against my chest.

She slowed. I slowed to match. Only then did I notice the faint, pink fog filtering through the hall. A fog that fretted over my presence and preferred not to show itself so blatantly, but at the same time…

I heard the hint of its gentle, murmuring whisper.

Ichirin flinched, then spun around toward me. She stared at me for a good second before her composure finally caught up with her. Unzan flowed behind her, seeking protection.

Whether my innocent smile helped ease her nerves, or just rattled her more, who can say? Regardless, her heart burned to know why I’d appeared.

Naturally, I kept my smile and lifted the shaku just short of my face. “You need help. So, here I am~”

Her lips did a rather peculiar dance, flitting between the shapes to start different syllables. No doubt, they sought some sensible question or objection. But in the end, they instead pressed together. Her eyes bounced between my face and a nearby door.

Her face flushed a subtle, but pretty shade not unlike the cloud eddying around her. Only when she’d collected herself did her voice escape her throat. “These are private temple affairs. To share them with you of all peo-"

I shook my head, then stepped past her, to that very door. “Trust me, trust me. Everything will be fine.”

The cloud billowed. He sought to deny me entry, she to protect the temple. Neither acted fast enough, however. I slid the door open, waving them in as I strolled inside. A wide, rectangular carpet rested atop the tatami and, at the center, rested two of the temple’s more noteworthy figures. One of them, Minamitsu, lounged back in her pristine sailor suit. The other, Shou, leaned forward, hands on her knees and sweat beading across her brow.

A good distance behind them, a mouse youkai rested against the corner wall, studying the ceiling. Her heart spoke of an interest in how things went down, yet a firm desire not to associate too closely with those present. One backed up by her closed body language and the impatient-if forced-tapping of her feet.

Well, most of those present.

Both the sailor and tiger’s eyes flew wide as I stepped inside. They held fixed to me for only a couple moments before they slid to the woman who shuffled in behind me.

No. The cloud behind her.

I rolled my shoulders, then settled into a cozy space between the two. “So, kidnapping rumors, eh?”

Minamitsu scowled at the monk behind me. “You told her?”

That monk squeaked. “Wh-no! I didn’t! I tried to…”

“She asked for your leader, but I’m afraid that I’d already entangled her in business of my own.”

Shou straightened her back. “Is she…”

“I’d worry more for her company than herself, but that’s neither here nor there.” I set the shaku in my lap and leaned back. “Since she’d left on my account, I’ve chosen to take responsibility by standing in her place.”

The two exchanged glances. Minamitsu planted a hand on one knee and rose to her feet. She planted her hands on her hips. “This’s too sensitive for-”

I chuckled. “Don’t worry. I won’t spread any of those nasty rumors myself.” I took a long, dramatic breath. “Or did you forget,” I locked eyes with her, “that I’ve fallen victim to a similar scheme?”

Shou and Ichirin turned perplexed gazes my way. Was I too dramatic? Too quick, perhaps?

The cloud’s front resolved into its bearded, gruff face. Minamitsu, however, folded her arms. Her eyes shifted from her earlier, aggravated glare to an excited stare. “Oh?”

She had missed my rumors, it seemed.

I shrugged. “They wouldn’t excite you, I’m afraid.”

She flicked her tongue, glancing away. “Fine. But what about that booze?”

Ichirin twitched. “T-that what?”

Shou joined the mouse in staring at the ceiling. Less in thought, more in a shoddy effort to dodge eye contact.

Minamitsu grumbled, glancing back. “What? Byakuren’s gone.” Her eyes turned back to me. “You didn’t think I’d forget, did you?”

I rubbed my shaku. “I promised only to consider sharing. I had appointments to keep!”

She huffed, this time quite petulantly. “I’m gettin’ a drink off you someday.” She sat back down, though. “I still ain’t tellin’ you a thing.”

I pouted. “I’m sure you can-”

“The disappearances were from last night to this morning. Between the village and the temple.”

I blinked. So did Minamitsu and Ichirin. The three of us turned to Shou, who blushed and averted her eyes in response. “I-I don’t… we need any help we can get!”

Minamitsu groaned. “She ain’t help, tiger! She’s…”

“A rival. She might help us, but…” Ichirin nodded, then leveled a cautious gaze my way. Unzan billowed in agreement. “If you dare share any of this…”

I shook my head. “Me, exploit you now? It would embarrass me to need a method that underhanded to win.”

The monk and sailor’s eyes hung on me, but soon turned to Shou. They’d accept my assistance, as I assumed. But they’d pay close attention to my behavior as well. I would need to act cautiously to keep their favor.

I cleared my throat. “Please, Shou. Continue.”

Shou glanced to the other two, then inhaled. “There were three victims. They visited the temple sometimes. And, um,” she paused and peeked at the mouse, who only shrugged. She turned back to us, “I don’t know who could’ve taken them or where they could have gone. No one told me about anyone they thought could have done it.”

I nodded. They needed information before they could move further. A place, a culprit, something. All they had to go on so far amounted to little more than sudden fear and hostility from losing people. For humans here, that hardly meant much.

Ichirin planted a hand on the floor. “One of the victims wasn’t even a human!”

I flinched. What? I took a breath as I turned to her. “You know this one?”

She frowned. “No.” She turned away. “I-I mean, not very well. Only one of them was very regular and this one, well, she wasn’t. B-but, she had rabbit ears. Real ones.”

Curious. Two humans, one youkai. All attended the temple. Judging by her tone, Ichirin was confident that the rabbit was innocent, just as the relatives or friends of the humans must have felt.

Could any of these people have been wrong? Was one of the three responsible? Or was it some fourth party?

I picked my shaku back up and rested it on my chin. “Whether or not there’s any truth to the matter, the people need to see you taking it seriously. Launch an investigation, find out as much as you can about what happened.”

Shou drooped. “We know that, but where?”

I straightened my back. “We start with the temple itself, of course.”

Ichirin grimaced. “I can assure you, whoever did this was not from-”

I waved her off. “It doesn’t matter who or where the culprit is.”

Several pairs of eyes narrowed at me for that remark. I sighed. “What matters is what people want to see. They fear you’re not taking their safety…”

I blinked, suddenly unsure. The others stared at me, waiting for me to finish my thought.

Was safety really their chief concern? From these humans?

I shook my head. Maybe, maybe not. “They fear you’re not taking your duties seriously enough. Your priority should be to alleviate those worries. Launch a public investigation of your temple. You’ll need to step carefully there, but I can help you through that.” I cracked a wry smile. “Trust me, I have some experience with these matters.”

I studied the room a moment. Their steady attention and curious desires told me all I needed - they’d cooperate. For now, at least.

“If nothing turns up, move out from there to better leads. Now…”

From there, I went to handle a few other matters of logistics and intelligence. As I did, I pondered the room. The mouse youkai, despite her aloof demeanor, listened intently to the discussions. Minamitsu still craved some ‘reward’ for her discretion. Shou worried more for the temple’s adherents, while Ichirin fretted instead over Byakuren herself and what I’d do once our meeting concluded.

Speaking of which, I wasn’t quite sure what to do then, myself.

[ ] I’d poke at the mouse youkai. She was important to the temple in some way, and I didn’t like not knowing important people.

[ ] I’d offer to listen in on the temple’s disciples myself. Just for insights into this incident, of course.

[ ] I’d invite these fine folks to a drink or two to ease their nerves. Perhaps they needed some relaxation.

[ ] My business would be finished, so I’d return to my room. If Kokoro still lingered, I could finish pressing her on the witness.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/05/17 (Mon) 19:00

[X] I’d offer to listen in on the temple’s disciples myself. Just for insights into this incident, of course.
[X] I’d invite these fine folks to a drink or two to ease their nerves. Perhaps they needed some relaxation.

Might as well resolve the matter with Murasa sooner rather than later.
[X ] I’d poke at the mouse youkai. She was important to the temple in some way, and I didn’t like not knowing important people.

Let's meet Nazrin.
I wish to humbly request a vote for one of the three options already chosen. The first such vote within the next ten or so hours shall decide the course of the next update.
[X] I’d offer to listen in on the temple’s disciples myself. Just for insights into this incident, of course.
Aight
Listening in it is.
File 162231761087.jpg - (224.08KB, 1015x780, frownchirin.jpg) [iqdb]
43116
[x] I’d offer to listen in on the temple’s disciples myself. Just for insights into this incident, of course.

“Let’s talk about your temple.”

Minamitsu shook her head. “I’d rather hear about your-”

“Your leader’s taken a profoundly lax stance toward their training and discipline, hasn’t she?”

Ichirin pouted, folding her arms beneath her chest. “It’s only natural. Most youkai can’t just control themselves like humans do. If we…”

I waved her off. “Yes, yes. They make for poor disciples. That’s why-”

“W-They make for fine disciples! They just need more time and patience. It’s a perfectly fine…”

I sat back a moment, taken aback. Now that I listened, I heard the nerve that I’d struck. A vulnerability, one about Byakuren and her methods. But more than that…

“…why, just yesterday, this rabbit…”

About her own habits. I took a deep breath, waiting a few more moments until she finally slowed down.

“…are you even listening to me?”

I smiled the brightest, most inoffensive smile I had to offer. “Not really.”

She puffed a deep red, one that contrasted against the cloud that billowed around her and formed a pair of mighty fists.

I held my hands up and turned my smile visibly defensive. “My sincerest apologies, Ms. Kumoi. I didn’t mean to judge your practices.”

Both her and her pet cloud paused. She tensed up, but she’d listen. I tapped my shaku across my knee. “The other disciples. They’re used to a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere, aren’t they? One that doesn’t challenge them-”

Ichirin glared.

I huffed. “-too much, that is.”

She eased back.

Shou leaned forward and shut her eyes. She planted her hands on her knees. “Our evening sessions unsettle most of them. That’s challenging them.”

I shook my head. “But they come to those for fun. If any of you start asking uncomfortable questions, they won’t respond well, will they?”

Shou turned to Minamitsu, who shrugged.

I straightened my back. “I’ll handle your investigation, then. Just tell the village you’re ‘cooperating’ with me in hopes of solving this trouble. When your disciples get offended, pass the blame off on me.”

A moment of silence fell as they pondered my offer. Then, Minamitsu smiled, clapping her hands to her legs. She leapt to her feet and turned toward the door. “Sounds good to me. Let me know when you’re all done so we can start drinkin’.”

Ichirin and Shou cringed, but neither dared deny how eagerly they’d join her. Not in front of me, anyway.

Nonetheless, I hung back as she left to provide some solace-and a couple more tidbits of my wisdom-with the rest. That mouse still held back through all of it. Even as we left the room, she waited until the last of us stepped out before following.

I strolled back down the halls to wherever I’d find the most desires. Sticking close to a few common rooms, I caught whispers of who eloped with who, what fights had broken out, what went on in their leader’s bed…

I shook my head and focused solely on their desires instead. Amid more speculations on my love life, I heard worries about how this could hinder the evening sessions, or what their associates might think about them continuing to visit, or if it would hurt the festival.

Festival, festival… Right. That one I’d committed to helping with, huh?

That would be interesting, but it’d no doubt also be a pain.

Then there were desires that stood out from the rest. A need to pin those kidnappings on the Moriya Shrine? Also, to convince Byakuren and I to let her…

I groaned. “Why are you following me?”

I heard the jolt as Kokoro stopped behind me. “Why are you just walking around.”

She’d deflected. From a glance at her desires, she’d grown either bored or frustrated with the temple already. I massaged my shaku. “I’m working.”

“Oh.”

A pause ensued.

“On what.”

I kept walking. She kept following. I tried to listen to the temple further, but her desires kept muddling them up.

For such an unexpressive girl, her heart sure drowned my poor ears out.

I grit my teeth, then stopped again. She stopped as well.

“Don’t you have other things to do? Some sort of mystery to investigate?”

“I haven’t moved in yet. Besides, the temple’s not welcoming me. You need to correct them.”

That… urgh. I took a deep breath. “Whose temple do you think this is?”

“Yours and Hijiri’s. You married her, remember.”

I took another deep breath, squeezing my shaku. “I’m afraid it’s not so simple. You see, I…”

I paused, unsure of what to say. Would admitting to my lack of authority also admit to a false promise? Certainly not, but would she see it that way?

She listened, eagerly awaiting my response. I, however, continued to…

Another set of desires. One for my presence, one to bask in her handling of Toji…

I spun on my heel and looked Kokoro in her unblinking eyes. “Excuse me, Kokoro.”

I then strode past her, toward the front gate, to…

“Sure, papa.”

“It’s ma-!” I shook my head and chose not to continue that thought. Instead, I marched forward, down the halls toward the main entrance. Those desires - I heard something different in them. Tempering her pride was a… frustration? A fatigue? I shook my head, striding forward until I reached the temple’s great front doors. And of course, as I arrived, I found Kokoro standing there, just to my left.

Byakuren climbed the stairs, only to stop near the crest and blink at us. She looked…

Singed. Though her hair and skin seemed pristine, small, black scorch marks hid among her dress.

I panted a moment, hiding my surprise beneath tired huffs as I extended a hand toward her. “Welcome back. Uh, darling.”

She smiled. “I’m glad to be back but,” she paused. Tilting her head, she turned her curious eyes to Kokoro, “why is she here?”

I tapped my shaku across my chest. “It’s a long-”

“I’m moving in, mama.”

Byakuren blinked, glancing between the two of us.

I turned to Kokoro, my brow knotting. “I don’t recall that being part of the deal!”

Byakuren glided up the last few steps to stand over Kokoro. “What did you say?”

She turned her gaze to the woman. “Mama. Papa’s wife.”

I fumed. “I’m not the papa!”

Byakuren clicked her tongue. “Well, I certainly couldn’t be the father either now, could I?”

I expelled a long, dramatic groan, then turned toward the toward the temple, only to glance back at her peppered dress. I heard nothing from her to suggest any violence with Tojiko, and yet…

Byakuren hung back, her heart pondering something. Something that sent a tingle down my spine.

“You wouldn’t leave this child entirely on your wife’s shoulders, would you?”

She wanted to ‘guide’ Kokoro. To parent her, or to instill her faith in her. Or both.

And somehow, she wanted me involved in it, despite the blatant conflict I’d introduce to her religious goal.

Now that we were back together, what did I want to spend our time on, first?

[ ] I needed to address Kokoro and her agenda at some point. It may as well have been now.

[ ] Byakuren had greater issues to worry about, such as how I was about to save her temple’s image for her.

[ ] Kokoro was a big girl. Her schemes could wait until I figured this festival thing out.

[ ] As much as I feared the answer, I needed to know what went on between her and Tojiko. Now.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/06/02 (Wed) 19:00

[X] I needed to address Kokoro and her agenda at some point. It may as well have been now.
The prince's schemes are tolerated, but only so long as they do not undermine the king's.
[X] I needed to address Kokoro and her agenda at some point. It may as well have been now.

Just from looking at the other options, we are already working on the investigation thing and Byakuren is going to find out eventually anyways; the festival is not an immediate concern; and it literally says we fear the answer for the last one (and it might be prying, and Byakuren might not answer). So, at least for me it feels like there is little point in doing any of the other options.
File 162396782388.png - (787.61KB, 1300x1500, kokoembrace.png) [iqdb]
43121
[x] I needed to address Kokoro and her agenda at some point. It may as well have been now.

“I wouldn’t leave this ‘child’ on anyone’s shoulders.” I glanced aside, to Kokoro. Despite her impassive demeanor, her heart bristled at the comment. “Not while she schemed against me.”

Her mask turned to the Hannya. “Don’t lump me in with you two. I don’t scheme.”

Byakuren tilted her head, wearing a mask of innocent curiosity. “What sort of schemes?”

Kokoro’s gaze snapped to her, then back to me. Her mask switched back to the Young Woman as her blank eyes bored into my soul. Her irritation lingered, but some manor of… concern had now joined it. A fear that I’d discover something, or simply that she’d truly lost my trust.

I patted her shoulder, then turned toward the door. “This isn’t the place to discuss such sensitive matters. Let’s take it elsewhere.”

“There’s nothing sensitive about them. I’m not sche-”

Byakuren clapped her hands, then stepped forward, ahead of me. “Oh, my. You’re very right, dear. Right this way~”

I frowned, but followed close, alongside Kokoro. Muted desires laid beneath that snap decision.

I bounced my shaku for only a moment, studying her heart for-

“We can’t just discuss this sort of thing in front of anyone, after all.”

I flinched, clenching my shaku. She’d waited just until we approached a common room before speaking up.

“About how to raise our child, that is~”

“She’s not-”

Kokoro’s glanced back to me, her mask having reverted to one of the happier ones - the laughing man. “I want to stay up to midnight and eat lots of snacks.”

I groaned. “We haven’t even decided whether or not to-”

Byakuren skipped forward. “Now, Kokoro. This is a Buddhist temple.”

The whispers-the murmurs-began, but Byakuren kept yammering.

“If you want those, you’ll need to talk to your other mother.”

Kokoro’s eyes remained on me. I turned away. Byakuren had started falling into something with this girl. She wanted to spoil her, but also to use her for…

Most of the temple’s voices faded away. In my focus on that monk’s intentions, I’d missed just how far we walked. Already, my-our-her room loomed before us.

Byakuren skipped forward and slid the door open. With a frustrated sigh, I followed her in.

Byakuren stopped halfway into the room, her eyes stuck on the table. She turned back to us, pouting.

“Dear, what is this?”

I extended both arms to outward in an elegant shrug. “Some trappings of home, of course. You couldn’t expect me to satisfy myself with only your temple’s dull decor every night, surely.”

Kokoro wandered over to the desk and studied the scroll herself as Byakuren’s pout deepened.

“Dull? You could have found other decorations than the text of a competing faith.” She huffed. “It’s inappropriate!”

I stepped closer to her, clapping a hand on her shoulder. “And last night? Was that appropriate for your temple?”

She clenched her teeth. “That topic is inappropriate for our company!”

I-hm, perhaps I had overstepped. Whether or not Kokoro could handle such news, it wouldn’t do for anyone to learn the fine details of our evening. Not yet at least.

I sighed, letting go. “How convenient.” Then, before she could complain, I spun around to Kokoro, now hunched over the table. “But I suppose you’re right. So, Kokoro. What precisely do you intend to do, here?”

She didn’t even glance up in response. “I already told you. I need to watch over you two.”

Smiling, Byakuren stepped behind Kokoro and wrapped her arms around the girl’s waist. “We’re happy to take on new disciples, but I won’t need help keeping my wife in check.”

I opened my mouth, only for Kokoro to interrupt me.

“You’re the problem.”

Byakuren twitched. My heart fluttered, filled with pride for this girl’s wisdom. …Then, I listened closer to her heart.

“You and her. I’m only keeping you two together so I can learn what those goddesses are scheming. Once I have that…”

Byakuren ran a hand through Kokoro’s hair. “You can stay with us as long as you need.”

Kokoro stiffened. “You’re not listening to me. I’m only here so you can…”

Byakuren’s had undulated across the girl’s head in smooth, gentle petting.

In response, Kokoro’s body eased into the embrace. “You have to keep close to each other, but not too close. If you suddenly broke up, or did weird stuff in public, everyone would-”

“Shsh~” Byakuren patted her head. “Everything will be fine. Just trust your parents.”

Kokoro eased back further.

I stepped up beside them and draped an arm across Byakuren’s shoulders, then glanced down on the woman she petted. “Oh, my~ Are these goddesses really what you’re after?”

“Of course, they are. I hate sneaky people.”

Byakuren hummed. “Does it matter? If she’s close, it can only help-I mean, it’s no big deal for us.”

I patted the monk’s back. “You heard what she said. She’ll try to pry us apart the moment she finds her answer. I can’t allow that.”

Kokoro nestled into Byakuren. “It’s for your own good. If you don’t separate, then the people will…”

Byakuren rubbed the menreiki’s cheeks. “What’s the concern? We can wait a few days, can’t we?”

I squinted back at my ‘wife.’ She wanted to rile me up, somehow. I…

Damn it. With Kokoro here, I couldn’t just confess to my bargain. But, without explaining that, I’d need to dive completely into this charade. Doing so around her, especially in the context of what was starting to feel like an adoption…

I groaned, pulling away from Byakuren to rub my shaku. “Our private affairs are not her business, regardless of how worried she may be.”

Kokoro squirmed until she peeked her head over Byakuren’s shoulder to stare me down. “Are they not, mother.”

I froze. She, that, why…

I took a couple long, steadying breaths. Byakuren just kept holding the girl, but…

She liked the way this went. I had to respond, but they’d dealt me a difficult hand.

[ ] Deny Kokoro her demand. I’d risk whatever influence I had over her to keep her from getting between me and my wi-my reward.

[ ] Pull Byakuren Away. I needed to discuss the matter alone with my ‘wife,’ first.

[ ] Invite them to dinner at Senkai. I’d ply them with good food before diving into anything too difficult.

[ ] Let it slide, for now. I’d offer to continue mentoring her, instead - perhaps she’d be more reasonable afterward.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:

Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/06/21 (Mon) 19:00

[X] Deny Kokoro her demand. I’d risk whatever influence I had over her to keep her from getting between me and my wi-my reward.
Miko's wife, not yours.
[X] Invite them to dinner at Senkai. I’d ply them with good food before diving into anything too difficult.

Being hungry leads to rash decisions.
[x] Pull Byakuren Away. I needed to discuss the matter alone with my ‘wife,’ first.
I don't mean to make it a three-way tie, I just think that being direct is the best policy. If the other votes win, they sound fun as well.
[X] Invite them to Dinner.

People with full stomachs are less agitated and it'll give Miko time to think about her words. Get the better position so you won't be ganged up on by the two of them.
File 162534915836.png - (790.04KB, 1280x720, Senkai.png) [iqdb]
43182
[x] Invite them to dinner at Senkai. I’d ply them with good food before diving into anything too difficult.

I squeezed my shaku another moment, failing to dredge up any satisfactory answer. I couldn’t-I wouldn’t-they…

I took another couple breaths. Still nothing. While confined to my role, facing a unified front of Byakuren and Kokoro, there’d be no good answers to give. I needed a drink. A drink, or…

I blinked. Oh. Oh, of course.

If I couldn’t solve it now, I would distract them and, hopefully, get them into a position where they’d be more amenable to my wishes. It took all I had not to laugh at my cunning then and there.

Instead, I stepped forward again and rubbed Byakuren’s shoulder. She barely flinched, still assured in her control. I leaned around her to stare directly in Kokoro’s eyes.

She stared back.

I cleared my throat. “Want to eat something nice?”

Behind her, Byakuren tilted her head. Before she could open her mouth, however, I spun on my heel and strode toward the door, having already heard Kokoro’s heart.

She wanted food. Whether from hunger, or a desire to further play out this game of hers, I didn’t care.

She’d carry me out of this bind, herself.

“Let me treat you two to some delicious food. Then we can discuss such matters.”

Byakuren sighed. “So soon? We just settled down.”

I huffed, then caught myself. Instead, I cracked a wry smile, though I doubted either could see it. “Oh? Not interested in your wife’s cooking?”

After how hard she’d played that card this evening, it was only fair that I play it back.

Byakuren flinched. After a moment, her shoulders sagged. She released Kokoro and pulled herself to her feet. Kokoro leapt to her feet and rushed ahead of her, stopping just behind me. Byakuren followed shortly after and, with a wink, I spread my arms wide.

Kokoro stared. Byakuren huffed.

I scooped them both into my arms and ushered them, through space, to my semi-private extradimensional dojo. As my feet hit the tiled road to the first steps, Byakuren took in a sharp breath.

A creeping unease had settled into her. She shook her head, then stepped forward. As Kokoro’s blank eyes wandered from the dojo to the surrounding mists, to the sky, then back to the dojo, Byakuren kept her own gaze fixed firmly forward.

I gave her a gentle pat on the back as I marched forward. Byakuren barely flinched this time, falling into step beside me at once. Kokoro hung back for another moment, her head swiveling from side to side.

“So big.”

Byakuren huffed. “It’s too b-” She cleared her throat, likely remembering her own temple. “Too ostentatious. It’s more like a palace than a place of meditation or instruction.”

I turned my nose up but kept moving. “This way, Kokoro!”

Finally, she started walking. Though those blank eyes never stopped wandering.

Byakuren wrapped an arm around my side as we ascended the steps. “Still, it’s about time, isn’t it?” Pressing down, she pulled me to her hip. “We’ve been married for a couple days and only now do you invite me to your home.”

I squirmed in her grasp, but more out of instinct than true desire. The softness of her body, and the muscle beneath, they still felt nice.

Begrudgingly, I settled a hand on her opposite hip. “I suppose so. There’s so much for you to learn from my designs, to improve your temple.”

She glanced away at that, squeezing my side as she studied the finer, more ornate halls that decorated my domain. A tranquil calm had settled on the dojo, as befitting its purpose. With a cursory listen, I heard from what few disciples lingered that they’d either settled in for the evening or found business to attend to in the broader world.

“Perhaps you’re right. There’s so much gaudiness here, so many lessons on what to avoid.”

I scoffed as I brought them to the door of my modestly sized, but lovingly furnished dining chamber.

“The same could be said of your…” I shook my head. “Best not to bicker in front of the ‘child,’ isn’t it?”

The brown tips of her hair bounced across my shoulder as she nodded. “Yes, it is. Perhaps you really are capable of lea…” She cleared her throat. “Yes.”

I lead them into the room. Unlike other parts of the dojo, I sought a comfortable, homely atmosphere here. As a result, no gold, silver, or other elaborate decorations gilded the walls or rested anywhere in it. But we walked across rich, polished wood flanked by elegant paper walls. A simple low table rested in the center, which I invited both parties to before excusing myself to prepare the food.

In the time it took for Byakuren to decide to accept the invitation, Kokoro had already settled herself into it. The tiniest chuckle escaped my lips before I departed.

I slipped down a side path, to one of those lingering disciples, to - I shook my head and turned to the storage room instead. Now was not the time to get them too involved. I would simply do it…

Damn it. I was a prince, not a chef. My culinary arts had… I groaned, then scanned the dojo for the most… gah. Of the few disciples who could reach this domain, all those with known recipes or cooking ability had left. I’d need to do this myself.

Well, I suppose I did imply I would make it myself.

I popped into that storage room to pick up some rice, a couple spices, and some of my favorite toppings. Some eggs, some fish, and a loose smattering of vegetables. From there, I grabbed a pan and a few tools, then stepped into my kitchen.

Polished wood and rich, smooth stones greeted me here. A simple counter, a hearth, a charcoal stove, and a good water basin were all a hermit like myself needed - so that was all that awaited me here… even if I didn’t use the room very often.

Perhaps that was why I invested so little in it.

Regardless, I settled my materials down by the stove and, lighting it, got to work.

It took me several minutes and an aborted effort or two but, after a couple close calls with a knife and nearly dousing myself in boiling water, I…

Well, I’d made some fried rice, with some carrots, scallops, salmon, and a few other things. It would be fine. Probably.

It looked and smelled okay, at least. I sealed the pan, stacked some plates and chopsticks atop it, then returned to the dining chamber with it all.

“…eager to spend even another second with me. In fact…”

Byakuren’s voice wavered as the scent of my labors wafted toward her. Kokoro hadn’t even noticed, instead hoping to hear more about how I…

“…had to spend the entire evening alone with me. Knowing her wily ways, I hesitated. But she clung to me so tightly, I knew I’d break her heart if I refused. So, of course, I…”

How hopelessly in love I was.

I grit my teeth as I strode in, setting the dish a little too firmly on the table. Kokoro flinched, finally turning to me as I set the rest of the dishes down and scooped out a serving for each of us. With Byakuren crowding into her right side and-apparently-nuzzling her, I chose to settle into the side on their right. I clapped my hands together.

“Let’s eat.”

“Let’s eat,” they both answered. Kokoro dove in the moment they’d finished.

Byakuren narrowed her eyes at her serving. I sighed, then grabbed hers and manually scooped the bits of meat onto my own plate before handing it back. Finally, with a solemn nod, she started eating.

Kokoro swallowed, then turned to me. “There’s too much different stuff in it.”

I scowled, taking a few bites to see for myself and, thereby, prove her wrong.

Despite her complaint, she kept eating. The taste was… hm. The richness of the salmon complemented the carrots quite well, and-

Then, Byakuren cleared her throat. “You should speak with our resident phantom, dear. She’s no master chef, but I’m sure she can give you a few pointers~”

I glanced up just in time to catch a snarky grin before she wiped it from her face. Glancing to the door, the tips of her lips still twitched. “More tofu would do wonders for you, next time.”

I groaned but, despite the difficulty, held my tongue. For now, at least.

Despite their complaints, their desires suggested a warmer mood. If I were to exploit that, I’d need to act soon. But what move would I make, here?

[ ] I’d graciously dismiss Byakuren’s slights and flirt with her until she helped me put the foot down on Kokoro.

[ ] Argue with Kokoro from a position of parental authority. If she wanted to play the child, she’d have to relent eventually.

[ ] More food! My dinner may not have impressed them, but I didn’t need culinary expertise to pull a good dessert out.

[ ] Lesson time! If Kokoro wanted to stay under two of Gensokyo’s religious leaders, she’d get some religious lessons with it.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/07/07 (Wed) 19:00

[x] Argue with Kokoro from a position of parental authority. If she wanted to play the child, she’d have to relent eventually.

Kokoro's scheming needs to be put in its place. The more she meddles, the more roadblocks to our goals appear. We will have plenty of time to flirt with Byakuren once the unruly child is dealt with.
[X] Lesson time! If Kokoro wanted to stay under two of Gensokyo’s religious leaders, she’d get some religious lessons with it.
I see where >>43183 is coming from, but I feel like kokoro is just gonna get petulant if we do that. Also I want it to be jesus time. Or whatever the taoist equivalent of jesus time is. The modern dilemma.
[X] Lesson time! If Kokoro wanted to stay under two of Gensokyo’s religious leaders, she’d get some religious lessons with it.

Lao Tzu time? Doesn't have the same ring to it...
Kokoro is already petulant, thats the problem. And a joint religious lesson with Byakuren would only serve to highlight our differences. It would devolve into squabbling over doctrine rather than teaching anything of value.
[x] I’d graciously dismiss Byakuren’s slights and flirt with her until she helped me put the foot down on Kokoro.

Not missing a beat to swagger about inappropriate 'bed-time' stories, to complaining about Miko's cooking and disapproving her choice of interior design - Hijiri fills the role of the husband amazingly.
If Byakuren's Actions come from a desire to either parent or teach Kokoro, then she my as well get some dad energy going pronto.
>>43195
convinced me
[x] I’d graciously dismiss Byakuren’s slights and flirt with her until she helped me put the foot down on Kokoro.
Fuck jesus time, bandwagons are more fun, and i missed the stuff >>43195 pointed out, changing
>>43190 to
[x] I’d graciously dismiss Byakuren’s slights and flirt with her until she helped me put the foot down on Kokoro.
File 162647167537.png - (540.42KB, 640x960, sittingprince.png) [iqdb]
43212
[x] I’d graciously dismiss Byakuren’s slights and flirt with her until she helped me put the foot down on Kokoro.

I shook my head, forcing a thin smile to my lips. “Of course, the meal wasn’t to your taste.”

Byakuren held still, but a shadowy current whispered from her heart. She already knew I was up to something.

Smart girl.

Not that it stopped me from dragging a finger along the table, toward her, as I continued. “How could any mundane dish prove worthy of your palate?”

Her hands clenched, her eyes closed, and the corners of her lips twitched.

I drew that finger down the back of her hand. “Even a king’s feast wouldn’t do you justice, would it?”

She cleared her throat, the faintest flush rising to her cheeks. She didn’t want to admit it, but…

Well, the faint, upward curl of her lips gave it away. She enjoyed the flattery.

And, knowing that, my own heart now beat faster. “As the proud, wise administrator that I am, I must do better. It would be a disgrace, after all, to deliver less than the very best to my own wife.” I leaned forward, slipping my right hand beneath hers to press my palm to her own. “To pay you back for the privilege of witnessing your lovely face every day.”

Byakuren sat straighter, but Kokoro shifted away from her, slightly. Without Kokoro at her hip, she smiled at me, lifting her hand and entwining her fingers with mine. “Surely the far greater privilege is to learn from my example, isn’t it?”

I forced down a sputter. Of course, it wasn’t! But to snap back at her now, after what I’d just said, would reflect too poorly on me to even consider.

“Certainly, our time together is precious, as are the many lessons we’ve learned together.”

Byakuren straightened her back. “And my lessons have been more precious than my appearance, haven’t they?”

I clenched my teeth, inhaling long and slow before continuing. “Yes, they’ve been… nice. Perhaps-”

“Mama, do you really love her?”

I flinched, as did Byakuren. Kokoro stared at her, wearing the fox. That wasn’t a joke.

Byakuren twitched, even as her lips broke out into a cozy grin. Flattery wasn’t her only weakness, apparently. She turned from the menreiki to me, then back. Planting her hands on her knees, she cleared her throat. “Of course, I do. Why would you ask?”

Unblinking, she pointed to me. “Shouldn’t you have returned her feelings by now?”

Silence fell on the room, barely interrupted by a slight shuffle here, an aborted clearing of the throat there.

Byakuren squeezed my hand, turning to stare deep into my eyes. As if she would find some treasure or, perhaps more accurately, some lifeline within them.

I couldn’t help the faintest traces of a wry grin as she quested for her answer among my irises.

Then, finally, her lips parted. “You look, well, quite nice yourself, dear.”

My eyes twinkled. “Why yes-”

“I cannot speak for your taste in hairstyle, but your resplendent bracelets and that elegant-if perhaps a bit overdone-cape look lovely on you.”

Biting back a retort at her backhanded compliment, I drew my left hand up to stroke her chin. “And you, Byakuren. You’ve done so much to light up my life. Every moment we spend together leaves its mark on my mind-nay, my very soul. Oh, the joy your presence fills me with, it’s beyond compare!”

Byakuren gasped. Drawing one hand across my shoulder, her face turned hard and firm. Determined, even. “Yes, yes. Your face, your eyes, always so full of confidence, so charming. I’m thrilled to have you at my side each day.”

Kokoro munched on what remained of the food, idly watching us.

I waved at her as I-

Both of Byakuren’s hands snapped to my hips and, as she scooted slightly out from the table, she pulled me onto her lap. I yelped but allowed her to settle my butt on her thighs, choosing to rest my own hands on her shoulders.

She stared-quite fiercely, I’d like to add-into my eyes, more focused than before. “You’ve pushed me to better myself! I’ve become stronger, wiser, by learning how n-by learning from your example!”

She clearly meant that she learned from my poor example.

I huffed. My shoulders trembled at her audacity to continue these veiled slights, but I had to keep going.

“I… I’m scared, darling. For, for,” I paused, struggling to come up with my next phrase until my eyes turned to Kokoro’s blank stare. Ah, yes! I locked eyes again with Byakuren, “for what if we were ever to part? I, I, oh,” I put one hand to my forehead, “I couldn’t bear it! To be alone again, separated from your beauty, your grace…”

Byakuren rolled her eyes. “Yes, that would be,” she sighed, “terrible. After all I’ve learned, it would just be-”

“Stop it. Enough.”

I glanced aside to find the Hannya on Kokoro’s head. The slightest of snickers slipped through my lips at the sight.

“You’re burying my precious food in honey and sugar. Stop.”

I hummed, sorely tempted to remind her of her role in our impromptu play. “But that’s just how it is, when two people are so in love~”

Byakuren nodded. “You would understand too, if you had felt the gentle resistance of her b-”

I froze solid. A moment later, she did too. Her face turned bright red as mine grew burning hot. Kokoro just stared, now wearing the Fox.

She then waved her hand forward, gesturing that we continue. “The ‘gentle resistance’ of her what?”

Byakuren pushed me off her lap and turned her body entirely toward Kokoro. “It’s nothing, nothing at a-”

“My balance. How I only ‘gently’ resist the way that the world flows, compared to her more firm-” a quiet squeak escaped my lips at the phrasing, “-resistance! Her strong sense of discipline.”

Byakuren nodded, far too fiercely. “Yes, that is what I meant.”

Kokoro’s mask had turned to the Young Woman. “Oh.”

I licked dry lips. Byakuren kneeled. Judging by her desires, Kokoro probably bought that, but… what now?

[ ] I have Byakuren on my side now, maybe. Try to double-team Kokoro on this?

[ ] Dismiss Kokoro immediately. I needed to avoid giving her any chances to probe further, and possibly to get something Byakuren’s system.

[ ] Go all in. Threaten to get mushier and sappier unless Kokoro gives in and promises not to meddle further with us.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/07/20 (Tue) 19:00

[ ] Dismiss Kokoro immediately. I needed to avoid giving her any chances to probe further, and possibly to get something Byakuren’s system.

( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
[x] Dismiss Kokoro immediately. I needed to avoid giving her any chances to probe further, and possibly to get something Byakuren’s system.

( ͡°ᗜ ͡°)
Correct me if I got it wrong but we're doing this to make sure Kokoro stops investigating who instigated the marriage and maybe (maybe-not) believe in the relationship, right?
I think outright dismissal now would lead to her going off on her own some later time again.
Miko does not like Kokoro to be with Byakuren too much. Then the most sensible thing to do in my mind would be to take her along on the more innocuous trips with Byakuren, being at the least somewhat of a parental figure.
Going all in on the mushy, lovey-dovey stuff would either get Kokoro suspicious again or get another wrong idea...

[x] I have Byakuren on my side now, maybe. Try to double-team Kokoro on this?

You worded these choices like this on purpose, right?
[x] I have Byakuren on my side now, maybe. Try to double-team Kokoro on this?

Fair enough reasoning, count me in too
[x] I have Byakuren on my side now, maybe. Try to double-team Kokoro on this?
>>43215
dont care, too distracted by wife's lap
>>43215

I shall refrain from commenting. It was not deliberate, I promise.
[x] I have Byakuren on my side now, maybe. Try to double-team Kokoro on this?

Maybe with the monk we can finally get Kokoro to back off.
File 162768194184.jpg - (535.90KB, 1056x792, teasedkokoro.jpg) [iqdb]
43236
[x] I have Byakuren on my side now, maybe. Try to double-team Kokoro on this?

“What matters-what matters is that we really, really uh, care about each other.” I took a deep breath, planting a hand to my chest. “We cannot be parted!”

She stared at me. “Yes. You’ve said that before.”

Byakuren straightened, her lips twitching as she sought something to add.

I cleared my throat, shaking off the lingering flush in my cheeks. “Yes, well, you have-you’ve failed to grasp the depth of our connection, the sincerity of our love. I must again insist that you cease wasting your time, that you not trouble your doting parents with such worrisome schemes. We cannot-we will not-part on your request.”

Kokoro flipped back to the Hannya. “It’s not a scheme. I don’t scheme. Scheming is what other people do.”

Byakuren sighed, putting on a gentle, maternal air to cover up her lingering agitation. “I’m sorry, but I must side with my husband-”

“Wife!”

“-my partner on this, now. She needs my support, just as much as you do. It’s not good to insist solely on one’s will without consideration for those around them, you know.”

I rolled my eyes. She just wanted to change the topic as badly as I did.

Nonetheless, Kokoro held firm, staring us both down. “I don’t have a choice. I dare not back down, when the consequences could be so…”

I tapped a hand on the table, drawing her blank eyes to it. “You also want to play daughter, don’t you?”

Her eyes fixed themselves-rigid-on my own. “We’ve been over this. You agreed, I am your daughter now.”

I stared back. “Yes, you are. If you agree to let go of your scheme.”

She growled. “Stop calling it a scheme.”

I flinched, shrinking back at such an utterance. Anger burned from that utterance, bursting out even from her muted tone, to sear my delicate ears.

Still, I realigned my gaze, unwilling to give ground. “Be that as it may, I must insist on this-”

“It’s too late to change your-”

I planted both hands on the table. “I can only abide so much meddling, ‘daughter.’ I must alter my terms.” My eyes narrowed. “Don’t make me change them further.”

She twitched, planting her own hands on the table, across from me, and staring into my eyes for another moment before she turned to Byakuren.

“You’re her wife. Bring her back to her senses.”

Byakuren hummed in mock thought, tilting her head to the side. “If we’re changing the terms, I’m owed some rewards of my own, aren’t I?”

Mouth flat, Kokoro’s eyes widened, then snapped back to me. I barely needed my ears to hear the burning desire that I’d save her from whatever Byakuren might have in mind.

I only smiled back. Judging by Byakuren’s desires, her terms would prove no real threat to the menreiki - to my ‘daughter.’

Kokoro’s eyes leveled back to their neutral stare, not in relaxation, but resignation. Finally, Byakuren spoke up.

“I demand cuddles. Weekly-no, daily. And hugs. Hugs and cuddles. As a ‘daughter,’ it would only be fair, wouldn’t it?”

Kokoro turned back to me. “Save me, pa-”

I crossed my arms, shaking my head.

“Mother. Save me.”

I leaned back, expelling a long, exaggerated sigh. “I can’t deny a mother the right to embrace her daughter, now can I?”

Kokoro donned the Monkey - confusion. Her head swiveled from me to her and back. And back again. And back again.

I turned a sad, soft gaze to Byakuren. “We need to give our daughter some space, darling. Perhaps only a hug or a cuddle, once a day?”

Byakuren closed her eyes and turned her nose upward. I fought down a snort at the display.

The Hannya returned. Kokoro’s eyes flitted between us one last time before she leapt to her feet and marched to the door, then disappeared into the dojo’s halls. I groaned, sagging into the table. That girl…

She still had much to learn, and I still had to keep her from pushing us apart too soon. She’d consider our requests, certainly, but as to whether she’d accept them, I couldn’t say.

She still wanted to play daughter, but that pride would prove troublesome - both for her and for us.

Byakuren patted my back, then moved to rubbing slow, gentle circles into it. “Maybe we shouldn’t have pushed her so hard.”

I huffed. “You’re just worried you won’t get to wrap your arms around her and squeeze the stuffing out.”

The hand paused, then slapped my back before returning to its rhythm. “She’s not a puppet. And besides, is that such a bad thing?”

I grabbed my shaku and raised it to my lips, turning my refined, steely eyes to the table. “It’s more important she doesn’t spoil our deal.”

The hand paused again and, this time, slid off my back completely. “Speaking of our deals, I’ve already tried meditating your way, the ‘Taoist’ way.”

I rolled my shoulders, then pulled myself into a straight, proper sit. “Oh? You want to try it again already?”

She settled into the table to my right, then shook her head. “No. You never tried our style of meditation, have you?”

“Of course, I have. I spread your faith, remember?”

She scowled. “That’s an excellent point, dear. As penance for your deception, it would be good to practice that faith you preached, just a little more.”

I leaned forward, grumbling. “Do we need to go over all this again? It was for the good of the empire. In fact, to not spread it would have been irr-”

She tapped the table. “Yes, yes. But poor deeds ought to be fixed, regardless of their ultimate consequences. It would be good for you to-”

I waved her suggestion off, glancing aside. “I’m still committed to helping you with that festival, aren’t I? Shouldn’t that be enough?”

“Well, that…” She sighed. “Yes, that was the arrangement. But,” she scooted toward me, “I’d like to grow a bit closer to you, and I think it’d be a lovely opportunity.”

The things that floated to my ears warmed my face. She wanted to get ‘closer’ to me, alright. I sighed. It was time to unwind, but she still insisted on doing so much her own way. Just how would I crack that barrier? How would I wrap up the evening?

She placed one hand on mine, staring me in the eyes. A warm smile spread across her face. I…

[ ] Acquiesced to her meditation, but requested a brand new favor in return.

[ ] Insisted on further guidance. She dearly needed to learn to better bend and flow with life.

[ ] Suggested the other thing. The one she wanted but dared not bring up.

[ ] Evaded the religious stuff for the night. I just wanted to discuss leadership and the troubles of our followers.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/08/03 (Tue) 19:00

[ ] Acquiesced to her meditation, but requested a brand new favor in return.

Got a little motto~
Always sees me through~
When you're good to Byaku~
Byaku's good to you~

There's a lot of favors~
I'm prepared to do~
You do one for Byaku~
She'll do one for you~
[x] Evaded the religious stuff for the night. I just wanted to discuss leadership and the troubles of our followers.

There is honestly quite a bit else to discuss. Ghost crushes, and the like.
[X] Acquiesced to her meditation, but requested a brand new favor in return.

Eh why not, that's a decent motto
[x] Evaded the religious stuff for the night. I just wanted to discuss leadership and the troubles of our followers.

No Horny, No Buddhi and especially no horny Buddhi. Business time.
[x] Evaded the religious stuff for the night. I just wanted to discuss leadership and the troubles of our followers.
[ ] Acquiesced to her meditation, but requested a brand new favor in return.
File 162879327246.jpg - (2.02MB, 1300x2102, artistictaobuddhists.jpg) [iqdb]
43251
[x] Evaded the religious stuff for the night. I just wanted to discuss leadership and the troubles of our followers.

I stared deep into her violet eyes, grasping her hand tight. “Let’s leave the rituals out of it for now - it’s late and we’ve barely had a moment alone to just talk.”

She squeezed my hand even tighter. I winced as the sheer pressure of grip bore down on my poor flesh. She really needed to hold back sometimes.

Still, I took a deep breath and lifted my unmolested hand to side of her face, gliding it through her hair. “Your temple must be so difficult to lead. So many humans and youkai, demanding comfort, safety, and enlightenment, all at once. I can’t imagine having to balance so many conflicting needs.”

Her grip softened. Now, she merely cupped my hand, though her eyes remained fixed to my own. “Yes, it is. But that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? They need our guidance to find that balance.”

I tilted my head, glancing barely to the side, as if to suggest a more thoughtful tone. “But what about when we can’t? What happens when one group refuses to accept you unless you denounce the other, or when you cannot meet someone’s needs without denying someone else?”

She blinked, releasing my hand. “One group or… oh, you meant different people.” She sighed, then nudged my hand away. “Then, you must try anyway. As exhausting as it may be, you can’t just abandon people in need for the desires of others. As leaders of strong traditions, it’s our duty to care for those who cannot care for themselves, no matter how difficult they make it.”

I picked up my shaku, gently tapping it on the table. “And if they refuse to take care of themselves? What use is a moment of protection or a free meal, if they do nothing for themselves the next day?”

She huffed. “Then at least you have done your best. We’ve all made our mistakes, but at least you’ve given them one more chance to improve.”

My eyes narrowed at the look she gave me, there. My shaku raised ever so slightly toward her. “And what if your efforts only enable them further? How many chances would you give?”

She met my gaze, her own eyes fierce. “As many as it takes until they learn their lesson!”

I shook my head. “So brutish.” She pouted, but I found myself distracted, drawn into my own questions. What about the complacent humans I itch to lead? Dare I deny her those second, third, and fourth chances if I continue letting their recklessness slide?

More subdued, I continued. “How many have your own disciples needed?”

She took a long, sharp breath. “They… are still a work in progress. You’re not looking to brag about your own followers, are you?”

I smirked. “Well, it helps to commit only to those who show commitment. But…” Now was my turn to sigh. “No. Even among my own followers, most just want quick, easy fixes to their frustrations. There’s only two that I really trust, and even then-”

Byakuren’s brow furrowed. “Have you really tried?”

I straightened my shaku out, only to drop it to the table a moment later and glance away. “It wouldn’t be worth the effort. Besides, I don’t have the time anymore, do I?”

A hand of hers that had wandered nearly to my side, paused.

I tapped my shaku on the table. “Between our little ‘relationship,’ these favors, and now my dear Futo falling in love, there’s just no time left. It’s a miracle I find time even for my most sincere followers.”

A moment of silence fell. She glanced between me and the door, then back to me.

Her generous chest rose and fell another second or so before she finally spoke. “Futo. In love? When did that-no, no.” She cleared her throat. “Why does this even matter?”

I extended both arms out and, flicking my hands out, shrugged. “Why, because it’s with one of your own followers, of course.”

Now, she froze. Then, her mouth floundered. Then, finally, she spoke. “Futo. Mononobe, Futo. The one who’s threatened arson on my temple more than once.”

I nodded, very solemnly. “Oh, I had to intervene in precisely such an attempt just a few days ago.”

After spending a good few seconds wide as saucers, her eyes now receded to suspicious slits. “She is in love with someone from that same temple?”

I nodded again.

She pinched the bridge of her nose. “…Who?”

I settled an elbow on the table and leaned forward, toward her. “I’m afraid she couldn’t bring herself to tell me. Perhaps we’ll find out when the next wedding occurs.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yes. I’m sure those ears of yours haven’t already picked up precisely who had caught her attention. But,” she yawned, “My heart goes out to her. Why, the private feelings that my own followers have-”

“Where’s the beds.”

We both turned to the door to find Kokoro standing in it, staring down at us.

I blinked, then turned to Byakuren. She yawned again. “Yes, I think I’d like to know, too.”

I sighed. And yet, I pulled myself to my feet and, as Byakuren joined me, stepped past Kokoro, down the hall, gesturing they follow. I’d already heard Byakuren’s desire to share more, anyway. Especially about one woman. A nyuudou-wielding monk who, at some point, felt much more than mere admiration or respect for her.

----------------------------------------

I patted down my vest one last time as I strode down the halls. Byakuren walked beside me and Kokoro, well…

Get me out. Get me out. Get me out!

She marched behind us, eager to ‘escape’ my domain.

Byakuren pulled me to her hip, sighing in satisfaction as she did. “You know that festival you promised to help with, dear?”

I tilted away from her, sighing. “Yes. I’m aware.”

She squeezed my waist. “It’s a celebration of the harmony our temple has achieved in the past few seasons. One of the peace we’ve cultivated between humans and youkai-”

I flinched. “That’s what it’s celebrating?”

She giggled. “Yes. And, well, it starts this evening.”

I groaned. “You really could have told me sooner.”

She huffed, releasing my waist. “Your help will be terribly useful. Why, with your word, we could have so many new faces visiting. I’m sure it would be-”

“Don’t you have bigger worries right now?”

She turned to me, slowing her pace. “Well, we could use some help moving things around or getting stalls set up, I suppose. Is there anything else you’re worried about?”

I stopped, stunned. Why would she… oh. In all our chatter, she never had a chance to learn about them. I cleared my throat and-

“People disappeared from your temple. It’s probably the Moriyas, but people think it’s your followers, instead.”

Byakuren stopped cold. She glanced back to Kokoro, then returned to me.

I held the shaku to my lips. “We don’t know who it is, yet. But regardless, the timing’s not good.”

Her face hardened. Without speaking further, she rushed forward, seeking out the front door. I huffed and ran after her. Grasping her shoulder, I reached my other hand out to snap up Kokoro’s wrist.

Holding both of them, I slipped through a crack, into the middle of Myouren Temple. With barely an appreciative nod, Byakuren marched off in one direction, Kokoro fled in another.

I took a deep breath and considered my own role, here.

[ ] Byakuren was the temple’s proper leader, so I’d wait until she got caught up before trying to help.
 [ ] Instead, I’d advertise the festival in the village and make sure my own followers were safe, while was there.
 [ ] Instead, I’d hound Kokoro for her answer. I needed to be sure she wouldn’t cause trouble later.

[ ] I couldn’t ignore disappearing humans, even if the temple now had their leader back.
 [ ] So, I’d help with the festival by coordinating labor, ready to act if I found anything suspicious.
 [ ] So, I’d stick with her and do everything I could to get this matter wrapped up before the festival.

Votes not guaranteed after this time:
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2021/08/16 (Mon) 19:00

[X] I couldn’t ignore disappearing humans, even if the temple now had their leader back.
 [X] So, I’d stick with her and do everything I could to get this matter wrapped up before the festival.
Oh yeah, we did say we'd help them with the investigation. And then, immediately after promising help, we went and had a family lunch, huh.
Now the Buddhist has to investigate kidnappings happening around her temple and the child born out of neglect is - again - being left by herself.
I somehow get the feeling Miko merely pretends to be on top of things. But that'd be ludicrous, right?

[x] I couldn’t ignore disappearing humans, even if the temple now had their leader back.
[x] And in a moment of sincerety asked her whether she wanted me to come and help.
Since the vote didn't have a write-in, this is what I choose out of the given options
[x] So, I’d stick with her and do everything I could to get this matter wrapped up before the festival.

[ ] Byakuren was the temple’s proper leader, so I’d wait until she got caught up before trying to help.
[ ] Instead, I’d advertise the festival in the village and make sure my own followers were safe, while was there.
>>43253

Gah. I'm very, very sorry. I waited way too long to comment, but I'll allow this vote.
Additionally, because I'm so late, I'm extending the voting window by about 6 hours or so. (And again, past the timer ending isn't guaranteed that I ignore a vote, just no longer guaranteed that I count it, either.)

I'd extend it further, but then I risk delaying the update, which I'd rather avoid.
[x] I couldn’t ignore disappearing humans, even if the temple now had their leader back.
[x] And in a moment of sincerity asked her whether she wanted me to come and help.

Whoa, a chance to make Miko honest? How can we pass this up?
>>43252
Changing my vote.
[x] I couldn’t ignore disappearing humans, even if the temple now had their leader back.
[x] And in a moment of sincerety asked her whether she wanted me to come and help.
Go go, Honest Miko!
Urgh. I was hoping to get one last update out before I had to make this announcement, but it looks like even that will take a while.

School has started back up for me and looks like it will take up nearly all of my time. So, from here until somewhere around December or so, updates will be very, very slow. In a worst-case scenario, there may not be any until then. So, my apologies, but please be patient until then.

While waiting, all I can do is express my appreciation for following and being patient with me thus far.
>>43273
Appreciate the heads up!

This moment is as good as any to say thank you for writing this lovely story and letting us be part of it.
Keep your head up and be so kind to be kind to yourself. Wishing you good luck and good success in (and outside of) school.
Be seeing you the next update!
>>43273
I'm pretty bad at keeping up with stories but, for whatever it's worth, I enjoy reading this and am looking forward to whenever you have time to write again. No worries, hope you do well.
[Return]  [Top]


Delete or Report
Delete post []
Password  
Report post
Reason  

- Took 0.02s -
Thread Watcher x
Reply toX