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155091 No. 155091
I was going to call the vote, but then I realized that we have a 5 to 5 tie about whether or not to pursue or stay.

The calling of the vote will be delayed for approximately 12-16 hours. Let's see what you got!

For reference, the tied votes are the write-in wall of don't pursue:

[x] Don’t pursue. Let her go, because you have a meal to enjoy and a conversation to continue with the lady of the house and her servant. Let both Ran and yourself cool off before you talk again, because if you don’t things might actually end up being violent. Meanwhile, you’ll…
-[x] … Apologize to Youmu. Tell her that Ran was mostly correct in her analysis, however it illustrates that sometimes serving one's master most loyally means saying things they might not want to hear and to act against their wishes. You summoned Ran only to serve as a mathematician in order to re-align a magical construct, but you find her unexpectedly helpful in other situations, like trying to not let you make a fool of yourself in front of polite company. Likewise, were Youmu's sword-arm totally broken, would that mean the end of her service? No, because a good master will find a place for the truly dedicated, for dedication is kingly amongst the virtues of a servant. The deceased however cannot be said to be dedicated, no matter how honorably they spent their last moments. The dead do not respond to orders or pleas; they cannot give advice or provide companionship. Whatever the wisdom or skills they had in life, and whatever potential they had for the future, they become totally useless once they are dead.
-[x] Of course, you're not sure at all about what laws govern half-ghosts & the afterlife or indeed if death would even be an impediment to her duties. You are however extremely hesitant to glorify the decision of any other person to live and die in the service of a specific purpose to the extent you did. This is why you did not surround yourself with allies and armies, and only employed contracts with other when it was both absolutely necessary and likewise in the other individual's interests. The only one who was meant to die for the sake of furthering your own agenda was yourself. For anyone else to die would not make them a good servant, it makes you a poor master.
-[x] Also apologize to Princess Saigyouji for your disrespect in wasting the food that was prepared for you. If possible, you'd like to rectify this hospitably by helping clean up the mess & dirty dishes.

And the pursue vote:

([x] Give a quick apology before leaving.)
[x] Pursue. If Ran thinks she can get away, that’s too bad, because you’re going to chase after her and…
-[x] … and try and smooth things over. She’s your only guide around here, and she did drag you out of the Sanzu. You owe her that much courtesy. And just why did she suddenly become so hostile?

Pic completely unrelated, I just thought it was neat.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

>Whatever kind of hat he feels like? It can change shape and color and moves with his body. That means he'll never, ever lose it, no matter how windy it is or how many called shots to the hat he takes.

The real question is what kind of hat he feels like...

I don't know, but I have this sudden image of Sai in one of those flat-cone straw Asian hats. Don't know why.

>We're already on the Ran route. The name of this story is 'Tainted Bonds' and begins with the MC summoning Ran and entering a shikigami pact.

At the risk of creating a shitstorm, you're not on any specific route yet, despite being closer to Ran at the moment if only by past experience. Because Tainted Bonds doesn't just refer to the now-severed shikigami pact...

>Good. Modrons are the superior Lawful exemplar.

You don't see Modrons going about either these days - activity of any and all planar agents seems to have ceased on an overt scale.

>Is this 'Lady' a homebrew goddess? I assume she probably has a relatively low divine rank, but is she at least capable of turning Marcus into a proxy?

The Lady is a goddess that generally nurtures life, period. She's actually True Neutral, because "nurturing life", while normally associated with Good, actually has Evil applications as well. Marcus is Lawful Good and so exemplifies those traits of her, but it's not all pretty...

You'll have to explain more about what you mean by proxy.

>> No. 155092
[x] Don’t pursue. Let her go, because you have a meal to enjoy and a conversation to continue with the lady of the house and her servant. Let both Ran and yourself cool off before you talk again, because if you don’t things might actually end up being violent. Meanwhile, you’ll…
-[x] … Apologize to Youmu. Tell her that Ran was mostly correct in her analysis, however it illustrates that sometimes serving one's master most loyally means saying things they might not want to hear and to act against their wishes. You summoned Ran only to serve as a mathematician in order to re-align a magical construct, but you find her unexpectedly helpful in other situations, like trying to not let you make a fool of yourself in front of polite company. Likewise, were Youmu's sword-arm totally broken, would that mean the end of her service? No, because a good master will find a place for the truly dedicated, for dedication is kingly amongst the virtues of a servant. The deceased however cannot be said to be dedicated, no matter how honorably they spent their last moments. The dead do not respond to orders or pleas; they cannot give advice or provide companionship. Whatever the wisdom or skills they had in life, and whatever potential they had for the future, they become totally useless once they are dead.
-[x] Of course, you're not sure at all about what laws govern half-ghosts & the afterlife or indeed if death would even be an impediment to her duties. You are however extremely hesitant to glorify the decision of any other person to live and die in the service of a specific purpose to the extent you did. This is why you did not surround yourself with allies and armies, and only employed contracts with other when it was both absolutely necessary and likewise in the other individual's interests. The only one who was meant to die for the sake of furthering your own agenda was yourself. For anyone else to die would not make them a good servant, it makes you a poor master.
-[x] Also apologize to Princess Saigyouji for your disrespect in wasting the food that was prepared for you. If possible, you'd like to rectify this hospitably by helping clean up the mess & dirty dishes.

Ran seemed pretty mad, we should talk to her later after we both calmed down.
>> No. 155093
[x] Don’t pursue. Let her go, because you have a meal to enjoy and a conversation to continue with the lady of the house and her servant. Let both Ran and yourself cool off before you talk again, because if you don’t things might actually end up being violent. Meanwhile, you’ll…
-[x] … Apologize to Youmu. Tell her that Ran was mostly correct in her analysis, however it illustrates that sometimes serving one's master most loyally means saying things they might not want to hear and to act against their wishes. You summoned Ran only to serve as a mathematician in order to re-align a magical construct, but you find her unexpectedly helpful in other situations, like trying to not let you make a fool of yourself in front of polite company. Likewise, were Youmu's sword-arm totally broken, would that mean the end of her service? No, because a good master will find a place for the truly dedicated, for dedication is kingly amongst the virtues of a servant. The deceased however cannot be said to be dedicated, no matter how honorably they spent their last moments. The dead do not respond to orders or pleas; they cannot give advice or provide companionship. Whatever the wisdom or skills they had in life, and whatever potential they had for the future, they become totally useless once they are dead.
-[x] Of course, you're not sure at all about what laws govern half-ghosts & the afterlife or indeed if death would even be an impediment to her duties. You are however extremely hesitant to glorify the decision of any other person to live and die in the service of a specific purpose to the extent you did. This is why you did not surround yourself with allies and armies, and only employed contracts with other when it was both absolutely necessary and likewise in the other individual's interests. The only one who was meant to die for the sake of furthering your own agenda was yourself. For anyone else to die would not make them a good servant, it makes you a poor master.
-[x] Also apologize to Princess Saigyouji for your disrespect in wasting the food that was prepared for you. If possible, you'd like to rectify this hospitably by helping clean up the mess & dirty dishes.
>> No. 155094
[x]Pursue

Why the hell wouldn't we pursue?
>> No. 155103
>>155094

We wouldn't pursue because sometimes it's not necessarily a good idea to go chasing someone who's furious with you. I doubt pursuit is a good idea in this case. SO:

[x] Don’t pursue Lu Bu. Let her go, because you have a meal to enjoy and a conversation to continue with the lady of the house and her servant. Let both Ran and yourself cool off before you talk again, because if you don’t things might actually end up being violent. Meanwhile, you’ll…
-[x] … Apologize to Youmu. Tell her that Ran was mostly correct in her analysis, however it illustrates that sometimes serving one's master most loyally means saying things they might not want to hear and to act against their wishes. You summoned Ran only to serve as a mathematician in order to re-align a magical construct, but you find her unexpectedly helpful in other situations, like trying to not let you make a fool of yourself in front of polite company. Likewise, were Youmu's sword-arm totally broken, would that mean the end of her service? No, because a good master will find a place for the truly dedicated, for dedication is kingly amongst the virtues of a servant. The deceased however cannot be said to be dedicated, no matter how honorably they spent their last moments. The dead do not respond to orders or pleas; they cannot give advice or provide companionship. Whatever the wisdom or skills they had in life, and whatever potential they had for the future, they become totally useless once they are dead.
-[x] Of course, you're not sure at all about what laws govern half-ghosts & the afterlife or indeed if death would even be an impediment to her duties. You are however extremely hesitant to glorify the decision of any other person to live and die in the service of a specific purpose to the extent you did. This is why you did not surround yourself with allies and armies, and only employed contracts with other when it was both absolutely necessary and likewise in the other individual's interests. The only one who was meant to die for the sake of furthering your own agenda was yourself. For anyone else to die would not make them a good servant, it makes you a poor master.
-[x] Also apologize to Princess Saigyouji for your disrespect in wasting the food that was prepared for you. If possible, you'd like to rectify this hospitably by helping clean up the mess & dirty dishes.
>> No. 155127
File 133375813290.jpg - (650.59KB , 642x900 , Youmu and Yuyuko.jpg ) [iqdb]
155127
Votes called. Pic related. Writing now. Please wait warmly~
>> No. 155171
File 133382427737.png - (1.21MB , 840x1200 , There's Almost Nothing I Can't Cook.png ) [iqdb]
155171
RESULTS

[x] Don’t pursue. Let her go, because you have a meal to enjoy and a conversation to continue with the lady of the house and her servant. Let both Ran and yourself cool off before you talk again, because if you don’t things might actually end up being violent. Meanwhile, you’ll…
-[x] Apologize to Lady Saiyouji, and clean up after yourself.
-[x] Apologize to Youmu.
-[x] That being said, how does death work around here? Can your soul even “die” again?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“… my apologies,” you say at length, pulling your legs out from underneath the table before standing and giving Yuyuko a bow. Before you rise, you make a point of weaving a quick prestidigitation, letting Ran’s thrown dinner shrivel, dry, and flake cleanly off your face and clothes as you use the cleaning function of the cantrip. It would be nice if the spell didn’t conserve matter and just poofed the stuff into non-existence, but that’s the realm of far higher magics. “I did not mean to be so presumptious – “

“No, you meant to,” she cuts you off as you rise, although the smile on her face blunts the insult. “As opposed to much of what you said earlier,” she says, referring to your earlier diplomatic tip-toeing. You understand the meaning behind her words, and, so found out, give a sheepish nod of acknowledgment. It’s not that you were lying about anything in particular, but your attitude was completely affected.

To say what is on your mind with no reservations – that is what it means to mean what you say, and for that matter, say what you mean.

“You are wise, Princess Saiyouji.” You decide to use her surname and title for this compliment – while you did refer to her as merely ‘Yuyuko’ earlier, that was before you were formally introduced, and her position really warrants the full title.

“Just Yuyuko, please,” she chides you. “Princess Saiyouji is altogether too long.”

“Yuyuko,” you acknowledge.

“In any case, no offense taken,” she replies calmly before taking another bite, completely at ease. “I understand you have much to work out, both with Ran and yourself. I should only hope that a few thrown plates is the worst of your quarrels – although I do wish it wasn’t dear Youmu’s cooking that had to go to waste.”

Youmu swiftly returns with a dustpan in hand, ending your exclusive conversation with the lady of the house. She doesn’t get to use the accompanying brush, though, since you’re already handling the situation. Again, she watches curiously as your mercury shield puddles around all the broken shards before solidifying and rising from the floor, leaving it squeaky clean without so much as a single speck of dust left behind. You make a show of controlling it with your gaze and your hand, but truthfully you’ve no need – you could even extend all five, no, six, seven, eighth, nine… all your senses through it if the situation called. Looking busy while working though is a little less awkward, though, allowing you to avoid restarting the conversation proper until this business is done and over with.

“Youmu – if you would,” you say, gesturing at the dustpan in her hand. Still enthralled, she holds it out, and you float the orb over it before “wringing” the mercury out, causing the plate’s remains to fall into it with a clatter. You repeat this again with the food debris strewn around the floor, but this time her eyes return to you instead – you can tell she’s thinking of what had just happened. You can practically see the resentment beginning to seethe within her – best deflate that as soon as possible.

You let her retreat back into the kitchen to dispose of the evidence of your earlier argument, but choose not to retake your seat. Yuyuko gives you a questioning look, but is satisfied with a calm nod of acknowledgment.

When the half-phantom returns (you gently push the subject of biology out of your mind for the moment), she hovers awkwardly next to her former seat at the table, unsure of the current state of the meal. Lady Saiyouki answers her unspoken question by rising from the table herself, having polished off her remaining three or so plates of dinner. Nothing remains on the table. “Well, my dinner is over,” she announces. “But, Youmu, I’m sure he’s still hungry, so if you would please rustle something up for him…?”

“Of course, Lady Yuyuko,” her servant automatically replies. She doesn’t bristle at the thought of having to serve you, but you can tell she doesn’t appreciate it.

“If I may, I’d like to observe your work, Youmu – if it won’t bother you,” you add at the last second, although you know she doesn’t truly have a choice.

Youmu’s eyes flit to Yuyuko, searching for an out, but the ghost princess only beams in response. Cornered, Youmu is forced to go along with it. “It will not bother me,” she acquiesces. Her face is cold as she prepares to tolerate your presence for the time being.

You’re going to break down that composure before you’re done with her.

“Aaaaaaahn, well,” Yuyuko yawns. “I’ll be taking my normal nap. If you would please have something ready for me in a few hours?” Truly, her hunger is without equal.

“Of course.” You can feel Youmu’s surprise at Yuyuko’s nonchalance. “But you will not be entertaining our guests…?”

“Ran will prefer to be left alone, and you know what happened last time I was in a kitchen,” she explains. Youmu looks stricken – you’ll have to ask about that. “I may as well take it easy. I trust you to entertain one guest.”

“… if that is what you wish,” the white haired girl concedes.

“Theeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahn,” she yawns again, “I shall retire to my chambers. Oh, and Sai?”

“Yes?” you reply.

“Try not to make a mess this time~” she jokes. You give her your best unamused face, but she refuses to acknowledge it, leaving the dining room.

A few awkward seconds pass as Youmu debates whether to clean the dishes or cook the food first. You take the lead by shifting a foot just slightly towards the kitchen; Youmu instantly takes note and sweeps in front of you. “This way, Lord,” she says coldly, taking control of the situation.

The kitchen has a few objects that you don’t instantly recognize, but it’s easy enough to determine what each of them does as you watch her manipulate each in kind. A long metal spigot can only be a source of water, and the hermetically sealed cabinet must be a refrigerator – although its grumbling leads you to believe that something mechanical is at work, as opposed to the bound elementals and enchantments you’re used to. You’re slightly impressed. “Youmu – “

“Yes, Lord?”

“– if you don’t mind my asking, where does all the food come from, if this is the Netherworld? Is it imported somehow? Is it somehow “ghostly” itself? Or is it not really physical, instead merely representative of an idea?”

The tabletop with braziers inlaid in its surface must be a stove, although like the refrigerator its operation seems to be mechanical as blue flames spring to life with a heavy cracking sound when Youmu pushes a button with some resistance. Your master’s own stove back when you were alive used an immature fire elemental who only obeyed commands in Ignan and required gifts of coals to do what you wanted. It had the advantage of being somewhat intelligent, capable of recognizing that a pot would be about to boil over and regulating its own heat, for example, but it was sometimes moody and would refuse to work properly. “Nothing as complicated as the last two.” She stops for a second, as if reluctant to explain further, but you manage to get her to continue by boring your gaze into her peripheral vision. “The food is real – imported from the farms in Gensokyo mostly. Some of the more exotic spices and ingredients, though, are imported from across the border, but that – “

“The border of?” You have to cut her off there, curious.

“Gensokyo is very close to one other world in particular,” Youmu explains, laying out a cutting board and knives. “Originally, Gensokyo would be filled with the things which that world no longer believed in – upon becoming myth or legend in that world, they would cross the border begin to exist in this world.”

That’s… intriguing. “You say originally.”

She sighs as she rummages in the refrigerator and pantries for various ingredients, placing each in turn on the center island. “Apparently that was a time when things were simpler. Gensokyo has grown, whether many of the original residents want to believe it or not. It’s growing, forging new bonds with new worlds. Many travelers have passed through in my lifetime – some integrate themselves into the society, while others unable to fit in would be returned to their original homes. You know, we used to be able to call the earlier world just ‘the outside world’. Now that phrase could refer to so many places…” She pauses as she notices you raid the refrigerator, retrieving the exact ingredients she did after a few seconds of searching twice agai. “Lord, I assure you I am cooking enough for you – “

“Allow me my curious rummaging,” you gently smile. “And while you may be cooking enough for me, I’m thinking of our other guest.”

“The one who you threw a plate at,” she says flatly.

“The same,” you admit. “Ran’s dinner mostly ended up on my face, as you saw. I think she’d appreciate it if we also made her something.”

“You have enough for two there. That makes three.”

“You didn’t eat much either.”

Youmu gives you a long, appraising look, then scoops up the boxes and bottles she just took from the cabinets in the lower parts of the island before crouching and disappearing behind the same. She rises with a completely different set of ingredients in her arms. “In that case, let me change the dish to suit Ran’s tastes.” She retraces her earlier steps, continuing to swap the food out. “The same dish will be fine with you? Noodles in broth with tofu, that is.” You note that she doesn’t even consider what she prefers to eat – that, or she likes the dish herself enough to not bother asking.

“Tofu?”

“Coagulated bean protein. It was chopped and fried in Lady Ran’s dish, if you’re wondering.”

That tofu was delicious, even when thrown at your face. “I’m no connoisseur,” you admit, “but I’m sure it will be delicious. I have faith in your capabilities.”

There’s a lull as she then swaps out her utensils, settling for a couple of pots. “I do not require faith to do my job,” she says stiffly. The apparent modesty has a more sinister undertone; I don’t need your gratitude.

Well, you may as well start the talk in earnest. “About earlier.” You put in a pause – Youmu doesn’t respond, burrowing herself into her work. “I am sorry for putting things the way I did.” You affect a sigh. “It was blunt and rude, and I could have made the point far more politely.” Again you pause, and again, there’s no response but the rush of water from the sink as she fills one of the pots and puts it to boil. “I’m used to honestly speaking my mind and receiving straight answers in return. It saves time,” you joke, chuckling a little bit yourself but stopping as you realize she refuses to join in. “… I don’t like seeing people be mistaken.”

“What makes you think my service is mistaken?” Youmu snaps.

“I don’t think you’re wrong to serve, no,” you clarify. “I admire your dedication… some parts of it.”

“And what is wrong with being comfortable with the fact that you may have to die in service?” That was the point that caused you to boil over, an event that Youmu prevents from occurring on the stovetop with by turning down the heat and tossing in a double handful of noodles. That was fast; water normally takes far longer to boil.

“Does Yuyuko even have any enemies?” you counter.

“… define enemies.”

“Unless there’s some marauding band of extraplanar raiders that passes through the Netherworld on a regular basis, it seems to me that Yuyuko has very, very little to fear in terms of personal safety.”

“… that does not eliminate the possibility. And have you forgotten that Gensokyo was almost invaded? For that matter, many youkai say that we have been invaded, by those humans that came with you.”

You have to give her that point. Ignoring the political topic for now, though, you press on. “Well, if you believe that this world has been invaded, that should strengthen your vigilance – not inflame your zeal.”

“You say you speak your mind. Please stop speaking in broad terms.”

That’s an opening you can’t resist. “Fine, then. You’re not just a servant, Youmu.”

“And what makes you say that?” she says. The flush in her cheeks is attributable to the steam rising from the pots, but you know that annoyance is the other half of the reason.

You begin to break down an analysis of everything you’ve seen. “There isn’t anyone else down here as close to her as you are, is there?”

“… she has friends outside. She’s not some hermit.”

“But they don’t live with her. You do. How long have you known her?”

“I began service when the former servant, my father, elected to become a hermit in his old age. But I was… young,” she says at length, biting her lip as she slices the tofu and throws it into a pot of oil, beginning a loud crackle. “I could barely lift these swords properly at the time, much less swing them.”

Her father was “old” when she was that young? Just who was her mother – and for that matter, does being half-phantom grant you supreme potency or something? Letting the question drop in your head, you continue. “Consider this. Yuyuko has watched you grow and mature. You’re not just a servant to her – you’re practically family.” Family. The term hurts you to say – He was family to you, once, too, and look where that ended up. You channel the emotions into your own statement. “What I’m saying is – no one wants to lose their family. Yuyuko would prefer that you spend the rest of your days with her than for you to throw your life away at the first provocation.”

“And what if I have to?” she snaps.

“Of course, you have to. That was never in doubt. But trumpeting such a fact at the top of your lungs, seeing such provocations everywhere you go – admit it, Youmu, you considered the possibility when Ran and I started arguing.”

“That – that’s – that’s not true,” she stammers.

“You were already considering the possibility that our fight would spill over into combat, that Yuyuko would be endangered, and that you would have to help Ran strike me down to ensure her safety. A proper servant would have seen this possibility, yes?”

“I… yes, I did see it,” she admits.

“Now, here’s what I don’t like. You were eager to do so because you saw an opportunity to die. In your head, you drew an image of yourself valiantly drawing yourself up for a final stand, weathering whatever attacks I have at my disposal to take me down before succumbing to your injuries, like some character from myth – is that so?”

“… not exactly.” That admission is enough for you.

“Youmu, just weigh the value of your companionship a little more heavily is all I’m asking. For Lady Yuyuko’s sake… and my own conscience.”

“… yes, Lord.”

“And stop calling me that. Call me Sai, or Kawarou, or both – I don’t particularly care, but I was never a Lord and I’m certainly not one now.”

“… Lord Kawarou.”

You purse your lips, but refuse to play that game.

“The food is done,” she indicates, pulling out a few ceramic dishes and pouring what looks to be noodles in broth, topping the bowls with large pieces of deepfried tofu before putting lids over them to hold in the warmth.

“Doesn’t a meal take far longer than that to prepare? Even such a fast dish…”

“If they did, then I would never be able to satisfy Lady Yuyuko’s appetite. The stove is enchanted to make the cooking time of dishes almost instantaneous while still retaining all of its quality.”

Again, you’re impressed. “So how do you control it?”

Youmu gives you a smile, the first you’ve seen from her. “Servant’s secret.”

You shake your head and return the smile, allowing her that much. “I hate to return to this topic, but what would even happen if you cut me in half? Seeing as I can become incorporeal and all…” It’s a source of honest curiosity.

“You would lose power and voluntary action, and essentially be at our mercy. This being the Netherworld, you’re already where you need to be to recover – a world where death is stronger than life – but Lady Yuyuko would keep you from getting into further trouble.”

“How so?”

“She has the power to control the dead – that includes all the spirits that reside in the Netherworld, who have passed through Higan for judgment already. To be precise, that is why the Yama appointed her as the Princess of the Netherworld in the first place – such a power lets her keep unruly spirits in check.”

“Have you ever seen an unruly spirit?”

She gives you another look. “The spirits that die naturally are almost universally docile. They’re almost like grazing cows – it takes an outside stimulus to disturb them. I’ve never seen one make a fuss by itself. You, on the other hand…”

You let yourself laugh at the impish accusation. Youmu may be serious, but she’s still young, and not completely without a sense of humor. When she finishes arranging the three covered bowls on a tray, she motions with her head towards the door. “Come on,” she says, her voice much lighter than it has been. “Let’s find Ran.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

No votes yet. I may have a chance to return to this later this weekend, but I don't expect to.

I'm a little unhappy with the flow of the conversation, but I'd like to keep pushing the story, sooooooo...
>> No. 155203
File 133388376799.jpg - (62.31KB , 450x256 , kogarashi.jpg ) [iqdb]
155203
I read:

>you could even extend all five, no, six, seven, eighth, nine… all your senses through it if the situation called.

And my mind automatically declares:

>Not bad. You've disabled five of my thirty-seven senses.
>> No. 155303
>>155203

This. Now I picture undead maid guy mage. The brain breakage feels good man.
>> No. 155359
Very late on saying this writefag, But try not to make a new thread if you havent started writing yet.
>> No. 155533
File 133439096490.jpg - (102.87KB , 840x480 , Hakugyokurou Rock Garden.jpg ) [iqdb]
155533
After a minute of following Youmu down one of the mansion’s many hallways, you come to yet another set of sliding doors. The architecture is homely; the wooden floors and ubiquitous paper-paneled walls don’t feel harsh or foreboding like tile or stone might. While you don’t enter any side rooms, you can tell that they’re mostly empty, sparsely furnished at best. Some part of you wonders just Yuyuko needs with such a large home if she and Youmu are the only ones who live here. Is the mansion is a symbol of her rank and title, “Princess of the Netherworld”? Perhaps the place does see use at some point? You have trouble imagining just what kind of event would warrant a sudden influx of people into the Netherworld, other than some sort of catastrophe in Gensokyo above.

That’s… not a pleasant thought.

Youmu shifts her grip on the tray with the three lidded bowls of noodles to free up one of her hands, then knocks gently on the wood frame of the door twice. “Lady Ran,” she calls out in a firm voice.

A mere heartbeat later, before Youmu can even lower her hand, the door shoots open with a clatter, revealing a decidedly frazzled shikigami on the other side. Her face is red and puffed, her eyes are bloodshot, and her expression is one of fury and wrath at being disturbed. Has she been crying? There’s no time to dwell on that, though, for the moment you notice that the door is crushing slightly in her grip, you decide that the best thing to do would be to deliver your apology immediately.

Without a word of explanation, you scoop up one of the bowls on Youmu’s tray and present it to her –

– only to hastily pull down and to the side, out of the way, as Ran irritably swats at it with her other hand. “What do you think you’re doing here?” she snarls, voice cracking.

“Making nice,” you calmly retort. Youmu takes the opening to withdraw to one side out of your way. As Ran continues to glower at you, you ask, “Or was that supposed to be a deeper question?”

Ran makes no reply, but gently extricates her fingers from the door. You wince internally when you see the indentations in the wood, but make no outward sign that you’ve noticed. Steam from the bowl in your hands drifts up between the two of you. Ran’s nose wrinkles as the scent of the noodles and fried tofu reaches her – you already know how delicious it smells and, knowing that it’s a preferred food of hers, can only imagine the effect it’s having. Daringly, you pull the bowl back between the two of you around chest level, so that its presence continues to taunt her.

At length, you speak again. “Making nice sounds too flippant, in retrospect. More precisely, I’m here to apologize for my behavior at dinner earlier.”

The aggression slowly drains from the shikigami’s face, although she still seems slightly wary. Her eyes flicker towards the dish, although they return to you as if she hoped you hadn’t noticed her change of interest. You push on. “Yuyuko thought the three of us would still be hungry, as she was the only one who really got to appreciate her food at the meal.” You let your expression twist in amusement. “Although ‘appreciate’ is inaccurate too, I guess. More like ‘annihilate’ or ‘lay waste to’.”

The corner of her mouth turns up at that joke. She sniffs slightly, taking in the scent of the food you’ve brought – the sound of the action is slightly wet, only reinforcing your theory that she’d been having at the very least a minor emotional breakdown. “I’ll admit I knew you were coming,” she says eventually, “but you really know how to appease a kitsune when it comes down to it. How’d you know?”

You shrug, stepping back and turning your head back towards Youmu to include her in the conversation. She knew you were coming? This must be more of that “she can sense your presence”. “If you’re talking about the choice of dish, I’ll have to cede that that was completely Youmu.”

“I thought that it would be the most appropriate thing to prepare,” the servant explains lightly, as if treading on eggshells. After that debacle of a meal, the unspoken words hang.

Ran does look slightly wounded at that concession, but some internal balance tips within her mind as she decides it doesn’t matter. “Bribery,” she grumbles, although you can tell her heart isn’t in the words. “Regardless, your decision to come back here in peace surprises me. I was…” she trails off, turning away and walking out of the doorway, revealing a small open-air enclosure. The floor opens up into a porch that extends to either side, dropping off into what appears to be a rock garden. Beyond that is a stone wall marking the end of the mansion’s internal grounds; beyond that in turn, the limbs of a few flowering trees are silhouetted against a waxing moon. Your mind rebels at the sight of that, wondering just what a celestial symbol is doing the Netherworld, but you write it off as an extraordinary phenomenon and decide not to question it further.

You take her decision to move out of the doorway as an invitation to pass through it. To either side of the doorway are scattered circular tables and chairs, perfect for entertaining a large party, which only reinforces your earlier theory. Ran sits at one of these tables; you follow her, setting down the bowl of noodles in front of her before taking your own seat, leaving one chair between the two of you – taking adjacent seats would be a little too intimate of a gesture for your tastes.

You chose a seat facing the rock garden, and while Youmu puts down the tray and takes her own seat, you take a moment to examine it more closely. It consists of a number of scattered boulders and stones perhaps shoulder-high and about as wide around sitting on a bed of gravel that’s had waves no more than a few fingers high painstakingly raked into it. The effect is dizzying at first glance; you’re impressed how consistent the pattern is. The waves have been shaped so that they seem to emanate from the base of each of the large stones, and while those stones seem to be randomly scattered amongst the gravel as if cast by a child’s hand, where one stone’s waves end and another’s begin is completely impossible to distinguish. In fact, now that you consider that fact, you can’t imagine how such a feat would be possible; sets of concentric waves can’t possibly fit together so neatly, and yet…

It’s a legitimate work of art; genius, truly.

Your appreciation must be showing on your face, for Ran plunges into its background without further provocation. “I see you appreciate the garden,” she starts. “It’s a gift from Lady Yukari, when the mansion was being expanded along with the rest of the Netherworld. Her raw intellect far surpasses even mine when she cares to exercise it. Many consider Gensokyo lucky that she takes pleasure in staying aloof from day-to-day affairs.”

“It’s beautiful,” you exhale. You don’t even care about the implications of what she just said – about what horrible things Lady Yukari might be capable of doing to you if she realizes you’re here, what exactly “expanding the Netherworld” is supposed to mean.

“All I see is a pile of rocks,” Youmu grumbles, a comment which drives you and Ran into a fit of chuckles as the half-phantom slides you the second of bowl of noodles before politely serving herself last. Yes, the garden might be seen as such by some eyes. “I realize it’s supposed to be some cosmic impossibility, but to me it’s just an eyesore. Why couldn’t it have just been a regular garden?”

“At least you don’t have to water this one,” Ran points out. Yet there’s just the slightest tone of insincerity in her voice; not malicious, but intentionally misleading in some way. “Rocks don’t have to be trimmed or watered.”

“No, but they do have to be cleaned when the flowers start blooming,” she counters. “Do you have any idea how annoying it is to get petals out from between the bits of gravel? And I can never quite clean them all out – there are always a few remaining.” It’s true – here and there amongst the rocks are errant bits of flower in varying stages of decay. You have to look long and hard, testament to Youmu’s dedication, but that fact of the matter is that they’re there.

“The gravel is frozen in place, then?” you ask for clarification, as Youmu exasperatedly begins to stuff noodles in her mouth. After all, it would be quite easy to ruin the masterpiece forever with a single thrown stone otherwise. Upon receiving two nods, you press on, “Youmu, about that stove in the kitchen. Is there no similarly convenient device or trinket to clean it with?”

She takes a moment to swallow. “No, there is not,” she replies.

“Have you not asked for such?” You reach for your own bowl, removing the lid. Fried tofu and noodles swim in broth, crushed herbs on top and floating amongst it all. It smells absolutely divine.

Youmu’s eating sticks pause in midair. “No, I have not made such a request. To do so would imply that I cannot do my job with the tools I am given.”

Ran gives you a suddenly wary look, although it looks quite undignified as she’s biting into an entire chunk of fried tofu, either unable to cut the protein with her eating sticks or simply unwilling. You smile, and make sure to word your next sentence as a suggestion. “Youmu, there is nothing wrong with a servant requisitioning the tools she needs to do her job with far more efficiency. Just as you serve Yuyuko, the tools serve you, and you all work towards the same purpose. Try asking her next time around; I’m sure she won’t mind.”

“… you’re sure? I’ve never asked her for anything before.”

“I’m quite sure. She is not an unkind sort, and I say that with confidence despite knowing little else of her.” You mimic their actions, holding your bowl in one hand and bringing it close to your mouth before pulling the noodles up and out of the broth a short distance into your mouth. You slurp them until your mouth is full, then cut the remaining noodles with your teeth, letting them fall a few inches back into the broth. You make sure to chew until the noodles are nothing more than paste, then swallow.

Words are insufficient to describe the bliss you feel right now. You feel your eyes practically glazing over.

As you sigh with contentment, the shikigami relaxes, although she gives you a sideways glance loaded with another meaning, one you can’t quite place. Is it… amusement…?

“But Lady Yuyuko has always provided the tools I have needed before,” Youmu insists. “To keep up with her appetite, there is the stove. To keep up with the cleaning, oversized mops and brooms sized for the rooms and hallways. Long handled clippers for the trees so that I do not need a ladder. But she never has provided me with anything different for this rock garden.”

“If it exasperates you so much, put a tarp over it when the flowers are blooming,” you joke. Ran picks up on your sarcasm immediately and hides a smile behind her hand, but Youmu actually looks half-serious about the idea.

“… perhaps… when the flowers are in bloom, after all, then no one will be within the mansion grounds, but instead be out amongst the trees…”

Laughing, you bring a chunk of tofu to your lips and bite off a piece just like Ran did. You could get used to this.

Conversation slips towards things of little import. You barrage Youmu with questions about her services, and find out that yes, she truly is Yuyuko’s one and only companion here in Hakugyokurou. At length, she and Ran tell you a recent anecdote of what they deem an “incident”.
>> No. 155534
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“ – what.” Your eating sticks – now known as “chopsticks” tap the empty inside of your bowl in absolute disbelief. “So Youmu… defeated a saint and all her servants…?”

Ran laughs, bringing a hand to her face as if overcome with your expression of disbelief. “From all reports, she was marvelous.” Youmu is flushed red to the tips of her ears, head bowed to let her bangs hide her eyes, yet a faint smile of happiness from being praised is there regardless.

You start counting on your fingers. “An undead servant, her immortal master, a ghost servant, another immortal, and then… a saint.” You personally don’t think that any “saint” worthy of the title would seek immortality so greedily, but you decide to go with the title that everyone else has accepted.

“Don’t forget the waves of mischievous faeries, the spirits of desire, the karakasa and Lady Yuyuko herself pestering her along the way,” Ran chimes in.

“And you expect me to believe that miraculously, despite all this battle no one died?”

“That would be due to the spellcard system of dueling that rules over Gensokyo’s conflicts.” Seeing the unspoken interest in your eyes, Ran continues even as Youmu scoops up the dishes, excuses herself for a second, and hurries off, the spring in her step betraying her good cheer. “Enforced by the Hakurei shrine maiden, the system allows any two parties to settle their differences in a strictly regulated non-lethal combat. Parties must openly present all their weapons, equipment, abilities, and magic before they are allowed to participate.”

“You’re expecting me to believe that this actually keeps people from killing each other.”

“It’s a very neat process, actually. Once you’re registered, you can duel with anyone, anytime, anywhere.”

You still remain skeptical. “This doesn’t sound safe at all. I have no way of making my preferred attack method nonlethal.”

“But the Hakurei maiden can. If you willingly fight under the spellcard rules, her magic is able to translate any type of attack one is familiar with into completely a non-lethal form. In Gensokyo – or actually anywhere the rules have been accepted, such as here in Hakugyokurou, for example – these attacks seamlessly replace any attack you perform. Between danmaku and spellcards, even those without any magic or fighting ability have a hope of scoring points against even the Hakurei maiden herself.”

“Any attack can be emulated,” you repeat flatly, trying to digest this.

“Yes, actually.”

“Even a punch to the face.”

“Regulated if you so choose.”

That takes you off guard – a cross-planar system of ensuring lack of bloodshed? You make a mental note to never ever cross this ‘Hakurei maiden’. You think for a bit about the duels back on your home Plane, of the clash of steel on steel; how would the world be different if such battles never carried the risk of death?

… speaking of steel, the half-phantom who openly carries it comes back, her composure now restored, with a steaming pot and three wooden cups. The smell of tea is yet another callback to your living days of childhood, and you struggle to not sidetrack. “Even those involving physical weapons?” You gesture meaningfully towards Youmu’s swords.

“Ah, talking about the spellcard system, are we?” the girl inquires as she sits down.

“Just filling Sai in on the basics,” Ran answers quickly before returning to her explanation. “Physical weapons are replaced with substitutes indistinguishable from the real thing, albeit that a hit will not kill, only score. In addition, various forms of danmaku are capable of being channeled through a physical weapon if you choose. Youmu has mastered a form that has proved to be absolutely devastating.”

You give the younger girl a questioning look; as she pours out the tea, she explains, modestly keeping her gaze low but clearly still proud of her accomplishment nonetheless. “I was able to combine various types of danmaku to create what essentially amounts to a penetrating short-range shockwave. Very difficult to dodge, penetrates most defenses, and my own mobility means staying out of range is generally out of the question.”

“Devastating,” Ran repeats for emphasis. “I hear that some have petitioned the Hakurei maiden for a ban on it.” Youmu hides a smile behind her cup of tea; you reach over to take one for yourself while she’s distracted, while Ran does the same.

“Is that unusual?”

“Not really,” Ran chuckles. “Everyone’s always complaining that some form of danmaku is unfair somehow or the other. They’re missing the point; danmaku is merely a medium through which fairness can be ensured; it takes the involved parties themselves to make sure that the playing ground is fair.”

You go over the past few minutes of conversation in your head. “… explain just what danmaku is, exactly,” you say at length. “I thought it was just a system of magic, but there’s clearly more to it than that.” The tea’s taste is unusual, despite its homely aroma; it has an extremely bitter start, but as you hold it against your tongue the bitterness melts into fruit flavors which in turn end on a floral note after swallowing. You wonder just where it grew.

“Strictly by definition, danmaku is a system of magic meant strictly for scoring points through the spellcard system. It’s very, very easy to grasp; using it at all requires little more than intent at the least, and a decade of light study at the most. Raw danmaku will never be as good as the heights of real power and ability, but it’s so easy to use that those without much inherent strength will solely use it during a duel and still have a chance of victory. Even those who can perform actual feats of strength or magic often use their innate abilities mainly to augment their danmaku. Danmaku is so ubiquitous that even those powerful enough to eschew formal danmaku entirely still refer to their regulated attacks as danmaku during a spellcard duel; the term has colloquially come to refer to any non-lethal method of offense.”

“You talked about how danmaku is merely a medium… I presume that it gets used a lot outside of formal duels?”

Ran cedes that point. “This is true. Many only subscribe to the spellcard system at all simply to gain access to regulated attacks and danmaku. Going through the steps of agreeing on what abilities may or may not be used and how many spellcards are permitted is usually only done in formal situations.”

“Spellcards?” You suddenly have what might be a vision of some sort, of two talking heads, one explaining various features of the world while the other parrots keywords to give the first an opening to explain further. The urge to hiss loudly and hide underneath a pressed-paper box seizes you, but you shake it off in time to catch Ran’s explanation. What a weird occurrence. Best not reveal it to anyone.

“When abilities are banned for general use, they may be temporarily allowed, possibly in reduced form, through what is known as a spellcard. They’re essentially a way to regulate extremely powerful abilities without banning them entirely.”

“So just how common are these ‘formal’ combats?”

“The other day, a witch and the Hakurei maiden got into a three-card duel over where to eat for lunch.”

“What.” So much for never crossing her.

“Officially, the Hakurei maiden lost, but the spellcards she chose heavily limited her. If she was serious, the witch wouldn’t have had a chance.”

Armed with the knowledge that the Hakurei maiden gets into petty scuffles, you feel compelled to ask, “Out of curiosity… what if they choose to attack her without danmaku?”

“No one dares,” Ran says lightly, and you decide to take that fact at face value.

Youmu sets down her now empty cup, and looks uncomfortable for a second, hesitating to pour herself another cup before either of you have finished yours. It’s the shikigami that comes in for the save. “Youmu, don’t you normally practice your swordsmanship at this time?”

Your curiosity overtakes you. Earlier you saw her take a stance that should have been physically impossible for a girl of her slight frame, but you still have yet to see her style beyond that. She splutters, “But Lady Ran, I would not leave you to – “

You interrupt her, asking her to…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CHOOSE YOUR ENTERTAINMENT

[ ] … excuse you. You’d like to take the opportunity to tour the grounds, and Ran seems to be at home enough here for her to take over the job of hostess. You’re trying not to impose here. Hahahahahaha like anyone will pass up this opportunity.
[ ] … let you watch. That’ll be enough for you to get a judge on just what kind of swordsman she is. You don’t dare spar against her; you’ll be cut to ribbons, which promises to be an unpleasant experience even if she’s said that you can’t be killed. SHOW ME YOUR MOVES
[ ] … let you try your own hand against hers. After hearing the swathe she cut, you’d like to see her style, and the only way to do so is to see her fight, even if the unfortunate at the other end of her blade is you.
>> No. 155536
[ ] … let you watch. That’ll be enough for you to get a judge on just what kind of swordsman she is. You don’t dare spar against her; you’ll be cut to ribbons, which promises to be an unpleasant experience even if she’s said that you can’t be killed. SHOW ME YOUR MOVES

Let's see how the romans do it before we try doing as they do.
>> No. 155543
[x] … let you watch. That’ll be enough for you to get a judge on just what kind of swordsman she is. You don’t dare spar against her; you’ll be cut to ribbons, which promises to be an unpleasant experience even if she’s said that you can’t be killed.

The text of all the votes suggests we're not up to fighting just yet.

Also, how does one take the time to put spoiler tags on the end of a vote but not include an X?
>> No. 155551
[x]Show me your moves Yomu
>> No. 155557
[┼] … let you watch. That’ll be enough for you to get a judge on just what kind of swordsman she is. You don’t dare spar against her; you’ll be cut to ribbons, which promises to be an unpleasant experience even if she’s said that you can’t be killed.

We can check her out & see how we think we measure up. Then we see about sparring against her.
>> No. 155623
[x] … let you watch. That’ll be enough for you to get a judge on just what kind of swordsman she is. You don’t dare spar against her; you’ll be cut to ribbons, which promises to be an unpleasant experience even if she’s said that you can’t be killed.

Good, Ran's happy again.
At some point, we'll want to train with/under/to Youmu about the Sublime way. Plenty of stuff to learn there for both parties.
>> No. 155624
[x] … let you try your own hand against hers. After hearing the swathe she cut, you’d like to see her style, and the only way to do so is to see her fight, even if the unfortunate at the other end of her blade is you.

If we watch, we can't fight her fairly without showing her our moves. It'll be far more fun to fight with surprises for everyone~
>> No. 155634
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Votes called. Pic related. Writing now. Please wait warmly~
>> No. 155677
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RESULTS

[X] … let you watch. That’ll be enough for you to get a judge on just what kind of swordsman she is. You don’t dare spar against her; you’ll be cut to ribbons, which promises to be an unpleasant experience even if she’s said that you can’t be killed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Youmu…” you start.

“Yes, Lord Kawarou?” the servant girl instantly replies.

“Where do you normally practice your swordsmanship?”

She looks confused for a second. “Ah, I practice wherever I happen to be. Anywhere in the gardens is open enough for anything I wish, and the household has many open areas. I never have to walk more than a minute to find an area wide enough for at least basic exercises.”

“Would you consider this patio wide enough?”

Still uncomprehending, she replies, “Yes, Lord, but…”

“I believe Sai would like to watch,” Ran explains, a slight smile on her face.

“Oh. Oh!” Youmu flushes red, hands suddenly flying to the scabbards of her swords in an almost possessive gesture. “I – I suppose that’s alright,” she stammers, “but, ah, it may be boring for a while. I have to warm up, and – “

Ran’s smile is infectious, and you find one crossing your face as you hold out a hand, patting the air in a calming manner. “I understand how you may think I won’t be impressed, but I have some experience with swordwork as well.” ‘Some’ is a slight understatement, but you decide not to make a point of it. “How about this – I’ll go walk off for a bit while you start. I’ll come back later when you get into the thick of things, but I’ll do it without a fuss. You won’t even realize I’m there.” Her eyes still ask if this is really okay, for her to be continuing her normal routine despite the presence of guests, but you beam pleasantly, inviting her to open up to you.

It seems to be enough, as after a second’s hesitation her head bobs in acceptance. “That – I have no objections to that, Lord. Lady Ran?”

“I’m content to sit and enjoy another cup of tea,” she says graciously. “Lady Yukari does not often leave me with time to rest, so this is fine.” She gives her own final nod of approval. “He’ll stay out of trouble,” she reassures Youmu, although her tone gives you the impression it’s intended more as a command aimed at you.

You reply, “That I will. Well, then…” When you stand, Youmu does as well, while Ran remains seated at the table, still sipping at her tea like she said she would be. With a small wave of farewell, you step back and turn, disappearing out of their sight through the doorway…

… and then from the visible spectrum altogether with an invisibility.

By the time you step back outside, Youmu has walked out to a clear space between the tables on the patio. As she begins to bend her limbs and body in a variety of stretches, some of which you recognize but many of which you don’t, you notice that Ran’s eyes flit towards you. For a second you lock gazes, and then she turns away, a cupped hand carefully moving over her mouth to conceal a telling smile. Well, you’d expect such a powerful spirit to see straight through such a simple illusion.

Youmu however makes no sign of having detected your presence, though. She might just be being polite about the matter, but it’s more likely that she doesn’t possess such extrasensory perception. A shame; you’d have hoped that her phantom half would have some sort of innate magic, but whatever secrets that curled around her torso holds white orb holds don’t seem to be related to detecting invisibility.

Leaning against the doorframe now, you’re content to analyze how Youmu moves, her warm-ups gradually becoming more and more intense. The simple stretches turn to light aerobics, and then the two curved swords come out of their scabbards as she begins a series of basic exercises. You watch as she repeats a dozen or so different leisurely strokes dozens of times on end, somehow maintaining her balance and form despite the length of her blades compared to her body. Most two-weapon fighting styles you know of use either a matched pair of smaller blades or one larger blade for striking and a smaller one for parrying. Yet Youmu wields a pair of swords long enough to be two-handed – you can tell from the long lengths of the hilts – as if they weighed nothing. You’d heard of such styles, strictly reserved for the obscenely strong whether that strength was inherently racial or from magical augmentation; Youmu’s seems to be the latter. Her first movements are a little stiff, as if she’s still nervous about being watched, but as the repetitions begin she clearly begins to focus her attention inward, blocking out even Ran who sits no more than a few meters away, watching her with the sort of curiosity that those with nowhere else to rest their eyes have.

Clearly someone taught her these fundamentals that she’s practicing now – they’re much too abstract for an amateur to have devised by herself, each movement training and testing a specific set of muscles as opposed to going through the motions of a proper attack on an actual target. You admire how she painstakingly does such conditioning without the slightest air of annoyance or frustration – you yourself may have stopped needing it ever since you gave up a mortal body, but you’re aware of how the desire to work on one’s fundamentals often falls far short of one’s eagerness to try cool and unusual maneuvers, throwing away a solid foundation for the promise of greater power.

Kind of like how He threw everything away by recreating Taint.

Shaking your head to rid it of the unwelcome reminder, you almost miss it when Youmu finishes her fundamentals and takes up the same fighting stance you’d seen earlier, just after Jizo had dunked you into the outdoor bath. When she transitions from basic exercises to what should be “practical” strokes, what you see is… interesting.

You can’t decide if the reason you can’t look away is because you’re enthralled or appalled; perhaps both at the same time. Enthralling, because you’ve never seen a style quite like it. As Youmu goes through over a hundred different types of cuts, whether from one blade, the other, or both, you decide that Youmu clearly devised it herself without any aid. There are the beginnings of an absolutely brilliant style in there – she can combine the long reach of her weapons of choice, the tactical flexibility of her dual-wielding, and her absolutely phenomenal speed in order to confound almost any opponent.

But her strikes lack any synergy between these three factors; in fact, you daresay that whenever she attempts to take advantage of one of her strong points, she actually lets the other two get in her way. When she strikes for reach, she only uses one blade, relying on her strength to make the lunging slash still lethal while holding her other weapon uselessly at her side or in front of her in a guarding position; as if any opponent could simultaneously defend against such a lunge and attack her at the same time. When she uses both blades in unison, they stay only within a comfortable middle distance, failing to lash out in reaching strikes or brutal close-range stabs. And when she goes all out, her footwork and coordination go to hell – it would be all too simple to avoid the fury by simply backing off, and someone with similar speed could even end a combat right then and there by striking into one of the countless holes she allows in her forms.

All throughout it, her phantom half remains comfortably wrapped diagonally across her torso. You’re not sure what potential use it might have in combat, but if it’s vulnerable, it should not be in such an easily accessible position, and if useful, well, it should not idle.

It’s too much for you. Pushing off the doorframe to stand properly on your two feet once more, you creep towards the servant girl, slipping around chairs and tables until her blades are cutting the air inches away from your face. Ran gives you a very quick glance but resumes watching Youmu as if you weren’t there, clearly interested in seeing what you have to say – or what you plan on doing.

When Youmu makes a quarter turn, moving the area her blades are controlling into your own space, you dismiss the invisibility and pop your shield from its position as a bracer into a long spur extending from your arm in both directions, jutting past both the hand and elbow. The action neatly catches each of the blades before they cut through your neck and abdomen, and the sudden clash of weapons rings chillingly through the air.

Surprised, Youmu freezes in place, unsure of how to react to this sudden intrusion. “Lord Kawarou…” she trails off, her expression an interesting mix of annoyance and trepidation.

You snap the quicksilver back into a bracer, freeing her blades; she relaxes her grip on them and shifts a few steps back. You can feel both her and Ran’s gazes boring into you.

Your first thought of what to say is ‘pathetic’, but the last experience with dressing down Youmu almost ended very badly indeed, and Ran’s presence reminds you to be somewhat kinder in your assessment of the situation. ‘Pathetic’ was the only word Marcus had used to describe your first foray in the realm of swordplay, but the relationship between the two of you was already established, and you understood he meant only the truth and no harm. The bond between you and Youmu isn’t even close.

“You have the beginnings of a potential master swordsman,” you start, taking your own few steps backward until a comfortable distance of precisely three sword lengths separates you.

“T-t-thank you,” Youmu stammers, blushing and bowing her head. “But I – “

“ – am nowhere even near yet?” you childishly finish for her, letting a smile slip across your face.

“Ah – yes.” Again her expression twists, not sure if she should be happy that you agree with her honest opinion or be annoyed that you are subtly slighting her skills.

“Youmu – what do you think it takes to be a master swordsman?”

The question takes her off guard. “Ummm… training. Many decades of training.”

You make a show of thinking on that answer for a second. “Not necessarily an incorrect answer, but that is merely one possible route to the ultimate goal, not what is gained at the end of it. What separates a master from a novice, then? For a novice may train eternally and yet never achieve mastery.”

Youmu purses her lips. “Ability gained. I suppose that one might train forever and yet never improve.”

Again, you deliberate. “The topic of ability is important, but merely having ability does not make one a master.”

Clearly confused, Youmu sidetracks from the current topic. “Lord Kawarou, what are you attempting to imply?”

“You have raw ability, Youmu. More raw ability than you know what to do with.”

“T-t-thank… you?”

You let another smile cross your face. “That was neither a compliment nor an insult. Just an observation. Make of it what you will.”

Youmu nods again, still off-balance from your strange commentary. Ran noisily slurps a new cup of tea from the kettle, still watching. It’s when you begin to turn towards the shikigami, intending to enjoy a cup yourself, that Youmu’s brow scrunches up in skepticism. “Lord Kawarou, I may have been without a teacher for most of my life, but I still believe I am walking down the correct path. Should I – “

Blast. That was not the conclusion you wanted her to draw. “No, you are not,” you cut her off.

That draws forth a reaction – her eyebrows narrow in hurt. “Why do you say that?”

“Your fundamentals were excellent, but when you moved into strikes I began to see some problems. Firstly – ”

You would have continued, but Youmu is the one to interrupt you now. “That is – in my childhood, I had the finest teacher in the world,” she snaps. Her identity as a servant has been tossed aside now in favor of a position of righteous indignation. “I have based everything I know from my lessons with him. I refuse to believe that his style could be inferior to anything. Anything!” Ran gives you a look of annoyance as well, but she tempers it with a quick shake of her head. Don’t linger on this topic, the gesture says.

Her dedication to her former teacher is this strong? You wonder just who he could be.

You’d like to point out that the most important thing about an education is to keep an open mind, to be freely willing to accept ideas and influences from others and not remain static. You’d also like to point out that even if she’s only accepted one man’s teachings, the rest of the style is still hers, and more likely than not most of its flaws.

But knowing that she will refuse to accept any advice you have at the moment, you’ll have to find some other way to appeal to her.

“Youmu, the story is that you have defeated saints with your skill at swordplay. Then, who have you lost to?”

She grits her teeth, clearly disliking the question, but her honest nature wins out. “Once, the maid of the Scarlet Devil Mansion entered Hakugyokurou with the intent of speaking with Lady Yuyuko. When she failed to explain herself adequately, I attacked, but was defeated.”

A maid? “What was the root cause of that loss, in your opinion?”

“The maid could stop time at will. It was an uneven battle from the start.”

What. “… this ability,” you say slowly, trying to digest that fact, “how powerful is it?”

“She can use it as much as she wants. When we fought, I was drawing my swords one second and attempting to parry a hundred flying knives the next. I did not last long.”

Double what. “What does she do with such ability?”

“I said she was a maid.”

You shake your head in disbelief, choosing to ignore the implications of such an insane ability for the time being. “What if I told you that I believe I would have a sliver of a chance, even against such an opponent?”

“But of course. Lady Ran said that you were a magician of no minor power. The maid has no magic of her own – this is a weakness you can exploit.”

In lieu of immediately replying, you let the bracer detach itself from your wrist and flow into a long, narrow rod in your hand, turning into a long-bladed lance slightly under twice your height, almost a glaive but still with a sharp stabbing point at the end. Youmu’s feet shift slightly at that, seeing the movement as an implied threat – it’s telling that there are no signs of her former interest in it. “What if I told you that I would have this chance even without use of any magic?”

Ran’s eyes widen as she suddenly sits up straighter, clearly intrigued. For her part, Youmu simply scoffs at your assertion. “I would say that you are being overconfident.”

Ran adds, “I would as well. I have seen Sakuya’s abilities firsthand, and they are quite formidable. You would do well to not cross her.”

But Ran never saw you dispatch the two blademasters that He kept as his final line of defense.

You acknowledge Ran’s comment with eye contact and a nod, but you make no reply before addressing Youmu once more. “Do you believe your technique to be superior to all?”

A long, pregnant silence follows. “… yes,” she says at length.

Shaking your head, you suddenly raise the lance up an inch and plant its butt into the wooden patio, causing the structure to resonate. “Youmu, your raw strength is far superior to mine. But I believe your technique needs work. Therefore, I propose a test.”

“Sai, you won’t last two minutes!” Ran cries out. “Not without magic.”

“I’ll last three minutes, and I’ll do it without magic,” you boldly proclaim. “Ran, the spellcard system. I want to fight under it.”

“There is no need,” Youmu says. “I cannot harm you permanently, and you will not touch me.” So much for no violence in the household.

Ignoring her, you stare at Ran until she finally gives in, looking to one side. “All you have to do is strike without intent to kill,” she explains, clearly reluctant to endorse this brewing duel in front of her. “The magic will do the rest.”

That simple? You almost can’t believe it, but you decide to believe her. “Understood. Then, Ran, will you keep the time?”

She gives you a last pained look, but you shake your head. You’re fully aware of what you’re doing here. “… yes,” she finally agrees, standing and picking up the tea tray. “But if I call you off before the time is past, you will both stand down, is that understood?”

Both you and Youmu nod in agreement. Earlier, you were friendly acquaintances; now, you are enemies.

“Then… where would you like to have this match?”

In answer, you simply wave an open palm at the surroundings. Telekinesis gently shoves the surrounding four or so tables and chairs away from you, opening up a free area some twenty or so yards square. You deliberately turn your back to the two women and walk to the far edge, turning again once you’ve arrived and lowering your lance into a braced position. “Right here,” you say unnecessarily.

Youmu and Ran exchange a meaningful look between them – Youmu’s of determination, Ran’s of concern. But Ran ultimately backs away, out of the ring of tables, leaving the servant girl opposite you. Formally, Youmu slips her swords back into their sheathes at her waist, then holds the scabbard at her left with her left hand while gripping the hilt of the same sword with her right. You recognize the position – she intends to end this match in a single unstoppable stroke, using the additional momentum from the extra weight of the scabbard to launch the blade out of it at an even faster speed.

“Are you ready to be defeated, Lord Kawarou?”

“Yes,” you smile, an admission that takes her off guard. “But only after three minutes.”

The scowl returns to her face. “I’m ready,” she hisses.

“And I as well. Attack me when you dare.”

A few seconds pass as you face off against each other. The only warning you receive is the slightest tack as her sword barely loosens from the depths of its scabbard in preparation from the strike.

Without thinking, you sweep the lance in a large circle in front of you as fast as you can. You don’t even hear her approach or make the attack itself – clearly she’s moving faster than the speed of sound.

What you do hear is the clash of weapons, then the sound of splintering as tthe soles of your boots grind against the wood of the patio, the force of her running into your wall of blades having sent you sliding backwards. Only after all of this is done do you hear the echoes of her battlecry. The lance is quivering, the source from a few inches above your higher hand on the shaft; the impact point. If you’d have been any slower, that would have been your hand, and realistically the battle right there.

There’s no follow up attack as Youmu leaps back towards the opposite edge of the ring once more. “No magic!” she cries. “What is this?”

You only flick your head towards Ran, who looks back at you, wide-eyed. She begins to explain precisely what happened, but almost as if she doesn’t believe it herself. “That was… no magic. His weapon was physically occupying the entire space in front of him at the same time with no trickery involved.”

“How?!” Youmu turns to the shikigami now, completely flabbergasted.

Ran draws in a breath to answer, but you interrupt first. “Three minutes!” you remind her with a shout, a taunting grin spreading across your face.

Youmu growls with frustration, then roughly draws her other blade and stalks towards you. She won’t be able to take you down in a single blow, but you’re going to have a hell of a time lasting even three minutes. The best way to do so is to…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CHOOSE YOUR BATTLE ATTITUDE

[ ] … go into full defense. You will maintain the highest level of guard you can manage, only striking if you see an opening you can surely take advantage of without compromising your defense. You may miss opportunities to strike back, but the goal is to last three minutes, not defeat her. After watching her for so long, you’re pretty sure you can anticipate her style. If she manages to build momentum against you though, you just might get swept away in an uncounterable hail of attacks.
[ ] … go all out. Youmu may be quick and unnaturally strong, but you saw countless holes in her guard all the time. Take advantage of this; the best defense is a good offense, and if she’s constantly having to block and parry your attacks, she won’t be able to respond effectively in kind. But if you slip up or she manages to exploit an opening you’ll surely have, that’s it for you.
[ ] … maintain a balanced style. Who said that combat was to one extreme or another? Defend where you can, attack where you can; just never let yourself remain idle and waiting. The problem here is that Youmu’s strength gives her a huge edge in an even fight, and you simply might be outclassed even with your superior technique.

-[ ] Optional write-in: perhaps a long lance isn’t the best weapon for this situation anymore. Before the battle begins anew, you should swap it for a…
>> No. 155680
[x]...confuse her by changing styles at unexpected moments. Start by going full defense and change to all out attack when she starts falling in a pattern; after all, you're showing her her lack of technique.

Not sure if I'm expressing myself properly here. I want Sai to show that a skilled fighter knows and controls himself, his opponent and the fight itself.
As for the weapon, I think long weapons are good against swordspeople but if Youmu uses her dual swords correctly she'll be able to defend herself with one hand while poking us with the other, negating our range advantadge.
>> No. 155681
[x] … maintain a balanced style.

There's probably a better weapon for this, but fuck if I know what it is.
>> No. 155685
>long weapons are good against swordspeople

>but if Youmu uses her dual swords correctly she'll be able to defend herself with one hand while poking us with the other

>long weapons

>long

Uhhh... I'm not sure what you're thinking here.

Assuming you're attacking at the end of your polearm range (at say ten feet), just how are you proposing that she reach you with her sword (max reach five feet)? Does the other five feet just disappear? She's not Komachi. dohohohoho I bet you didn't know that about the shinigami
>> No. 155686
[x] … go into full defense.

Seems the best route to our goal here.
>> No. 155689
[x] … go into full defense.
>> No. 155690
>>155680

This is only a three minute fight, and we already burned at least fifteen seconds while Youmu griped about our Weeaboo Fightan Majik. If she falls into a pattern that quickly, we won't even need to switch methods.

Youmu is also aware of the three minute cap, and since she knows she can't drag the fight on to tire us out, odds are she'll keep trying different avenues of approach.

[ ] … go into full defense. You will maintain the highest level of guard you can manage, only striking if you see an opening you can surely take advantage of without compromising your defense. You may miss opportunities to strike back, but the goal is to last three minutes, not defeat her. After watching her for so long, you’re pretty sure you can anticipate her style. If she manages to build momentum against you though, you just might get swept away in an uncounterable hail of attacks.
>> No. 155692
[x] … go into full defense.

If the point of the challenge is to outlast her, then that is what we should do.
>> No. 155693
>>155685
I haven't even read the story but after parrying a thrust from a polearm, you would move forwards - since the tip of the weapon is no longer facing your body, the polearm user has to draw back their weapon or physically move back. If they do not, they cannot defend themselves, as the opponent is inside their reach, and will be cut down swiftly.

Polearms are best left to large groups where one cannot just advance without running into your mates point.
>> No. 155694
>>155693

Our weapon morphs. She does that, the blade bends and carves her shoulder open.
>> No. 155695
>turning into a long-bladed lance slightly under twice your height, almost a glaive but still with a sharp stabbing point at the end.

>>155693
That means the spear has a long blade at the end, you're thinking about a "pike", those are mostly for stabbing. Besides, the weapon can morph.

Going for:
[x] Defensive, but keep her at bay, for every push, push back! (counter style)
>> No. 155696
For clarification's sake, the weapon cannot morph at high speed - while it can certainly move fast enough to cause harm, liquid metal Terminator style, someone with any fighting talent whatsoever should be able to dodge or parry it - if they can see it coming at all, that is.

While I use the term 'lance', which implies a weapon meant for thrusting, truthfully the weapon is meant far more for slashing, like a glaive or naginata. It's not really comparable to a halberd or poleaxe, though, as those also focus on having a hammer's weight behind the axehead.

And as someone who's done a little sparring with a shinai and armor, from my experience trying to get at someone with one of those bamboo naginatas (I have no idea what they're called) is ridiculously hard. I had the same initial thought, that you can just "step inside" the range of the weapon, but then the inner haft is still left to foil your attacks. For that matter pushing past the slashing end is a nightmare - it's got far more leverage than your sword, meaning that attempting to knock it aside to attempt to do the aforementioned "stepping inside" is almost impossible. And sometimes the person just lets you step forward, and then comes in from the side, because your sword is still at the front of your body. Reach is overpowered, nerfs pl0x.

This being said, I'm still willing to entertain a creative vote-in suggestion, although you'll probably have to explain just how it works if it's too creative.
>> No. 155701
[x]Primarily focus on defense but do not discount attacks entirely. Attempt counters and attacks when the opportunity she inevitably WILL give us arises. Her swordplay as noted by Sai does have openings.
>> No. 155704
All these write-ins seem like convoluted ways to say balanced approach.
>> No. 155707
>>155696

>it's got far more leverage than your sword
Youmu's swords are kind of stupidly heavy though, so she has magical leverage or something, as noted by Sai earlier.
>> No. 155760
>>155694
>>155696
et al
Yep, my fault for not reading the story. I'd argue the point that parrying a slash - especially nearer the hilt of the sword where you've got more leverage - is a lot easier than you suggest, and that in this specific case, Youmu's got two swords with which to both parry, move forwards AND slash with the other one - but I haven't really had that much experience apart from fencing with sabers so I'll rely on your descriptions of that kind of combat.
>> No. 155791
File 133532125680.png - (64.59KB , 664x412 , oots-136-cropped.png ) [iqdb]
155791
[x] … maintain a balanced style.
>> No. 155798
>Yep, my fault for not reading the story. I'd argue the point that parrying a slash - especially nearer the hilt of the sword where you've got more leverage - is a lot easier than you suggest...

What people keep thinking of is pushing on a polearm thrust dead forward as far as he can, the wielder's grip tight and trying to hold it in that position. This stance, meant for rank fighting with a pike, is indeed extremely easy to push aside - the weapon's got no momentum of its own, and a shove on the business end turns the polearm's wielder's upper hand into a fulcrum, wrenching it out of his lower hand.

In single combat, a good fighter never lets his weapon rest, never simply just holding it in a locked grip. If the weapon is outstretched and locked, it's in a thrust forward in order to slip inside the sword's guard. A looser grip allows the enemy to knock the weapon away slightly, only for it to flip back into place faster than they can step into the opening - it's for this reason that the classic "knock it out of the way and rush" is preposterously difficult, even for someone with two swords.

This may be relevant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPzBfyBl0Dk

Note how useful the haft is in defense during clinches, and then how easy it is for the naginata wielder to go for the legs which the sword wielder cannot reasonably guard (this is how he/she ultimately scores). While in the video the sword wielder can make countering strikes that would also be lethal, consider that the naginata wielder almost always strikes first, that if the weapon were a foot or so longer this would be impossible, that due to rule restrictions the naginata wielder cannot score with a thrust at all and thus doesn't even try (even though it would be just as lethal) and that if the naginata's strike were true, the sword wielder would be in no position to strike back anyways. Note how the sword wielder never even tries to sweep out the weapon with one hand while going for a point with the other - it's just too damn hard. Of course supernatural power and bigger, longer swords throw many of these things out the window, but it's clear from the very start who's got the mechanical advantage.

Yes, I have a polearm fetish, deal with it.
>> No. 155799
Hmm. We can't morph our weapon fast enough to use against a skilled fighter, but maybe we can loosen part of it on the side facing Youmu, the when her sword(s) go through the liquid mercury and hit the solid mercury, we can then harden it all and trap her blade.

Though that would only be worth doing if we could get both, as one free sword that close would be bad. But if she ever starts using both swords to attack, that would work really good. I think.
>> No. 155861
[X] … maintain a balanced style.

The problem with going into full defense with a polearm is, I think, that it will negate the reach advantage we have over Youmu - even though we'll still have one end of the polearm to use in a clash, her getting in close still favors her more than it favors us.

On the other hand, overwhelming attack is too risky - even though Sai's observations pointed out tons of holes in Youmu's styles, it's quite likely that her much higher speed - which we didn't see in her exercises - means that we won't be able to take advantage of those too much. I think the best option would be to lean into defense, taking mainly potshots for maneuver recovery and to keep her on her feet - every second where she thinks about defending is both a second for us to recover and another second for the clock to run.
>> No. 155872
File 133550106553.jpg - (34.64KB , 550x286 , Historical Art.jpg ) [iqdb]
155872
Votes called. Pic tangentially related. Writing now. Please wait warmly~
>> No. 155910
File 133565409142.jpg - (1.40MB , 1200x1776 , Battered Youmu.jpg ) [iqdb]
155910
RESULTS

[X] … go into full defense. You will maintain the highest level of guard you can manage, only striking if you see an opening you can surely take advantage of without compromising your defense. You may miss opportunities to strike back, but the goal is to last three minutes, not defeat her. After watching her for so long, you’re pretty sure you can anticipate her style. If she manages to build momentum against you though, you just might get swept away in an uncounterable hail of attacks.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Being cautious is definitely the way to go here. You lower the point of your lance until the head is parallel to the ground, the back half of the haft neatly balancing the weight of the business end. You shift your feet, slipping into a stance of clarity, blotting out everything but your opponent and her two weapons. You’re ready now.

Shaken from the failure of her rush attack, Youmu cautiously approaches with slow, measured steps, right hand held high. The longer of her two blades hovers menacingly above her head, cocked slightly backward while her left hand holds the shorter of the two held slightly out to the side of her body, almost parallel to the ground and tilted towards her center in a guarding position. While her right side is completely open, she’s only presenting her protected left to you, her right blocked by the rest of her body. She obviously plans to move into range and bait an easily counterable long thrust from you, then either disable your weapon or simply keep it at bay while that high right sword of hers chops into you.

Well, perhaps you’ll humor the first step of her tactic.

Her eyes narrow in satisfaction as you as you take a half step, pull back slightly, then make a small downward at her left wrist as if to lop off her hand, apparently taking the point. Predictably, she simply pulls her hand slightly closer to her torso, your blade hitting steel instead of flesh, its momentum arrested.

Before she can flick it away and make her main attack, though, her eyes fly wide open in horror as the laws of time and space bend underneath your warrior spirit, forcing a quartet of similar blades grow out of thin air and stab all around her committed parry as fragments of alternate possibilities simultaneously come true in an avalanche of blades. Alone, each attack would have easily been foiled, but all together they will surely punish her for taking you lightly –

Or not, as her right blade shifts from an attacking role to a desperate defense even faster than the maneuver. She pivots backward on her right foot, buying enough time for her to slash down and across her body, smashing into the five blades both permanent and temporary and forcing them aside. The four lances created by the maneuver wink out of existence the moment their imagined possibilities fail to come true, but the real one remains, batted some distance off to the side.

Her move leaves both her left and right blades committed and her body completely bent over double, though. You choose to not fight the outward momentum the parry gave your lance, and instead help it along, whirling in place to reverse your stance while making a huge wound-up two-handed strike to take advantage of her completely flatfooted stance.

The strike that would cleave into her ribcage meets the base of the hilt of her sword in a last-ditch parry. Unbelievably, she still keeps her grip on the weapon, in fact using the energy from the attack to pick herself back onto her feet, stumbling out to the side and out of your reach. You can’t instantly respond after an attack like that, and while you could chase and perhaps keep up the attack, you instead spin again into a new stance, seeding a pearl of black doubt into Youmu’s mind as you feel a leering grin stretch across your face of its own accord, your joints waggling loosely in a mocking swagger.

The entire exchange takes less than three seconds. The stance of clarity replaced, you’re able to hear Ran take a huge gasp of awe; she may have seen Marcus and Chen dismantle an adamantine golem, but this display of controlled expertise is on a completely different level. You briefly reflect that the former would still effortlessly beat you into the ground, though. He trained you, after all.

Whether it’s the effects of the stance or simply her own character, Youmu’s confidence continues to slip; after she regains her footing and turns again to face you, a process that takes longer than the rally of blows you just changed, you can see fear in her eyes, and – is that hurt? You don’t have time to reflect, though, as she presses the attack once more. This time she dispenses with the baiting, instead stepping forward and chopping with her longer blade straight at your head. She’s fast – so fast, she makes it inside the reach of your weapon before you even have a chance to respond, skirt flapping loudly as it billows to and fro. The haft is a weapon too, though, and you catch the attack by sliding your grip completely underneath the haft before angling it high to shield your face.

You don’t even blink as the massive blow glances off the rounded surface of the haft merely inches away from your face, the quicksilver remaining whole instead of splintering like a wooden pole, before you counter by increasing the angle of your weapon further and stabbing down towards her foot. Her left blade was at her side in anticipation of a possible counter-slash, so your thrust goes completely uncontested. Again, it’s her unbelievable speed and not technique that saves her as she somehow manages to hop and avoid being pinned in place. Thinking you’ve imbedded your weapon in the wood of the porch, she tries to bring her left blade around at your shoulder, but you’re not so fettered, having stopped the point of your weapon a hair away. A quick punch to the inside of her left arm with the middle of the haft foils her attack, and almost certainly will end up leaving a nasty bruise.

Hissing in pain, she retreats once more, chopping down with her main blade at one of your hands as she dashes back. The half-hearted attack, lacking any real force behind it, isn’t meant to hurt you, but merely force you to keep up your guard and not chase her down. You weren’t planning to anyways, and so you let the attack ping harmlessly off the haft simply by rotating your grip back into a more natural position.

She starts the next exchange by rapidly strafing in an arc just outside your reach, her phantom half noticeably twining around her torso as she does so. She makes two full circles around you before you feint forward to get her to stop; when she averts her eyes the moment you move, she gives away her plan. When she seems to disappear from view, leaving her ghost half circling you as a distraction, you simply continue to turn to face the white wisp as if deceived. The mithral tornado you initiate a moment later catches her by virtue of sweeping across your entire zone of control, and while you can’t strike a decisive blow with the blade, the lash of the haft against her hip probably bruised her to the bone. Crying out in pain, she can only retreat once more, the white wisp sluggishly retreating back to its normal position around her body as if sheepish about its failure to fool you.

This pattern repeats itself three times more. Three times she launches an offensive, but each time you foil her overly simple strikes and force her away with a blistering counterattack. There’s no deceit in her moves at all; her honesty of character is reflected in her swordsmanship, so it’s all too easy to read her moves. You don’t even need the pearl of black doubt to taunt her into predictable attacks; she does of her own accord.

Giving up that strategy, she hops back and raises both blades over her head, throwing all her focus into a massive two-handed strike of her own. You stand back, preparing to simply dodge out of the way –

– but when she moves, you realize that there’s no way you can. She aims the blow not at you but at the weapon itself, and in the split second you have you release that this blow is faster than any of the others she’s made before despite her wounds. You can’t even get the weapon out of the way in time. A desperate all-or-nothing attack that would be completely useless if anyone else did it, it’ll send your weapon crashing away, leaving you defenseless and at her mercy. There’s no way you can stop it.

If it’s impossible, don’t even try when you can do something else.

Your fingers are already open and free of the haft when her impossibly fast attack completely strips it from you, smashing the lance’s blade into the porch where it remains imbedded, still quivering with the force of the blow. However, you don’t care; by forfeiting the weapon, you retained your balance. The moment her blade started descending, you had started to dash forward to meet her.

Time stands still as you land six massive downward blows on the back of her lowered head in the blink of an eye, turning her own ridiculous speed against her and sending her crashing face-first into the wooden planks, her swords flying free from her hands as she loses consciousness. Something cracks. It’s not the porch. You snag the end of your lance’s haft and yank it free, jauntily walking in a wide circle to your starting location while Youmu’s fingers blindly scrabbling at the wood, looking for the swords she’d just lost.

You sneak a look at the shikigami as you shoulder your lance, raising an eyebrow in question. You drop it when you see her face, or rather just her eyes, for she’s raised one hand to her mouth, covering her expression – but not enough of it. Her eyes are absolutely horrified, her golden irises dull and pupils wide with shock. Taken aback, you just stand there, staring back in confusion, hurt somehow that a demonstration of your skill would offend her so. Time stands still in a completely different fashion for a time, but the moment ends when her eyes flick to the side.

That’s the only warning you get, having completely dropped your own guard upon seeing Ran’s distraught face. How long were you standing there? The attack itself is something a novice could block, though – to be accurate, it’s less of an attack and more a punch-drunk lurch with the blade blindly held forward. In the space of a few seconds, Youmu, blood pouring from her nose and tears rolling down her face, seems to have retrieved the smaller of her two swords, gotten up, and made it to you.

You have to admire her tenacity, at least.

All you have to do is hold the haft of your lance out in front of you to hold her off, as she clumsily moves the blade up and down in vague imitations of slashing attacks. The blade wouldn’t even cut a twig at the speed she’s going at. “Won’d – won’d gib up,” she chokes out, eyes blinking and unfocused. Youmu’s breath is coming is short gasps, and it takes you a second to realize that it’s not exertion, but sobs. You push her backwards a step and raise the butt end of the haft to bowl her over, but something stops you. Again, you look at Ran, searching her shattered expression. She shakes her head, as if telling you not to do it.

Are you being too brutal on a novice? The question suddenly unfolds in front of you. And the answer is clear: yes, yes, you are.

This sort of sparring was the way you had learned from Marcus, back on the demiplane; he handed you a weapon and told you come at him. You lost count of the many ways he defeated you, to say nothing of the number of falls you took. But you had gone into that training knowing that you were starting from square one against a master, and Youmu, on the hand, has never lost a duel in her life.

“Ah, ah, I won’d loob,” she croaks, lurching forward again, forcing you to again hold her off. “Mah teachub woulb’e ahsambed oh mah. Mah – mah fathab woub be ahsambed…”

Her teacher was her father? That adds a whole new level of meaning to this defeat. You think back to your former master, of all the various things she had taught you, and wonder just how you would feel if you felt as though you were dishonoring her memory.

The three minutes aren’t over yet. You…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CHOOSE YOUR FINALE

[ ] … let her score on you. Salve her wounded pride for now while she’s too incoherent to remember anything clearly, and deal with the fallout later.
[ ] … run the clock out. You’ll still “win”, but at least you won’t completely humiliate her any more than you already have.
[ ] … knock her unconscious. She needs a defeat to keep her honest and realize she needs to learn, and better you, here and now, than someone who’ll actually kill her.
[ ] Write-in?

[ ] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.
[ ] Teaching novices isn’t something you’re interested in.

For god’s sake, this is not a route choice, just a declaration of interest of any sort.
>> No. 155911
[x] … knock her unconscious. She needs a defeat to keep her honest and realize she needs to learn, and better you, here and now, than someone who’ll actually kill her.
-[x]But as quickly/clean as possible.

It may sound harsh but I view this as the best choice as in a serious fight, she'd be dead by this point.

[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.
>> No. 155912
[x] Teaching novices isn’t something you’re interested in.

I can't decide between the other options, but I'm certain that I don't want to read teaching Youmoe swordplay updates.
>> No. 155913
>>155912
who'd to say they'd take up most of the updates?
>> No. 155914
[ ] … knock her unconscious. She needs a defeat to keep her honest and realize she needs to learn, and better you, here and now, than someone who’ll actually kill her.
-[ ] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.
>> No. 155915
Hrm hrm well, I don't have a vote at the moment but I'd like to reply to >>155911.

While I do think she needs to be mercilessly defeated (I am just unsure quite how), knocking a person out can have serious repercussions. A random blow upside the head can cause paralysis, amnesia and memory loss, and severe short-term (days-weeks) disabilities. We're trying not to kill her, for sure, so let's not put her in a wheelchair, either.
>> No. 155916
>>155915

For the sake of story and avoiding real-world medical issues, a controlled blow upside the head here will have repercussions no deeper than a headache later. Call it a feature of the Sublime Way, or Youmu's half-phantom biology, or whatever you like.
>> No. 155918
[x] … run the clock out. You’ll still “win”, but at least you won’t completely humiliate her any more than you already have.
[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.
If he just beat Youmu up and didn't follow through with anything, what would that look like? I'll tell you.
A crazy inter dimensional egomaniac who likes beating little girls up.
>> No. 155919
>>155913
That's the way these things usually end up.
>> No. 155920
[x] … run the clock out. You’ll still “win”, but at least you won’t completely humiliate her any more than you already have.

For one, This was merely a test of her skill. If we let her hit us, that'd be counter productive. Likewise, If we knock her out it'd be the same. I wanna think up a good write-in, so I'm going with this. Also,
[x]Teach her
Because frankly I want to see this. I'm assuming it'll just be a lazy time-skip so that Youmu doesnt whore up all the time though.

So, Really, it doesnt matter if we win or lose, so long as we gauge her skill.
>> No. 155921
[x] … run the clock out. You’ll still “win”, but at least you won’t completely humiliate her any more than you already have.
[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.

Letting Youmu score would be an insult to both her and her style - it'd add a prideful, arrogant sting to the defeat she's already taking.

As for teaching her, well - Sai did say that he'd live to be a font of knowledge. With Marcus currently indisposed, we might as well teach the only swordswoman in the 'Soak about the Sublime Way. Even if we give her only the basics, she'd be able to teach herself from there.
>> No. 155922
[x] … run the clock out. You’ll still “win”, but at least you won’t completely humiliate her any more than you already have.
[x] You plan to give her a lesson later
>> No. 155923
>>155922
Huh. No idea why part of that got cut off.
>> No. 155924
[x]Disarm her, then make her concede defeat. Make her understand the reason why she lost this match.
[x]Teach her if she wants to learn

You've already started this and might as well finish it. Shes well on the way to being out on her own. Running the clock out is only going to extend the torture for her. Letting her score a freebie on you is right out. Insult to the injury. Get the swords away and pin her down with the butt of the spear.
>> No. 155925
[ ] … knock her unconscious. She needs a defeat to keep her honest and realize she needs to learn, and better you, here and now, than someone who’ll actually kill her.
-[ ] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.

She has to let her past go. A timeout isn't strong enough to free her of her traumas and scars. Sure, knocking her out will make her wounds bleed, but it's a necessary step to completely heal her.

Besides, if she's properly defeated, she will be eager to learn from Sai later on. Time out, and she will probably still be too stuborn to listen to everything, and thus miss important lessons.
>> No. 155926
[x] One nasty knock on the head is quite enough. Just run the clock out.

[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on. Not necessarily more than one, but at least enough to show her a way out of the rut she's stuck in.
>> No. 155927
>>155916
I'm sure there's a template for that but it must be forbidden.
>> No. 155928
>>155927

"Whenever you discuss real life physics(or whatever) in an anime, god kills a catgirl. Please, think of the catgirls."
>> No. 155929
>>155928
But Touhou is a video game.
>> No. 155932
File 133567084215.png - (115.15KB , 334x263 , DrWeird06.png ) [iqdb]
155932
>>155928
Let the catgirl genocide commence!
>> No. 155939
>>155927
There's a weapon enhancement, Merciful, that makes all damage dealt by a weapon nonlethal while providing a small boost to said damage on command.
>> No. 155941
[x] … knock her unconscious. She needs a defeat to keep her honest and realize she needs to learn, and better you, here and now, than someone who’ll actually kill her.
-[x]But as quickly/clean as possible.
-[x]Treat her wounds after the battle if you can.

With how Youmu thinks, any other option would just be adding salt her wounded pride.

[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.
>> No. 155942
[x] … run the clock out. You’ll still “win”, but at least you won’t completely humiliate her any more than you already have.
[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.
>> No. 155945
[x] … knock her unconscious. She needs a defeat to keep her honest and realize she needs to learn, and better you, here and now, than someone who’ll actually kill her.
-[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.
>> No. 155946
[x] … run the clock out. You’ll still “win”, but at least you won’t completely humiliate her any more than you already have.
[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.
>> No. 155948
[x] … knock her unconscious. She needs a defeat to keep her honest and realize she needs to learn, and better you, here and now, than someone who’ll actually kill her.
-[x]But as quickly/clean as possible.
-[x]Treat her wounds after the battle if you can.
[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.

This is more like a wake-up call than a humiliation
>> No. 155954
>This is more like a wake-up call than a humiliation

Agreed
>> No. 155961
>>155932
Just read short story about that.
>> No. 155962
>>155954
In before literally everybody in-story disagrees.
>> No. 155963
[x] … run the clock out. You’ll still “win”, but at least you won’t completely humiliate her any more than you already have.
>> No. 155965
[x] … knock her unconscious. She needs a defeat to keep her honest and realize she needs to learn, and better you, here and now, than someone who’ll actually kill her.

The alternative is for her to crumple on her own, or leave her standing there with tears pouring down her cheeks and blood & snot streaming from her nose. It will be worse yet if she realizes you went easy on her.

When she wakes it would be better for her to be tended by someone else, like Yuyuko, so she can come to terms with her loss and shame and let out the emotions in private.
>> No. 155969
I like how nobody believes Youmu is capable of winning. Nope, let's just deny her the chance, it's better that way.
>> No. 155972
>>155969
She was capable of winning. WAS. At the previous vote. That's why each vote came with a warning of what could go wrong. (Full defense risk giving her too much momentum, full out attack risks letting her sneak a hit in which is all she needed to win, a.s.o.)
At this point she has already lost, it's just a matter of how Sai will finish it.

Anyway, I'm voting for

[x] … run the clock out.

She has lost. She knows she has lost, that's why she's crying so hard.
There's no point in knocking her over the head again, just to add a mild concussion to her broken nose.

[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on.

I don't think he should try to teach her a B9S style, and I don't think she would care to learn it either.
She already has her own style, and as Sai noted: even if she no longer has a teacher she has started devising her own version of her style even if she still has far to go. I think it would be best if he tried to help her develop that instead.
If he can just improve his diplomatic skill to somewhere above the level of half a brick, he could help her get over the loss by explaining that it's not the style that's the problem. It's just that, as things are at the moment, he is simply better at fighting than her.
She lost because she was arrogant, not because her father was a bad teacher.
>> No. 155999
[x] … run the clock out. You’ll still “win”, but at least you won’t completely humiliate her any more than you already have.

[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.

I feel a bit bad for her but, in the end, it's better she learned this before someone came along and stomped her into paste.
>> No. 156007
>>155972
The way I see it, it's not so much her style that's probmatic but her general handling. With a few corrective lessons, she should be able to fight better.

It's hard to get better in a place where projectile warfare is so common place as opposed to Melee.
>> No. 156060
>>156007
Yeah, that's pretty much what I was saying. It's just that I somehow can't write short posts. It always goes wall-of-text whenever I try.
>> No. 156107
[x] … run the clock out. You’ll still “win”, but at least you won’t completely humiliate her any more than you already have.
[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.

We've already noticed that training the way Marcus trained us makes Youmu a wreck, and more importantly, horrifies Ran. While knocking her out would be the logical move, given that we can do it without medical issues, we should bow to social considerations.
>> No. 156119
[x] … run the clock out. You’ll still “win”, but at least you won’t completely humiliate her any more than you already have.
[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.
>> No. 156122
[x] … run the clock out. You’ll still “win”, but at least you won’t completely humiliate her any more than you already have.
[x] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.

I'm feeling kinda like Ran in this scene.

I wonder if there's a way that we can motivate her training without being like "your dad's technique is shit" or something? It'll be hard to motivate her if that's the only thing we can offer her.
>> No. 156132
>>156122
Her dad's technique is fine. It's her self-trained shit that sucks.
>> No. 156134
>>156132
And how do you know that?
>> No. 156138
We've been explicitly told her fundamentals are excellent and were almost certainly designed by someone more experienced than her, but the same was not true of the style's 'practical' slashes.

"...you decide that Youmu clearly devised it herself without any aid."

This Anon is a skilled master of the sword, and I'm inclined to treat him as an expert in this field.
>> No. 156142
>>156138
it's a also mostly untested as I doubt she learned as much from her fights as say someone in Sai's world (where you either learn from your mistakes quickly or die)
>> No. 156156
File 133609499224.jpg - (11.34KB , 831x467 , Timeout.jpg ) [iqdb]
156156
Votes called. Pic related. Writing now. Please wait warmly~
>> No. 156223
File 133628552286.jpg - (123.07KB , 849x667 , Afterglow Ran.jpg ) [iqdb]
156223
So writefag here had an interesting day. Unfortunately, said interesting day meant that no updating got done. Update will be finished by Sunday evening, though. I'll try not to be late in the future.

Pic related.
>> No. 156231
>>156223
Your girlfriend revealed herself to be kitsune?
>> No. 156259
>>156223

You're a nine tailed fox and had an awesome date with your master?
>> No. 156299
File 133645803031.png - (866.82KB , 800x847 , Delicious Ran.png ) [iqdb]
156299
While your hypotheses are amusing, unfortunately not. I spent a night in an unfamiliar bed with a very familiar person, yes, but there were no familiars involved, for better or worse.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

RESULTS

[X] … run the clock out. You’ll still “win”, but at least you won’t completely humiliate her any more than you already have.
[X] You plan to give her a lesson later on. It’s a shame for someone to have so much ability and no technique to go with it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

No, pressing the current state of affairs by actually knocking her out, instead of merely fulfilling your original victory condition, would accomplish little. At this point, you don’t have to do anything else, other than hold out your lance and keep her at arm’s length. You choose not to respond to Youmu’s sobbing, simply staring her down instead as she shoves roughly against the haft of your weapon with her blade. She’s completely unable to make anything even remotely resembling a proper attack in her demoralized, battered state.

A chiming sound, undoubtedly magical in origin, rings in the air, and you lightly push back on Youmu’s sword as you step back, giving her a polite nod of acknowledgement. The match is over. You’ve proved your point.

The moment her loss is officially recognized, it’s like a dam bursts; she instantly succumbs to her fatigue and injuries. For a second her glistening, punch-drunk gaze seems to pass straight through you, and then she simply collapses on the spot, her sword tumbling from her fingers. Instantly, your lance folds itself back into a bracer as you lunge forward to catch her, gently lowering her to the wooden deck.

Ran is at her side at an instant, brusquely brushing you aside without so much as an apology. Her hands open as she places them over Youmu’s body, fingers fanning out as light shines from her palms.

“I didn’t know you knew healing magic,” you remark in honest curiosity as you retrieve the larger of Youmu’s two blades where she had dropped it earlier.

“I don’t,” Ran snaps, clearly annoyed at your casual attitude. “I can still at least bother to check for serious injury, though. Or did you think that little move of yours didn’t leave her with a concussion? You shattered the timbers of the deck! Were you trying to kill her?”

“No, I’m pretty sure she’s fine,” you reassure her, nonplussed, as you bend over once again to pick up Youmu’s second blade.

“The spellcard system doesn’t protect against secondary physical trauma!” she snarls. “There’s a reason these duels are normally done in wide open spaces – oh, I don’t even know why I bother arguing with you!”

“Again, she’s fine. No internal injury. She’ll wake up with a headache, and nothing more.”

The shikigami glares at you, but, following her earlier advice, simply purses her lips in disgust. You decide to explain further. “A direct attack on the opponent’s mind. Any physical damage is superficial at best, nothing a little first aid and some rest can’t heal; the broken nose is the worst of it. If you’re lazy, a quick cure from anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of healing is enough.”

“You shattered the timbers,” Ran finally interjects, still disbelieving.

“I also bent the rules of time and space with nothing more than my body and mind. You saw that. Is punching someone unconscious against a hard surface with little actual injury so hard to believe in comparison to that?”

She stares at you for a long time after that comment, then turns back to Youmu. Her long fingers descend to part Youmu’s hair to reveal her scalp where you landed those six combat-ending blows. There’s a good size lump forming, but you didn’t even break the skin, a common occurrence with blows of greater force. Now thoroughly confused, she lowers her fingers to a darkening spot on her arm, and then to her shirt-covered hip where you’d smashed it with your haft earlier.

“You were the one who said the spellcard magic would prevent any blows from being lethal,” you say, anticipating her unspoken question. “And they were blunt blows anyways to non-essential locations in the first place.”

“No, I know that you weren’t striking to kill,” she murmurs to herself. “I know that,” she repeats under her breath, her eyes lost in thought. “So then… why humiliate her so badly?”

“To teach her a lesson.” You crouch next to Youmu’s body as well now, sliding each of her two blades back home into their scabbards. “She has so much potential… she could beat me easily, if she just had a little guidance.”

“And who will do that?”

“Me, of course,” you ask, honestly confused by her skepticism. Ran stares back at you for a second. “I’ve got nothing better to do.”

Another few seconds pass as the shikigami bores into you with her golden eyes, and then she starts laughing, lifting her fingers to her mouth in an attempt to hide her smile. Laugh might be the wrong word; it’s more of a giggle, which you hadn’t expected from someone normally so dignified.

“… what?” you ask.

“Oh, and here I was, wondering just what I was going to do with you while I handle Lady Yukari’s affairs,” she explains, her hand ceasing its futile attempts at preserving her dignity, still smiling. You can say without any reservations that she’s beautiful when she does – she’s normally so severe and cold.

You like seeing people happy like this. It’s been… a very long time.

As you rise again, trusting Youmu to Ran, you look over the ruined deck. So as to not annoy Lady Yuyuko, you weave a fabricate. You can’t restore the wood to its original form – that’s another spell entirely – but you can turn the wood to sawdust, press it into timbers, then fit it into the gaps without so much as a seam. The color’s a bit off – you can’t help that – but you can manage put an imitation wood grain into it. No one will notice the discrepancy unless they look really hard, and if you just drag a table on top of it…

After casting all these spells, you suddenly realize there’s a feeling of loss, one that you haven’t felt since you were still alive. All these spells you’ve been casting aren’t coming out of the normal bottomless reserve you’ve grown accustomed to; you feel your jaw clench in annoyance. Yes, right now you’ve no need to be slinging hundreds of spells in as many seconds, but it’s still irking somehow.

Okay, yes, you’re a little hungry for it, but all mages worth their salt are, else you would have never tolerated being an apprentice in the first place. Only irking, though. Nothing more. You’re not starving for power, unlike He was.

Turning back to Ran, you see that it seems she’s done something – Youmu’s nose is looking far better than it did, and as Ran picks her up she looks almost peaceful. You reach out and spin a chair towards Ran; she gives you a nod of thanks as she gently sits the half-phantom servant down into it.

“So you’ll be staying here in Hakugyokurou for now?”

“Until Youmu overcomes her lack of technique, so long as nothing else takes my attention.”

Ran looks at you for a second, calculating something in her head. “… no, it wouldn’t do for you to start roaming Gensokyo right now,” she concludes, more to herself than to you.

“Then, we are in agreement?”

“It is polite to ask the hostess herself, you know.”

You throw out your arms wide, as if to point out the entire world around you. “This is the Underworld, is it not? Then I’m sure Yuyuko will have to problem accepting me here. It is a… fitting place for me.”

Ran’s eyes soften. “No, don’t say that. You don’t deserve to be dead.”

“No, I don’t,” you agree, turning away, looking out onto the rock garden, trying to lose yourself in the impossibly melding concentric circles in the gravel.

“ – I shouldn’t even exist in the first place.”

Neither of you say anything for a time. It’s Ran that eventually breaks the silence. “… I’ll go talk to Yuyuko about this,” she says, referring to both your match with Youmu and your plans to stay here.

She leaves you there with a dozing Youmu. You stare at the rocks for a long time, wondering just what purpose you have in this world anymore.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

No vote, but guess what! Writefag here is done with exams, and that means he gets to sit around and update for you all day long these next few days as Punishment Time for being late with this one.

I hope you’re happy. I-i-it’s not like I a-a-appreciate you guys or anything, so d-d-don’t get any ideas, alright?
>> No. 156301
>Writefag here is done with exams, and that means he gets to sit around and update for you all day long these next few days as Punishment Time for being late with this one.

Hooray!
>> No. 156308
File 133652824910.jpg - (6.99KB , 200x156 , imagesCAXL4D36.jpg ) [iqdb]
156308
>>update for you
>>all
>>day
>>long

Pic relevant. Not the vote I had hoped for but thoroughly satisfied with it and glad it won. Liking Sai's beginning signs of character development and moving past his grudge. Keep up the good work.
>> No. 156319
>sit around and update for you all day long these next few days
So, uh, how's that coming along?
>> No. 156323
>>156319

>Implying statements like those aren't a death flag for regular and frequent story updates

>Implying the writefag will actually punp out regular updates for more than a few weeks even if he does initially adhere to said update schedule
>> No. 156326
>So, uh, how's that coming along?

I said update, but in hindsight, truthfully the right word was/is "write". "Update" implies that I'm posting things constantly, which I never intended from the start (whoops). However, I have been writing.

Wall incoming, scheduled for Saturday to get back into the step and rhythm of things.
>> No. 156328
>>156326
Saturday? Better than I expected. Truthfully I'm just glad you're sticking it out at all.
>> No. 156331
>>156328

What, did you really think I'd let this die without a word?

jinx'd
>> No. 156335
>>156331
Well it has been known to happen. I try to maintain at least a little faith though.
>> No. 156349
>>156331
>did you think I was GONE forever?

Nope. Never have.

Hope springs eternal and all that, and you weren't even gone a week.
>> No. 156363
File 133688230536.png - (1.48MB , 900x1193 , Gardener Youmu.png ) [iqdb]
156363
Still no vote because while I'm presenting two sections now, I still have a third in the works, and possibly a fourth.

And sure is nice of your folks to leave you rotting waiting for your ride back home from your dorm for seven hours. (I didn't get home till really late.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You hold out your arms straight out to either side, each hand clutching the base of a long piece of firewood. “What would you say, Youmu, if I said you could cut both of these in a single cut?” You’ve asked this question a dozen times at the very end of each of your lessons over the past week since Ran left for her work maintaining the Gensokyo border, whatever that means. At first, your short-term disciple used to throw your words back in your face, as if you were taunting her, reminding her of the extraordinary feats you performed in order to shame her in front of Ran. But as she came to understand the meaning of your actions, as she realized that she still had so much potential to realize, her attitude slipped into begrudging acceptance, and by the fifth day, rapt attention.

Now the near worship has mellowed to respect, and what you feel is an honest friendship; she feels comfortable enough to chuckle at your comment and joke, at any rate. “Well, there’s one very easy way I can do that.” She lifts the longer of her swords, which you now know as a “nodachi”, and slowly draws it from one piece of wood to the other in a single arc – an arc that passes right underneath your chin.
You respond with an exaggerated frown. “Without beheading me, if at all possible. I realize that you might be starting to find it amusing, but ‘decapitated’ is not a state I’d like to become accustomed to.”

In truth, you’ve never actually been beheaded, or at least in a way that leaves any permanent injury. Upon being struck – and at this point, Youmu has done so countless times – you’ve been letting your body turn incorporeal, absorbing the blow without the slightest bit of pain or injury. While enchanted weapons like Youmu’s longer Roukanken and shorter Hakurouken would still be capable of injuring you in that incorporeal state, the spellcard system has been doing its job, reducing the blows to mere physical attacks which phase through you with no discomfort at all. The fact that the blades will still annihilate these logs, cut from deadwood from trees in the very gardens you stand in now, still manages to impress you.

Speaking of blades, some of the things you’ve talked about over your impossibly delicious meals are the origins and stories behind your respective weapons. Her nodachi Roukanken, the Lookout-Tower Sword, was apparently forged by ‘youkai’, a word which seems to refer to inhuman creatures in general. You’re no expert swordsmith nor enchanter, but even your relatively untrained senses can feel how much work, care, and magic went into the steel, turning it from mere iron to a weapon fit for a king – or a master swordsman. The sword is claimed to have the ability to ‘kill ten spirits in a single stroke’, although this is a claim that both Youmu and Yuyuko have puzzled over at length, for as far as they know a spirit cannot be killed in the traditional sense of the word, and they’re not about to find one and experiment. Your own examination gave a vague confirmation of the boasted ability, that the sword is somehow effective against spirits in some way, but the thought of Youmu using the sword against you in earnest leaves you with a cold feeling in the pit of your stomach.

By contrast, the shorter ‘katana’, her Hakurouken or White Tower Sword, is a family weapon. It has a lot of memories for Youmu; she used it in her dominant hand when she was still small and being trained by her father, Youki. The Roukanken was a gift from Yuyuko when Youmu eventually outgrew the Hakurouken and required a larger sword to continue her oversized two-weapon fighting style. If the Roukanken was baffling to you, then the Hakurouken is absolutely inscrutable; other than being just as sharp and sturdy as the Roukanken, if not more so, you can’t even begin to understand what the blade is supposed to be used for. Youmu says that ‘dispels confusion on those it cuts’, but the only way you can see it doing that is by ending the poor victim’s life entirely.

Her joke now over, Youmu’s face looks like it could benefit from being cut by the Hakurouken, which is an improvement from the look of absolute disbelief that she used to give you when you presented her with this apparent impossibility. Now, instead of refusing to accept the possibility, she’s trying to understand it, brow wrinkled in thought. Faster than your eyes can track, she makes a one-handed diagonal cut with her nodachi. Only one piece of wood hits the ground; the log in your other hand is still intact. She sighs, still not quite sure what she’s supposed to be doing. “I guess not…” she murmurs to herself, clearly answering some internal dialogue.

Dropping the now-bisected piece of wood, you let your bracer flow into a curved sword just like Youmu’s; you hesitate to use the word katana, as the design is not exactly the same. Throwing the still-intact log upwards, you easily bisect it with a simple vertical slash, flinging the two pieces a long way out to each side. Whipping the blade around, you seem to slash in two positions at once in a steel wind, one of the most elementary maneuvers of the Iron Heart school, demonstrating it once again for Youmu’s benefit. Four pieces of wood hit the ground.

“I realize this is not the kind of focus you’re used to,” you empathize. “Your mind is trained to keenly focus on one goal, and that’s excellent. But for this, you have to focus on two outcomes at the same time, and consider them both equally possible. Only when you truly believe that both can be realized without affecting the other can you do this.” You walk over to the stack of logs and pick up two more, standing them on opposite sides of your body. Again you cut a single stroke; again, four pieces hit the ground.

Your own sword’s story – lance’s? shield’s? axe’s? rapier’s? you’ve used it as all of those and more this past week – is by contrast without a single vague point of history. You created it yourself, after all. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that you created it from part of yourself. At the end of your mortal life in the demiplane, where you realized that your Tainted wound would soon overtake you, you decided to do one final useful thing with your mortal body before you gave it up for an undead one. As Marcus set up the needed equipment for the Ritual of Crucimigration, you managed to set up a series of braziers that filled the air with vaporized mercury. After that, you were able to do nothing more than languish, barely clinging to life, the long-term health effects of the mercury nothing compared to what the Taint was doing to your body.

When you finally perished on the cross, your body had come to accept the mercury on a cellular level, binding it to your very soul. After that, pulling it out of your body and using it as an invincible carrier for all sorts of enchantments was simple. By the time you and Marcus finished with it… well, the artifact on your wrist is proof of your collective workmanship. You can’t honestly recommend getting one of them for anyone else, though. The circumstances were… unique. By the end of that story, Youmu was looking a little green, and even Yuyuko was reduced to wearing a neutral, expressionless face, the closest you’d ever seen her to expressing disapproval.

Neither you nor Youmu finished breakfast that morning.

Sighing, she wipes her sweat-soaked brow with the back of one hand. “I am trying,” she sighs. “It is true that… thinking like that is difficult.” Suddenly, she cringes, as if realizing something. “I mean no offense. I will – “

“No, trying is enough,” you cut her off, yielding a surprised look from her. “I am not some overbearing taskmaster who expects nothing but results.” You start pulling the dozens of split logs scattered around in the grass back towards the woodpile with a telekinesis, signaling the end of the practice.

“I should be learning more, though. It is my failure as a student to not grasp what you present,” she insists, even as she sheathes both her swords and starts towards the picnic basket she packed earlier. To a traditionalist, the teacher doing the cleaning and the student relaxing might seem backwards, but only one of you has a living body to maintain, and so the post-lesson ritual turned out like this.

“It is no fault of the student to not grasp a very personal aspect,” you admit. That concession raises one of her eyebrows even as she throws her head back to take a large swallow of water from a large canteen. “For this sort of technique… truthfully, the teacher can at best present a goal, but the student must find their own path to that end. I can tell you how I got there, and I can hope that you can pick up something useful from it, but I can’t do anything more. Ultimately, the way I think will never be the way you think. I can only teach these techniques… the way I think. For you to accept my thought processes without the slightest question would be chilling, to say the least.”

Lips forming a thin line in thought, she asks, “So then, how did you learn?”

You shrug. “I had centuries, and I’m still learning. You’ve been trying for only a week. Don’t be hard on yourself.”

Sighing, Youmu reaches out and lets one of the last few pieces of wood float into her hand – you relinquish the force on it moments after, giving her possession of it. “So you’re saying just do what comes naturally?”

You twist your mouth a little in thought. “Not quite. I’ve never liked that turn of phrase… ‘Do what comes naturally’. The most natural state is one of rest, or lack of action, and you certainly need to devote as much of your energy towards experimenting as possible.”

As both of you stand there, stewing in collective thought, she suddenly tosses up both the wood and the canteen. The sound of escaping swords doesn’t even reach you before the sight of her two blades cleaving the wood into three does; she has her shorter blade sheathed in time to catch the canteen before it hits the ground.

“You were trying?” you ask, not at all sarcastic, but honestly curious.

“To think of the wood and canteen as the same object…”

You nod, understanding. Instead of putting your blade in two places, she’s trying to combine the objects into one, and strike that, an alternate means to the same end. “Well, we’ll keep on trying later. For now, rest.”

Youmu begins to unpack the basket, and you decide to let your senses range out, walking a score or steps away from the small clearing you’d been using to practice. Maintaining a constant suite of layered divinations and enchantments is no longer possible with your drastically reduced power, but you still have a few tricks up your sleeve. In the between the seemingly endless trees, shrubberies, flowerbeds, and other features of the gardens seems to be a dense fog, but you know that if you look with other senses, you’ll see thousands if not millions of souls simply floating in the breeze. This is the Underworld, after all; a place meant to keep the dead. They almost remind you of livestock, the way they placidly drift by. It wouldn’t even surprise you if they started grazing on the greenery, although Youmu might have something to say about that.

Youmu says that the gardens help pacify the majority of the souls, giving them something to enjoy with what little external senses they’re able to maintain. Most of them are content to simply float around, creating a bare mist that hangs over all the gardens simply by weight of sheer numbers, but the souls of stronger-willed people have a bit more motivation, moving to follow whatever activity they can sense in the gardens even if they can’t exactly comprehend what’s going on. Not only does that mean that amount of souls following you and Youmu is greater, but these stronger souls manifest more visibly as well. This is the reason you’ve almost always moved practice sites every single time, that one lesson in blind-fighting notwithstanding. If you always practiced in one place, the fog would eventually thicken to the point where you wouldn’t be able to see an inch in front of your face.

Well, aside from your other senses, one of which you’re using right now. Staring into a patch of fog that seems no different than the rest, you let your sword flow back onto your arm before pointedly crossing your arms in mock annoyance. “So, who have you brought with you, Ran?”
>> No. 156364
File 133688243729.jpg - (155.19KB , 850x670 , Fast Chen.jpg ) [iqdb]
156364
The mist shifts uncomfortably, a sight which amuses you greatly. It soon bends into Ran’s white robe, and then she seems to step out of the bank, sighing in defeat. You sense not one aura around her but two. They’re similar and yet completely different; if you had to give a physical analogy, you would say a tree and its sapling.

Your answer comes when a cat-eared, dark-haired girl in a green cap suddenly thrusts her head out from behind Ran above her shoulder, her expression one of bland curiosity. You blink in momentary confusion; Chen is a head shorter than Ran, so…?

“I didn’t want to disturb you,” Ran apologizes in advance for her deception, even as her own shikigami clambers out of Ran’s strangely massive tails before going to stand slightly behind her shoulder. Clearly, Chen had been nested in them; now they no longer need to support her weight and size, the tails shrink down until they look like how you remember originally remember them. Perhaps when Chen had been smaller, like when you first met her in the demiplane, she could still ride in Ran’s tails without needing them to be larger, but now she’s grown some, reaching up to just below Ran’s shoulder. You briefly wonder what shikigami life cycles are like, but that train of thought ends rather quickly with your lack of knowledge. You haven’t had an appropriate setting in which to ask such a delicate question, and you don’t plan on doing so anytime soon either.

The elder shikigami blushes slightly, as if you weren’t supposed to see that. “Might I ask what gave us away?”

The thought of Ran carrying Chen around within those tails of hers on a regular basis almost makes you want to clutch your chest and die on the spot, but first of all, you’re trying to hold a normal conversation and secondly, you are already dead. “You did well to conceal your auras, but your physical bodies were imperfectly hidden. Whatever nondetection spell you used to hide your physical forms didn’t replace it with a background; I detected not you, but rather a lack of something in your shape. Drawing a conclusion from there was simple enough.”

“And how would I know what to use as a background?”

You crack a smile. “That’s what makes a master illusionist; knowing exactly what people want to see.”

You note that Chen looks like she’s about to explode with contained energy – still childlike in that sense, then. A wave of your hand later, a major image of a swarm of sparkle-trailing butterflies blasts out of your hand, swirling around Chen’s head before zipping over a bush and away. Almost instantly, Chen shrieks with delight and dives after them. The last you see of her is her two tails whipping over the topside of a bush.

Staring at her wake, you chuckle awkwardly, most of your attention taken up by quietly speeding up the illusory butterflies to over twenty times their original speed: no small feat. Chen seems to have a lot of spare energy, and you know just how fast she can get. Now familiar with the layout of the gardens after practicing in several dozen different locations, you plot a merry chase that winds through them for at least a half hour. This gesture might seem dismissive, but the truth is that her presence makes you uncomfortable. After all, you used her as a hostage to force Ran to cooperate; now, simply seeing her stabs you in the figurative gut. You’re not even sure if she knows that she was used as a bargaining chip, or what Ran has told her about you – simplest just to get rid of her for a time.

“In any case, you’re not disturbing anything right now,” you reassure her. “We just finished, and Youmu is taking a rest before head back to the house.”

Ran glances towards the direction you came from – Youmu is out of sight right now, but you understand the unspoken question. “She’s been a marvelous disciple,” you say, an honest smile creeping across your face. “Once we got over her ego…” you trail off, uselessly waggling your hand in the air to exaggerate your inability to summarize her improvement.

“You weren’t unnecessarily harsh, I hope,” Ran says cautiously, clearly alluding back to Youmu’s beatdown a week ago.

“Ran, I’m not a sadist,” you huff, somewhat offended. “I can say with absolute honesty that after the third day, I haven’t been able to touch her in a straight-up fight.”

That gets the shikigami’s attention. “That much improvement? Your techniques – “

“ – she can defeat me in spite of them now. This… spiritual form is distinctly limited. Perhaps if I magically augmented my strength and reflexes, I would have a chance, but first of all I’m making a point to keep magic out of our training, and secondly I don’t know any truly powerful transmutation magic.” Absentmindedly, you punch the air in front of you. “I’m faster and stronger than I ever was in life, but my capabilities are still far from Youmu’s.”

You start walking back towards the clearing, beckoning Ran forward. “But let me not talk about myself, nor talk about people behind their back. I’ll let her tell you about what she’s learned herself.”

The two of you find Youmu kneeling on the blanket that once covered the picnic basket, sipping from a cup of cold barley tea. When she sees Ran, she splutters slightly and begins to rise to her feet, but a dismissive wave from both you and the shikigami sends her back down again. “Lady Ran. I take it that was Lady Chen I heard a minute ago?” she asks, nervously clutching her tea.

You kneel down on the blanket across from the servant; Ran takes a similar position to make a comfortable triangle. “Indeed it was,” the shikigami answers, a smile crossing her face. “She’s been working hard recently – I thought she might like to enjoy the gardens some. She doesn’t normally get to run as free and wild as this in Gensokyo, but here, there’s no one to disturb.”

“Is she normally this loud?” you ask wryly, referring to the squeals that are still clearly audible – almost a half mile away. You almost regret not attaching a sensor to the illusion, but that would have left you awkwardly standing there for at least six seconds; you settled for hastily programming it with “escape the cat-eared girl” and letting it loose.

“You have only yourself to blame for that, Sai,” Ran counters, keeping up the banter. “Youmu, if you please – “

“Ah, yes, of course.” Youmu produces two more cups from the basket and hands one to each of you. She insists on pouring the tea herself as well, despite both your attempts to do so yourselves.

Conversation goes to various topics, some of which involve the Gensokyo at large. These topics leave you hopelessly lost; the political situation is clearly entangled out there, making you glad that Ran left you here in idyllic Hakugyokurou instead of you exposing you to the half-dozen or so competing parties. Only the Hakurei maiden’s preference seems to keep them in check at all. Without her, you wonder how fast the land would devolve into open warfare.

Not very long at all, you suspect.
>> No. 156365
> Without [Reimu], you wonder how fast the land would devolve into open warfare.

> Not very long at all, you suspect.

Uh oh...
>> No. 156366
>>156365
Even Sai going along with a faction would have likely tipped the balance.
>> No. 156377
I do hope Sai gets to meet Marcus sometime soon, as it has to be nagging Sai somewhat to have not seen him in some time, yet knowing he's changed in some way or another, according to what everyone has been saying. It's really bugging me too, not knowing what happened. My bet is he's either a suave as fuck gentleman now, or he got a surprise genderswap.
>> No. 156378
>>156377
I had just figured he'd become human somehow.
>> No. 156417
I don't think you have to put things in spoilers if they're just speculation, guys.
>> No. 156454
File 13373508112.jpg - (102.09KB , 850x743 , Vanilla Ran.jpg ) [iqdb]
156454
I told you a wall was coming.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Leaning on the porch railing, on the deck where you first sparred with Youmu, you stare out on the rock garden once more. It’s nighttime right now – well, you call it ‘night’. Hakugyokurou is in its ‘dark’ phase of the ‘day’; with no proper sun and nothing but a vague haze in the sky that gets brighter and darker as time cycles by, you hesitate to officially recognize it as night.

You do call it that for the sake of simplicity, though.

You can only count on two of the five people in this household sleeping at this time. Youmu, being half-human, has a body that still tires out even taking into account her inhuman, half-phantom strength; you caught her nodding off in the hallway after today’s dinner, a fact which flustered her to no end. Chen, surprisingly for a spirit-being, also is taking a rest, although perhaps this is more out of habit or pleasure than necessity. Ran left her curled in a very cat-like ball on top of some blankets in her room.

The third of your party, Yuyuko, simply sleeps when she pleases, and although that normally seems to be almost any time she isn’t eating, she has made small talk with you a few times this week the few times you ran into her within the hallways of the mansion. She hasn’t asked you anything about your old world, or for that matter anything deeper than pleasant, empty chatter; she was content to ask you how if were enjoying your stay, and what you might enjoy for the next meal, and if there was anything at all you desired, you only needed to ask, to which you replied that you were finding your routine quite enjoyable, anything Youmu makes would be fine with you, and no, there’s nothing you can think of in particular that you desire enough for you to bother her about. You know she’s in bed tonight though; she just retired, and as far as you know she’s never slept less than at least an hour.

That leaves just you and Ran awake. You don’t need to sleep at all; for that matter, eating, drinking, even breathing are purely acts of leisure for you. Yuyuko mentioned that none of these are truly necessary for spirits, although they may be driven to do so by force of habit. You abandoned all of them as habits long ago, in any case. As for Ran…

“After serving Lady Yukari for this long, sleep just doesn’t seem necessary anymore,” she admits, chuckling a bit sheepishly. She’s leaning on the porch railing beside you, admiring the garden that her master made as well. You bumped into each other in the many halls of the mansion earlier, and, having nothing better to do while the rest of the house’s occupants slept, ended up walking and talking with each other. “I was busy enough in those early years that whenever I had the slightest bit of time to myself, the oblivion of sleep never seemed particularly appealing compared to studying some art, or practicing some hobby here or there. Mathematics. A lot of mathetmatics.”

She chuckles again – no, giggles is the more accurate word. She’s in a good mood for some reason. “Besides, I already knew I didn’t need it. Eventually I just came to accept never sleeping as a matter of course. It was a conscious choice for me, and one I haven’t regretted.” She shifts, turning to face you. You don’t need to tell your own experiences with lack of sleep yourself; Ran knows them already from the dinner fiasco last week,

“What does it mean, to serve Lady Yukari?” you ask, naturally curious.

The shikigami shrugs. “At its core, the shikigami contract is one of power. A being of far superior power contacts an inferior spirit and more or less shanghais them into a contract of servitude.”

“Is it always so involuntary?” You’re a bit surprised.

“Most of the time. Because of the nature of the shikigami contract, most aspiring masters find it unpalatable to seek out less intelligent spirits and groom the desired level of cunning and wit; or neglect it entirely in favor of some other aspect, in some cases. And wild spirits, as you can guess, do not take kindly to being imprisoned. There are a few exceptions, but they’re very rare.”

You nod. That makes sense; you find the idea of essentially enslaving a sentient being to be unfathomably evil. Even if it came to accept the service voluntarily, you would never be able to live with knowing that you trained it to do so. “How did Lady Yukari contract you, then?”

Ran flushes slightly. “I am one of those… exceptions.”

“Oh?”

She clears her throat and straightens her back as she turns away, clearly preparing herself. “I am a kitsune; a type of youkai,” she begins.

“Youkai?” you interject.

“A generic Gensokyo term for any non-human.”

You frown. “What about elves, dwarves, orcs? That seems like it would be a confusing term.”

Ran shakes her head. “Gensokyo has had many immigrants over the years, but while I know them from my studies of the planes, there aren’t any native here, and no immigrants of note.”

You don’t gape, but you do frown slightly. A world without elves, dwarves, or orcs? You grew up where those four races defined everything. Humans, elves, and dwarves formed a trinity of nations in an uneasy state of constant political cold war, their governments at constant odds but their peoples too far fraternized to ever wish to go to war in earnest with each other. Orcs were slightly out of place, either mixed and living amongst one of the three nations or roaming in orcish warbands, a thorn in civilization’s side until they either dispersed under political pressure or were annihilated; more often the latter than the former, although the former happened often enough. Those were of course the politics of your plane; books of crossplanar lore talked of planes where racial politics were strange and bizarre to you, but you never had a chance to delve deep enough in your formal studies to see for yourself.

Out of curiosity, you ask, “Would they be called youkai if they came here?”

The shikigami thinks for a bit. “Well, compared to humans… do they have any supernatural powers of note?”

Humans. Always the blank slate by which every other race was measured, even on other planes. Humanity seemed to be just about the same, racially if not politically, anywhere you found it. “Well, aside from the obvious physical differences… the dwarves of our plane had an affinity for stone beyond anything you can imagine. The ability to see in the dark, if without color… the first artificer was a dwarf, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything; the other races picked up technology rather quickly after that. As for elves… they don’t sleep at all, but instead trance as a matter of habit; they don’t need it like sleep, though, and some don’t even trance. Interestingly, magic that seeks to knock its target unconscious without physical trauma doesn’t work on them at all in the slightest. Everything else I’d identify them by is a social factor; dwarves that came from their nation were very community oriented, and elves of their own nation were very aloof, but raised away from their respective nations… they could be like anyone. Hermit dwarves, gregarious elves. Just like humans, really. We’re all sentient,” you joke.

Ran shrugs. “They might be called youkai, then. The kappa have little more than the ability to breathe water and a strange affinity for technology. Socially, they have a deep sense of honor despite a mischievous streak a mile wide, but like you say, that doesn’t really identify them.”

“Anything special about the humans of Gensokyo?”

“The ancestors of the human village were said to be youkai hunters who managed to cross the border from the outside world but, finding themselves in a world dominated by youkai, gave up their original missions banded together for safety. Eventually, they bred, and with a steady if slow stream of immigrants, made a stable community.”

“Outside world?”

“Gensokyo is not a full plane, as you know from your… studies… yes?” She hesitates on that; you’re suddenly stricken with guilt at how you had found Ran; divinations to point you towards capable minds for what you needed, finding Gensokyo, scrying it for years on end until you knew just how to manipulate Ran into accepting a contract from you, all for the sake of your revenge.

You weren’t supposed to live with the aftermath of such dirty work.

But you still nod, as if you were nothing more than pleasant acquaintances having a light conversation, although this is deeper than any conversation you’ve had with Yuyuko. “I didn’t go looking past that once I found you, though. It wasn’t needed.”

“Gensokyo can actually be classified as an extremely oversized pocket dimension; it relies on that outside world for its existence, just like how you buried your pocket dimension on your own plane.”

You’re impressed. “Where’d you learn that from?”

“I’ve been talking with Marcus,” she says evasively.

Marcus. You decide to confront her about him; it’s high time you got word of his situation. “Is anyone going to tell me what happened to him?”

She twists her mouth from side to side. “Officially, Marcus left for the heavens once more. He said that if he remained as identifiable as he once was, the humans you brought to that plane would begin worshiping him, and he didn’t want that. Not that Gensokyo doesn’t have its share of gods living amongst their worshipers already, but he’s not the type to desire that. Wanted a quiet life, he said.”

Your interest is piqued; finally. “And unofficially?”

What you see next is interesting. Ran opens her mouth, then shuts it. Open, close, open, close. She screws up her face in concentration, takes in a deep breath, then barks out wordlessly, although quietly enough to not rouse any of the sleepers; not that she has to worry, as they’re all far away from this porch. Opening her eyes again, she gives you another sheepish smile. “As you can see… I can’t.”

“A… geas?” you ask, incredulous.

“His god gave him that as a reward. No one can reveal his new identity to anyone who knew him before; himself excluded, but obviously, he’s not here right now.”

You mirror Ran; mouth open to protest, then closed once you realize there’s no point in arguing. You don’t protest anything like ‘I was his friend’; divine magic like that tends to be rather blanket-like; and you weren’t supposed to be back anyways, so you can’t even say that Marcus’s Lady is being lazy for not making an exception.

Though you get the impression that if She knew that you would be around, She’d include you in the geas out of spite for lying to Her servant anyways.

At least it explains everyone’s unwillingness to tell you, and in such a way you can’t accuse them of malice. “And here I thought everyone was just being evasive,” you grumble good-naturedly.

“When we go to Gensokyo, I’ll take you to meet him first thing. I’m sure you have a lot to talk about.”

Not if; when. “I’d like that,” you honestly thank her.

A moment passes in silence. “Back to you,” you start anew, realizing that in that way of conversations, you’ve completely drifted from the original topic. “A kitsune, you said.”

She nods. “Yes, a fox turned youkai. I don’t precisely know how the change happened, but I realized that one day I had… intelligence. Not just the animal-like cunning of my kin; take that, and magnify it a hundredfold, though it was still of a different kind of what you would call a human’s mind. With that realization came the realization that I had magical power. At first very little, but it grew in time, as I began to practice it. I realized I was still young and fresh when the pups of my brothers and sisters grew old and died; and yet I could not feel sad for them, because I knew I was not like them. I roamed, travelling for perhaps a hundred years. When Lady Yukari approached me, I willingly accepted. It was under her I gained my other eight tails.”

Ignoring that tails comment for now, you ask, “And she helped you become… what you are now?” So she was originally a fox? You step back and give her an intent up-and-down appraisal, from the white cloth shoes around her feet to the yellow-patched cloth cap over her head, through which her ears are still slightly visible. Although you’ve really never considered it, she is surprisingly shapely, although in a way that is to be expected; a self-crafted body always tends to be flattering.

Seconds pass. “It is impolite to look at a lady like that,” she says at length, amused. As you cough and look away, suddenly aware of how your attention might be interpreted, she laughs and waves her accusation away. “But I will forgive you this once. To answer your question in a sense… yes, there was a time that I did not have a form like this; and then, a time that I would stared at you just as openly, not yet knowing any rules of etiquette. Lady Yukari essentially raised me, and for that, I am thankful.”

Your dignity given back to you, you ask, “Are there others like you?”

That makes her frown. “I only later learned that I was a precisely a kitsune,” she answers tangentially at first. “We are rare; I have never been able to find another of my kind in Gensokyo, although like I said, it is only a pocket dimension. There are still others in the outside world… although they prefer to stay there, hidden and reclusive for the most part. We are not socially gregarious as a matter of habit, it seems, like your elven nation.”

“What are kitsune ‘supposed’ to be like, then?”

She actually looks uncomfortable for a second. “Well… we do not age physically; being a shapeshifter helps with that. Intelligence is universal amongst us, as is magic. Some of us are tricksters, while others of us are faithful in nature. We are supposed to be naturally good with illusion magic…”

You give her a mocking smile for a second as she founders, embarrassed you both recall when your detection of her earlier. “Don’t sweat it. I’m sure it’s just another one of those social aspects. If they are reclusive as you say, then illusion magic is most likely something that they train as a matter of habit; nothing innate. But speaking of illusion… while you say you are a shapeshifter, what boundaries are you constrained by?”

Somewhat encouraged by your earlier comment, she happily expands on your question while she back to the rock garden. “To be honest, I have only been comfortable with this human-like form. I guess that this is one of those things that is racial and not merely social; kitsune everywhere take human form naturally, it seems. Taking any other form requires deliberate, learned magic to begin and maintain, not like this,” she indicates with a hand waved over her body. “Specifically, any deviation from this exact form or my fox form takes effort; but I can wear either of those two forms without any thought at all. Affecting the tails is extremely difficult, though… if I don’t constantly concentrate, they’ll reappear on any form I take, in some fashion. Again, racial,” she shrugs.

“The shapeshifters I studied all crafted their bodies consciously,” you murmur, more to yourself than to her.

She flushes, and glances away for a second, surprising you. “I could take that as an accusation of vanity… but I’ll take it as a complement instead.”

It seems you have far more to learn about social customs than she does, it seems, as you realize the social faux pas you’ve committed; the second one, now. You’ve got to get used to acting “politely” all the time; it’s still far too easy to fall into that blunt style of conversation you had for so many years.

You clutch your back of your head with one hand; that shows contrition, right? “My apologies,” you say, hoping your honest embarrassment shows through.

“No need.” She dismisses you apology with another waved hand and a smile. “I know of your situation better than anyone else right now; I should tolerate the awkwardness.”

That ‘should’ catches your ear; you narrow your eyes at her. “You make it sound like work.”

She stiffens. “My apologies, this time. I say I ‘should’, but truthfully, I believe I would anyways.”

“You ‘believe’?”

“… a lady must have a sense of dignity,” she says after a moment’s hesitation. “It would be forward of me to say simply that ‘I would’. That would imply a great deal of things.”

You sigh, dropping the topic. Women. You never had any success with charming them; a village girl simply couldn’t comprehend the inner workings of a mage’s mind anyways , and perhaps deliberately your master mostly kept you away from anyone who might… distract you from your studies. “You made an earlier comment. You said ‘gained eight tails’?”

She twists those tails; they seem rather large, but if you scaled her proportions to that of a fox… each tail would be proportional; the square-cube law be damned, magic is at work here. The fact that there are nine of them, though, makes you wonder what kind of creature would naturally grow so many; such a growth seems peacock-like, only good for attracting mates. “Kitsune grow an additional tail for every one hundred years they live, after the first.”

That gets your attention; now you’re the one who turns to face her. “So you are… over nine hundred years old?”

“It is impolite to ask a woman her age,” she says jokingly, “but I’m in my eight hundreds; close to nine hundred now, but not in them yet. I did say after the first.”

You make a show of gnashing your teeth in playful frustration. Truthfully, arithmetic was never your greatest suit. More broadly, raw intellect was never something you had in large amounts; you always preferred using your force of will over any garbled, overly complex chicanery to channel your magic. Amusingly, her age puts her as younger as you, in physical age if not life experience; although the amount of power she has inclines you to treating her as a superior for the moment, your former, short-lived shikigami contract notwithstanding. “That seems… extremely impractical. A dozen or more tails, and you’ll be unable to stand up straight at that rate.”

Ran smiles, and dispels your concerns. “At nine tails, our fur turns the gold you see here.” One of those golden tails bends in front of her body, and she gives it a quick stroke as if to neaten some of the hairs, although it seems to be pristine already. “But after nine tails… we stop growing them. There is a myth that says we actually start losing them, until we reach divinity, but since there are no divine kitsune in history and several kitsune in the records are older than a thousand years and still have nine tails, I am inclined to take that myth with some skepticism.”

Your curiosity satisfied for the moment, you shuffle your feet to fill the hole in the conversation with some sound as you turn back towards the rock garden. “So how do those who have the shikigami contract forced upon them feel about it, in the end?”

Ran turns back towards the rocks. “As I said, a contract is about power. The master pressures to pressure the inferior spirit into servitude at first, but there’s more to it than just that. A shikigami contract is powered by obedience. Obey the master’s commands, and your power increases far above its normal capabilities. This level of power… is addicting,” she says carefully, as if admitting something deeply personal. “Once you get used to it, you’ll never want to lose it, even if it means work without a moment’s rest. The trouble you go through all seems laughable compared to the fear of losing it all in a moment’s ill-advised rebellion; and after losing that power, you’d be weaker than your master as it was in the first place, so there’s that deterrent as well. In fact, many shikigami unconsciously change their morals or philosophies to match their master’s personality in order to secure their contract for as long as possible; eternity, if they can manage it.”

Addiction to power. That’s what started your story of woe, and you feel yourself purse your lips in sudden disapproval. “That’s horrifying,” you practically snarl, although you’re not sure who you’re angry at in particular. Ran winces, but you press on. “So, what about you? Have you become nothing more than your master’s puppet, greedily suckling at her teat for the last drop of power you can glean?”

“Such vitriol,” she exhales, yet she turns her head away as if ashamed. Her lack of anger shocks you – as does your sudden outburst. Where in the world had that come from?

It’s probably remaining echoes of your hatred for Him. You make a mental note to keep a tighter rein on your emotions… a mental note that, not being anything academic, probably won’t last longer than a few hours.

Ran is quiet for a long time. You have an apology at the tip of your tongue, and yet her own hesitation makes you pause. “I… don’t know,” she eventually admits, looking very vulnerable. “She’s practically my mother, you must realize. Yet, I agree with you at the same time – to be like her just because you want to be closer to that source of power is despicable.” She flinches slightly when she says that. “I’ve thought about this for a long time… is it wrong for me to want to be like her? How can I know if I truly want to be like her simply for who she is, and not be rationalizing this desire to myself?”

You twist your mouth, but say nothing as she continues. “I don’t even know why I’m here,” she suddenly exclaims. “Lady Yukari’s last comment to me about you was that she hoped your disappearance would be – permanent.”

That’s not good. Her transdimensional powers are frightening, and she’s worked some other transmutation magic that quite frankly makes her attention the last thing you want.

“Am I here just to prove that I’m different than her? And yet – when she awakes this spring, and checks on what I’ve been doing all this time, the thought of her disapproval fills me with this gaping fear.” She turns to stare at you, suddenly wide-eyed.

“And I’m still here,” she sighs, her gaze shining with unspilled tears. Just where had those come from?

This is all happening too fast. If this were a cheesy romance novel, like one of those your master kept concealed in one of her spellbooks (much to your amusement), you’d do something like hug her and tell her it’s alright, but the two of you don’t have that kind of relationship. Instead, you can only stare back at her, not knowing what to say.

“I – I should go,” she eventually stammers out, the image of the composed woman you’ve known her as completely forgotten. She turns away from you and –

– stops short of your outstretched hand, palm wide in a halting command. But you’re behind her?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
>> No. 156455
File 133735086267.png - (772.52KB , 1000x1000 , Mug Shot Ran.png ) [iqdb]
156455
It’s Jizo, your original mind, projecting an image of himself into Hakugyokurou once more. “Calm yourself. We have bigger issues to worry about than your dignity right now, and I’d like to talk now.”

Something about his attitude annoys you – which is funny, because technically, he is you, you are him, something like that. But you’ve experiences he doesn’t, so naturally, a minor change of personality may be possible, even in just a week.

That still doesn’t excuse him though.

You clear your throat. “Jizo, please move,” you say, taking pity on the flustered shikigami. “We can talk about this with everyone in, seven or so hours,” you estimate, “when everyone is awake. If you have something to say, we should all hear it.”

“I’m afraid it can’t wait,” he insists. “I’m already talking with Youmu, Chen, and Yuyuko now, although the sleeping princess refuses to awaken,” he grumbles. “I’m leaving her a missive.”

Your stomach drops to your feet. Jizo has unfathomable power – something that has him in a hurry can only be cataclysmic in nature. Ran seems to realize this too, and scrubs her face suddenly. In two seconds, she’s put on a cold, severe face of concentration, slipping her hands into her sleeves in front of her, the very picture of an attentive minister.

“Can it be stopped?” you immediately ask.

“No.”

That sets both you and Ran back on your heels. Seeing this, Jizo’s image frowns even more deeply. “I’ll have you know that I am responsible for this in the first place.”

“Jizo!” Ran barks, her eyes stony – and yet you feel as if she’s restraining some form of panic, deep inside. “Just what have you done?”

That’s exactly the question you were about to ask, and it’s the question Jizo is prepared to answer. “No time to explain fully, but I was doing something to purify all the Tainted mana. Hey, tell Marcus I’m ‘that archmage’ now!” he crows.

“Not now,” both you and Ran say, eerily in sync, even as your heart leaps. Success at cleansing the Taint?! No, no, wait before celebrating, there’s still more to this story than Jizo has said.

“Bah. Well, I thought I could control it, but I missed an important variable. In layman’s terms, there’s an incredibly evil and powerful spirit in Hakugyukurou that’s consciously screwing with my spell now that it’s in progress, and I don’t dare try and stop the spell midway, especially with the meddling going on.”

You want to scream in frustration at Jizo; he knocked out the Yama, but he can’t do anything here? “Don’t think about opposing it,” he continues. “You don’t possess the strength to as you are; not even you, Ran.”

“What evil spirit is this?” you demand. “Youmu said all the souls here were too sedated to do anything.”

“The Saigyou Ayakashi,” Ran exhales. “That big cherry tree in the garden, Sai,” she clarifies.

No way. “You’re telling me that tree’s an evil spirit?” You know of an absolutely massive cherry tree in the garden, yes, but as far as you can tell it was nothing but bark and wood.

“It’s been sealed away – that’s why you didn’t notice anything,” she explains. A very good seal if you couldn’t even notice the seal itself, then; a flawless one, without the slightest leakage. You make a note to complement its maker if you find out who it is. “But if it was sealed…?”

“Not on some important level, because it’s conscious and active where I’m working,” Jizo sighs. Whoops. Not a flawless seal, then. “It’s motivated by hunger, and freedom. What it’s doing is diverting the flow of mana towards itself before it can be fully purified – trying to break its seal with the power it gains.”

“What can we do?” you ask, cutting to the important part. You’re wasting time here.

“I’m not going to take its meddling without giving some back of my own. I’ve taken the liberty of dosing the mana that spirit’s getting with a healthy amount of spice.”

“No time! What’s that mean?!” Speak plainly, damn it!

“Tree go boom.”

“Oh.” You wouldn’t have put it so bluntly… actually, in this circumstance, you would. “Uh, will that be sufficient? You said it was on a higher level, whatever that means.”

“That spirit’s got power, and it’s sly to bypass its seal like that, but its weakness is that it’s still physically bound to that tree. That gets turned to toothpicks, and it’s gone forever.”

“Why not just blow it up from here yourself?”

“That seal works both ways – it’s meant to protect the tree from harm. I could throw a cliffside at it and it would bounce off. But if I attack it the same way it’s attacking me – I’m sure it’ll work.” You don’t ask if there’s some other variable Jizo’s not counting in; that wouldn’t help anything. All you can do is trust him. Ran looks concerned, and deep in thought, but you leave her to think for now.

“So then what can we do?”

“You’re cleanup. After that first bit of mostly purified mana wipes that damned tree from existence, the rest of it is still on its way, and it’s going to spill over with no recipient.”

“It’s only mostly purified?” you ask for clarification. If that Taint spreads –

“I called you cleanup for a reason. Fortunately, the nearby souls will soak all that mana up like a sponge, due to its nature – I won’t fully elaborate now. Just be glad there aren’t any actual corpses in the area, or else we’d have a real problem. Still, though, there’s going to be a mass awakening,” he explains.

“That… doesn’t sound too bad,” Ran says hopefully, still a bit shaken.

No, it’s going to be awful “Ran, the only reason I remained sane was because I kept the Taint safely sealed within my undead body. Those souls are unshielded. There’s no telling what they might do.”

Ran clenches her jaw at this knowledge, and looks to Jizo along with you for an answer. “Yuyuko should still be able to control them. She’ll keep them in order while you put them back to rest and finish purifying the mana.”

“Jizo’s the ‘archmage’ here, not me. I’m not purifying anything –”

“Here you go!” he crows again, cutting you off. Before either of you can say protest, he points a finger towards each of you as a ridiculous amount of magic builds up in front of you. You steel yourself, but trust yourself to not be… blowing yourself up.

You hope.

Ran appears to do the same as she doesn’t resist either, although a look of skepticism does cross her face for a second. There’s no visible effect, but you feel it.

Oh, dear.

Both of you collapse to the ground, feeling completely violated. The very core of your magical talent… that way you bend arcane energies to your whim and will…

It feels different now. It feels good.

As you slowly rise to your feet, you realize you almost don’t mind the earlier shock. You feel good. Kind of like a good night’s rest, a filling meal, and… something else you’d rather avoid thinking of right now, all at the same time.

“What… ha, ha! What just happened!~” Ran sings, lurching over to grab onto your arm for support, her fingers wrapping around your bicep and wrist. Her hands are deliciously soft – you want to grab at them yourself, but you barely manage to avoid doing so. One of her tails curls towards you, the luscious fur sliding over the bare skin of your hand –

Tail feel so good. Oh, you want to grab Ran right now, run off somewhere, and seek out that third, unmentionable feeling together with her –

“Focus through the euphoria,” Jizo says, now the sternest of you three. With a wave of his hand, a spray of icy water blasts over the two of you, breaking you apart as if you were a pair of courting cats. It’s quite effective, and seconds later you’re wondering just what came over the two of you, the mysterious high rapidly fading away. You’re quite embarrassed over that – you can only wonder how Ran feels, but she’s busy putting on her stone face just like you are. You don’t even know her properly, for goodness sake, why would you ever think about –

“Your souls have now been laced with that special ingredient I developed. Think of it as a counter to Taint, its anathema. It’ll develop and grow within you, just as Taint did – but unlike that, you want to embrace this, make it a part of every last bit of you. And when you cast, it’ll wipe out Taint where it meets. Best part is, it isn’t like Taint that it gets everywhere and spreads like a plague – it disposes of itself if nothing conscious has accepted it. That was the trick, really, to distinguishing it from Taint.”

You’re floored. Truthfully, Jizo is genius. Well, that’s kind of like complementing yourself, but you have to give credit where credit is due.

“You could have asked before you did that,” Ran says, although she looks conflicted about the shocking invasion of privacy and the revelation of the feat Jizo’s accomplished.

“No time~,” he mimics you, and you can’t help but laugh.

“What should I call this… anti-Taint?” you ask, unable to come up with a good name.

“Eh, I was going to call it Virtue or Purity, but that seems too moral for something that’s just unthinking magic. I personally call it… Hope.”

“Hope,” you repeat, slowly grinning. It’s a fitting name, somehow.

“Hope,” Ran repeats as well, a smile crossing her face as well. The memory of that earlier euphoria begins to creep back, and you squash it before it gets out of control.

“I’m going to reinforce the barrier around Hakugyukurou before the mana hits to keep any of that Taint from getting out, just in case,” Jizo goes on, looking as if he’s thinking of spraying the two of you again. “It’s a good thing the one in charge of taking care of said barrier is here now so she doesn’t get the wrong idea, eh?”

Ran shakes her head in answer, her goofy expression morphing into a dirty look as her haze of pleasure is dispelled, and he hastily continues before he annoys her too badly. “It’ll a complete barrier from any and all magic, so I won’t be able to do anything from here but watch. Rest assured though that if you get in trouble, I’ll start rustling up help to physically enter it and lend you a hand. Still, though, try not to get yourself killed, alright?”

“How long do we have until then?” you manage to say. You’re proud of yourself – you didn’t chuckle once.

“… the mana hits… now. Close your eyes~!” Jizo’s image disappears from view, and you barely manage to follow his order, the world going black behind your eyelids.

The world flashes white for a second anyways.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
>> No. 156456
File 133735093198.jpg - (196.27KB , 963x1000 , Armored Youmu.jpg ) [iqdb]
156456
When it goes dark again, you carefully crack open one eyelid. Upon seeing Ran do the same, you see her clap her hands to her head, smashing her ears flat. You barely screw your fingers in your ears before the sound rolls over you in wave, screwing your eyes shut in reflex again.

You’ve heard louder, but that was when your master burrowed an entire cave system into a mountain with a series of precast blasting spells. This is a close second.

Fortunately, your sense of hearing isn’t actually physical, so nothing’s permanently harmed. Truthfully, the gesture of plugging your ears was just a physical focus for the act of dampening your sense of hearing. It seems being a disembodied soul has some useful quirks after all.

You and Ran look at each other for a second, then nod without needing a word of discussion.

Both of you immediately start casting. After you throw your quicksilver bracer into a flat mirror before you, your scrying into Youmu’s quarters shows you the servant girl hastily buckling on what appears to be a cuirass, her swords beside her to be belted over it. You focus a bit on your next spell; it’s just a cantrip, normally, but bending it this way takes a lot of effort, if not energy.

“We’re at the rock garden. Meet us.”

Youmu’s head jumps up when your voice whispers through the room, but you see her nod vigorously then hear her cry out “Lord!” in acknowledgment, perhaps thinking you might not see her.

Beginning to move the scrying sensor, you turn towards Ran to see her open her eyes, her own spell completing. An instant later, Chen appears in a crouch by her feet, unscrewing her own fingers from her ears. “Lady Ran, that was so loud!” she exclaims loudly in that way half-deafened people do in order to hear themselves talk.

“Yes, wasn’t it?” Ran says distractedly. She looks towards you expectantly, and you motion towards the mirror as it shows the image of Yuyuko’s chambers.

She’s not in her bedding. So the blast managed to wake her up – is what you believe at first, but as you continue moving the sensor to the adjacent rooms and hallways faster than a galloping horse, you begin to frown. Seconds later, you can hear cries from the sensor; it’s Youmu, running through the halls as she searches for her as well, her half-phantom side trailing in a long wisp in her wake like some sort of ephemeral banner. “Lady Yuyuko! Lady Yuyuko! … Lady Yuyuko! Lady Yuyuko…”

“Where’s Yuyuko?” Ran asks, voice suddenly hoarse with worry. This can’t be unrelated. What’s going on?

“Lady Ran, look!” Chen is standing on the roof now, pointing far off into the distance at one of the tree-covered hills of the surrounding gardens. “Lady Ran, why is Yuyuko dressed like that?”

Seizing control of your scrying sensor one more time, you fling it far in the direction that the younger shikigami is pointing, cursing your inferior eyes.

What you see knocks the wind out of you.

“… oh gods, that’s not good.”

It’s Yuyuko alright. Getting your bearings, you realize now that behind that hill was the big cherry tree – the grass for about a mile around is littered with tiny splinters, even smaller than the toothpicks Jizo promised. Yuyuko is floating there, but her skin a deathly white, her eyes bulging out, colored a dull, uniform red.

Two symptoms of a mortal body irreversibly with Taint.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
>> No. 156457
File 133735099279.jpg - (1.18MB , 836x1673 , Skeleton Army Yuyuko.jpg ) [iqdb]
156457
She turns to look at the sensor directly, which shows that she has some magical talent at the very least – and any power she had before, the Taint will amplify tenfold if she looks like that. But Yuyuko is a spirit, so why is there an obviously mortal body floating there?!

“Ran, just why is Yuyuko alive, and what is she doing there?”

The shikigami stares at your mirror blankly. “She… she’s… alive… but Lady Yukari said that she killed herself a long time ago, and she was a ghost… just hours ago…”

Yuyuko’s face splits into the ugliest smile you’ve seen for a very long time. “Hello, Sai,” she croons. Her voice is sultry, almost seductive, yet coming from that face you feel nothing but a huge sense of disgust. “Do you see all my minions standing before me?”

Cursing, you move the sensor to where it can get a look behind the hill. Behind it are hundreds of skeletons outfitted for war with armor and weapons of all different shapes and sizes. Whatever happened to “awakened spirits”?

“Do you like how they look? I made them that way,” she croons. “I can make you look like this too, if you just come – over – here – “

A sudden compulsion comes over you. Of course you’ll come over there! Yuyuko is your master, after all, and your place is amongst her ranks, fighting even in death for her every desire –

“Sai! Look away!” Chen cries out, throwing herself in front of your mirror, down from the roof in an instant. That interruption is enough for you to scramble enough focus for an iron heart surge, smashing the compulsion just long enough for you to dismiss the scrying and collapse the mirror, just to be sure. She was able to affect you through your own scrying sensor – powerful, indeed. Youmu was right – Yuyuko really can control the dead.

“… thanks, Chen.” You take a deep breath and hold it for a second before exhaling. “Yuyuko’s alive, and she’s gone power mad – she’s completely Tainted, then.”

“The spirits are completely under her subjugation, it seems,” Ran adds. “Fortunately, the stronger-willed spirits are not kept in Hakugyukurou, but the power of that Taint will make them a problem. Chen, do you hear me? Yuyuko and the spirits are not in their right mind. They’re being controlled. Do not engage them recklessly.”

“But Sai came by and told me I had the power to cleanse the souls with my magic too now!” she cries, jumping in place. Wait, you never – Jizo. Chen doesn’t know the difference between you and Jizo (yourself? perhaps you can’t blame her) and Jizo probably introduced himself as you to avoid confusion. “And I was hoping that if Yuyuko would let me, I could practice my necromancy… but I don’t think I’ll need her permission…”

Surprise after surprise. While you knew that Chen had some magic talent through your spying on her from the demiplane, she never showed any signs of necromantic talent. “Ran, we might need her. If she received Hope from Jizo, then maybe her magic can help free Yuyuko.”

The elder shikigami frowns deeply, then looks down at her own servant. “Please, Lady Ran! I want to help her!”

“… I knew I should have studied necromancy in detail when I had the chance,” she snarls to herself, but ultimately nods. “Chen, you’re going to stay right by my side, okay?”

“Of course! I’ll protect you!” she chirps, thumping a fist to her chest bravely. Such a sweet girl.

“… where’s Youmu? She should be here any minute now.”

In the blink of an eye, Chen is back on the roof, the hem of your robe flapping in the wind she kicks up. “Youmu – Youmu is running towards them!”

“What – no!” Ran cries. Both you and her launch yourselves to the top of the wall that separates the mansion from the garden, Chen scrambling behind you as well to perch beside her master. You’re far too late to meet her, and too slow to catch up, and you dare not move closer with a teleport – transdimensional magic in the presence of Yuyuko, who showed that she could meddle in such by affecting you through the scrying sensor, is a terrible, terrible idea.

You do the only thing you can, which is weave a message as fast as you can and hurl it at her. “Youmu! Back off! Back off!”

But either she doesn’t hear you, or she doesn’t care, as you watch her skid to a halt at the base of the hill where Yuyuko still hovers. Just then her army crests the hill, and you realize that yes, it numbers in the thousands, if not the ten thousands.

Youmu must be seeing this army for the first time, and yet she remains unfazed. Drawing her two swords, she points one directly towards her master, shouting something, to which you’re sure Yuyuko answers back. You take a moment to weave a quick clairvoyance to keep an eye on her, keeping the sensor back at your physical location and simply using it as a telescope to magnify your vision; you’re not about to risk being

What happens next is something you never would have guessed before. Youmu leaps straight into the air at Yuyuko, swords raised in a striking position, defying her corrupted master. Two cobalt bolts of energy – you think they’re shaped like butterflies, but you can’t be sure from here – streak at her, but her momentum has already transferred to one side, where another bolt is travelling, and yet she pirouettes over it and strikes, demonstrating a level of deceit she had just learned from you – !

It’s not enough. As if crashing into a brick wall she halts, frozen in midair. Her limbs are suddenly wrenched into a spread-eagle position and her head thrown to one side as she’s slowly rotated towards you, clearly by some outside force – then Yuyuko’s voice fills the entire air, sending a shiver down your spine.

“When Youmu said I had the power to control the dead, she only knew half of it.”

Blindly, you fire an orb of force at her; Ran releases a burst of her own magic, and even Chen contributes a few bolts of her own. All is for naught, though, as Yuyuko simply narrows her gaze, launching blasts of her own to counter yours, not even bothering to dodge. Light bursts halfway across the gardens where the shots meet, but at this range Yuyuko can defend herself all day, intercepting your shots before they ever have a chance to get near.

Youmu suddenly begins convulsing, her head jerking from side to side. “Chen, don’t look, don’t look!” Ran whimpers, shoving down on her shikigami’s head as you force yourself to watch and study what new ability Yuyuko is exhibiting, knowing that if you don’t, you’ll have no way to counter it. Youmu, caught in the full force of its effects, is biting down on her own lips until they bleed, frothing at the mouth; tears leaking freely, eyes rolling back, nails and lips turning blue, skin turning grey – and only then she falls limp, her last resistances broken only by death, her half-phantom wisp simply fading away. Yuyuko simply drops her corpse without ceremony the ten or so feet to the ground, her limbs flopping lifelessly in a jumbled mess.

All clear signs of a magic meant to instantly kill its target. It’s a testament to Youmu’s strength that she lasted as long as she did.

Then Yuyuko looks toward you. “I can control all of death.”

You’re not risking anything – you retreat by dropping to the base of the wall, taking cover behind it. Ran follows you, landing in a neat crouch that contradicts her devastated face, Chen flopping down into a sitting position, absolutely traumatized from what she did manage to see. “Chen can’t go against that,” Ran whispers to you.

“Neither can we,” you whisper right back. “Anti-death magic is the realm of divine magic – I can’t protect either of you two, and you saw what she was doing to me. I’ll be dominated and turned against you before we can accomplish anything.”

Ran gives you a long stare, then opens her mouth to speak. Before she can, though, Yuyuko’s voice flows over you all once more. “Youmu marches with me now, what a good girl. She’s learned her place, hasn’t she?”

You peek through your clairvoyance one more time – you’d left it at the top of the wall. What you see sickens you just as much; Youmu’s body is picking itself up, retrieving her two swords, then coming to stand beneath Yuyuko, at the head of her subjugated spirit army. A dull, unthinking expression is on her face. So she can kill with that magic of hers, and control corpses too.

As Youmu and Yuyuko’s legions begin marching, you dismiss the sensor, taking stock of your energy. Those hasty scryings and the couple of other spells have already noticeably drained your stock of simpler spells, although all your more complex workings are still ready – the fact that ‘all’ means ‘no more than five’ notwithstanding. Jizo’s Hope hasn’t had a chance to cultivate itself, although you could feel the beginnings of growth within you with the few spells you’ve already cast. You’ll need to rest and recover before that growth can be capitalized on, though, and you certainly won’t have that chance before you fight next.

“Sai, please listen to me.” Ran stands before you now, moving up to grab your shoulders and pull you in front of her. Her fingers are practically crushing you – her grasp is desperate. “The only way we can do this is if we can protect you against her.”

“I’m listening,” you say, at this point willing to do almost anything.

“Absolute authority. A shikigami contract will protect you from any sort of mental control – empower you as well. I know you’re weak, Sai – even if you manage to last, you can’t fight on Yuyuko’s level. She’ll be a match for even me. Sai, please, listen to me, listen to me!” she begs now, dropping to her knees, her hands taking up fistfuls of the front of her robe as she tugs. “I know you don’t like the idea of servitude – but – I swear, I will let you free when this is all done, but you have to do this!”

You hesitate, thinking. You…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CHOOSE YOUR LEVEL OF SERVICE


[ ] … refuse. You refuse to give up your freedom so easily when you have no need; Jizo has to have seen this. Yuyuko seems to be delaying at the top of her hill, gloating at her newfound power; another symptom of Taint, but fortunately one you can capitalize on. You can hold out against the legions until his promised help arrives.

[ ] … accept reluctantly. This is for survival, and nothing more. You’ll remember this insult, and get her back some day for taking advantage of you like this. So what if she swears to free you? You have no way of enforcing that, and you’ll always remember this moment that you were held in unconditional bondage.

[ ] … accept. You’ll go with Ran for now, but you’re not going to dwell on it any longer than you have to. This is business, and nothing more. You’ll talk to her after all of this is said and done, but for now, focus on the task at hand. Cleanse the spirits, deal with Tainted Yuyuko, and worry about the aftermath when it’s all over.

[ ] … accept graciously. You took from Ran a portion of her own freedom two years ago. It’s only fair that you give her a portion of your own freedom as well in return. Granted, your situation was one of life or death for Gensokyo, even if that was merely a side-result of your revenge on Him… but her case is little different, of life or death for all of you just the same.

/人◕ ‿‿ ◕人\ Anything is possible if you make a contract with me!
>> No. 156458
File 133735111332.jpg - (83.45KB , 849x667 , This Could Be Sai's Future.jpg ) [iqdb]
156458
Youmu is a potential party member.

Play your cards well.
>> No. 156459
[x] … refuse. You refuse to give up your freedom so easily when you have no need; Jizo has to have seen this. Yuyuko seems to be delaying at the top of her hill, gloating at her newfound power; another symptom of Taint, but fortunately one you can capitalize on. You can hold out against the legions until his promised help arrives.
>> No. 156460
☑ … accept graciously. You took from Ran a portion of her own freedom two years ago. It’s only fair that you give her a portion of your own freedom as well in return. Granted, your situation was one of life or death for Gensokyo, even if that was merely a side-result of your revenge on Him… but her case is little different, of life or death for all of you just the same.

It's the truth after all.
>> No. 156461
[x] … accept graciously. You took from Ran a portion of her own freedom two years ago. It’s only fair that you give her a portion of your own freedom as well in return. Granted, your situation was one of life or death for Gensokyo, even if that was merely a side-result of your revenge on Him… but her case is little different, of life or death for all of you just the same.

Sai's shown regret over forcing Ran into the contract in the past. This seems a well enough way to balance that debt. And either way it seems accepting will be the best way to save Youmu and Yuyuko.
>> No. 156462
[x]accept.
We do whatever it takes to win. We've sacrificed our body and soul to destroy the taint without the slightest hesitation. Servitude is just another drop in the bucket.

Remember, we did not expect to return from that banishment at all. Literally everything we have, freedom included, is borrowed anyway so lets not get our panties in a twist over such a trivial thing as our own fate.
>> No. 156463
>Play your cards well.

[x] CHallenge Yuyuko for a poker game.
-[x] Strip poker optional.
[x] Keep your best poker face the entire time. Don't react to anything, but try to not look desinteressed either.
[x] Pay attention to her features and reactions.
[x] Play defensively. Only bluff when you think you actually have a chance of winning based on the cards.
>> No. 156464
File 133735856371.jpg - (31.15KB , 640x454 , Oh U.jpg ) [iqdb]
156464
>>156463

Pic related.
>> No. 156465
[x] … refuse.

Petulant child powers, activate!

>Marcus's geas
A geas that does not prohibit telling people you're going to meet them and leading them to them. That doesn't seem very useful?
>> No. 156466
[X] … accept.
>> No. 156467
[x] … accept graciously. You took from Ran a portion of her own freedom two years ago. It’s only fair that you give her a portion of your own freedom as well in return. Granted, your situation was one of life or death for Gensokyo, even if that was merely a side-result of your revenge on Him… but her case is little different, of life or death for all of you just the same.

Ran route is the only good route.

Also, Holy mother of god look at that WALL. Man, You are seriously impressing me.
>> No. 156468
[ ] … accept graciously. You took from Ran a portion of her own freedom two years ago. It’s only fair that you give her a portion of your own freedom as well in return. Granted, your situation was one of life or death for Gensokyo, even if that was merely a side-result of your revenge on Him… but her case is little different, of life or death for all of you just the same.

We should get too tunnel visionish about routes, but I do feel we owe Ran, and seeing how she's also Hope-endowed (and endowed in other ways IYKWIM), it'd be a good match. And I doubt it'd be permanent.
>> No. 156470
File 133737015046.jpg - (12.54KB , 304x243 , indeed-well-played-sir-thumb.jpg ) [iqdb]
156470
>>156463

I am somewhat torn on what to vote for. I find it hard to swallow that he would graciously accept after his violent outburst. Even if it seems the best choice. Refuse option...I feel the petulant man child of the two apprentices was wasted in the tower wayyyy back in thread 1.

A reluctant acceptance makes sense to me...if not for the description of being a sulking baby about it. So I guess reluctant acceptance with the accept description? Sai seems to be a pragmatist who can do what is necessary to achieve his goals. I mean, he can harbor a grudge sure enough. We've already seen that much. Although this does not seem to be one thing he should harbor a grudge over. Maybe I'm missing something here.

[x][ ] … accept reluctantly. You’ll go with Ran for now, but you’re not going to dwell on it any longer than you have to. This is business, and nothing more. You’ll talk to her after all of this is said and done, but for now, focus on the task at hand. Cleanse the spirits, deal with Tainted Yuyuko, and worry about the aftermath when it’s all over.
>> No. 156472
>>156470
I don't think he'd even consider it if it was anyone else, but with Ran, he did for a moment hijack her contract for a time, something he feels bad about on some level now that he's gotten to know her. Not to mention there's a new bond between them as a result of the shared experiences, such as getting to see his past first hand.

And I think this isn't quite so much about power than not ending up a puppet to Yuyuko.
>> No. 156473
>Tail feel so good.

I see what you did there, and I approve of it.
>> No. 156475
[x] … accept graciously. You took from Ran a portion of her own freedom two years ago. It’s only fair that you give her a portion of your own freedom as well in return. Granted, your situation was one of life or death for Gensokyo, even if that was merely a side-result of your revenge on Him… but her case is little different, of life or death for all of you just the same.

Not only is this a pretty good way to repay the debt, this is also a very good way to avoid a bad end where we become the bad guy's lieutenant and help conquer Gensokyo.

Regarding tactics, I think our best bet is to act like we've been dominated and get close to Yuyuko while Ran and Chen clear out the skeletons.

Illusions do need to act convincing, so we should be able to pull it off unless Yuyuko can magically tell who her underlings are. Even then, she'll probably act like she's fallen for it before having a skeleton grab us once we're near and gloating, in which case we'll still be close to her. Also, the grab will probably be avoidable if we keep track of what's near us.

Additionally, Youmu is by Yuyuko. Judging by the way we were dominated, she should still retain her own will rather than being a puppet like the elf and dwarf champions were (she'd still wouldn't have any divine way attacks since she can't do them), and we might be able to get her back to normal.

Then again, I think D&D domination changes the way your mind works or something, so unless we have some spell that would help or could make an illusion of the regular Yuyuko to give two sources of orders and possibly snap Youmu out of it, this plan might do better to wait.
>> No. 156476
[ ] … accept graciously. You took from Ran a portion of her own freedom two years ago. It’s only fair that you give her a portion of your own freedom as well in return. Granted, your situation was one of life or death for Gensokyo, even if that was merely a side-result of your revenge on Him… but her case is little different, of life or death for all of you just the same.

I'm in doubt, but if this can help save Youmu and clean Yuyuko, I think he would do it with eagerness. Mayve not eager, but he would do it, I know it.
>> No. 156477
[x] … accept. You’ll go with Ran for now, but you’re not going to dwell on it any longer than you have to. This is business, and nothing more. You’ll talk to her after all of this is said and done, but for now, focus on the task at hand. Cleanse the spirits, deal with Tainted Yuyuko, and worry about the aftermath when it’s all over.

Accepting graciously sounds out of character because of the outburst. But we need the power to help Yuyuko and Youmu.

Well, at least I hope we can help them at this point.
>> No. 156483
[X] … accept. You’ll go with Ran for now, but you’re not going to dwell on it any longer than you have to. This is business, and nothing more. You’ll talk to her after all of this is said and done, but for now, focus on the task at hand. Cleanse the spirits, deal with Tainted Yuyuko, and worry about the aftermath when it’s all over.

Controlled by someone we trust, or someone who is powered by the same thing as Him? A moment's hesitation is the most there could be.

>>156475
Assuming Yuyuko's undead work in the usual D&D fashion:

Controlling undead works differently than mind controlling living creatures; instead of interfering with their thoughts (undead are outright immune to mental influence), you flood the body with large amounts of negative energy. Undead run on negative energy, but by forcibly adding more in ways that disrupt the normal flow you can immobilize (rebuke) or control (command) them. However, since Yuyuko killed and subsequently reanimated Youmu, she personally designed the normal flow of negative energy in Youmu's body; Youmu's basic state of being is to be Yuyuko's toy now, and she'll probably be quite happy about it (Sai certainly was for the second or two Yuyuko had him). We would have to set up our own conduit of negative energy into her to have any chance of manipulating her, and if we manage to do so it won't matter what we look like. Evil clerics can do this innately, arcane casters have to learn it. Sai might know the appropriate spells, but he's not built for this stuff. Yuyuko, of course, is.

Illusions that exist in space rather than in peoples' minds can be effective against undead, so we could use them to mask our approach and maneuvers. Invisibility would work too, unless Yuyuko and her entourage possess lifesense. In that case, invisibility would only be useful to Sai. Maybe set Ran and Chen up with some illusionary field advantage (bottleneck the skeletons' advance?) then have Sai play hit and run with Yuyuko/Youmu.
>> No. 156485
I'd like to point out that even if Ran promised to break the bond once this was all over, she has no power to enforce it - Yukari can order her to keep the contract running indefinitely - or worse, order her to order Sai to end himself. We don't know if this a nice Yukari or a Goddammit!Yukari - hell, even Ran isn't all too sure - but considering that she hoped that Sai's disappearance would be 'permanent', I'd very much like to not to be in a position where she can control us.

Accepting Graciously would be more 'In The Flow' if it wasn't a snap life or death decision - as is, Sai's still recoiling from the information about the shikigami contract, and he'll probably start getting PTSD-style flashbacks of the Taint soon enough. Being so gracious so fast doesn't feel like Sai's MO - in fact, it sounds like it's the Hope talking. It's feel good emotion and a counter against Taint, but just like how too much Hope can be a bad thing, it seems like in this decision it's the euphoria/feel good magic addling our thought process.

As a digression...Protection From Evil is a level 1 spell, and considering Yuyuko's Taint, will definitely work against anything she does. What's more important however, is what exactly Yuyuko did to Youmu. She has killed her, but we can't be sure what magic she's using to keep her on her side. Youmu was half-alive, and half-spirit - so is the Youmu that's marching towards us a mindless undead, or is she being controlled with another spell after she died?

I suspect it's the latter - after all, Yuyuko tried to command Sai to her side, but he shook it off with Iron Heart Surge. That, at the very least, implies a saving throw.

And here's where Protection From Evil comes in - it's a touch spell. Sai can cast it in melee and tag Youmu with it, giving her another chance to shake Yuyuko off. It didn't seem like Yuyuko Tainted Youmu either, so it's only 'regular' necromantic energy - which can be blocked by Protection From Evil.

Even if the above fails - which it might, as the text mentioned her phantom half fading away - Youmu is still dead. Yuyuko is now controlling her, and just like in the fight against Him, her melee protector can not access the Sublime Way. We have an advantage against her if Yuyuko sends Youmu to attack us.

As another aside, we don't know how long the incubation period for Hope is. Hopefully, it's not too long, because we do have an amazingly huge area of effect spell. Illusory Swarm. Jizo never mentioned that the spell had to actually deal damage - just casting is enough.

Now, finally and lastly, if Youmu's soul is gone, where did it go to? Sai would have mentioned if Yuyuko used a Trap the Soul spell/effect, so it makes sense that Youmu is now at Higan. Where we have an ally in Komachi, and possibly in Shiki. Jizo can go over and bring Shiki to Yuyuko - and considering that Shiki was the one who gave Yuyuko her position, it's possible that she outranks the ghost princess in power as well as politically/socially.

Yuyuko is drunk on power - and as always Sai can abuse that. If we fight her skeletons and Youmu, it might put up a good enough show to keep Yuyuko amused. If not, well - they're skeletons. Youmu's the only significant threat to us outside of Yuyuko herself.

[X] … refuse. You refuse to give up your freedom so easily when you have no need; Jizo has to have seen this. Yuyuko seems to be delaying at the top of her hill, gloating at her newfound power; another symptom of Taint, but fortunately one you can capitalize on. You can hold out against the legions until his promised help arrives.

[x] Like in your first duel with Youmu, you need to fight defensively. Unlike in your first duel, you have access to magic. Cast your defensive wards and shields, especially Protection From Evil - and then buy time for Jizo and his cavalry. Mithril Tornado and other area attacks will help you deal with the skeletons, while more defensive moves will help you against Youmu herself.

[x] Keep one charge left in you for your Illusory Swarm if things get grim. You haven't been able to test what senses Yuyuko has, but at the very least the skeletons and Youmu should be fooled - and if you charge it with Hope, you can cut a swathe through Yuyuko's Tainted army and power.
>> No. 156486
>>156484
Iron heart surge can break effects even if they don't allow saving throws. Anything targeting us with a duration longer than instantaneous is fair game. Which brings up an interesting question.

Are we a bad enough ghost to iron heart surge our way out of a shikigami contract once the dust clears?
>> No. 156487
>>156486

While possibly very awesome, Ran mentions that there's a compulsion effect to become more like your master while you're in the contract - I don't want to risk the chance that Sai won't want to escape.
>> No. 156488
>>156485
wow you certainly have your head up your ass. Try toning it down a bit.

That and this IS a matter of life and death, if Yuyuko takes control of Sai again, game over man.
>> No. 156489
>>156483
>However, since Yuyuko killed and subsequently reanimated Youmu, she personally designed the normal flow of negative energy in Youmu's body; Youmu's basic state of being is to be Yuyuko's toy now
I disagree with you, there. What I'd say happened is she killed Youmu and then controlled her suddenly dead soul and/or body using whatever she used on us, which may or may not be easily breakable.

>>156485
>even if Ran promised to break the bond once this was all over, she has no power to enforce it - Yukari can order her to keep the contract running indefinitely - or worse, order her to order Sai to end himself.
I'm pretty sure Yukari will wake up well after the contract is ended, in the spring. Also, shikigamis are apparently perfectly capable of rebellion, they just lose power.

>>156487
>compulsion effect to become more like your master while you're in the contract
I wouldn't say it's a magic effect, more something stemming from the vast difference in power. We've already resisted the temptation of an entire plane's worth of mana, so we ought to be good.
>> No. 156490
>>156488
What'd he do? All I see are theories, which are perfectly valid even if I don't agree with all of them.
>> No. 156491
>>156488

Ah - I'm not sure where I messed up, but if I came on too strongly, I apologize.

I realize it's a matter of life or death, but Sai has shown he's capable of negating Yuyuko's commands over him - and since he's a Warblade, mechanics-wise he can refresh and thus re-use the Iron Heart Surge after any attack. Protection from Evil might also help block out her control over him, however faintly.

I guess I'm just seeing Yukari as more dangerous than Yuyuko. Although Yuyuko seems threatening at first, I think Sai has enough resources to buy enough time for Jizo and friends to save the day, without getting into a contract with Ran.
>> No. 156492
>>156489

>I'm pretty sure Yukari will wake up well after the contract is ended, in the spring.

That assumes that Yuyuko getting Tainted up the wazoo, as well as the general Tainting of one part of the Netherworld, isn't going to wake her from her slumber.
>> No. 156494
>>156486
That is a VERY good question.

Another question I want to impose is if shikigami contracts, say we 'rebel', would that bring us lower then our original power or just back to it?
>> No. 156498
[X] … accept. You’ll go with Ran for now, but you’re not going to dwell on it any longer than you have to. This is business, and nothing more. You’ll talk to her after all of this is said and done, but for now, focus on the task at hand. Cleanse the spirits, deal with Tainted Yuyuko, and worry about the aftermath when it’s all over.
>> No. 156500
[X] … refuse. You refuse to give up your freedom so easily when you have no need; Jizo has to have seen this. Yuyuko seems to be delaying at the top of her hill, gloating at her newfound power; another symptom of Taint, but fortunately one you can capitalize on. You can hold out against the legions until his promised help arrives.

[x] Like in your first duel with Youmu, you need to fight defensively. Unlike in your first duel, you have access to magic. Cast your defensive wards and shields, especially Protection From Evil - and then buy time for Jizo and his cavalry. Mithril Tornado and other area attacks will help you deal with the skeletons, while more defensive moves will help you against Youmu herself.

[x] Keep one charge left in you for your Illusory Swarm if things get grim. You haven't been able to test what senses Yuyuko has, but at the very least the skeletons and Youmu should be fooled - and if you charge it with Hope, you can cut a swathe through Yuyuko's Tainted army and power.

After the outburst about contracts Sai just had, accepting to one seems a bit out of character,certainly when there's other good alternatives to it. Just sayin'.
>> No. 156502
[◕] "Ah, I see! This is actually a scenario of your own devising, or your master's. Quite a ways to go for poetic vengeance. I respect that."
- [⊗] Accept graciously.

Honestly, even I'm not sure if this is a serious vote or not.
>> No. 156504
>>156500
I don't really see standing a pretty good chance of losing our free will as a "good alternative".

And yeah, being a shikigami could also do that, but that seems like it's more of an attraction to power and at least less invasive than total domination. Not to mention given a choice between the two, I'd rather be controlled by Ran than Evil Yuyuko.

Acceptance of contracts aside, I don't think we can do Illusory Swarm anymore. That seems like a ninth level spell if I ever saw one.
>> No. 156505
A lot of you are saying that Sai being "gracious" about accepting the contract is OOC because he got mad when they talked about it earlier. As a clarification, Sai is still reluctant to accept a shikigami contract in all three votes, just because he realizes that it's a rather huge leap to make on short notice. The difference between them is in how "mad" he gets about it, setting the tone for his relationship with Ran; he's either hopping mad about it, business-like and cold about it, or "I'd rather not do this, but in all honesty honor dictates really ought to", which I guess you can call lukewarm. He's not happy about making a contract in all three; I wasn't trying to offer an OOC vote choice.

Those of you saying that contracts make him mad; this is what he was mad about, specifically:

>"In fact, many shikigami unconsciously change their morals or philosophies to match their master’s personality in order to secure their contract for as long as possible; eternity, if they can manage it.”

Power hunger is Sai's berserk button, not necessarily contracts. Hope that clears some discussion up.

>>156485

>As a digression...Protection From Evil is a level 1 spell, and considering Yuyuko's Taint, will definitely work against anything she does.

As much as it breaks the heart of the powergamer in me (I love this spell too! so damned good), I'll say now that a piddly level 1 protection from evil is insufficient to protect you from the mental control of truly powerful magic. If it makes you feel better, consider that powerful magic will overload basic defenses in time. If Sai believed protection from evil was all the protection he needed, he would have cast the darned thing and paraded himself in front of Yuyuko already.

You'd need something along the lines of mind blank to completely protect you. (And no, Sai does not know mind blank; he didn't need it against Him.)

Sorry if you feel I'm crushing your creativity, but narratively the idea of a piddly level 1 spell completely negating a character's signature ability is a little unsettling.

tl;dr: Protection from evil is at best a stopgap measure.

>We have an advantage against her if Yuyuko sends Youmu to attack us.

Recall that after some training, Youmu was beating Sai in matches of raw swordsmanship despite lacking Sublime Way maneuvers against him. If Youmu is still intelligent (which is a fact that is being withheld intentionally), you'll have to get creative with arcane magic as well in order to beat her. (This being your "advantage" against her, but do recall that you have the "disadvantage" of being worse at raw swordplay to balance it.)

tl;dr: Victory against Youmu not guaranteed.

>As another aside, we don't know how long the incubation period for Hope is. Hopefully, it's not too long, because we do have an amazingly huge area of effect spell. Illusory Swarm. Jizo never mentioned that the spell had to actually deal damage - just casting is enough.

I like your style of thinking, but Hope-infused illusions are an ineffective way of interacting with Taint; I'm afraid I didn't make this clear earlier. Against Tainted objects, it needs to be a direct method of offense. Just as you didn't have to worry about Him making a hojillion Taint-infused illusions and running them roughshod all over the battlefield for an easy-mode victory, you can't make a hojillion Hope-infused illusions and just run them through the army to defeat it for the same.

If the Taint was just floating around in the air, as it was back around His Citadel as a defense mechanism, you could just spew Hope-infused sparks into the space to negate it, but all the Taint has been cleanly absorbed into souls, awakening them, promptly making them vulnerable to domination through Tainted Yuyuko.

Although I do like your style of thinking.

Blasting a Tainted soul will cleanse it. Ran blasting a Tainted Soul will cleanse it. In an example of alternative methods of attack, Chen managing to control a Tainted soul with her (admittedly rarely practiced) necromancy will cleanse it.

tl;dr: Direct offense against Tainted souls required.

>Sai would have mentioned if Yuyuko used a Trap the Soul spell/effect, so it makes sense that Youmu is now at Higan.

Sai has no idea of the specifics of Yuyuko's ability, other than that it killed Youmu through means of Fortitude saves and now her physical body (mind unknown) is being controlled.

He knows that Ran or Chen are vulnerable to being killed by Yuyuko's ability, and that he has no method of protecting them.

He knows that he himself is vulnerable to being controlled by Yuyuko's ability, and that he has no guaranteed protection against it.

He and Ran believe (can't say know until you've tried it) that a shikigami contract will protect him from being controlled by Yuyuko's ability.

tl;dr: ... okay, this one is already in that form.

>If we fight her skeletons and Youmu, it might put up a good enough show to keep Yuyuko amused. If not, well - they're skeletons. Youmu's the only significant threat to us outside of Yuyuko herself.

I knew I should have been clearer about this. We gamers are programmed to dismiss the humble skeleton as fodder, but:

>“Do you like how they look? I made them that way,” [Yuyuko] croons.

These awakened spirits may look like skeletons, but they're flying high on Taint corruption, so don't dismiss them as mooks with zero impact. (As spirits, yes, they can soar through the air. See, doesn't merely giving them all flight make you reconsider their lack of impact?)

tl;dr: Don't get cocky, kid.

>While possibly very awesome, Ran mentions that there's a compulsion effect to become more like your master while you're in the contract - I don't want to risk the chance that Sai won't want to escape.

It's not a compulsion; just a social factor. "Wow, Master is so powerful, how can I become like that?" A tendency to take the master as a role model, essentially. More precisely, Sai has a problem with taking up someone as a role model just because they're powerful, because that smacks of power-hunger; see His fate for an example of how Sai feels.

tl;dr: No compulsions about becoming like the master, just a search for power.

>>156488

"Such vitriol..."

tl;dr: Be nice.

>shikigami rebellion

What I meant to say is that a shikigami can dig its heels in and refuse an order if the master does not insist, but then they lose any power they gained through the contract until they start following orders again.

But if the master insists, yes, you can have a Lancer "kill yourself" moment.

Fortunately, Sai can't actually die, so at the very least you don't have to worry about that particular fate.

Man, being a disembodied soul and mind is handy, isn't it?

There are basically three levels of conflict between a shikigami and its master:

1. The shikigami questions the master verbally, but does not resist the order.

2. The shikigami resists the order, and loses the strength gained from the contract (but does not become weaker than originally so.)

3. The shikigami is forced to do the order anyways, and doesn't even have the strength from the contract, if the master truly insists.

tl;dr: Think of the shikigami contract as a permanent Command Spell from Fate/stay night. It's capable of empowering the servant if both are in agreement, or simply forcing the servant to do the master's bidding (sans empowerment).

>Iron Heart Surge spam

I thought I showed against Shiki that resistance takes time, and underneath the focus of a truly powerful being, will not be effective for longer than an instant. Iron heart surge is Sai's "get out of jail free" button protecting him from debilitating conditions, but the original jailer has to not be paying attention for his freedom to last. (I think I'm mixing too many analogies.)

As for breaking a shikigami contract; the master really has to not be paying any attention. For now I'll say technically you can, but the master has to already be willing to let you go and not resist your struggles. All iron heart surge lets you do is break the contract from the servant's end; both parties must be willing to shed it already.

tl;dr: Only a "cleanse", not an immunity.

>>156502

... so, this is a write-in of "Oh-ho, just as Ran-ed? I'll play along"?

>Illusory Swarm?

Nope, you still can. Taint (and Hope) gives you stamina and strength, not spell complexity. (Spell slots and DCs, not spell levels, in D&D terms.) Only study and maturity can grant you further mastery.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Unrelated author question: do you guys mind my meddling and discussion? Am I poisoning the votes? Or do you think it's an important part of the voting process?

I guess I just wish it wasn't necessary, that everything was already completely clear from the story itself, but I'm not that good at writing yet, it seems.
>> No. 156506
>>156505
It's good that you clear things up, as it helps defines our limits and helps settle any unruly posters. It's better than letting us go running halfassed into a mess.
>> No. 156508
>>156504

Sai has shown he can shake off Yuyuko's Dominate/Command Undead effect with Iron Heart Surge. The thing about Sublime Way maneuvers is that, unlike spells, they can be refreshed - and thus reused - mid battle. Furthermore, because Sai has training as a Warblade, the way he refreshes his maneuvers is through simple attacking; considering that Yuyuko has a skeleton army at her beck and call, it's not like Sai has to attack Youmu and Yuyuko to regain IHS. If he's fighting defensively he can reload his best stuff on the skeletons and save the big techniques for the girls.

There's been mention of Iron Heart Surging our way out of a Shikigami contract - but I'm not too sure if it'll work. considering that the original wording of the technique could cure things like vampirism, weather conditions, and Taint, I'm positive that Balistafreak is going to weaken the maneuver - possibly to the point where it won't work on a magically binding contract we consensually entered.

Lastly - it was mentioned that, at time of he fight against Him, Sai still did not have ninth level spells. Illusory Swarm is at max, eighth level - for us. I certainly agree that it should have a higher level, however; to duplicate Sai's signature spell at its most basic and weakest form would still involve casting at least 5 different Illusion spells of varying levels at the same time ten times per spell. I'm guessing fluff wise, it'd be a ninth level or epic spell, but because Sai worked on it for possibly centuries, he knows all of its inner workings and nuances, and is able to keep it as a level eight spell.
>> No. 156509
>>156508

>>156505

Never mind all that, author beat me to it.

Although I'd like to point out, Balista, that in the case of Shiki, Sai A: used Clarity of Perfect Mind to auto-pass a save, not Iron Heart Surge to auto-end a condition, and B: Shiki did not give him any time to use any other maneuver or refresh Clarity. I was assuming that Yuyuko would be toying with us, and thus give us time to ready our techniques as needed.

Furthermore, while I can accept Protection From Evil being too weak on its own, would a Hope-powered version suffice? Direct Offense against a Tainted Soul is required as per your Word of God, but it seems viable to tag ourself, Ran, and Chen with Hope powered Protection From Evil to shield us from Yuyuko's Taint blasts.

And, well...like I mentioned earlier, it does give a secondary save. If Hope amps up Protection From Evil enough, it should still work roughly as intended against a Taint spell, right?

I ask this since you mentioned that Youmu could end up a party member. Regardless of her soul, we'll probably need to at least secure her body. A Hope powered Protection From Evil could, theoretically, allow Youmu to regain her senses so long as the spell lasts.

And since we're fighting defensively, 'as long as the spell lasts' is really all we need. Jizo is our cavalry.

And...well. I really want Sai to bust out Protection From Evil. It is such a good spell.

Also - considering our interactions with Yuyuko, can we pin her down on the Lawful-Chaotic scale? Even if Protection From Evil doesn't work, would a double barrier of Hope infused Protections amount to something decent?

Furthermore - is Sai allowed to use Hope to amplify his Warblade attacks? Sublime Way maneuvers may be Extraordinary or Supernatural, but it still seems like a good way to supplement Sai's offense - and defense. Iron Hope Surge or Clarity of Hopeful Mind at least sound like good counters to Taint effects.

Even if Sai can't, in fact, Hope-Maneuver, can he infuse Hope into his quicksilver weapon? That, at the least, is very very magical, and it'd allow us to properly fight off the Tainted souls.
>> No. 156513
>>156509 here, apologies for double posting.

As an aside, do you mind telling us how Sai and material components interact? He doesn't have the material component pouch on him so I would assume he has Eschew Materials as a (Bonus?) feat, but will Hope powered spells allow him to eschew the more expensive materials? A properly timed Forcecage on Yuyuko or Youmu would make things much easier - if he knows Forcecage.

On a similar note, does Sai know the Magic Circle Against [Alignment] Spells? A level 3 spell is only a tad stronger than Level 1, but it is a group effect - and Hope may cover the difference in power if the Protection Series is too weak.

More importantly, does Sai know Antimagic Field? I had orignally discarded it as an option since the mooks had seemed like only skeletons, but if they're spirits in the shape of skeletons, it's possible that they still count as Incorporeal Undead and thus subject to the Field.

Even if they're not, it still removes Yuyuko's ability to control us - and if Ran and Chen stay close enough, it also stops Yuyuko from using her Fort Save-or-Die. The Quicksilver weapon still works in an antimagic field - as shown by the fight against Him - so it seems like a viable option to consider.

It also seems like a likely spell for Sai to learn, since his Warblade powers still work within one - if His defense plans had not already included an Antimagic Field, forcing Him into a melee might have been a hood enough route to consider.

Lastly and most importantly, does Sai know Limited Wish? Too many people focus on the spell's big brother, but given its huge amount of uses I can't imagine any magic user not at least making the attempt to pick this up.

I ask because of two reasons. First, it can negate the harmful effects of a multitude of spells, which could possibly include Dominate or Command effects - if Sai can pay the cost and power it with Hope, we could snap Youmu out of it.

Secondly, and just as important, is that it can duplicate a fifth level Cleric spell. Such as Hallow.

A Limited Wish to Hallow the battleground would massively weaken the Taint in the area - and if it's fueled with Hope, it might amplify the Hallow enough to actively effect the undead, Yuyuko, and Youmu.

Even if it can't, instantly Hallowing the area - as opposed to having to wait an entire day - confers us some a lot of benefits. The penalty to Command Undead might make the army and Youmu just a bit more sluggish enough to give Sai an edge. But what's more important is that we can apply a (Hope-fueled) Death Ward to everyone in the vicinity, either negating or at the very least heavily weakening Yuyuko's Save Or Dies. This will let Ran and Chen have a much higher area of movement, allowing them to back Sai up instead of worrying about Yuyuko.
>> No. 156515
Just because this story has /tg/ roots doesn't mean you have to get 255% neckbeard about choosing choices.
>> No. 156517
[X] … accept graciously. You took from Ran a portion of her own freedom two years ago. It’s only fair that you give her a portion of your own freedom as well in return. Granted, your situation was one of life or death for Gensokyo, even if that was merely a side-result of your revenge on Him… but her case is little different, of life or death for all of you just the same.
>> No. 156527
>>156515

Once again, my apologies if I'm going on too strongly but it hopefully illustrates that we're capable of dealing with Yuyuko without a Shikigami Contract.
>> No. 156529
>>156509
Well, he did that, but he was also repeatedly surging and getting immobilized the next instant when he was trying to jump into the river.

>>156513
Isn't the effect of Magic Circle against [Alignment] just "Protection from [Alignment]" in an area?

>>156505
I'm happy you took the time to clear stuff up.
>> No. 156530
>>156529

While the Magic Circle Against [Alignment] is just an area of effect version of the Protection spells, it's also important to note that it's two levels higher compared to the Protection series. Balistafreak vetoed Protection From Evil because as a level 1 spell, it was too weak. If that's the case, a higher level spell, infused with Hope, may be enough to do something.
>> No. 156532
>Unrelated author question: do you guys mind my meddling and discussion? Am I poisoning the votes? Or do you think it's an important part of the voting process?

Oh no, This is actually a really smart thing you're doing. Some people arent exactly getting what you mean, which isnt to say 'lol you cant explain shit stupid'. So yeah, I think you clearing things up is a great thing that all writers should do.

>I guess I just wish it wasn't necessary, that everything was already completely clear from the story itself, but I'm not that good at writing yet, it seems.

You're not good at writing? Bullshit. I can easily say you're one of my favorite writers so far, which is pretty impressive to say the least. For one, You call votes, You write exceptionally, and frankly I wouldn't be surprised if you told me you were really a professional.

/ass-kissing
>> No. 156535
I'm very glad you're coming in and clearing things up - a dose of author interaction here and there lets us know how we're effecting the story, as well as showing us little nuances we might not have otherwise understood. I might be a bit disappointed about the lack of Hope filled Illusory Swarm or Protection From Evil dominance, but it sets up a nice boundary for us to play and speculate with, instead of you having to dictate to us every little thing.

It helps that you're a legitimately good writer. I can't stop re-reading this thing.

tl;dr: You're doing great, Balista. Keep up the good work.
>> No. 156536
Another thing to consider bastilla would be a spell list at some point, maybe 1 for "today" with what we have prepared and a full one next time we can set spells.

This would cut out some maybes (as sai knows what his own spells are it's not meta in any way) and save you having to say no to votes later, while letting you remove plot-breaking spells from play in an elegant way, or put some behind plot barriers for us to learn as we go.
>> No. 156537
>>156536
Or at least show us what spells Sai sets up as actually making a list might make it too /tg/ish for some.
>> No. 156539
[ ] … accept graciously. You took from Ran a portion of her own freedom two years ago. It’s only fair that you give her a portion of your own freedom as well in return.io Granted, your situation was one of life or death for Gensokyo, even if that was merely a side-result of your revenge on Him… but her case is little different, of life or death for all of you just the same.
>> No. 156540
>>156537
If you want to avoid /tg/ posts, don't read anything with more than a few sentences. Works like a charm.
>> No. 156547
>>156540
I'm speaking for the sake of others who might get turned off by complicated choices and profuse neckbearding.
>> No. 156553
>>156547
Not who you were talking to but..
It's hard to avoid getting /tg/ mixed up in this when the story is, pretty much, /tg/ goes to Gensokyo.
In order to properly discuss votes we have to go at least a bit neckbeard, since the protagonist is a D&D character. People who are scared off by the existence of posts (which nobody is forcing you to read) discussing D&D probably aren't the right people to read this story, regardless of how well written it is.


Either way, I vote for the "lukewarm" (tsundere?) option of

[x] … accept graciously.
>> No. 156554
>>156553
The impression I got was that Balistafreak was streamlining things for the sake of non-/tg/ folk and any insistence on selectable spell lists would go against that.
>> No. 156556
>>156554
So basically anything longer than a single sentence is "Too long for you"?
>> No. 156558
>>156556
Are you being an asshole or just stupid? As you're missing the point one way or another.

It's not about things being longer than one sentence, but walls of posts with so much /tg/ jargon from the neckbeard voters that those who don't understand it would just give up. Not to mention if the spells were selectable or making horribly retarded spell lists.

tl;dr I'm just opposing the sliding slope of selectable game options as in the end it'd ruin the experience for all but a few exceptionally anal neckbeards.
>> No. 156559
>>156558
The anon doth protest too much, methinks.

I've noticed that some people seem to think that "TL;DR" is somehow a perfectly valid excuse to try and justify bitching about shit they were too lazy and/or stupid to not read in the first place. Nothing "Assholish" or "Stupid" about not wanting to put up with that sort of bullshit.
>> No. 156560
File 133757334563.jpg - (101.46KB , 1920x1080 , Pic Unrelated.jpg ) [iqdb]
156560
Last call for votes; voting ends tomorrow night.

Current results (feel free to check me):

4 for refusing.
1 tide-pisser for accepting reluctantly (I appreciate your reasoning, though!)
5 for accepting for the sake of business.
9 for accepting for the sake of honor.

Pic unrelated.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last minute Q&A:

>Although I'd like to point out, Balista, that in the case of Shiki, Sai A: used Clarity of Perfect Mind to auto-pass a save, not Iron Heart Surge to auto-end a condition, and B: Shiki did not give him any time to use any other maneuver or refresh Clarity. I was assuming that Yuyuko would be toying with us, and thus give us time to ready our techniques as needed.

A: What this guy said:

>Well, he did that, but he was also repeatedly surging and getting immobilized the next instant when he was trying to jump into the river.

For the record, "repeated" surges without whacking things (the standard Warblade recovery method) are due to the Adaptive Style feat, which essentially gives him the ability to meditate for a few seconds to recover and reshuffle maneuvers.

B: Care what you assume: just because someone is powerful doesn't mean they're necessarily toying with you. Smart villains take no chances... and while Yuyuko can be portrayed as ditzy, recall she's still an ancient being underneath that facade.

Then again, Taint corruption. Who knows? Next update.

>Pretty please protection from evil and any variants?

I think I might have come across as too harsh. It's still a defense, yes, it's just not the "lol I'm immune" that we elegan/tg/entlemen might be used to.

Casting it amongst the party will be among the standard precombat buffing procedure.

As for using it "offensively" against Youmu, I'm of the opinion that immunity granting spells do not "cure" those that they are cast on, just like how becoming fireproof doesn't heal your current burns. Throwing it on Youmu would help protect her from theoretical future control, but would not do anything about Yuyuko at the moment.

>Warblades and melee and Hope

Well, this was supposed to be a reveal in the next update, but given that Sai's bracer/shield/sword/mercury thing is part of his soul, it becomes effective as a shield against Tainted attacks and dispels Taint that it strikes. It's very specifically a trait of this, though; Sai can't bean one of those Tainted-awakened spirits with a boulder and cleanse it.

>Sai's spells

I did mention in the OP/near the beginning that I would never try statting out Sai or writing out a full spell list for him. Those of you asking "what has he prepared", like this Anon here:

>Another thing to consider bastilla I think you're thinking of an entirely different company who fucked up Mass Effect 3's ending, but I'll take this as a freudian slip and a complement and not dwell on the wandering mind of my readers would be a spell list at some point, maybe 1 for "today" with what we have prepared and a full one next time we can set spells.

... may be familiar with A Wizard is You's Wizanon, who casts the same kinds of spells, yes, but through a different system than Sai does. As a Sorcerer, Sai simply knows all his spells and casts at will from the list; with the "weakness" that he can never prepare The Perfect Spell For a Situation. Sai never "prepares" his spells.

Think of Wizanon as a modern fighter jet; it loads a specific selection of missiles when it takes off. Once a particular missile is fired, it's gone. Multiple identical missiles can be loaded, but it only has so many pylons to load them onto before it runs out of space. Some pylons are larger, while some pylons are small; while a small missile can be loaded onto a big pylon, it's suboptimal, and of course a big missile cannot be loaded onto a small pylon. If it flies into an air-combat with only rocket-pods loaded, it's kind of screwed; and it can't effectively blow up an armor column when it has heatseeking air-to-air missiles loaded.

Former Sorcanon Sai Kawarou does not work like this. He has a large pile of balls of soft clay, and the knowledge of how to sculpt certain objects. He can take a ball of clay and twist it into anything that he knows how to make, but he obviously can't make something that that ball of clay is smaller than; he needs to use a bigger ball, then. He can use a bigger ball than needed, but that's a waste. He's also very bad at improvising; he's a very narrowminded sculptor. Normally, you can't split a ball of clay or mash balls of clay together, but there are feats that allow one to (inefficiently) do so; Sai has these so I only have to count a vague sense of "low/middle/high level spells used".

His spells known is expanded from D&D 3.5's stingy allowance of a half dozen or so at most, taking a page from Pathfinder; he has slightly less than a dozen, say ten or so, spells known of each level, which is enough for the "staples" like protection of evil, orb of force, wall of force, fabricate, etc.; things that easily fit inside the five schools that Sai draws most his spells from (which, for your convenience, are evocation, conjuration, adjuration, illusion, and divination, but not necromancy, enchantment, or transmutation). He has a few "staples" that don't come from these schools, like the time-borrowing celerity (which is transmutation) but don't expect him to be pulling out polymorph any time soon.

Very intentionally, Sai will never cast paradigm changing spells like antimagic field or limited wish. These spells are upheld as extremely powerful in-game for a good reason; they singlehandedly change how the game must be played. Narratively, they're just a massive headache.

Also, I did say that I would veto any method of toolboxing, or gaining additional spells carte blanche; anyspell and the wish tree (barring prestidigitation, heh) are examples.

Finally, consider this; Sai deliberately prepared a spell-list to prepare against a spell-slinging Him. If the spell has some strange utility usage, consider if it would be necessary for this purpose. If it does something like charm animals, read surface thoughts, or affect the weather... probably not. While I continued to take Pathfinder's rules and ignore cheap spell material components, Sai didn't have easy access to expensive spell material components in the demiplane, and thus chose to exclude spells using these like forcecage or stoneskin from his practice and knowledge. Spells with foci, even somewhat expensive ones, are still okay, though, especially if I can fudge it anyhow. (Most foci are strictly for flavor anyways.)

>Just because this story has /tg/ roots doesn't mean you have to get 255% neckbeard about choosing choices.

>It's hard to avoid getting /tg/ mixed up in this when the story is, pretty much, /tg/ goes to Gensokyo. In order to properly discuss votes we have to go at least a bit neckbeard, since the protagonist is a D&D character. People who are scared off by the existence of posts (which nobody is forcing you to read) discussing D&D probably aren't the right people to read this story, regardless of how well written it is.

>It's not about things being longer than one sentence, but walls of posts with so much /tg/ jargon from the neckbeard voters that those who don't understand it would just give up. Not to mention if the spells were selectable or making horribly retarded spell lists. tl;dr I'm just opposing the sliding slope of selectable game options as in the end it'd ruin the experience for all but a few exceptionally anal neckbeards.

Let me say where I lie on this issue. While I'm a huge D&D and /tg/ fan myself, I'm foremost here to tell a story. If I feel that some element of the system that inspired me is going to get in the way of suspension of disbelief, I'm going to kick it to the curb.

But if I and the readers can find a way to make something work within the system without toolboxing (using the magic system to become Batman with his convenient anti-shark spray) or going epic neckbeard (see system shenanigans: healing by drowning, locate-city apocalypses of slightly dubious legality, prestidigitation atmosphere burning candle, immovable rods and planetary movemeCLANGWHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT!?), then I'll do it.

As a reference point, I find this level of current discussion beneficial to my brainstorming, and although I may have seemingly put on my "lolno" face, it's given me some food for thought, and I appreciate it. No one's raging that "you're playing it wrong: this thing here is OP and you should do it too" which was actually my biggest concern, but it seems my earlier warnings have done their job, so I'm content.

Readers without a clue can and should just go with their gut-feeling on what they read in the story; I try to present all pertinent facts there, and reserve purely mechanical out-of-story "neckbearding" for inspiration and the details. Choices aren't meant to be complex; if they're complicated in any way, I try to explain them in layman's terms and tl;dr summaries. I want this story to be enjoyable even by those without /tg/ experience. I can understand if it you don't like it because of things that are inherently part of the story; my interpretation of Gensokyo and its inhabitants MAI MAIFU, the story's darker theme than some SOMEONE DIES TONIGHT, or even just my writing style ... okay, I don't have a snarky spoiler comment for this one, but I don't want it to be said that this story was too game-y to enjoy.

tl;dr: I don't mind out-of-story neckbearding at all, and I don't want readers to be intimidated by it when I participate too, because I try to make the story and choices themselves neckbeard-free, or at least shaved-neck friendly.

>quoting your own praise directly is just masturbation but I have to put in greentext of some kind so people know what I'm referring to

I got scared when the first two You's were capitalized, like I was a deity or something. Heh. Don't inflate my ego, please, lest it swell up and blot out the sun then we shall read in the shade.

I'm no professional, but I'm a huge reader of anything I can get my hands on, and I've written enough to know how sentences and paragraphs don't go together, although I'll admit that I have to constantly stem floods of tacked-on predicates that make a sentence overly complicated. I also have a tendency to make very long sentences, and more likely than not abuse the semi-colon.

What I post here is generally the result of no more than one revision spread across some number of sittings, although sometimes that number of sittings can be as few as one. This is the cause for most of my derptastic dropped sentences, missing punctuation, etc.; during my one revision, I'll find a line, change it, move it somewhere else where I think it flows better, and then completely forget about where I got it from. Why don't I do a second revision to catch these mistakes? Because I'll keep doing the same thing during a second revision, and that just starts an endless cycle of revisions. Why don't I get a proofreader? Because I write during odd times of the day, and I generally want to post it as soon as I'm personally done with that first revision to give it as much time to catch votes/reader attention as possible while I'm plotting out/writing the next update.

Apart from the mechanics of writing, I do spend all my leisure time and then some with some form of narrative in my head. Even when I should be concentrating on something else, I'm either thinking about a story I've read before (peeling it apart for elements that I enjoyed and would want to see again), a story I'm writing (at this time, only Tainted Bonds), or the story in front of me (when I'm reading/watching a good movie/playing a game with an immersive story).

I have extensive D&D 3.5 experience online via play by post, although my experience with in-person gaming is somewhat lacking (a few short-lived sessions). I have DM'd a few games before, although they've all fallen apart for various reasons. And before you ask (like so many others had), before anyone gets any ideas, no, I will not DM for you. Writing Tainted Bonds takes all that time now. :<

I've balanced the beginning, middle, and end of this story in my head for a long time now. The beginning is done, the middle is constantly in flux but has key themes and events thought out already, and while the detailed little bits of the "where's everyone now" ending must wait on the middle, I already know how I want that big ending to come about.

But of course, anything can change...

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Unrelated: I feel so... neutral.

Did the pic surprise you?
>> No. 156561
>>156559
There you go again, going with the moronic "you don't like reading much" logic when I said various times it IS NOT THAT. I did that TL;DR for your benefit as it's clear you're too stupid and/or lazy to read the main body.
>> No. 156565
[x] … accept graciously.

>>156560
>That last spoiler
Marginally. I certainly leaned back a bit.
>> No. 156567
That picture makes me hungry.
>> No. 156580
File 133765824523.jpg - (140.90KB , 850x547 , Casting Ran.jpg ) [iqdb]
156580
>> No. 156581
So, I somehow managed to hit reply in the middle of my subject.

And the password was still randomized and not my own.

Whoops.

Um, anyways, votes called. Pic related. Writing now. Please wait warmly~
>> No. 156583
>>156581
No, I'll wait coldy.
>> No. 156584
File 133767188149.png - (768.64KB , 600x600 , Good Morning.png ) [iqdb]
156584
>>156583

>No, I'll wait coldly.

>>154853

>No, I'll wait coldly.
>> No. 156594
>>156584
I dont know how much longer I can wait balista. I'm freezing over here!
>> No. 156620
>>156594

Wear a sweater. Goddamn casuals, I swear to god.
>> No. 156763
I just want to say: You have multiple overpowered OCs, one serving as the deus ex machina. The main character has an angsty background, and is better than the Touhous at what they do. The major villain was under-characterized, and so far, as is the new 'villain' Yuyuko. You use some D&D flavor and terminology, but introduces break in the mechanics (the concept of >>156581
taint, the MC's soul-bound swiss army knife).

Normally, the combination of these factors would spell certain doom for a story. You somehow make it all work brilliantly, and personally your story keeps me coming back to this site.

>>156580

Hooray!
>> No. 156913
Spent a day digging holes in the yard for my mother.

... seven minutes...
>> No. 157042
Writefag is exhausted and sickly. He...

[ ] Struggles and gets something out anyways, like he said he would.
[ ] Manages to communicate in a timely matter.
[X] Anemia option.

Welp, so I got like 1K~ words into an update, and then, to put it like we Southwestern Virginians do, "I done fucked up". Namely, IRL anemia option happened, and I just kind of curled into my chair and slept for goodness knows how long.

Been really ill recently; there's something about the season that's killing me. I so as walk past an open window, and then I die - and with all the yardwork I was pressed into doing yesterday, the allergies finally took their toll. I've three non-injury gushing nosebleeds in a single day (dry air + inflammation = easy cracking), my eyes and conjunctiva are permanently inflamed despite over-the-counter meds (I'm looking into getting something stronger), my mouth feels tender, my extremities, fingers, hands, toes, and feet all are just sore...

I'm going to take it easy for a bit; a couple days should do me good. Then write real slow-like, so long as it doesn't hurt to type out on my keyboard. (Hell, even this notice is a herculean effort.)

I'll just lay here on my bed, and think of this story. Do the same. I'll be back soon.

My life waifu depends on it.
>> No. 157043
>>157042
tl;dr for people who don't want to read superfluous words:
Update delayed.
>> No. 157090
File 133826886675.jpg - (161.37KB , 850x742 , Gate Guarding Ran.jpg ) [iqdb]
157090
Sleep like a log. Dream of Touhous and magic. Wake, roll over into your chair, start typing. Use this as my power-writing anthem on repeat (there’s a nice way to conceal URLs but I forget):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SR7NbTcWILc&feature=BFa&list=PL22D8BED0BEB295F7

I stopped when I started feeling sick again, but this should tide you over for now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

RESULTS

[X] … accept graciously. You took from Ran a portion of her own freedom two years ago. It’s only fair that you give her a portion of your own freedom as well in return. Granted, your situation was one of life or death for Gensokyo, even if that was merely a side-result of your revenge on Him… but her case is little different, of life or death for all of you just the same.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“… get off the ground,” you grumble.

Ran shakes her head vigorously. “Not until you accept. We – “

“Fine. Then get off.”

Ran’s ears flick up in sudden interest underneath her hat, causing two peaks to form. “You mean…”

“Or does whatever ritual you require need you to be in that position?” you snap.

Seeing her slightly stung face, you avert your gaze for a second in embarrassment. “Sorry.” You tilt your head another few degrees, converting your gesture to a pointed look towards the wall, behind which is a being with a power that quite frankly leaves you terrified. “We haven’t time. Just get on with it.”

Gracefully rising to her feet from her kowtow, Ran steps closer to you. “Ah, no, there’s, there’s no ritual. No preparations. I – I didn’t expect you to accept so fast,” she laughs, nervously, almost as if she expects you to suddenly change your mind. “I mean, you seemed so – angry when I was talking about contracts earlier, that – “

“That was for a different reason. This – we – are different.” You turn back towards her, giving her a quick look. She took another step while you weren’t paying attention; her face is now a mere hand’s breath from yours. She’s breathing slightly faster than normal, perhaps due to her own nerves; as warm air washes over your face, you reflexively narrow your eyes, an action that makes her back off, ducking her own head in sheepish realization. “There are some… debts that are to be paid.”

“I don’t understand.”

You steal a second glance at her; the kitsune’s eyes are wide, making her look surprisingly vulnerable. Chen has slipped somewhat behind her master, but leans to one side, watching the two of you talk. You recall what you did with her; that unforgivable action of holding her hostage, then using that to bend her master, her guardian, to your will.

You can’t ever fully atone for those actions, but you can try.

“You don’t have to, then. We have to do this,” you echo mockingly, trying to cover your own reluctance with scorn.

“I – I won’t force you into anything you don’t want to do,” she stammers, now rocking onto her proverbial back foot. Gods, this is the exact sort of thing you and Marcus agreed to never do: dance back and forth and try to bargain with each other over issues. It wastes time, precious time that could be spent doing more useful things. Things like preparing to stop an aberration.

Just like you could be doing now.

Fine. Then I do want this, Ran. Don’t question your luck, or your own motives for this. Just know that you’re not forcing anything on me.” Despite yourself, you feel a small smile flit onto your face, blossoming from some repressed place within you. “You’ll know when the contract is in place. After all – “

Four warm fingers suddenly wrap themselves over your mouth, anchored by a thumb around your chin. The owner of those fingers takes yet another step towards you, her arm folding between the two of you. If not for that arm, the two of you would be appear to be embracing, her feet now fitting between yours. Ran’s eyes are glistening with – something. You trained yourself to identify emotion, figure out how to exploit it, and get what you need, and out of this exact woman in front of you on less, so why – why do you feel nothing more than a muzzy confusion right now?

“ – there’s nothing a shikigami’s master doesn’t know from her servant.” She whispers it in a hush, as if not believing the scene before her. As if seeing a dream fulfilled against all expectations to the contrary.

A heartbeat passes, and then without a further word of doubt, she begins.

Making bonds of this kind must be a natural instinct or power of hers, because it occurs without any outward preparation whatsoever. You let a nebulously powerful wish spell handle the affairs and write over the contract with Lady Yukari, but it feels as if everything that’s happening is intentionally guided by her own purposeful thought.

You were aware of how invasive the shikigami bond is, having been Ran’s master for a short time before, but experiencing the servant end of it is something else entirely. There’s no way to completely describe it in terms of physical sensation. The initiation is almost timid, reminding you of a child afraid to ask its guardian for a favor, or perhaps an admirer approaching the object of her affection for the first time in person.

The magic is of the voluntary kind, a boon merely offered and not forced upon its target, not unlike many of your own protecting and enhancing enchantments. Like an outstretched hand, it asks you to accept, not forcing anything upon you, willing to withdraw and fade at the slightest sign of reluctance.

And it’s without any reluctance that you seize this hand and draw it to you, willing it to do whatever it needs to.

Now accepted, this metaphorical offer dissolves, flowing into what makes you you, your mind and soul, everything that you are, into every locked closet hiding an army of skeletons, turning you inside out until no thought of yours is hidden. The presence of another’s mind within your own isn’t completely unknown to you; both your former master and Marcus had used telepathy in various forms to communicate with you at some point in time, and you yourself had picked Ran’s mind experimentally, once. But that communication was always of the voluntary kind; telepathy isn’t mindreading, after all, and you intentionally avoided scouring Ran’s mind and thoughts when you found it impossibly complex with dozens if not hundreds or thousands of layers of thought – and to preserve her own privacy and dignity when you realized just how invasive it was, even if you weren’t about to admit that. This is involuntary exposure; the vulnerability of being completely and brutally cross-examined at Ran’s convenience.

The landscape of your mind isn’t like the tightly knit, distinct packages that you found in Ran’s mind, like a cache of artistic artifacts awaiting scrutiny. Instead, it’s an ocean of steel. Hundreds of years of training make up your core, fire-forged into a massive iron sphere that keeps you together. Once upon a time, this shell – for that was what it was, despite its relatively high volume – concealed a vehement, murderous desire for revenge at its own center, but it’s now hollow inside, a titanic jail without an inmate to contain. Memories, also solid whether inscribed on large irregular pieces or sculpted into nests of intricately interwoven wires, float around this massive like satellites around a planetoid. Your surface thoughts, this very analysis included, flow in molten currents all throughout, burning in colors ranging from an almost-solid, barely-present, stagnant dull red to a rapidly-flowing, currently-focused, shining white.

A shiver runs down your spine as you feel Ran’s scrutiny for just a second, a wave of pressure that sends ripples through your rivers of thought, sending your memories spinning in eddies. It washes up against the monolith of your training, and, uncharacteristically for a wave, pauses as if surprised, spreading out as if to try and cover and surround it. Simultaneously, the wave pushes away towards one of those floating memories, a recent one of your time sparring with Youmu. As your discomfort rises to the forefront of your mind, the liquid metal that the foreign presence in your mind inhabits bubbles restlessly, expressing your feelings, and the pressure suddenly disappears, as if realizing its own existence, just as you had unconsciously probed Ran’s own mind within seconds of the contract’s creation.

All of this happens in less than two seconds. Children have been conceived in exchanges less intimate than this.

You don’t feel particularly stronger at the moment, but Ran did say that the master had to give orders. The feeling of being unwrapped and exposed, though, remains. You wonder just how she and Chen tolerate it all the time; perhaps they just come to tolerate it, or perhaps the sensation, currently fresh and raw, dulls in time.

“… thank you,” your new master sighs breathlessly, bringing you back to the present. She closes her eyes as her shoulders sag with sudden fatigue, her body leaning forwards even further as her posture slouches. The hand slides away from your lips as her arm starts to return to its position at her side – then returns to gently nudge your chin to one side with a finger, tilting your head ever so slightly as she continues her forward lean.

The inch or so between you is about to disappear. You’re of about the same height, so this means that –

– why is it so hard to think right now?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CHOOSE YOUR ANALYSIS OF UNEXPECTED INTIMATE ACTIVITY

[ ] This is ceremonial. Magic often nudges its users towards various unnecessary actions, just as you and Marcus felt the need to vocally proclaim the forging of the bond. This must be Ran’s way of confirming the contract the two of you just created.
-[ ] If this is just ceremonial, then she won’t mind it if you pull away.
-[ ] … there’s no reason to deny it and make a fuss over a little thing like this.
[ ] This is familial. A good master cares for her servants, which is exactly why Chen was such a strong point of leverage. This is just her way of expressing that feeling.
-[ ] If this is just familial, then you should probably refuse. It’s a bit demeaning to be treated like a child.
-[ ] … it’s nice to be cared for like this again. It’s been so very long since someone worried for you like your late master did.
[ ] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[ ] If this is romantic… no. You don’t feel this way, there’s no reason you would ever have to feel this way, and this nonsense should stop before a misunderstanding arises.
-[ ] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.
-[ ] Inexperienced virgin anemia option. Then BAD END because Yuyuko eats you all while you’re too busy swooning.

[ ] Write-in analysis?
-[ ] Reaction?

Remember that Ran can know exactly what you’re thinking. Don’t be a tsundere voter and vote for something you don’t actually feel – this is your innermost, most honest possible thought.

Despite being a relatively short, crappy update, the Possibility of Romance means that this will probably end up seeing a disproportionate number of votes. You horndogs.
>> No. 157092
[x] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[x] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.

Just progressing things along.
>> No. 157094
[x] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[x] If this is romantic… no. You don’t feel this way, there’s no reason you would ever have to feel this way, and this nonsense should stop before a misunderstanding arises.

Oi, Ran. You've been pining for a guy who knew you for all of a few hours plus a few days. He has some reason to like you, to be sure, but this is way too fast.
>> No. 157095
[x] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[x] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.

This Ran route? I'll be taking it.
>> No. 157098
[x] Anemia

Balista, I have to ask a question: Is MC a virgin?
>> No. 157104
[X] This is ceremonial. Magic often nudges its users towards various unnecessary actions, just as you and Marcus felt the need to vocally proclaim the forging of the bond. This must be Ran’s way of confirming the contract the two of you just created.
-[X] … there’s no reason to deny it and make a fuss over a little thing like this.
>> No. 157108
>>157098

Poor Sai never got to meet a girl he liked before He began his madness... so yes, yes he is. For better or worse.

This being said, he's no Shirou when it comes to... those sorts of matters.
>> No. 157112
>>157108
Must suck being a undead(?) virgin.
>> No. 157114
[x] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[x] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.

I should be voting for other options. But then Ran, and I guess you know the rest.
>> No. 157125
[x] This is ceremonial. Magic often nudges its users towards various unnecessary actions, just as you and Marcus felt the need to vocally proclaim the forging of the bond. This must be Ran’s way of confirming the contract the two of you just created.
-[x] If this is just ceremonial, then she won’t mind it if you pull away.
>> No. 157126
>>157094
>THP
>Too fast.

Are we going to the same site? Various classic stories had girls falling for the MC with in DAYS of him plopping into gensokyo.
>> No. 157127
>>157126
And those stories were all fucking terrible.
>> No. 157129
>>157127
Congratulations! No one will take you seriously now!
>> No. 157134
[x] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[x] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.
>> No. 157148
[x] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[x] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.

I only see one option.
>> No. 157152
File 133829183242.jpg - (80.94KB , 500x547 , killitwithfire.jpg ) [iqdb]
157152
>>157112

>suck
>undead
>virgin
>> No. 157157
[x] This is familial. A good master cares for her servants, which is exactly why Chen was such a strong point of leverage. This is just her way of expressing that feeling.
-[x] … it’s nice to be cared for like this again. It’s been so very long since someone worried for you like your late master did.

Big Yakumo family option
>> No. 157172
File 133830587934.jpg - (431.49KB , 720x900 , ca5c729dedf134af7a4fa76045b8f3ae.jpg ) [iqdb]
157172
[x] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[x] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.

Aaaand... lock!
Ran joins the (un?)fortunate few of THP.
>> No. 157201
[X] This is ceremonial. Magic often nudges its users towards various unnecessary actions, just as you and Marcus felt the need to vocally proclaim the forging of the bond. This must be Ran’s way of confirming the contract the two of you just created.
-[X] If this is just ceremonial, then she won’t mind it if you pull away.

Zombie army now, romance later.
>> No. 157203
The votes for romance+acceptance and the various others are actually relatively balanced; 6 to 5, respectively (6 to 6 if I count the anemia vote, heh).

At the risk of seeming like I'm inviting shitstorming, I'm not about to punish the opposing party for having split opinions, so here's what I'll do to give them a chance. Romance+acceptance must have >50% of ALL votes, not merely the most votes against any one particular choice, for Sai to go off the proverbial deep end. Should it fail to garner sufficient votes, I'll hybridize the opposition votes as best as possible.

I'm not going to actually count that anemia vote, so right now, this does mean that romance+acceptance is >50% of all votes and is winning. However, those of you who were holding back your vote out of laziness because it looked like "Ran route lock" was going to steamroll any other choice can now come crawling out of the woodwork with your objections now, knowing that the lack of unity in the opposition is not going to be your downfall.

Votes are being called in ~48 hours; I'm feeling sprightly enough to write again all of a sudden (magic!) but I'd like this relatively pivotal vote to hang out for some time longer than a single day before I call it. I even feel bad about two days, since people used to my normal schedule might not be checking this that regularly oh god what a swelled head I have, but I do want to move on, and I'm feeling good, so... yeah.

And for the record... this is not a route lock. Things can change. Plot can happen. Who knows?

A real romance isn't secured for life just because you kissed once.
>> No. 157204
>>157203
I wasn't excepting a full on route lock, just a bit more progress getting made towards Ran, that and Sai isn't someone who needs to have the fact someone likes him bashed into his face for him to get it.
>> No. 157220
[x] This is familial. A good master cares for her servants, which is exactly why Chen was such a strong point of leverage. This is just her way of expressing that feeling.
-[x] … it’s nice to be cared for like this again. It’s been so very long since someone worried for you like your late master did.

The thing is... I'm not fully opposed to romancing Ran. I just think now is seriously not the time, given that Yuyuko's army of zombai goasts is bearing down on us.
>> No. 157225
[x] This is ceremonial. Magic often nudges its users towards various unnecessary actions, just as you and Marcus felt the need to vocally proclaim the forging of the bond. This must be Ran’s way of confirming the contract the two of you just created.
-[x] If this is just ceremonial, then she won’t mind it if you pull away.

Zombie Goast army at the door, guys.
>> No. 157227
[x] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[x] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.

I'm not pleased with your system, balistafreak.
>> No. 157232
[x] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[x] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.
>> No. 157242
>>157227

Well, I'm open to criticism.

My reasoning was that the vote was boiling down to "Ran romance" versus "not Ran romance", only that the second choice was fractured into 5 different reasonings. As such, it would only be fair to treat the incoming votes as belonging to one of these two groups.

Do you have an idea of how to interpret the votes in a fairer way? If so, please tell me - just so long as it doesn't invalidate the votes that have been currently cast.
>> No. 157243
[x] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[x] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.

I liked how Sai's mind was described. That's a pretty badass mind.
>> No. 157252
[X] This is ceremonial. Magic often nudges its users towards various unnecessary actions, just as you and Marcus felt the need to vocally proclaim the forging of the bond. This must be Ran’s way of confirming the contract the two of you just created.
-[X] If this is just ceremonial, then she won’t mind it if you pull away.

We can analyze, realize it was romantic, and then fall for Ran properly. But zombie time is not the time, as it were.
>> No. 157256
[X] This is likely ceremonial. Magic often nudges its users towards various unnecessary actions, just as you and Marcus felt the need to vocally proclaim the forging of the bond. This must be Ran’s way of confirming the contract the two of you just created. Unless it isn't, but you can figure that out later.
-[X] If it is ceremonial, there’s no reason to deny it and make a fuss over a little thing like this. If it isn't, you can't say you would mind it either.

I'm all for Ran route, but this fits in more with how I see Sai reacting.
>> No. 157257
>>157256

It's more Ran's reaction then Sai's. This is just his answer. I think.

[x] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[x] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.
>> No. 157259
-[ ] Inexperienced virgin anemia option.
>> No. 157267
>>157098 here, And since you wont take my vote as legit I say we should romance her up.

[x] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[x] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.
>> No. 157269
>>157267
Hello! You're being replied to because you could stand to work a bit on your grammar, spelling, capitalization, and/or punctuation a bit.

If you're new, welcome to THP! If you're old, you should know how things work by now. Either way, in the future, please try to take a little extra time to make your posts neat. It's much appreciated!

>>157257
I'm not quite sure what you mean. Are you trying to say that my vote is most likely what Ran thinks of the situation?
>> No. 157271
>>157269
>Are you trying to say that my vote is most likely what Ran thinks of the situation?

That's the impression I have, yes, with the sub-vote being Sai's reactions to Ran's.
>> No. 157285
>>157271

The vote is purely Sai's analysis. What Ran thinks is completely out of your control.
>> No. 157400
[x] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[x] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.

It's not like they're just going to start making out like a pair of teenagers while there's an undead horde just a ways off.
>> No. 157468
[x] This is familial. A good master cares for her servants, which is exactly why Chen was such a strong point of leverage. This is just her way of expressing that feeling.
-[x] … it’s nice to be cared for like this again. It’s been so very long since someone worried for you like your late master did.


I always thought protection against ____ was just a +2 AC and save bonus.

oh well 2nd edition 4 life THAC0 THAC0 THAC0
>> No. 157484
File 133850252725.jpg - (893.64KB , 960x1280 , Cute Ran Chen.jpg ) [iqdb]
157484
With romance+acceptance having 12 votes, it beats all other votes which weigh in at only 10, and even some of those are arguably some form of acceptance. You guys really do want a piece of Ran, eh?

Votes called. Pic related. Writing now. Please wait warmly~
>> No. 157498
>>157484
>Pic related.

Chen is gonna push Sai away and kiss Ran?
>> No. 157608
>>157498
I would be ok with this.
>> No. 157861
As one of the guys who only voted against Ran route because it seemed like bad timing, I am okay with this... but if it gets us killed, I will still be posting an "I told you so".
>> No. 157863
>>157861
The makeout session is so intense that we completely forget about the oncoming undead army led by a taint-supercharged and crazy Yuyuko?

...Yeah actually, that could happen.
>> No. 157884
File 133879158690.jpg - (459.04KB , 500x700 , Ran Chen Hug.jpg ) [iqdb]
157884
So, it seems that now that I’m home, I actually have less time to write. Instead of having my weekends to myself, weekends are full of everyone wanting a piece of me, and not in a good way.

Damn, I miss dorm life already.

Really didn’t like the way this update came out, but this story needs to move.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

RESULTS

[X] This is romantic. Maybe it’s just the Hope euphoria coming back? You hope that, at least. You didn’t see this one coming – how long has she been feeling this, and – why would she feel like this about you, after everything you’ve put her through?
-[X] … you can’t resist. You don’t understand where this is coming from, and yet this simply feels natural, like something you should be doing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For a spiritual being that’s hundreds of years old, Ran is… soft.

Well, then again, you’re even older, so the fact that you’re not a wizened husk either should tell you something about her.

This is – well. You didn’t see this one coming. Why would she ever feel like this towards you?

And you’ve never felt like this before, with her hands slipping over the tops of your shoulders, her fingers curling inward to pull you towards her. Your back tenses, but without the slightest guidance from you, your arms slip around the shikigami’s waist. Again, the skin on the backs of your wrists and hands stroke against her tails as they flip up and outward; those tails react by snaking lusciously against you, bending around her as if to embrace you further.

Ran’s breath is hot against your face as the last few inches between your faces disappear. She tilts her head to her right, and yours bends to your own right in natural response. Her eyes, glassy with restrained feeling, disappear behind their eyelids, eyelids that you only now notice have a delicate fold, and –

– that’s the last thing your mind is able to muzzily grasp before the two of you make contact.

You’ve never kissed before – well, that’s not entirely true. Your former master’s cheeks, though, were rough and wrinkled, nothing at all like the lips of the woman in front of you, which move against yours in a caress the likes of which you’ve never known before. Those lips taste almost smoky, yet there’s an undeniable sweetness to them as well, a flavor which simultaneously repulses you with its intensity yet has you thirsting for more. Heat rises in your face now as your mind unconsciously puts your manifested form through all the standard bodily responses to an erotic sensation.

Feeling as if you’re drowning, you start to jerk your face away and step back, completely overwhelmed by the unfamiliar feelings surging through you –

no, come back!

– but both your and Ran’s arms tighten in contradiction to your action, keeping the two of you together.

… wait.

No.

This isn’t what you want!



… is it?

Your arms manage to disengage themselves from the small of Ran’s back, but that motion is subverted as your hands move to stroke her sides, seemingly of their own accord. Not that it doesn’t feel good, and that underneath those loose, flowing robes and tabard of hers are a set of curves that until this moment you’d never even thought of touching, much less in this sort of way –

– it’s that realization that lets you penetrate the haze.

Even as your hand rises up her front to cup her bosom, you re-examine your mind. What was once purely iron and steel now has streams of water and brooks of fire running alongside a few of the streams of silver. Originally slow-moving currents of iron begin to flow quickly underneath the heat of the flame, while the searing creeks cool as the water runs alongside it. As the flow is changed, you feel your body bend and turn, like a puppet at its master’s strings –

No.

The strings would have you tense your hand, so you fight it by going with that motion, squeezing your hand into a full fist; cooperating with the compulsion creates a sort of breathing room for other defiance, like a marionette moving towards its tethers to gain freedom of movement. You hear a gasp of pain as Ran suddenly pushes away from you, one hand held protectively to her chest, and the streams of fire and water in your mind suddenly twist into each other, destroying each other in a cloud of steam. You catch a glimpse of Chen as Ran’s tails droop – her ears are flattened in surprise, her brow furrowed in complete bewilderment as to what she’s seeing in front of her.

What the fuck was that for? There’s a marching army on their way to destroy us and you take the time for this? you mentally splutter, packaging that thought into a crystalline structure of steel. Instantly, the threads of her influence return, wrapping around that thought and examining it, causing you to shiver again at the alien presence. You’re not sure if anyone could ever get used to this. Ran’s response comes in the form of one of those pieces of art you’re now somewhat familiar with, indescribable in its complexity and yet unarguably beautiful.

… I’m sorry.

Her ears flatten against her head as well, but in shame and embarrassment instead, as she ducks it forward to hide her face. Her tails droop low, almost as if dead – the sight is somehow pitiful, and despite yourself you feel a slight pang at denying Ran what she wanted.

But first, to find out… Why?

A second goes by – mentally, an entire eon. … I reviewed your current strength and ability while we were contracting.

Yes, and?

Another long, long, second, and then Ran turns away from you and back towards Chen, opening her arms up in an embrace as well. Surely a mental exchange similar to the one you’re having happens between them, as Chen’s expression instantly droops as she walks into a hug, a gesture that somehow speaks of… finality. The contract – I don’t know why, but it’s not empowering you like it should.

She’s right – now that you think about it, you don’t feel the slightest bit stronger than you did before. Maybe someone else would have been panicking over not having become stronger; but you know your own strength. You’ve never been one to panic over not having enough power; you’ll manage.

Without that, you’re not strong enough – we are not strong enough. So, I expect to die very soon… and I wanted to do that before it was too late. A break in the thought – you can imagine her smiling wistfully. I don’t know when I started dreaming of it, but at some point in time…

You’re giving up. Shut. Up.

Before Ran can protest, a flight-assisted leap takes you to the top of the wall, bringing Yuyuko’s legions back into view. Those legions have taken to the skies now, beginning to fly towards you in such thickness that they blot out the hazy sky completely. You let your aurasight flicker for just a second, just to confirm what you believe; that the combined might of those spirits forms a massive body that you have no hope of defeating in a pitched battle. Already their auras grow brighter and brighter as they begin charging up for – well, you’re not exactly sure, but if each loosed but a single magic missile, the end result would be a fusillade that would completely smash Yuyuko’s mansion, large as it is, into a nothing smaller than a piece of firewood – and they’re certainly preparing something far more dramatic than that. No defense you have is capable of protecting against that magnitude of attack, not even the supposedly invulnerable wall of force; at the level of power you’ve been working with, you know that nothing is truly unbreakable. In a way, Ran was right to be preparing to die.

Therefore, you need to even the odds some.

You can feel Yuyuko’s eye on you; you can’t feel her bemusement, but you know it’s there. You point dramatically towards the spirit-filled sky with one hand as you work a few hasty illusions, lining the garden wall with silent images of colored banners and standards, as if a defending army were occupying the mansion – as if it were a fortress.

Play along, Yuyuko. Play along.

“Lady Yuyuko!” you call out, amplifying your voice across the mile or so that separates you, stretching a huge, boisterous grin on your face in defiance of your internal fear. “I see you’ve come to take back your ancestral home!”

Yuyuko’s confusion manifests itself as the legions relax their charge and part to reveal Yuyuko in person. Her red, whiteless eyes blink slowly as she attempts to make sense of what you’re doing. “I – yes, I suppose you could say I’m doing that. It is mine, after all,” she says, her voice travelling the mile or so without any loss, as if she were standing next to you. You feel her compulsion wash over you again, like a sticky, cloying tar gumming up the inner workings of your mind.

But this time, Ran’s fire and water wash through your mind, alternatively burning and rinsing away anything not originally there. Politely, she withdraws after her work is done, as if ashamed of her earlier manipulation of you; and she doesn’t question what you’re doing either, instead waiting and watching to see just what crazy plan you’ve hatched to try and save you all.

Yuyuko narrows her eyes as her ability fails. “A defense, I see. No matter.” The spirits begin charging up again as she again defaults to simply wiping blasting you to bits. You’re not sure what will happen to you if you’re at ground zero, but it can’t be anything good – and Ran and Chen will simply die to a killing blow like this, their bodies still vulnerable to physical trauma.

“As the invader, surely you value the land that you will be taking!” You can scarcely believe what half-assed excuse you’re building up to, but the distraction seems to be working as the buildup of energy drops once again.

“There are memories in that house, I suppose…” she trails off, staring at you curiously, eyeing the banners that you’ve decorated the walls with almost wistfully. Slowly, you begin to see similarly cut banners manifest themselves amongst the spirits she controls, colored black with the sigil of a butterfly embroidered in a bright red across it.

Yes. Take the bait.

“Then, shall we spare a great deal of bloodshed and destruction today?” you ask, letting a mournful tone take hold of your voice. “Let us settle this with single combat between champions to decide the victor, and spare the women and children.”

One of Taint’s foremost symptoms is megalomania. Treat her like a king, even as your enemy…

For a second she looks absolutely confused, and then a grin, just as fake as yours, grows across her face as well. “Ha! Aha! Ahahahahahahahaha!~” she laughs, bringing a hand to her mouth in a completely false gesture of trying to restrain herself. Her other hand, empty seconds ago, now holds a metal fan – you’re not sure where it came from, but she holds it as if it were a status symbol, like a king’s scepter. “Oh, Sai, you are an amusing spirit. First you find a way to negate my control, and now you dare challenge me for ownership of my own home?” She throws her head back and laughs again – but she doesn’t blow you away, a fact that turns your fake grin into a real one.

… and she’ll take the role, even against all logic.

“I’ll take that as a yes, then,” you say smoothly, leaning back against thin air and crossing your arms, playing the part of the self-sure defender.

“Yes, I will humor you, Sai. Just this once, for it’ll be the last time you’ll ever think for yourself again. A final gift, ha! But who will be your champion?” she suddenly asks, her voice dropping low.

You jab your thumbs towards yourself. “But of course! The herald is the champion!” you boldly declare. Perhaps Ran might be stronger in an objective sense, but you’ve never seen her fight in melee before; and more importantly, she won’t know your opponent like you do. “… and who is your champion, Lady Yuyuko?” you ask back, already knowing the answer; there’s only one person closest to Yuyuko, and there’s no other person that would possibly come to her mind.

“But of course!” she mimics, mockery in her voice. “My champion will be my closest servant, who’s served me for my entire life… and beyond,” she grins.

The ranks of skeletal spirits part, and Youmu, skin ashen and face vacant with the unseeing gaze of the dead, floats forward with the larger of her two swords already drawn – just the larger one, the nodachi. Curious, you squint, sparing yourself a spell as Youmu comes close enough for your sight to barely pick out. Oddly, Youmu’s smaller sword, the sword “that cuts through confusion”, is missing from its sheath, and Youmu herself isn’t carrying it.

You mark this fact down for later. Why would Yuyuko withhold that sword in particular…?

Ran flies up and lands beside you on the wall; Chen merely leaps up, landing in a crouch at her master’s feet – your master’s feet, you correct yourself. Ran’s contract might not be empowering you like it should, but you’re still bound to her and subject to control, as you just so rudely found out. Unconsciously, your tongue comes out to run along your lips – a second later, you’re unsure if that was to clean them, or taste the flavors from that kiss from earlier once again.

“You’re absolutely mad,” she says aloud, her face a strange mix of amusement and terror. Dark humor; a laugh in the face of impending death.

“Master Sai is a brave, brave man,” Chen says in turn, staring at you with what looks like worship. That thought disturbs you. How much is Ran communicating with her other servant? You’re not privy to that knowledge, and you resolve to sit down and have a long talk with Chen at some point in time.

Of course, that’s reliant on you making out of this mess in the first place.

I’m buying time for us, you send to Ran, although you’re sure that she’s figured that much out by herself already.

… forgive me for – giving up. Perhaps I am not – used to being the underdog. Ran’s expression is stony, but through the shikigami bond you can feel a sort of apologetic tone. But even now, even if you win your silly game, do you honestly think Yuyuko will let us walk free?

Jizo will have to come through for us. He has to. Despite your thoughts, you hate having to rely on some nebulous, higher power to come to your aid and ultimately drag you out of whatever trouble you’ve found yourself in. It’s why you never worshipped a god, after all; you never could understand Marcus’s devotion to his Lady.

You were losing to Youmu. How do you expect to win now? Ran was able to glean that from her very short times within your mind? Truly her mind is inhuman – which only makes her infatuation with you more confusing – damn it, not now.

It’s simple, you reply, self-assured. I wasn’t using my spells in those earlier battles. And now that this is a no-holds barred duel…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CHOOSE YOUR APPLICATION OF ARCANE TALENT

[ ] ”… I’ll see how she fares against my true area of expertise.” Despite your skill at swordplay, it was never your true calling. You’ll keep distance between the two of you and blow Youmu away from range.

[ ] ”… she won’t see it before it’s too late.” Yuyuko has not seen you fight as a mage before; you’ll draw her in by fighting purely with in melee at first, only to use that assumption to draw Youmu into a position of certain defeat.
>> No. 157894
The sword seems the most important thing here. My first thought was that Youmu left it behind to cripple herself or something, but she had both when she was assimilated:
>Youmu leaps straight into the air at Yuyuko, swords raised in a striking position
The only reasons for this I can think of is either that the Hakurouken frees those it cuts from Yuyuko's control or there's a spirit Youmu wielding it that's about to stab us in the back. The former is much preferable to the latter, obviously, but there's still the matter of finding the damn thing.

In any case, Youmu was roughly equally matched with us when she had two swords. Now she has one. Regardless of how or why she lost it, she's at a disadvantage to us even without magecraft taken into account. Even assuming she's able to beat us, I really don't see what we can do other than draw things out and hope Ran and Chen manage to do something, or we notice the Hakurouken, or something like that. After all, the instant we win Yuyuko will wipe us out.

This probably doesn't make make sense since I wrote it after about 3 hours of sleep, but oh well.

[x] ”… she won’t see it before it’s too late.” Yuyuko has not seen you fight as a mage before; you’ll draw her in by fighting purely with in melee at first, only to use that assumption to draw Youmu into a position of certain defeat.
>> No. 157896
[x] ”… she won’t see it before it’s too late.” Yuyuko has not seen you fight as a mage before; you’ll draw her in by fighting purely with in melee at first, only to use that assumption to draw Youmu into a position of certain defeat.

If only because keeping range with someone as fast as Youmu is pointless. Also the spirit half vanished when she died, it is likely that the two merged when she became full-ghost.
>> No. 157910
[ ] ”… she won’t see it before it’s too late.” Yuyuko has not seen you fight as a mage before; you’ll draw her in by fighting purely with in melee at first, only to use that assumption to draw Youmu into a position of certain defeat.

Seems logical. No need to show them our full hand at the start, especially when we can't cast infinite spells. Our resources are limited, so it's best to find out exactly which tools are necessary and apply the precise amount of force needed.
>> No. 157912
[x] ”… she won’t see it before it’s too late.” Yuyuko has not seen you fight as a mage before; you’ll draw her in by fighting purely with in melee at first, only to use that assumption to draw Youmu into a position of certain defeat.
>> No. 158075
[x] ”… I’ll see how she fares against my true area of expertise.” Despite your skill at swordplay, it was never your true calling. You’ll keep distance between the two of you and blow Youmu away from range.

Pissing against the tide, but I'm too worried about Youmu's sword being missing and somehow ending up in our gut.
>> No. 158101
File 133894211230.jpg - (215.18KB , 600x848 , Alice Dolls Blushing Hourai.jpg ) [iqdb]
158101
I got antsy while letting this update catch votes, so I began a tie-in story over in /shorts/.

>>/shorts/458

Enjoy while you wait for votes to be called/updates here. Do try to keep story discussion in its particular thread, though. Questions about my version of Gensokyo as a whole regardless of story should probably go into the /shorts/ thread for now, if only because this thread is nearing autosage.
>> No. 158102
>>158101
>I got antsy while letting this update catch votes, so I began a tie-in story over in /shorts/.

Haven't you considered just calling the votes and writing, then? The better updates usually come from motivated and inspired writers; we don't mind if you call the votes after one day, specially if that means more updates.
>> No. 158107
>>158102

Color me biased, but I remember before I was a writefag when I only checked the site every few days, or even weekly due to other engagements, and then get PO'd when a story progressed and I missed a vote I really wanted to partake in.

Then I dropped a lot of those other engagements and became a full-fledged writefag, so now I check multiple times a day.

Also, long wait times are an old habit of mine from the fall/spring college semesters, when I only had time to write weekly.

It's a combination of factors, really.

On that note, votes will be called in 24 hours.
>> No. 158191
File 133903213358.jpg - (203.35KB , 820x606 , Wall of Hands.jpg ) [iqdb]
158191
Votes called. Pic related. Writing now. Please wait warmly~
>> No. 158252
>>158191
wall of denial too good
>> No. 158256
>>158252
Fuck you.
>> No. 158324
File 133922868532.jpg - (84.99KB , 850x513 , Single Sword Youmu.jpg ) [iqdb]
158324
I felt like this fight scene was way too much in “broad strokes”. Lemme know what you think after you read it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

RESULTS

[X] ”… she won’t see it before it’s too late.” Yuyuko has not seen you fight as a mage before; you’ll draw her in by fighting purely with in melee at first, only to use that assumption to draw Youmu into a position of certain defeat.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

… you’re sure about this. It’s not a question, but an observation.

Youmu beat me in life with her raw swordplay, but magic has and will always be superior to hitting things with a piece of sharpened metal, you wisecrack. You didn’t actually come up with that line; Marcus did. Being able to helps, but magecraft will ultimately prevail.

I cannot disagree with that statement. Ran closes her eyes, taking in a deep breath. Very well, Sai. She opens them again, and graces you with a small smile. Be my champion. Make me proud.

That statement direct subordinates you, assuming that you are truly underneath her authority, and yet you can’t help but smile back. Perhaps it’s the threat of – well, not death for you, but for others you know that makes you accept it as a throwaway joke. Very well, milady, you send back, giving the kitsune a bow from the waist. You’re not sure if it’s sarcastic or not yourself. I promise to come back whole in body and sound in mind.

If you don’t, she’ll have far larger things to worry about.

You flick your wrist slightly, letting your quicksilver bracer fall towards the ground, dripping into the shaft of your long-bladed lance once again. It was the weapon you first beat Youmu with, and it’s the weapon that’ll beat her once more.

You reflect on how the Hope within your magic and weapon might interact with Yuyuko’s control of Youmu’s body. Yuyuko is Tainted, true, which Taints any of her magic as well; and yet apparently control of the dead was something that she could do before being Tainted. Will assaulting Youmu’s corporeal body be enough to lift the control? Or will you have to throw a dispelling arcane turmoil? Both? Or will Yuyuko’s control be so deeply rooted that you will have no choice but to destroy Youmu’s body? You watched Youmu die, though; but this is the underworld, so perhaps her soul is still around…?

You shake your head. You need to prioritize some things over others. It’ll be nice if you can find some way to save her, but first of all, you have to think of those that are still living for sure, the two shikigami standing next to you on the wall.

Sai… I won’t blame you for anything that happens down there,[b] comes a reassurance from Ran. [b]I know as much as you do about what’s going on – I’ll trust your judgment when it comes to this.

… thanks for the trust, you send back, your gratitude sincere.

“Come on, Kawarou~” Yuyuko calls out to you. “Or should I consider you as having forfeit? ‘twould be disgraceful, after all your bold words, to run and like a coward!”

Go now. Ran takes a half step forward, then stops, as if thinking better of it, and simply nods once more to you.

You don’t say anything; it’s not needed at this point. Instead, you simply kick up and off the wall, flying up and out towards Yuyuko’s legions, into the gardens where you and Youmu will have your duel. A small part of your mind goes over all the spells of flight you know and is bemused at the fact that your current form requires none of them to take to the air. If you survive past this…

No, stop. Concentrate on the present.

You catch sight of a green-armored, white-haired figure flying out to meet you halfway; that’s Youmu. It’s only seconds before both of you are slowing your flights, coming to a stop a respectful twenty meters or so away from each other. Her skin is deathly grey, her eyes dull, and her lips are still an ugly mass of red from being chewed upon in her death throes. No change from the last time you saw her, then.

“Youmu,” you call out experimentally, not really expecting anything. She doesn’t respond, staring at some point beyond your shoulder. A bit paranoid, you check behind you with your senses; nothing.

As if by some unspoken agreement, the two of you begin to descend to earth, still keeping that twenty-meter margin between you. It’s a slow, leisurely descent, one that gives you time to try and analyze the magic that’s sustaining the undead swordswoman in front of you. Impossibly strong necromancy dominates her aura, as you expected, but there’s also thick threads of enchantment, the mind-controlling school of magic, a fact which tells you that at least some of Youmu’s mind is still there. All of the magic is, of course, painted a thick black with Taint, and as your feet touch upon the ground you dismiss your aurasight, unable to stand the sight of the Taint any further.

For a few seconds, the two of you simply stand like that. Youmu’s nodachi dangles loosely from her right hand, almost daring you to blink into range and strike, but you know how fast her body can move; that’s a trap that you won’t be taking. Your own lance is held out and in front of you at an angle, the blade hovering at around the level of your head, the haft crossing your body to defend against any attacks to your body. You already know that the metal shaft should be sufficient to stop even a full cut from the Roukanken from experience… but that was before Youmu was killed. Necromancy often empowers the corpses it animates, pushing them far beyond their living capabilities. When you still had a corporeal body, that was yet another perk of undergoing the Ritual of Crucimigration. This spiritual body actually seems to have more strength though, a fact that interests you. If you survive past this…

Focus.

You refuse to make the first move; the entire purpose of this exercise is to buy time, and so you’re content to simply stand there in a guarding position. For the sake of your own psyche, you attempt to initiate a staredown, but Youmu’s unfocused gaze makes it impossible to feel as though you’re putting pressure on her.

At least a minute passes this way. “Oh, Sai,” Yuyuko eventually calls out, sounding somewhat annoyed at the lack of entertainment in front of her, “might I ask just why you would call for such a dramatic duel, and yet not follow up on your promises?”

This isn’t good; if Yuyuko grows bored, she’ll revert to her earlier strategy of simply turning you all to ash. You hastily fish for an excuse, grinning as you come up with something that sounds plausibly philosophical. “I may have issued the challenge, but my purpose is to defend the lands I already hold. As such, it only natural that my fighting philosophy reflect this.” You shift stances now, dropping from a duelist’s pose into an infantryman’s kneel, digging the butt of your weapon and angling the weapon further downward, as if to anticipate a charging cavalryman. “If you wish to reclaim your rightful place, then you must cast the first stone!” You don’t actually plan on fighting in this position; it’s just to make yourself look more like a defender.

A heartbeat’s worth of silence follows your silver-tongued reasoning, and then Yuyuko lets out a newly-amused sounding laugh, alleviating your earlier worry. As you force your grin back into a grim, neutral expression, she sighs, “Ah, you indeed are a poet, Sai. A pity I’ll have to destroy you here, but you’ve showed me the way you wish to please me already, and I doubt you’ll change your mind…”

Slowly, Youmu moves into her own attacking stance, adding her other hand to her nodachi’s hilt before raising it into the air above her head, the blade parallel to the ground and mostly behind her in preparation for an overhead chopping attack. If you weren’t concentrating on keeping your stony expression, you’d be raising an eyebrow. You haven’t seen that stance from her before; but to be fair, you’d only ever seen her fight with two blades.

And then she leaps towards you, covering the score or so meter gap in a single, flying bound.
Now that she’s striking with intent to kill, you feel something entirely new about her blade. Her swing causes it to scream towards you; literally scream, at least on some spiritual level. Whereas you weren’t unduly unnerved by your sparring from before, knowing you could simply turn incorporeal in time and let the attack flow through you without undue harm… this weapon is something else entirely. It’s hungry; bloodthirsty, almost, just a step away from evil. It wants to cleave into a spirit’s essence; it wants to drink it, although truly none of those words are completely correct. You can’t figure out what exactly that means just from watching it come towards you, but you suppose this has something to do with its title of “slaying” spirits.

Ultimately, that means that you can’t afford to let it hit you, not even once. You have no idea exactly might happen, but it can’t be anything good.

You’d expected her to try and fight you with her feet planted firmly on solid ground, but the distance is still too great for her to possibly take you by surprise. There’s plenty of time for you to shift stances, but you intentionally delay until the very last moment to rise out of your static braced position and fluidly bring the blade of your weapon high into a countering slash, safely out of her reach.

Her own blade smashes into yours, not just a parry to protect herself but also a brute-force attempt to knock the weapon out of your grasp. She does, after all, possess the leverage to do so with her superior altitude. If your weapon was simply something that you held in your hands and swung, she would be easily successful, but instead you resist the impact, every particle of your soulbound weapon shoving upwards of its own accord against the downwards force.

That’s a trick you hadn’t used before. Sure, your stance of supreme blade parry did this to a degree already, shifting your weapon from parry to parry almost organically, but this sort of weapon self-propellant is on an entirely different level, the difference between a campfire and volcano in terms of force.

The laws of physics still apply here in the underworld, and her failure to disarm you means all that momentum catapults her even farther into the air, way out of range of a riposte. For a moment you contemplate following up on the attack, but you decide to retain the sturdy support of the ground instead of abandoning it to chase her. You may have a more refined technique, but Youmu is still much more agile than you. An aerial engagement would only play to that advantage of hers, so instead you simply glower at her as she makes a show of flipping end over end before regaining her stability.

“That should have flattened you,” Yuyuko pouts. Far above and away from Youmu, you can see Yuyuko crossing her arms, putting on a petulant expression. “I went through a lot of trouble to make Youmu stronger than before.”

Well, that answers that question. After Youmu floats back a safe distance before descending to the ground once more, she attacks you again with that same overhead chop, again telegraphing it with a huge leap. Again, you simply deflect it, sending her jumping back to avoid losing the grip on her weapon.

When she attacks a third time, she switches things up by suddenly twisting away, aborting her attack to preserve her windup while she rapidly circles to one side. It’s now that you begin to suspect that Youmu’s intelligence is completely gone, Yuyuko instead controlling the half-phantom’s corpse directly, because Youmu, after the lessons you gave her, wouldn’t be so stupid to think that such a half-baked move would work. You additionally notice that while Youmu is stronger in a sense, it’s the strength of an insane grip behind the weapon, not from a faster swing or more nimble hand. As such, it’s actually easier right now to see and parry her attacks than while she was still alive. She’s still fast, faster than you to the point where you require the reach of the lance to react in time, but there’s definitely a tinge of sluggishness to her attacks that didn’t use to be there.

In short, you’ve deduced that Yuyuko doesn’t know a damned thing about proper swordplay, and is augmenting and using her servant improperly as a result.

You’re still going to need magic to seal the deal, though, as you take that window of opportunity where she’s busy stopping her half-started strike to attack her in return. She’s not so fast that she can outpace your weapon in full swing, but she does manage to duck your slash at her neck. Her crouch aborts her circling step, so she tries to convert it to a stutter-step and begin sweeping in the opposite direction around you in the wake of your swing, thinking she has a safe window while the weapon’s momentum continues to carry it away from her.

Now that you’re cheating by assisting your grip on your weapon with direct control, you disprove her assumption by stopping your swing on a dime and zigzagging it diagonally back towards the junction of her neck and shoulder, that soft spot between her shoulder blade and collarbone.

There’s a surge of magic in front of you, and suddenly she simply rises with a spiraling upwards slash, now knocking the head of your weapon away with an immensely powerful blow, more powerful than the ones she’d been making before. That’s saying a lot, as those were assisted by gravity, and taking into account the weight of the nodachi, that assistance was contributing a significant proportion of momentum. The slash continues behind her, continuing to gather speed, before cutting back at you front of her again. You’ve enough time to regain control of your weapon and block with the bottom part of the haft, but that sends your feet skidding along the ground. You have to consciously lighten yourself so that your grip on the ground doesn’t cause you to lever downwards into the ground in a fall.

“I guess I’ll just have to make her stronger,” Yuyuko hisses with glee; a bit late, as you’ve already experienced the effects of said strengthening.

The concept of “building momentum” is supposed to be a merely psychological one; forcing your opponent to think of himself as more and more inferior until he simply fails to react properly, allowing you to either turn the tide or score a decisive blow, as the case may be. One can’t actually retain and add to the same physical momentum from one movement to another. And yet each swing that Youmu makes is stronger than the last, building momentum in that sense if not a psychological one; you’re experienced enough to think on your feet and change up your strategy in response to her suddenly preposterous strength.

Instead of blocking, you start deflecting and diverting the attacks instead, attacking the sides of her weapon in midswing as opposed to the edge. When that becomes too difficult as she gains speed, you begin to simply give ground and avoid her reach entirely, letting her chase you in circles as you use the time gained by the extra space to make the judgment call of whether to deflect where you still can or simply increase your speed to get completely clear. Using attacks to force her to defend is hardly a winning proposition; if she attacks your weapon, you’ll surely lose all control of it for long enough for her to follow up and take you down. Yuyuko seems amused by the proceedings, giggling to herself as you seemingly flee in disorganized terror from her champion.

You continue for as long as you dare; perhaps ten or so minutes pass like this. That may not sound like much, but when three potentially fatal attacks are being made each second, it seems like an eternity. And she only becomes faster and stronger as time passes, her body greedily sucking in all the Taint-darkened necromantic energies that Yuyuko is feeding it. You have to end it soon, or else that spirit-killing blade is going to hit you. Yet Youmu’s moving too fast to give you an opening…

… so you’ll just have to make one.

You make one of those counterattacks you can ill afford, a sudden thrust straight towards her sternum, changing your retreat into a desperate charge in a moment of quicksilver motion. It’s a breakneck, all-in attack for you, with all your weight and energy behind it, but all it will take is a backhand slash at a downright lazy speed for her to bat it aside then finish you off while you’re still off balance from committing. She can’t resist what essentially seems like your neck on a silver platter, and so she cuts across her body, her sword flying –

– straight through the spot where the blade melds into the haft of your weapon, whipping uselessly to the side as your own blade continues flying forward, the haft shedding metal until it turns into a newly-lethal bodkin and shifts course just a hair to aim straight at her heart. She turns the blade faster than you could ever hope to yourself, but you trap it behind a wall of force, leaving her tugging at the hilt as the blade seems to stick in the very air itself.

You don’t trust a single thrust of your lance to stop this monster of a fighter, though. The detached head turns into a full avalanche of blades that extends to your new spear, a thousand alternative possibilities that will all leave a permanent mark.

But no, you’re not done there. Blade-like wings of force spring from your forearms, but before any of the earlier three attacks can land, you push your mind even further, feeling time bend underneath your concentrated will in a moment of celerity. As your lightning quick attacks slow to a crawl in front of your eyes, you force out a second wings of flurry from your shoulders, using both attack spells to completely saturate the area around her with cuts to ensure that she can’t retreat and escape. Not that staying still will save her from the spells, as you’ve aimed them into the space she’s currently occupying as well, just to be sure.

After what potential you’ve seen from the strengthening Yuyuko has given her, you’re taking no chances. There is no kill like overkill.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

MOAR CLIFFHANGERS HUEHUEHUE

Update will continue this weekend.
>> No. 158327
>>158324

>I felt like this fight scene was way too much in “broad strokes”.

Yeah, towards the end it felt like that. If your goal was to make the duel take 10-15 minutes where a single moment can land victory, I don't see what else you could have done. Too much extrapolation probably would have cheapened both Sorcanon's and Youmu's abilities.

It was still a good update. Waiting warmly.
>> No. 158328
>>158327

Yeah, it was the whole 10-15 minutes thing; I couldn't hope to write every single attack and parry in a two minute match between normal humans, much less a battle between superpowered entities five times as long.

But thanks for the support! Writing now.

WATATATATATATATATATATATATATATATA
>> No. 158354
>MOAR CLIFFHANGERS HUEHUEHUE
Curse you for this. Waiting at whatever temperature I damn well feel like.

It occurs to me we might want to grab the Roukanken, it being evidently useful against Yuyuko's army, and possibly her herself. We can probably wrap a bit of shield around the hilt to help with leverage, grasping, and stuff, too. Then use the rest of the shield as a shield or additional weapon, as needed.

Hopefully we don't have to fight Youmu's spirit next.

I'm not going to get into what happens if Youmu's body survives this operational because if it does then we're pretty much fucked.
>> No. 158403
File 133939243623.jpg - (1.01MB , 848x1200 , Multiple Swords Youmu.jpg ) [iqdb]
158403
… how did things end up like this?

Your attacks hit, all of them. The doubled avalanche of blades made a mockery of the green-plated cuirass that Youmu wore, leaving dozens of stab wounds in her front side. The wings of flurry devastated her further, cutting gaping gashes into her limbs and torso until large hunks of flesh literally peel away, connected only by flaps of skin.

But it wasn’t enough. Despite the fact that the amount of force you used would have turned any normal human body into chunks an appropriate size for stew, Youmu’s body still stubbornly stands in front of you, the joints of her shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees, ankles all connected albeit shattered in many places and exposed to the open air, the surrounding muscle and tendons crushed to a pulp.

But being animated by magic means she needs none of that to act.

You’re in no position for a follow-up strike. The time-debt of celerity only allowed the most instinctive actions for those few vulnerable seconds after the spell’s effect, a window that Youmu took advantage of. Fortunately your body knows how to defend itself well, for your left hand shot forward to seize the guard of Youmu’s blade, barely stopping the incoming slash that you couldn’t consciously comprehend. The massive trauma you inflicted disrupted much of the necromantic energies strengthening her, so you’re barely able to hold her off for the moment as she attempts to finish the movement and shove the end of the Roukanken into your neck. You can feel your corporeal form crawl as the blade quivers bare millimeters away.

If you had your right hand, you could add that to your left, overpower her and finish this – but you don’t. It lays uselessly on the ground, neatly severed midway between the wrist and elbow, the haft of your lance still tightly gripped within it.

The offending weapon is currently sticking through your chest, and the offender standing right behind you.

Breathless sobs gasp out in a young girl’s voice even as the blade twists, beginning to saw further into your body. If you had actual body parts, both your heart and spine would be cut by now. If you had actual blood, you’d be gushing it from the two massive wounds. As it stands, you feel your strength and consciousness slipping rapidly away, spells slipping through your figurative fingertips.

So this is feeling is what Youmu was talking about, back when you were cooking the noodles for Ran. Even as you weaken, Yuyuko continues channel energy into Youmu’s body; in a few seconds, the scales of power will tip, and the Roukanken will taste – well, not blood, but you, at any rate.

Buy time. It’s what you came here to do, and the only hope you have of surviving now.

“Lady Yuyuko…” you choke out, forcing a toothy grin onto your face. The blade in your chest stops cutting; you take the opportunity to glance down, noting that it’s pure white. The Hakurouken, then; that would only make sense. “Whatever happened to honorable single combat?”

Yuyuko clicks her tongue. “Why, this is still indeed single combat. There’s Youmu’s body, and there’s her soul. It’s just an advantage that she has, an advantage that she used against you.”

So her soul remained here in Hakugyokurou, then. Interesting to note. “It doesn’t sound like she’s enjoying it very much,” you can’t help but jibe, listening to the obvious emotional distress. In between hiccups, you can hear her whisper things like I’m sorry and please forgive me over and over again, the sound of a shattered psyche.

The former-ghost princess lets out an angry harrumph, and the blade that cuts through confusion begins to renew its path through your torso. Perhaps antagonizing her like that wasn’t a good idea. “Her body is mine, and while she may disagree with my orders, as long as I have custody of that, her soul is mine too.”

Damn it; make her think – it seems that when Yuyuko’s doing that, Youmu’s soul is able to resist her master’s orders. “Well, then, why didn’t her soul go straight to Higan? That’s where they found me. I thought that she’d end up there too.”

Yuyuko giggles to herself; the blade stops once again. In fact, the flow of energy to Youmu’s physical body stops as well, essentially stopping the clock on your ultimate demise. “That’s a secret~”

“Well, then,” you say carefully, “at least tell me how she got behind me with that sword in a mere couple of seconds. Give me that privilege of knowing how I was defeated.”

“… ah, you were that much fun. I suppose it’s only fair,” she sighs dreamily. “Well, I just teleported the sword in behind you when I saw you committing like that. I was wondering if I would have to lure you in somehow, maybe have Youmu drop her sword or something, but you went all in by yourself!”

Fair enough – if you’d known that Yuyuko would exploit this duality earlier, things might not have ended up like this. “So, where does her soul come in? Or can you teleport souls too?”

“Oh, no, I can’t do that,” she dismisses, still laughing to herself – you can imagine her scoffing and flicking her hand in a wave from the wrist. “That doesn’t even make sense. Teleportation only affects physical objects, and Youmu’s soul is bound to the Hakurouken. That’s how.”

You suppress an inner leap of glee; she just revealed something about Youmu’s soul that she wouldn’t have earlier without even realizing it. It’s a perverse feeling to have at the moment, but you’re downright thankful that Taint addles the minds of those it’s affected. “So why isn’t it bound to her body?” Dig deeper; every second here is an extra second of thought, and if you can discover something key, so much the better.

Ran is setting up for something; you can feel her mucking about within your mind, sculpting what feels like a massive… cylinder, a container for something. It’s engraved with a single, unobtrusive but obvious message: use this. There’s that to stall for too.

“She’s dead, silly.”

“And her soul doesn’t go to Higan?”

“No, no, no! Have you been listening at all? I just said it wouldn’t go to Higan!” She huffs. “Have you wondered why Youmu doesn’t have any siblings, any cousins, any parents?”

“… yes, go on.” Just keep her talking.

“It’s a feature of her bloodline, if you can call it that. There’s only ever one child to one set of parents, and usually the other parent swiftly falls out of the picture; humans don’t live as long as half-phantoms. Well, that’s a rather big gamble on that one descendent, yes? So I worked with the magic, some, and put in a fail-safe, that if the one child should die before having her own offspring, the soul would be safely stored somewhere.”

“A phylactery of sorts,” you add helpfully.

“… I don’t know what that is, but regardless, that soul could mate with another human and then continue the family. After that, the soul could be released to Higan to go be sorted out as needed.”

A soul, ‘mating with a human’. Your mind boggles at the biology proposed, but you mentally shrug it off as planar oddities. “Wouldn’t the Yama have something to say about that? She took offense enough to my mere existence, and what you’ve done sounds far more intrusive.”

Yuyuko’s voice softens now, sounding almost tender, a sharp contrast from her earlier condescending lilt. “Maybe you don’t understand, Sai. You see – I love my servants.” She stresses that word, and for once it doesn’t sound demeaning or manipulative in some way, but sincere. “I wouldn’t want for their bloodline to end some incident while in my service; so yes, I worked this behind the Yama’s back. It’s worth it.”

You decide to make a leap of logical faith. “So, let me guess. The safekeeping place is the Hakurouken?” It’s the “family blade”, after all, and phylacteries tend to have personal significance, as opposed to being random pebbles or kitchen pots.

“Yes!” Yuyuko bubbles, tossing aside her earlier seriousness. “You win the golden prize!”

The imaginary golden prize, and your physical victory.

Youmu’s still conscious and thinking soul is obviously being controlled by something; that’s the thread of enchantment magic you detected earlier. Ravaging Youmu’s physical body with your Hope-infused weapon and magic didn’t break it…

… but why chop down the tree to pluck a single apple?

Your lance leaps up from the ground, turning into a cloud of tiny shards all around you. Yuyuko gasps in surprise that you still dare to resist, and instantly funnels a huge amount of energy into Youmu’s body; you’ve only fractions of a second left now. Those shards fly up and into the air, but instead of attacking either of the Youmus in a futile last strike, they suddenly contract onto you, congregating on the exposed parts of the Hakurouken before rapidly pushing through your wound to fully surround the blade, hilt and all, even underneath Youmu’s ghostly grip.

And you broach the keg that Ran’s shaped within your mind, funneling all the magical energy that fountains out into one of your favored spells, a dispelling arcane turmoil. Whereas you wouldn’t normally have the power to resist Yuyuko’s magic so directly, Ran’s committed a massive amount of power for your usage, and you make sure to use every single drop of it, sending it roiling through the sword that the quicksilver, part of your very soul, has surrounded.

… will it be fast enough? The massive disruption of magical energy causes Youmu’s soul to lose its physical form, turning her into so much white mist. “Kill him!” Yuyuko screams out, any earlier sympathy in her voice now completely replaced with bloodthirsty rage.

To be fair, the Hakurouken does move, as the order drives Youmu to recorporealize in the form of two hands on the blade. It doesn’t move in the direction that Yuyuko wanted it to, though. Instead of cutting through your chest to the side, it goes straight forward, moving through the already existing stab wound – straight into Youmu’s dominated body. There’s a figuratively blinding flare of dispelling magic, and then that body drops to the ground, all motive force purged from that stab from the Hakurouken, the blade that cuts through confusion.

You grunt as the white blade slips backwards and out of your body. No longer pinned in place, you sink to one knee, instinctively clutching at the chest wound while nursing your severed hand, more or less curling into a ball. Now free of foreign objects and the threat of being cut by the Roukanken, you can concentrate on reconstructing your physical form, at least cosmetically. Your shape, including the severed hand on the ground, loses all coherence for just a second just as Youmu’s soul’s had earlier, but when it reconstitutes, you’re whole once more, without any missing parts or gaping holes.

As you relax your concentration, though, you can feel your lower body, the skirt of your robe, pants, and boots all included, begin to congeal into an amorphous tail. Those injuries took a lot out of your strength, and while the shikigami bond is helping you heal, you’re not about to bounce back within seconds.

As you wiggle your newly reformed fingers, a hand falls onto your shoulder from behind. At the same time, a wave of dominating magic washes over both of you; Yuyuko isn’t about to let this happen without a fight. But you’re still protected by Ran’s shikigami contract as before, and your soul around Youmu’s acts as a shield, protecting it from Yuyuko’s influence. The hand on your shoulder tightens as the magic roils over the two of you, but relaxes once the attack passes. “Thank you,” Youmu says, her voice seemingly a whisper on the wind.

“… betrayed by the very person I try to protect,” Yuyuko murmurs, bringing your attention back to her. Now that you don’t have a homicidal swordswoman in front of you, you can take the time to look up into the sky and pick out the princess’s form amongst the skeletal spirits. “It’s the same… all the same… as before… no one ever thanks me for what I do for them…”

On that enigmatic note, she withdraws, disappearing within the swarm. Unbelievably, the swarm grows smaller, pulling back with her. You’ve bought yourself some time, it seems.

See to Youmu, Ran quietly reminds you. Her mental “voice” sounds almost tired; that bolus of energy she gave you must have taken a lot out of her. Verify her condition. See if she’s… alright.

As if the term “alright” could apply to someone so brutally killed and dominated… whatever the exact specifics were behind the soul-preservation and manifested soul shenanigans. Ran’s request is exactly what you were planning to do anyways, but you bite back any defiant comments. “Youmu?” Your voice comes out in a groan as you look to your side, following the half-phantom girl – can she still be considered that, with her physical body laying dead on the ground in front of her? – as she walks out from behind you to your side, her own gaze still locked on the spot where Yuyuko melted into her minions.

“I am able to fight at full capability,” she says, not directly answering the question you were trying to imply. Again, you note that her voice is… otherworldly. Her hair falls unnaturally straight, not a single hair out of place, and the blemish that used to be underneath her left eye is now nothing but smooth skin. Such perfection reminds you that this is a manifestation of her soul and not her actual physical body, although there’s a much more solid reminder of that fact in the form of a corpse on the ground.

“How are you feeling?” you ask, more directly this time.

“… dying was unpleasant,” she admits. Her form lacks the armor of her (former?) physical body, dressed in her normal everyday green vest and skirt; the outfit most familiar and comfortable to her. “And I did not anticipate what happened afterwards… nor your most fortuitous rescue.” She stares down at the quicksilver-coated blade in her hand for a second, then suddenly falls to one knee in front of you, bowing her head. “Lord Kawarou, please accept my service, and grant me this blade – “

“ – granted, given, honored, whatever,” you dismiss her with a wave of your hand, surprising her. As she stares up, eyes wide with surprise, you explain. “That metal around that sword is protecting you from Yuyuko’s control, if you hadn’t noticed.”

She apparently hadn’t, as she stares down at the sword in her hand with a new respect. “Will it – “

Again, you cut her off. “ – I can detach it from myself, so you can keep it for now. You wield it far more effectively than me, anyways… especially when I’m still recovering from that fight. But about your other sword – “

Now she cuts you off. “ – I would prefer not to wield it in this situation,” she admits, again bowing her head low.

“Is that because of its ‘spirit-killing’ properties?”

“You must have felt it,” she says, confirming your guess. “I did, and I was not the one threatened by it. That blade will do something horrible to whatever spirit, you, me, any of those that Lady Yuyuko – “ At the mention of her now-corrupted master, she swallows hard, as if repressing a thought. “ – has taken control of, it cuts. I do not even know if there is a way to reverse the damage it will do.”

You pause for a second, thinking. On one hand, that makes it an extremely useful weapon. You haven’t tried your Hope-infused magic against any of Yuyuko’s spirits yet, and at this rate, with still no help from Jizo arriving, you’ll have to clash with the corrupted princess again when she stops sulking and decides to try and destroy you again; you doubt your mind-game will work a second time, especially since Yuyuko now lacks a champion to send out anyways. The Roukanken will cleave through them, no questions asked. And yet Youmu is hestitating, while Ran is suspiciously silent on the issue despite a mental solicitation. You kneel down, prying the blade from the corpse’s fingers, and…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

CHOOSE YOUR APPLICATION OF SPIRIT KILLING WEAPONRY

[ ] … hand it to Youmu. You may have dismissed her offer of ‘service’ offhand, but you’ll insist that she wields it for the coming battle.

[ ] … keep it with you. The Hakurouken, now reinforced with a piece of your own Hope-infused soul, will have to suffice.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Next update will be in a third thread. Progress marches on!
>> No. 158404
[x] … keep it with you. The Hakurouken, now reinforced with a piece of your own Hope-infused soul, will have to suffice.

I'm not sure if Youmu could really muster her best against Yuyuko and I sense if it's in Sai's hands, the likely hood of a happier ending increases.

Though if what Yuyuko said was true, there may be some accounting to hold her too as well.
>> No. 158407
[X] Keep it with you.

If she prefers to not wield it, let's not force her. Just keep it around so the option exists if it turns out to be necessary.
>> No. 158408
[x] … keep it with you. The Hakurouken, now reinforced with a piece of your own Hope-infused soul, will have to suffice.

No point trying to force her to do something that gives her the willies. Besides, having Roukanken on hand ourselves could prove useful.

Incidentally, how long until our Hope supply grows enough to start passing it around?
>> No. 158413
[x] … keep it with you. The Hakurouken, now reinforced with a piece of your own Hope-infused soul, will have to suffice.

>now reinforced with a piece of your own Hope-infused soul
I cannot help but think this bit will be important somehow.
>> No. 158415
>>158413

I'll just straight up explain this further, because I was tired and probably should have done this in the update text but failed misterably:

Recall that quicksilver bracer is literally part of your soul. Your soul has been infused with the substance known as Hope. By covering the Hakurouken with it, you have turned it into a weapon that can effectively combat Taint. Additionally, the quicksilver coating will protect the Hakurouken, and by extension soul-Youmu, from attack both magical and physical (although as a sword, the Hakurouken was already basically invincible to the latter, the reinforcement adding little to that trait).

You are able to "detach" the quicksilver from the rest of you so that it is no longer tethered by distance (automatically moving to attempt to link up with your main "body" or corporealized form), but you will obviously lose active usage of it in that mode.

For now, you plan on keeping the Hakurouken protected so that Youmu is not at risk and is able to contribute to the coming clash of arms; there is no vote to take the protection off because That's Retarded, proper noun. The vote here is whether or not you'll insist that Youmu pick up the spirit-killing Roukanken to use in addition to the Hakurouken.
>> No. 158417
[x] … keep it with you. The Hakurouken, now reinforced with a piece of your own Hope-infused soul, will have to suffice.

Fine, but we damn well better toss it to her the moment we notice she's in trouble.
>> No. 158418
>>158417

... which is "it", the Roukanken or the Hakurouken? The arrangement of the sentences and objects is unfortunately vague in this case.

Youmu is already holding onto the latter, for the record. The vote you've selected is for you to hold onto the Roukanken.

(Maybe there should have been a vote choice for Youmu to hold onto the Roukanken but not use it, but I pre-vetoed it in my head saying that Youmu wouldn't even want to carry it if at all possible. Again... probably should have put more words down into the update.)
>> No. 158419
>>158415
>The vote here is whether or not you'll insist that Youmu pick up the spirit-killing Roukanken to use in addition to the Hakurouken.

I thought that much was obvious. By saying I thought it might be important later I meant beyond the immediately obvious protection it extends to Youmu. The explanation is, however, still appreciated.
>> No. 158423
[x] … keep it with you. The Hakurouken, now reinforced with a piece of your own Hope-infused soul, will have to suffice.

Perhaps we can utilise the ability of Roukanken ,kill ten spirits in a single stroke, in conjunction with the steel wind or avalanche of blades technique? (Hit multiple targets simultaneously.)
>> No. 158425
>>158418

The Roukanken. Wouldn't make much sense otherwise.

By the way, I'm curious. Were there always two Youmus, or did you add that after reading the speculation?
>> No. 158426
>>158425

I was planning on exploring the duality of Youmu at some point during this scene/chapter/section/arc; that's why I had Youmu get herself killed without any chance of Anon stopping her. The whole Hakurouken = phylactery theory has been prepared for a while now.

However, it was a few people mentioning their fears of getting backstabbed by her with the Hakurouken that tickled my fancy. I couldn't resist; it also served as a good way to explore some of what it means to be injured as a manifested soul (not quite ghost or phantom). Interpret this series of events as you will.
>> No. 158427
[x] … keep it with you. The Hakurouken, now reinforced with a piece of your own Hope-infused soul, will have to suffice.

Giving the Hakurouken to her probably wouldn't be all that helpful, unless you can actually separate the quicksilver bracer into two halves, one for each blade. Given that, if we keep the Hakurouken, we can bolster it with our own Hope-infused soul rather than relying upon our bracer to do so, it would be more efficient and logical to keep one blade for ourself, and has the pleasant side-benefit of allowing Youmu to do as she wishes.

I do request clarification on the point of splitting the bracer, though. If we could coat both swords with it, it might be enough to cause some reconsideration, as otherwise I don't see much point in forcing it on her.
>> No. 158432
I just realized that Yukari is really going to be pissed when she wakes up. We'll need to figure a way to prevent her from going Nuke-It-From-Orbit-It's-The-Only-Way-To-Be-Sure" on us.

Sage for not voting.
>> No. 158434
>>158432
Have you factored in the possibility of Yuyuko being killed by the end of this? I shudder to think what Yukari's reaction would end up being to losing what is, supposedly, her oldest and best of friends.
>> No. 158435
>>158434
even in the best case scenario, Sai's going to be in unavoidable shit. Let's see, familiar theft, bringing in a bunch of people who may disrupt the balance and taint outbreaks.
>> No. 158442
>>158435
I recall we also blew the Saigyou Ayakashi into toothpicks, not sure if that's a bad or a good thing yet.
>> No. 158444
>>158427

... I think you misinterpreted something. From what I'm reading, you want Sai to be the one swinging around the Hakurouken, which was not what I was trying to say.

Youmu is wielding the Hakurouken. The Hakurouken is coated with Sai's bracer. These two facts are immutable.

The question is who will be carrying the Roukanken.

For clarification, it's not Sai's mere physical presence that will reinforce the Hakurouken, but the quicksilver coating.

Furhter clarification/exposition: Sai's bracer cannot be divided into two and detached. Detaching the quicksilver from himself is only possible if that quicksilver stays together as a single entity. If Sai were to be duel-wielding two weapons (instead of just making two weapons out of quicksilver from scratch for some reason), he could cover both in quicksilver since all of it remains near him. He can also cover one object and detach it, so long as that coating remains intact. However, he cannot coat two objects, say the Roukanken and Hakurouken, and detach it so that Youmu could have her cake and eat it too.

Coating the Roukanken would not affect its primary trait of being extremely harmful (in an unknown way) to spirits, regardless, so doing that (coating the Roukanken) wouldn't even be particularly useful in this case.

>Have you factored in the possibility of Yuyuko being killed by the end of this? I shudder to think what Yukari's reaction would end up being to losing what is, supposedly, her oldest and best of friends.

Yuyuko's prior state was "ghost princess"; ghost, as in, already dead. Killing her here would ironically restore the status quo, not change it for the worse, although as Yuyuko herself has said that would mean having to go through Higan again. And seeing how Shikieiki was the one who appointed Yuyuko to rule over Hakugyokurou in the first place...

Best of all, Sai knows all of this. Killing Yuyuko is actually a pretty good idea, truth be told; it's the method of execution that's the hard part.

>I recall we also blew the Saigyou Ayakashi into toothpicks, not sure if that's a bad or a good thing yet.

And That's Terrible.
>> No. 158446
>>158444
Ah, my mistake. I mixed up the two names, even though I knew that Youmu would be immutably carrying one of the blades which would be coated with quicksilver. My only question was whether or not she would be able to wield both blades coated with quicksilver, which you have just clarified. My confusion was the result of a name mix-up rather than any actual confusion regarding the scenario.
>> No. 158451
>>158444
>Yuyuko's prior state was [...]
I was talking about the possibility, however slight, of it being more of a death where she goes poof or something. If finding a possible way to kill her is the problem I'm a bit less worried than I was before. It was primarily due to the previous "SOMEONE DIES TONIGHT" comment that had me thinking about it since Youmu had already been killed at that point.
>> No. 158453
[x] … keep it with you. The Hakurouken, now reinforced with a piece of your own Hope-infused soul, will have to suffice.

It's odd that the Roukanken became 'berserk' (as in, Sai is absolutely terrified of it), I thought it was because the taint influence plus the killing intent of the wielder, since in the sparring sessions Youmu kept it under control.
Anyway, Jizo'll be in deep trouble for accidentally the whole Hakugyokurou.
>> No. 158454
>Killing Yuyuko is actually a pretty good idea, truth be told; it's the method of execution that's the hard part.
I see what you did there.

[x] … keep it with you. The Hakurouken, now reinforced with a piece of your own Hope-infused soul, will have to suffice.
>> No. 158457
[x] … keep it with you. The Hakurouken, now reinforced with a piece of your own Hope-infused soul, will have to suffice.

>>158453

Yeah, and it won't go well for Sai either because they're kind of the same person.
>> No. 158523
File 133972604465.jpg - (146.27KB , 850x1201 , Youmu Sword.jpg ) [iqdb]
158523
Votes called. Pic related. Writing now. Please wait warmly~
>> No. 158615
Archival purposes:

Thread 1: >>153744
Thread 3: >>158584