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[-b+1-] Ask Rika if she's willing to follow you to the bitter end. This may be the last opportunity for her to back out.
[-b+1-] If she refuses, try to make arrangements for her to escape, but remind her that the base is practically occupied by the enemy. If she insists, let her go her own separate way.
"…Wait just one moment." You let go of the girl and glance back at Rika. The girl doesn't even see you as she stares at her friend's bloodied face. "I need to ask someone something." Worries of Marisa doing something once your back is turned creep into your head, but she doesn't move an inch once you release her.
Seeing that she doesn't notice you, not that you could ever blame her, you have to clear your throat and speak loudly. "Rika. Look at me." The girls shaking eyes never deviate from Marisa, and you have to raise the volume once more. "Rika. Snap out of it. Look at me. Not Marisa. Me."
"B-b-but… Look at her! She's horrible! What is going on with her! We have to do something. Oh dear, Oh dear oh dear oh dear…"
"Focus, Rika! We can't do anything for her if you have a panic attack." The girl starts to hyperventilate as she keeps on glancing between you and Marisa. "Please, Rika. Be strong. You said no to your sister, didn't you? You stayed up here. Be strong again, please." There's not much you can do, but you try to sidle between her and Marisa, making sure she can't see it. She'll never forget it, but if you can get her to focus…
It takes a minute for the girl to calm down enough to just stare at you instead of letting her eyes dart around to and fro the entire time. The magic is certainly distracting her, but it's not enough to make her mind crack as much as her friend being possessed by… by something. "What… Lucas… What's going on with her? Do you know? Can you help her?"
"I hope I can, Rika, but now is not the time. The first thing we need to do is get out of here. And that will probably mean going to Gensokyo. Before that happens, I need to ask you something. Are you willing to follow me through to the other side? Are you prepared for what's on that other side?"
"Am I… What are you asking me, Lucas?" She gulps visibly and stares back down at you. You can tell that she's still shaking, and it's killing you just to watch and not be able to do anything about it. "I'm… We're just gonna get out of here, right? Just go over and find your friends and come back."
An explosion rocks the earth beneath your feet, and you know that there's not much time before something wicked manages to find you. "You know there's more to it, Rika. We're going to the place Rikako managed to lose her mind to a Youkai. We're going somewhere that I barely survived. There were… were better people that did not make it." Your eyes flit to the ground for a second, but there's no time to dwell in memories for now. "If we go, there's no guarantee that we're coming back. If we're lucky, we'll die. If we're unlucky… You will end off worse that Rikako ever could have been."
The girl stares back at you, bewildered and more than a little frightened. Her mouth opens and closes as she tries to understand all that you're saying. "Lucas… Why are you asking me this now? You didn't ask before…"
"I'm going to make sure that you realize just what we're walking into, Rika. We may all die, or worse. I don't want you to go there without realizing there may be another chance. I'll do my best to keep you safe, but there are things out there stronger than all of us." You chance another glance at Marisa, and she is still staring vacantly at a nearby wall, still having not moved an inch. "Even those among us that should be better at resisting this. How in the world did this happen…"
"Are we all going to die, Lucas? I thought we were safe here. I thought we were winning."
"I can't tell you for sure, Rika." You try to smile for her, but you know that it's a halfhearted effort, and she is as aware of it as you. "There's a good chance that we're going to the bitter end. There may not be a way back out. And if we find a way out, the price of exit may be too great for us to pay."
The girl nods and looks down, clenching her eyes and balling up her fists. "Rikako should have left by now. I told her to go on. I could do my job up here…" She looks up again, and every tear seems to rend your heart a little bit more. "I thought… I thought I could help."
"It all comes down to that, doesn't it?" You look up at the young girl, wishing that she didn't have to experience it. "You helped us, Rika. Don't question that. But I am not going to make you come with me. If you want to go… I'll try to do something to distract, if you ask me to. If you just want to run and take your chances, go ahead. It's your decision right now."
Rika sniffs again and wipes off a tear before looking around at the room. Her eyes linger on the golden marks for a few seconds. "I'm useless… I know. But… I trusted you earlier, Lucas. And I'll do it now. You'll keep me safe, won't you?" She attempts her own cheerful smile, but it works only a little better than your attempt. "Besides, you saved Rikako. We owe you."
"You don't owe me anything, Rika. You know that."
The girl just nods a bit more before sitting upright in her seat. "I do. You brought her back to me. Who knows what would have happened if she was still…" She immediately shakes her head. "I can't worry about that. We need to go. Now. Before the robot finds us."
"Or something worse." At that, you turn around and look at Marisa. "I think we're ready to go. Take us to… What am I saying? Just go. Nothing I say will matter."
Marisa stares at you once with those golden eyes of hers and says nothing at all. Seconds tick by as your eyes remain locked together, and you can't look away. That fear creeps into your stomach once more as you hope you didn't make a mistake and send yourself, and Rika, to your doom.
"Lucas… What about Reimu?"
Sunlight shines down on your head, and you turn to look back at Rika. "She'll be fine. That I'm sure of." The sky above you is that same eerily pale blue that you remember, and the air is stale. Even underground, the air moved a little. Now, though, you almost feel like you're suffocating. "…So, we did end up here in the end."
"So, this is that place." Rika looks around for a second, a little dazed from going from a dark cave to bright open space. "It's… Almost pretty? That mountain is huge!" She gawks for a bit longer before snapping her head back towards you. "Marisa! Lucas, we need to help her!"
You look back at the witch and see that she is falling over backwards. Your bones ache as you reach forward to catch her, but you're still fast enough to prevent her from falling over. Her eyes are already shut and she's breathing heavily, as if she's run a marathon in the few seconds you had looked away. "Please tell me she just woke up and she's not having a panic attack as well."
Nobody answers you, and you instead take the chance to lay the girl gently on the grassy land. While you watch Marisa for any sudden movements, as there's no telling what could happen now, you hear a pair of boots hit the ground over the sound of a river lapping gently against muddy banks. You see a flash of white, and Rika is leaning over on the other side of Marisa and staring at her. "Please be ok… Please be…" She slips a hand down into Marisa's own and squeezes tightly, unable to do anything else right now.
Just as you're debating doing the same as you did with Rikako, Marisa's eyes shoot open and she sits up immediately, panting heavily and looking around wildly. "Where am I? What's going on? The last thing… What did I remember? I was…" Even as she talks, she's patting down her sides, reaching automatically for her pocket on the right side of her dress.
You don't want to do it, but you don't need a panicked Marisa firing lasers. Hoping that she doesn't remember she can simply order you, you grab her wrist with her wooden hand. "Marisa, calm down. Rika and I are here. As for the where… You sent us to Gensokyo."
"I did? I mean, I don't know how." She blinks and her hands immediately go to her head. "My God, what is wrong with my head? I shouldn't know… Why is this in my head? Get it out, oh please get it out…"
"That wasn't… That wasn't an order, was it?" Your hands immediately let go as you angle your claws to her head, but you stop yourself the moment it happens. "Marisa, call me off. Just tell me to stop before you hurt one of us, or yourself."
Rika looks over and notices what's happening, and she immediately puts her face in front of Marisa. "Marisa, it's me, right? It'll be ok. We're here… We can keep each other calm."
The witch certainly doesn't seem to know what to do as well, but her eyes do latch onto the familiar face. "Right. Just… Remember too much." She snorts and reaches forward and hugs Rika close, ignoring the blood on herself and the char on her friend. "Stop, Lucas. I'll… I'll manage. I'll just have to remember not to read strange books so much."
"That one should have been obvious. …But at least you're fine and we're here." Sighing, you shake your head and stand up, looking up towards the sky, and eventually to the nearby mountain. The two girls hold onto each other for a few seconds, and you leave them be. Simply being safe for a few seconds will help them more than anything you can tell them.
After all, you can wait to tell her what happened in the base until afterwards. You don't want to recant those accounts anytime soon. Eventually, you hear the flap of fabric and look down. Curiously enough, the two haven't moved, and both are actually crying, each for their own reasons.
You don't think you have enough energy to do that. You've been up for an extremely long time, you've been running for most of the time, and you're injured too much to do any good. At least there will be time enough for shelter. You hear another flap of fabric. The girls don't even move.
Nothing else is in your immediate vicinity, and you look around once more, trying to find the source of the sound. Marisa wipes the blood off her face as you ooh around, and you hear that same leathery flap again. "…Are you two making any noise?"
"No, we aren't." Rika looks back at you. "What's wrong? I haven't heard anything."
"…You wouldn't." A blur coincides with a flap, and your eyes dart about, trying to find the source. Soon enough, the next flap comes, and then another. On the mountaintop, you see another blur of movement, followed quickly by a second. A fourth. A fifth. A tenth. A twentieth. A hundredth.
Weary muscles tense as you see a multitude of creatures rise from the mountaintop and take wing in the utterly still air of this horrid land.
>>178933 What are we supposed to do against hundreds of youkai, with or without the tank?
Lucas is exhausted, Marisa is still recovering from the brain-fry, and Rika isn't doing much better than them either.
I don't know if it's the right decision, but we're back in gensokyo, hope is not something I'd depend on. I might be over thinking it, but the way luminous phrased the run option gives me pause. Besides, even if we do run we need to be careful not to panic.
However, remember, luminous didn't add a write in option, generally that means this is a choice you can't try to find a middle ground without getting in trouble.
>>178957 I try to learn my lessons. I don't mind the third option if it's well thought out and make sense, even if it fails, sometimes you have to try. I can't think of anything that would be worth the risk though, and no one else has either, so just got to go with what we can.
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[-c+1-] Stand and fight.
"…Time to get up, girls. We need to move." You immediately try to think of what you can do against this veritable wave of creatures that are incoming. "Rika, get back in the tank now. I don't want to risk you being out of it when we take these down."
"What…" The girl turns back around, tossing one of her pigtails out of her eyes in the process, and looks up at the sky. It takes her a moment to realize just what and how many are flying towards the group. "Alright. That isn't good…" Rika blinks and tilts her head. "What are those things? They aren't birds, I don't think…"
That isn't important right now, and your hope that a glance and a few words are all that you need to say in response. "Just get in, Rika. We'll figure it out later."
Rika just nods and scrambles for her battered vehicle, and you use the opportunity to kneel next to Marisa. "So, are you feeling decent, now? I don't expect any miracles, Marisa, but we're going to need your help."
"Just… I feel fine, relatively. Although my head is killing me." Marisa groans and slowly stands up as she continues to wipe the as of now nonexistent blood off of her face. "Figures. Although I'm not sure what, if anything, happened to me. If I'm not able to cast magic, or if it's messed up…"
"We'll figure it out later, Marisa. Now isn't time for you to be beset with those worries." You reach over and steady her once she manages to get back to her feet. "We're going to need that magic of yours if we even want to have a chance out here, you know? If nothing works, I'll do my best to protect you. But as injured as I am, and with this broken wing…"
The witch blinks and takes a better look at you. "Wait, your wing is broken? Dammit, I didn't even…" She reaches out automatically and nearly touches the shattered appendage, but she stops herself halfway. She stares at it for a moment longer before her lips thin. "You'll have to tell me later. Let's do this." With that said, Marisa looks back at the incoming cloud and reaches into her pocket.
The flapping of the creatures is loud enough that anyone can hear it now, and when you look back you see what Rika had mentioned about them looking weird. The wings look the same as a bat's might, but the bodies are too large and round for anything normal. You have no idea what they are, but you steel yourself as you stretch out your claws.
Rika has managed to situate herself in her mechanized creation, and the metal squeals as it slowly stomps and turns around. The guns angle skyward, and a few seconds later you hear the boom of the cannon as it blasts against the sky. A few of the creatures are knocked down, but they're still too far away for her to hit with every shot.
Sweat drips down the back of your neck as you wait for them to get near enough to do anything. The flying creatures draw nearer and nearer, and you finally notice that the middle of their body consists almost entirely of one single large eye. Their anatomy is extremely disturbing, but you can't give it any heed as brace yourself for the onslaught.
Eventually they reach the immediate vicinity above the group and let out an ungodly screech before dive-bombing straight at the three of you. Rika backs up away from the creatures in free fall while trying to raise her weapons high enough to hit them. The beast in yourself demands that you return their cry with one of your own, but cooler voices prevail and you stay coiled, waiting for them to enter striking distance.
Any of your worries about Marisa's capabilities are ended when that familiar beam of light appears and lances through a baker's dozen of the approaching eyeballs, roasting them alive in the process. You hear her cackle loudly as she succeeds in casting her spell, but you can't bother to look toward her and keep track of what is going on. Claws are striking at the nearest targets as they flit about, and you try to grab at their wings with the other arms.
With every strike, you come tantalizingly close of rendering the eyeballs flightless, but they are slippery and much too swift for you to find easy purchase in their soft, leathery skin. A few of the creatures go down to your claws, but too many escape and continue to circle you.
After a few seconds of attack, though, they begin to circle away from you, not getting close enough to easily be caught in your claws. A growl manages to slip your lips as you look from laughing eye to laughing eye, trying to figure out why they are pulling back.
Another laser zaps a few of the ones flying in front of you, and after glancing at Marisa you notice that the eyeballs are fleeing her as well. Well, they're not running from you, but they are flying away from Marisa with great alcracity.
"Wait a second." You look over to Rika, and your eyes widen as you see the sheer amount that are swarming her tank. Her cannons continue to blast as it stumbles backwards, but it's not good. She cannot move fast enough to get away from the creatures, and they are swarming around every inch of the machine, throwing their bodies against the dangerous metal.
Your feet carry you towards her before you even think, and you manage to idly swipe away a few of the creatures as you run towards Rika. Seconds become minutes as you run towards her, and every step seems to be shorter, and you can't reach her soon enough.
Before you can get close enough to reach her, the metal on the side that was pitted by the robot's shots give way, and the eyeballs screech and surge in.
A yell leaves your mouth as you try and get nearer and nearer, desperately wanting to get to Rika before something terrible happens. Marisa also seems to realize what has happened, as another beam of light blasts towards the opening in an effort to scare the things off.
Rika's scream is the only response that you can hear over the din of cackling creatures. With another roar, you jump into the cavity that had been carved out, ignoring the vivid pain of that hated metal. Five of the things are still locked inside, trying to bite and ram into the young girl. Rika's doing her best to shield herself with her arms, but you already can see spots where blood is flowing.
The eyeballs don't live long enough to enjoy their meal. There is nowhere to dodge inside cockpit, and with a rage the likes of which you rarely have felt, you smash the creatures to pulp like so many small doll heads. Their blood cascades over both of you, coating your clothes in the fetid stench.
There's nothing to be done about that, though. You ignore the creatures behind you and quickly check to make sure that she isn't injured too grievously. Most of the wounds are on her arms and legs; only one spot on her torso was injured. Propriety goes out the window as you pressed a cloth torn from your shirt on her chest wound. You don't want her to bleed out. Not now. You promised you'd keep her safe. You're going to keep her alive.
Outside, Marisa has grown tired of trying to shoot the eyeballs out of the air one at a time. Out of the corner of your eye, you notice as she holds her furnace above her head, but that's all you notice as your vision goes white.
You don't know how long until you are able to see next, as you're too busy holding a whimpering girl as you keep the pressure on it. One good thing that you can tell is that your cloth isn't getting too bloody. Hopefully she was lucky. Nobody's had any of that mystical commodity recently.
Rika manages a weak gasp, and you turn to look out the windscreen with her. You find that you are quite inclined to mimic her reaction, as Marisa is doing something that you hadn't thought possible. The flames of her miniature furnace are shoot out, and each one begins to curl and twist as it rises into the air. They quickly grow as they circle around each other like a snake, becoming an ever-expanding ball of fire.
The witch's other hand stretches out, and as her fingers coil in cruel form, the very ground begins to shake. Dust rises, and begins to spin around her. The utterly still air is whipped up into a frenzy as a nebula of fine silt is stirred up about her.
The veritable sun continues to grow as the shoals of dust mushroom and begin to coalesce into larger, more defined objects. Rocks tumble through the air at supersonic speed, each one aiming straight for the evil eyes that are attacking you.
The creatures begin to shriek and fly away as their comrades start falling one by one to the boulders that are tumbling through the sky. The ones that remained closer to the tank are unable to escape, while those that had being loitering nearby evade her initial wrath.
For those that were too far for her to attack with the rocks, Marisa lowers her hakerro and targets the few that remain. The screeches of the vultures are high and shrill as they flee the witch. The large fire manages to set the very ground ablaze where Marisa has lowered it, but she doesn't give it a second glance as she releases the torrent of flames.
However, now you turn your attention towards Rika and your own pain, and let Marisa handle anything else for now. With a few quick strokes you slice off the straps that are holding the girl in place and pull her out. You know you need to get away now, and without Rika to pilot the machine it's just a piece of garbage. You are running on adrenaline right now, but there's only so much you can do until you burn out.
There's enough time to grab the small bag that's tucked behind her head, along with a picture that has been tucked against the windshield. You doubt you'll be coming back here anytime soon… And you want to do something for her.
With that done, you cradle her in your arms and try to work your way out, doing your best not to catch your wings on the spurs of iron that are sticking askew of the tank. Now that you are outside, you can smell burnt feathers, but for the moment you can't feel the pain. That much you can be thankful for as you cradle Rika in your arms and hop down, heading towards Marisa.
A grin had been on her face as she stares wistfully at her hakerro, but it vanishes the moment she notices you. "How is she? How badly is she hurt?"
"She's been bitten a few times, and she has a wound on her chest, but she should be fine." You wait a second for Rika to say something, but she doesn't respond. "Rika? Talk to us. Don't just fall asleep…"
"I'm not. Just… hurts. Hurts…" Rika grimaces as she peeks open an eye. "I'm… I'm sorry for being…"
"Don't say anything else. It's not your fault." You look up at Marisa try to say something. Instead, you find yourself grasping at the tip of your tongue for anything else meaningful. Something to say it will be better.
Instead, you say what is obvious. "We need to get somewhere safe. I'm going to run out of energy soon, that much I can tell you. And we need to get somewhere where Rika can heal up. …I don't suppose you can use those earthmoving powers for any good?"
"We'll see what we can find. First, though, let's go." With that, Marisa turns and heads through the forest, with you right on her heels. The entire time you keep looking down at the poor girl, wishing you could do more for her. Someone that you were supposed to protect was harmed… And the beast roars for blood.
If we take the PoV of a character we particularly like (assuming this is what Luminous is going to do), I believe that our time would be best spent with being either Flandre, Sakuya, or Patchouli. The others may do interesting things or even know something that would assist us in our mission, but I doubt that given the fact they have been put in what amounts to solitary confinement and have virtually no interactive opportunities with anybody else aside from Patchouli.
Being Patchouli might serve our purposes twofold in that she should reveal what happened/would happen to Lucas' friends (and unborn child). As a long term guest to the SDM, she could have found out several important pieces of information about Sakuya, but did not reveal them to Meiling out of pragmatism and a disinclination to 'help a doomed person'.
Sakuya obviously is a no-brainer. The main problems that I foresee is that she either completely equivocates our purpose and intentionally reveals as little as possible (if she's Reimu's master, as I suspect), or that she does a series of bizarre things that make little sense with foresight.
Flandre might seem to be an unusual choice, but
we have to consider the fact that out of all of the other characters in the SDM so far, she is the only one who gave us via Meiling a legitimate hint as to what is preoccupying Sakuya. I sincerely doubt that this was because she accidentally overheard Sakuya talking about her plans, and believe this is because of her curse 'telling' her information that she wasn't supposed to know. There's a slight chance that we'll learn more about the plots and dangers surrounding the SDM, but we must remember that she is insane, and that we might encounter the same problem as with Sakuya in that she doesn't reveal or do anything worthwhile for our immediate mission of rescuing those whom we hold value in.
My vote's just a placeholder, since I admit that this may not even be a PoV switch, and that my guesses may be wildly off. If anybody comes up with a more coherent reason as to why we should choose a certain character from the given choices, then I'm sure several of us would do so in the name of resolving this story line favorably. Otherwise, all we can do is pile votes on a character whom multiple people would favor for varying reasons, and hope for the best.
Also, is it just a coincidence that if you turn 'F' in Flandre into an E and then take the first letter from Remilia's name to Subject 19-D's, you get the word 'retard'? I'm just going to assume that this is a freak accident...
>>179022 I truly can't say too much, but if you vote for it, Flandre will be involved.
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This may be in the middle of a vote, but I felt like going over what happened. Some might find some tidbits interesting.
Akyuu - Human Mage - Died with her back to the enemy - Below Expectations
Felia - Human Mage - Survived and escaped attack - Expected
Harmon - Human Norm - Survived and escaped attack; not knocked out by Lucas - Exceeded Expectations
Ilia - Human Norm - Survived and escaped attack - Expected
Layla - Human Mage - Survived and escaped attack - Expected
Layla's Kidnapper - ??? - Is blonde and has a straw hat - Expected
Marisa - Human Mage - Survived but mind screwed during attack - Below Expectations
Mystia? - Ghost - Not encountered after cutoff - Exceeded Expectations
Reimu - Changeling - Survived and escaped attack - Expected
Reimu's Master - Youkai - Directly revealed to Lucas - Exceeded Expectations
Rika - Human Mage - Moderately injured by Evil Eye Infestation - Below Expectations
Rikako - Changeling - Revived with full powers; survived and escaped attack - Exceeded Expectations
Tolia - Human Norm - Survived and escaped attack - Expected
VIVIT-r - Mechanoid - Moderately Annoyed - Expected
Frankly, I never expected you to try and save Rikako. I honestly thought you'd dither a little too much or decide it's not worth the risk, or go off after Mystia, much less other trees that were avoided. As for Mystia, f it was the first thing you did, it would have been safe to go after her. If you waited too long, though, you wouldn't have been present during the battle.
Also, if Rikako had been left alone, she would have been captured during the battle. Later on, Rika would have to fight her own sister who would be brainwashed and turned into a weapon on behalf of their enemies. Good job on avoiding that. (Death would have been preferable, I believe)
Just be careful with Rika in the future. Her affection shot up too much, too fast. She wasn't going to think clearly with Lucas being Mr. Handsome Hero in her eyes. Of course, depending on how you want this all to end, such devotion can be taken advantage of.
As for the remaining Prismrivers…
Harold - Confirmed Dead
Lunasa - MIA
Lyrica - MIA
Merlin - MIA
You won't be seeing any of them anytime soon. Gratuitous blah blah.
If we look at this from an optimistic standpoint, one could say we did rather favorably, since of the three people we've managed to directly/indirectly score a 'below expectations', only one of them could have been easily averted with a decent amount of foresight. Of course, I'm talking about Marisa, and even then, I can hardly say that I'm not at fault I was the person who suggested that Kaguya might be able to help without considering that she might've run off already. For the other two, let's just say that in hindsight, there was little we could do to prevent those outcomes.
I find that some results in the 'exceed expectations' category doesn't exactly match up to what I understand has been happening though. First and foremost, I would greatly appreciate it if somebody would explain the 'Reimu's Master' one in particular, since I'm still unsure whether or not it's Yukari or somebody else who can use borders.
As for the other two, I can surmise that Lucas was not supposed to encounter Mystia whatsoever, since it's been directly implied that meeting with ghosts from one's past is not exactly a good thing for either party. Additionally, I don't recall having the opportunity to beat up Harmon at any point of the story, unless Luminous is referring to the time when Lucas was out of our control while we were acting as Marisa.
All I can say about Rika is that we might be forced to make a difficult moral decision that may end up in a sacrifice. I can already see how this may end up in yet another 'Mystia' incident, sans blindly optimistic voting, but we'll have to see when we get to that bridge.
tl;dr-In light of what has happened, we're doing okay, but one person is already dead, and the rest of our on-site team isn't at their best. Right now, information is key, and we ought to consider using our z question for some worthwhile information some time in the near future.
>>179026 I should have clarified about Harmon before. If you had encountered him more than you did here, he would have eventually attacked you because of the misunderstanding. (You could have talked him down as well; although, that would have been... difficult) Lucas would have been forced to restrain him by some method.
So, in other words, since Lucas never did anything directly against him or Layla that might prove his suspicions, everything with him is peachy.
I doubt it's a character POV change, as far as I can recall, luminous doesn't deviate from the set narrator/s. It's probably about who Meiling is interacting with, Thoth I could be wrong.
My heart wants me to pick Amsterdam, but I'm not sure it's, the best choice. I like flandre's character though, and she seems to be a possible wild card that could help us in the long run, though it could also cost us. Patchouli and Sakuya wouldn't be bad choices from an information stand point though. It's a tough decision because we don't know what the ramifications will be. I almost wasn't to use the z question to find out, but I feel like we should use it for something bigger.
>>179025 We'll we did better then I thought we did. We could have done better, but it could have been worse. I'm curious how much better we could have actually done before it meant we did worse with others, especially those like Felia and Ilia that we had little to no contact with. Also, what about Rinnosuke?
In fact, I hadn't thought of it till now, but if Reimu is changeling bound to a youkai master, what does this say about Rinnosuke who is supposedly bound to Reimu. Does he know she's a changeling too, if he does know, it opens up a lot of possibilities about what his part in all this is.
Well, it would have been a PoV vote if anyone actually voted for a different PoV. I'll try to have it up tonight.
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Stone clicks against stone as a rook knocks over a pawn, causing a tall woman to let out a frustrated sigh. "And just like that, everything's open to attack. Again. I still can't quite get how you can make those moves."
"You merely have a hard time thinking and manipulating on this plane." Patchouli takes the opportunity to lower the multiple boards from the air as she fixes Meiling with another of her steady glances. "It was you who approached me about this, after all. Do you feel as if you've made any progress?"
"Honestly, no. It just hurts my head to think like that. I can understand just what you're doing, but the execution just goes against the grain…"
"That is the whole point. You have to start thinking differently, or you'll never understand her." The mage just shakes her head as she waves her hand, wiping the chessboards from existence. "How have you faired in your games against her? I may think more linearly, but it is natural for her to manipulate that dimension. Such a line of thought is normal for her."
"It doesn't make it normal for me. I just wish there was some magic button I could press to simply understand." Meiling sighs and looks down at her hands. "Something is up with her. Well, more than usual. But for two weeks, she's wanted to play this game. Curious about my mind and how I use it. But I haven't seen her aside from those times."
Patchouli nods once more as she takes up her notes, setting them neatly into a stack as she works. "That is understandable. She oftentimes is not here, relative to time or space. How are you doing in those matches though? You have not yet mentioned."
Meiling just shakes her head, hiding a bit of face behind her long hair. "It's… Poor, to be honest. I feel as if she could beat me with ease, but she toys with me. She always has that same smile on her face… It's quite creepy, to be honest."
"Hrm. It is, isn't it? Are you still making any progress?"
"…Of sorts. You know how she has been recently. Even more proper than usual. It's why I've been in here attempting to digest those propriety books that she's managed to collect. She does like it more when she has to correct little details that I wouldn't even know after a year of study."
"Hrm. Indeed. I was able to hear that one remark when you wiped yourself at one dinner and knock a few crumbs onto the floor. That was a rather legendary explosion."
"I'm more careful now. I don't want to anger her… And I don't want to annoy Remilia even more. She's… Well, I haven't seen Flandre ever since the incident a few weeks ago. Where in the world would she have been placed?"
"…You don't want to know, Meiling. If it was as a punishment, there will be things done to her that would bamboozle your mind more than you could otherwise imagine. Even this little multi-faceted game would look like checkers in comparison." Patchouli clucks her tongue and looks back down at her work. "At least you have acceded to her care, otherwise. Have you wandered far from the library ever since?"
"You know the answer, Patchouli. I've been in here for way too long. I'm going to go stir crazy. The only room she let me in was that one room with a galaxy past invisible walls. She never entered it with me again, though. She just… let me look."
The mage flips a piece of paper before humming in contentment. "And so you gazed into the abyss. Yet, you were unable to comprehend it. You saw it as you might have seen a picture, and not truly at a scale that is unfathomable to human eyes."
Meiling tilts her head and looks at Patchouli for a few seconds, frowning as she watches the pale woman. "…Sometimes, I wonder about you. How can you disassociate yourself so easily?"
"I learned on my job, and it helped me survive here. That is all." Patchouli flips another page and glances up. "And your training? I have noticed what you do when you are alone for a while."
"Of course I do. I have to keep my forms up… I depend on them so much. It's all that saved me from that one subject of yours."
"You wouldn't have died, although you would have been injured more. …If that had happened, you would have died shortly thereafter. Any human can be mauled and killed by even a weak Changeling."
The taller girl rubs her forehead as she watches the smaller, thinner girl continue to sort her paper, making a mark here and there in her documentation. "I know that, Patchouli. You don't have to remind me…" Unconsciously, Meiling rubs her hand where a heavy scar is the only reminder of what happened. "I still can feel the pain. That reminds me well enough."
Patchouli just hums to herself as she continues to make a few marks. "Quite. At least you are doing something to help yourself." The woman pulls out one of her crystals and taps it, causing it to float and glow. With one last tap of her spindly fingers, she nods and writes something else. With nothing being said in response, Meiling sighs and begins talking, trying to eek out a helpful response with her rambling conversation. "…Although, I feel that she ends up watching when I do that. I know someone is there, but with a room closed and no windows for someone to look through…"
"Then it is not she. If she wished to observe, you'd never notice her." Patchouli looks at the crystal for a moment before tapping her chin. "Hrm. Curious."
"Not going to tell me, are you?" Meiling sighs and continues to mutter to herself. "And I have to keep myself in shape. If I ever get out of here, maybe I'll have more luck. …Or maybe I should go back home… or somewhere nearby. Siam or Karnadi might be…"
"You can stop muttering. I was going to answer." Meiling blinks and looks up at Patchouli. "That's better. I do not mind sharing too much, if you are honestly curious."
"Well… I'm concerned how they are coming. That's all."
"Hm. For what reasons, I wonder?" Patchouli clicks her tongue before looking back at her work. "Subject 133-B is a rather standard example of its variant. What is mostly curious is the fact that it is pregnant. Most Changelings are either too combative or violent in general to successfully be impregnated."
"…Well, that's not the sense that I got. Some of them haven't been aggressive."
"Do not be fooled. In the end, they all are the same." Patchouli sighs and continues speaking. "Other than that, I have successfully managed to invade its mind and divined something intriguing. It pointedly had its ability to read removed when it was turned, and is particularly obsessive in its attempts to recover. I have managed to procure some harmless material, and it was unable to understand any of it."
Meiling just frowns a little bit at that remark, but says nothing. Patchouli notices her disapproval, but just shrugs and carries on. "Subject 19-D's treatment was adjusted accordingly considering its actions with others in recent weeks. Its ration was reduced, and it was subjected to a few more invasive tests to determine the extent of its regeneration. I have further tests plan, but no voluntary subjects to conduct it with."
Without pausing to take a break, Patchouli keeps reading. "Subject 57-D received the same treatment as always, as her abilities are particularly marvelous. There's nothing else to say in that regard, as I still am attempting to divine a method that would perfectly replicate its powers."
The reminder of Rumia's plight is enough to finally spur Meiling to respond. "Is there any reason for you to continue doing that to her? At least try and do something else. She doesn't deserve that."
"Noted." Patchouli just shakes her head and gives Meiling a pitying look before continuing. "Subject 1-E/d is a very interesting specimen. Even completely disassembled, it manages to retain complete motor control over every single piece. There is no discernible magic that connects one part to the other, and no matter which method I take to isolate the various pieces, they still manage to work without any effort taken by the Changeling."
"…You take the doll apart and watch it flail around?"
"Nothing so crude, Meiling." Patchouli sniffs and continues. "Finally, Subject 33-F is still being sedated and provoked into entering a dream state. Her projections continuously grow stronger and more realistic, and even when sleep is light the local area is warped beyond reality to that which she desires."
Meiling just bites her lip, as something in her gut tells her that won't end well if that continues. "Alright. Well, that's good to know. Thanks for sharing." Meiling looks back down. After considering something for a few minutes, she stands up. "That's enough time trying to work on that. I do not want to waste too much of your time, as always. …And I should be preparing myself mentally for Sakuya. It shouldn't be more than an hour or two before she shows up once more." Meiling lets out a sigh and looks down at herself. "I hate having to do that."
Patchouli just nods and goes back to her work. "Hrm. Very well. I hope that your game later tonight manages to improve some. Until then."
[ ] Go get ready early. There's nothing else to do.
[ ] Was there something else to ask Patchouli?
[ ] It's about time you search for Flandre.
[ ] Patch things up with Patchouli?
[ ] Go and visit one of the subjects.
[ ] Write-in
It's been practically stated that of the test subjects, only one of them is our ally. Due to the apparent indecisiveness/apathy we are experiencing, I propose we make friends with one of the changelings. We need to approach either Rumia, Tokiko, or Amsterdam, as the others have shown that they are too far gone for us to ally with them. I'd like to try to communicate with Tokiko and Amsterdam, but those two are solely Lucas's friends, and we have no idea how they'll react to Meiling. Besides, we can't even understand them, unlike Lucas, so I believe reaching out to them would be futile.
However, Rumia is different, as she appears to express the simple desires to escape and feed on flesh. Although she will certainly attempt to manipulate Meiling, I feel that she is the most reliable of the test subjects. Unless there is a more compelling argument to visit the others, I am certain little harm could come from trying to identify our allies in this web of intrigue.
Well, I was waiting a while to see if anyone else spoke, but I'll go ahead and call.
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[-e+1-] Go and visit one of the subjects.
There is someone that Meiling needs to go and see. It has been too long since she stumbled across her on that first visit. Has it been days? Weeks? She can't really tell how long it has been. There's no way to tell in the eerie, unchanging halls of this stale mansion.
No matter how long it's been, though, she never did come back to check on that one little Changeling that she ran across. Patchouli might disapprove of her going once more, but she has to do something, in the end. It would be best to try with that poor, ill-fortuned girl.
The pale mage gives her little heed as she leaves, and Meiling wastes no time to find the doors leading to the subject's rooms. They look a bit differently from previously, as the doorjambs look skewed and the molding appears to have been changed out. Meiling frowns a bit and cautiously approaches it, knowing that something may have changed and someone else may be lurking behind it.
Once her hand is upon the doorknob, she lets out a deep breath and unlocks it. Turning the doorknob slowly, Meiling peeks her head in, hoping to see something on the other side. Nothing is visible save for that inky, familiar darkness. "I guess I won't have to beat up that one girl… guy… whatever again. That'll be nice." Meiling almost attempts a smile at the weak levity before steeling herself and moving inside.
The light inside the library is ever-present, but it is not strong enough to pierce into the darkness. Meiling just shakes her head and carefully steps inside before shutting the door behind her. "This is much too familiar… It's darker than it was in that other room, by far. I don't think I could see my hands even had them in my eyes."
Before she marches up to the center of the room, she waits to see if she can hear the girl. Unlike last time, there is no whimper of pain or cries of agony… Or quiet begging for leniency. Silence is all that her ears find. Her ears start to ring as she stands there, and her mind tries to fill in the empty void with something.
"I guess she's asleep… Or dead. I hope it's not that. I had hoped… Bah. Calm down, now. There's no indication that anything has happened. I just need to find her first." Meiling takes another deep breath and walks into the darkness, searching for the slab and the girl resting upon it.
As difficult as she had expected this to be, she manages to stumble across the platform immediately, nearly falling on top of it in the process. Meiling maintains the presence of mind to grab the sides and not fall face first onto the girl. She stays there for a few seconds, waiting to see if Rumia notices her. Nothing is said, and the only thing that can be heard is her breath, which is much too shallow to be natural.
Swallowing her apprehension and walking about, Meiling reaches what she believes to be the head of the slab and looks down at what should be the girl. She has to remember to stay her hand and not prod her awake. There's no way to know how she might react. If she wakes up in poor mood, or is frightened, Meiling would be loath to injure or restrain her until she calms down.
She instead clears her throat and begins speaking. "Rumia… Can you hear me down there? Can you wake up? I need to speak to you." The girl doesn't react, and Meiling takes a deep breath and speaks with an edge on the undercurrent of her voice. "Please, Rumia. There are things that I need to know, and things I would like to know. I don't want to be proven wrong once more."
"…N-no, mom-mie. I w-won't d-do it…" The response is faint, and while she can't see Rumia speaking, Meiling feels that the girl isn't talking to her. "I d-d-diden… I p-promise! N-not at a-awl."
"Rumia… Just wake up. You're just having a dream." Or, at least, so Meiling hopes. "No one else is in here. I would have heard them. Nothing bad is happening."
"I did-d-den do it! Don't send m-me there a-g-gain. P-please…" The girl begins to speak louder and louder, and Meiling hears her trying to move against the restraints. "N-not them ag-gain, mom-m-m-"
"…Damn it all." Meiling reverts back to her old tongue again as she begins searching with her hand. She can't listen to this girl go through this nightmare, she presumes, without trying to wake her up. It doesn't take long at all for her to find a rough and charred arm, and her own hand grazes above Rumia's.
It's enough to trigger a response. Rumia's injured hand clamps down immediately, squeezing Meiling's tightly. The tall woman lets out a yelp of pane as the small fingers dig into her, and she immediately reaches over to try and pry the clamp off of her throbbing hand.
No matter how hard she pulls, though, it never comes loose. Meiling gives it one last tug before letting go. "She's not breaking my hand. As long as that happens…" Meiling continues to wince as she looks to where she approximates the head to be. "Rumia, are you there? Have you finally woken up?"
"…It's y-you again? T-thought I h-had…" The girl is speaking softly once more, coughing a little between words. "You w-w-weren't a d-dream? I t-thought y-you had t-t-t-to b-be."
"No, I wasn't…" Meiling grimaces, as Rumia still hasn't let up on her grip. "It's been a long time, though. "I'm real. Stop worrying. This isn't a dream right now. If it was, I couldn't hurt."
"…Why uh-are y-you hurt-ting? Is t-there somet-t-thing wrong?" There's no way to tell what she's doing, but Meiling thinks she's staring up at her. She certainly feels as if eyes are gazing upon her face. "D-d-did the m-mage hurt y-you too?"
"…She didn't. This is something else. Are you still as hurt as badly as last time?"
The girl sniffs a bit before hacking up another cough. "A-always hur-t-t b-badidly. Not b-better a t-tall." Rumia takes another breath as the two continue to talk in the utter darkness of the room. "D-did you b-b-bring a-anything to e-eat? Ev-ven j-j-hust a p-pinky ora s-somet-t-thing?"
Meiling just frowns a bit as she says that, as her comments from their last meeting are not far from her mind. "I did not bring anything with me, Rumia. And haven't you been fed at all? I don't see how you could live so long without food…"
"Get… g-get a lit-t-tle f-from t-the m-mage. L-lots of-f w-water. G-good t-thing it ev-vap… v-vap… sometehen w-when I b-burn…"
"That's not a good thing, Rumia." Meiling frowns and looks down to her hand. She's unable to prevent herself from grabbing the top of the hand that is squeezing hers, partially out of comfort and partly to see how poor her condition is. "I could make something easily if I had the ingredients. But what good would any food do? There's a reason."
"S-so many… many q-q-quest-tyuns. S-sound l-like m-m-mage. J-just wanna feel b-better… T-taste a n-nice h-human or some-t-t-thing… And-d st-top st-tu-tu-tereen."
"That I can understand." Meiling just shakes her head and looks back up at Rumia. "Can you let go of me first? I can't go until you do that." To her great surprise, the girl doesn't even protest. The tight grip vanishes without her uttering a peep. With her hand now free, Meiling takes a small step backwards and starts rubbing it, trying to get the blood flowing in the aching hand yet again. Looking down, Meiling can’t help but to think that she can't be that bad, just letting her go like that. In the end, she just seems to be an innocent girl.
[ ] Still, Meiling can't go and get her food. Question.
[ ] Certainly Meiling doesn't need all her pinkies…
[ ] She can go and get her food herself. Meiling does know the way.
[ ] Call one of the maids to this room and have them bring it.
[ ] It's not worth it. Just leave the girl to her misery.
Yeah but it seems almost as if that particular option represents a the sort of pragmatic mercilessness of Patchouli, whether or not Patchouli has been helpful so far that is NOT a road I think we want to risk going down. Even beyond that it almost feels like an UNDO button.
The fact he GIVES us an UNDO button is unsettling, but since we took the time to bother coming here. I think we should try one of the get something out of it options.
[x] Still, Meiling can't go and get her food. Question.
The only thing that still really bugs me about this option though is apparently involves Meiling thinking in the third person. As far as I recall, that's a first time occurrence.
>>179378 Well, lucky us. Don't have to worry about that.
Nothing until tomorrow though. Busy tracing. Norway has obnoxious borders.
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[-f+1-] Call one of the maids to this room and have them bring it.
"…Well, I guess I can do something. But I don't know the way down there by heart. I managed to stumble my way there one time, but knowing the way then does not mean I'll remember how to go now." Meiling slumps a little bit before rubbing her chin in thought. "After all, she does like to change the passageways so often. It's why I don't like going outside of the library or my new room. At least those two don't end up separated often."
"Is-s t-that a c-common t-thing…?" Rumia coughs a little bit before pulling against something, letting out strained grunts all the while. "T-too weak. Bah. I w-would g-go and f-f-find it on my own, b-but she…"
"I know what Patchouli has done to you. It's alright, Rumia." Meiling attempts to smile, forgetting momentarily that it does no good in this ever-present shadow. "Just let me step out real quickly. I need to go ask one of the maids to get it for you." She doesn't respond, and Meiling just shakes her head before walking on out of the door. It takes a few tries to find the door itself, but she gets out without much trouble.
Once back outside, she takes a moment to look and find Patchouli. The girl is not at her desk where she was working earlier, and Meiling hasn't the slightest idea as to where she might have gone in the meantime. "Well, I can't even bother to ask permission. This won't take long, I hope." This may not be the best of ideas…" After all, Meiling doesn't know how Rumia will react. She feels she has to try and do something.
She takes a few moments to decide whom she wants to call for before clearing her throat. "Flandre? Can you hear me?" She blushes a bit at how silly it sounds, asking the questing of the air itself, but she doesn't stop there. "I know it's been a while, and Sakuya might not want you coming here… I need to ask of you a favor. Would you kindly…" Meiling hears steps behind her and she spins around. "Help me?"
"…I can try." Flandre looks down at the ground, pointedly not looking Meiling in the eye. Behind her is a plain wall that Meiling swore isn't a secret passageway. There's not even a seam on its black and white surface. Would Sakuya have placed and removed a pathway before she ever would have noticed? "Why are you asking me, though? My sister would help, though. That'd be much better for you, wouldn't it? Much better in the end."
"If I wanted her, I'd have called her. I just get the feeling that she doesn't like me… Or she doesn't quite have it all together." Meiling bites down on her tongue the moment she says that, as there is someone else that has a harder time than the haughty girl does. Flandre doesn't flinch at the reaction, but Meiling cannot see her eyes either way. "Besides, I wanted to make sure you were ok. Sakuya said that she'd punish you… You look fine, though."
The blonde-haired vampire finally looks up with her large, shaking eyes. "You… It's not good. You don't know. Hope you never do. She does to me worse than ever to you. Can turn me back to what I was before. Gibbering, murdering, madness. Hate normal. But she can do it. Reminder, she says."
"That…" Meiling takes a deep breath before shaking her head. "Flandre, you come by later and tell me what you mean exactly. There's just something that I need to do right now…" Meiling bites her lip, not quite willing to write it off that easily. "Unless you need to talk about it. Tell me."
"What to tell? She injured me like I injured you. Then made sister drink my blood. Melted her face off before Sakuya healed her." Flandre takes a deep breath as she squeezes her eyes shut. Meiling's hand covers her mouth, unbidden of anything but subconscious horror. "Plenty of time to talk. Always is plenty of time. But never enough to do. Always have plenty to talk. Flandre and Flandre love to talk."
"…Right. Well, let's hurry up and do while we can, then?" Meiling resists the urge to pat her on the shoulder or hug her. She doesn't want to provoke her in any sort of manner. "I need something to feed… Rumia.” Meiling pauses before unnecessarily adding on, “One of Patchouli's subjects. She wants some meat of some kind. Could you get some for me? Anything? Even if it's just scraps? I'd have no luck getting there, and who knows who or what I'd run into during the process."
"…Flandre can try." With that, Flandre takes a deep breath before walking past Meiling. The tall girl just blinks for a second as she listens for the footsteps to trail off. When she turns around to try and follow her path on the way out, no one is there to track.
The yet human sighs in relief and rubs her head. "I thought I had gotten used to it. Sakuya is never like that when I'm around. …But why did she let me hear Flandre, then?" Questions about in her mind, but Meiling just shakes her head. "I don't know when the girl will be back, but I can go talk to Rumia for a little bit longer. Maybe I can calm her down some. Or learn some more."
Before she heads back in, though, Meiling takes one more round to try and find Patchouli. The girl has no more success than the last time she circled around the shelves, and so she just slumps her shoulders and heads back to Rumia's room. Before the girl can call out, assuming she's still awake at all, Meiling raises her voice and calls out, "I'm back! It'll be… some time, but you should be able to eat something."
"T-that's good…" Rumia sighs again and shuffles about, and Meiling still cannot see one bit of what she's doing. "S-so, what are y-you doing in her-re? N-not gonna wait f-f-for it?"
"I figured I'd at least try to keep you company for a bit. …Although, could you let up on the darkness, at least a little bit?" The girl doesn't respond, and Meiling starts speaking quickly, trying to explain herself before she is misconstrued. "Patchouli isn't here. She's not going to do a test. I've never brought her in, and she'll have to open the door if she comes in after me."
The girl remains silent for a few seconds, and Meiling worries if she's insulted her. However, ever so slightly, darkness begins to fade. The center of the room remains completely dark, but Meiling finally can see the floor under her feet… And her own hands, at that. "Thank you, Rumia. I do appreciate it."
"I'm g-glad-d…" The girl in the center of the darkness remains silent for a little it, and Meiling rocks back and forth before walking to the center. It's disturbing to walk into the dark once more, but if Rumia can lower the dark for her… "Why are y-you c-coming in here? I c-c-can hear-r y-you."
Meiling shrugs a bit and looks in the general vicinity of the girl. "Just returning what faith you're giving me. Nothing more than that." Meiling eyes the same location for a few seconds before shaking her head and deciding to get down to the heart of the issue. "I don't suppose you'll tell me what happened to you? How did you end up this way? How did you become… a Changeling?"
The girl stills a bit, and is deathly silent. It's far too quiet for her to have even fallen asleep. "Why do y-you ask-k? D-does it mat-t-ter?"
"I think it matters to you, in the end." Meiling just frowns a bit. "You're starting to act defensive now. Did I say something wrong? Is it just a subject you want to avoid? I can… Understand that, I suppose. Or at least I'll do my best equivalent. I don't know what it's like to turn into…"
The girl remains quiet for a few more seconds before her tried voice rasps, "St-t-tart-ing to s-sound j-jhust l-like t-t-that m-mage ag-gain. S-she likes t-ta ask awl sort-ts of-f-f quest-tions."
"I see." Meiling wonders for a moment what exactly Patchouli has done before shaking her head. "I really need to get a hold of those lies and look through them. I don't think she quite…" The girl sighs and pinches her nose. "No matter. I'm not going to do anything, though. I did go and try and get you food. And if she doesn't bring it back, I’ll go ask what is taking the maid so long. And I'm standing her in the dark when I could be out there in the light. Does that count for something?"
Now that she thinks of it, when did this become about Meiling trying to prove to this girl that the latter can trust her?
Even as rebellious and sarcastic thoughts flit through her head, Rumia does not respond, and Meiling is left with continuing that line of thought or trying something else. The girl hasn't heard the door do anything, and the darkness beyond is still as light as ever. Rumia seems to be holding her breath, awaiting whatever Meiling may say.
On a mobile so not writing a response now, but maybe some relation of Meiling's laments would be a good start, as I recall, her lifestyle conflicted with her family and later she was hated by her employer. That can't leave her as a socially balanced person, and humans are social creatures. Patch is practically a sociopath, Sakura is an OCD sociopath, "koakuma" is a racist sexist scumbag, so Rumia's sapiovore tendencies are relatively tolerable, so long as she isn't trying to kill and eat us (she has asked for OTHER human meat before, and just our pinkies this time)
The points you hit on are ones that I think will help Rumia be able to associate herself with Meiling, since the trend is that youkai only target lone humans who have relatively unfulfilling lives. Therefore, our dialogue with Rumia needs to focus on how even though the two of them have practically nothing left, they still have their lives and each other.
Not doing the write-in myself because I doubt what I can come up with will be able to rival the great ones Anon has come up with in the previous story.
This feels narcissistic to jump on a vote referencing my own post specifically, but I guess it's better than leaving a silence choice. Although honestly I am surprised people thought I covered good points.
[x]Something that hits the main points that >>179459 brought up.
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[-g+1-] Something that hits the main points that >>179459 brought up.
There's not much that Meiling can say to ease the girl's worries, but at best she can try and bridge the gap between them. At least she can make herself appear to be more human than before and relatable… She can make it apparent that she is distinct from the mage. "…Back before I was taken, do you know what I spent my entire time doing?" Meiling doesn't hear the girl move, much less anything else, and she just hopes that she is listening as she continues. "I was working for a Japanese man in a Japanese restaurant. You know how hard it is to find work in the states as a Chinese person…"
Rumia doesn't respond, and Meiling sighs internally. "Maybe you don't. It's more difficult than you would imagine. Our countries have never been friendly. The Japanese have ingratiated themselves so much with the states… I had come to show them something different. I wanted to teach them what I knew. I wanted to share what I knew."
The girl doesn't respond, and Meiling shakes her head. "It was so difficult, growing up in that country. I was the only one in the family that wanted to learn how the arts. …Most of my siblings were either training to work in the factories or the farms. Father disliked that I was the only one of his children that desired to learn this. My eldest brother… He left for Shanghai when he was old enough. I haven't heard of him since then. My other brother left as well, leaving my sister and I."
"Mother did her best to keep father straight, but only enough. The country was changing too fast for either of them to realize." Meiling snorts and shakes her head. Her fingertips squeeze against her palms, causing her to automatically look down in surprise. "I can't really blame them. Our home had to change a lot. No emperor… nothing like that was there. There was no one figure to lead. It was just a cacophony of voices, each shouting for us to take a great leap, and each one pointing a different way to take it."
"I think he was just scared, looking back. It wasn't that he didn't want me doing this. He just wanted the same semblance of order that he grew up with." Meiling shakes her head again. "But I was young… I learned how to center myself, and I learned the forms. And with that, I thought I could change the world."
Before she can continue, the girl restrained on the slab finally manages to croak out a question of her own. "J-j-just w-what are you s-s-sarying? H-how could y-you d-do t-t-hat?"
"I didn't know, really. I just thought I could win them over. Maybe I was… Was a bit smitten with the idea of those lands." Meiling lets out a small laugh. "A land that large and that had developed over time. They were not a young country drinking an elixir of youth and attempting to imitate what the younger nations took for granted."
"I wanted to give them a positive impression of our country… And I wanted to leave the old behind. There was no need for someone like my talents, at least I felt. Too much old and not enough new. Besides, I thought I could change a few minds. Those people were supposedly so great and so free, but they liked the Japanese and the Russians. Maybe I could go over and help make them like the Chinese, too." The woman just shakes her head. "It was odd, being so young and full of the certainty that I knew it all."
"…Somet-t-hing w-went wrong. I c-can t-tell in your t-tone."
"I lived in… Well, things did go wrong, that I can certainly say." Meiling crosses her arms and looks in the general vicinity of the girl. "I went to work when I was young. Father hated it, and he tried to forbid me from earning money, but it was easy enough to slip away. I performed all of my duties and attended my schooling like all other children should. But soon enough I had enough to buy myself a ticket."
"I didn't leave immediately, though. I stayed a little bit longer to see what I could do." Meiling finally looks back up, and she finds to her surprise that her cheeks feel a bit wet. "We… fought, as we had fought before. I had no particular future over there, I felt. What was the point of trying to teach those who were so busy looking forward that they forget what was… behind them? And if I stayed to do that, it would have been for a pittance."
"Even then, I would have stayed. He was stubborn. I was stubborn. I earned that honestly." The woman can't help but to smile just a little before she shakes her head free of the thought. "He wanted me to stay here and settle down. There were some families that might have been interested in me, even though I am not what many men desired. Not that it mattered. I would have gone insane if I went through with something like that."
"So, I told him I had enough and I was ready to go." Rumia is still deathly silent and letting you speak your mind. "I left that night. Scampered out the window. He was old, that land was old… I wanted to head somewhere new and young, like myself." She just shakes her head. "Oh dear, I was a fool to do that. I took my ticket that I had bought and headed to the sea, on foot and on rail whenever I could catch a ride. And then, I found the ship I could take."
"The lousy captain tricked me, though. He told me that he would get me the green card and help me immigrate legally. I wanted a new and fresh start. Instead, I discovered, too late, that I had been smuggled over, and that the lousy little Taipei bastard decided to take advantage of the fact. Not that he could have succeeded."
"That's how I ended up in the country illegally. I had little to my name… So I had to take odd jobs." Meiling just grumbles and shakes her head. "There were some Chinese on the coast, but none of them wanted to help me. None of them wanted anything to do with me. It isn't that I can blame them… If they did, there was a chance they could be kicked out of the country. None of them wanted to go back, it seemed. Maybe they didn't know how much it had changed."
"Not that it mattered much. I did what I could. I was tempted to go to the consulate, but they would have sent me back. And then what would the point have been? I could make it on my own. And I could survive."
Meiling sighs and shakes her head again. "I just fell into a rut instead. Having to drift from town to town. There were so many things I wanted to do and share, but I was relegated to the kitchens of so many hovels and restaurants where I wouldn't be seen. And the place I was at before this was so horrible… It was all I could do to simply rearrange the owner's face. Racist… Well, I'm not going to go there." Meiling closes her eyes and pinches her nose. "Not now."
Rumia doesn't answer Meiling, and the woman continues to stand in the darkness all by herself. "You know, I just wanted to share a little bit. I don't know what you were before, but we've all been through hard times. That's why we're here, in the end. That Sakuya just wants to amuse herself with those that the world doesn't miss. …That no one would miss."
She was just a little surprised when she heard the regret in her own voice. She never did try to think of those back home. Would they still miss her, or had they moved on and forgotten her? She'd like to think she knew the answer… But Meiling can't be sure of anything.
Seconds tick by in loud silence, and the girl still doesn't respond. "…Well, I wasn't trying to earn pity points, but I thought you'd say something. Did I put you to sleep?"
"S-someone is h-here…"
Meiling instantly tenses and looks around, trying to hear anything in the absolute dark and quiet. She can't hear the padding of feet or the softness of a breath, but imagined taps leap into her ears as she wildly casts her head about. "Who is it? Can you see them? Hear them?"
A waft of air passes over Meiling's nose, and she smells the pungent scent of blood and flesh. "I've just brought what you've asked for." A platter noisily hits stone, and Meiling jumps nearly three feet in the air at the sound. "Was that all?"
"Flandre? Is that you?" Meiling tries to peer into the dark, for all the good it does her. "What are you doing here?"
"I just said I was bringing what you wanted. You did ask Flandre…" The girl trails off for a second before explaining. "I just came in while you were talking. You couldn't hear it at all, could you?"
"…No, I couldn't. You really are quiet."
"…Flandre would be happy to hear that." The girl waits with baited breath, and Meiling finally hears a footstep. "But you couldn't hear when I locked the door either."
Meiling's eyes widen and she looks straight to where the steps are coming from. "Don't do this Flandre. You know you don't want to."
"Flandre wanted to. But Flandre asks food before eating it, and only takes enough to stop herself…" Another step echoes in the room, to the side of where Meiling is looking. "But now I have you where you want. Flandre isn't here to stop… And no one is here to hear you scream."
I held my tongue in case my issue was resolved here, but... We were never given voting choices. Not even so much as a "[ ] What does Meiling do?" And I don't want to see something like that drive this into oblivion...
But I agree with the other guy; maybe we should try and free Rumia for this.
At the same time though, we don't want to seem to be USING Rumia, keep in mind, she likely ISN'T rational. If we could get her to get help that might be best, as maybe she can get out of the room if we free her.
>>180244 Voting choices were because I intended to continue to be distracted. The delay is all my fault. Mostly due to steam sales, and partly due to backstory building. Since no one is questioning how Japanese girls are speaking English, I went back to 1871 and did a little bit of a brainstorm.
Anywho, basically: Update is coming momentarily, and map of world as Meiling knows it sometime afterwards.
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"I won't let that happen, Flandre. Don't even think that I will." The vampire doesn't respond, and Meiling looks around before edging closer to the table. "You know that I can fight."
The room remains silent, and Meiling starts looking around. She continues to nudge close and closer to the table before she grabs the side. "Rumia, where are you? Can you even hear me?" Just as the vampire has stopped speaking, the other girl has disappeared as well.
A few curses nearly leave Meiling's lips as she pats on the table, trying to find her. "Come on, Rumia, don't have left. Don't leave me… here…" She continues to feel at the edge of the table, but the more she reaches around, the more bare stone she finds. Eventually, she finds one of the restraints that were holding the girl down. Her stomach drops as she realizes that there is nothing there. The restraints are torn and jagged and empty. "Oh no…"
"Your friend has run away, has she? I suppose she did just need the meal." Flandre's high-pitched voice rings out from right behind Meiling, and the girl spins around once more. "Too bad. She'll just run and be hurt by Sakuya, won't she? You know that is what happens. Flandre knows for sure, doesn't she?"
The giggle sounds again, and once more the voice is right behind Meiling. "No matter, we always get hurt. So might as well enjoy it while we can." Flandre laughs yet again before grabbing the neck of Meiling's shirt. "Don't run away from me. I would like just a little sip."
"You think I'd give up that easily?" Maybe Meiling was wrong about which sister was the evil one. Either way, she can't bother to try and think on it now. Out of reflex, she tries to twist out of the hold of the vampire. The short arm doesn't budge an inch at her motion, but the shirt rips and frees Meiling.
Continuing to spin with the same motion, Meiling lowers herself and sweeps a leg out and through the spot where Flandre had to be standing. Yet there is nothing there. Her leg doesn't make contact with the stubby legs of the childlike vampire.
She doesn't take the chance for the vampire to come back and continues with her motion. Meiling's shoulder ducks and she rolls over once before landing back on her feet. The slap of her soles is loud in the quiet room, and she knows that the vampire can hear her. There's nothing for her to do but to try and find the door out of the room and hope she can break the lock.
Not even bothering to call for Rumia again, Meiling looks to her left and quickly steps away from her resting place. She doesn't know if that is the way out, but she has to start somewhere. The darkness is still all encompassing; she just wishes it stopped sound as well. Her footsteps are deafening in the dark, and her breath is as loud as a locomotive.
She doesn't manage to make it five steps before the arm shoots out again and curls its fangs about her wrist. "You're an amusing one, at least. Sister would enjoy you. Sakuya does. Still running. But is that your only talent? Running and hiding and stonewalling? Easy prey is eaten more quickly."
The human does not answer with her tongue, instead choosing to lash out with her other arm. A palm slaps into the stomach of the shorter girl, and for a single moment in time she feels the thrill of finally making contact. When the girl does not budge one smidgen, however, the hope immediately deflates.
"No, that's not how you do it. This is how." And with that, one of the Flandre's returns the favor and smacks Meiling in the small of the back. The force sends her reeling into air, and the only thing that stops her from flying into the wall is Flandre's grip on her arm. That comfort is tenuous; the arm loudly pops free from the force of the impact, and it burns as the flesh is torn nearly to the point of ripping.
The vampire lets out another of her giggles before reeling Meiling back in with her tortured arm. "Now, if you're going to be boring, I was going to go ahead and get down to business."
"Heh…" Meiling gets back to her feet as she tries to force the pain away. "Nothing… good I can do, is it?" Well, now I just need to keep going until I can't." She tries once more to reach out and grab the girl, but has her hand knocked down as she attempts to attack. The rather weak blow is stopped by Flandre grabbing the hand and twisting Meiling around painfully, pulling her down to her knees.
"Just like that. You just aren't equipped to be an equal. This gift is toxic, but it is one useful all the same. Just stay put and I'll take care of you." As she speaks, the vampire trails her hand up Meiling's shoulder and to her neck. "I can't see anything, and yet I know it all. Even your essence is blinded to me. Isn't it a wonderful darkness?" Her fingers trail over Meiling's neck just as she feels the cold stench of the creature's breath.
The vampire lowers herself down and flings herself forward. She doesn't stop at Meiling's neck; instead, the rest of the body collides with the sole human in the room and the two are both thrown into the wall of the room. Meiling painfully slides down the wall, and Flandre remains stuck on Meiling for just a second before her body is ripped away into the darkness.
The yell of the vampire transforms into a loud hiss, and Meiling can only watch the void beyond. The padding of feet turns into another slam as something is thrown somewhere into the floor, far from the two.
"So you fight me, Youkai? It will not even be one. I just need to find that little core, that eye deep down-" Her voice turns once more again into the scream, and Meiling hears the crunch of bone and a loud smack. Another body is thrown across the room, and a girl spits onto the ground. A great stink begins to fill the entire room, and Meiling can hear just the faintest of sizzling.
"You taste absolutely nasty, blonde! Why do you have to go and do that? You looked tasty the times I saw you." There's no imagining whom that might be, and Meiling finally forces herself to get out off of the ground and scramble around the wall, looking for the door.
The two other girls in the room pay no heed to her. "What did you expect from a girl who is truly rotten?" Flandre gaily laughs before pounding on the ground. Several faint ones follow the tremor as she marches forward. "I gave you that little bit and already you fight. …Your jaw should have melted off by now. Nothing but disease and acid…"
"But that stench is so strong… I can't lose you now. And can you even smell me with that nose?" The vampire pauses mid-step to take what she says into account. She has no reply for her.
None save for the bestial roar of pain that follows the wet rip of flesh from flesh. Meiling freezes in the middle of her search as something wet hits the floor and begins to spit angrily. The crackle of the very floor burning barely disguises the thud of a body falling.
Something disgustingly indistinguishable from mastication echoes in the chamber, and Meiling is spurred back into motion. Her hand wildly slides up and down the wall, and she finally finds the seam. She panics and throws herself towards the door, searching desperately for the handle.
The moment she touches the room, the darkness finally begins to recede, fading more than it had in anytime it had before. The pale walls of the room are revealed alongside the stark floor and the dark ceiling. The table that Rumia was strapped down on shows itself in all its worn and torn glory.
Behind all that, a trail of divots leads to a depression in the floor like a trail of blood. In the center of the deepest one, Meiling can see the vague form of the maid. Her hair is cast wild, and her right wing after the first six inches is completely shorn and missing. Idly, she notices it lying against the far wall.
However, it doesn't register as she spots the large hole in her side. Instead of the red torrent that she expects, there is instead the slow ooze of miasma. What organs she can see and recognize as being objects seem diseased, blackened, dead. And the stench… "The… oh dear, that smell..." She automatically covers up her nose with her hand as she fully recognizes the funk that had been spreading across the room.
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Standing atop the rotting corpse is another girl, this one with somewhat similar blonde hair. She raises up a hand and wipes off her mouth, removing the fetid meat and slinging it onto the ground. Once more she spits, and the floor crackles in response.
Rumia turns around, finally looking at Meiling with her grinning, blood-covered face. She wipes herself one more time and kicks the groaning corpse to make sure it stays in place. Satisfied that Flandre isn't going to be moving, the girl tilts her head at Meiling and takes a step forward. "Now, there's one last thing I need to take care of…"
[ ] Plead. for your very life [ ] Stay. and pray [ ] Run you damned fool
Do we really want to risk it for a joke vote? Are you seriously willing to potentially insult Rumia? If we're going to insult Rumia, we should be at least running. She dispersed her darkness. That means she at least isn't planning to eat us most likely. However, I doubt she would want you to genuflect. What if Begi turned the saint crucified schtick into her being a Christian? Then we would be insulting her religion by worshiping her. Be careful what you vote. I, for one, want Meiling to live for now. We may gain an ally if we stay.
It's been quite a while since this story has been active, but now that Luminous is back in the saddle, I'm glad that somebody recognized the potential ramifications of choosing that write-in in time to warn us.
>>180451 Corsica and France share a Taiwan and China relationship.
They are slowly putting themselves together again. Poor Thüringenwald, I agree.
Russia and all of the other nations under them. It's not federalized, but it has liberalized quite a bit. They never went red this time around - Germany did instead after TTL WW1.
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Meiling grips the handle one last time as her muscles tense. She may be injured, yet again, but it isn't as if she can't run away. She would just have to force herself to get up and start moving.
The blonde continues to march on towards Meiling, and the latter hesitates. The door should be easily broken. All it would take would be the proper application of effort. That's all a normal door would take. …But Patchouli wouldn't make it so easy for anything to escape by force.
Even if she could escape, Rumia is just a few feet from her, and could easily swoop down. Meiling may be able to see, but with the ease that she dispatched the vampire, it gives her pause.
Slowly, the hand on the handle relaxes its grip, and Meiling's arm slumps back down to the floor as the girl looks up towards Rumia. The other girl is still grinning with that frightening smile as she marches forward. Rumia steps up right next to Meiling and smiles down at her for a few seconds. Meiling just holds her breath, waiting for the first massive bite, just like the one she took out of Flandre.
It never comes. Rumia looks down at her for just a second before turning her attention back towards the door in front of her. "She obscured… Something here. How did she? Darkness clouding… something?" Rumia tilts her head to the side for a bit before sighing. "I'll take it away. Didn't do anything wrong but eat… So hungry." She reaches down and pitifully rubs her stomach for a little bit, and it groans in response.
Meiling just continues to stare up at her. Taking a deep breath, she finally speaks. "You're… You're not going to do anything to me, are you? Nothing like you did to her."
Rumia looks down at the taller girl and gives her a quizzical look. "Why… Why would I do that? You've been nice to me." She smiles momentarily, although the grin on her face soon fades. "…Do… Do I scare you?"
"You… You just tore her to pieces." Meiling gulps a bit and tries to keep herself from looking over at Flandre's body. "I mean, you've talked about eating people before, but you were so hungry, I had thought you were being… hyperbolic."
The short blonde girl continues to stare down at Rumia, and her pale face darkens even more as the shadows pull in around her. "…You hate me too, don't you? I'm… I'm just…"
"…It's not that, Rumia, it's…" Meiling forces herself back up to look at Rumia. "That girl isn't well in the head. She's normally been nice, but there is always one side that wants to kill me. Or two. She has too many voices in her head to keep it straight."
"She was someone good? She didn't act like someone that would be…"
"She brought you the food, didn't she? Maybe there was some part in her that was trying to help, even though…" Meiling frowns and lets out a sigh as another thought comes to mind. "That, or she could be compelled by Sakuya to help out in the manner that is asked. …That I don't know."
"I… I see." Rumia sniffs a little bit and rubs at her eye. "But… You hate me now. You weren't scared of me before, but you can't stand the sight now."
Meiling doesn't reply for a bit and looks across the room. "I'm… I just don't know what to do, Rumia. I'm stuck here, and I've drifted for so long. I'm… I don't see a way out. I was just trying to look out for you. Maybe make you feel a bit better."
"…You shouldn't be scared of me. I won't hurt you." Rumia's lips thin and her eyes harden. Without another word, the girl with a youthful face leans down in front of Meiling. She squats down a few feet from her face, and then takes a few steps forward, sidestepping the splayed legs.
The stink is the worse than Meiling could have imagined. Something must have been dreadfully wrong with Flandre. The splattered remains of her insides reek of something horrid and unnatural. There is no way she should be walking around, smelling worse than the rotten waste of a meat-packing plant. And yet, it is that terrific decaying fetter that lingers everywhere, most noticeably on the girl in front of her.
Meiling just watches her carefully, her eyes darting down to the mouth where those sharp teeth reside. She tries not to linger on the empty stomach within which another person's remains lie. She tries so hard to not think about what just happened, and tries even harder to hope that this girl doesn't do the same to her.
A small hand reaches around her tender, injured arm before snaking around the back, and another one joins it from the other side. Slowly, so tepid that she can barely notice, Rumia inches in and pulls Meiling into a hug. "I'm… I won't hurt you. You were nice to me. So long since anyone has tried… Please keep trying. I'll be a good girl. I won't hurt you."
"Is…. Is that so?" Meiling gulps a bit, wincing at the pressure that she is placing on her upper arm. The dull ache spikes a bit, but it's nothing that she has to worry about right now. "I didn't think it would give so much… I've only seen you twice."
"No one ever wants to see me. Not before. Not during. Not after." The girl shivers and continues to hold the taller woman, looking comparatively tiny against her. "You don't hurt. Haven't tried to. At least there's something good in the light once my darkness goes away…"
Without anything else to say, Meiling just sighs reaches up with her one good arm to return the gesture. The small girl just sits there against Meiling for a minute resting her head upon her chest. Slowly, ever so slowly, Meiling relaxes and closes her own eyes. Even with the smell, and the horrid sights before her, she tries her best to keep her thoughts from going down into that same gutter. She doesn't even notice as Rumia takes a sniff. And then another.
And yet another.
"W-wait." The girl's voice brightens a little bit, but with what Meiling can't tell. "You're… You're human?"
Before Meiling's mind can figure out what she's implying, the door she is resting on vanishes into motes of light. She flails pointlessly for one moment as she falls flat on her back. Her eyes snap open as she hits her head on the ground.
Her vision swims for a second, but she recognizes the pallid mage that looks down at the clinging Youkai with a most thunderous expression.
She protected us, so we should protect her in return, right? I'm not sure that there's much we can do, but we can at least push her behind us while we explain what happened to Patchouli. Hopefully that'll prevent Patchy from doing something rash.
>>180556 Well, technically speaking, there's been a reason for most everything that's happened ever.
The real questions are, 'What's the reason?' and 'Who benefits from that reason?'
All in due time, though.
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Meiling immediately leans up and puts herself between Patchouli and Rumia, doing everything she can to come between the two. "Just wait one moment! Don't hurt her, Patchouli! She hasn't done anything wrong."
"She has freed herself from her restraints and consumed the flesh of a human burst free. There is plenty wrong with that, wouldn't you agree?" Patchouli turns to Rumia and stares down the red-eyed girl with her own steely gaze. "The level of regeneration is unexpected, that is certain, but even so I would rather her be locked up where she is secure."
"So you can continue to torment her for the rest of her life? How do you know she even broke free?"
Patchouli turns her gaze on Meiling, finally, and Meiling tries to meet her stare. Age-old iron meets young and hot sentiment, and it does not take long until Meiling's own glance withers under Patchouli's. "Do not make naive statements, Meiling. I know when my subjects are freed. The restraints are keyed so that they tell me what occurs. And do not forget that I do everything with a purpose. I'm not about to allow a Youkai like her out where it will be free to deal death and destruction."
"I'm not going to let you try and put me back in there, you witch. You are never going to do that to me again!" The room begins to darken as Rumia grips Meiling's back. The injured shoulder throbs painfully, but Meiling tries not to let it show. "Why would you do such a thing? You think you're so much better… Just because I'm… I'm…"
"A monster? Why, yes, I do believe I'm better than you. After all, don't you remember what occurred when you first came here? Sakuya thought it would be such fun for you to join dinner, along with all of the other subjects. I distinctly remember enjoying the pleasure of the lot of you starving creatures tearing apart our guest at that period of time. He may have been an imbecile in the third degree, but he certainly did not deserve to be shorn limb from limb."
Meiling just blinks and turns to Patchouli. "Sakuya did that? The most she's done with me is asking me to play rather incomprehensible mind games… …But she did ask Remilia to go and fetch the food. Which means that vampire would have had to dive in…" Meiling suddenly looks down, staring at two small hands that are squeezing her shoulders. "She doesn't have the temperament for something… so… heinous. She may not be the sanest person, Youkai or whatever, but I still don’t see how she could do something like that."
Patchouli looks back and shoots Meiling another look. "Either you underestimate the varying and arbitrary tastes of our host, or you severely underestimate her propensity for bloodshed. Of course, you have not had the chance to witness it. You have not been here long… But that still makes me worry. Can you not tell the difference between a creature that wears a human face and has something truly terrible hidden inside? I would have thought you would recognize that little after all this time." She just shakes her head before switching subjects. "And what would you plan to do with such a freedom, little Changeling? What if I let you out? How long until you consume this dear human that you cling to?"
The blonde just shakes her head a bit before closing her eyes. "I know I can be better than that! You say that I’m the monster, and you did all those horrible, just horrible bad things! You kept me starved for so long, I won't remember what it's like to feel the hunger! I've forgotten all of that. It's… It's…"
"You should stop lying to yourself. I can see the drool just beginning to creep down your lips." Patchouli snorts to herself before rising up just a bit in the air. "You were blinded, your eyes burned and your nose destroyed. You could not see or smell her. It is only by my intentions that you were left with the facilities to even listen. But now that you can smell and see once more, your mind is already racing towards its only natural conclusion." Rumia tries to shake her head and respond, but Patchouli cuts her off. “I don’t even need to read what is stenciled in your mind. Your emotions are written all over your face. You already are warring with the voracious hunger that consumes your entire being. It won’t be long until it regains its preeminence and asserts itself.”
"Just… Just stop that!" Meiling interjects herself once more into the conversation. Rumia's breath has gotten heavy, and the stench has grown horrendous. The burdensome thought of the girl behind her actually being what Patchouli describes is not something she wants to accept. "Stop everything! I don't care what you say about her, Patchouli. She broke out and she did her best to save me. She didn't try to escape earlier. She stopped Flandre from draining my blood dry. Where were you during that?"
Patchouli takes pause for one moment, her argument stymied for that brief second. "Hrm. Earlier? I do recall Flandre coming by. And after that, I recall nothing disturbing me until the alarms went off presently." She frowns a bit before tilting her head. "So the vampire has accessed some part of her latent powers once more…"
"Exactly. That version of Flandre must have messed with your head or she messed with the alarms. Either way, if Rumia wasn't there, I wouldn't be alive right now."
"Debatable. If your life were truly in danger, Sakuya would not even allow you to tread that path. And even if she did… She will ensure that you do not stay damaged for long." Patchouli just shrugs and looks back at Rumia. "Even then, one of the other personalities would have come to the fore. I doubt that the one part of that vampire you are on good terms with would idly sit by and watch your throat turned into a ruin. However, it is not up to any argument. It will go back in there where it can be properly studied."
Rumia growls softly, with a little bit of spittle flying forth from her mouth and onto the floor. "You are not going to put me back in there, no matter what you do to me. I am not going to go back in the hole, back on the slab, and be… be… I'm stronger and focused than before, than ever since I've been here. I can take you! I know that I can make myself free."
"…Fool. Do you think I've been trying to harm you for the sake of harming? There are numberless different ways that I could teach you pain if I so desired." Patchouli floats up another few inches as she looks down. "I take no pleasure from your suffering. It was merely a method to a solution. One of many solutions needed. Do you wish for me to kill you instead? It would not be the first. It would not even be the hundredth. And your end would be simple to arrange."
Rumia just shakes her head and leans over Meiling, pushing her down. "What kind of magic do you plan to use on me, witch? More crystals of light? I know what I have to do to block them!"
"I am not limited to those. Do you wish to test and see if you can survive the face of a star inches from your own?" Patchouli squeezes her hand a bit and leans closer. "I have come too far for myself to be upset by the base desires of a broken little Changeling such as this one."
Patchouli cuts them both off as she raises a finger and points it at Rumia. “And if you somehow managed to make it by me, what do you plan to do to make it out of this frozen mansion? Even if you could bend me by force, there are others in this mansion who are not so pliable. You should recognize the situation. There is nothing better for you.”
Meiling just shakes for a moment before leaning up a bit, trying once more to face down Patchouli. "Are you asking her to roll over and take it? Don't I have a say in this? You shouldn't get to decide whether or not someone gets… incinerated like she was. The girl was in such horrible shape. Such a thing shouldn’t happen to anyone, no matter what they are."
"Maybe they shouldn’t, but that is how things are. It would be better for you to adjust than continue to force your opinion of what should be upon what is.” The mage leans back and stares at the empty beyond for a moment. Her mouth falls into an even deeper frown as her lips twist. “If I had my choice, I would not care what you say. However, it looks like that point has ended. Sakuya will be here momentarily. And she shall be quite upset that her precious and oft-ignored guest is injured once more." She looks down at Meiling once more and gives her a stern look. "Step aside, Meiling. I will take care of this problem as best I can."
Behind the girl, Rumia's eyes widen. The now-healthy blonde grabs the back of Meiling's shirt and leans in to whisper. I can be good. Trust me… I can… I can do better than before." Patchouli hears the Youkai's words, and she merely raises an eyebrow and fixes Meiling with that same strong, withering gaze. "I won't… I won't eat you."
Eh, abandoning Rumia at this point would most likely lose her as an ally forever for pretty much nothing aside guaranteeing we dont get eaten, but that was a risk we accepted just by trying to have her as an ally in the first place.
Let's go with a plan to oppose a super-mage on her homeground with our fists.
Nothing could possibly go wrong. Positively nothing.
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, and so her mind has been made.jpg
Meiling merely remains in place, causing Patchouli to sigh after a few seconds. "Very well. I suppose that I will not have the chance but to alter plans." The sickly woman shakes her head and floats to the ground, turning to the right and facing the opposite side of the room.
Just as she does, Sakuya emerges from the very air. Her footsteps start to ring out as she strolls over, a small smile present on her face. Her dresses flutters softly as she makes her way towards the three others stand and sit. Meiling nearly sighs in relief until she meets the eyes of the elegant woman. She notices that the mouth has been cut from a stone, and that the eyes are as that of glass.
Instead, Meiling gulps a bit and doesn't move as Sakuya steps in front of them. The Youkai looks between her, Patchouli, and Rumia, taking in every aspect of the situation as her frigid look deafens those that are beneath her. "I see that my guest has come to harm, Patchouli. Maybe you would illuminate the situation for me before? I'm sure that you have some of your soothing knowledge that will abate my temper."
"Indeed, I can. This is merely an example showing the success of my work." Patchouli's eyes flick towards Rumia and Meiling before settling firmly upon Sakuya. "I believe I found myself careless. You remember how the younger of your maids has found herself becoming fond of your rather human guest? I can hazard to guess a few reasons that a former socialite, before her curse was laid upon her, would desire the company of a new, if uncouth, face."
"I can certainly understand her desires. Although, she really should learn her patience. Some do go a lot longer without polite company, do they not?" Sakuya smiles just a little as she gazes at the woman. "Now, you speak of my least favorite maid. Yet, I do not see her among either your company or my guest's company. Why might that be?"
"Because, as I said, my work has been a success. Observe the changes in the little darkling that you once brought in."
"There are none visible, but she looks so very unclean in her nude form. I do not say she has bathed regularly, has she? I hope that is not the improvement that you so claim."
Patchouli just shakes her head. "No, it is not. She hardly meets the minimal standards that you would tolerate, as gracious as you can be with those that offend you. However, I do not wish to dunk a proverbial man-eating cat into a pool of water. I rather to value this head of mine, and a proper cleansing would involve the consent of the girl herself."
The mage take a wheezy, whiny breath before motioning towards the door. "Your maid went out of the way to dupe me to any wrong that she was to commit. I have to commend her for the effort. Perhaps her power might be showing up again, or she managed to fight back against your power itself? If so, again, it is an admirable effort."
Sakuya's smile grows wider and thinner as she gazes at the pallid mage. "Indeed, it is. Would you say the same about other guests that deny their host' benevolence?"
"I merely ascribe to her potential. I do not know how you managed to do it, but you did manage to the majority of their power from their blood. Considering how old both of them are, it merely indicates how strong you are." Patchouli returns the thin smile before resuming her earlier speech. "Now, however, with whatever power that she managed to delude me, she managed to sneak her way into the room that was locked in."
Sakuya raises an elegant eyebrow before turning to Meiling. "So, would it be safe to assume that you granted my maid permission? Now, why would you do that?"
Meiling gulps again as she tries to sit up straight in face of her host. "I… I just wanted to get something for Rumia here. Something that could make her feel a little better." Just out of the corner of her eye, Patchouli twitches minutely.
"Now, why would you do that?" Sakuya gazes over Meiling's shoulder, towards the blonde that is yet behind her. She stares at Rumia for a few moments, examining her briefly. "I do not see anything in particular that you would desire from her. After all, I saw her in her previous state. What would compel you towards such an altruistic act?"
"I felt sorry for her?" Meiling tilts her head at the odd look on Meiling's face. "She was so badly injured, and she was the only one I had met that hadn't shown any sort of malice."
"Is that all? I have not shown you any malice." Sakuya leans back at the same time, thinking to herself. "I see. As my maids act in my stead…" The Youkai's face brightens a bit as she regains her calm composure. "I am certain that I will make amends. But would you care to share why you had that particular maid fetch the charred one?"
Patchouli glances down at Meiling a few times, but otherwise doesn't move a muscle. The woman on the floor does not notice. "I just summoned a maid. I didn't ask for anyone in particular to come down here and help me." Meiling does avert her eyes for a moment as she continues to speak. "I didn't think that there would be any trouble of the sort. Then again, I didn't consider telling her anywhere to bring the food. It was merely a general request."
Sakuya merely looks down at Meiling before standing up. "Hrm. Well, it still is confusing. You grant her a great degree of leeway. And yet…" Sakuya just nods to herself again before looking down at you. "I have been a terrible host, have I not? Continue with your explanation, Patchouli. I wish to hear the remainder of this tale."
"Certainly." Patchouli looks down at Meiling one last time before straightening up and turning all of her attention back to Sakuya. "No matter what manner that the events occurred, and for what reasons, the vampire was inside the room and assaulted your guest. However, she had made the mistake of leaving the requested food within reach of my subject."
"Needless to say, that was a lapse of thought most likely brought on by certain unsophisticated aspects of the vampire's mind. While your guest was injured, my subject managed to escape her bonds. It is a remarkable regeneration. I had not anticipated this degree. Although, there are reasons not known; I was not present for the reconstitution of her body nor were any of my crystals active."
"Either way, the darkling managed to tear into the vampire, who as noted is weakened greatly by you. I have not had the chance to examine precisely what remains, but from the stench that none of us can ignore I would find it rather safe to assume that many internal organs were spilled."
Patchouli takes the moment to look one last time at Rumia as well before stiffening. "But observe how the former man-eater refuses to consume the human placed before it."
"I do recall this one. It has been quite a long time for her since she entered here, hasn't it?" Sakuya looks down at Rumia with curiosity piqued. "The humans from the northern lands are resilient, are they not?"
"Perhaps. I have always found those from whom her kind originated were the best stock. Not that I had enough subjects of such a high level to find an adequate reading." Patchouli shrugs slightly before clearing her throat. "But I do not believe it has to do with innate differences that no longer exist. Whatever she might have been before, she is just the same as my other darkling in many facets."
"And yet this one went out of her way to mangle my marauding maid." Sakuya smiles wanly as she continues her examination. "I don't suppose you managed to breed good manners and couth into her at the same time?"
"I shall have to answer in the negative to that. I was not attempting to impart some cornucopia of varied knowledge and mannerisms. Just notice how she continues to wait. The human has her neck bared to the youkai, and the latter is making no moves toward the former."
"Hrm. So it is." Sakuya finally looks away from them all and gazes at nothing for an eternal moment. "I always do enjoy your explanations, Patchouli. I believe I know what changes I will be making."
"If you care, I would enjoy making a deal with you. I know you are quite dissatisfied with your help."
"Quite." Sakuya snaps her head to the door again, this time with that same smile. "Indeed… What is the point of property if it goes out of the way to harm my guests on nearly every instance the two encounter one another?" The woman tilts her head. "What fun do you propose?"
"I merely ask for your maid here, in her current state, to become my subject. At the same time, I ask for 57-D, in her current state, to become Meiling's maid, so long as she brings her to no harm."
The woman looks for a bit longer at the room before nodding. "Agreed. Now, with that done, I will have my other maid come and clean up the mess on this side of the threshold. We have our bargains to uphold, yes?" She turns her head toward Meiling and Rumia. "The other two will come with me. I appear to have neglected my dear guest quite enough. From now on, I will make sure that she is not without attentions. Whenever she is left to her own devices, it seems as if she only manages to find herself in trouble whenever that happens."
Meiling winces at the rebuke. "That isn't necessary, Sakuya."
"Oh, it is. I do not wish to see a guest, especially a new one, be so terribly injured. And it is as you said. My maids are an extension of myself. Since they have not treated you well, I have not treated you well. That will have to be corrected by my own hands." At that, she leans down a bit and looks pointedly over your shoulder. "That, and there is a horrid stench here that shall nearly make me do something thorough. So we will need to ensure that my guest and her personal maid become well acquainted with my personal scrub brush."
Patchouli tenses a little bit as she rises into the air, and Meiling blanches noticeably. "That is not necessary at all! Sakuya, you don't have to do that."
"There are many things that I do not have to do. However, there is plenty that I do desire. As such, there is much that I will do. So, please do come along. There is much that needs to be taught to your maid. She needs to learn what is necessary in order to properly serve."
"I… What about what I have in Patchouli's old room?"
"I will personally see to it. Do not fear for your meager belongings. Your next dwelling will place you in far more comfort. And you will not be isolated and in fear that something might happen to you." Sakuya actually makes the slightest of curtsies. "Do not worry. From this day forth, I will ensure that you will be attended to without fail.
Meiling looks back at Rumia for a second as she shakes her head in disbelief. "But I do think it's safe here. So long as I stay near Patchouli I won't have anything to worry about."
"That may be so, but have you stayed next to her, or do you wander about merrily looking for adventure within my halls?" Sakuya looks away. "Isn't it quite distasteful to return and fine blood spilled and making filth on my fine halls? I will not stand for it. So, under more watchful eyes I shall place you. With that decided, you will follow after me." At that, Sakuya spins about on her heels and heads off towards the entrance of the room.
Meiling continues to gaze at Rumia for a little while longer before squaring her shoulders. "…Sorry…" She struggles to stand up as her mind races. There's nothing she can think of that would let her talk her way out of her new situation. Instead, the only thing pervading her thoughts are the whispers of defeat and helplessness.
Patchouli seems to have vanished, not bothering to try and speak to Meiling at the moment. Part of Meiling feels betrayed by the way she was turned out, but she believes she is right in thinking that the mendacious mage has not cast her aside. With nothing else she can do, she grabs Rumia's arm and helps her to her feet.
The blonde looks at her one last time before nodding and falling in behind her. Neither of the girls look back at the room as they follow Sakuya. Not a word is said as the two follow in her tracks.
"Any change yet?" Marisa stares stale woods for a few moments, wishing the entire time that some wind would pick up and cause some movement in the eerie stillness. "Is she getting any better, Margaret?"
"Not since she collapsed an hour ago. And she is burning up quite badly. I don't think we should keep heading on." The fellow blonde girl looks down at their third companion as she takes a rest. "She isn't going to get any better if we continue to run. Can't we just find a way back home? You said that you brought us here."
"Something else brought us here. I was just the one whose hands were used." Marisa tries not to stare at those hands and puts her worries out of her head for now. "We need to keep walking until we can either find some shelter or find a way out of here. I don't want for us to be attacked by those creatures once again?"
Margaret frowns and looks at the youngest companion. "Do you believe that they poisoned her? Whatever it is, it's caused her to go into a high fever. We need to get Rika somewhere where she can lay down. We'll need to wait out whatever illness she has."
Marisa twitches once more and looks down at the young girl. "I'm sure it's just due to her wounds. She's just trying to kill off anything that might have been on those creatures."
"What might have been?" Margaret looks around at the forest for a moment. "What would they be dirtied with? This place… Whatever it is, it isn't even alive. I can see with my eyes, but nothing feels right."
"That it does." Marisa bites the inside of her cheek as she looks away from both of the others. "It is very strange." Odd enough that she had been able to break reality in so many ways, and not be punished for her trespass. "I don't have anything I can consult. I guess I could try to make some sort of medicine, although I haven't the slightest of an idea what is wrong with her now."
Margaret just looks over at Marisa and nods, not that the latter notices. "Please do. At least try something to help her. The only thing I could do is get her to water and submerge her. She needs to cool down." Margaret looks down at the girl and shakes her head. "I'm not sure what sort of… witchcraft you can do with a potion. Is it anything that isn't…"
"It's nothing you would understand, unless you came across the right sources." Marisa finally looks back at Margaret, but she soon lowers her head and lets the brim of her hat shade her eyes. "I'll have to see what I can possibly do. Either way, we need to keep moving."
"Aren't we far enough?" Margaret looks back over her shoulder. There is nothing but woods as far as the eye can see. "I see no signs of that battle that the three of you were involved in. Can we stop here and now?"
Marisa looks back the way you came. "…I just know that something will come for us sooner or later. I want to try and make as much ground as possible…"
"I can't keep carrying her any longer, though. I know you said that Lucas was strong enough, but I'm not him. I… I can't carry her. She's a small girl for her age, but she's still not that small."
Marisa sighs and shakes her head. "I want to try and get to as safe of a spot as possible. I just… I want to get away from those things as quickly as possible. I don't want them sneaking up on us when we don't expect it."
Margaret frowns a little as she kneels down next to Rika. She takes the moment to pull the bandages tighter around her wounds, making sure that none of them are in danger of slipping off. "We should stop for a little bit, at least for her sake. Just… Are you sure that we're not running into danger at the same time?"
[ ] Just make camp here. Marisa can move enough earth to make a shelter.
[ ] Keep moving until Marisa is sure that they are safe. The two of them can carry Rika if they work together.
[-k+1-] Keep moving until Marisa is sure they are safe. The two of them can carry Rika if they work together.
"…Listen. Let me help. We have to keep moving. We can't stay around here for very long." Marisa places her hand on Margaret's shoulder as she continues to look at her fallen friend. She is very thankful that she is out. At least that way, Rika won't be in as much pain. "We do not know who is near, and while we may not know what is in front of us, I know what is behind us. I don't want one of those creatures coming up from behind and getting one of us. We're bad enough off as it is."
"Still…" Margaret heaves her shoulders and nods. "If you insist. I hardly know what to do here. Just make sure nothing is around, though. …I'm aware that I'm dead weight."
Marisa gives her an odd look before shaking her head. "It's not that. I just… know what these creatures are. I wouldn't be surprised if one of them had us in a little loop and we were running around in circles, so long as we continued to be a source of amusement."
The other girl slumps a little bit at her words. "Then what should we do? We need to try and find a way back out."
"We will. But I am not going to use that thing again." Marisa shivers a little bit, turning away so that Margaret can't see the look on her face. "I don't care to even think about that again."
The other blonde gives Marisa a curious look as she finally stands up. "Well, can you help me? I'm going to need a hand to carry her. I'm not that strong."
"Strong enough. Just let me get her by the legs." Marisa grabs the legs of the girl and waits for Margaret to grab her arms. After the two get into position, they both heave the other girl up. "…Ooof. Well, I know what I'm going to be doing… Once all this settles down."
"What is that?" Margaret grabs Rika by the arms and lifts her up. She doesn't seem to have as much trouble, but her arms shake a bit as she holds her there. "We need to get moving."
"That we do. But I need to work on weights a bit. Never have the chance, what with all the studying."
"…Weights? What would you mean by that?" Margaret simply gives her another funny look as they do there best to amble quickly through the woods. "Never mind. Must be something… recent."
"Yeah. I suppose that you wouldn't know about that, would you?" Marisa stares resolutely forward, trying her best to keep the girl up. "I'm just scrawny. That's all. Let's just keep going."
With that, the two girls fall silent, and the three trot through the forest at best speed. Even as they pass by the solemn trees, they see nothing past their infinite depth. The trees themselves are budding, yet there is no scent that wafts through the air from the flowers. The entire forest is frozen still, and not a single breeze blows through the boughs and disturbs them from their stately rest.
The sun continues to shine through the limbs above, but after so long walking, Marisa realizes she doesn't feel the heat kissing her face. Sweat is beginning to dampen her shirt, but that is the only thing that is warming her up. And even as they walk along, she continues to be disturbed by the utter silence. The only thing making noises are their footsteps.
However, she bites her tongue and remains silent. At least she can count on the eternal silence to be a vanguard to anyone's, or anything's approach. She just keeps an eye out, doing her best to carry her pack along with half of Rika.
They continue like this for a long while, both not saying anything. Marisa grunts and hisses to herself as she forces her hands to stay closed and her load to stay up. Each tree and each speck of dirt looks the same, and continues to seem similar. Even the smeared blood on the ground looks the same.
"…Wait a second."
Marisa comes to a halt extremely, nearly sending Margaret tumbling over herself and the girl the two are carrying. Marisa doesn't wait for her to react before setting her end of the load on the ground and running back a few trees. However, when the witch reaches the one in question, there is nothing there but bark. "I could have sworn…"
"Sworn what?" Margaret looks back at Marisa. "What magic is going on now? Or are you seeing things?"
"I normally do see things. All the time, in fact." Marisa snorts as she realizes what she said and shakes her head. "Never mind. I didn't mean to snap. But I know I saw something here. But it's not here again." Shrugging, Marisa turns around and looks at Margaret. "Then again, all these trees look alike—"
Margaret shoots her companion another odd look as the witch turns white. "What do you see?" She turns around and looks over her shoulder, and sees nothing but the same forest behind her. "There's nothing there, Marisa."
The witch blinks and then shakes her head. "Right. Right. There's nothing there now. Just swore I saw a crater…" A limb cracks behind the witch and she spins around once more. This time she palms her small reactor and holds it up as she looks into the forest. "…I still don't see anything. But I'm hearing stuff. Please tell me you at least heard that."
"I heard that, yes." Margaret steps up and puts her hand on Marisa's shoulder. Just calm down. Something is just trying to scare us. That's all."
"You're awfully calm. Aren't I supposed to be the one calming you down?" Marisa tries to smirk a bit, even as her eyes, and her weapon, dart from tree to tree. Nothing else makes a sound once more. "Something might be toying with us…"
"Is there something else that could be going on?" Margaret sighs and shakes her head. "There were a few times that I remember things like this. Noises from nowhere after midnight on the streets of London were eerie enough."
"I forget you're one of the Brits." Marisa frowns a little bit as she looks around. "…Well, we'll talk about that later. There's other stuff to worry about now." She continues to look out into the distance. "As for what is going on, it really depends on what we're dealing with. For all I know, the forest could be alive. It could be tricking us, or it could simply be trying to remember."
"Something. I wouldn't know." Marisa continues to look around for a few seconds before straightening up. "Come on. We need to go before it bothers us again."
Before Margaret can respond, a shriek pierces the still air, and both of the girls spin around. Once again, Marisa looks in the direction of the disturbance, and a few motes of light leave her focus. "Let's get out of here. Something unpleasant must have happened here. And I don't want Rika to vanish while we're distracted by the sights and sounds of whatever creature might be toying with us."
Margaret nods and heads back next to the Rika before kneeling down. "She's even warmer, Marisa. We need to do something about this, and soon."
"Don't worry. Just pick her up and get ready to move." Marisa looks around into the distance and backs up to the other two. "Does it even know that we're here?" She lets the silence linger for a few seconds as she tries to hear anything in the distance." Come on, let's go."
A tree cracks in the distance, and Marisa twitches again. A few more motes of light leap out of her reactor, and she finally notices as a few land on a nearby tree setting it alight. "Damn it! Why can't I keep it under control?"
"…Marisa, is there something you're not telling me?"
"I'm… Just not used to this world. That's all." The witch huffs a bit and puts the hakerro away. "Don't worry about it. Let's go." Quietly, she hears the sound of liquid splashing against wood, and she freezes. "…Is there anything behind me?"
"No, there isn't." Margaret tilts her head and looks around. "Marisa, there's something here. We should go. We need to go."
"You feel something?" The blonde doesn't respond, remaining still and stock. Her face tightens and she begins to fidget. She looks around, trying to find the source. Marisa slowly turns around, and she sees the blood on the tree again. "Margaret, let's go."
She doesn't respond at first, and Marisa finally turns around. Margaret seems to be staring at the ground opposite of Rika. "Margaret, what are you staring at? What did you find? Or has a Youkai finally revealed itself?"
"Just… Some thing. That's all." She reaches down into the dirt and picks up a handful of dry sod. As Margaret lifts it from the ground, Marisa finally notices the torn blue ribbon that was there all along. "Something isn't right here. I just felt as if I needed to notice this."
"Ok, that's it. We are leaving. Now."
[ ] Ahead.
[ ] Left.
[ ] Right.
[ ] Behind.
[ ] Take it.
[ ] Leave it.
[ ] Destroy it.
...You do realize that the odds are good that you just voted to go back to the mountain, right? We already lost Rika to it, at least partially. In comparison, my vote to enter the burrow as a place to rest is rather tame. At least the burrow would be... potentially safe, compared to suicidal. It would make a good safe haven, as ironic as that sounds.
Not too sure about the direction, but going back to the mountains seems like a bad choice for Rika's health and going into the woods seems like it'll benefit any monsters chasing the two because Marisa will not have as much of a clear view for blasting. Either way things seem grim.
Marisa doesn't wait for Margaret to respond to her before marching over and snatching the ribbon out of her hands. The other girl nearly jumps up, but she doesn't do more than look at Marisa. "Do you think that there is something that is messing with my head?"
"It may or may not be, but either way, I'm not going to take the chance. Once it's destroyed, we won't have to worry about that, will we?" Marisa just grimaces as she holds the ribbon up to her hakkero. "Besides, it pays a lot to be cautious, doesn't it?" With that said, she lights the furnace with but a wish, and the bright white flame bursts out of the center of the woodwork.
The ribbon offers no resistance and bursts into flame. The fires quickly consume the entire length of the short ribbon, and the stink of the dye fills Marisa's nostrils as it disintegrates from her hand. The remnants float straight down to the ground before the joining the barren soil beneath their feet.
For her part, Margaret watches it for a moment before shaking her head. "I… There is still something here. I don't know if they're trying to talk to me. It's a language I don't… think I understand? Or is something else?"
"I can't tell you, Margaret." Marisa thins her lips and looks around one last time. "We need to get out of here, along with Rika. We can't go back, but we can't go anywhere else. Who knows what may be lurking out there…"
The witch frowns as she looks around. The forest itself seems to have stilled yet again, as no flashes or visions are filling her head. Everything is still. "Maybe the ribbon was causing it. If not, though, we need to leave."
"Where can we go, though?" Margaret gives Marisa a funny look. "Is there truly no other we can turn to? Certainly somebody must have set up a safe house on this side. Some refuge in this barren land. I cannot imagine how much more capable soldiers are anymore… But certainly there must be somewhere we can go and find relief."
"That would be logical, but this realm does not operate by rules of logic or laws of physics." Marisa shakes her head and looks at Margaret. "The three lunar bases are constantly under assault by an enemy that is far better understood. What can be done about an environment where, sooner or later, you are twisted into the very creature we hate."
"…There are bases? On the moon?"
"Sorry. This isn't the time." Marisa huffs to herself as she continues to think. After a few more seconds, she looks down as a sudden grin comes over her face. "Well, when in Rome…" Her head snaps back at Margaret. "Go and cover Rika as best as you can. I'm going to make us an escape path."
For a moment, Margaret thinks about protesting, but the question dies on her lips. She moves over and kneels down in front of Rika, making sure that the fevered girl is out of Marisa's sight. "…What exactly are you planning to do?"
"I'm going to blaze my own trail." Marisa wipes her brow as she looks down. "I had considered moving a bit of dirt and making a temporary shelter earlier, but that won't be safe enough. We're going to have to make tracks with the quickest method possible. Just shield your eyes.
Light flares once more, and Marisa holds out her weapon of choice and focuses it straight at the ground in front of her. Margaret cringes and looks away, hugging Rika's face to her chest to protect her at the same time. A second later, all becomes white as the roar of the very earth alighting fills their ears.
After a scant ten seconds later, the light fades, and Marisa collapses to the ground, clutching at her head. Her companion doesn't react at first. Daylight may have faded, but the other girl takes a long time to finally notice that luminous beam has vanished.
By the time she gets up and notices Marisa, the witch is struggling back to her feet and staring at herself, looking quite confused. "Marisa? What happened? What did you do?"
"…I made a hole." She looks at her hands and then herself, before patting down her face again. "A really big one." She grins as she discovers that there is nothing wrong with her. She nearly starts to hop a bit as she stands right in front of the hole that is at least five feet across and still glowing. "And it didn't hurt a bit. Not a bit! I can't believe…" She catches herself mid-laugh and suddenly rears back to slap herself. "Stop that, right now. Have to keep it together…"
The other girl continues to stare at her. Margaret's lips draw down into a small frown as she tries to discern what is going through her companion's mind. "…Do you… hear something as well? I thought I was going to go insane…"
"Not, it's not voices or anything. It's…" Marisa sighs and shakes her head. "It's something that feels so horrible to do, and there's no pain, even when you expect it…" Marisa again slaps herself and whirls back towards the two. "We need to get going. The sides should be smooth enough for us to slide down."
"Do you have a potato sack, then?" Margaret looks down the hole backs away just a bit. "Not that I mind sliding down, but this dress is hardly suited for such energetic activities."
"That hardly matters right now. Just get in the hole and do your best!" Margaret starts to speak up again, but Marisa cuts her off. "Listen. You're more durable than any of us, so you should go first. We'll be right behind you either way."
"…How deep is the hole?"
"Not sure! I kept blasting until I felt it was deep enough. I just hope that I didn't tick anything off in the process." She laughs a bit more before grabbing Rika. "Now, get in! We've spent too much time talking again. Let's go before it, whatever it is, decides to cause trouble again." With that said, she drags the girl as best she can before giving Margaret a look.
Must I? It's not like there's any choice. This is a threat that is less visible than tuberculosis and more insidious than a Grecian. You just shake your head and head over, gently looking down the hole. It is raw and ravenous, and looks more like a pipe of fresh cut iron than the rock or ground that should lie beneath.
Still, what's done is done, and you take your time to sit on the edge and stare into the depths. It does quickly turn dark, as the stale bowels of this strange earth offer no hint of safety. For all that you know, this world could be like your own was once said to be, and that Marisa managed to break through to the other side through a crack in the bowels of the earth below.
A second later, you finally release your breath and shove off and into the hole beneath you. The surface of the rock isn't completely smooth, but considering the drop is so steep, you have no trouble sliding down. The light above you disappears quickly, and it isn't long until the darkness sets you on edge. You grab at the rock in an attempt to slow your descent, but your fingers are much too delicate. You can't find purchase in the rock.
At least they do at first. Surprisingly enough, the next time you grab at the naked earth, your hand immediately sinks in as if it were soft red clay. You don't even realize what you've done before your body stops sliding down the ramp, jerking down and nearly pulling one of your arms out of socket. You bite your tongue at the pain that sparks at the sudden halt of your descent. "What…. What did I hit? Did I just find a soft pocket?"
You do your best to look up and see what you're grasping on, but there's nothing that you can see in this dark. As much as you lack in vision, there is just as little that you can hear. The tunnel is silent as a tomb. "…Marisa? Please tell me you're up there. You are following right after me, aren't you?" Nothing answers you, and you bite your lip and look back down. "When will it end? At least I can try and keep going—"
The sudden blast of garbled pain hits you in the ear, and you clap your hands over it as you try once more to understand it. You had sworn you had heard something earlier, but it hadn't been this painful. It hadn't been something trying to hurt you.
Of course, with the one hand that had been temporarily suspending you now removed from the freshly hewn crevasse, you continue your descent without any further delay. You let out a short, high-pitched shriek as you fall, but you do your best to muffle it as you slide down the tunnel. You don't notice as the slide smoothes on out, as you're still halfway between grasping for your head and the ground.
A few seconds later and you finally reach the bottom of the pit, still falling at quite a high rate of speed. You hit the ground without slowing one bit, and you simply crumple to the ground. A million different places on your body are in pain after crashing to the ground, and you curl up on the floor for lack of anything else that you can do.
Your whimpers of pain are the only sound that you can hear. There is still nothing that you are able to see. Aside from the crash caused by your bones slamming into the bottom of the crater, there has been nothing else. Neither Rika nor Marisa had shown up yet, and what part of you that wasn't in pain was worried what was taking them so long.
"Who is there…?" Gingerly, you lift your head and look up, trying to find some semblance of what is lurking nearby and trying to talk to you. "Just be straightforward. I've not the mood to brook word games…" Even as you sit up and shake your head, marveling a little at the receding pain, you continue to search. You find nothing."
Partially because I don't know what to say and partially because there's a faint chance that Marisa may show up soon and provide some discourse on what to do. Hopefully the worse case scenario is that Alice has to provide an answer later.
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"…Well, I'll just ignore it and pretend like I'm not hearing anything." Without anything else that she can do, Margaret just settles in and waits. She pulls her skirt aside and plops down on a nearby patch of dirt to await Marisa's arrival.
After a few seconds, though, she closes her eyes, hoping to hear the girl before she sees her. There's not much that you can do, though. There's nothing that you can hear. No echoes are pinging off the rock walls as you sit there. Nothing but empty quiet for you as you sit there.
Repose, though, is something that you will not complain about having. All of this constant running has not left you enough time to just consider the situation that you are in. And you've been too busy earlier to really consider what is going on.
It should be more of a shock to your system to realize that you're more than a century and a half removed from your home. Even if you remember going into that forest for the first time a few days ago, you haven't seen enough that is real. For all that you know, you could have ended up in that exact same forest. That might even be it.
After all, there was that ribbon up top that caught your eye. It was odd to find something like that out in the middle of nowhere. It must have been linked to the disturbances that were going on around you, but you just don't understand how that could be the case. It would take another type of witchcraft to just make something appear without any sort of warning.
Part of you wants to wonder if Marisa is leading you on some sort of snipe hunt right here. After all, you just woke up and were sent running through a forest while carrying that poor girl. She was the only reason you didn't raise a fuss on awakening. Something really did spook Marisa, considering the expression on her face, and the way Rika won't wake up. You do hope that it is something that will just wear off after the fever runs its course.
You know that constantly carrying around the girl will not help her in any way, though. You need to find somewhere safe where she can let it properly run its course. Water and is needed, and a medicine to purge her system would be best. Whatever is fouling up her system needs to be removed as soon as possible.
Of course, your present condition, stuck in the bottom of the hole and hurting quite a bit, is hardly much better. At least your current constitution is keeping you in better shape than you rightly should be. "It really is difficult to imagine, isn't it? Although, if I am as strong as the other side is supposed to be, should this really hurt at all? …This whole situation is still too confusing to understand."
Curiously, you look down at your hands, wondering if you can initiate some of that mysterious power on your own. Wondering if you can possess the strength to lift things heavier than a large tote or a small girl. However, the thought flees your mind exceedingly quickly. The thought of being so brutish is not one that is very realistic. One can get far by being muscle, but the dull tinge that is naturally associated with hard power is not one that you've ever cared for. After all, the little rascal you ended up wed to was hardly one who favored that approach in his young life, either.
A choked sob barely manages to escape your lips as the thoughts of him come swirling back in your head, at least for a few seconds. He gave himself for his country in that far away steppe, and yet you barely had the satisfaction of seeing him in a long wooden box. At least the Queen and Country that he served for so bravely allotted the widow a small stipend for his services.
"…Fat lot that it's set me for. None probably missed my disappearance. Probably saw the portents and incorrectly determined the reason I had left. Written off as nothing more than a disappointment, I would reckon." It's truly pitiful that there was no other recourse that you have been able to take so far.
Still, there are a few options you haven't considered. "Would it had been better if I had sought out the Empire? Surely they have something that might have assisted me in understanding what is going on. I certainly would have to partake in a trifle of examinations in order to communicate the veracity of what I have espoused. I am sure that the other side would take my part in the argument."
"…Of course, there is the question of there being an empire. After all, how else would England have managed to claim even part of the moon? Truly, it must be the golden time for the Empire." You take a moment longer and listen in the shaft for any movement. Again, there is nothing. "…Of course, Marisa didn't sound enthused about them. Curious enough, considering her accent is too cultured to be colonial. It's not one I'm particularly familiar with, though. There's just a little hint of French, though. Perhaps one of her parents."
Shrugging, you lean back and look up. Or at least you think it's up. "Not that that could be true, though. If the passage of time has been as large as Marisa makes it out to be, then I would not be surprised if the language has shifted. There certainly has been a shift in expected manners. It's not too unwelcome, but I should do wonder what else has changed. It's curious how a bunch of women are the ones leading this organization."
There are certainly dozens of other questions that are going through your head, but right now, all you can do is wait for Marisa at the bottom of this hole. "Logically, if the option was available, they would have gone out of their way to get the assistance of one of our nations. So, unless they merely had no traction when they tried to communicate their woes, I would that their plight is not sympathetic or not believable."
There is enough that you have seen that keeps you on the side of believing, but there is plenty that you have seen as well. The only thing you can do right now is wait. You're stuck at the bottom of this big hole, and you just are waiting for now. After all, you're sure that Marisa will know what to do.
"I have no idea what to do." Marisa leans on her broom as she looks around the tunnel she has ended up in, along with Rika. "There was only one bottom to the hole I blasted. But… Where is she?"
The last ten minutes had been spent with Marisa searching for her erstwhile companion, with Rika strapped to her broom. The witch finally remembered that it was an option halfway through her descent, but for now it has been relegated to transporting her small friend's form.
During that entire search, Marisa never manages to find Margaret, and she is starting to get worried. "It's not that dark in here, and I can still see the surface. Where could she have gone?" Leaning back, she takes a deep breath before bellowing out, "Margaret! Where have you gone?"
Once again, nothing answers her, and Marisa sighs. "Great. It would be my luck that this world manages to mess up a simple bottomless pit. I hate this realm." The witch's lament is a little half-hearted, but she shakes her head violently as she thinks on what to do. "Dammit. Dammit, I've lost her. Well, I need to find her somehow. …Or I can wait until she turns back into Lucas, and then I can just follow the screech. That man's got a pair of lungs I've never heard before."
Even with that said, Marisa looks back at her floating companion. "Not many places I can go now, are there? Seems I ended up in some sort of tunnel. Just which way is best to go…"
The companion doesn't answer her at all, which is enough to tell her where to go. There's no point in retracing her steps. Marisa can take of any trouble, or so the black magician hopes. If she can't handle it, she'll just have to figure something out.
Either way, she needs to start moving. Marisa knows she is fortunate enough to have crossed paths with an underground path. That fortune is replete with many potential terrors, which stops her from making a benediction. "…You know, sometimes I just wish I'd end up in some hideout that was aboveground. I know that not all Youkai hate the sun." Marisa can’t help but to roll her eyes a little as she grabs the laden broom and guides it along.
The witch walks slowly, taking great pains to tread carefully in the darkness. Every step is quiet, and each echoes noticeably in the tunnel. Once she leaves the light that is shining down from the magically drilled hollow, Marisa pulls out her little furnace and lights it up. Yellow flames lick her fingers as her magic ignites. Shadows appear along the hall, rising up to dance with the soft light.
The shapes give her pause for a moment, as she knows that a Youkai would gleefully use the jovial darkness to hide and strike when she isn't looking. "…I'll live. I don't want to use my equipment if I don't have to. Who knows how many seconds it would last until something screwed up. Just keep it together, Marisa."
With that small reassurance uttered under her breath, she continues along. Minutes pass by, with nothing happening the entire time. Her steps continue to resound faintly in the cavernous tunnel. The moment she stepped out of the light of the fake sun, even the tacit warmth gives way to a frigid chill. The light of her hakerro is bright enough for her to see the faint tinges of breath in the depths.
Unbidden, she shivers a moment and tugs at her sleeves. "How far down are we? If we've managed to enter a pocket this far below the surface… I would hate to meet what lives here." She grips the hakerro tightly, gaining some reassurance from the warm wood beneath her fingertips.
As they walk, Marisa hears the tortured breaths of her friend as she guides her along. They are so soft that a footstep can overpower them, and so ragged that the witch knows that not enough air in to sustain her. Marisa pauses a few times in order to check Rika, but each time she is left at a loss. She isn’t sure what it is she can do for her. She needs to find some safety, but the middle of a pathway that may yet be used is not where she wishes to stop.
So, instead of equivocating, she continues to walk. A few times she finds herself jogging along antsy and eager to get somewhere, but she restrains herself and continues on her previous pace. Marisa finds herself looking back and forth between the points of light on the wall, searching for any indication of a trespasser or visitor. If she were more honest with herself, she is continuing the examination in order to block out the noises her stricken friend is making.
Instead, she examines the walls a bit more. They are jagged and uneven, seemingly hewn by hand. There is none of the natural curvature that accompanies the growth of a cavern. More tellingly, there is no trough on the ground through which water once ran.
Of course, she knows that there is no way to tell what made this ground. For all Marisa knows, there could be a great, interconnected highway of tunnels that lurk under the surface, or there might be but one cavern that leads only where the one who discovers it desires. Without any obvious answer, much less one relevant, she is left to her travels and to her thoughts.
"You know what the worst part about this is, Rika?" Marisa chances another glance down at her friend, but the witch's ever-present grin never appears. "I really shouldn't have read that book. I know I could have done the job… Even if I had to brute force it. Then again, I wouldn't know how capable I'd have been at the fight… fat lot of good that it did."
"And I’m sure that there is something within those unholy pages that could be of some use." Marisa grits her teeth a bit more and watches the edges of the walls. "…I hate when I know something has to be watching me. Always the same. They might as well come out so I can take care of them, but they wait because they're scared."
The shadows stay the same as before, but Marisa slumps her shoulders. "Of course, the bravado isn't called for. The odds certainly aren’t stacked in our favor, at least for now, and I have to worry about you, Rika. …But I promise that if things go too bad, I'll get you out of here. Whatever it takes." She squeezes the girl's shoulder one more time as she continues to walk.
The witch's whispered monologue ends as she notices some other markings on the walls. Deep gouges have been cut at every angle and every corner of the tunnel, with some extending feet into the rock. At the edges the rock is blackened and shiny, with the borders of every hole melted just slightly. "…I wonder…"
Marisa takes one moment to peer down into the depths, curious to see what may lurk down deep inside. Nothing is there that can be seen. There is nothing that her eyes can see. After inspecting each one, she continues along. After skipping past the first few hundred feet of potted rock, the holes become shallower, and the scorch marks longer and longer.
A couple of thoughts come to Marisa's head as she eyeballs the damaged rock. This time, she keeps her mouth shut and continues to advance. Every step is taken with caution, and her footfalls grow fainter and fainter with every slow stride. To her relief, nothing still deigns to stride out and assault the two, but she does her best to stay quiet.
Of course, Rika's labored breaths frustrate every one of Maria's efforts, as they seem to grow louder and louder the longer they go on. Marisa isn't sure if that is the case, or if he constant presence is just becoming overwhelming. No matter what, every second that goes by without some Youkai descending upon the two and attempting to make a meal of them – or worse – is a small blessing that she will take.
Before the blackened rock fades back into sullen gray, a side passage opens up into the distance. Marisa practically jumps in place the moment she spies the shadows, and a few larger sparks leak out of the hakerro at her surprise. She bites the inside of her cheek as she stares down the first corridor for a few more seconds, insuring that nothing stands right in front of her, before turning back to the junction.
The small alcove continues for about fifteen feet or so, as vacant as the path already trod. Past that, though, the shadows pull back and reveal a multitude of ivory objects on a small pile. Hesitantly, Marisa raises her furnace, and reveals the very top of a small, bony mountain.
"Now, this certainly isn't a trap." Marisa snorts softly and steps a bit closer into the room, trying to get a closer look at the remains resting at the far end. "For whatever reason, these were left here. Either it is a trap, or it's a statement. …Or someone is using these bones for something."
Marisa watches it for a few more seconds before nodding to herself. "Well, if it is a trap, it's nothing that I can't handle. And if I can’t handle it, we're dead anyways." For the first time in ages, a grim smile graces her face, and Marisa steps forward, closer, to the pile.
Resting at her feet are small, round, bony disks, half of which seem to be shattered. Broken segments are scattered everywhere, with tiny ones falling between the cracks in the rock below. Making up the base are broken and shattered leg and arm bones. Ribs poke out as spikes on a venus flytrap might, as if it is waiting for an unwary passerby to step too close.
On the very top of the pile are the scattered remnants of humanoid skulls, half with their jaws missing. Each one is a bit too long and deformed to be human. Of the upper jaws that remain intact, the majority of the teeth are long sharp canines. Whatever the creatures were, it is very doubtful they were peaceful vegetarians. Other than the ratios of the parts simply looking off, another feature draws Marisa's eyes.
Namely, the stumps of bones on their foreheads are quite conspicuous.
"…Oni. Of all the… These have to be oni. How… Reimu had a hard enough time with the one. Who could have done all this to… so many?" The thought of her friend brings enough troubled thoughts to Marisa's head, but she tries to shake them off. "This is not the time to be blue. Hell. We're supposed to be both purple, Reimu. Both the same." Marisa grumbles a bit and looks back the way she came. Rika still rests on the witch's broom, and nobody has yet appeared. "This is getting worse by the second. Stuck in this realm, Rika too injured to even stand, Margaret separated with no signs of her in the slightest… What else is going to come up?"
[ ] Examine the remains more closely.
[ ] Head on out and continue where you were going.
[ ] Head on out and go back to try another direction.
>>181428 Goddammit. That just reeks of sarcasm.
Welp, we're boned.
I'm here all week. Feel free to throw tomatoes, rotten eggs, or anything similar.
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[-o+1-] Head on out and continue where you were going.
"Bah. I'm going to go crazy trying to reason with myself. I just need to keep moving." Marisa sighs once more and immediately looks away from the pile of bony remains. "Let's just get out of here, Rika. We need to find Margaret or Lucas and leave. If there is something down here that is that strong, it'll be more trouble than it is worth." The witch continues to mumble under her breath as she grabs the front of the broom and pulls Rika with her.
Nothing has passed through the main tunnel as the two remain standing, and Marisa takes advantage of the continued absence of creatures, sentient and not, to make her way down the hall. The farther she treads down the path, the more alcoves that she passes by.
In each one, she takes a brief moment to peek inside and ensure nothing is waiting for her. And each time, she is greeted with nothing more than a pile of broken bones. "…How many of those things lived down here? There can't be enough for them to eat. And for so many… wouldn't they have ended up fighting among themselves?" Marisa stares warily at each one, and her stomach starts to leap around as she spots every single pile.
"…That can't be right. There must be a reason there are so many. But what would purposely deposit the remains of the oni after cutting off their horns?" Shaking her head, she forestalls any future questions and keeps going. She knows that it will do her no good to obsess over the remains. Every one is obviously a trap, or it is something far worse.
Curiously, she notices that the tunnel she is traveling in is far wider than it was originally. Though it was hard to tell at first, the entire pathway is gradually widening. The slope of the floor, which is flatter and smoother than before, is also gradually decreasing. Wherever this path leads, it certainly is not taking her up.
The witch's eyes continue to wander, and she is partly inclined to retrace her steps. The deformed igneous that the tunnels are bored from still bear the telltale singes of flames that once licked their edges. "C'mon, now, this can't just be the work of some fire elemental or the like. I could see maybe one or two creatures dying, but so many? Unless…"
Marisa is unable to help herself, and she continues to postulate ideas as she continues her descent down into the deep. The side paths end soon after she descends, and there are no more remains that litter the beaten path. "They were being stored, I suppose. Stored or discarded. Assuming that they weren't still alive by some sort of magic that I do not care to understand, they were simply dumped down on the ground."
After a few moments, she snorts a bit. "Maybe I'm giving it too much credit. It could be some sort of beast, I suppose. These marks could be much older than the oni's remains. I should have stayed and done a test or two to see how old they are locally. Then I would know whether I have to spark a big flaming critter, or a big hairy critter."
Her voice echoes loudly, and Marisa stops dead in her tracks, not realizing that she had gotten so loud. "Crap. I really need to stay quiet. More than I have been. At least nothing should be able to come by us, right?" Marisa looks back at her companion and sighs. "Well, you'll reply soon, Rika. You'll be fine. I know you will." She stares for a few more seconds before pulling the brim of her hat down to her eyebrows. "I shouldn't continue to carry on this conversation, though. I should stop hoping that you'll just pop up saying that 'I'm fine.' Heck, if you did, I'd be concern that there might be a little something wrong with you."
Rika does not leap up to pronounce her good health, and Marisa shakes her head and continues on. This time, she manages to remain quiet for the remainder of her journey down the shaft.
Once Marisa reaches the bottom, the tunnel opens up immensely, growing into a gaping cavern that stretches so far that the light cannot reach the far side. The pathway becomes craggy once Marisa crosses the thresholds, and the surroundings are replete with the rough terrain indicative of a natural cave - as far as Marisa can tell, at least. The sloping landscape that stretches on breaks up her hakkero's light, and the shadows loom large on the towering walls.
In the far distance, Marisa can finally hear a faint noise. The patter of water against the rock reverberates throughout the chamber. As soft as it is, it must be far, but there's no telling in this natural hall. Without saying another word, she maintains her grip on the broomstick and guides Rika through the twists and turns below.
There does seem to be a path through the cavern floor, and she gladly takes it so as to reduce the pain for her feet, which are just starting to ache. The constant action and lack of sleep should be getting to her soon. "…I'm going to need a pick-me-up sooner or later. But first I need a safe spot. I don't want to crash in the middle of a nest. That might go badly if I don't destroy everything beforehand." Marisa rubs her forehead a little bit before continuing on the path, drawing close and closer to the quiet rush of water.
The farther she walks, the closer she gets to the left side of the cave as the entire room curves around to the right. After a few more minutes of walking, it leads out to another alcove of some sort. Partly curious about what may be there and partly cagey about what may be lurking, Maris takes a chance and steps into the alcove.
Instead of another tight hallway, it opens up into an endless sea of darkness. Marisa holds up her hakerro and tries to cast light into the abyss. The beam of light seems to go on forever into the distance, just as it did in the cavern behind her. This time, though, even the roof above and the floor below is not visible. "…There might not even be a floor here. Still, what sort of cave systems have I managed to open up?"
Standing on top of the perch, Marisa slowly looks around, and does see the walls of the cave that extend as far as the eye can see. The flow of water in the distance still remains just as loud, but that is hardly indicative of anything at all. The rock at her feet is torn to pieces. The surface has been ripped by something that had claws large enough to gouge tracks two inches wide in about a hundred places.
"This is just lovely. Well, I'll just have to hope this isn't from Lucas going off the deep end. Shouldn't be the case. We're both in this world, so I hope time doesn't get too loosey-goosey compared to normal…" Marisa blinks and looks back at her friend once more, and she fails to find any solace in the gesture. "I wonder how much time we'll lose. Either way, let's get moving. There's nothing out here that we need to explore."
Marisa turns around, barely noticing as a few pebbles dislodge themselves from the perch. As she steps back out, the floor underneath her back foot shifts and gives way. Rock crumbles and falls down, and the witch soon follows after it.
She barely has the chance to grab on tighter to the broom before she has fallen five feet. Her front leg, foot still planted on solid ground, snaps up and hits herself in the face, sending her tumbling down. In that moment of pain, she loses her grip on the broom. She can't help but to watch as it floats down the ground in the split second she can see it before hitting the rocky slope below.
Any scream is cut short as a rock slams into her back, forcing all air out of her body and sending her careening into another formation. The stone edifice hits her in the arm, sending her barreling down the wall as stone after stone rips her clothes and her skin. Again and again she slams her arms and her sides into the wall, and the pain only stops for a moment as instead, the rock slams into the side of her head.
The next thing Marisa knows, she's laying on some rocky floor, and she feels a puddle of warm liquid pooling against her mouth. She groans a bit as she tries to force her body up, but her arms barely cooperate. She's too busy focusing on the pain that envelops her as she tries to claw her way to full consciousness.
Far in the distance is a faint light, but other than that the world is dark. She wonders why she is unable to open her right eye, but the lid is vastly swollen. Slowly, ever so slowly, she checks the rest of her body. Her neck does still want to move, and her back is killing her. Her legs respond to her desires ever so reluctantly and move, as do her arms. Her toes curl in the bottom of her boots, and her fingers grip empty air.
Rika was on the broom, so she floated off peacefully, unlike Marisa who fell. She should be fine.
And if anything would get to her in the time it takes us to get the hakkero and start climbing, it likely would have found us anyway, except without light and without a weapon.
There's no question what she needs to do right now. She can cast magic without the furnace, but she knows that there is something strong lurking in these tunnels. She would have to be an imbecile to go and run off without her weapon.
So, she starts pushing, forcing herself to her feet as quickly as she can. All of her dull aches and pains protest at the movement, but they have to be ignored. For her sake, and Rika's sake, she needs to hurry up.
After a great deal of effort and pain, she manages to get to her feet and look around once more. The faint light is still shining in the distances, and with no other lead Marisa takes off after it, hobbling after the first few steps due to her injuries.
It must be much farther than she initially thought, as it never seems t grow closer. Marisa glances around a bit, looking out for a Changeling, Youkai, or other monster that is using the dark surface of the cave to stalk the wounded human. To her relief, there seems to be no one nearby stalking after her - at least for the moment.
In the darkness, the witch can barely see the outlines of rubble that have crumbled down onto the dark surface. The witch tries to look for anything recognizable amongst the wreckage, but there's no telling what anything is, save for that it was, at one point, a building of some sort. Anything more than that is too much for her to tell right now.
After the long trip, Marisa finally stumbles upon the flickering light of her weapon. It still manages to burn after her fall, although considering that the flames are barely managing to stay alight, she must have been asleep for a long time. "…My luck. Don't tell me that it was banged up. I worked for weeks on this thing…" Marisa kneels down and picks up the small object and feels it for any defects or deformities.
She lets out a small sigh of relief as she finally confirms that there is no major damage. With that, she pauses and forces the light back to full burn, and begins to look around the chamber she is in. "…Dear me. I hope this is not what I think it is."
Peering around the vast expanses of the cavern, she realizes that the rubble that seems to surround her is indeed artificial. Stone is piled up in disorderly rows, with wooden beams sticking out of each strut like broken ribs from the carcass of a slaughtered hog. She slowly turns around, and the quiet devastation extends as far as her eye can see. "…Don't tell me I stumbled into an actual sanctuary. I don't know how close to the edge of the hedge we are. Perhaps… This was a hiding spot? Or maybe it was a city." She frowns a bit and turns her light up, looking up at the walls.
Her eyes sweep across the black morass of water that rushes down the slope with nothing more than a gentle slosh. The witch continues to track along the ceiling, looking from crack to crevice as she looks for the one hole that a girl of her small size could walk through. After a minute or two of search, her beam dancing on the sheer wall, she finds the remains of the perch she fell off. "Well, that's going to be fun. Now, how am I gonna get up there…"
She immediately reaches for her hat to retrieve her broom, but she stops halfway through. She no longer has the object. Pausing in thought, she begins to quickly count her options. "Well, I definitely can't climb up that thing. I'd end up hurting myself. But Rika… I need to get to her. Now." She continues to stare up top as she looks for any other option. "If she's still on the broom, I could make her fall if I retrieved it. And if she's not, it will be the best way to track her. But how… Broom. I can fly. Why am I even bothering?"
With that, the witch takes a deep breath and bends the reality and imposes her will on it. And, again, instead of the expected pain, she finds nothing but bliss as the ground falls away beneath her. "Moving the entire realm should be damaging me more than this. Keep it together…"
A few twitches of her fingers later and Marisa descends into the hole and sets down in the entrance. The hakerro is immediately raised, and light catches every single facet of the tunnel. Ignoring the wavering shadows, she instead looks for her friend.
There is no luck. Nothing but dull rock is show before the light of her furnace. Frankly, and though she doesn't want to admit it, there is nowhere she could have rolled to in here if she fell off. What gravity that exists here couldn't have pulled her far. Not that it has to make sense.
Just to be sure, Marisa looks back down at the bottom of the great cavern, trying to see if her friend fell anywhere near her. Just as before, her efforts fell. The witch grumbles quietly and straightens herself up, even though the pain and the exhaustion are beginning to take their toll. "I suppose it was inevitable that I would run across something. At least it's time for me to just do what I'm best at."
Marisa pulls her hat down and turns back into the tunnel, and as she does she hears rocks crumbling and falling down the other side of the vacant chamber. She freezes and immediately extinguishes her torch before clinging to the rock wall and looking out towards its source.
Antsy as she is, she makes sure to keep still as she watches and waits for anything to make a move. Her patience is vindicated as a few other faint steps are heard. To be honest, though, she could merely be fantasizing about a target she wishes she could kill.
[ ] Go back the way she came.
[ ] Go forward the way she was going.
[ ] Go out and find the source of the noise.
Sorry for the wait and the shortness. Next one will assuredly be up sooner. Friday at least. Maybe tomorrow.
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[-q+1-] Go out and find the source of the noise.
"…Back into the hall it is then." It wasn't a hard decision for her. After all, stumbling about looking for Rika or Margatroid is only going to guarantee that she will be stumbling about in the dark for a long period of time. She needs to find something. She will either find the missing girls, the ones who took them, or a third party that might be of some interest.
At least, that is what Marisa was telling herself as she leans against the wall. "Definitely not going to be able to go much longer. I'll have to make sure that I have some potions left just in case I need a boost in short order. I just hope that it won't come to that. I don't want to put myself on a time limit." She grabs her side for a moment before closing her eyes and nods. "Let's go."
The witch silently encourages herself as she lifts off the ground and crosses into the cavern again. She strains her mind as she grabs hold of the earth about her and shifts it out of her way, moving her farther and farther over the rubble beneath. The hakerro is tightly held in her hand, but the light never shines down. She does not want to give away her position to anyone or anything that might be prowling below.
She instead remains near the ceiling of the chamber, half listening to the sounds below and spending the rest of the time marveling at the lack of pain she experiences. There isn't much that she hears that is down below, with a few more steps ever so often. It seems that whoever it is that is taking a stroll through the rubble is pausing and checking something.
Marisa eventually floats near a stalactite or a wall. She can't tell in the dark. No matter what it is, she places her hand on it, and some of the fear that had been in her stomach fades away. She mutters under her breath as the echoing steps take another lull. "I've become much too used to the broom. Being underground that much must really be messing with my head."
The steps begin again, and Marisa continues to listen in. She stays there for a few minutes and continues to watch, and she soon finds herself amused. The person takes eight steps, pauses, four steps, pauses, two steps, four steps, and then eight once more. That pattern continues for a while until the figure begins to walk a bit faster. The thing continues to tap in threes after that, and Marisa swears that she can hear something else just out of the corner of her ear.
"…Must have a funny one here, then." Marisa frowns as she fingers the edge of her weapon. "…Probably deranged in someway. If the disaster here is recent, it could be a survivor. Nothing smells though, and there are no remains. Whatever happened here must have happened ages ago. …Relatively." There's no point accounting for the time fluctuation.
Instead, she considers what would be best for her to do. Should she confront the creature, or should she merely shoot first and ask questions when they're dead? "It'll be a backstabber, most likely. Insane if it's still toddling around here. Whatever caused this devastation probably has moved on to more fertile hunting grounds. Unless, of course, it was this thing going mad and killing everything here. There's no telling until I confront it."
She ponders on it for a few more seconds before decisively floating down and descending towards the sounds. Whatever she can accomplish by dithering is not worth the time and effort. Action needs to be taken, and if it's the wrong decision, she will just play it by ear. All this planning and pondering is starting to make her feel a bit loopy, anyway.
Slowly, she approaches the ground, decelerating rapidly to ensure she does not crash into the ground and give away her position. Marisa's lips thin as she listens for the person she follows, who is most certainly humming quietly as they continue to dance along. She can't tell what tune they are following, and she immediately tries to ignore it. There could be some ill effect from listening too long.
As such, she immediately holds up her hakerro and announces herself with a bright, penetrating beam of light. While not a spark, it is bright enough to cause her eyes to twitch from the sheer intensity. In front of her, a creature in tattered clothing freezes while standing up on one foot.
Creature it may appear to be, but there is still plenty that looks human. Long, matted hair clings to its face, from under which round eyes slowly search for and find Marisa. The skin of it is chalk white, save for what parts seem to be mottled and bruised. It appears to be a she, although it's hard to tell since its ribs are its most prominent feature.
The two stare at each other for a second, and Marisa is tempted to simply let loose and knock it back before it does anything. That won't help her find out where the others are. "Tell me everything I need to know, and you may not get hurt. Do you understand?"
The creature blinks and tilts its head to the side. A second later it hops to its other foot and continues to stare rather curiously.
"Great. I guess it doesn't understand a word I'm trying to say." Marisa grumbles and stares at it again. "I will ask you once, and only once. If you don't say anything, I'm just going to kill you as best I can and then I'm going to go about my business. So, tell me if you know where any humans or Youkai are being held hostage. If not…"
The creature just tilts its head the other way and switches legs. "…It's what I figured. Oh well. Say goodbye."
"…Firefly?" The girl blinks, and something lurches up and stares at Marisa. The witch jumps back as a round object that is attached to something floats in front of the creatures face. "Big light back? Good fun done! No burning chicken since you come. I will help. I big help you. You big help us." With that, the creature turns around and continues skipping along, giving Marisa no more heed.
[ ] "Big Light?"
[ ] "Burning Chicken?"
[ ] "Us?"
[ ] "Screw it. Spark it. Move on."
Then why don't you enlighten us as to what burning chicken means? Furthermore, if she knows, why is asking about it an option? I just think that asking about "us" is a more pressing matter, as it could lead us to Rika or Maggie.
I was thinking that burning chicken was basically cooked bird meat, but thinking back on it now it could be a number of other things as well considering the surroundings. Also I often find myself asking questions that I can get the answers to with a little thinking. I would imagine a witch that deals with supernatural monster via magic would do it far more than most people.
Someone would scold you for assuming as such. It is better to assume the worst at the very least, instead of the best. Better to be careful with how you choose than to be reckless. This is why we burned that scrap of potentially harmless cloth, isn't it? This is the lesson that Margatroid has tried to teach us. I would rather not make assumptions at all, to be honest. But sometimes one must. But I'm rambling now. I just don't want to lose Marisa because we did something foolish like trust her too much. Her as in Marisa. Already we're being a bit too trusting by talking to a Youkai. There are so many ways that we could be ensnared, or worse. But we have little choice. She might have at least some kind of useful information, even as crazy as she is.
I felt bad about how short last night's update was, so I went ahead and got about halfway through on the next update for that. I've been slacking a bit, and I'm going to make a point of getting them both updated.
With no other option before her, Marisa takes her first steps and follows after the girl. "So, us, you said? What is that supposed to mean, really? Who else is down here?"
The destitute girl doesn't answer Marisa for a few seconds, as she seems to be enjoying herself way too much. She continues to skip to and fro, jumping about the piles of rubble, seemingly making a game out of not touching the ground. Seeing that she is not going to get an answer anytime soon, Marisa shakes her head as she keeps the hakerro trained. "Now you're not going to talk to me? Or is it just those little friends that are talking to you in your head."
"You know us too?" The girl spins back around, barely seeming to notice as her feet lose their grip. Even so, she instinctively finds solid ground as rubble trickles down to the floor. "Firefly didn't know us before. Just came for big light. Us gave big light away. Firefly not like big light?"
"…There is nothing wrong with it." There is no telling what the girl could be referring to, and Marisa knows it's probably all a trick. After all, if she isn't careful, she could agree to do something just to satisfy the demands of the incredibly hyper creature before her. "Who is us, though."
"You know us. You said? Us said? Need to clean out ear." The creature giggles a bit, throwing back her head and letting her shrill laughter pierce the still air. "Silly. Us is nice. Keeps safe. Makes feel better. No me. Us. Us or bus. T!"
"…Apparently insane." That's the only way she can put it. But she doesn't know if it's a show, or if it is a genuine madness brought on by her treatment. Marisa wouldn't know, and considering the options, either one might spell trouble.
The creature continues to dance along before she is suddenly distracted. Wildly, she runs over and scrambles down onto the floor, scrounging through the rocks on the ground, looking for something. Marisa tenses as she tumbles onto the floor, but the creature simply appears to be destitute and desperate.
After a few minutes, it grins before yanking a small object out of the ground. "Aha! Wondered where friend went?"
Marisa isn't quite sure, but all it appears to be is yet another bone. "…Another friend of yours, is it? It seems like he's seen better days."
"True. Friend lost lot of color. Needs more soot. And a foot." The creature bursts out into laughter one more time before hugging it to herself. "Good friend! Why you stay out here all by yourself? So silly. It is alone. Something could come out here and eat you!"
The girl tilts her head and continues to spout her thoughts in a voice quite well suited for an amphitheater. "Well, of course hard to move. But that's why call for help. Big light gone now! Is time to be together for huggings and luggings and kisses." She laughs again before tapping it. "Us gonna put you someplace safe with rest of us."
The witch just shakes her head and watches her continue to talk to the remains for a moment before she realizes that she needs to be keeping an eye out. This could all be a distraction to make her let her guard down. Marisa glances at the creature for a second before turning her hakerro away, quickly scanning the surroundings. To her immense relief, there's nothing that seems to be nearby. The underground continues to be the exact same great expanse of emptiness, which is thankfully unbroken.
Until she turns around and sees the creature's grinning visage in front of her nose. "Hiiiiii."
"Goodbye!" Without any hesitation, she focuses and a concussive blast knocks the creature away. If it weren’t that she might still be useful, Marisa would have already fried her. Having it shot through the air like a rag doll out of a cannon is certainly enough to settle Marisa's rattled emotions.
For its part, the creature certainly seems to not mind one bit once it lands, as it bounces right back up with its same grin. "Firefly being rude to us. Burning chicken must not be being very nice. Big pity."
"I'm sure it is." Marisa winces noticeably as she works out her shoulder. Jumping like that pulled quite a few muscles that are aching terribly enough already. "Now, shouldn't you take your friend back? You said he's lonely."
"Friend?" The creature tilts its head to the side as it brings the bone up and takes a noisy bite out of it. Marisa grimaces at the sharp crack. "Don't know. Us hungry. Need to feed. Tried to have meal, but meal didn't feed. Pity." Again, it grins before taking another bite, and on the next bite it swallows the entirety of the bone.
"…Of course, I am sorry." If it isn't crazy, it certainly is trying hard to be. "Everyone was talking about friends a while ago."
"Friends are not friends now. Gone long from Big Light. Bad light it was. Then Firefly came after us came. Took care of us, us did. Us don't like old Light. Angry light. Don't like angry light."
"So you don't. Too bad." Agonizingly, there doesn't seem to be much of a way to talk to it. The creature only seems to understand and respond to certain words. "Are there any friends that aren't us then? Are are there no friends friends no more?"
Anymore? More friends than ever us is. Us can have many." The creature dances around a little bit more before alighting upon another pile and bending over to search once more. "Us can show you friends. Friends not so lonely are they? But us hungry. Want to eat? Us can find foods for us yet."
"I think I am fine now for food." A lie, certainly, but Marisa cannot accept anything from this creature. She knows that there could be so many things lurking in that mind that only mean her trouble. It might be best just to remove this cog right now and continue to search on her own terms.
[ ] Let her lead to friends. Marisa will find something that way.
[ ] Let it lead to food. Marisa doesn't have to eat, after all.
[ ] Put the poor creature out of its misery.
[X] Let it lead to food. Marisa doesn't have to eat, after all.
Can't let it idle at a tie!
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[-s+1-] Let it lead to food. Marisa doesn't have to eat, after all.
However, as much as she knows that the wisest option might be to kill it, Marisa decides that she will continue to follow her around for the barest ghost of a lead.
At least the creature seems to be absolutely oblivious to the debate that Marisa is having inside of her head. Instead it dances down the pile before continuing to amble randomly through the cavern. "Us were thinking of food. Firefly doesn't want it, though? Us can go find rest of friends. Twenty three and equal to the minus."
"…Right. Whatever you say." She's too tired to even attempt a joke at that nonsensical statement. "But on that note, if you want food, I don't mind following. There's no need to rush ahead and locate… friends."
"But what if they're lonely? Us aren't lonely much. But sometimes us is." The wide-eyed creature blinks and strokes its elbow. "Little shellies won't be bad, us think! We can go and find us one."
Marisa can't quite be sure whom exactly the creature is referring to with every single one of its statements. There's no telling whether the creature means her or its friends or something else, and she feels wary in even tepidly agreeing. "Don't include me in that. I do not want anything at all."
The creature smiles wide before making an about face and marching the opposite way. "Okie dokie!" Its march is comically rigid in comparison to its loping gait before, and Marisa just shakes her head and keeps the hakerro focused on the gangly creature in front of her.
Feet smack noisily on the ground as the two make their way through the rubble once more, but, to the witch's surprise, it soon transitions into a smooth path. "…We haven't walked that far. Weren't we just in that chamber?" The creature doesn't answer, and a quick check of her surrounds shows that Marisa is in a tunnel once more. She clears her throat once more and speaks up. "This is a curious tunnel…"
"Hrm?" The creature stops mid-goose step and spins about on her heels to stare at Marisa. Her face seems to be graced by a demented grin that is too wide and filled with broken yellow teeth. "This is where us go for shellies. You know of better path, Firefly?"
"No, I don't. Never looked for shellies before."
"Oh?" It claps its hand and foot together before finally putting its leg down. "Well, that's bad! Shellies taste delicious. But not enough feathers for Firefly?"
A question that invites a response and Marisa hardly knows whether or not it is innocent or a trap. "It's not that. I just didn't need to know that at this point. That's all."
"…Ah." She is frozen for a moment, and the grin vanishes. "Us sees. Firefly been filling up on teat of nectar. Dew dripping dangling down delirious devious dimple."
The witch blinks and frowns. "What was that? How do you know that?"
"Us know what?" The creature smiles back at you, as she has been since you first spoke, before suddenly turning to the side. "Oh! Was down here!" After her exclamation of shock, she dashes off, nearly bouncing to the ceiling in her shock.
"…Do not tell me that I'm dealing with an actual mental Youkai. I still can't quite tell what she is." Marisa blinks and considers whether or not to follow the gallivanting creature down the hall. She shoots down her worries and follows after it. Slowly. And with her weapon drawn.
To its credit, the tunnel does not seem to be so long. The farther down it that Marisa treks, the more she can hear the pitter of water once again. "…Now that I think about it, how did the creature lead me away and back… Bah. It may be a different one. Need to blast everything open and expose the entire cavern to the sun."
Instead of committing a bout of impulsive terraforming, Marisa floats up and continues along, following the rest of the way in the air. She soon emerges into another cavern with slimy wet walls. "Hrm. Underground river all the way over here, and not in the main chamber. I think. Perhaps someone else has been doing some rearranging. Always a worthwhile hobby."
She smiles a little at her own quip and looks about for a little bit, searching for the creature. To her relief, it is pulling no surprises or scares this time, and is intensely staring down at the water as it rushes before her.
Curiously enough, Marisa doesn't know how she missed her. After all, she's standing in the middle of the room.
Marisa waits on the edge for a second, just watching the creature carefully. It is surveying the water with the eyes of a hawk, with its legs tensed up and ready to extend and strike at any given time. In the witch's eyes, it certainly appears more like an animal at this point than a hominid.
The water ripples once more, and the creature strikes into the water, its thin bony hands lancing out to the water. A thin tendril appears and slits open the surface of the water, and it stands there for a moment before grinning widely and yanking back up.
The creature appears to have caught another, even more grotesque being. Its yellow skin is slimy and scaled, and what she can see of its face is dominated by a tooth muzzle or beak.
The girl, which she obviously is in comparison to her prey, has managed to grab hold of the foot of the creature and is holding it upright from her perch on the rock. The creature thrashes about for a little bit, but with one hand seemingly emerging from the shoulder and the other arm extending all the way down and under the water of the flowing river. It is holding on for dear life, and its beady eyes are wide with shock. It lets out a pitiful howl as weakly pulls itself back below the rocky stream.
This is one Youkai that Marisa is all too familiar with. "A bestial kappa. I should have figured that the first river that I'd come across would be a nesting ground." It whimpers pitifully as the last few drops of water leak out of the pan on its head, and its attempts to escape grow more exhausted with every one. "Wait a second. So this is your shellie? You're going to eat the creature?"
"Us are going to, yup! Nice and rib-sticking shellies are. Would go well with earlier friend, us think!" With that, the girl-creature grabs hold of the kappa's other leg. Without anything else it can attempt to do, the creature lifts up its pitiful head and gazes at Marisa balefully. It opens its mouth to let out a cry, but instead it cries out a scream as the other creature twists the kappa's legs apart.
>>181870 Here is the issue Koishi is mentally unstable and the only reason she hasn't chewed Marisa's face off is because she seems to think Marisa is Wriggle. So long as she continues to believe this we're in the clear, unfortunately Marisa doesn't have enough meta knowledge to know this. I have doubts about whether or not Marisa can take Koishi in a fight, as such the best course of action is to do nothing so Koishi gets bored and wanders off. This tactic however will run the risk that Koishi doesn't get bored and decides to follow us everywhere we go haunting us like some kind of autistic ghost.
However for the time being.
[X]Do nothing (Let it die)
Marisa stays her hand once again. No matter what, she can't seem to bring herself to do anything to this Youkai. She keeps on thinking about it, but the thought continuously slips out of her mind. She cannot even concentrate on the thing.
True, there is a chance that the Youkai could lead her to Margaret. But it has been a while since she even found the Youkai, and now she is following it around. She's not leading Marisa anywhere that she knows, nor is she leading her any closer to her goal. Now she is going to casually tear apart this creature.
She keeps on thinking of excuses for allowing it. It is a Youkai, after all. She can't know what ill will it means, or what other crimes it has committed. It is her job to exterminate the Youkai. Just like she did to Lucas the moment that he met him.
"Wait…" The witch grabs her head and shakes it, looking at the mad wraith that seems to be grinning widely. The creature grins widely, its teeth bared as it grabs the legs and twists them. The sickening crack of bone is matched by the creatures cry. With a deft twist, the creature snaps the kappa's leg off of its body and rips it away.
Curiously, the girl-creature examines the leg, sniffing up and down the length of the severed limb. Carelessly, one hand grips the ankle and nearly shatters it. The mottled scales are spread askew as she rakes her thumb over it, all the while ignoring the remainder of the kappa that is dangling from her other hand.
The kappa is screaming and clawing at the ground the entire time, and her hands keep darting out at the slick surface. As weakened as it is, the pain has spurred it on and given it new impetus to try and scramble away. It has no luck in finding a handhold. Even if it wasn't so far up, its body is simply too weak. And, with every slow, passing second, the thick lifeblood leaks out and splatters on the surface.
Marisa can only seem to watch the blood as it falls and splashes on the ground. It is a far better sight than the one above it, as the creature takes one more sniff before opening up her mouth and taking a large bite out of it. The wet, red nectar drips down her face as she devours the scaly leg. Every time she comes up for air, Marisa tries not to look at the delirious grin that is painted across the front of the creature's face.
No matter her feelings, she just cannot seem to bring herself to do anything. Something is being eaten alive in front of her, and Marisa just stands there. Watching. Absorbing the sight in. "Why can't I? I don't really care about the kappa. Not one bit, even. I don't care. But why am I letting that thing eat it? There are more painless ways… And I wouldn't have… to watch…"
She can't take her eyes away from the vision that is being presented. Idly, the witch wonders if it is a dream. Maybe she has just been imagining things this whole time. Ever since she went down that shaft. That could explain it.
"Maybe I'm just that callous anymore. I don't think I am. Am I?" The witch pulls at her hat as she despairs and argues with herself. "No. I don't think so. I take out lots of Youkai. They are the dangerous ones, and I always end up being attacked. Do I just stand and… watch…?" Marisa pulls her hat down even farther as she whispers.
Her words start to sound more like gibberish, and as she continues to babble, the creature strips the bones clean of every piece of flesh there might have been. The various smaller bones are gone, eaten whole by the emaciated monster.
Once that is done, though, the creature drops the last few bones and lifts the kappa up farther. Even now the creature struggles, and it has started to lash out at the gangly creature. As defeated as it is, the kappa has no effect at all on the creature, and its flaccid arms once again fall limp.
As the kappa dangles there, the creature pulls some variety of line out. Marisa can't tell what it is, but it slips down and into the leg.
A few seconds later, the creature freezes up and lets out another yell. It is soon cut short, as her scales begin to crack and separate. The slim muscles underneath her skin slowly deflate, becoming as drawn and as taught as the creature that is consuming her.
What can be called cheeks draw in, and the eyeballs seem to shrink in the skull as the tongue shrivels away. Skin peels away, leaving the edge of her bones visible to the naked eye. Soon enough, even the scales begin to flake away, each one falling into the river, as would flakes of snow.
Once the creature is done feeding, it pulls back its thing back out of the withered husk of the kappa. Satisfied with the sustenance that the kappa provided, it tosses its carcass to the side and reclaims the bones that are strewn about the cavern floor.
The witch just shakes her head and looks down. "In my head. What is in my head talking to me? I've been hearing things. Is it something else? She just took that thing. Took the kappa and ruined it. Was that what it was like for Rikako's mind? She was so horridly off. Ruined by a kappa. Not that type. Maybe it deserved it. But why would I think these things?"
Ignoring the crack of the kappa's former femur, Marisa snaps her head and looks at her possessions. "Perhaps. That is it. That book did something to me. And it's just reacting. Could this just be a vision? It would explain why we are separated. Perhaps. Not. I can't tell. But it did something to me, didn't it? Something more, something less. Or is it this youkai? Freak, it is. Something is off kilter, and yet-"
"Hiiii!" The creature grins up at Marisa, the dark blood still dripping from its cheek. "Us know that Firefly said she is not hungry, but would you want a drink? Snapped the best bone off, just for you. Be shame if you don't take." At that, the creature thrusts the fractured femur into her face, and all the witch can see are the still juicy innards that remain.
[ ] Take
[ ] Don't
Had to rewrite that one about 3 times or so. Never could find it acceptable.
Let's not and let's say we didn't.
Because it's a proven fact that different species, and even different groups within the same species, have differing dietary needs and capabilities.
And Marisa probably isn't capable of digesting that safely.
Eating this food offered to us by a not terribly benign youkai seems like an awful idea.
We cannot verify any form of quality control as the meat was not drawn from any certified ranch, and as such we have no idea what kinds of toxins or parasites may have built up, furthermore, we have no means to prepare it.
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Marisa blinks and just looks down at the proffered limb that the creature is offering. Instinct immediately tells her not to take it. There is no reason in the world that she should take it. Why should she even consider eating a sentient creature that was just moments before begging for its life?
The witch may not be thinking straight, but she certainly isn’t so far gone as to think that is a reasonable course of action. The disgust is quite evident on her face. So, instead of even pretending to show a hint of interest with the creature’s offer, she backs away and shakes her head. “No. Just no. Don’t want it. Sorry, but can’t take it. Don’t want, don’t care, don’t don’t.”
Another thick drop of blood splatters against the floor as the creature stands there, frozen in place. The grin is still wide, and she continues to unwaveringly hold the leg out. “Firefly? Is something wrong? We know that you have liked this before.” Slowly, ever so slowly, the head tilts to the side, its eyes unwavering in its gaze. “The strands are delicious. So nice. But Firefly sounds unwell. She is chittering again.”
“I am not. Just no! I don’t want it!” Marisa continues to back away, running into one of the rock faces after a few more trembling steps. “Stop it, now. What are you? What is going on? What are you doing in my head to make me act like this?”
“…Ahhh… We understand.” It snaps back upright, its grin still as fixed and frozen as ever. “Nasty little Firefly wanted to kill herself. Wanted to eat and subsume. We can’t give Firefly that. Fresh food will have left soon.” The grin instantly melts into a petulant frown. “Selfish and nasty light. Comes and asks too much.”
“You’re not answering me!” Marisa growls a bit and grabs the furnace in her pocket. “I don’t know what you’re doing. There are voices in my head… You’re the cause of this, aren’t you? I don’t what game you’re trying to play, but I’m not going to succumb to it!”
The creature continues to stare back, its three eyes widening and widening and widening. Three large vacant stabbing orbs can’t seem to see enough. “Firefly shouldn’t shine too brightly. We just try to help… But we don’t all like the light like you. Do we?”
“That’s not a question you should ask me. Instead, tell me what is going on, or I’ll take care of you directly!”
“…We is feeding. We are wanting to feed.” The creature blinks and suddenly vanishes. Her voice also vanishes, and as far as Marisa can tell, it comes from everywhere. “Need it like firefly needs it. Succulent sinful sustenance. Us not gonna stop for Firefly. Firefly greedy and want everything. Firefly give nothing. We takes nothing to grow us. What Firefly done with her pet?”
“You just need to get it through your head that I’m not that damned bug. That beast is already haunting the bird boy. I don’t need your words bring her to life in my mind. Now, put just give me what I want, and I won’t have to hurt you!”
The air hangs still for a few seconds, and the creature does not reappear. The cavern is as quiet as the grave, with the remains of the slaughtered denizen of this cavern’s waters lying at Marisa’s feet. The witch stands still for a few seconds as she quietly curses. “Should have taken her out when I had the chance.” Eventually, she turns around, looking for the exit through which she had entered the cavern. But, instead, she only finds the smooth rock surface of an untouched wall.
“Oh, so we’re gonna play mind games. I shoulda known. Shoulda known. It better not try and get inside my head anymore. I shouldn’t have bothered trying to talk…” The witch continues to grumble underneath her breath as she continues to look around, searching for the creature that had left her. Cautiously, she steps up towards the river, peering around for another exit from the room, as she does, her foot slips and she begins to fall.
Marisa smothers the yelp and reaches turns around to catch herself, instead slamming into a stalagmite as she continues on her sudden spill. She paws at the air, and no matter what, she can’t find a handhold. A few seconds pass by, and she still hasn’t made contact with the water below her. She finally manages to think and starts moving the world down and lifting her out of the ravine she has apparently stumbled upon.
In the process, she manages to slam the ceiling down into her skull.
The witch reels at the blow and falls back towards the ground, groaning in pain as she receives yet another injury. To her feet, she attempts to climb, but her vision is swimming from that impact and her balance is scarcely better than if she were inebriated. She stumbles around a few times until she finally spots a hole in the wall.
Tipsy as she suddenly is, she recognizes the potential escape and dashes towards it. Not even three steps after she starts to run, she slams into a wall that was not there moments before.
“Dammit all! That little hellspawn is just doing its best to…” She stops speaking, as she hardly needs to give the creature more time to screw with her mind and injure herself more. If it wants to stay unseen and attack her with illusions, the witch will respond with something a little more encompassing. Her hands seek out the familiar warmth of the hakerro, and the flame burns brightly once more. “Try working your little tricks against this.”
Instead of a focused beam, the flame dances forth and flings every burning lick towards the damp cavern. The fire begins to spread across every surface in sight. Nothing slows down the spread, as the wet rock yields easily to the hungry fire. In a matter of seconds, the entire cavern is alight, as even the river bursts into flames.
And, to the witch’s ecstatic delight, the decidedly unnatural flame does not bring to her any punishment or pains, save for the flames that lick at her limbs.
A few minutes after the fires subsume the chamber, Marisa calls them off. “That thing better either be dead or gone now. I don’t want to do anything more. I might catch one of the others in the resulting explosion…” Carefully, she stands up, unsure if her balance is being affected any longer. Whether or not she is yet a victim of the mind-bending creature is moot, as she has no trouble this time. Instead, she looks around, trying to find it.
The only remains that she spots are the detached, charred limbs of the kappa that the creature eviscerated. After burning for so long, there is nothing recognizable aside from the general shape of the creature. “No sign of it, though. Probably ran off before It got close enough.” She climbs up around the cavern, looking at the various nooks and crannies in an attempt to see anything else that may have curled up and died in the corners. Marisa cannot see anything aside from her own face in the shiny, mired surface of the rocky cavern.
“Whatever it is, it’s not here. I need to get out of here before it decides to return, though. I still need to find the others…” Marisa grimaces as she turns to the exit once more, finally seeing the tunnel where it had been all along.
As she marches out, she catches her reflection in another of the walls. The light of her furnace is strong enough for her to see it cleanly, and the haggard looking girl in the picture stares back at her. She is tired, her face and body covered with dirt, debris, and dried blood. There is a trail of drool and blood leaving her mouth and trailing along her cheek, and her clothing is ripped and torn. Everything is as she envisioned, even including the tired, shit-eating grin.
The one that Marisa currently isn’t sporting.
The witch blinks as the grin widens into a mad, toothy grin, and the voice whispers.
We is safe. We are coming.
The moment that the voice stops echoing in her ear, an ungodly screech echoes through the halls, rending mind from body from soul. Marisa clamps one hand over her ear, still not willing to drop the hakerro to cover both. She stands there, staring at the reflection for a few more seconds before she snaps out of her stupor. She needs to move. Now.
>>182441 Well, there would be the path back out, which could lead back to the larger chamber or in another direction. Which had plenty of other exits to that. And the river must originate from somewhere, although Marisa doesn't know.
[-v+1-] Run straight for the nearest wall.
[-v+1-] Take the path back out and try to find Rikako.
[-v+1-] Take the path back out and try to find Rika.
"You're not even trying anymore! I know you're just messing with my head!" Marisa tries to shout down the wail that is echoing throughout the halls, her vocal cords straining to even be heard over that deathly screech. "You're not going to get me! There's no way on this world or the next that you're going to take me." Marisa huffs to herself as she dashes towards the hole in the wall that she initially entered. "Damned if I'm going to listen to these mad voices in my head. I've already got this much straight. I don't need to lose anymore of my sanity doing mad things like they're suggesting."
She immediately rounds the corner and dashes up the path, heading back towards the large chamber she had trod mere moments ago. She grunts as she runs as quickly as she can, her injuries still catching up to her.
No matter how far she goes, the screech continues to echo off of the walls of the caverns. The walls seem to grow narrower as she continues to run. The sound is overbearing. There is no space at all to go. The wall of noise is everywhere, and there is no protection from it that she can find.
The path before her continues to rise from the depths of the earth, but no matter how far she treads, Marisa cannot seem to come across the great expanse that she had so recently crossed. Part of her mind was still reeling as she continued to hurry up the slope. She was spending so much effort to shut out the pain and the noise. She was anguished, tired, hungry, and more than a little ticked off that she'd allowed herself to get into this situation.
She had gone too far to have taken the correct route. "Did that creature trick me? Or did... Did it dull my senses as well? Prevent me from seeing what was right in front of me?" Marisa looks around, staring at the walls that she had passed by. "Or is it herding me? I was so sure there were other paths... Especially on the upper level. If it was smart... It is smart. I'm not going to assume otherwise. It wants me to go this way."
"I might as well give it what it wants." The witch laughs a bit as she hikes up her sleeves. "Feeling so dumb right now. I'm being a chattering idiot. Gonna go mad watching all of this." She hisses as she pulls her arm too tight, biting off the pain that shoots up her arm. "Whatever it is, it's going to keep on chasing after me. Even if I get out of here now, it's going to chase me down. I wounded it. They're all the same."
Nothing has come for her as of yet, but the witch knows it is only a matter of time. The endless screeching has yet to cease, and the earthen walls are unchanging. Whatever illusion this creature has created, it was keeping it in place for now. Marisa takes the chance and drops the sack off of her back.
A few seconds of shuffling produces a glass vial, which shimmers faintly in the light her hakerro is still emitting. Marisa holds it up to inspect it before pinching her nose and tipping the contents back. "Nasty. Needed the pick-me-up, either way. I'm not going to give this creature the chance to become obsessed. I don't not want a mind-bending stalker hunting me down through this world and the next. I'll take care of her my way." The witch looks down at her hakerro before taking a deep breath. I'm going to enjoy this way too much, I imagine. This time, I will shape this reality to my own demands. There's nothing that can stop that from happening. Nothing here."
With that phrase in her head, the witch grabs the pack on the ground and slings it once more. Her grin spreads as she grabs the brim of her cap, pulls it down, and starts marching forward once more.
The spirit in her body, newly unleashed with that mantra, carries the witch through the pain and up the sloping tunnel. She continues to ascend as vigor returns with a vengeance, and she begins to run instead of walk. The tunnel remains endless, and no matter how much energy she has, she cannot make the dark end come any closer.
Left and right Marisa looks, trying to find any curve, any crease through which she can press an advantage. She continues to look for that one opening that the creature might be hiding behind. That one spot where the exit is concealed, or the horrors within this dank, decrepit little hole may be hidden. Eventually, she stops and looks behind her, seeing if she has been followed.
Instead, she looks across the great empty expanse, seeing nothing but the light as the vast darkness swallows it up.
A curse slips out under her breath as she slowly marches forward, looking each and every way as tries to find an enemy. As she tries to find something to shoot. As she tries to find some way to end all that is going on right now. And no matter where she looks, there is nothing but the dark.
"Come on out, now. You've got me where you want to. Let's go ahead and settle this. We can settle our accounts, and I won't even have to take a bite." Marisa chuckles a bit as she continues to swivel her head. "I bet you just would kill to have a bite of me. I'm sure you'd like that, wouldn't you? They say the meat closest to the bone is the best, and you know I'm skinny as you are. Come on out..."
Marisa takes another step and is met with a satisfying crunch as something crumbles underfoot. Before she even looks, she swings her hakerro towards her feet and a lance of fire lashes against the ground, charring the rock around her. The witch dimly recognizes the damage she has done and instead focuses at the object at her feet.
Rather, she looks at what was there prior to her foot shattering it. Another skeleton lies on the ground, this one mostly intact. The flesh had long rotted away — or had been eaten away. The skeleton itself was lying prostrate on the side of yet another pile of rubble, its arms pinned up against a large piece of debris.
Marisa pauses and looks at the ribcage, of which a few of the upper ribs had snapped off, before looking at the rest of the body. "Huh. Looks like someone took a big chunk out of the head of that one. I bet that creature was hungry..." As she continues to talk to herself, the eternal screeching finally dies down. A ringing in her ear soon takes its place, but Marisa eventually notices the lack of an overwhelming cacophony that had consumed everything else. "Where are they now. They've stopped screeching..."
"It's time for them to strike." Marisa snaps back up and kicks herself away from the skeleton, looking about once more. "I've been wandering around in the dark enough. I know you're there, Youkai! If you're not coming out, I'll burn this darkness away! And you know that I'll do it!"
The witch doesn't wait three seconds before holding her hakerro towards the sky. "Come on out!" With that, the blinding light bursts forth, and daylight is introduced to the cavern that has never had sun kiss its floor.
Marisa simply stands there and stares as she takes in the sight. She can't bring herself to say a thing as her eyes dart from place to place, looking at all that surrounds her. Lining the walls of the cave are those winged creatures from before. Thousands... Tens of thousands line the halls. They cover every surface so thickly that not a single rock is visible to the naked eye.
The ringing in her ears grows louder and louder as she turns around. The eyes are still, not flapping one wing or making one noise. If it wasn't for the twitching of their own eyes as they follow Marisa's movements, she would swear that they weren't alive.
Eventually, oh so eventually, Marisa finally turns around. Her muscles tense as she spots the creature standing on the floor with the flying eyes, one and the same with the rest. An empty echo of laughter barely can be heard over the deafening silence, and Marisa nearly scowls in her contempt.
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However, she is instead drawn to the sight above her head, and the enormity of what stands before her. A hundred feet in the air, and looking back with an unblinking stare, was another eye nearly thirty feet across with obsidian wings that cover the entirety of the chamber. It hangs there, unmoving, and Marisa waits with baited breath for it to move.
It does not move, and no mouth opens to screech. Instead, a voice resounds within her head, shaking her deep to her bones. "We have come. You have injured us. Hungry, needy, few are we. You have hurt us when we fed earlier. You have come to our home with destruction. You have damaged one of our shells. Are you so eager to die?"
"Like I am going to tell you anything that you want to know." Marisa takes a step back before steadying her aim on the creature. "Better just leave, or I am going to have to finish the job that I started earlier."
"[b]We are few. We are endless. There is no recourse for you. But if that is the fact that you state, then become another shell for us." At that, the large eye flaps its wings, and a tornado of motion erupts all around the witch as the thousands of evil eyes descend upon her.
You know, Marisa uses that section of the list of cards against fairies. It was used in the EX stage of Fairy Wars. That does not sound like a good way to stay alive in such a battle, even if they all look like EX level spell cards. On the other hand, ISC spell cards are meant to be just what the title describes. Impossible to beat without cheating.
Just as a heads up, Begi will be... busy with other projects for the next while. Yes, he did go back on his word. Yes, I'm speaking for him, because I think that you all deserve to at least know. I'm saging, as the thread would just about be necro'd at this point by not. If it was apparent sooner, I would have not saged, but we're on page 2 now, so I will refrain from refraining. I doubt anyone will notice this message, but if any of you do, perhaps when next he releases something, well, there you have it. Just know that his current project will be very special, so watch his account on the other site he used to write for. That is all.
Alright. I'm back. RL has been busy. I've been spending a lot of my free time either on work or with friends. But that doesn't particularly matter. That, and when I did have the chance, often I didn't have the motivation. Not that it bears much weight at this point; I'm sure ya'll have heard this before. Anywho, let's try to get this going again. Gotta and try to at least get this story to the end!
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[-w+1-] Love Sign: Machine Gun Spark
Immediately, Marisa lets her magic coalesce before light erupts from the end of the hakerro. The beam lances forward into the oncoming swarm of eyes, enveloping every single one directly to her front. Even so, she quickly releases the beam and spins around, shooting behind her and knocking yet another set of the eyes down.
The witch knows that she cannot stand still in the middle of the eyes. She has to find a way out of here, and she has to find that path and soon. She soon changes direction to take out yet another group that is flinging themselves bodily at her. The surrounded magician continues to do her best to remove the deadly assault, and blast after blast leaves her hakerro to knock down the flock of death that bays for blood.
Even as she does that much, they continue to swarm her. She takes another step and points the hakerro towards the ceiling to take out another flock of the evil eyes. They fall easily before the searing beam, with their shrill high shrieks being the only indication of their fiery and instant death. The charred remains plummet to the ground, with some even knocking other eyes out of that flight as they continue on their hurried assault.
The eyes begin to graze her as she spins and place, shooting in every which way that she can. She jerks away from the deadly bite of the fell creatures, instead doing her best to prevent injury from coming to her. The curses of the witch barely are heard over the din of cries and the stench of burning flesh. "Damn it, damn it all!" The jaws of the creatures rip at Marisa's clothes, tearing the dress and ripping the sack open. The witch barely notices as one of her ears start to bleed from the pain and the shrill sound that echoes throughout the chamber.
With one last, anguished cry, the witch bellows forth and blasts the nearest murder and dashes forth, heading towards the (un)familiar safety of the tunnels. That way, she can focus the linear nature of her attack to her advantage. And even as she runs, her feet pounding vehemently against the barren surface, another great, horrid cry forces her to turn her head back around, and gaze upon the great horror that was lurking behind.
The largest of the eyes is still resolutely flying above it all, and its barren visage betrays little of its emotion. Its strong muscles are barely visible in the dim of the cave. Beside it, the ten thousand young gather and regroup from Marisa's assaults. The witch barely notices the hundreds of corpses that now litter the floor, and instead peers straight at the creature.
The moment her eyes meet its one, she feels a great weight creeping upon her mind. Now was not the time to run. She just needs to remain behind and it won't let anything else bad happen.
To her eternal regret, she had allowed too many horrors to continue to beat down her psyche, and before she even realizes, the great monster had worked a terrible magic and beaten back her will. The ravenous hordes of lesser being had sensed her surrender, and they immediately begin to descend upon the witch.
"I need to run. I need to do something... Why am I just standing here. Why am I just watching? Watching again? There is something wrong with me... Wrong with... No. I will not..." The pounding in her headache gets worse as her will is tested against the creature with years and experiences that veritably fathom anything that the witch had ever bragged about. Tempered by a war with reality itself, an insidious doubt had crept in and rusted enough of the supports that even her will no longer remained that of blackened, wrought iron.
And, just as soon as it began, the weight vanishes. A giant eye looks about in astonishment and peers around for a moment before raising an unholy cry from its maw. The little evil flyers join in the yell, and Marisa clamps her hands over her ears out of instinct; her legs remain frozen in place, as they've yet to remember that the time is now to run. She is too busy, and too concerned, with this new emotion that is showing on the faces of the horrid creatures.
Marisa springs up at the voice, and nearly starts yelling out questions at the source of the invisible voice. She does have the wisdom to drop the question for now and take heed of its advice. She darts down towards the tunnel she had just entered from and hurries inside, hoping to lose some semblance of the foe that is chasing her.
Her tired legs barely have the strength to continue beating along the ground, but she forces herself to continue to flee down the tunnel once more. The dark hallways shift slightly ahead of her, and blank walls fade out to reveal additional passages that she had never noticed before. She does not even attempt to head down any of them yet, and continues to head down the straightaway.
Behind her, the murderous troop has reformed and begins to wing it way into the tunnel. Fleshy wings beat against the air, stirring up the barest clouds of dust that remain on the floors and in the nooks and crannies f these halls. Marisa does not turn back and attempt to fire at the creatures, and continues to flee.
At least, she continues until the tunnel she runs through ends in another sheer rock wall, and she lets out another dark curse from under her breath. Marisa growls softly and stares back at them. "Well, I guess I can make a last stand here. The big one can't get down here, I think, so... Maybe I can just get out of it that way." Marisa takes a deep breath and squeezes the hakerro again as she turns around, preparing to take enough of them down that, perhaps, she could force a retreat. That, or she could build a wall out of their corpses that she might be able to take refuge behind.
Even as she begins her grisly contemplation, the wall next to her slides open, revealing itself to be a portal into another damp hallway. She quickly looks at the wall next to it, but there is no mechanism for where the wall might have gone. It simply fades into air as if it were never there. Taking one look between the empty hallway next to her, and the death looming before her, Marisa takes the opportunity to dart down the next hallway.
This time, after hurrying down the hallway with as much alacrity as she can muster, she glances back at her pursuers. This time, she finds herself staring down a blank wall, where no living thing is waiting in order to devour and murder her. Only a quiet, dreary hole follows her. Taking a slight sigh of relief, she turns around and to head down and find the source of her rather fortuitous escape.
And, as she does so, a clawed hand emerges out of the wall and drags her through yet another portal.
The witch shouts as she drug through rock-which-is-not-there, and ends up on the inside of a pitch black tavern. The grip on her arm is strong, and shahs to twist her body in order to bring her furnace to bear against the creature that is pulling her through. A gout of flame shoots out of the smoldering little box, scattering over yet another barren rocky surface. The creature that is holding her instantly spins her awe, using its greater strength to force the muzzle of the hakerro away from it.
Marisa tries once more to spin out of its grasp, and instead concentrates her mind on the flame. With all the magic that she has expended, she's nary a thought as she attempts to corral and funnel the flames out and onto her attacker.
As fire licks closer and springs forth, it lets out a yelp and then hisses in a familiar voice. "Ẁi̷ll ́y̶o͘u ͞s̸t̛op t̕ha͞t a̴nd cal͢m͜ d͞o͘wn?"
The light and fire pull back, and Marisa cranes her neck to get a good look at her attacker. "Wait, Lucas? What in the..." She blinks and shakes her head. "Never mind. How did you get here?"
You grumble slightly as you flit your wings, feeling the imagined singe of a flame that licked much too close for comfort. "Don't worry about that for now. Just stay quiet for a moment and make sure that none of those things are following you. There's not actually a wall in front of us..."
Marisa looks back at you and frowns before turning her eyes back to the wall and waiting. "..." She takes a few steps back, sliding against the rock wall as she squeezes behind you. And, as you continue to stare at the illusion before you, she grabs onto your wing. Had you made a mistake and been taken in by the other?
You immediately yank the wing out of her grasp and turn back to glare at her. The witch merely shrugs and turns her eye back towards the end of the hall. "I needed to ensure that you are actually what I see. I've been fooled too many times... Too many."
"I thought you would recognize my voice." You trail off for a second and look off at the awl before you. Nothing has come through, and as far as you can tell the ruse has been successful. "Come on and follow me. We need to get back to our sanctuary."
"Our?" Marisa lets you pass by and lead the way through the tunnels. "Did you find Rika? How is she doing?"
"Just as poorly as before, if not worse." You click your tongue and pause in step, if just for a moment. "However, I did not find her. Something found me — rather, something found Margaret."
"Don't tell me it was another one of those creatures... I've been in too many battles." Marisa sighs and takes a deep breath. "I've been hurt too badly. I need to rest now if I'm to be of any use."
"This one isn't hostile, I don't think. She was once a Changeling, long ago. And she at least had some of her humanity left... Or so it seemed."
"I don't like that sound of that."
"There's not much to like. Margaret found her and said something; of which she spoke of I'm not sure. Either way, I woke up and had to have everything explained once more. The girl was amused at having to do so much."
The witch merely raises an eyebrow. "Just a girl?"
"She is... well, is the size that Akyuu was, perhaps. Seems about as appropriate as anything." Grumbling, you shake your head. "This is getting particularly bothersome, at least to me. Why is it that I am constantly finding myself a prisoner in my own body when I am needed the most?"
"Now is not the time for an existential crisis." You certainly can't see the witch as she walks right behind you, but there is a certainty that those eyes are fixed upon you, chastising the whole time. "Just... Let's get going. Spare me the story for now. Is this creature something we're going to have to take out?"
After a few seconds of vacillating, you shrug. "Not now." Another moment later, and you nod. "Not now, at least. She was the one who brought Rika back on her own. She is in bad shape, to be sure, but... That fever is horrible. And from the sound of things, there is something terrible and wicked brewing within her."
"What do you mean by that?" The girl pauses, and the voice falls just a little. "Lucas, what in the world is happening to Rika?"
"You'll see when you get there."
"I have been told. Doesn't mean I necessarily believe, or know..."
"I can hear it. You do."
"I'm trying not to discourage you too much."
"Then why are we taking so long? We need to hurry! I might be able to do something..."
You finally turn around and look down at Marisa. You take in the variety of injuries that she has succumbed to over the past hours. The constant twitching of various muscles as some magic keeps them going. "Are you sure that you're even fit? Heck, I should be carrying you, as poorly off as you are."
"Should you? I'll manage to muddle along somehow. Done it this whole time." The witch just snorts and stares back up. "Go as fast as you can. I'll keep up."
"If you insist..." At that, you turn back around and start running, your feet pounding loudly against the floor as begin to hurry. The tunnels begin to close in once more, making you feel a little claustrophobic as your wings scrape along the sides and the ceilings. Any of your primal fears are certainly not helped when you take a step and fall through a solid floor, landing in a small little stream on a smooth stone surface. You wait long enough to see Marisa's feet come through the fake rock and you continue to run, this time up the old streambed.
"What door, what door... second door after the column..." You start counting the passageways in your head, all the while looking for a column where a stalagmite and a stalactite meet together. After another twenty seconds of hard, panting running, you finally come across such a creation. However, past it, there is only one door to a hallway to be found. "...Right, of course, it's..." Thinking quickly of the way you'd originally come, you look for the indention on the left wall over the cavern and push through the stone that isn't there.
And once through, you finally reach your destination, with the short tunnel leaving to a small little cave, carved only by hand. The claw marks on the walls are faintly visible in a flickering and weak flame of a campfire. To the one side is Rika, just as you left her. She is still red in the face and breathing heavily, sweat dripping down her face and off of her body. The arteries and veins have grown darker and thicker, with the pulse of very beat of her heart faintly visible in the engorged bloodstream. You avert your eyes a bit from her partially naked body, ruined by the marks of her infection, and turn instead to the other sitting beside the fire.
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The gaunt face of a small girl with straggly, limp hair looks back at you before turning her eyes over your shoulder. Her erstwhile frown deepens a bit before letting out a sigh. "So you did come across her, witch. Even so, you merely watched."
"...What in the name of the blazing..." Marisa sets down to her, and you raise an eyebrow. You don't recall her having the ability to fly without that broom of hers. "What in the world... Which one are you talking about?"
"The one who looks like me, and the one you should have killed while you have the chance." The girl sighs and shakes her head. "That pity and mercy that you have is admirable, but you forgot what you were for a little bit. You should have taken advantage of that one's insanity and done her in." She sighs and shakes her head. "That would at least have given me... never mind."
Marisa just narrows her eyes a bit as she watches the girl, and the witch's eyes fall down to return the stare of the third eye on the orb strapped to the girl. "...Mind reader. That's what you are. Both are. You were playing with her head."
"She was playing. I merely perused. Your thoughts remain ever racing, don't they?" The girl rises to her feet, slowly, her short arms ranging in the air like two twigs; just as brittle, just as weak. "At least you managed to get away. That creature... I am honestly surprised that you let her do such things to that Changeling in a river."
"I... I don't know what came over me. No matter what I would do, I refused to act..."
"She still does possess some intellect behind that animal instinct, even after being overwhelmed by that greater mind. And even an animal will take advantage of someone stronger who pities it." The girl shakes her head. "It would have been for the best, though. I would have had to kill it, after it was wounded so."
"...Right." Marisa squints her eyes. What are you, and why are you telling us this?
"...I have no name, not anymore." The girl's shifty eyes seek out the passageway behind us, staring resolutely for a few short seconds. "There was once a time... Long ago. But now, I just am. A satori, for lack of anything better to describe. I was... young when I was taken, and I grew up much too fast..."
Marisa shrinks a little bit, but eventually nods. "So you say. But you didn't answer the other."
"It should be fairly obvious... Well, not to you." The satori, so it's claimed, shakes her head limply. "I am weak in body, not helped by years of isolation. Too cowardly to move on, and too afraid to seek an escape. I had hoped that you had killed my sister. There is nothing I desire more than her death."
"So that thing..."
"Yes." The girl slumps a little bit. "But I will not realize that in this life. Too many chances have passed by, and I have no blade or glamour that would ever be sharp enough to cut her."
"So what do you want... Satori? Is that ok?"
"Better than what term that your feathered companion gave me." You roll your eyes, even as a ghost of a smile flashes over the girl's face. "But those are my reasons. I helped you... More, I helped her," here she nods to the floor, where Rika lays, "since her suffering is the first I've had a chance to intervene. And I hoped you might honor my request in return. I wish that you could put my sister out of her misery."
Marisa moves between yourself and the small girl, who is still sitting there, waiting. "So you do know what is wrong with her." Sighing, she shakes her head. "So, will you explain the whole story now? I'm tired of all this running around..."
[ ] Sure, you can fill in the parts that you know.
[ ] Let Asatori do it all. There is still more you don't know.
[X] Let satori do it all. There is still more you don't know.
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[-y+1-] Let Asatori do it all. There is still more you don't know.
You do not interject, as there is still quite a bit that you don't know. The little creature near you does not bother to cast her eyes about, but instead looks up at Marisa with that pale, baneful visage. "That I can do. Although, there is not much in the way to a story for us. Down under these rocks, and in these caverns, I have listed this entire time. Years, many years, since the eye came and drove out our old... master, if you would."
"I'm quite capable of imagining what that may have been." You turn your head and look at Rika's body on the ground. But I think she needs to know about her more than anything, right now."
"I've done what I can for now, and delayed whatever effects that can be done to her. There is one last thing I can do, but... I must finish first. A few minutes now won't matter in the end."
Marisa snorts out loud, crossing her arms. "I think I'd rather know about my friend..."
"Who lies asleep as an infection ravaged her body? A disease so virulent that there is no cure. You know that there are such things that no amount of science can settle. There are such infestations that warp the very creature that they are attached to." Asatori snaps her mouth shut, taking a deep breath before continuing in a softer voice. "It is an ever-consuming curse that has been placed upon her, and there is nothing that you can do for her, witch. No potion nor spell within that mind of yours will hope to save your friend."
"...But you can. Supposedly." Marisa grits her teeth and stares down at her, her fingers yet twitching along the hakerro's edges. "Now, fine. You can get your speech out of the way."
The girl looks back at Marisa. "There is a certain irony to that statement, isn't there? Yes, you can be long-winded as well." Sighing, she runs a finger — this one not clawed, just thin and gaunt — through her stringy pale hair. "A pity. I am just explaining why I am doing this before you start demanding reasons. Is that sufficient justification for me to continue as I desire?"
"Well, hurry, then. All of this waiting is starting to make me wonder..."
"With good reason. They are the only reason that I am particularly anxious about our discussion. All I ask is to just listen." Asatori takes another deep breath before continuing to speak, this time putting just a little more emphasis on her words. "I was kept here with my sister, in the center of a large, deserted city. We both fell through this side on a strange day, when we accidentally walked so far that the wind stopped blowing and the world stopped turning. There was no way back for us — our path we had trod had been hidden and brushed away with a reed. And, without destination, we merely kept walking. In that world of constants, the only thing that changed was our ever-growing hunger and thirst. It was a desire that we would never be able to quench."
"That was when the old crow found us. She had been the one to lead us out. Always from the edges of trees and dreams she had watched us, until it was time for us to come into her sun. A trail she lined with broken grass, she took us in and took us down.
Of course, we thought it was benevolent at first. She was an angel, despite her devil claws and feet. She took us down to her hiding spot, her safety. It was the one place where her sun was the only one to shine — a hole in the ground." She glances at you for a moment, as you start to nod along. "This was years before you had even been born. And though you have not seen it, it was not the same mass of twisting corridors. At least... not completely."
"I'll have to take your word for it."
"You'll have to take a word for a lot." Asatori sighs and turns away from the witch. "Starting from the beginning does same time. That way, I do not have to answer explanations with explanations." Still annoyed, the tiny girl begins to speak once more. "Nonetheless. This place was a vibrant city... Not that is necessarily the good thing. All it could have been was a great farm, with the little ants teeming about, just waiting to be plucked from the ground and eaten up by the ravenous bird. But we were different. We were... Well, we were the bird's pets. And she made us just like her: Three eyes, where she could see into your heart and mind with no great effort."
"Even so, we lived that way for... ages, perhaps. Long untold years. Of course, when the sun does not pass overhead, and there is nothing to keep the time by save for the steady drip-drip of the river as it slowly washes away the rock underfoot, I can't tell you how much time passed. We grew... And we, like the other pets, learned to separate our hearts from our minds. We always existed..."
Marisa continues to observe her with a wary eye, and she looks down towards the eyeball, with its vessels floating all around her body. "That... I can imagine the details well enough. Some creatures... But how can you possibly live with that detached from you?" Asatori opens her mouth, but closes it with a thin-lipped smile; Marisa's thoughts precede her words. "Don't even try to be cute. You perfectly are aware of what I mean."
"Oh, I certainly am. But your answer is just as simple as my own. We don't." Whatever faint amusement on her face fades away. "It is an awful thing, in both senses. It is different for everyone, but it is slow. Creeping. Weary, arbitrary acceptance as fears are replaced by new ones. You wish to try and save yourself from that glowing, burning red eye. Your heart... you sequester, squirrel it away. But a cage of flesh and bone won't save it... you must disconnect it from your body as far as you can." The girl's smile returns, but not with any of her earlier humor. "It is a quiet thing. Far more terrible is the realization."
"..." Even now, your wings flap gently in agitation, as she is still taking so much time. "How does that explain anything else? How..."
"I know you are worried. And what I must do to save her is a terrible thing. If you think it's worth it..." She trails off. "I know my fate. It will not end well." Small fists ball up a bit as she takes another breath, attempting to calm itself. "That monster came. In its vast breadth of mind and space, it had a power far greater than even that crow could manage. In a span of seconds, that beast was reduced to a gibbering facsimile of itself, its cruel intelligence and wicked will banished. And, from there, it and its brood struck throughout these caves... While breaking the pets as well in the moments it could spare, one by one. I was the only one to escape. …I took the chance when the creature discarded the old master as just another piece of waste produced by vermin.”
"...And you remain because you wish to see it gone."
"Hardly, beast." You wince a bit at the rebuke, as soft as it is. "That is suicide. That being is too strong of mind. If I had not intervened, this Canaanite that mistakenly blundered across it would be incubating yet another of its spawn."
In the soft silence that ensues, Marisa finally realizes what is happening to her friend. She grumbles and gnashes her teeth as she fingers the furnace that she has. "...Not now. Don't tell me that..."
"...Damn it!" Marisa wheels around and starts to shake, her fists balling. “It had to be that. When something goes wrong, it goes completely to Hell!” The girl marches over toward the wall, past you and past Rika, and rears back with a fist and slams into the solid earth. The muffled impact barely covers the shriek of rage that flies out of her mouth. “Why her as well. Damnation, I should have just killed them when I had the chance… Exterminated the lot. I’m just too soft, too confused. Why did I let it stop me?”
“Not now Lucas!” Marisa turns dreadful eyes upon you, and your mouth snaps up. “Not now. When I could have been stronger or quicker… Why have I let myself go this far?” Marisa opens her palm and slams the wall again, and as she pulls back her arm, a few small pebbles drag along with it. An idle moment later, and she watches them start to orbit around her hand. A surreal calm washes over her for a second before her hand snaps shut. The stones that had been floating about her hand turn to dust. Her heart dead to the world, she finally turns to the satori. “Go ahead. Tell me. What do you claim is going to happen to her?”
Asatori eyes the witch for a moment, and the last explanation begins. "...First, it stings you, and it releases its poison within the body. It doesn't take five minutes before the first reaction begins. The heart is the target... Always the heart. It is the center, the strongest. I've seen it: mostly through the eyes of its victims. The bones in the ribs begin to twist and widen as the heart encases itself in a sheath of bone. The sternum vanishes as the plate fuses on the valves and grows its teeth. And then... Then the eye grows. The transformation isn't too fast... But it has been too long. The sooner we act, the better."
"...We act. You mean that you will do something." Marisa takes another deep breath and steps forward, now pointedly avoiding the eyes of the sickly girl lying on the ground. "Tell me exactly what you are planning."
"Her heart needs to be removed. It is already lost. That is the only organ that the infection affects. Without that, the poison has nothing else to latch on to and corrupt." Asatori sighs and places a hand upon her temple, fighting off the headache brought by Marisa’s unending stare. "But once that is done, a new one needs to be put in place. One that can fight off the weakened infection."
"And where would... Of course."
As Marisa understands what the satori intends, you kneel down next to Rika and look at her once more. She hasn't changed at all since you returned, and is still sweating intensely. The body is doing its best to fight the horrid infection. Even so, as you look, you can see the bit of a lump where that creature is forming. "What do you get out of this?"
Asatori turns toward you, remaining quiet. "As I said, you know exactly what I wish, more than anything. If you would do that for me, I would gladly donate what I have left."
"...There is always more of a cost than that." Marisa growls quietly, "You're asking me to fuse part of a Youkai to her. You know exactly what you're asking me."
"Yes I do. And, inevitably, we both know what the cost to you would be, at some point down this road." Asatori nods and looks at her. "But if you don't do anything, your friend dies. What remains of her soul will be perverted into a being mindless. What is left of her will become a slave to that creature and its base emotions. There would be nothing left to save, were you even to attempt to try."
Marisa just crosses her arms and continues to stare the Youkai down. "I could find another way. Hell, I know I can. There’s nothing to stop me."
"You might. Her sister probably could. But do you have time?"
"She isn't strong enough for that."
"And that is why she needs it done now. She grows weaker by the second." Asatori glances at Marisa one more time. "So, you have my offer. She will live... But in return... Kill my sister. Put her out of this torment, and give her a chance to die.”
[ ] "It's been too long. We have to do something."
[ ] "I'm sure that we could find some other way."
[ ] "Marisa... This is up to you."
Gonna leave this one off at the z for now. Next part up this weekend.
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[-z+1-] "Marisa... This is up to you."
"Lucas..." Marisa clenches her teeth and lets out a long, slow hiss before turning her head towards Rika. The witch stands there for a moment, staring down at the form of her friend as she lies prostrate and broken on the ground. "Just... Stop talking. At least for a little bit. Just give me time before i give her this sentence."
"There will be time enough for that, I do think." Asatori folds two small hands about a third eye. "I recognize the difficulty of what I ask."
"I'm glad you are aware of it. I just wish I had some other way. Some other option."
"There could possibly be. O course, you would have to find your way out soon, and find another who will donate their heart, before she is lost."
"Which will be too long. I know that none of the others will even be close at hand. At least they have her sister. With Akyuu dead and Reimu..." Marisa twitches a little bit and bites the inside of her cheek, shaking even more. "When the fires burn, they burn far too bright." The witch reaches up and pinches her nose. "Here I thought I had everything figured out."
"Maybe success blinds. That much I can tell. But, from that little, how much of you did she simply neglect to mention, and how much did she lie? There is a lot that your companion doesn't know of you, Amaris."
"You need to get out of my head."
"And you need to learn not to let your mind wander in the presence of one who can read it." Asatori scoffs a bit as she pats the eye softly. "Better for me to know, as I won't after long. Besides, you should at least know one of the curses you are to make your friend endure."
The witch frowns and bends down to look the girl in her other two eyes, even as Asatori continues to stroke the third. "And how do we know that you are not attempting to simply transmit yourself over to her body? You could simply hijack my friend once this is done, and we won't be the wiser until it is too late."
"That is always a risk that you will have to take, isn't it?" Asatori stares right back, her hands falling still. "I would lie if I said nothing would carry. I am ready to die, but this fae magic always has a way to ensure that you cannot go, even when it is your time. Just know the certainty of the danger she now faces. If you do not accept my help, you will lose her. If you do accept it, you will lose part of her. Whatever wakes up will be different."
"I could just rip you out once you get back to the other world. I'm sure her sister could figure out a way to replace her heart."
"I'm sure she could." Asatori arcs an eyebrow." But that hardly matters to me, does it? You know all of my terms. At that point, you will have to deal with Rika. And you would do well to shield your thoughts. It would be terrible if she knew how exasperated you have been with her, at times."
A hand twitches, and Marisa takes a step back. "Don't make me regret this."
"You have enough regret. It would be rather cruel to add onto the list." Asatori looks down at her heart before glancing to her hands. Her eyes trace along the skinny contours that, while emaciated, are yet unchanged through all the decades she has spent her. "Tell me, are you prepared? This will be rather violent, and needs to be handled immediately."
The witch just nods. "Just tell me exactly what you are going to do."
"Simple. I will force a stillbirth. If she is lucky, her bones haven't transmuted. I will require that you slit her chest open and kill the creature that her heart has become. Do not let it escape at all — It needs to be killed before it can rejoin its flock."
"That thing won't actually be able to fly, will it?" With Marisa finally having made her decision, you feel as if you can finally speak up in the conversation. "It won't have developed the wings to fly, would it?"
"It can fly as easily as this witch can." Asatori turns back down and kneels next to Rika. "Now, I would suggest that you get ready. You do have a instrument with which you can cut, don't you, Marisa?"
"Yeah, I've got something." Marisa takes her place opposite of Asatori, keeping her eyes on the girl at all times. After a quick search, she manages to extract a knife from one of the many pockets on her bag and then sets it aside. As she kneels, she does take out her hakerro and sets it next to her.
Asatori just looks her in the eyes. "Always have to be prepared."
"Of course. Just in case anything goes wrong."
"Naturally." Asatori closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. "We have a deal. My sister's life for your friend's. The terms are set, and all we have to do is agree. Do I have consent?"
A pause. Marisa reaches over and puts a hand on Rika's forehead for just a moment, wiping away the unnatural sweat that has covered her brow. "Do it. I don't want to wait any longer. I'll deal with the results later."
"Good." With that, Asatori takes one of her hands and clasps it about an artery that is strapped to her wrist. She takes one deep breath, the last one that she will have in peace, and yanks out the vessel. Blood gushes out in a small, condensed stream from the end of the long cone that tips her vessel. From her arm, a slow trickle also drips, splattering upon the floor as the life flows out of her. With her free hand, Asatori takes up the now freed blood vessel in one hand and reaches back past her head. With one swift stroke, she drives it into the same place on Rika's body.
The instant her blood flows in, Rika's eyes shoot open, and she screams.
The being on the floor arches her back as she tries to scramble away from the invader trying to enter into their blood. Foggy eyes spin wildly as her hands grab and pull at the foreign body that is being inserted into her. She is grasping, clawing; a crazed animal on the ground that is doing its best to repel the claws of a stronger foe.
You reach down and grab her by the shoulders, pulling Rika into a half-hug as you keep her pinned to the ground. For your part, you want to look away from this torment that is being visited upon you. Vivid memories of a time recent when you were forced under the claws of another small, thin creature that looked like a girl rise to the fore of your mind, but you do your best to just shake them out. You can't think of such things. Not when you can see the chest bulging farther and farther out as it quivers with an unbridled rage.
Marisa stares down as well, and her eyes alight upon the heart. "...That better be what i think it is." The furnace lying next to her begins to blaze again, the witch merely glaring at Asatori in the time that she is not staring down at Rika as well.
The little creature performs her craft quickly, one by one plucking each and every cord from her body, the blood barely dripping from the sharp red ends, and puncturing them into additional spots. As she does this bloody work, you can see the pulse of blood underneath her skin as rivers are sucked into this new heart. The eye in the center of this heart rolls up to the top, slowly losing its consciousness. Finally once the last strand is plucked from the crown of her head, Asatori, with blood slowly dribbling down her face, covering her matted hair and the filthy rags that are her clothes, holds it up and drives it deep into Rika's skull.
Once it is in, Asatori remains where she is, staring down at her own eye, at her own heart as it beats a panicked and frenzied rhythm, and she smiles softly. Without even another word, she falls over next to Rika on the ground. She is dead before her head hits the ground.
Cursing once more underneath her breath, Marisa grips the knife tightly. "So she is dead... that's just..."
"You knew that it would happen."
"That doesn't mean it really sets in." A hand digs tighter into the short grip. "There has been too much death recently. At least Rika didn't have to see this one."
"Better her to have seen it than for her to go through this." You look over at Marisa. "It's done either way. We need to cut this thing out before the heart fails. It's fighting too hard, can't you tell?"
"Yeah." She can hardly believe herself as she reaches down and grabs her friend's blouse and pulls it apart, exposing the bare chest. A large, diseased bulge struggles forth, glowing slightly with a sickly light. What veins and arteries that run to it are engorged, each one nearly black with dead and ruined blood. The pulse continues, eerily. This close to the heart, the echoes of the second heart’s beats are faint, but they are reaching the former.
Marisa hesitates, though. As horrible as it is, this is still her friend. And so, for a second, she stays her hand. You just look up at her. "What are you waiting for?"
"It's a lot harder than you think. I've killed a lot of creatures, but this is just... it's a little different."
"..." You can't really say anything about that part, can you? And, for however much you were worried about your fellow escapees, Marisa has known Rika for far longer. "Just remember why you are doing it."
"How could I forget?" You brush off the snapping tone, knowing that it is not the time to be bothered. "Just make sure that it dies once it comes on out." After receiving her confirmation, Marisa grits her test and puts knife to skin.
Iron meets skin, and the flesh slices easily. Too easily. Like an overripe fruit, it melts before the hard and steady blade. The decrepit flesh coughs up black blood, and through the hole a black form slowly pumps gruesome blood through the body. What does escape is half congealed, not close to hale. A thick and oozing substances, it spreads across her ruined breast and across her stomach.
However, that is pushed to the side as within her body, a blackened organ turns. Two folds of flesh pull back, and upon that beating drum within the core of Rika's being, an eye and a tiny mall open up wide, and let out a half-hearted and gurgling screech.
A furor comes over the witch at the sight of the cruel transformation, and she immediately reaches back with her arm and buries the knife in the center of that fetid eye. The screech becomes constant, and is shrill enough to make you wince at the sheer piercing pitch that it emits. But you continue to hold steady, even as your wings tense and your muscles contract, ready to leap into action if necessary.
Marisa, however, is already prepared to ensure that the eye can do nothing. Once more, twice, and thrice she stabs, each for reach chamber, and a few slits later she has managed to detached what remains of Rika's heart from its chamber of flesh. And, with a last stab, she hooks the blade just sideways and wrenches the heart out of its prison with a quick flip of the wrist.
It easily pulls out, even if the sternum had already merged with it. The flat bone had begun to split, and vestigial fingers were starting to crawl out. Even after all of this abuse, the strong muscle of the heart continues to struggle and beat, and the huge pieces of bones attempt to flap in vain, as there is hardly any webbing for which it could take flight. The tiny, serrated teeth bite weakly, and it's not even able to turn itself over and face Marisa as her shadow looms overhead.
"...Burn." With just a whisper of effort, a fire slowly starts to spread on the ground next to the heart. Eating away at nothing, as there is hardly a fuel present to sustain it, it creeps closer and closer to the detached organ. It shivers, it shakes, it flaps, and it continues to pump blood from its ruined form. And yet, the horror soon runs out, and it slowly falls limp as the first flames come to it. Soon, there isn't even enough energy left for it to yell as the fire catches and hungrily leaps forward, taking advantaged of the meal lying prostrate before it. Muscle chars and shrivels, Blood is heated hot enough until it evaporates, what little plasma that had remained becoming little more than dust in the ground. The rudimentary eye and jaw and wings are the last to go, and the ephemeral bones that formed their base have all but vanished under a few minutes of the intense blue blaze.
The witch looms large above the sight the entire time, and her eyes are dark. A hand reaches up and wipes a spot of dust from her fiery eyes. Even as strong as she is, she begins to shake. From exhaustion, from energy... and the sheer and horrid feeling that is overtaking her. "...I need help now, Reimu. Why did you have to go like that? Why did you... Lie?" A question unanswered, the witch remains standing, her roots slowly being eroded as gravity pulls her down from her lofty boughs.
From your spot on the ground, you can hardly even bring yourself to look at the witch. Marisa has been staring off into space, right above Rika, for you don't know how long. There's no real judge of the passing of time, save for the beat of your heart and for every breath that you take. Countless times it has been lost, with each breath of stale, damp air just the same as the last.
The girl on the ground had not moved an inch ever since the foul thing was pulled from her chest and destroyed. Marisa mutters quietly as she continues to listlessly look above Rika, and you can't quite hear what she is saying. You hope that she'll eventually stop. What can be audible doesn't sound right, and you can't help but be reminded of the earlier episode.
The focus of both of your frustrations has, however, seemingly improved. What shame you would have had otherwise has been pushed aside as you inspect her. You've asked Marisa a few times to help out, but she doesn't hear you. It is relegated to you to check her wounds, which should have honestly been fatal.
Somewhat regretfully, they weren't. By the time you had bothered to look at her after the destruction of the eye, the cavity in her chest had already scabbed over Every bloody tear on her skin, as horrid and brutal as some where, took quite a while of your unknown time to finally begin to shed its dark scab and reveal fresh, pale pink. Considering the damage to her upper abdomen, you're surprised that it even has form. So much bone was ripped out that it should have already collapsed under the weight of its new skin - especially without the heart within it. It was practically a miracle that she had survived.
"...Just like what might have happened to me if I was injured..." She was stuck in the same shoes you were wearing. As happy as you are to have had her survive, you only can recall the ifs and whens of what will come to pass. You've avoided succumbing what little time you've been what you are, slave not to any singular impulse. As long as she remains she... Maybe there will be some hope.
At least, you tell yourself that in the corner of your mind as you try to find the bright side.
She has recovered, although no eye has yet opened. The heart rests on the stomach as it pumps that lifeblood throughout her body. If she continues to heal, you probably can move her soon. So long as there's no other complications... Besides, you wouldn't want her to injure herself yet again. There is another concern, though. "Marisa, we need to talk about something.
She doesn't respond.
"...Well, I hope you hear me. Where is this creature down below? Asatori's... sister. You've run across it?" Further silence. "Do you know where it lives? How to find it? She never really did bother to say."
Marisa blinks. "She didn't say a lot, did she. She may not want us to find her."
"I doubt that. She probably just doesn't know where she is."
"You think? She knew a lot." Marisa's ears twitch. "She probably didn't tell us enough, either."
"She told a tale, which doesn't matter in the end, at least to us. She's dead, and we need to head on. Just... Do you think you're up to going down there once more? You barely look like you're remaining conscious."
"I'm fine. Don't I look fine?" She finally looks straight back at you. "Do you think she would have asked me to go and do it if I wasn't fine?"
"She asked us to do it. I'm perfectly willing to go and do it myself."
"I am as well. And I've been doing this a lot more than you have! Rika needs someone... Someone here. I failed before. I've failed so many times today." She cringes her hands and looks down at her destitute skirt. "I could have done so much back at the base to save us. There is so much more that I could have done in order to keep the others safe. I didn't do it. I could have, should have gone out of my way to use the magic. I could have used something stronger, more powerful... There is so much more I know that I can do if I just was willing to let go, and stop caring..."
"Are you sure that is wise? Marisa, I'm fine. Let me go down there and take care of things. You stay here with Rika. Whatever is down there, I'm sure I can take care of it... or scare it away if it doesn't like me."
"I can take care of it Lucas. Don't deny me this." She growls softly and stands up. "Don't make me order you. I will go down there, and I will finish this off once and for all!"
[ ] Let the witch have her way. Relent, and let her go.
[ ] Madness is fleeting, and anger misleading. Insist, and keep her here.
[ ] A body is hardly a great burden for you. Compromise, and go together.
[ ] There is nothing stopping you from just walking out. Leave.
[ ] Write-in
Welp, Begi's been having... shall we say, technical difficulties, to be as vague as can be? He should be able to start on the update as of tomorrow, although he will likely relish a lack of such difficulties for a time, and thusly it will be a bit longer than that before he truly begins.
I believe he will begin work on the update anew within the week, although, sadly, this delay likely means no summer update, which I had expected there to be. I would tell you how sorry I am about saying that there would be one, but this goes above and beyond what I had anticipated to happen this summer.
However, I [i]am[\i] sorry for putting off telling you the news, but I was honestly hoping this wouldn't take quite so long, or that he would tell you himself for once.
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[-a+2-] Madness is fleeting, and anger misleading. Insist, and keep her her
[-a+2-] Marisa, she needs you.
"Marisa, calm the hell down." You hold your ground, planting your foot in the ground and staring down at the shorter girl. "This isn't a matter of what may have been. There are so many things I wish I had done as well. We are going to get anywhere by thinking about what may have done. Use your brain, Marisa, not this anger in you. I don't know how you survived this long; I hardly know you that well. But I am sure it wasn't because you were blinded by anger and let it guide you like a raging animal." Your wings beat, and you snort at the joke. "That's my job, frankly, if I don't control it. And that way is certain to lead to our loss."
The witch growls again as she continues to stare you down. "So what? It hardly matters at all. I've made up my own mind. I'm owed this. I need to destroy them all, by my own hands. I need to crush them… Not even flinch. I will do it this time, you can guarantee it."
She twitches her hand, just gently, and you twitch your wings in anticipation. You don't flap them again, though. Not quite yet. "No, we can't. You didn't do it last time. What if it was messing with your head? Sending those little thoughts in your head, warping your perception, changing everything we know about anything. We're up against a foe who may not exist, and may all be shadow."
"That's why I have a simple plan. I'm just going to go down and kill everything in my path."
"And then what? What if you use some sort of hellfire that is so strong it manages to work its way through the tunnels and burn us alive? Or suffocate us? Would you do that to Rika?"
Marisa huffs in annoyance and stamps down. The floor shakes. A gout of flame spurts out from under her foot, and her fingers curl. "Of course I wouldn't do that. I'd find some other way. I always find another way, Lucas. That's what I will do. Even if I have to use that book…"
"And then what? You'll end up indebted to whatever creature gave it to you. Marisa, don't you know what happened last time? You may not remember, but do you look forward to being possessed by an otherworldly being just to have your revenge? Who knows what that thing is going to do to you if you even give it a chance? Don't do it."
"I will. This is my fight. I owe it to everyone…" Marisa grits her teeth. "Lucas, just—"
"Watch you walk out to your death? How do you think Rika will feel about that when she wakes up? How do you think she'll feel when the only friend she has went out and died on some foolhardy attempt for repentance? You are the last one she has here. There is no telling when we'll be able to get back to our own world… Marisa, she needs you."
The witch finally backs down, if just a little bit. She doesn't know what to do with herself and stares around listlessly for a few more seconds. "Lucas, just let me do what I need to do. I… I know that she needs me. But… I'm the one who has screwed up so much. I need to go and fix this myself. I know the way; I found the path. I know I can do this."
You keep your gaze steady on her, not wanting to yield so easily. "That may be, but you will be better up here. Stay with her for now. Keep her safe and guarded. You know that there is nothing that can get in here without going through you." You turn your eyes downward, staring at the floor and the charred rock. "Besides, you have a little too much enthusiasm here. You're definitely not as well off as you pretend to be."
"I can manage well enough… I think." The witch grimaces a bit and opens up her hand, summoning a small flickering flame into it. She gazes at the light for a few seconds longer, basking in the warmth. "…This… This is something you don't understand. You've not dealt with this your whole life. You've not had to live with every single moment struggling and fighting against the force of billions of sleepers. Here, though… There's none of that. In this realm, I can do whatever that I want to. I could just stop caring and go down there and kill them all."
"And I could do it as well. Do you even hear yourself? You're starting sound dangerously like one of them."
"What? You mean like one of you?"
"I hope you're smarter than that. And no, not at all like one of me." You cross your arms. "You know well enough that I do not desire anything that these Youkai down here do. I'm not trying to murder or savage anyone. I haven't taken anyone as a slave or a pet or anything else that can be considered similar. In fact, you're closer to doing that than any of us. You do have me under your command, after all. You've not used it at all. Are you seriously considering going that far on this power trip?"
"It isn't a power trip!"
"Then let me go. If I fail, you can come after me. But that isn't even what you need to do, is it?" A wing twitches again and you check once more down the hallway. Nothing is coming, but you don't know how long that one will last. "Stay here and keep her safe. Make sure that she wakes up and still is herself. Would you want me to make that judgment if it turns out that Asatori's cure doesn't do anything to help her?" The witch just glares back at you. "You know that is quite a distinct possibility. Make sure that Rika is herself. If not, I trust you will do what is necessary."
Marisa takes one last breath before she signs and her shoulders slump. "I guess you're right. I don't want to leave that up to you." Her frown deepens and she rubs at her head. "I'll do my best to keep everything under control. I'm not going to do anything that you're implying"
"Then let's just keep all of our expectations mutual and stop assuming the other's intentions. Either way, I'll need you on the outside once I get ourselves out of this situation." You shrug your shoulders. "Besides, it's not as if I have to kill all of the others. I just need to do the same to the sister of this creature. Do you think that I'm capable of managing such a thing?" She doesn't even answer, and you let any trace of joviality slide off of your face. "Ok, I guess that this isn't the place. Let me go off. I need to get this done."
"…Very well. I'll remain here. I need to collect myself again." Marisa leans back against the wall. "I hope that you have enough energy for this. Are you well off enough that you could even do anything?"
"…I have enough." Your mouth twists into a grimace, as at this point, you can hardly answer that certainly. "It's something that I'll need to fix in the future, but I'll manage just find for now." Too bad that it couldn't be Margatroid. I'd have liked to have someone else that could take care of herself.. It's not like there is anything you can do about that, at least right now. The only thing that can be done is to go back in and hunt down that creature. "Asatori just mentioned she looked like her and was whimsically vicious, in addition to everything else. Is there anything else that I'll need to know?"
"Just to act on your first impulses. Don't let you talk yourself out of acting against your original intentions. …That's the best I can offer."
"Well, I'll try my best, at the very least. I don't plan on dying."
"You better not." Marisa looks down at Rika once more before turning back to you. "Just go ahead and go. I'll take care of her. …Don't fall asleep on us while you're out there. I'd rather not have to fry your ass when I go out to hunt you down."
"I'm sure that you don't." A grin tugs at your mouth, but you force it down. "I'll return soon." Feeling that opening your mouth again will lead to yet more discussion, you turn to the side and fold your wings before making your way back out. You've got quite a lot of work to do.
The tunnels are damp and dark as they always are. The absence of any sort of light is bothersome, but you track your way along by clinging to the walls and listening carefully. For all real purposes, you are completely blind.
You must rely instead on your hearing and your touch. The trails are etched decently — in times past, they may have been oft trod. Time has reclaimed scant bits of that earthen path and has scattered the debris of tremors and quakes over it. It's dangerous to tread, but you manage well enough.
At least in this darkness there is little to give away your position. The eyes have calmed down, and you have not heard a single one as you walk along. Either the leader has given up its chase or it has thought you escaped. Asatori's shield has managed to last long enough to give Marisa and Rika safety. Hopefully that it lasts until you can get away. If it continues to persist, that will raise quite a few other questions about the source of the magic, and whether indeed if it has worn off.
Right now, though, you are busy treading along the hallways, making your way towards the sound of the distant river. You aren't sure what the haunts of that creature are, or even if it is sane enough to maintain its own set, but you have little else that could even be a lead. In this dark, it might be best to draw it out and hope that you can get the drop on it or, perhaps, use a few chosen words to still it before it strikes. Let's just hope that the box will even work on her. I see no reason why it wouldn't.
The sound of water babbles in your ears, and the scent of the water, stale as it is, manages to mostly cover the worrying stink of spilled blood. Your vision returns, if just a little. The water brings enough light down from some source. It might even lead to the surface, somewhere. If I can get the others down here, we might have an exit that does not involve blowing the roof to this place with a bit of Marisa's magic. I'm not sure that it would be wise to let her music in this state. Not that I could actually stop her.
For all the sounds and smell you can witness, there is no indication that the creature is anywhere near. The corrupted, twisted sister doesn't seem to have followed you in, although if she were, you wouldn't have noticed the pathways disappearing and appearing before you. Just to make sure, you step close to the edge of the river, watching as the water laps up onto the underground shore. The floor you are standing on is very slick, and you have to be very careful to avoid placing yourself in a situation that might make you stumble and fall.
Now, then, is the time to wait and parse out your strategy. It's not as if you can do anything else at this point in time. Carefully, very carefully, you lower yourself to the edge of the river and claim a seat, pondering just what exactly could attract the creature. If it's reading your mind, you have no doubt that it has followed you. That is a big question in the end. Marisa had witnessed how impulsive and scatterbrained it was. There's no need to believe that it would act rationally. Besides, you can hardly shout in your head to draw its attention, if it even works that way for mind readers.
The faint beams of light, twisted and still stale even after all of this time, barely manage to twinkle in the torrent of the water. You stare for a few moments more, trying to divine some knowledge from the depths. Nothing speaks to you. Nothing stares back. Eventually the flickers fade away from even your sight.
All that remains is the stench of the kill in the otherwise still room. "Maybe…" The creature comes here for its kills. It will come back. You will just need to give it a reason to venture all of the way back.
You spread your wings once more and push the stagnant air away, alighting on the opposite bank and clinging to the wall. Your hands grope for purchase as you navigate across the slippery rock. Your hand digs into the rock this time, locking you in place on that far side.
Your other hand feels around, grabbing around in an attempt to find a column of stone nearby. Wood meets air as thick and dark as pitch, but your mechanical limb eventually does manage to meet faint echoes against another protrusion. You're blind, and you don't want to cause too much obvious commotion. Carefully, oh so carefully, you keep feeling around the stone until you make your decision. A slice or two from your claw cuts through the stone. "This better work. I don't want to fight everything down here…"
Finally, after making sure that you're steady and that you won't fall into the river, you plant your feet, grab the stone, and push. It slides against you as what rock that remains cracks. The slab tilts and ponderously tips. You don't see the fall, but you hear the massive splash. Droplets sting your face while you cling. The small little cacophony barely even lasts for the moment. The mist, while hardly fresh or comforting, barely remains as the thick air absorbs it in its entirety.
Soon enough, all is as it was before your action, just as everything seems to be. Content that your vandalism should be enough, you settle in to watch and to wait. And, for quite a while, you do.
You try to be as still and as quiet as possible. There's no need for you to draw attention. All you need to do is listen and wait. It is just as before, with nothing for you to see. The faint light does return at times, but it is very intermittent at best, and you know that you can't trust it any farther than you can trust the creatures that seem to be roaming the caves. Minutes slowly tick by, and even the sound of the river fades away. Everything dies away as you focus on what might be coming. And, eventually, the only thing you can hear is the ringing in your ears.
"Sos, the shellies are back already?" You jerk a little bit, having been uncomfortably close to unconsciousness by now. "So odd. So sos odd. Come back so soon… Not even hungry, am I? Yes am I." The creature skulks about. Its feet tread irregularly; it may be nervous, but it might just be bonkers. A faint echo of its high laugh muddles its way through the air. "Am I! Maybe I can shares… No. Firefly all gone now. So sad."
What madness is it talking about? The witch hadn't mentioned anything about this. Had the spirit come back? Or were you just seeing things once more? She better not be back. She better not… In the end, it's neither here nor there. You wait for her to dance closer to the water. It is still as silent as before, curiously. Did you manage to block it up?
The creature continues to randomly walk about. From what you can tell, she isn't even immediately going to the river. "Oh yes. Good thing Firefly not here. Bug might be tastier. But it might make me glow. Silly, silly. I be nasty evil light. Its best stay away. Oho, yes. Yes yes…" It pauses for a minute as it sniffs. "Funny things. Shellie juice not so sweet. Hrmhm. Lose taste for shelliess? Yes, no eatings thats Firefly. So sad. Would lose yums." It leans down and scratches the ground. You then hear gravel being smashed and grinded down. "Very… Has to check." It spits something out as it begins to meander towards you. You hear the rush of limbs as the creature takes a tumble down from the ledge, and it rolls down onto the slippery slope. It starts walking immediately thereafter.
"Sos sad. What is there? Was not there before. The creature pauses in its tracks, and you tense up. Something… Yes. Forgotten? Yeses. everything forgotten. Maybe Is…" It stops in its tracks. "No. Cold. Cold… Colds? What are Colds doing heres? Bites like …" She snaps her head around a few times. "Yeses. Shellies? You here" Why is shell on shelliess home?" A crack echoes in the cavern. "Something sneaks…" It pauses and you hear the crack of bones and the snap of teeth. "I know yous, Feathers…"
You don't even respond. Your wings flare and you launch yourself through the chill and murky towards the gaunt vision lurking on the edge of sight and consciousness.
>>185484 Thanks for the welcome. Been a while, but it's time I continue this. Changing the format a little bit to see if it helps.
Didn't wanna reply until the next update. Should be up momentarily.
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Screeching shatters the silence as you slam full force into the creature, your wooden fingers snagging at leather pulled taught over bones. The creature squirms, lashing out with its bony hands as it grapples with your feathers. After another shriek, it tries to flip you over. Its force belies the skeletal hands, and it manages to awkwardly roll you away. Your wings get twisted and bent in the process.
Nonetheless, your grip holds true, and it limps forward and away, its motion stunted by the dead weight it's attempting to pull. With a grunt, you return to your feet and pull back, lifting it bodily off the ground. "Feathers! Nasty nasty feathers! Puts us down!"
"I can't agree to that." Your other hand lashes out, trying to find the source of the voice. "Stay still, and this will be over quickly.
"Nots quickly. We is coming." The creature screeches again, sounding nearly like laughter. "No use, no use nasty Feathers…"
"So you say." Finally, after another few attempts at groping blind, you find purchase with your good hand. Something is long and skinny, but it's sticking out to your right. And, with one more quick effort, you reach up and grasp for its neck. "Just be silent. You'll finally be at peace."
"Feathers be in pieces!" The creature twists and a round object rams into your shin. As you wince, it rams again, this time barely missing your crotch and hammering your lower gut like a sledgehammer. It's enough for it to shimmy its way free of your grasp. Instead of immediately fleeing, it grabs at your arm and bites down hard.
It takes everything that you have to not rear back and roar as the acrid fangs try to rip into flesh and bone. Backing up and slipping onto the ice, you instead swing around and slam it down onto the iced over river, casing an enormous dull echo down into the dour deep. The creature tries to bite once more, but you slam her again, this time cracking the river and plunging her into a rimy depth. "S͜t́o̶p͜ t͘h͝a̡t̸!͜"
The creature freezes as it scrambles at the frozen ice, tearing off the surrounding cracks as it attempts to clamber out of the frigid water. It finally relents in its assault for a moment while it tries to find purchase and safety on the banks. You don't give it that opportunity as your wooden arms holds her down, not letting it find its escape so easily.
Even so, it assaults you again, trying to bash you with that same round orb from earlier. It isn't enough to force you back; it can't reach high enough to try and cause any damage. After a few pulled punches, it reaches forward and wraps around your leg, pulling you off your feet and down onto the ice.
You're sent flying down onto the ice, skidding along as she leaps back to her own feet. You're still attached to her, and she can't undo your grip as she tries to surface and make a break for it. Your wings are beating up a storm as you attempt to make your way back to your feet, but that ice is slippery. You were relatively fine on your feet, but now that you've fallen down it is rather hard to get up.
You look right at the creature as it attempts to yank your hand off. It isn't successful, and your grip tightens more, biting into the atrophied flesh that is its arm. "You' re not getting away." A scowl deepens on your face as she continues to try. "You should stop bothering to try."
"Feathers sure? Can he stop us?" The creature cackles as a few dashes of spit rain down on your face. "Wonder what creature did her, yes? His trap caught him! Gonna tar and fry feathers next!"
"You're mad." With one tug, you jerk the creature back to the ground. "You know what is going to happen here. Why are you just playing around?"
"Can't kill me. Feathers don't wanna." The creature snaps its teeth. "Don't wanna. You can't~ Firefly couldn't though she so wanted to. No feathers can't either. Feathers is having too much fun."
"…Crazy." Crazy as it is, you keep trying to do the same thing to hope that it kills her. It never seems to work, does it? You're hardly landing any fatal blows. "…Let's go where I can take care of this, then." Ponderously, you spread your wings and, this time, you lift into the air instead of simply landing back on your feet. She tries to pull you back down in turn, but the tugging of those arms hardly matches the strength in your wings. Instead, you lift her off the ground. “S̶t̸op͟ ̶s̶tr̛uggling҉. ͝ J̢us̢t ̕go҉ a͡h͏ea̵d ͢a̷n͢d di͞e.͝”
The creature winces a bit, wriggling underneath your grasp before she manages to spit out, "Feathers wouldn't have fun then?"
"…You're right. Let's just make this quick." The claw lashes out once more; this time, and that hard orb once more attempts to block its passage. You deny it any success and grab hold of it. A warm pulse echoes in your hand, and you feel a line of scar tissue that creates a small ridge around one size. "I shouldn't even be going for the body, should I? Just like the other, the actual being is here." The creature has plenty of time to react, but for all of her struggles she can do nothing but watch as you rear back and rip the that eye from her body.
The arteries and veins that had once been attached whip to impale you, but one firm squeeze and the entire eye freezes up under your strong grip. The body goes limp soon after, and you let it dangle in your hand as you contemplate the eye. "…You're making me not want to do this, aren't you? You're driving them all crazy." It doesn't respond. It doesn't even twitch. It just sits there, its arteries slowly beginning to move once more.
You don't give it the chance. With no more than a twist of your fingers, you crush the damaged thing beneath your fingers. Atrophied as its body is, the heart of this creature is firm enough to not yield, if only momentarily. Blood pours out from around the wound, dripping down and onto the ice below. It's still warm and quick as it coats your hands, and the smell exudes throughout the cavern. A part of you remembers how long it has been since you have eaten, but you shove that thought away. You have other things to worry about, and to think about. There's no time for whatever that may be.
Once you are sure that the heart is thoroughly destroyed, you turn your attention back to the body, but it's lifeless. You can't be sure whether or not it could be revived, so you instead drop the heart in the river before grabbing the unconscious head. The heart is strong, but the body is brittle. It doesn't take much at all to twist and remove the entirety of the head from the rest of the body. "…It's definitely not coming back from that. " It's not like any other has before, but it's best to be sure. With the creature torn in two, you drop both in the river as well. "That should carry it away. At the very least, the other creature won't be able to revive it." As for now, though, you need to leave before the other eyes manage to find you.
You dip your hand in the water to rinse it off and dash towards the exit, trusting your instincts more than your senses at this point. You're still unable to see, but you find the exit and enter the tunnel that had lead you here in the first place. Your feet carry you farther, but after the first few turns you start to hear the unmistakable flapping of wings. Something is coming for you. And as the wings start to echo in that loud chorus, you realize that the horde has awakened and is coming to avenge its loss.
"Damn it all. Just…" There's no time for you to linger anymore. Your wings lift you up and carry you above the rock. Your progress is still slowed by your effective blindness, but you twist your way through the halls, giving no heed to actually keeping quiet and leaving no trail. You smash into the walls, causing pieces of rubble to fall from the ceiling as you dash around each and every corner. For all of your efforts, the wings are gaining on you, and they will be upon you soon enough.
You turn the corner into the hole that you hid away in earlier, but a momentary glance stops you in your track. Just barely, you can tell that whatever shield was there has long since faded. "Damn it twice, now. We have to get out of here, and soon!" You start running down the hall. "Marisa, can you hear me? We're out of time!"
Light finally pierces the dark once more as you turn the corner, and Marisa is standing there, waiting, right next to the still form of Rika. "Why did you even lead them back here?"
"I thought the wall would still be there! I didn't think it would have faded so soon!" You growl a bit, trying not to show look at her. "I can go out there and distract them."
The witch shakes her head. "No. Let's not. We don't want any more trouble. I'm going to block off this tunnel and blast us an exit out." She beckons you closer. "I've already got it prepared. I had plenty of time to consider this. So get over here if you don't want to be blown up."
You ignore the grin that is threatening to spread on her face as you jump forward, looking down at where you stood. A fine layer of powder coats a ring around the tunnel. "…What in the world did you use?"
"Just a little bit of my favorite powder. It's practically concentrated phlogiston."
"…Whatever that is. You were planning to lock me out there."
"If it got Rika out, yes." She shrugs a bit. "I had to take some precautions."
"I'm not blaming you." You skirt past it and look towards the girl. She's still lying there, completely out. Something really is off, though, and you're feeling like you're being watch, but you don't bring it up. There's a good chance that it's exactly what you think it is. Next to Rika is Marisa's supplies, or at least the ones she managed to keep up. "So, are you blowing it up yet?"
"I was waiting for you to get out of the firing line." She holds up the flame dancing above her palm and casts it over at the powder that is lining the tunnel. It immediately spreads amongst the entire tunnel and then explodes, shattering the rock about the tunnel. The rock chamber collapses on itself, building a pile of rubble on the floor. Marisa just stands there, not even flinching at the dust cloud that rolls before the air. "…That should work for now. Grab Rika. We're leaving this joint."
"…Wait a moment. You were launching rocks around earlier. Why didn't you just pull those down?"
"What was that about a power trip?" She shoots you a rather piercing stare. "I'm doing my things my way. Besides, I have a better plan. Grab Rika. We're leaving."
"Wasn't like I was going to refuse." You reach down and pick the girl up in your arms. You try to be gentle with your lethal claw as you cradle her. "What about your backpack?"
"I'll take care of it." Marisa reaches into her pocket and pulls out that little furnace once more. "Stand back now." With that, she points straight up and concentrates. The furnace blazes to life and tightens its beam until the massive laser reaches up into the sky. The rock melts before it, channeling a passage large enough for you to traverse. She has a rather satisfied looking grin as she stops firing. "I think I can see the light. Let's go."
As you take off, you hear the beating of the wings very close to you. The snatching and mashing of teeth is bad enough, but you hear rocks crunching and shifting on the far side. "We need to hurry! They're going to end up following us again!"
"No they won't. Just go!" Marisa reaches down and grabs her broom before it lifts her up into the air. She swings about it as it does before landing square on the seat before ascending vertically. She shouts as she passes you. "What are you waiting for? Hurry up! We need to get going!"
You grumble a bit as you flap harder, but you're still not able to keep up with her as she books toward the entrance. Not able to tell if the pinprick of light above actually will work, you rear back and bellow at her. "Do we have a way out?"
You hear the distant voice echo fall back down. "We do. Just keep coming! We're on a time limit!"
Faithfully, you keep up your work as you launch farther. And, after a little bit longer, you near the entrance and the stale light beckons you. You launch out into the bright and your eyes are nearly overwhelmed by the sight before. Once they adjust, you realize that it is just that same forest once again. You hover above the ground and try to set down. "What are we going to do about the eyes, though? They'll still be able to follow us!"
"I took care of it. I didn't think of it earlier, but this seems as good a time as any to use a bit of overkill." She waves at you. "Get up here! You won't want to be standing on that ground.
You do as she instructs, and as you catch up to her momentarily, you notice something rather odd. "Wait a second. Where is your pack?"
"I didn't think of it until after you went, but it was best that you didn't. We have to know that she is dead." Marisa pauses and looks at you. "You did take care of that thing, right?"
"Yeah. I killed it. …Made sure as best as I could."
"Good. We needed to know for sure. I needed to know. But for the rest… Well, I figured that I could provide them a distraction." She turns toward the sky. "You might want to keep going up. You don't want to be hit by a stray rock."
Your eyes widen a bit as you follow her up. "What did you do with that thing?"
"Something I wish I had decided earlier. But now would be a better time for it. The moment that one of them opens that chamber back up and gets close enough to the bag, they'll get every ounce of what those fae creatures deserve."
After a moment, you nod and hover next to her, bobbing a bit in the air. Is this high enough?"
"It should be. Just get ready to—"
The ground quivers beneath you, and an unholy roar echoes out of the chamber. From the spout that you had just ascended, a gout of fire lashes out of the Underground, Its tendrils reach up into the sky as it dances, the green and yellow and purple dancing around and whipping around like it is alive. The flame falls back to the ground, and the ever-still forest alights in a red blaze.
Distracted by the spectacle, you barely manage to turn your eyes back to the ground as it buglers upward and cracks as gouts of the flame try to push out, emerging from small cracks and slivers in the twisted earth. In the distance, you see a few more spouts of flame flee from the twisted tunnels beneath the soil. The forests near those alight as well, and the fire begins to consume everything in sight. The very realm seems to hold its breath as the fire finally fades and the ground heaves a sagging sigh and collapses upon itself. All that is left is a large sinkhole and the burning limbs of that vast forest.
"…I think that may have been enough."
"Not likely. I wouldn't want to assume that took care of the big problem."
"How could you even do that?"
"A little bit of trust, a little bit of belief, and a little bit of magic." She shakes her head. "There is no reason I couldn't, after all. I've never done something that extreme. It looks like something from the Great War." She turns her broom away from the inferno. "We need to go. We'll need to figure out our next move as it is."
"I gotcha. …Hopefully we can find some measure of safety."
"Here? Doubtful." She tilts herself forward and flies onward. "Let's go before any survivors follow."
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Tangled hair meets the end of Meiling's brush as she pulls a knotted mass of hair free from the trap that it has twisted in. A grimace tugs at her face with every pull, and once the last one hitch is free she lets go of a sigh of frustration. "So, what is it that Sakuya is planning today? Have you any inkling what she decided this time?"
"None. She's even worse than…" The short blonde standing at the corner of the room takes a sharp breath as she tamps down the shudder that is wracking her body. "That witch was bad enough. The Lady Izayoi, on the other hand… She is completely arbitrary."
"I've noticed that much." Meiling shakes her head and puts the brush down. "What could she want? I don't need for this to continue. I don't want it to. I want to leave, but she won't allow that to happen." She shakes her head. "And she wants me to act like this whole ordeal is normal? It's maddening."
"At least you could go back." The blonde looks away from Meiling, staring down at the floor. "You're not… You're not like me."
"That isn't true. That isn't true at all." The blonde fidgets as she stands in the corner of the room, shrouding herself in the darkness of a nearby cabinet. "She won't turn you into something like me. …I don't think she could…" The girl takes a deep breath. "…She wouldn't."
"But she's going to do something. At least she will eventually." Meiling spins around. "I'm not doing anything. What could all this time I've been wasting even be called? She tries to distract me with all of these little amusements that come to her mind. She is trying to twist my own, I think. …Taking me to that room to show me the eternity. Taking me outside of this house, if but for a moment, to show the… Do you think that was space?"
"I couldn't know. I haven't actually seen it." The girl shakes her head. "It's probably for the same reason that she has you dress like this, for the same reason she provides you everything. It's for the same reason that she has you going out on another of her games."
Sighing, Meiling folds her hands and lowers her head into them. "Doing a lot, and at the same time I'm doing nothing. I've just been spinning my wheels and waiting for something to happen. I'm just worried what she's planned." She eyes the lines of the dark wood in front of her, tracing the lines on the table as she continues. "And now you're part of the scheme too, Rumia."
"It's far better than what I was going through before. I wouldn't want to go back to that witch, not now, not ever. At least here I can see… I can move. …And I can smell."
"…I've noticed." Meiling looks over to the girl where she hides. "…It's alright. You don't have to stay hidden away in that corner. I just need to get the light."
"That's dangerous, as you know. I could do something horrible to you…. Human, you know what I'm capable of."
"You couldn't do it before, and you're not going to do it to me now." Sparing a quick look towards the door, Meiling pauses a moment and stands up. "At least I did something right in all of my wandering around. If I hadn't had stood my ground, who knows what would have happened."
"You'd be safer. There'd be no one here that could kill you in a moment. And that Lady Izayoi—" Here Rumia's face twists into a bit of a scowl, but it soon fades as she gets nervous once more. "—that she would have not made it so that I have to by your side at all times. Who knows what would happen. …The witch did say what I had done before."
"It's not like you've done any of that to me. Besides, I'd be stuck with another one. And considering my choices are between two vampires…" Meiling just shakes her head. "When did that word start sounding normal? This is the oddest fever dream that I believe anyone could experience."
"I wish it were. Then, at least… Then it'd be all over."
Meiling doesn't say anything for a few moments as she looks toward Rumia. "Is it starting again?"
"It's always there. It's just… I'm not that strong. I can't always keep it under control."
"I'm sure you could." Meiling sighs and reaches over for the lights. "Come over here. I can try and help a bit before I have to go be her plaything for a little while longer." She stands still, waiting for the girl to finally leave the cover of her corner and gently tread over to the taller girl. "You're not dangerous right now. And it's best to stop you from becoming so."
"That isn't the biggest danger to doing this…" Rumia looks down as Meiling offers her hand. "You know what the Lady would say about this."
"I would hope she'd be pleased I'm not in physical danger here. Just go ahead and do it. There's no telling how much time you have."
Rumia just nods and reaches towards Meiling's hand and grabs it. Carefully, every so carefully, she pulls a finger up and places it in her mouth. The sharp teeth pull at Meiling's skin, and for all of her whimpering she doesn't break the skin. She smiles a bit and just continues to taste.
Before she can even do so once, Meiling shakes her head. "No biting now. There's no place for that." She shakes her head a little bit and reaches up to pat Rumia gently on her own, being careful not to ruffle the blonde's hair or headdress out of place. There's no telling what would set off Sakuya, but it'd be best to not even take the opportunity. Once she relaxes, she just stands there, keeping the girl near her. "No biting now. You know what happens if you do."
The girl doesn't answer and just stands there as well as she tries to sate her desires if just for a little while. After a few minutes, she tilts her head up and pulls away. "Someone is coming. It'd be best to be ready. It's the petulant one that comes for you."
Meiling just nods and reaches for a cloth to wipe away the saliva from her finger. She rubs at one indention from the sharp-toothed Changeling and tries to get it to rise back up while she turns to the door. Rumia's hearing proved to be accurate once more as, not a few moments later, the door opens up and reveals the rather resentful face of Remilia. "Is it that time already?"
"Yes it is. I'm sure that the Lady is already prepared for you." She peers to her blonde counterpart, whom has already fled to the corner of the room once more. "…Hrm. When oh when is that one going to give in? I know that my sister is stronger-willed than her. I suppose that Sakuya does have her ways." She grins a bit at glare sent her way. "Come. I'd rather not have to mention how your little friend has been holding us back this entire time, wouldn't I?"
"…Let's just go. I think your punishment would be even worse than hers, so do not continue with these games. Do you think I even have the stomach for yours, considering whom I have to deal with?"
"She does appear to be learning." Remilia's nasty smile vanishes and the rotten one just turns about. "Come. Today she seeks to meet you in the antechamber."
"Very well." Meiling finally steps over the threshold and turns back to give one more look towards Rumia before she heads on, making her way before the steps of the vampire. As she had been, the wings on the girl are twitching recently, echoing the feelings within the fiend. She does not speak again as she marches through the twisted corridor and sliding between the black and the whites that make up these halls.
As it is, Meiling does not have any desire to communicate with her, as she feels that her feelings are clear enough. She's interacted enough with the vampire to determine intentions, after all. She continues to follow along, the soft soles of her shoes padding along the floors of the mansion with no sound being made. The quiet is disarming; it is as silent as always, with no busy activity in the background to give any sort of life to the castle. The long empty corridors are as dead as some of the inhabitants; just like those, they just don't seem to be aware that they should go ahead and keel over.
Eventually, the winged girl finally manages to make her way all the way to the foyer of the mansion, right next to the narthex and the empty gloom beyond. Standing at the opposite end of the hall stands the ever-same vision of Sakuya, looking just as she did every time before. On her face is another long thin smile, but the rest of that visage is as blank as always. "I'm so glad that our guest has finally arrived. Do you find yourself well this evening?"
"Just as well as I always manage to." Meiling just folds her hands, waiting for the inevitable. "I've had no more incidents the past few weeks, if that's what you intended to ask."
"It's as well that you offer. I need not worry so." Sakuya tilts her head, smiling a little bit wider. "Are you prepared for this evening's pleasantries? I had many plans I considered initially. Many of my favorites had become repetitious, however. Perhaps instead we could venture into something that is a bit different than the typical activity; after all, you do not seem impressed by what I show you anymore."
"…I can't say that I have after a while." Meiling looks around momentarily as she searches for an appropriate set of words. "After all this time, the luxury that you have here," Such as it is, "is something I've grown quite familiar with. It isn't something that I was able to partake of before, but… It's just material."
"I happen to agree. Property can easily be replaced. When I am bored, I have tried to change up the interior design. It does help alleviate that boredom, but I don't feel like you're one that is ready for such constant changes, are you?" She laughs to herself, but it is the same empty, familiar sound. "Perhaps eventually you can understand that beauty. But this order is not for you, is it? You seemed to enjoy yourself much more when you were wandering into circumstances you weren't prepared for. Perhaps that is what you'd desire. Is this simple life simply too domestic?"
"I wouldn't say that much." Meiling looks back towards the blank woman. "There is simply none being done. I've not been able to act in any matter… I've not been able to do anything."
"If you require more to do, I can grant you plenty that does not necessitate the risk placing you in jeopardy."
"But we've not done anything. I've not. That's what I've been trying to say." Meiling's ears burn a bit. "Whatever interest you may have in trying to grant me those other… those… proclivities, I do not share. I've never been one to indulge in a princess fantasy. I did not want any of that."
Sakuya regards Meiling for a few seconds. Her silence gives way to that same smile as before. "Similar to my other guest in that regard. She was not satisfied with similar affections. I suppose I could go ahead and indulge you in a little bit of freedom. I did fear for your safety, after all. If I had continued to grant you so much latitude, I might see someone or something snapping you. That would not have been what I intended."
She looks to her side and continues. "Perhaps I could allow you a little bit of freedom, then. You may accompany in one of my jaunts outside, hm? That way you could stretch your desires. And, in that case, you could have that adventure that you seem to be clinging to." She pauses and then claps her hands. "I know! You are dissatisfied because you do not have enough idle distractions! I am a horrible host for not providing you with a greater amount of entertainment. I really do need to discover how to better charm my guests." Sakuya pauses again and hums. "You do seem to be quite taken with your newest gift from me, do you not?"
"…What do you mean by that?"
"Why, your attendant of course. What other piece of property adequately demonstrates my magnanimity?" She smiles again. "I suppose you are like the dear Knowledge in that regard. I shall have to discover some more pets for you to appreciate. It wouldn't be too difficult. You can even accompany along on the trip! That will solve all of your issues, would they not?"
"I'm not so sure that they would."
"Oh, but I insist." Her words have come alive with emotion, but that smile has not shifted an inch since her exuberance began. "It would be such a pleasant trip for the both of us, don't you agree? I am going out of my way to give you such a boon. After all, there are many things that you could do. With a great enough taste of adventure, perhaps I could give you a bit more of that entertainment in return, too. Some variety is good in the midsts of eternities, is it not?"
"I suppose that it would be." Meiling sighs and does her best to maintain her shoulders straight. I hope I didn't condemn someone else to share my fate. "So, in the meantime, what would you require of me? I'm certain that you'd have to arrange it?"
"Oh, very little. I'd just suggest you change out of your gown. I'm sure that I can find something that is appropriate for an excursion such as this. If not, I will procure it. That gown would hardly be appropriate where we're going, as good as it would be for dancing." She smiles to herself, tilting her head. "I shall consult Patchouli and see if she has any particular need. I still need to recompense her for appropriating her property, as rude as that was. Still, a host must do what is best, mustn't she?" With that smile, she blinks and vanishes, leaving Meiling standing there.
Looking around, Meiling notices the vampire has vanished as well. "…That's for the best. I don't want her to be around any longer than she has to. She's still rather miffed about what happened to Flandre…" Meiling winces at the pang in her heart at the thought. "I guess I'd best head back. This is just going to get worse, isn't it?"
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"Even all of this empty space doesn't seem enough, does it?" A few hours of flying in the bleak environment of this realm has lead to nothing more than another stretch of unremarkable, plain landscape. The smoke of the burning forest can be seen in the distance as it wafts straight up and into the sky. Even with the blazing inferno, the wind about you is still perfectly still.
After flying for a little while, you did manage to find your way to a river that is snaking through the landscape. You aren't able to see what the destination of this river is: if you hadn't had put your own hand into the water, you would never have realized it was flowing. It is deathly calm, and neither the rutted banks of the river nor the stones and tiny islets that dot its breadth manage to cause even a single ripple. It's just as unnatural as the air about it.
Even so, you did not wait there for long. Marisa noted that it would be risky staying here. There might be something lurking beneath. Perhaps it was more of those creatures that she had witnessed — those kappa that she had seen. Perhaps it was something else. You agreed with her that you wouldn't want to face that, so instead you took to wing again and continued on down the river.
The forest does seem to continue eternally, but you eventually found a clearing where the endless wood ceased its expansion. Here, instead, you decided to sit down for the next while and wait for Rika to finally wake up.
Already you were feeling the effects of all of your efforts as weariness began to overcome you once more. It's not pressing, but it's tugging you down once more. You don't know the last time that you had a rest, nor do you remember if your body had rested during all of that time either. You are trying to keep your wits about you as it is, and merely resort to fetching a few bits woods in order to start a fire.
Once Marisa has that started, you wait for her to remove a few bits of supplies that she still retained on herself. "What all did you manage to keep?"
"Not that much, really. I kept some food that I had stowed away. At least, I kept everything that didn't add to that explosion back there. Some food does have the chemical properties necessary to actually aid in combustion. Not everything, necessarily, but enough can add a little bit to the trick."
"So, how do you not blow up when you eat them?"
"The easy way. I remove the properties that instill combustion first. Besides, it only adds a little in some cases. Most of that grade need a focus for me to turn it into energy concentrate." She just shrugs before removing her hat and proffering a few more things. "I kept the instruments. Rikako's tools are much too valuable to just leave behind, especially as we don't know if she'll be able to make any additional copies."
Your wings flit a bit and you let out a snort. "I'm not sure how some fancy electronic is going to help us here. Can it show us the exit from this place? Or can it track the others?"
"The others?" Marisa turns her head up and looks at you quizzically. "Ah, of course. The two that you were with before you crossed over back to Earth." She just shakes her head. "That might not be the wisest decision. It'll be dependent upon how well off Rika is. If she's unstable, we'll have to get out first."
"I'll agree to that." You just shake your head. "Even if she wakes up, we'll have to see if she can keep up. Hopefully Tokiko and Amsterdam are someplace that won't require us to risk much danger…"
"Do you want to bet on that in the least?" Marisa just grins up at you as she continues to search through her hat. "It's not like we've had to wander through a series of caverns and fought with flesh-eating creatures just since we entered into this realm, have we?" After rolling her eyes, she turns her attention back to her hat and pockets. "Even if we do come across the two in a location that is not infested by other beasts or darklings or something worse, we'll probably run across a few on the way."
That isn't something that you can dispute, in the end. "Point. But we can still seek them out someway. Not that I know of a way."
"Considering what happened to you…" She snorts as she shakes her head. "Trust me, I'm pretty sure we can trace that trail."
"…I thought you were asleep when I told Rika that story?"
"I thought you already asked me that question?" The witch snickers a bit and grabs a few mushrooms out of the collection of material she'd been amassing. "We'll get to that later. As for now, these should tide you over. I bet you're practically starving at this point."
"There's nothing practical about it." You roll your eyes as she sticks them on the fire. "You're acting rather chipper right now."
"You saw how much being depressed helped us out, didn't you? Besides, I got to nuke that entire damnable tunnel. It's quite cathartic."
Nodding, you start to look back at Rika, but something in Marisa's pile of possessions catches your eye. "You kept that book?"
The jovial look disappears instantly. "I kinda had to, didn't I? I already used the bleeding thing, so whatever deal I entered into upon its use is done. If this is our ticket out, then it might be the best way out in the end. …Not that I'm going to use it unless I have to."
"You do realize it probably lead us into that trap into the first place?"
"Possibly. And if it did, then we can assume the one that gave us it is hostile. If they're hostile, we can use that to our advantage at the least. What's one more potential foe for us to face down at this rate?"
"Enough to finally kill us?" She nods her head vaguely, and you snort. "Well, at least we're back to being blasé about these things."
"Hey, if we don't believe that we're going to get through it, then we won't. That's as simple as it is, isn't it?"
"Maybe. I still don't like it. And are we supposed to spring a trap on "them" the next time we use that book, or are we just going to head in blind knowing that we'll be jumping into danger?"
"Eh. We'll figure it out when we get to that point." Marisa just shrugs again. "Besides, I think we can get out of here without using that thing. I might have to try and brute force it in the end."
"There has to be an easier way, though."
"There always is. That doesn't make it the quick way or the simple way, though." She chuckles to herself. "You should probably go ahead and eat those things. They're gonna burn if you leave them over that fire long enough. And I don't want to have to give up an arm to satisfy any hunger."
"Don't worry. There probably isn't enough meat on it." Rolling your eyes, you pluck one of the shrooms off a stick. "So, this thing isn't going to give me some weird hallucination, is it?"
"Nah. It's just deathly poisonous if not prepared properly, is all."
"…Eh. If you wanted to kill me, you'd have figured out a better way first." Shrugging, you tear off the cap of the mushroom with one swift bite; those canines of yours have no trouble ripping the flesh of the fungus. Without even bothering to chew, you just lean your head back and swallow the entire bite whole, before repeating the entire process with the second one. It's not truly meat, but it's not as dissatisfactory to your senses as you had been expecting. "…Well, that wasn't so bad."
"Nah, they're nice like that. A good little power snack at any time." She snickers to herself. "Besides, witches are supposed to eat weird stuff like that, aren't they? It's too bad that I didn't bring along a cauldron so I could make some sort of mushroom potion."
"…Yeah. Sure, that's how it works, isn't it?" You look up, following the trail of smoke that rises straight into the sky. "Strangest thing, isn't it?"
"Not the least strange. But it could be much worse than it actually is. I just need to remind reality who's in charge here." The witch snickers to herself. "At least here I don't have to worry about any of that. I'll take small favors when I can." With that said, she reaches down and plucks her own mushroom from the smoldering fire and begins to eat.
As she does, you notice movement out of the corner of your eye. Looking down, you notice as Rika is beginning to stir. She groans a bit in pain as her hands immediately rise up to her temples. As you rise to move closer, she instantly sits up and her eyes shoot open. "What happened? Where am I?" She looks back and forth at Marisa and you, and you see that her newest eye is also following around with her movements. "Marisa? What's going on? What are these things I hear? Is this still a dream? What's going on? I feel empty. Something's wrong!"
Rika jumps to her feet and spins her head back and forth. "Who was that? I heard a voice. Who's telling me to calm me? Marisa, was that you? I can't tell where it came from. It wasn't close. It wasn't over there."
"Rika, you should—"
"You just said that, Marisa! You don't have to repeat yourself. But wait a second. It was over there and over here as well. What is going on? I swear that I'm hearing all of these things." She snaps her head over towards you and stares with all three eyes. "What did you just say?"
"I didn't say anything, Rika."
"Yes you did! I heard something about an assadoori? I think? I'm not quite sure what it was." She shakes her head. "What's going on? …Is this some dream? Did some Youkai take me?" She slowly starts backing away.
"No, nothing took you, Rika." Marisa follows after her, not letting her away. "We're not Youkai."
"What's going to be more difficult than you thought?"
"Now's not the time Lucas!"
"What's going to be so hard? Marisa, tell me?"
"It's just that something did happen."
"Are you sure? That sounds like something a Youkai would say, isn't it?" She continues to back up. "I'm not going to be such an easy target, you know! You won't be able to break me!"
"Rika, stop this. Calm down and just listen to me!"
"No! You're just Fetches! Fakes wearing my friends' faces!"
"No, we're not. Rika, just stand still and look down."
"See! You're a Youkai!"
"What do you mean?" Marisa frowns at you. "What did you think, Lucas? What did you think!”
"Nothing! I just couldn't help but to wonder if a Youkai could even have a Fetch made of it!"
"Keep your thoughts to yourself right now!" Marisa shakes her head. "Rika, look down at yourself. You need to see what happened to you."
"Are you sure? That sounds like a very Youkai thing. You want to scare me, frighten me, shock me. I'm not going to do it!" She crosses her arms and backs away. "I'm not going to do it, now! You can't make me!"
"That's the thing. We're not trying to make you! We just want you to know what happened to you!" Marisa shakes her head. "Listen, Rika. You're going to have to trust us. Something did happen to you. You're hearing that voice, aren't you?"
"Which one? I hear something about an eye? Did they do something to my eyes?" She holds her hands up to her face and tries to feel her eye sockets. "I can see, I think I can. I'm seeing, aren't I? But if this is a vision, you wouldn't have had to have eyeballs to see. …Maybe you're technocrats! You could have plugged me into one of your machines, too! This is just a big attempt to brainwash me, isn't this! You want my sister's knowledge! I'm not going to give it to you!" Rika snaps back to you. "That's rude. I have stuff, but you are always coming for my sister's stuff! They all do!"
"I think that's not helping either, Marisa."
"I can tell, Lucas." She snorts. "We're not technocrats either. Do you remember what happened before you went down?"
"I was attacked by the horde of bats…" She blinks. "Of course! We ended up on Luna! They must be working with the moon rabbits. But why are you toying with me, then? Don't moon rabbits eat every human and Lunarian they come across? That's what Kaguya said, wasn't it?"
"…We're not moon rabbits."
"I don't know, Lucas. I do need to check for that!" Rika suddenly marches forward and behind Marisa before flipping her skirt. "No, she doesn't have a tail! Not at all!"
"Well, I can't help that I don't know what a moon rabbit looks like. I'm not quite aware of these things as you two are."
"Even so, you need to at least keep your mind clear." Marisa looks at Rika. "We're not moon rabbits!"
"But you already said that, didn't you? A lot? But it was over there I heard it." She points to where she stood moments before. "And now I hear it here. Something is wrong. I'm hearing some things. I'm hearing two Marisa's and two Lucas's."
"It's not that you're hearing two…" Marisa just stops and shakes her head. "Rika, calm down for a second and listen to the voice for one moment."
"Why would—" She stops and blinks, her eyes going even wider. "Wait a second, how do you—"
"Don't say it. It's not safe to say it here. Anyone could be listening."
"But you just said it? Couldn't they already have heard?"
"That's the thing. There's a reason I can't say it out loud. You're hearing me say it in a different way." Marisa smiles at Rika and folds her hands, making sure to not raise them at the other girl. "Now, do you think that any Youkai or Technocrat or even a Moon Rabbit could beat that name out of me?"
"…You're right! Of course! Marisa would never do something like that." She stands for a moment longer before launching herself at Marisa and squeezing her tightly. "I'm so sorry I was doubting you. I'm being an idiot, Marisa. I'm so sorry…" She pauses as Marisa begins to wheeze and cough before letting go. "What's wrong, Marisa? I wasn't squeezing that hard…"
The witch just bends over and puts her hands on her knees and wheezes for breath. You step forward while she sucks air. "You're probably stronger than you were before. …Just look down. You need to know what happened to you."
"But what could that be?" Rika frowns as she does look down. "Other than that, I feel…" She trails off as she spots a large, wide eye staring up at her. "Gah! It's one of those things!" She jumps, landing on her backside a dozen feet behind where she stood. She starts to crawl away as it continues to stare at her. "It's those creatures! Get it off me! Get it off get it off get it off please help me!"
The two of you both jump up, but Marisa reaches her first. It's probably for the best that human hands grab her shoulders and try to stop her. "Rika, it's fine! It's not one of the things that attacked you! This is the only reason that you're still alive! See, it doesn't have wings! There are no wings on it, Rika! It's not going to bite you! It's not going to do anything like that!"
"But… but… it looks just… It looks justlike…" Rika keeps panting as she stares back at it. "Wait! What are those things! Tentacles?" Alarmed, she traces their path. "Ahhh! It's stuck to me! Why is it in me! Marisa, get it off! Get this thing off me I don't want this thing on me Marisa help…"
"Rika… Rika… it's fine. It'll be ok. It'll be ok." Marisa takes a deep breath and grabs her hands. "Just look at me. Don't look at it. We had to do this. Those things did something to you… It tried to turn you into one of them. Your heart… Your old heart was destroyed. It tried to become one of those eyes. We had to take measures…"
"What was that? Some Youkai stuck this in me?" Rika's hands immediately be scrambling around her chest, and she immediately finds the depression where her former heart resided. "What in the world? What's wrong with me? Why did my heart go? Why'd you let a Youkai stick this in me? What happened Marisa? Tell me this is a dream."
"We can't, Rika." Marisa just shakes her head. "If we had done nothing, you would have died. There was nothing left to do! The moment that those eyes did those things to you… I don't what to think of what it did to you. But you would have died."
"I have no heart. This is just a dream. I can't feel the beat. This isn't real…" Rika is starting to hyperventilate as her breaths come short and quick. Her eyes are darting back and forth between Marisa and you, hoping for some denial of what she's discovering. "What happened to me? I'm not alive. This is a dream. This is a real bad dream it's a nightmare I'm going to wake up. I'm going to wake up, right?" She starts shaking her head. "I'm not a monster. I'm not a monster…"
"…Some other Youkai was trapped in a hole by the leader of those creatures. It was ready to die. It just needed us to do it a favor. …It was worth your life."
"I'm a monster I'm a monster I'm a monster…" She stares down at the eye. She stares at herself. "I'm a monster what happened? Why is this going on? Marisa, tell me this is a bad dream. I can't feel my heart. I can't feel anything! Something is so wrong. This thing is sticking out of me and staring and I see things and I hear things and it sounds like both of you. But you're not moving your mouth and I can hear things I'm not sure what they are but they sound wrong."
"…I'm sorry, Rika. It's not a dream. It's real."
"You did this? I heard that." She turns her head to Marisa, and then you. "You too? Why did you? Why did you turn me into a monster? Why this? Why turn me into this?" She turns me back to Marisa. "…We hunt Changelings, don't we? We hunt them. We hunt the Youkai, right? You're not going to kill me, right? Oh God, Rikako? What happens when she finds out? What will she do to me?" She shivers and pulls her knees back to her chest, but she only pulls the eyes closer. When it moves, she freaks out more and tries to scoot away from it once more. She fails. "No! No! This is wrong! Akyuu will kill me and Reimu will kill me and Rikako will probably kill me and you'll probably kill me and I'll be exterminated I'm a monster now."
Marisa just shakes her head and tries to grab her shoulders. "We're not going to do that, Rika! We'll take responsibility now. …Besides, Akyuu can't kill you. She's dead as it is."
"Marisa… Please tell me it's a dream. I want to go home. I just want to go home. You were right I shouldn't go on these things. I never should have thought you were wrong. You were right I should always stay at home. Can we wake up, Marisa? Can we go home?"
The witch just shakes her head. "I can't do that, Rika. It's not a dream. It's all real. Everything here is real."
"That's not right… I can't be a monster… I just can't… I can't…"
[ ] Write-In Option: What do you do?
That should be enough for this weekend. Sorry I've been gone so long. Been out of the mood for writing for quite a while. I've been thinking about what I want to do with the story for this point forward, as I do want to finish it. I also want to remove the problems that caused me to stop in the first pace. Updates are going to be longer from now on to help deal with it. I might try a few more things to help encourage me to continue more. To that end, here's the vote.
I know it's been a while since I last posted, so I wanted to know if anyone wanted me to summarize the story up to this point or if there was anything in particular that I need to clarify. This won't count against the letter bonuses that have already been accrued, as this is on me for taking so long to continue the story.
"Rika, Look at me, you are not a monster. It doesn't matter what you look like. As long as you are still you, you are not a monster."
Glad to see this back.
If anyone can thing of a good question that would probably be the best choice, but if not a summary might be helpful. I still remember the basic story, but it's been so long I can't think of anything specific. I might just go back and re read this over the next few days.
Honestly, I am I doesn't particularly apply here, if you ask me. We were forced to choose between being a human, a beast and an elemental. We chose all three, and it broke us to the point that Mergatroid had to fix us, leaving behind echos of her human self that eventually became Maggie. Mind you, this is as I recall, and I hardly consider my memory good.
So, if you want to break Rika, that is always an option.
Alrighty. I think I'm gonna call it there. I'll try to incorporate everything in. It'll probably be up sometime tomorrow, late.
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[-e+2-] "Am I a monster, Rika? Did they kill me?"
[-e+2-] "Rika, Look at me, you are not a monster. It doesn't matter what you look like. As long as you are still you, you are not a monster."
[-e+2-] "Rika you are more human than most people I've met before I turned into what I am now. You're not going to be a monster just because you've got an extra eye."
[-e+2-] Reference I AM I somehow
"You're hardly a monster. Look at me. Am I a monster now as well?" You just shake your head and kneel down in front of her. "You never considered me that much of a monster, did you? I was just another person, if just a little bit feathery."
Marisa nods at yours she speaks. "Exactly. See? It's not like he is one. Look at Kourin, even! He was hardly a monster either. You're not gonna be one too."
"…But he was still creepy at times…"
"That doesn't have to do with anything now, does it?" Marisa huffs a bit. "I hate that we had to do that, Rika. But I couldn't risk losing you. You didn't deserve to die."
Rika pauses and looks up, sniffling a bit. "I have to be protected, don't I? I was so stupid… I thought I could keep up with all of you. I thought I had figured out a way to do that. I really honestly did. I even had my big idea, but… The first time I even get to test it out… I turn into…" She shivers again. "I'm a monster now. Just look at me." She stares at her hands, nearly wincing at the sight. "What's gonna happen now? Am I going to start growing tentacles or am I going to get claws what if I start wanting do—"
"Rika, stop it." You look her in her eyes and try to keep her focused on something besides her body. "Look at me. I managed to do all of that. I managed to survive, didn't I?" Tentatively, you try to smile. "We had to take the risk. Marisa did. You know that she wouldn't have let that happen if she could have prevented it."
"Yeah…" Marisa grumbles to herself, kicking at the ground. "It would be our luck that we pop into existence into the middle of an entire swarm of the stupid buggers. If we had a better position…"
"Don't you start as well…"
"I'm hardly going to." Marisa snorts and rolls her eyes. "It just is something rather annoying. At least we got them in the end."
"You d-did…?" Her eyes widen and she stares at Marisa. "How did you make an explosion that big!?" The third eye is staring as well, floating up just a bit as it bores into the witch.
"How do you know about that?"
"I do. I think?" She blinks and shakes her head. "I keep hearing the thoughts. Visions? So vivid. They were so vivid. What is happening—" She freezes and looks up at you. "…Please stop doing that. You don't have to r-remind me."
"Remind you of what?"
The girl averts two eyes from you, although the heart continues to maintain its sight. "I know I'm weak. I shouldn't have come. I was an idiot. I really shouldn't. Now I'm a mess and a Changeling or a Youkai maybe but I'm going to be a monster."
"Lucas! What was that for?" Marisa rounds on you with a scowl stretching across her face.
"It wasn't for anything! I know I didn't have that thought." You just shake your head. "Rika, we're guilty for having done this. If we had any other choice, we would have. However, we didn't, and what is done is done." You take a deep breath and force yourself to keep looking at her. "Look at what you have, and what you've already done. You've got people whom care about you; you've been doing what you dreamed of doing. You've been involved in something important. You're going to be missed…" The thought puts a cold weight in your stomach, but you ignore it for now. "You've done more than I ever could have dreamed of. I barely was more than an automaton before. You're far more human than I ever was before this entire mess occurred. I had given up. You still took your opportunities and ran with it."
"But…" She shakes her head. "I don't want this, though. I don't want to be the bad thing. I don't want any of this." She jumps in place and turns to Marisa, wide-eyed. "M-M-Marisa? Do you mean that?"
"So much for maybe hearing what we think." The witch shrugs her shoulders before nodding. "I do. You wanted all this time to actually work, didn't you? You wanted to come with me on our trips out to hunt, didn't you? You wanted to go out with Rikako as well. You wanted to make yourself useful. You wanted to contribute." Marisa grins a little bit. "How many times did you sneak out to try and join us when under direct orders?"
"…More times than I could probably count."
"Rika, we know you can count that high." The girl in question flushes, and Marisa laughs softly. "You wanted all along to be part of the group. You hated being the dead weight. You wanted to be useful. …Sometimes, Rika, you get exactly what you wish for."
"…I… I wasn't good enough before… I wasn't good enough for you."
"You were. That you never will have to doubt. This is something you couldn't have been prepared for. I don't think I was prepared for it, in the end. You know how well I did keeping those creatures away." Marisa takes a moment to spit on the ground. "It's my fault for getting in this situation anyway. And it's our fault what happened to you. Don't blame yourself. …And don't worry about what is going to happen. You think we're just going to dump you here right now?" Marisa just shakes her head. "If that was the case, I would have dumped this bag of feathers on the side of the road after roasting him well and good."
"Isn’t that a lovely mental image. You did your very best, though."
"I am good at what I do." Marisa just tips her hat before brushing her collar. "No matter what, though, I'm not going to let that happen to you. And I'm not going to let you get too far and become some Youkai if I can help it. When we get home, I'm going to find Rikako and we'll figure out a way to fix you."
"…She would like to do that, wouldn't she? That would be a big problem for her to solve." Extremely slowly, a ghost of a smile treads across Rika's lips. "That'd be something that she could really sink her teeth into." You cough, and she suddenly blanches. "That was a horrible analogy. I don't want her to eat me." She pauses again. "I don't want to eat her either! Am I going to be some sort of man-eater or something even worse? It'll probably be something worse."
"No it won't. You won't even get that far, Rika. You never would." You flick your wings up a bit. "I didn't go that far. You definitely won't. Marisa wouldn't let you, anyways." Your eyes roll as you shoot a snide glance at the witch in question. "She's got me on a long leash now as it is. The first sign that I'll show with trouble, she'll put a boot up my rear end."
Marisa snorts out loud. "Hardly. I don't own any boots big enough. I'll just light a fire under it instead. That's always much more efficient at getting the point across."
"G-guys?" You both turn to look back at Rika. "Are you really not that concerned…? You just keep grinning."
"It's a long story, Rika." Marisa shrugs as she looks down at her. "After everything that did happen, it's better to be able to laugh than to cry. I'm just looking on the bright side. But you'll be fine, in the end. We'll figure it out."
"Yup. I managed to figure it out."
Rika just looks back at you. "Have you?"
"…No, I suppose I haven't." Your shoulders slump just a bit. "There's quite a lot that I still need to do. But I'm surviving well enough. Once all of this settles down, I can figure out the rest." You try to offer a grin. "Look on the bright side: claws aren't that bad, in the end."
"Didn't you say that you had yours cut off after you dropped a tea cup?" Rika watches as your face falls, and a moment later she winces and reflexively grabs her hand. "I'm so sorry! I think I saw it. It was… It was a blonde… doll? Was that some sort of cleaver—"
"Pretty much. Let's not go down that road, though." You shake your head and take a deep breath. "Rika, can you just listen to us for a moment?" She seems distracted as she traces her arm and hand, trying to ensure that the flesh is still intact and one piece, but Rika eventually does nod her affirmation. "Good. Just keep this in your head. You form is changed. You are altered. You are not physically be the same anymore." Every sentence seems to make her recoil, but you try to keep a level head. "We will try to help, but I'm not sure there will be anything we can do."
"I'm sure Rikako can think of something. She did have an answer for every little problem that we had." Marisa crosses her arms, nearly challenging you to shoot her assessment down.
"Is she that gifted?"
"My sister is… She can do pretty much anything…" Rika sighs grandly, her eyes turning down again. "That was why they did… why those things broke her."
"She's not anymore. At this rate, considering what you've said, I wouldn't be surprised if you claimed she could raise the dead." You shrug again. "Besides, that's not what you have to be concerned with right now. She'll have to muddle through on her own until we manage to get you back to her. You need to stay focused on what's at hand." Pausing a few seconds, you think your next line carefully. From the trio of eyes boring into your own, you have a feeling that she already has heard every permutation. "Just… Regardless of what has happened to you, remember that you still can be you. What happened has changed you, but you still have to remember to be Rika inside."
"I'm not sure that I can… What if something goes wrong?" Her eyes shoot wide as she edgily peers at Marisa. "What if… What if I break? What if something inside of me snaps and I go mad? What if I turn into one of them?"
"You'll have to solve it on your own, then." You shake your head and cross your own arms, tapping your claws against your wooden arm. "That is all going to be up to you, Rika. There is no hiding it away. You will have to take control of your own future. We will do everything within our power to keep your sanity. In the end, though, everything that you do will be up to you. You have to keep yourself you."
"You make it sound so easy, Lucas." The girl shakes her head, her ruined hair shaking back and forth as tangled tresses serve only to hide her face from sight. "It can't be that easy. If it were so…"
"It's not easy. It's anything but easy. But it is simple."
Leaning forward, Marisa pulls Rika's eyes away from you. "Put it this way. Who are you?"
"I'm… I'm Rika?"
"Don't ask. Tell me. Who are you?"
"Does this change what you are?"
"I don't think it does. But what if it ends up changing it?"
"Do you want it to change you?"
"Not at all…" Rika bites her lip and glances away.
Marisa nods. "Then don't. Be Rika. Just be you."
"I guess…? But how can that be true."
Shrugging your shoulders, you chime back in. "I am I, as far as I know. I hardly know what exactly I've become. I just know that I changed and accepted what I am." The witch shakes her head at your remark, and you raise an eyebrow. "What?"
"She won't have to do that. All she'll need to do is stay Rika, after all. That is all that there is too it. Just as she had to have a new heart once, once we get her back outside, we'll find a way to incorporate another. Then she won't have to depend on the gift any longer." Marisa blows a bit of hair out of her eyes before grinning. "Sure, we'll figure something out. I'm sure that I can dig something out of the old sciences… That, or I'll just figure out how to brute force the solution. It may be messy, but it will work."
"I hope you're right, for Rika's s—"
"Who said that?" Rika looks around for a moment, peering behind you. "I swear I just heard someone else."
"What did they say?"
The girl shakes her head. "I'm not… I'm not sure. She's not ready? Something like that? It was very distant. I did hear it, though."
Marisa straightens up. "I suppose I should check our perimeter once more so that I know that no one is sneaking up on us. Maybe some little beast thought that we'd make an easy meal…" She looks around for a second, her eyes scanning the nearby foliage. "Are you going to be alight, Rika?"
The girl shakes her head, her hands still being shaky as she loosens and tightens her grip on her knees. "I don't know if I will."
Marisa winces. "You will. Could you do anything less?" In a flash, she shoots Rika a wide grin. "So trust us. We'll get you through this. I know that I can handle that much." The smile softens as Rika brightens a little. "Sit down. Eat something. Get your strength back. Just keep that engine chugging along. Do you think a tank cares for the bumps in the road, no matter how high they are?"
"Well, that depends on the clearance that the treads have, the amount that the suspension allows road wheels can travel, the shape of the tread system in general along with the front profile and height of the treads…"
"You know what? I just need to stay away from the tank analogies." Rika manages to let a weak laugh slip out, and Marisa just shakes her head and chuckles. "Alright. I'll be right back. Don't do anything that I wouldn't, now." Marisa grins and walks towards the rear of the camp, grabbing her broom up from the ground before mounting it and ascending upwards.
"Did she leave you anything here to eat?" You look to the fire and see if she left anything else to eat. A few mushrooms are left on sticks, looking a little charred as they lean up against the smoldering fire. "Looks like there should be enough for you, at the least. Go ahead and take one."
"Err…" Rika looks cautiously at the impaled fungi. "Are you sure it would be safe?"
"Safe enough. It didn't kill me, and it didn't kill her, either. If she wanted to do that, though, she'd be far more direct than that." You chuckle quietly as you lean down and offer a hand. "Come on. You can do this."
The girl nods and grabs the wooden hand before hauling herself up and nearly throwing you down at the same time. "Oops. Err… I didn't think that would do that. Sorry."
"It's fine. I should have guessed there'd be some change."
She frowns as she looks toward you. "There's something… I'm not sure. More weird voices… But they sound like you. At least, I think. There's an odd warble to it."
"Hrm. Not sure. But from what I knew about Asatori, you'll be hearing everyone's thoughts, soon enough. She was capable of hearing everything. …She never did say how much, exactly, but she was capable of hearing mine and Marisa's perfectly clearly." You step aside and let her walk to the fire. "I'm just curious what might happen. I didn't witness my own change. I'm wondering what is going to happen to you, if anything else."
Rika winces a little bit and turns her eyes down. "That's not exactly making me feel better."
"I'm just being honest. I don't think that anything else can happen, but then again, I'm not sure if anything else can happen. I just want to keep an eye on you in the meantime. Of the two changelings that I saw, one was fairly normal, if young. The other one was deranged and insane."
"Well, I guess that should give me a fifty-fifty chance." The girl tries to laugh, but it trails off after a few second. "Not the best odds…"
"I think there is some extenuating circumstances for the other one. You shouldn't worry." After a moment, you tilt your head. "I hope that Asatori really was ready to pass on. I don't want you to have to deal with the same thing I'm going through with Margatroid."
She cringes and looks up at you. "You think she's trying to take me over?"
"I don't think she is. It's just something that I'm going to have to ensure doesn't happen." You shrug. "I'm just letting you know. If anything seems out of place, and I do mean anything, make sure to let us know. We have to know in order for us to help you out." You try to smile down at her. "Besides, you have to have someone to help you through everything. It is the only reason that I managed to survive in the first place. If I didn't have that much going for me… Someone who went out of their way and hurt themselves to help me."
Rika sits back down and she grabs one of the mushrooms on a stick. She leans forward and sniffs the gills of the fried flesh, not recoiling immediately. Before she takes a bite, she looks back up at you. "You did mention her, I think. …And you feel…"
"Guilty, probably." Sighing, you take a seat across from her. "She didn't deserve it. She deserved better than to be killed right before the rest of us managed to escape."
"…Why do you say that?"
"She wasn't insane. She hadn't been broken at all. She may have been resigned to her situation but… The moment I appeared in the burrow, she went out of her way to help me as well. She didn't try to ignore me for her own benefit, nor did she try to set me up for the fall. The very first thing she did was warn me of what Wriggle was trying to do in to me."
"What was that?"
"She was trying to feed me a person. Without telling me, of course." Rika snaps her head up towards you. "She really was crazy in the end. All she cared about was torturing those she had as her pets. I kept on messing up, as I didn't expect her to get even worse than what she already was." A certain memory comes creeping out of the dark, and you immediately try to clamp it down as you shiver. "So, yes. She was absolutely terrible. It's a good thing that she is dead."
"…Then why are you worried?" Rika frowns and tilts her head immediately. "She's dead. You don't have worry about her coming after us."
"I hope as much."
She looks up at you and frowns. "There's something you don't want to say."
"I'm not sure that it's anything to worry about."
She drops her face to look at the ground and she takes a bite. "I see. So, it's not something, anything that might need to be told? It's most definitely nothing?"
"I guess I do deserve that." You shake your head and look down. "I'm just not sure. I've been seeing things from time to time. I think that I see her from time to time. I haven't had any problem since we came to this world."
"And before? Was it a major problem then?"
"It may not have been anything. I hope it's just my worries being made manifest. …Or my nightmares. That may be all that it is."
Rika simply shoots you another odd glance as she continues to eat. "It seems an odd thing that you are wishing that it's simply nightmares come to life. Do you really want that?"
"Not in particular. But the alternative is worse. I am aware of it, though. I'll take care of things."
"I hope that you don't have to deal with her, either." She looks away, and the heart turns to the side as well. "You shouldn't hide stuff from us, either. Keeping us dark over that doesn't sound very healthy, either. Were you just going to try and take care of these things yourself?"
"I was just hoping that it was my imagination, in the end. Nothing more than that." You click your teeth slightly. "If it became a problem, I was going to…" Pausing, you frown and look back down at her. "I see your point. However, I did tell… Well, I told Reimu. But don't worry about that right now."
"Why shouldn't I?"
"I'll tell you when Marisa gets back. She needs to be part of that discussion, Rika."
She doesn't respond immediately, and instead spends the rest of her time picking at the mushroom before finishing the remainder of the food off. As she drops the stick on the ground, she pauses and looks at the new heart. A hand descends and barely whiffs the top of the eyeball. "…I'm not going to be a burden, am I?"
"No, you're not. You're hardly one of those."
"…Then you should tell me. If I'm not one, then I deserve to know. If I shouldn't know, then don't tell me. Just… please be straight." She looks back to the side, still not looking at you. "That's all that I wanted to know."
"I'll do my best. If there is a problem, I will let you know. I'll let you both know. I hope it doesn't come to that point, but I will do that much." You shake your head as you try to cast those demons from your mind. "Everything is changing quickly, isn't it?"
"It is. Two days ago, my sister was in the grips of a Youkai's thrall. And now I've been turned into a Changeling by my best friend and you." She slumps a bit more. "I just worry what Rikako will think."
"She'll be fine in the end. You never gave up on her that entire time, did you?"
"At times I wanted to. There was no way back from that madness, or at least I thought so. She was broken in a way I've never seen before. And now… Now I may be broken comparably. The simplest and easiest way would be to remove the poison before it spreads."
"You aren't that right now, and you won't be so long as you do everything within your power to not become that. Don't give into the urges. Resist that creature that will well up within you. I'm doing as well as I can. Though… I don't know how long or how loud the siren's song can go. Mystia had survived there for quite a long time, as far as I know. So, apparently, it can be done. At least it'll be possible for you to maintain your sanity."
"I suppose you are right. …Marisa was right, too. Kourin was creepy, but he was relatively normal." She shakes her head again. "I don't know… I just… I need to figure things out. I don't even know what happened to me?" Rika stares down at her heart, her fingers brushing near it again. "It feels… I can't feel my heart beat in my chest. That's wrong, isn't it? It shouldn't be hanging out here in front of my body. I shouldn't be able to look at it… and it shouldn't be capable of looking back." Shivering, she draws her hand away. "The worst part is knowing that this isn't even mine. This is someone else's. This is something else put into me… Even if it was to keep me alive… Was there… Was there no better way?"
"Your heart had become twisted, with gnashing teeth and twisted wings. I destroyed it myself. It was an abomination. There was no avoiding that." Rika twitches again, and you just sigh. "There was nothing else we could do. Ever since they attacked…"
"It was my fault. I was too big and unwieldy of a target. And they managed to punch through to me…"
"Next time, just build it better. That's all there is to it." She turns back at you, frowning as she looks up through the top of her eyes. "Don't be like that. That's all there is to it. We all screwed up. Next time, I'll just have to do better as well."
"…Next time won't stop what happened to me now…"
"It may stop some Youkai from taking you as their own, at the very least. It's not much, but it is what you are capable of. Do everything you can to improve, and as long as you do that, you can't blame yourself."
"…That's not exactly the most reassuring sentiment. …And… …It doesn't matter. I'm not going to bother with it. All of my other creations are probably destroyed as it is. I'm going to have to rebuild from the very beginning once more." She shakes her head and sighs. "But… What do we do from here? Where do we go, Lucas? Are we going home?"
[ ] Write-in option: What do you do?
My bad. I made a small mistake in the update. I had to redo a small portion to keep it straight.
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[X] "So, what's your dream tank?" After she's done, "See? You're still you."
I've got a summary mostly completed at this point. I was wanting to wait until this thread was near autosage before posting it, but that's up to ya'll. Do you want one posted now or shall I wait until then?
Alrighty, let me try to simplify things. For any readers who might be new, I'll first point you towards No Such Things as Fairytales first. It's over in Forest at >>/forest/26223
With that out of the way, I'm going to split up the synopsis into two sections, as there have been two relatively independent overall arcs currently going on.
The vote will be open for an indeterminate amount of time longer. I'll call it when I'm ready to begin.
WARNING These are spoilers. Please do not read this if you want to read the whole thing yourself. This is a brief recap for those whom have read and do not wish to read it again.
The story begins with Marisa getting off a train and tracking the residue left behind by Lucas, the OC and PoV character for the previous story, After taking a sample, she receives a call for Rika that turns depressing very quickly after the subject drifts to her sister, Rikako. Once done, Marisa goes to make a witches brew to help her search out Lucas at the same restaurant that Meiling works.
It shifts to Lucas, whom is now wandering through the city streets, trying not to be noticed. In an effort to try and get more knowledge to get back, he searches through Margaret's memories, resulting in him having more flashbacks and being accosted by cops who think he is crazy. He tries to fly off and gets tazered for his troubles. Eventually he stumbles back into a hiding hole and goes to sleep.
Margaret wakes up, remembering nothing past when she was lead into the woods by Alice. She wanders out to look for her Dolly (which became Amsterdam later on) and finds Marisa flying about. She had been searching for Lucas, lost his trail, and picked up the residual glamour on Margaret. Margaret tries to run away, but Marisa chases her down and speaks to her again to help things go over better. Eventually, Margaret tells her the story of what happened to her, as far as she knows.
Marisa eventually leaves after getting Margaret to stay in her location until she returns. Margaret eventually goes to sleep, and Lucas wakes back up. He thinks he's going crazy, waking up somewhere different than when he went to sleep. Before he can go anywhere, Marisa shows up, ready to blast him. After demanding to know what Lucas did with Margaret, Marisa chases after Lucas, blasting him the entire way due to a poor choice of words. He eventually manages to talk his way out of the trouble after letting Marisa know his true name, which she uses to confirm everything. They spend a long time talking about what happened and what each other do, especially for Marisa's Youkai-hunting organization.
Eventually Marisa and Lucas make a deal to bring Margaret back while Marisa helps him rescue Tokiko and Amsterdam. And, a little bit after their agreement, the ground shakes and Rika busts open through the ground with her massive drill tank. Rika gets the situation explained to her during banter about TANKS. Rika then gives him the moniker Lukie at this point. Eventually he goes to fetch Marisa, whom notices that they are being absorbed by an Aurora used by the Technocracy. Marisa then insists that they leave immediately, After the tank gets going, Marisa falls asleep and Rika talks to Lucas some more as they ride.
Near the end of the trip, Lucas does a little QNA with Rika, asking about the organization. Eventually, the three arrive after being dropped out of the top of a cavern. Rika attempts to compensate, and Lucas resists the urge to panic, and the tank has a rough landing. Marisa is knocked out and Lucas has to carry her in as Rika leads them through the enormous magma chamber. After using the blood lock on the door, Rika lets them inside. The first person they confront is Harmon Prismriver and his little sister, Layla, who nearly shoots Lucas in the process. Marisa wakes up in order to calm things down. They leave Rika behind and Lucas accompanies Marisa to the infirmary. He carries her up to the upper levels (not walking on the iron stairs) and she reluctantly gets down when an angry Akyuu appears. Akyuu then goes Batman/Jack Bauer on Lucas and demands that he gets cuffed with iron before anything else. Reimu shows upend tries to calm down the situation, only managing to eek out an honest name from Lucas and a short description of the events. Once Reimu learns that Margaret appeared last when he was asleep, she just shrugs and hits him on the head hard enough to send him into regeneration.
Marisa protests before taking the avian form of Lucas up to the infirmary, where Kaguya is working. She checks out both of them, giving Marisa a few warnings in the meantime, before sending them on their way.
Margaret finally wakes up to Kourin staring down at her. The succeeding discussion is quite odd, but he leaves once Marisa returns. He does not respond to Marisa. Kourin does tell Margaret about Lucas in her, and Marisa does show her what he is. She tells her a bit more about Lucas before. Once done, Marisa sends her to Rika to tell her the rest as she needs to complete her work. She manages to get the iron elevator to work with Marisa's help, but has a freak attack when she is trapped in it. At the bottom, waiting, is Felia. She tells Margaret that no one on the level will harm her and then leaves. Eventually she finds Rika, whom is visibly disappointed that it is Margaret that came down. However, Rikako gets out and Rika has to go chase after her. Margaret initially waits, but eventually eavesdrops and then follows after out of her sense of something. She witnesses Rikako and the horror involved as Rika secures her once more the younger sister breaks down in tears.
Lucas wakes back up and Rika leads him up to eat, before leaving to go work some more and get some rest. Harmon continues to be antagonistic, but at least a small understanding seems to be forged. Akyuu walks in and stares at you before berating Harmon for a report he wrote. As they talk, Layla walks up and stares at Lucas's pretty feathers and asks if he's a bad angel. They talk for a bit before Harmon shouts at her to stay away again. Having enough, Lucas leaves. This is when he runs into a hallucination of a certain former master, or so he thinks. He's not quite sure. In the process, he runs across Reimu, whom is busy folding clothes. The two talk a bit on how to destroy Youkai and what happened to her shrine (particularly about the demise of the god of her shrine) when he asks for a blessing. She shoots down his later arguments and he eventually leaves, only to be surprised by a Felia outside the door. She gives him a cryptic warning about something coming at dawn.
Marisa is told about the warning by Lucas, and she confirms they're probably coming after Felia in the first place. He asks about the glamour and goes down to warn Rika. They finally decide to do something about Rikako's twisted mind (caused by Ryuunosukian Kappa). He manages to talk her through, and her own side breaks out before something warns Lucas that he shouldn't interfere. His voice works and Rikako's spell is broken, although again he is nearly shot.
Marisa, in the meantime, had failed with her attempts to open a portal to Gensokyo. Instead, she goes to find Kourin. He declares that he'd rather die than risk being turned into something worse and being forced to use his ability. Afterwards, she seeks out Akyuu. In the process, she nearly gets hit by Akyuu's door exploding, and is only saved by an invisible hand pulling her to the side. Akyuu and Lucas are in the midst of a fight. Ordering Lucas to not use his voice doesn't stop the altercation, so Marisa has to blast both of them to keep them from fighting, and Marisa has to lay down the law with Akyuu. After that is established, she goes to search for Reimu and tell her about Felia. However, Reimu did already hear it, being right outside her door. With no answers for Marisa, and refusing to let her see what she's doing, she closes the door on her. Marisa goes and looks for Kaguya instead, finding the Lunarian whom is preparing to leave. During that conversation, she discovers a book of some sort in her pocket that has appeared out of nowhere. While she thinks on what to do, Kaguya offers to remove possessions from the hideout that would be at risk. Marisa gives her assent and then proceeds to open the book. It immediately befuddles her mind and knocks her out until dawn.
Lucas, in the meantime, follows Reimu as the various members in the hideout get their assignments. Reimu, in the end, did bless an arrow for him and bestows it on him into his palm. After she does, an explosion rocks the shaft they're in, and a series of full conversion cyborgs fall from the top and start shooting. Lucas takes out one, and Reimu destroys another three before chasing after them. In an effort to find a weak point in the cyborg armor, Lucas uses his voice on them to try and harm them. Reimu is immediately hit by the notes and collapses, and she's hit by the cyborgs afterwards. A second attempt causes some flinch. Reimu admits that she has a master, and that she should be dead. She tells them to run to Gensokyo, calls Lucas an optimistic fool, and sends him away.
He emerges with Rika and Rikako fighting alongside Akyuu, whom are driving back some of the horde. Layla is kidnapped by a blonde in a straw hat. A VIVIT-r type arrives and kills Akyuu, with Reimu's body slumped next to her. Reimu is snapped in two but alive and tells them to run away, as her master is coming. Rikako flees with Akyuu's body. Lucas and Rika manage to find Marisa in the midst of a thrall and summoning the portal to Gensokyo. Rika agrees to come along, but is in a frenzy, worrying about Marisa. And, immediately upon arrival, they are attacked by a horde of batlike flying eyes. The creatures manage to attack and the three stand their ground, considering that Lucas's wing was broken and he cannot flee. They manage to attack Rika and infect her with something before Marisa manages to drive them off.
After resting, Margaret comes out so Lucas heals. Rika just gets worse, falling unconscious as a fever comes over her. They march on, finding a strip of torn blue ribbon and blood on a tree, or so Margaret thinks. They decide to take the third option and go down. They go down the hole created and get separated as some garbled message snipes at Margaret, causing her pain. She begins to question her choice of going along with Marisa. With Marisa separated from the rest, she marches forward and explores throughout the series of caverns she has found herself in, determined to find Margaret. Her morale slowly falls as she finds the bonepile of a series of skulls that must be oni. She keeps moving on as she explores and she finds a perch which she manages to fall off of. She chases after her hakerro, determined to retrieve the object, finding herself in the middle of some ruined underground city. Someone is following her in the chambers, and she discovers the thin body of a tattered and starved youkai with three eyes, whom is unmistakably Koishi. Koishi thinks that Marisa is Wriggle and starts talking in broken English.
Koishi volunteers to lead it to food, and so leads her down a small, narrow path to a chamber with a river. In it, Koishi waits to fish out her meal, which turns out to be a bestial kappa whose name will not be known. Marisa then stares there and watches Koishi eat the kappa while the witch's sanity ticks down the entire time. After being offered food, Marisa finally snaps and demands that she stops. Koishi vanishes and starts using her mind games to bamboozle Marisa while the witch lights the entire cavern on fire. Marisa thereafter decides to give chase. Marisa tries to go every way and ends up going nowhere before getting back to the city. When she lights up the room, she finds that she is surrounded by a series of those flying evil eyes, including their massive leader.
Marisa fires her spark with manic determination, but it doesn't matter as there are too many to target. Sigma tries to dominate her mind until something wipes the force away and tells her to run. She flees through the tunnels until Lucas snatches her through a fake wall. He has found something to watch over Rika; someone. Asatori, a girl with a third eye, has een trapped for ages. She could make her way out, but she cannot leave her sister trapped in Sigma's embrace. She explains what is happening to Rika, and how one of those eye monsters has planted its seed in her and is transforming her heart into a monster, and that she is offering a way to save her. She offers to trade her heart for Rika's, if they make the deal to go and kill Koishi for her.
Marisa accepts, grudgingly. Satori forces the heart into a stillbirth, and it emerges in its twisted ruin. The half-formed eye tries to scream at Marisa, but she methodically cuts it out, tosses it aside, and burns it to cinders. Asatori attaches her heart and she does finally find release. Once Rika's new heart is attached, Marisa decides she's going down there alone to take care of Satori. Lucas gets in an argument with her and eventually persuades her to let him go in her stead. She relents, and he enters the tunnels once more, waiting near that same underground river where Koishi procured the kappa. He settles in for a few hours, waiting to spring a trap.
Koishi spots him once she arrives and they get in a fight. It doesn't take long before he kills her with extreme prejudice. Once that is done, he hears the roar of the eye and the others. Knowing they are coming, he flees back to Marisa and Rika. Marisa seems to have recovered her wits, as she has powdered the cavern to blow while also leaving her backpack behind. Giving him no explanation, she just blasts a hole in the roof and then leaves through that. Lucas follows right behind her. The tunnel to the room collapses when she detonates the phlogiston, but the eyes get through to find her backpack. When one gets too close, it detonates, and Lucas and Marisa watches as the explosion rocks the surface, setting every tree that survives on fire with nuclear-level force.
The three find somewhere to camp and begin to cook something to eat, as they haven't had time for even that luxury. As they start, Rika wakes up and freaks out over what has happened and how she keeps hearing voices doubly. Eventually, the two manage to talk her down, and she calms down. She is still noticeably upset over what happened, and she is very worried about what her sister will say.
After returning home from her work, and complaining about it once more, Meiling finds herself staring at her own face. A Fetch has appeared to kidnap her.
Meiling wakes up, bruised and sore, having managed to break the arm of the Fetch. She has woken up in the WDM. She wanders out for an eternity, falling through holes in the floor and slowly treading the eternally long hallways of the black and white manor. She manages to come across Flandre (whom still has bat wings) whom is quite Malked in the head. Flandre is starving for blood and almost takes a drink from Meiling before Sakuya spirits her away. Meiling manages to make her way through a few more doors before she finally arrives at a dark room with a damaged and ruined girl on a bench. The girl finally identifies her self as Rumia as she asks for food, but she is cut off by Patchouli forcing away her darkness with her crystals. Meiling finally learns what a world she has ended up in.
Meiling eventually appears as a guest at Sakuya's table. Sakuya asks what she would desire. Meiling asks for Shark Soup. Sakuya sends Remilia off to fetch the fins off a shark. Sakuya elaborates on her servants and how she acquires them. She does insist that Meiling is her esteemed guest. Eventually, she does eat, which Sakuya observes with interest as Meiling's injuries heal. Once that is done, something disturbs her and Sakuya departs. Curious, Meiling looks for Remilia and goes searching for her once she is done eating. Remilia tries to establish dominance over her, and Meiling tries to ignore her and treat her on the same level. She manages to infuriate Remilia in the process.
Meiling wakes up on a new day, with Remilia leading her to Sakuya once more. Sakuya asks her to go into a galaxy room with the entire universe around her. Meiling asks about her gifts, and eventually asks to change rooms to one near Patchouli. She stays when Sakuya asks to, but eventually leaves. Though she tries to keep the peace with Remilia, the two eventually do come to verbal blows before Meiling arrives at Patchouli. She learns a bit more about the subjects and then goes to visit the two new ones. The first is Amsterdam, who manages to wound Patchouli with the knife used on Wriggle. She then goes to see Yousei, which gives DAI END A. After the rewind, she goes and sees Tokiko, this time speaking in Chinese to Tokiko's German. Nothing is understood, and my horrible attempts at translation are apparent.
Meiling, some unspecified time later, manages to have some time to herself and away from the hovering presence of Sakuya. She seeks out Patchouli. Meiling begs her for help, but Patchouli reminds her that she's not a good person and that she won't do anything. She continues talking and gets confirmation that the test subjects are restrained. She goes to talk to the last subject, which is a little devil that dumps her anger on Meiling. Meiling makes the mistake and gets to close, and the creature lashes out, but Meiling manages to snap quite a few patellas and other bones, destroying the creature. Patchouli didn't interfere since she had it under control. She does go fetch material to go and fix up Meiling's wounds without any sort of painkiller. Meiling decides to head back to her own room. Flandre asks to come in, Meiling says no. Flandre decides instead to bash the door in as the Beast tries to feed. Flandre says sorry, but the Flandre gives a warning that something is going to happen. Sakuya knows, but she doesn't know what, among other things. However, Sakuya eventually comes, extracts Flandre, and tells Meiling to stay.
In yet another day, Meiling is stuck playing chess with Patchouli when she goes to try and speak to Rumia. The girl is hungry, and Meiling goes and calls for one of the maids, specifically Flandre, to bring them food. Flandre is successfully summoned and agrees to do so, and Meiling then goes back in and speaks to Rumia She eventually spills out her life story, such as it is, before Flandre arrives. Flandre locks the door behind her and proceeds. Rumia manages to escape from her restraints. Flandre attacks Meiling and and forces her to the ground while preparing to bite. However, Rumia comes back and takes a bite out of Flandre before spitting it back out. She then launches herself at Flandre, smelling out the fetid stench of the vampire. Meiling takes the chance to run away, but Rumia pulls back the darkness to reveal Flandre's body with quite a few chunks missing. Rumia turns and smiles at Meiling.. Tempted to flee, Meiling stands her ground as Rumia approaches her. Eventually, Rumia pulls Meiling into a hug, promising not to hurt her. She then realizes that Meiling is human. Patchouli storms in, and demands that Meiling move away from Rumia. She refuses. Sakuya appears and demands an explanation. Patchouli offers to swap Rumia with Flandre, and Sakuya agrees. Sakuya decides to take Meiling under a more watchful and personal eye.
Some indeterminate time later, Meiling is preparing for her next meeting with Sakuya, but this time someone is with her. Rumia is hiding in the shadows. Meiling has grown comfortable with her, and the darkling shows no signs of hurting her. Remilia fetches her, and Sakuya complains about Meiling's disinterest in her proffered activities. She gets it in her head that Meiling is enjoying having a pet and decides to find her another.
[X] "We'll do what's necessary to get us out of here. ...Still, a part of me hopes we find my friends first." After that discussion, "So, what's your dream tank?" After she's done, "See? You're still you."
New reader here, I read through the whole of Fairytales and this story yesterday. Hell of a ride.
This might be a longshot, but I noticed that thread 2 of this story seems to have been deleted from the archive. Would anyone happen to have downloaded it? Or Luminous, if you see this and still have those updates saved somewhere, could they possibly be uploaded to pastebin or something? I'm curious about the early things that evidently happened with Rika and the organization.
>>186647 The thing is, I read through that thread not even a week ago; it probably was just archived, as the only thread that had been archived up to that point would have been the first one of this story. With the most recent updates, it probably was finally pushed into the archival lists.
Give it a few days, and if it hasn't, I can post the story section up somewhere on pastebin; I keep all of my updates and author's notes (and pictures!) so it would definitely be possible.
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[-f+2-] Wait for Marisa to give the all clear and make a plan to get out of here.
-[-f+2-] Ask about any plans they might have had for recovering after being attacked by the Technocracy.
[-f+2-] "We'll do what's necessary to get us out of here. …Still, a part of me hopes we find my friends first." After that discussion, "So, what's your dream tank?" After she's done, "See? You're still you."
You try to shoot her a reassuring smile, for all that it is worth. "We'll do what's necessary to get us out of here, Rika. …I'm just not sure that there is a home to go back to anymore. You remember that we lost the base."
"I do. I had just hoped… I guess it would be silly to want to go back there. Just… It may not be the same place, but I don't want to be here anymore. I want to go home and away from all this…"
"Don't we all?" You hate to try and be too sharp with her, but you do want to need to point something out. "I hardly want to remain here. I know what may be lurking behind every bush and every tree. Every step might be a false one that leads us deep into a pit that we cannot crawl out of. There's nothing good that comes from staying here."
"So, we're going to be going home soon? As soon as we can?"
"The only reason we haven't is because we haven't figured out just how to accomplish that. We hardly want to have a repeat of what happened to Marisa, now do we?"
"R-right…" The girl shakes her head, her hair whipping about and falling down to hide her face. "We… She was in terrible shape after that…"
"Indeed. There's nothing good that could come from asking her to do that again." Sighing, you look away towards that still sky. "Besides, I have something that I need to do here. You don't need to be around for that. Neither you nor Marisa does, actually. I can just go on the rest of the way once we get you to safety."
"Huh? Wait, who said anything about leaving you behind as well?" Rika snaps her head up and she stares for a second. "Stop doing that. It's a horrible feeling…"
"That feeling that is in your heart! You feel…" She shakes her head. "My life is more important than what?"
"Than nothing. You're getting used to that very quickly, aren't you?" You shake your head and look back down at her. "Tell me, what exactly did the group have planned for any event like this? I know that someone would have had a plan to try and regroup after an attack like that."
"That was our only major base. Of course, there are a few outposts throughout the island. There are a few places where the Technocrats have a hard time reaching, typically…" She blinks and shakes her head. "No… We're not off of that subject yet, Lucas!"
"…Should you really be using my name out in the open like that?"
"You don't like it when I use the other name… "
"Wants are fleeting. I would rather not have my name used again, although I've yet to know whether I can be twice bound." Your wings flit about, the feathers splaying as you shrug. "No matter. Besides, I haven't seen you cheerful recently."
"I haven't had a lot to be cheerful about."
"Then be cheerful. You're alive. You don't have to wallow in perennial misery."
"Aren't you one to talk?" She sniffs a bit, her hair having fallen back down and dancing in front of her eyes. "You do think I'm just a silly girl, don't you."
"It would be best not to assume anything, Rika." You cross your arms as you do. "I do not know exactly what you see etched into my skull, but I think it's safe to say that it is not everything." By now, the ember on the ground has faded into dull, glowing char. Any warmth it might have provided was long gone. "You're focusing on the negatives now."
"But I can sense something. I can feel it. It just doesn't feel good. It feels—"
"Like you're becoming obsessed with the emotions that are being hidden." A snort flares your nostrils. "Everyone has thoughts like these. You have them as well. There are some people whom you're not fond of, and there are people that you actively dislike. Even then, there are frustrated and embarrassing thoughts you have about others that you would even count among your friends. Did you expect something different from me?"
Rika pauses for a second and shakes her head. "No, it's nothing like that."
"…Just remember that we're all human, aren't we?" The word rolls off your tongue oddly, and Rika gives you an odd look. "Or, rather, we're close enough, and we want to be. We're not perfect. So don't stay so obsessed over every little thought that you hear floating about my head, or Marisa's head, or anyone else's."
"I… I see." She purses her lips and looks down. "That still doesn't explain your decision, though."
"Your decision. You were going to leave us behind, weren't you?"
"…Rather, you'd be leaving me behind. You need to go back to Earth before anything happens. The longer you stay in this reality, the more likely that your new implant becomes a permanent fixture of your body." You shake your head. "There's no need for you to remain here with me in all of this mess. I have to go and try and find my companions if they still are alive… or if they are bearing some measure of sanity."
"But you're going to leave us behind while you go off and try to save them."
"This isn't for my sake. This is for yours, Rika. You don't need to be here. You need to get back to Earth and hopefully be able to change back. That's all that there is to it."
"But nothing. You can't risk staying here this whole time, so don't even start it. Besides, you want to go home, right?" You look up and towards the woods. "I think I hear her coming back. Don't worry, we'll get you back."
Rika finally clams up and follows your eyes, and soon enough Marisa emerges from the treetops. "…She's not happy about something. I'm sure of that much." You don't respond, and Marisa eventually flies down and flops onto the nearby dirt.
Dusting her dress off, she turns to Rika. "You're looking better, at least. Did you manage to eat enough?"
"…Enough for now."
"Did I miss something?" Marisa looks between Rika and you before shrugging. "Probably something. But there's nothing here for a long way. The nearest other place would be the mountain. We could probably fly fifty miles and not find a single thing, if I'm correct." She shakes her head. "Or, instead, we might fly headlong into some giant invisible building that is otherwise unseen."
"Would a Youkai do that? They seemed to love their demonstrations of power too much…" After trailing off, the thought comes back to mind. "Then again, Wriggle did live in a burrow pretty much the entire time. She did have some vestige of self control left, didn't she?" You just have to shrug your shoulders. "It doesn't matter. Either way, we need to go somewhere that can help us get Rika back out."
Marisa turns to you before glancing at Rika and back again. "That won't work well. I don't… Well, I could try and brute force something, but that just wouldn't work. Sadly, there's only way that I can imagine us getting back across without having to resort to desperate matters."
"And those would be?"
"We might just have to subdue a Youkai and force them to tell us a way across."
"…I… don't think that would be advisable."
"Me either, but the other options aren't that appealing as well. Unless you could try and force your way through it. If that voice hurts the Youkai, can it even harm this world of theirs?"
"I couldn't quite say. I've never seen anyone but Youkai react to it."
"Wait!" Rika looks at you, wide-eyed. "Why are you thinking about Reimu?" Marisa winces and Rika snaps her head back around. "What? I know that you're not telling me something. And I can't help that I'm still hearing the other yous."
Marisa sighs and just looks at you. "Go ahead and tell her. I think… I think I need to hear this again, anyway."
"…Reimu has her own master she serves. She wasn't acting out of her own desires, but for that one instead." Rika starts shaking her head and there is nothing you can do but nod. "She fell underneath my voice. It wasn't the other way around. She definitely has some sort of Youkai magic about her."
"But… But why? Akyuu could notice it. She would notice it!" Rika whips her head towards Marisa. "It can't be true, right? It can't be… She wouldn't do something like that."
"I don't think she had a choice, in the end. But why else would one lone child survive when her entire shrine, and everyone in it, was killed? It isn't coincidental, I wouldn't think." You turn to Marisa. "That god of her shrine… whatever it might be. Is it truly dead?"
"I couldn't tell you. Reimu would never talk about it." Marisa looks down. "Those were things we never would talk about. We tried not to focus on where we came from. None of us do. We just worked together to build a better life and hopefully make a better world for the rest of us. Well, all of us except Akyuu. Everyone knew where everyone stood."
"That may have not been the best way to run the organization."
"…Maybe, but Reimu always made sure…" Marisa blinks and groans. "Well, that wouldn't do much good. I guess it doesn't matter in the end."
"But… But why? Was she going to turn against us? Was she just waiting for the right time to let her… her…" Rika shakes her head. "None of this makes sense. Why would she do this?"
"…She told us to run. She wanted us to go here."
Marisa blinks. "What? Why would she do that? She wanted you to walk into a trap?"
"No. She wanted us to be here, as her master couldn't interfere so easily. I couldn't tell you why exactly she thought as such. It may have to do with the laws of this land, or the lack thereof. Either way, Reimu thought we were safe here."
"…She would. She… She still lied." Marisa looks down and shakes her head. "…I guess it does explain some things. She wanted to destroy the Youkai with such a passion… I guess it wasn't all simply a desire for revenge. Either it was an order… Or she was taking out her frustrations… Or both." Marisa grumbles softly, shaking her head yet again. "No, there is always more. But I know Reimu. She wouldn't do that."
"Then what would she do? I do not know her…" Your mouth hangs open and you pause for a second. "…I just know that, when that robot… android… thing killed Akyuu, she still came. Bent over backwards and snapped in half, the only thing she would tell us would be to run. She didn't want us there if she had to call for her master's help."
Rika nods to herself. "No… I think I see?"
Blinking momentarily, you try not to send the girl a strange look. Even so, she recoils from your momentary gaze. "Well, either way… She wanted us away from her master. She didn't want us to fall in the same trap."
Marisa nods. "Yeah… I guess that would make sense."
Rika turns and looks at Marisa again, scrutinizing her for a few minutes. "Wait. What was that about the book in your pocket?"
"It just appeared. …Do you think that it was her work?"
"It might be… Lucas here fell out of a ceiling, so I guess it's similar enough."
"One or the other then. …Great." For a moment, Marisa clenches her hand and bites her lip before nodding. "Right. Looks like I'm going to have to save her ass, then." A grin flashes across her face. "It's settled then. We're going to take care of business, get your friends back, get Margaret outta your mind and into her home, blow this joint, kick that Youkai's like the tree she is and get home just in time to watch the Vespers play."
"What? That's what we're going to do, isn't it?" Marisa laughs softly before gripping her hat. "Why the heck not? We've got the entire world here. We just need to track down those wayward little Changelings so I can fulfill my end of the bargain.
"I was planning on…"
"You were planning on what?"
Rika shakes her head. "He was planning on helping us out and going to find the rest alone."
"Well, I guess—" The witch twitches. "You were going to kick me out as well? You know you can't do that. We've still got a deal to fulfill."
"That doesn't matter. We need to get Rika to safety."
"And we can't get here there by chewing fat in the middle of a wide open clearing where any Youkai might decide that they like my hat and want to steal it. I am rather attached to it." Marisa chuckles again. "There's no point in going forward if you don't think that we can go ahead and do everything here. It will just be a quick smash and grab if it ever comes to that, so don't worry your pumpkin' head."
"…Ok. Now you're acting strange."
"No, I'm getting myself hyped up." The grin vanishes and the glare becomes harsh. "Still, planning on leaving me behind? I'm surprised you'd give up good help. And do you think it'd be a good idea for us to separate when we still have a deal that is yet to be completed?" Marisa shrugs and flips her braid away. "The answer is a no if you were wondering. If you weren't I'd have thought that'd be rather poor hindsight. Still, it doesn't matter. I'm coming along."
"But Rika wants to go home first, doesn't she?" You look towards Rika, whom is staring at Marisa with a little bit of a shine in her eye. "Is there something wrong?"
"No, nothing is." Rika shakes her head and looks at you. "…I did promise that I'd come along, even knowing the risks. I want to go home. …I really do… But at the same time, I don't want to leave you here all alone."
"Yeah! Besides, you'd probably need our help if something fat and nasty pops up! Besides, how were you planning on keeping Margaret safe?"
"I was going to have to figure that out as we go."
"Of course you would. You should leave improv to me, though. I believe that I'm better at it." Marisa just grins and looks back and forth, her smile eventually softening but never vanishing. "So, does that mean we are ready and a-ok to be leaving this lovely little campfire."
"I guess. I just don't see how you can be so cheerful."
"Probably the same way that you asked me to be." Rika smiles up at you. "If it makes you feel any better, you could call it a deal."
"That makes it worse." You shiver and shake your head. "You do not want to be caught in one of those…"
"At least your current one has worked out better." Rika nods to herself. "Maybe Rikako can manage to find us…"
"Speaking of them…" You look towards Marisa. "What were the plans if you were compromised?"
"Who knows? Reimu knows all of them, so either she joins the groups and retakes control… Did anyone else see what she did?" You shake your head. "Then she could do that. She knows where all of the fallback points are. Either they go to ground with Reimu still part of the group or Reimu's master chases the survivors away. There's no telling what will happen in the end."
"Then we'll simply have to keep going and assume that they won't come back." Marisa nods in agreement and you look around. "So, there are no distinctive landmarks?"
"None that I could see. That hardly means anything."
"Very well. In that case, let's just keep going."
"Not yet. I need to get a sense for the ones we are tracking." Marisa grins and holds out her hand, hovering it just above your left arm. "Remind me again exactly what we are searching for."
"A doll elemental of some type along with a bestial bird that's as bad off as I."
"…As expected. The rarer signature will do." She snorts before taking a deep breath. "This will feel rather odd. Do not try to claw anyone when it happens."
"When what—" Before you finish your question, you feel something being drawn out of you with barely anything more than a tickle. You can't help but watch as Marisa pulls a few motes of white light out of your wooden arm and lifts it up. The orb coalesces and forms in her hand, pulsating just slightly. After sniffing it a few times, she clenches her fist and holds it up as she starts to look around. "…There's a few things that are nearby, but I'm not sure what exactly they could be. The signature is rather weak."
"What does that mean?"
"Either it's your magic that is everywhere or someone whom is similar to you. Knowing your tale, it is going to be Margatroid. And the strongest existing signature…" Marisa slowly rotates as she peers at the air. "It's quite strange, really. The signature is very different than the one from your feathers that I examined so long ago. Still, I can tell the taint when I look at it. There is something mixing in there… It's definitely a Youkai magic though. There's no masking it as anything else." She frowns as she looks around. "The signature is weak, although I am looking for one of a Youkai. Is the doll elemental still a Changeling?"
"I honestly can't tell you. I didn't have the chance to sit down and discuss much with her before I ended up separated. All I know are the basics and whatever thoughts from Margatroid that linger in my head."
"I suppose that is right." Marisa starts walking around you, looking around and searching for any source of that magic. "The thing is that there is so much glamour right now… It would be hard to distinguish any Youkai's magic while in this soup of pure anima…"
"Maybe that was the reason why we are here."
"…Is there anyway to amplify it?" Rika tilts her head as Marisa and you look down at her. "…Did you… Did you manage to retrieve any of my equipment from the tank?"
"No. All we did was get you out of it."
"…Yes. There were a lot of other things that you had to worry about in the meantime, weren't there?" Rika smiles a little tremulously before turning away. "I could try and make some sort of amplifier… There's just nothing here that I could use. I don't have any technology here I can manipulate, nor any samples…"
"We'll manage for now." Marisa looks around a bit longer. I guess that there are only… yes. Give me one more moment. Or ten. I want to make sure that we're going in the correct direction."
As she does, you look back at Rika for a moment. "…Already planning on building something?"
"It's all that I'm good for." The girl looks down. "For what it's worth, I probably could rig up something. Got plenty of practice on the wide beam transmissions and what exactly could ride along those signals. A magical signature isn't too dissimilar to any normal type of radiation that may be exuded."
"…Are you trying to make me confused with gobbledygook?"
"No, I wasn't." The girl tinges red and looks away. "I didn't mean t— Why are you laughing?"
You shrug. "It was a joke, in the end. I have to do something in order to cheer you up."
"Weren't you complaining about Marisa trying to brighten the mood as well?"
"I…" After a moment, you chortle. "I suppose I am a bit of a hypocrite. …Maybe I'm just the one used to being negative all the time."
"Ah. I see. I hear the employment market is tough these days."
"Huh?" You look down, and you think you see a small grin. "…That was uncalled for."
"I think it was plenty called for. Besides, I can hear your laughter, no matter how awkward it is."
"Well, at least you'll have a great future in poker." She doesn't laugh, and you shake your head and turn your eyes outward. Marisa is already circling on her broomstick, still not quite getting above tree level as she tries to triangulate the signals. After a few moments of witch watching, you look back down at Rika, whom is still staring out at the woods. "…What are you thinking about?"
"…This place is very weird." She looks up towards the sky, and her hand reaches up to cover her eyes. "Nothing… It's nothing. It's like looking in a hologram of some sort and everything is frozen. Nothing seems alive. It just… It just is."
"It matches its residents quite well." You flap your wings again, ready to take off and help her.
"…That, or its residents match it." Rika looks away. "…We need to hurry, Lucas. We might lose ourselves if we stay here for too long."
"I understand." A thought crosses your mind, and as Rika doesn't react to it, you stay your wings and talk. "So, do you still plan on doing that again? Rebuilding that tank of yours?"
"There's nothing to rebuild of it. If it's been lost… Who knows what a piece of iron that size is doing in this realm."
"Would you want to go and get it? Even after…"
"Of course!" Rika looks up at you "I… I screwed up badly… But it's hardly her fault that I failed her. I should have known better… If I could have stripped some of the material, I might have actually been useful. …The guns might still be functional if I could still work with them…"
You can't help but to grin a bit. "What could you do—"
"—to make it better? I could do lots of things. …That design was never really meant to fight Youkai… That was more for fighting the Technocrats. And I never considered creatures so… so…" Rika takes a deep breath and slowly exhales. After a few more seconds, she sighs. "Ok. But… I didn't account for lots of little creatures. Usually there are only a few, and they're person sized… At least, that’s what I’ve heard from Marisa’s stories. If that was all there was, and Marisa was able to distract them, along with you, then I might have been fine. But… hrm…"
"…I guess… For lots of them, I'll need to guard the joints. Even if they are made of iron, they still are vulnerable from attack." She frowns as she begins ticking off her fingers. "I don't remember what happened, but the window and the seals are the most obvious points for failure… I could try and use a different seal and hold for it… Possibly a conjunction of a suction seal with a mechanical one… That might be useful. I could always try to integrate some dispersion system into the entire chassis… That would have been useful for clearing the deck. There's not any other system that I could have integrated…" Here she pauses again.
"Nothing. Just… I'm just thinking. That was a bare bones construct, after all. I had to rush to even get the thing running."
"Why wasn't it ready?"
"It was put on the backburner. Most of the other vehicles are designed for large outdoor combat. Not small, cramped, indoor battles. I couldn't use anything else but that one. If I didn't pull it out, I would have been running, hiding, and taking potshots with one of Rikako's pistols."
"That wouldn't have been too bad."
"And if they had gotten to me then…" Rika shivers. "Still, I could have done better…"
"Now, see, isn't that normal?" She glances up towards you. "All of this is normal, isn't it? This is what you used to do all the time."
The tips of Rika's ears tinge red. "I didn't work on them all of the time…"
"But it's something you worked on a lot. And that's normal. All of this that happened hasn't changed who you are. Nothing at all is different. The only thing that is bothering you is all of this in your head. You keep on worrying constantly. Don't' worry about that part for now, at the least. That part of you hasn't changed. Don't let it change you as well."
"I… I see." She smiles a bit and looks down. "…It is nice to just think on those things…"
"Then do it. Everyone is happy then."
"…I will." She smiles up at you." …Thanks, Lukie." Immediately afterwards, she breaks out into a few soft giggles as you roll your eyes. "I suppose I should be using that name again, shouldn't I?"
"That is terrible, and you know it." You just shake your head. "Feel better about yourself?"
"Somewhat… I just don't want to get used to this…"
"Hopefully, it won't come to that point." Shrugging your shoulders, you turn back up towards Marisa. "I wonder what's taking her so long? Is she having that much trouble finding any sort of signature?"
"That might be the case… She did point out that there is a lot here that can cover it up. The glamour…" Rika pauses and looks down at her hands. She takes a few moments to contemplate them. "…the glamour…"
"What's wrong?" You raise an eyebrow just as she snaps her head up. "Something is bothering you, isn't it?"
"Nothing. I'm just thinking… Don't worry about it." Rika looks back up and towards Marisa. "Well… Here she comes. Hopefully she has… No, she doesn't."
You don't say a word, merely watching as Marisa alights on the ground next to the two of you and grumbles. "There's nothing clear. There are three hotspots and… well, there's no telling which way we should go. At best we'd just find the remains of something that are radiating too strongly to be healthy."
"That doesn't sound ideal." You shake your head and cross your arms. "So, at best, we may run into something that can… What am I saying?" You look down and shake your head. "Listen. We need to hurry, either way. It's only a matter of time before we manage to startle up some sort of insect to chase us down. We don't want to be around when that's the case. So which one do you think is the best for now?"
"Any of them are about the same. If they weren't, I would have already made one." She shakes her head. "We're back to square one, but at least we have a target. …And now with you still awake we can actually fly. That way, if it does look like there will be trouble, then we can make a decision from there."
"…That does sound like the best bet." You turn and look to Rika. "Is that good enough for you?"
"Well, if we just stand around, we're not going to get anywhere. And there are quite a few things that we need to do." Rika looks up at Marisa. "So, which ways are they?"
Marisa shrugs and points towards her right for a ways. "There's a signature over there. However…" She turns behind her and points behind her, not quite eighty degrees from the previous. "There is one over here and another one just off to the left. The only reason I'd not even consider them one and the same is because the one on the left is a little bit fuzzier. It's distinct enough, at least." Marisa shrugs again. "I'd head towards the one in the center, but that's just me. At least that way the other one is closer, and if we get them both wrong, we know where the remainder is."
Rika frowns and looks between the two spots. "Wouldn't it be better to get the one by itself out of the way? If that is all there is, then there shouldn't be nearly as much of a chance as running into something else along the way. At least there would only be one Youkai that might be near it, not…"
"That is a dangerous assumption. But there's nothing telling what would be in either direction, at least from here." Marisa looks towards Lucas. "So, what do you think? Has anything looked familiar enough, or do you have a feeling about what might be around here?"
[ ] Left (Faint)
[ ] Center (Strong)
[ ] Right (Lone)
[ ] Suggestion otherwise? (Write-in)
I think this will help Rika feel like a part of this team, not to mention it'd go a ways on cheering her up. Also, it's been some time since we've transformed. If we're at the two targets near each other, we may be caught with our skirt on.
[X] Left (Faint)
Mostly because I have a suspicion that the left and center ones, which seem almost the same to Marisa, are remains of Margatroid and Alice respectively. Alternatively one of these could be a non-Amsterdam doll, or I could just be wrong entirely. Only have a vague guess for who the rightmost one might be, but if it's correct they'd be even worse to run into IMO.
Not an easy decision. The center might be the best for information, but I'd rather go left or right, that way we can make a loop if needed. I'm not sure which each one is, but the one all alone worries me. It feels like a trap option especially if >>186675 is right.
Of course considering the nature of this story, nothing is going to be easy.
"No, there is nothing of the sort. I've looked, but there is just nothing that I've been able to see that looks familiar." You shake your head and look around. "I remember that the forests are supposed to constantly be changing… There's no telling whatever might be here."
Rika frowns and looks to you. "How can that be? I mean… Everything here just seems dead."
The witch frowns as well. "…It may be it changes right before we think it should. Or right when we've gotten used to our current surroundings. But we shouldn't even trust this land, so unfamiliarity should be expected."
"Quite. That seems very likely." You shrug a bit. "I'd say that Marisa has the better end of things to be honest. The two spots clustered together might be… Well, if it's not Amsterdam, it's probably someone else." A wing flits in the air gently. "But it'd be best to go to the fainter one. If it's not our destination… Well, it should be safer than the other. The one on the far right simply seems like a trap."
"And not the center?"
"He shrugs. "If we go to the center, we’re nearly certain to find something unpalatable awaiting us. Best go for the weaker signature… Hopefully, if we go in that direction, we might get lucky and find them. If we don't get lucky, then there might not be anything else that way that we have to worry about. It's a win-win... At least, I think.”
Marisa tilts her head a little bit before nodding. “I suppose we can do that, then. If we went towards the other signature, then it's likely that we would have to deal with the second. Just be careful. We don't want to be injured or rendered incompetent again.”
“Indeed. We'll be careful. ...We don't have a choice anymore.”
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, fear is greatest with familiarity.png
A door creaks open into a room full of the dark. In the light, a figure slowly floats through, not touching down on the ground as she enters. As the door closes, the figure inclines her head. A series of crystals start to glow and light immediately returns to the cavernous room. In the center of the erstwhile bare room, a set of bars running from the floor to the ceiling. In the center, lying atop a pile of broken wood, a bird keeps her face away from the visitor.
“Still ignoring me, I see. Well, that shouldn't be necessary at this point. We will continue our testing soon enough.” A pale woman floats forward and into the light as the bird keeps its face away. “Besides, I am rather certain that it would be much healthier for your child if you retained your human form. As interesting an experiment that forcing you to retain that form and give birth would be, we both know that the child would be far too precious to waste.”
The bird squawks and ruffles its tail feathers. The pale woman's lips tweak up a little bit before she floats closer to the cage. “I wonder... Was this something you had premeditated? Were you merely biding your time? Or had your mind been so destroyed that the only thing on your avian brain was the thought of reproducing with the first eligible male that managed to find you?” The woman hums a bit more and purses her lips. “You always did make those connections back when we worked together. It was refreshing to meet someone that shared such vision. Not that you appreciate my work now, do you?” The bird still does not reply to her, and Patchouli merely shrugs a bit more. “So be it. I suppose that I will proceed. There are two things that I require from you. In order to acquire the results, though, I need you to return to your previous form.”
Crystals spring to life around Patchouli, with a quartet hovering around the bird silently. The tinted light beams into the cage. “I still am curious why you refuse to use those powers of yours. All of your attempts to escape are made with claw and tooth; brute force was never your forte. It is pitiful to see you reduced to such a state, but... I suppose that was inevitable. You never were quite stable to begin with, were you?” A smaller, white crystal floats next to the woman's head, and she begins to mutter. “Experiment A-17, Subject 133-B, repeating attempts to force return to hominid form. Method will include a combination of mental triggers and electrical therapy. Results will be pending.” Looking down at the trapped bird and softly flipping her fingers, the beams of lights solidify and entrap the long neck of the ibis.
Blue lightning shoots out of the air and into the head of the bird and it lets out an unholy shriek of pain. It writhes back and forth as its hair starts to singe, standing up, but when it reaches the ring of energy, pulses beam away and leak back into the surrounding crystals. And, as she lets out the terrible screech, Patchouli's eyes shift and she tilts her head. “I'm amazed you've manage to keep that a secret. You must know what it is... after all. What would make you of all people to desire to forget the power in that voice box?”
Pausing for a second, Patchouli twitches a little. “Oh, yes, it is painful. But even your scatterbrain cannot rally enough to maintain its protection. Instead, you simply corral around the one thought... and reveal to me another, instead. Now, flip.”
The bird twitches and shakes. Its wings spread apart as the heavy-laden belly appears, dwarfing the otherwise tiny woman. The claws of the girl clutch at the choking binds on her neck and she gasps for breath. The third wing on her head stands straight up as she continues to drain every bit of air she can.
“Do not think of changing back. I've finally found that method. Finding the next one may be a little more invasive than the last one.” Patchouli waves to her side and the small crystal floats closer. “You of all people should know that cooperation by my subjects would be met with far greater care than this unnecessarily rough resistance.”
“Hardly rough, I've been treated. Pontificating to the choir is hardly the way to earn any friends. However, those others whom have kept me company you've cruelly broken and destroyed. Now whom is supposed to keep me wooden and comfortable when I seat myself?”
“You don't have to maintain these pretenses, now. You have stood in my spot as well.”
“I don't recall floating in your stead at all. I did not have the wings at that point. Even if I did, I would not have flooded, even as excited as I might have been at one time. Although I am quite sad that there has been no plucking. Plucking was an enjoyable opportunity, was it not? Quite satisfying.”
“Good thing that I no longer need to maintain those same experiments, now do I? I've already learned quite a bit about the regeneration capability as it is. Slight of hand played with reality is quite the interesting method, but we hardly operate by any rules here.” She shrugs a bit before steepling her fingers. “I require that you go ahead and do as I ask, though. I need to understand what you are capable of in your new form. It certainly appears far more capable than your old one.”
“Perhaps a bit. At least this way I am excused when I forget my bowel usage. Animals do seem to have that excuse more often. And I am quite glad to have fewer orifices that need cleaning. Much more efficient when I do bother with personal hygiene.”
The magician observing the girl resists the urge to roll her eyes. “Typical distraction techniques, isn’t it? Your mind isn’t befuddled to such a degree that you are unable to communicate or focus on the task at hand.”
“My concentration has never been the one that has been lacking. I just find your absolute ignorance of common ceiling cathedra and their requisite needs to be simply appalling. You have managed to insult the memories that we once shared by your absolute ignorance of the relatively simple customs.”
“Enough.” Patchouli snaps her tongue before turning her head to the side and waving a finger. The crystals begin to float even closer, surrounding her. “Your ranting is of some amusement, but we are both aware of your objectives. You know what squawking that I wish to hear from you, and it’s not this mindless prattle that is being uttered forth from your mouth. I will instead hear that voice you are keeping hidden and see what exactly you fear from its reveal.” Turning away from the bird, Patchouli looks toward her crystal before humming slightly and setting down on the ground. Even as frail as she is, she still looks imposing compared to the broken bird. “I believed that you would be so kind as to go ahead and give me that voice. It will reduce the potential damages to that child you carry.”
Tokiko begins to titter softly. The laughs soon grown to cackles as a look of incredulity crosses her face. “You’d never do a thing. Whatever I may or may not have done or will do, as the case may be, is of less importance than that which I carry. You couldn’t think to harm it as you so harmed my beloved, newly met friends. What Tom has given is far more precious and far more powerful than anything that comes out of my tortured throat.”
“Oh, quite, indeed. I have already begun to speculate the myriad of ways that I might be able to take advantage of it. A conception of such power might be enough to finish off my work here without risking a devastating catastrophe. Or, perhaps, I might instead fall to the same fate by looking in Pandora’s box unbidden. Then again, that was never our division’s work; the others were fools for even daring to open up such power without it being contained.” Patchouli sighs and looks to the side. “At the very least, their efforts were useful in extending our prior understanding. Just as your efforts will be useful in extending mine.”
“Prior? Is there any sense of time swirling and leaping and skirting about? It loses its meaning when it begins to be epitomized by a crab rather than a snake.”
“A snake, you say?” Patchouli arcs an eyebrow towards the younger girl. “Why, pray tell, that metaphor?”
“Well, serpents are rather straight when they slide down my esophagus in one piece, though I do tend to break them every so often. It is quite curious how strong jaws can be. It’s hard to judge whether biting through plates and tables is something intended or merely an accident. Wood does have an interesting flavor in and of itself.”
“Forgive me for asking.” Patchouli inclines her head and the beams of light shoot out again, making sure to grab the bird about the neck once more. “However, I will decline to continue this conversation. You will not have to fear for the child, as I will ensure that none of the damage will be routed past the inferior cervix. Instead, I will have to ensure that the simulations will be directly applied to your cranium.”
“Pain was never a terribly efficient method of extracting information. Completely inconsequential prattle such as about the location of cells was favored over century-long feuds and details on the cattle migrations and recipes that were long forgotten. Such intrigue and edibility is certainly a much more important usage of resources than merely logistical and strategic knowledge. In fact, I would say it is primal in order to dither way long hours. I do recall this one old woman whom we worked on—“
“Prattle on and on about her favorite cat or what she had for stew two years hence. Yes, I do remember those inanities. It was quite useful, throwing up a wall of noise against any interrogator so that you can’t detect what lies beneath. Whether or not this madness of yours is feigned or real, you are merely doing the same thing.” Patchouli merely shakes her head as she walks around the side of Tokiko while she observes her wings and the other effects that she possesses. “It is a pity that I have to resort to such levels for mere knowledge, as I’m certain that I could accomplish it in far more elegant ways normally. However, I cannot help your intransience or anything else that you may attempt to say.” She smiles just a little the crystals throb with energy once more. The four beams of light shoot out and capture Tokiko about her neck. “However, it will give me an answer in the end. When dealing with creatures such as Youkai, it is best to stick with the old and tried methods, isn’t it?”
Without so much of a flip of the wrist, lightning shoots towards the tip of the Changeling’s third wing and strikes, frying most of the feathers on contacts. The rest let out a horrid smoke as the current passes down and into her head. With such power coursing through her skull, Tokiko just twists and jerks back and forth as her motor neurons fire into her muscles and she is forced to twitch and cringe with every jolt of electricity. She lets out another scream of pain that is both more human and inhuman than the last. Even as she is going through this pain, she cannot make her mind up between reaching for the binding at her neck and the bulge in her belly. The claws meet no success in removing the bonds, and the longer on the assault on her body continues, the less success she has in actually coordinating the limbs.
After an eternity for the little bird, Patchouli finally ceases the assault on her form and releases the collar of energy that was encircling her neck. She immediately collapses to the ground as she gathers her breath; even with the lightning gone, she still is twitching with regularity. “You shouldn’t need reach for your bonds in future tests; if you merely seek to break them, you will only meet failure. And, if you manage to succeed, you will only ensure the destruction of that which is most valuable to you.” The magician looks back at her white crystal and softly orders, “End Recording.”
She turns back and leans down, observing the still-twitching three-winged girl. “But it should not be so much a shock to you… Although, I cannot be certain of your capabilities. In the event that you cannot force reality to return you to your previous form, I will hardly let that fail.” Patchouli inclines her head just a little. “What do you intend to do with that prize, I wonder. It cannot be for your literature alone. If that were the case, I might have provided you with some personally in order to verify all of your changes. But there is always something more. You would have learned better… I just need to discern what it is.” Lanky hair whips around her pale face as she shakes her head. “It is an interesting matter… Were you hoping to force him to submit in the future? To use any latent affection to meet those ill-defined aims of yours? Or were you after a deeper power that I have no understanding of, so scattered is it in your tattered and bestial memories? Echoes of passing conversations and the very vestiges of understanding where you once had plenty practically swallow your mind, but there is no defined purpose. There is some reason, but it is lost, along with so much else…”
She lets out a snort before she kneels down in front of Tokiko, getting down near her eye level. “I may be conducting the wrong search… If your power were of any use, you might have already tried to invoke it. No matter; I will continue these tests as it is. Hallucinations… shock treatments… Anything that may be induced locally. Chemical or alchemical solutions may be the most direct, but think of the damage that may incur. I would assuredly not want to risk crossing your twisted reality and risking a backlash. No… I have all the time in the world, at least in the meantime, and I will maintain my experiments for as long as necessary.”
The bird never responds to any of Patchouli’s words and continues to clutch at her body with the occasional twinge sending her rolling back and forth. “…Perhaps you had hoped for something different, and I am wrong. You would never be so fortunate, though. …So many fools hoping they can have everything. You never were one of them, though. You… you had the vision. Pity that was what was desired, and I had far more to learn with many more subjects than previously. Even then, I am so far from understanding and controlling…” She smiles a little bit more. “Anyone else and I would expect vengeance. The beast would seek it out. Or are you still there, along with that drive to discover still guiding you? Or is it something more that I cannot predict?” She stands back up and huffs. “Either way, I will discover this soon enough. I have plenty of time while the Lady of this mansion is away and entertaining her guest like a lover scorned.”
Patchouli turns to the side and looks away towards the door. “…Perhaps I am coming frightfully close to winning that deal made so long ago. I need more time to understand… And I fear what steps I will have to take.” The magician searches out each of her crystals and stares into each reflective depth, although she never seems to find the answer she so desires. “You have assuredly provided me a backup… I trust that Youkai and her efforts to the least; I have never known her to take failure kindly, after all. I did not expect the fool to be so…” The world-weary witch pauses and sighs. “Never mind. However, your memories, and the doll elemental’s, have piqued my interest elsewhere. If this tom of yours is anything like your fever dreams imagine, then I’m sure he will manage to make his way here sooner or later; he’s as much a fool as she.” She turns back down with a grim smile. “Perhaps he already is on his way. Then, perhaps, I will manage to examine that terrible song. It is a pity that its creator is long dead, or I would have had her as well. But time… Time is short, I fear. I will adjust things as necessary.”
Returning to the air, the magician floats to the door. “Be prepared soon for further experimentation. I fear I will need answers sooner than later… I do hope for you to be cooperative, assistant. After all, it is for further understanding.”
Monotony is all that the three of you know as you walk through the woods of this sideways land. Every step takes you to the same vista, with the same trunks and the same leaves swaying to the left and to the right. You don't want to take the risk of peering closer and seeing if they reveal their differences, or if you see that the trees truly do assume the identical view. Even ignoring that, and looking ahead, you can only see the woods parting before you along with a bare ground that is devoid of the typical signs of arbor's demise. No sticks, no leaves, no sheds or remnants of the cycle of life. The only thing that is changing seems to be the others… and you.
What conversation had begun this trip had ceased hours ago — you had stopped worrying about the specifics a little while ago. The destination is all that matters, so long as you remain on the path. Even so, contemplation settled in easily as each of you fell into silence.
Rika had fallen behind you and Marisa, even though you keep on slowing your steps in order to keep her in your line of sight. Her eyes keep darting around as she inspects her surroundings and herself. She alternates between searching for any foe lurking amongst the trees with searching her hands for any signs of the monster emerging. All the same, she studiously avoids looking at that eye that is attached to her heart just as much as she avoids the heart attached to her body. She is hesitant to even touch the alien tendrils that are strapped to her body. You know that you didn't have much of a choice; it was the only option you even possessed, much less being the only one that could be obtained before she had gone too far. Even so, every time that thought floated through your mind, you feel her turn her eyes from the back of her head and look far from you.
The mystic companion that is with you is just as restless, but thankfully devoid of the similar mind-reading power. Instead, she keeps on mouthing to herself quiet remonstrations. Every so often, she takes to the air and looks around, adjusting her heading before leading Rika and you further onwards. She may adjust her course by half of a degree either to the left or to the right, but even that much of a change leads you to the same, identical vista.
At least it does until the forest ends.
You stop in your tracks as you finally exit the woodland and see a vast depression before you, with the scenery rolling gently towards the center. The ground here is just as pale and as bare as the forest behind you, not looking near to the same as the prairie you had left hours and hours ago. It was ashen in its form, nearly gray, with all of the color removed from its loose and dry form. And, once you turn your eyes up, you can see craters strewn along the ground. The entire field is littered with them.
Eventually, though, your eyes find your way to the center of the valley, where you find a large complex of metal and concrete rising out of the torn landscape. It was stark, jutting upwards with layers and layers of cut block and mortar. The walls are long, and from this distance you couldn't quite tell the height they reach; though they are without any windows on the side to give away the floor plan, they must reach at least three or four stories. However, the roofs are angled upward with large bay windows, each of which seems to be angled at a random direction. These buildings form a large U-shape around a central building, which reaches three times the height of the outer ring.
That building, instead, is circular, and reaches up with a variety of outer spires and struts that seem to have been added on at random. From one to the other, you spot some sort of tube system that runs in a square around the entire of the center building, along with a few that run either towards the ground or towards the outer ring. They look just too small to be man-sized, and a few of the circular ones are pulsing with a soft energy.
"…Are you sure that this is the right place?" You look down towards Marisa as she tilts her head, still examining the structure. "This doesn't exactly look like the friendliest place, to say the least."
"Is anyplace here going to be?" She shrugs her shoulders. "I'm rather sure… But it's not like this place is going to be easy to crack. …There'd be so much to search."
"Maybe we'll be lucky and there will be something on the outside, or it's just near this location." You turn your head back and look around a bit more. "I can't tell if there are any junk piles here."
The witch just nods. "So, either I was just off, or it is located somewhere inside this complex. Well, it could be located on the backside, but unless they're the odd type…" She stops herself mid thought. "What am I saying? Look at this place? Whatever reason they used when constructing this is definitely off what I would call normal logic."
"In that case, we need to just go on ahead and find a way in here… But we don't even know what might await."
Marisa nods just a little and slumps down. "Oh, I'm quite aware. The bad thing is that this is a Youkai whom is confident enough to live in plain sight. We are going to have to deal with one that is strong enough to not be afraid of anyone that might wish to challenge them."
"…Makes as much sense as any." You look throughout the entire valley once more as your own lips thin. You turn to the side and your wings twitch. "What about the other signature? Could it be nearby?"
"It could be, or it could be twice as far. Even if it was just the same as our original destination, it might be hours before we get there. And if it's the wrong place…" Marisa just sighs. "Well, let's say we'd probably have to come back here anyway. Would you want to risk doing all of that?"
"…I really wouldn't. We're here, so we might as well get this entire mess out of the way…" You look towards Marisa again. "So, how were you going to suggest to do this?"
"Well, we could do this the easy way. It might be easy enough to break the glass and fly in. That would be the surest way to arouse suspicion, though." She pauses and tilts her head. "Now, we could be going out and searching for a door to enter through; they're probably guarded, but we don't know until we try. Besides, they might be guarded, but it's not like there'd be no way through that portal." She tilts her head before shrugging once more. Besides that, there are the standard options of blasting through the wall, which would raise even more ire. Granted, that might be the best way if all we want to do is a smash and grab. I could triangulate the position of that magic essence and then… Then I could force my way through the wall in question and then blast anyone who gets in our way." She turns to you. "That way, you can keep Rika out of any trouble while doing it. I know I'd be able to outrun anyone that would get in my way; I'm not sure if you could carry Rika and keep up."
"That sounds like a plan, at least." You nod and look backwards at Rika. "…Are you alright with that? Sounds like that's the best way to keep you out of any trouble."
"…I… I guess…" She doesn't look back. Her eyes are instead focused on the buildings at the center of the valley. "…Could you go ahead and check once more? This place is… It's giving me the creeps…"
Marisa nods and turns back towards the building. "Sure. I would need to before I do anything see. Let's just see if I can remember my triangles well enough—" Immediately breaking her train of thought, she grabs your arm and tugs you back, pulling Rika as well. "Get back! And quiet! Someone was coming out!"
It doesn't take more for a second for you to comply. You barely manage to see the form sprinting out from one of the buildings before you are tugged down alongside Marisa. By the time you are settled, with your wings splayed wide and covering up the nearest two girls, the figure is dashing up towards the woods a few hundred feet to your right. It seems to be a man whom is struggling to make his way up the loose sod; it keeps giving way underneath his feet as he scrambles up. The pure white shirt and pants that he is bedecked in are quickly becoming soiled, making him start to blend in with the remains of the ground all around. He makes it a few hundred feet, but has nearly two hundred yards to go before the next figure steps out.
This second figure, this one in what looks like a long white dress or coat, merely strolls along the ground, not rushed at all. By the time the first figure makes it halfway up the slope, the second reaches beneath her coat (as it parts at the front, it probably isn't a dress) and reaches into a pocket. A few moments later, the glowing tube on the center tower sparkles and a bolt of energy shoots out and onto the plain, just ahead of the running man. The ground explodes, and the runner is thrown back. He is dazed and down, but he is still moving, and his legs are still flailing as he continues to try and run.
He scrambles back to his feet, but the second figure calmly walks onto the grounds, approaching with calm ease. The man continues to scramble away, but for all of this confusion he has very little luck going anywhere, as the ground continues to give. Eventually, the woman takes a few steps closer and holds up an arm. That arm begins to stretch.
The girl next to you completely freezes as the arm stretches over the expanse and grabs the man around his neck. His legs flail and he continues to try and run, but the arm retracts and forcefully drags him back along the ground, leaving a trail in the dirt as he is slowly reeled in. It doesn't take much for you to see the large grin that grows on the creature's face as it tugs it back in; the man still tries to run, but you see as he claws at the hand all the same as his breath is slowly cut off.
Behind the second, a third figure steps out, looking all-identical to the first. The third inclines her head and says a few words to the second, and it nods as the man continues to be pulled in. A few more seconds tick by, and soon the taller man is being held off the ground by the rather short figure. It turns to the other and smiles that same grin before turning and dragging the figure with his body. All the while, his legs continue to pump and he tries to run away from the creature.
After a few seconds, no other creature comes out, and you let out a small sigh of relief. "Looks like they didn't notice us. At least we have that going well, at least for the moment." Neither respond, and you turn your head to Marisa. "…What's wrong?"
The answer comes from behind you. "Kappa…"
You turn your head back around and look down towards Rika. "Kappa? …Wait."
"…Are those the same things that hurt your…" The girl's face begins to pale and her breath quickens. "Great, it is, isn't it?"
"Kappa… It's the… It's those…" Her breath continues to quicken and she begins to quiver. "Them… That's them… That's…"
You turn and share a look with Marisa before looking back towards Rika. "Are those the Youkai that took your sister?"
"Kappa… Kappa… Of all the things… Not… Not…"
Marisa brushes off your wing and steps over to put a hand on Rika's shoulder. "Rika, calm down. They're not here anymore. They're not going to do anything to you. See? They've already gone back in." The girl doesn't respond with anything beside her panicked mutters, and Marisa leans closer. "They're not going to hurt your sister. They're not going to hurt you. You know that I won't let them get you. Not like they got Rikako. I won't let that happen again, ever again. You can trust me."
"Kappa… Not the…" Rika starts sliding backwards from under your wing. You roll back around and remove the limb and she keeps crawling, eventually ascending to her hands and knees before getting onto her feet. "…They're going to ruin him. They already have. They're happy. Delighted. Remembering the torment that he was put through… Torture, torture, and more and worse. Why can I see that?"
Marisa tries to step closer to her. "But we're not going to get you close to them. They'll never know you're here."
"They'll know of you. They'll take you, capture you, ruin you. The things they love to do… They'll twist and break… All of you… All of us…" She takes a few more steps backwards, and her eyes are already darting back and forth. "I need to go. I need to go."
"You're never going to get near there, Rika!" You step forward as well, but it only serves to make her draw back even more. "Trust us! You know you can trust us on that. We won't hurt you; we never could hurt you, not in the least."
"Not again. Not again!" The stricken girl starts backpedaling before turning tail and scampering into the forest. It barely takes you a moment follow the girl and give chase as well; Marisa joins in by your side as you dash through the trees after the girl. You leave the broken valley behind you and continue to follow, even though you manage to lose sight of the girl between the trees. And, soon enough, you lose sight of her completely.
You dare not take to wing in the middle of these woods, and it doesn't take long to realize that you've lost sight of her completely and that you've even lost the sound of her footsteps. "Where did she go? Marisa, can you see her?"
"No, I can't." She immediately frowns and looks around. "…I know her, though. I'll be able to find her easily enough." She grimaces and raises her hand, but as she does, you hear a twig snap behind you. The two of you immediately whirl around, but there is nothing present. "Did you hear that?"
"Yes, I did." You start looking around, though you find nothing when you do. "…That wasn't Rika. Nothing is on the ground for her to even step on. Someone wanted our attention."
"I bet they did. But… the question is who that could be?"
She doesn't answer and continues to stare around, still looking for the source of the distraction. "...Perhaps. That would be the simple answer." She keeps looking around, although nothing is here. "But something tells me that they wouldn't be so hesitant in seizing us. What could be waiting out there..." She reaches into her pocket and pulls out the hakerro. "We need to take care of this first."
"What about Rika?"
"If there is something out here, they're either here for us or for her. If we take them out, she'll be fine. ...If there are two different Youkai here, we can't do anything. We'll just do our very best; there's nothing else that we can do."
"I understand." You look back through the trees, still finding nothing. "Which way?"
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Rika continues to scramble through the tree line as she dashes away, her hurried breaths drowning out her own thoughts as she runs from the fears and terrors lurking behind her. "I can't... I can't... They can't take me again. They can't take us again. That's all it is. That can't happen... Not to them. Not to me... Not Rikako. Not that." She grabs onto a nearby tree and takes a break, looking behind towards from where she came.
Nothing is there besides a few more trees, all of which still look the same to her. "...Why aren't... They shouldn't stay. Not with the Kappa. They will have taken them. They should... They have to know. Know ever single thing..." She winces and looks down at her eye. "Why could I see? See all those... I felt it. She was wanting to..." Rika tears her eyes away from the third one and scampers on. "I hate this. I hate it! Just... let it be... Let it stop!"
She keeps on running for a few more minutes before she hears a thunder crack in the distance. Rika turns around and stares back once more, gasping for breath as she slowly backs up towards the tree. "What... What is there?" She looks up to the sky, not finding any other clouds. Seconds later, though, a lance of pure light darts through the sky. "That's…" She gasps as a few more sparks tear through the still sky. "Marisa, what is going on?" The girl hears a few more explosions before an earth-rending shriek fills the sky and inundates her body. Her hands clasp over her ears with pain as she feels something inside of her being torn apart. But, before she can even reach the ground, the sound had ended. There is nothing but silence on the other side.
She waits for a few more seconds, but she doesn't hear anything else echoing across the landscape. "Oh no. Did something attack? Was it... was it..." She gulps and takes another step backwards as she shakes with fear. "Not those... never... not..." She shakes her head again. "They couldn't have gotten them... She must have... They both, but..."
She continues to stare towards the forest, but no one ever comes. Minutes tick by, and there is not even the slightest rustle of the branches to give away the movement of an intruder, good or bad. No one is coming for her. "They must have... That has to be the case. But, what do I do...?" She shakes her head and looks down at herself. "What can I do?"
[ ] Press forward and find them. It's all she can do.
[ ] Retreat. They're gone, and she can't do anything to help.