[x] Apologize to Suwako, explain, pull Byakuren aside. [x] ...to talk about the booze.
Tragically, perfect, refined solutions would need to wait until all crises were under control. In fact, what I needed now was a… ‘solution’ that, frankly, disgusted me. I nudged Byakuren aside, took a deep breath, and I…
I bowed to Suwako. I bowed deep and firm, like a subordinate apologizing for a screw-up. And worse, my speech followed suit. “My deepest apologies, dear goddess. The mastermind of a kidnapping kerfuffle had sought to ensnare your shrine maiden in her schemes. I have chased that scoundrel down and confined her within my domain, but when Sanae wished to contribute to her punishment, I could not in good conscience deny her.”
Byakuren huffed, annoyed further that I had pushed her away. But Suwako hummed, her desires shifting from protection to confirmation. “And this mastermind was…?”
Reading the faintest ebb in Suwako’s tension, I rose to a far shallower bow. “Lady Futatsuiwa, I’m afraid.”
“Ah, of course.”
Here, I dared allow my brow a decided twitch. This goddess had barely involved herself in the matter. In fact, I rose entirely from my bow to stare into her narrow eyes. “Oh? You sound quite confident, all of a sudden.”
She just grinned back at me. “What? You don’t think our own worshippers would fail to notice such a ‘kerfuffle,’ or that none of them might have been driven to another ‘temple’ while it went on, surely. Or,” she leaned in close, “did you think I had no investigative capabilities of my own?”
I huffed, nudging her back. That told me nothing! “They were a profoundly slippery bunch. I doubt you could have discovered so much entirely on your own.”
She swung back, daring to shrug at my probing. “That’s why I asked you, duh. Thanks for confirming it. But,” her smile evaporated, “about Sanae…”
With Byakuren still scowling, I found myself pressed between a rock and an excessively endowed place. I didn’t really have the time to prove I had-wait. My eyes narrowed, just slightly. The goddess wished to confirm, for certain, Sanae’s safety. But more than that, what she wanted out of me was… ah. I tapped my shaku to my lips and bestowed the goddess with a dashing wink. “I’m terribly sorry, but I’m still not done cleaning up the scoundrel’s mess. Besides, I am confident that your shrine maiden will be far happier to deliver her report once she has finished… delivering a precious sermon to that tanuki. Just for another hour or two, I promise!”
And though Suwako, too, failed to properly swoon before my charm, she at least had the decency to withhold any mockery or distain, in favor of a simple huff. “Fine, fine. But that girl’s got a curfew. I’d better see her back before bedtime.”
I winced, but had to settle for a simple nod before I turned aside, back to Byakuren. I pulled her a few steps away, to then speak to her in a hushed whisper. “The alcohol is strange, isn’t it?”
Byakuren flinched, her desires twisting from Suwako back to the booze. She did not show quite my appreciation for decorum, however, as her voice rose nearly to normal conversation. “It is. Which is why we need to stop people from-”
But I tapped my shaku to her lips, next. Punishing the guests for such an infiltration would do neither of us any good. “That’s surely what they want us to do.”
To that, her scowl returned, even deepened. But a moment later, it faded. “They… you don’t mean the tanuki?”
I nodded, finally returning my shaku to my stomach. “Of course, I do. Even when caught, Mamizou boasted about her minions. It’s too late to stop the drinks that have reached our guests, but perhaps we can trace their route back to her remaining spies. And, thereby, root them out once and for all.”
Byakuren answered first with a moment of quiet pondering, then a dejected sigh. “I… suppose you’re right.” But then, she flexed her arms, clenched a pair of fists, and fixed a determined stare on her own temple. “We will bring them to justice.”
In fact, she marched in ahead of me. I had to yelp, then jog, to catch up with her. She kept me half-walking, half-running, as we strode through the far quieter temple halls. Halls calm enough that, by periodically lifting my earmuffs and straining my hearing, I could just make out the quietest whispers of desire. Desire that brought us first to Nue’s imposter, squirming in a mess of ropes in one room, then to the basement, where we caught one ‘guest’ red-handed.
From there, it took several minutes to catch the next one, slinking in to retrieve a bottle. And then another sneaking through the halls to deposit one. Their scheme, from what little I could glean from snippets of their desires and the occasional plea before they were hauled off, was rather desperate - cooked up by the spies themselves, rather than by their ringleader. A final, panicked gambit to cause enough trouble to justify their performance to her. To sneak the sake in through the back, so that when it came out, it seemed as if the temple itself had stashed it.
…There were a few bottles hidden down there by the disciples, but Ichirin and Minamitsu knew Byakuren and temple routine well enough to hide them far better than these troublemakers. And so long as these tricksters failed to find them, I elected not to point them out to Byakuren.
Regardless, Byakuren wrestled down each scoundrel caught, allowing me to bind them and, together, we stashed them in that same chamber. And by the time we had finished, by the time we dared return to the party, the sun had set and even the festivities had begun to wind down. Perhaps there were more of those tanuki still lurking, but I found myself entirely exhausted. I just wanted to join in, and to schmooze with the guests - perhaps the diminutive blonde goddess still awaiting the return of her shrine maiden, or the black-haired nue who now hid only her red and blue wings as she caroused with the guests, perhaps the temple staff themselves, all now flushed and smiling, or the menreiki staring down a single cup of sake, or perhaps their brash, overly-appealing leader..
Alright, Miko has been a good girl and done her homework. I think we can finally let her play. Maintaining relationships is important if the Sims taught me anything.
However, if she is tired she probably doesn't want to get fancy. That is always exhausting in of itself. And we might get some quality Byakuren time later, if you know what I mean. So just a pleasant evening schmoozing with the commonfolk seems best.
On a side note, congratulation Mibya on a fourth thread.
I stepped aside from Byakuren - I would, after all, have plenty of time alone with her later. For now, I had finally rooted out the last of our shared enemy’s pawns, and thereby completed the ‘duty’ my wife had so lovingly foisted on me. Now, I would be damn certain to make the most of what remained of this festival. So, naturally, I glanced around the party for the… damn it. We had just stamped out the booze trail. Worse, it would do me precisely zero good to be seen attempting to bum sake off other attendees.
Resigned to my sobriety, I settled for swiping a small carrying plate, piling some leftover takoyaki onto it, and nibbling on it as I drifted through the thinner crowd. Small talk murmured around me and I even got to exchange a few pleasantries back, but little of interest came to my ears or from my lips, until I found myself wandering back to Byakuren’s unruly inner circle.
Minamitsu clapped me on the back, laughing. “Well, well, well. If it ain’t the blushin’ bride!”
I yelped as her hand struck me, but straightened myself and cleared my throat. “Excuse me. I am the triumphant lor-” But promptly, my brow furrowed. After all my insistences, I could not duck from the feminine moniker. “The… triumphant lady.”
She rolled her eyes. “Sure ya are, sure ya are. That’s why the two of ya disappeared together for so long. Really gettin’... cozy with one another, ain’cha?”
I opened my mouth to protest, but Ichirin beat me to the objection. “Clearly, it’s because more of those kidnappers were still loose. Byakuren would never sink to such activities under these conditions! Honestly, can’t you think of anything else to talk about?”
Minamitsu answered with a huff and pointed shrug. “Fine, fine.” And immediately, she swung around to my side and bumped her shoulder against mine. “Say, after all the events we’ve so generously invited you too, maybe you could return the favor, eh?”
To that, my eyes narrowed and my ears sharpened, just what was she-
“Maybe… a little, hm… post-bachelor-”
I huffed. “Bachelorette. And besides, it’s not like I was truly single before my ressurr-”
To that, her eyes rolled again. “Fine, a posthumous-bachelorette party. Just uh, you, me, Ichirin… and Shou, I guess~”
Ah. Desires for meat and good sake reached my ears. She wanted to sample some of my own favored dishes… without my wife around to complain about their… contents.
I could not help a condescending smile as I answered with open palms and a shrug. For all their talk of discipline and asceticism, compared to my own disciples, they-
A fresh hand clapped my shoulder, swiftly turning my smile to a scowl. Honestly, these damn Buddhists needed to learn the virtues of personal spa… the hand had to reach from considerably further down than any Buddhist I knew, and given its fixation on Kanako and Sanae…
“Excuse me, girls. But this bride and I need to have a little chat~”
I huffed, but had the grace to turn my gaze gently, where I found Suwako releasing my shoulder and stepping back. With a cup of sake in her right hand, she waved with her left. “Got all those spies rounded up, did ya?”
To that, I answered by puffing out my chest. “Of course! Against my keen ears and my new wife’s might, there was no challenge for us.” But, sensing the tension, I chose to slip in a slight touch of the diplomatic. “Of course, none of this would have been possible, if not for Sanae’s generous assistance in our earlier confrontation.”
Suwako took a sip of her cup, then released a satisfied sigh. And a belch. “Of course, of course. And speaking of that wife, I do hope you two aren’t thinking of doing anything rash in the coming weeks. You’ve made my dear partner quite nervous lately, you know.” Her eyes then narrowed. “I’d hate to see her pushed into any… rash deci-”
“Ah! Lady Suwako, there you are!”
At once, Suwako flinched. But though her eyes scowled, I did not miss the upward twitch in her lips. She and I both spun around to find a woman of similar stature marching toward us with indomitable pride, her gray topknot flopping every which way with each step. …And behind Futo, strode Sana-no, Sanae blitzed past Futo to race up to Suwako and throw her head downward in a deep bow. “Lady Suwako, we did it! We caught the mastermind, and I punished her properly for making fun of you!”
Futo scrambled up to her side. And then, planting hands on her knees, huffing, she turned her own gaze my way. “Y-yea! The foul wench, Ms. Fu-”
I slapped a hand over her mouth, then turned a stern gaze both to her and Sanae. “Let’s not shout these matters to the world, shall we?”
Suwako answered her shrine maiden by patting her head - and earning an abashed but happy giggle in response. With a sigh, my own gaze, softening to a warm smile, turned to my own disciple. “Good job, Futo.”
To which Futo giggled as she bowed. “I hast performed only my job, crown pr-”
“Over here, mother. Your wife’s been lonely.”
Byakuren murmured. “Please, Kokoro, we’re both busy right now. If you could just-”
I glanced aside. Now Kokoro was dragging someone else into this already crowded cluster of people. And of course, it was Byakuren, herself.
“Hurry, before she tires of your presence, or forgets her responsibilities.”
I let out a tiny groan at that. Me? Abandoning my responsibilities? I never do anything of the sort!
Still, it seemed unlikely the damn menreiki would let go of this any time soon, so, I…
I blinked. There was one other cluster of desires that rose among the crowd. One I recognized not for its intensity, but for its uncomfortable familiarity. One of the first people I heard after my revival. Casting my eyes around once more, I spotted one new figure now lingering just outside the festivities. Someone with a tense gaze, composed half of wariness, half of self-consciousness, turned our way. Someone with brown hair and a big red bow behind her head.
Reimu. The woman who’d dragged me into this farce to start.
[ ] I turned aside to deal with Kokoro before she made a big mess of anything.
[ ] I slipped away to address the mysterious shrine maiden’s arrival.
[ ] I yoinked Byakuren off of Kokoro, and slipped away, alone, with my wife.
[ ] I stuck with this messy cluster for now, ignoring the menreiki as best I could.