[Return]
Archived Thread

File 14155123415.png - (632.98KB , 668x923 , IHeartBooks.png ) [iqdb]
182647 No. 182647
"Here," Kasen dumped three coins into my hand. "Take these to Suzunaan. It's a book-lender's in the village. If you can't find it, ask one of the guards. Kosuzu will know what book you need."

"Are you leaving me?" I asked. I clutched the coins to my chest.

Kasen huffed. "You'll be safe in the village, and Reimu needs a straightening-out. You could've been seriously hurt when those youkai came after you. You know that, don't you?"

"Youkai? As in... youkai?"

She smiled. "I know it must be a shock. I don't know what life was like where you came from, but Gensokyo is very, very different."

"Youkai?"

"Just go and read, please. That book will explain it better than I could. I'll come by later and say hello."

Still smiling, she gave me a wave, turned, and disappeared in the blink of an eye.

"I, you, but," I stammered to the empty air.

I could barely keep track of the names and events coming at me. Reimu was apparently a shrine maiden, and she looked the part, but she was drunk when those weird-looking women that might be youkai came after me. Kasen was apparently a hermit, but what was with the pink hair? Also, where the hell was I? And was I about to be involved in some sort of dispute between them just by standing around and trying not to get attacked?

I heard a loud chuckle from behind me. I turned around to see a guard force his smile down.

"Don't worry. You're not our first outsider," he said. "Suzunaan's right by the dragon statue. Face the head, turn to the left, five buildings down."

He stepped to the side and let me pass through the gate to the village, surrounded by wooden walls too high to see over. Stepping inside was like walking into an old samurai movie: squat clay buildings, old women spinning cloth, someone walking by peddling tofu in small barrels. I had never felt so out-of-place wearing slacks.

I tried not to look at anyone, as if by ignoring them I could pretend that I had not, in fact, travelled through time. As long as I was ignoring things, I could also pretend like I hadn't heard Kasen talking about old-timey spirits.

I was so focused on staring at the ground I nearly walked right into the dragon statue. It was about three meters tall, all bronze, with so many scales it was dizzying to look at. The gray gems in its eyes turned pure white. I should have been surprised or amazed by that, but I was too busy still being surprised and amazed by everything else.

To the left and five buildings down, just like the guard said, was a shop labelled "Suzunaan." I clinked the coins still in my hand. Each one was a different size and shape. I half-recognized the characters on the coins, but I had no idea what they meant. Maybe they were someone's name, I thought.

I took a deep breath and slid open the door. A wave of cool air hit me, carrying the dusty scent of old books. I heard a small ding, not from the door, but from the shopkeeper, a very young-looking girl with her light red hair tied up with bells and ribbons. She brushed a piece of lint off of her apron and smiled at me.

"Welcome to Suzunaan. I am Kosuzu Mootori, your humble shopkeeper."

I knew people used to work earlier back in the old days, but what looked like a fourteen-year-old running a store by herself seemed like too much.

"Kasen told me I should come here to check out a book."

"Ahh, I see. There are several things-"

"She gave me exact change for a specific book."

The girl's face soured for a split-second, then returned to her cheery saleswoman expression. "Oh. I think I know just what she's talking about. I have it right here."

She turned around to face the towering wall of books behind the counter. She picked through the shelves, muttering something about Kasen, outsiders, and their both being a waste of her time.

"Here we are, 'The Kinu Yasumi Almanac for Outsiders.'"

The book was thin, something you could go through in a Sunday afternoon. She brought out a small slip of paper, her equivalent of a library card. I put the coins on the countertop.

"That's exact change, alright. Just sign here and this book is yours for the next five days. Unless you damage it."

This girl was way too industrious for her age. "Right, okay. I'll bring it back in one piece," I said.

"Then have a good day."

I left the store and stood by the building for a moment. I didn't want to read on the side of the street, so I thought about where I could go. There weren't any coffee shops or internet cafes around here. What's more, I didn't have any change on me. Even if I did, they probably wouldn't take modern money. They definitely wouldn't take credit cards.

The weight of my new situation fell on me like a thick blanket. I was just riding my bike, minding my own business, not hurting anyone, and then I was here, and I had no idea where here was. I didn't even know when it was. I slapped myself in the face to make sure this wasn't some bizarre dream.

I wasn't. The sharp sting did help to clear my mind, so I slapped my other cheek. I took deep breaths, resisting the urge to hyperventilate. I was here and there was nothing I could do to change it. If this is temporary, then I just have to ride it out. If it's permanent, then I might as well start reading and getting used to-

What about my parents and friends? Would they never know what happened to me? My grip tightened around the book. I whispered apologies to my parents through clenched teeth, biting back the tears. I pressed my back against the wall and slid down until I was sitting, taking deep breaths and trying hard not to let them turn into sobs. With shaking hands, I put the book between my knees and tried to look at it. A couple looked pityingly at me as they passed by.

No, I'm better than this, I told myself. I don't need to be pitied. I can make the best of this situation, no matter what happens. I spent a few long minutes taking deep breaths and wiping away the tears I could no longer fight back.

"Here."

Someone was talking to me. I looked up to see a middle-aged man in a worn yukata handing me a clay mug.

"Some beer to calm your nerves. It's never easy for outsiders. I've seen several of them come through, and they all cry."

"Thank you," I sniffled.

"No problem. Good luck."

Just like that, he started walking and left me.

I sipped the beer. It was strong and surprisingly sweet, almost sweet enough to not notice the alcohol. With one last wipe across my face, I blinked away my last few tears and looked at the cover of the book.

Kinu Yasumi Almanac for Outsiders, 3rd Edition

Printed at the Suzunaan press.


I opened it. Advertisements for second-hand shops and merchant services. Turning the page got me to the preface.

A number of people from the Outside World have found their way into Gensokyo, the land of gods and youkai, through all manner of methods. Despite the dangers, many of them have even come to call our humble human settlement their home. This book's purpose is to help outsiders acclimate to their new life, which may be incredibly different from the life they knew.

You're telling me, lady.

In addition to an overview of what opportunities may lie for you here, the Yasumi family has attempted to give you an understanding of our culture and lifestyle. It may be difficult at first, but as a human you are welcome in the bond that we share, fighters of youkai and tenders to the gods.

The constant use of 'human' and 'outsider' left me feeling odd in a way I couldn't quite explain.

Without further ado, welcome to Gensokyo. Enjoy your stay.

Another turn of the page brought me to the table of contents. The book was divided into two halves, the first half being something like an encyclopedia, detailing Gensokyo. The second half was a list of charts and information, everything from tofu recipes to advice for dealing with fairies.

[ ] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
-- [ ] The Capital
-- [ ] Hamlets and Provinces
-- [ ] The Great River
-- [ ] The Outskirts

[ ] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [ ] Economics
-- [ ] Government
-- [ ] Notable Persons
-- [ ] Our Shared View

[ ] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [ ] Administration and Government
-- [ ] Farming the Blessed Lands
-- [ ] Artisans and Crafters
-- [ ] Merchantry

[ ] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [ ] Organized Defenses Against Invasion
-- [ ] The Everyman's Duty for Protection
-- [ ] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection
-- [ ] Spellcard Duels

[ ] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [ ] The Tengu
-- [ ] The Youkai
-- [ ] Common Spirits
-- [ ] Trade With The Mountain

<To avoid any confusion, the chapter with the most votes will be picked, and from there, the section with the most votes will win.>

No. 182648
This thread is part of the NaNoWriMo challenge found here

>>/gensokyo/13558

and, as such, will have daily updates, so long as there's at least one vote. I'm working second-shift, but I'll try to update around the same time each day.
No. 182649
Dang it all. Imagine I said "The Kappa" instead of "The Youkai" for the second Chapter 5 option.
No. 182651
[X] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [X] Spellcard Duels
No. 182652
[x] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [x] Our Shared View

Cut straight to the propaganda.
No. 182653
[X] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [X] Spellcard Duels
No. 182654
[x] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
-- [x] The Capital

I'm one of those weird guys that prefer to start books from the beginning. Fuck me, right?
No. 182656
[ ] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
--[X] Hamlets and Provinces
Going to pick the side of Gensokyo we often don't see depicted, much less described.
No. 182657
[X] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [X] Spellcard Duels
Most likely our protag have no mean to defend himself, so spellcard!
No. 182658
Kappa?
KAPPA?
KAPPA!?

Clearly, there is no other first option.

[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Kappa.
-- [X] The Kappa.


Best to warn Gensokyo's newest outsider to guard his Shirikodama at all times!
No. 182659
[x] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
-- [x] The Capital

who just opens a book to a random page? You start at the beginning
No. 182661
[x] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
-- [x] The Capital
No. 182662
[X] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
--[X] Hamlets and Provinces
No. 182663
[x] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
-- [x] Hamlets and Provinces

Not too far in, but not too typical.
No. 182664
[ ] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
--[X] Hamlets and Provinces

>>182656
Isn't that because it usually doesn't exist in the first place?
No. 182665
Wow, you guys rock! Twelve votes on my very first update. Looks like our protagonist is going to read up on:

[x] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
--[X] Hamlets and Provinces
No. 182670
[x] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
-- [x] Hamlets and Provinces

Not a bad start. Let's see what you can do.
No. 182671
Can you blame us? You're certainly writing better than I am, and this seems like an interesting take on 'Outsider suddenly in Frilly Magic Girl Death Trap Land.'

Interesting concept, not-bad-at-all writing... you've got our interest!
No. 182672
>>182671
>this seems like an interesting take on 'Outsider suddenly in Frilly Magic Girl Death Trap Land.'
Does it? I intend to see where it goes because the writing is competent, but as far as I can tell, nothing stands out here as far as concept goes.
No. 182689
[x] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
--[X] Hamlets and Provinces

I took another sip of beer and began to skim the book. Just past the table of contents was a fold-up map of Gensokyo, which fell down to the floor when I turned the page. The whole area was roughly half the size of one of the smaller prefectures, and apparently boxed in by mountains.

It reminded me of somewhere I couldn't quite remember. Somewhere in Nagano? Right, I'll go with that. I, to the best extent of my knowledge, had somehow travelled to Nagano. If only I'd paid more attention in my history classes, then I might have had some idea of when I was, too. Early Meiji? Good enough for the moment.

I chuckled despite myself. The memory of an old friend of mine who was obsessed with Koei games came to mind. Not only would he know where and when I was, he'd probably end up becoming a warlord or something.

From the looks of it, the Human Village was more like a small city, and around it were a number of small satellite villages. Under the name of each location was a population estimate. There were about twenty-five thousand people in Gensokyo, with eight thousand of them in the Human Village. Past the village were locations straight out of some folklore collection: "Youkai Mountain -- Take Heed, Tengu and Kappa Live Here," "Misty Lake -- Beware of Fairies," and so on. It was now slightly more difficult to convince myself that there was nothing supernatural going on here, but I did it anyway as I turned my attention back to the book.

East of the Human Village, Kitagawa and Minamigawa stand north and south of the Great River, respectively. Thanks to the blessings of the gods, these farming settlements together provide the majority of humanity's food in Gensokyo, producing more rice within those two areas than anywhere else. The threshing, winnowing and milling is handled at several industrial operations located along the river, and what is not consumed locally or taken as taxes is baled and shipped down-river by ferry.

Further east is Ishikiriba, a collection of quarries where salt, limestone and clay are collected in small quarries located on river tributaries, and shipped down-river in large blocks to be purchased wholesale by merchants. The quarries show no signs of abating despite years of mining, for the quarries are gods in and of themselves; so long as they are not mined to excess and duly respected for the gifts that they provide, they shall continue to produce.


I was starting to notice a theme.

As of yet, there is no permanently settled area in the west, for the youkai grow in strength and ferocity as one travels in that direction.

Probably just wild animals, I told myself.

South of the Human Village extending slightly past the river is Sumizenshou, a village which borders the Bamboo Forest of The Lost, where the land is so flat and the bamboo grows so quickly that one will get lost if they wander into the thick of it. Sumizenshou is a smaller but growing settlement, as the endless supply of bamboo attracts lumberjacks, charcoal-burners and gatherers, but a certain degree of ruggedness and courage is required to live in the dangerous lands near the Bamboo Forest.

The furthest extent of human civilization, north and slightly east of the Human Village, is Susonomura, the newest settlement located near the base of the mountain. The land is not too dry for farming, as it receives copious rainfall from the mountains. However, territorial disputes with the mountain youkai are likely to arise, and this settlement's future remains unseen.

At current production, these satellite villages provide ample resources for the human population, with a healthy stockpile of food and fuel kept in the Human Village for lean times. Truly, the Human Village has grown because of its respect for human virtues -- piety, loyalty, self-restraint and integrity, the values which separate us from beasts and youkai.


That was just the beginning of it, of course. The next several pages went on about specific hamlets and collections of far-flung shacks, with enough population figures and production numbers to make my eyes cross. Having had enough for one sitting, I closed the book shut for now, slightly tired and brain-drained. I brought the mug of beer up for another sip and saw that I had drank it all during my reading, which also helped explain the tiredness.

I took a breath and stood up, suddenly aware of the sounds and activity around me. I stretched my legs, walking through the town with no goal in mind. Once my head's clearer and I've found a new spot, I'll start reading again, I thought to myself. If the rest of the book was like that, though, I wasn't sure how much good it would do me. Population statistics don't help me get home.

Lost in my thoughts, I continued to wander, thinking about what sort of place I should go to for reading.

[ ] Somewhere with shade, like a public porch.
[ ] Somewhere open, like a park.
[ ] Somewhere quiet and peaceful.
[ ] Somewhere where I'm safe in the crowd.
No. 182692
[X] Somewhere open, like a park.
No. 182694
[x] Somewhere where I'm safe in the crowd.
No. 182696
[ X] Somewhere quiet and peaceful
Denial is the first step to death, let's step into the second one!
No. 182700
[X] Somewhere safe in a crowd.

Crowd = People. People means a helpful Touhou to either serve as tour guide or source of advice. Possibly even travel companion (though it may be a bit early to be looking for one).

Therefore, (Crowd = People) + (People = help) = (Crowd = help).

Help is always good.
No. 182701
DAMMIT! I forgot to lose the name first and I can't delete my post...
No. 182702
[X] Somewhere where I'm safe in the crowd.
No. 182704
[X] Somewhere where I'm safe in the crowd.

We are going to get pickpocketed.
No. 182706
[X] Somewhere where I'm safe in the crowd.

>>182704

That's alright, we're not carrying the right kind of currency anyway.
No. 182708
[x] Somewhere quiet and peaceful.

Make peace while you can, lads.
No. 182711
Closing votes. Our hero is going:

[X] Somewhere where I'm safe in the crowd.
No. 182712
[X] Somewhere where I'm safe in the crowd.

I'd wandered long enough that the day had passed from late morning to early afternoon. People began leaving their houses and stores like some silent timer had gone off, drawing them to the markets and restaurants. In other words, lunchtime.

My stomach grumbled at the thought. I didn't have any money, and I was too proud to start begging yet, but I decided to follow everyone around me and walk in the direction of food anyway. Maybe I'd run into that hermit again and pester her for something to eat.

Although the market streets were nothing compared to walking through any major 21st century city, it was still a solid wall of people crammed onto dirt roads, all on foot with no traffic lights. The power of the crowd carried me off my feet and past stalls full of summer fruits and veggies. In addition to all the things I'd expect in any produce department, I caught glimpses of all sorts of bizarre ingredients I had never seen before, and sometimes I got a chance to read the sign before getting pushed by: "Pickled olive blossoms," "knotroot," and other confusing things.

I broke off from the crowd in front of a tiny but busy tofu shop, with a sign proudly announcing "All Seven Superb Recipes Sold Here." I didn't get what they meant exactly, but the smell was definitely superb, good enough to draw me in through the open door.

I stopped in mid-step, lingering in the doorway. Sitting at one of the tables was a woman with nine tails. Nine big, fluffy fox tails that were so long and bushy that she took up the space of three people. She was eating enough for three people, too: bowls and plates of tofu were laid out in front of her, grilled and fried and steamed and boiled and topped with all manner of seasoning. What looked like an entire family was gathered behind the counter, watching eagerly as the woman took a large bite of abura-age. She hummed happily, and her tails wiggled like fluffy snakes.

"'Scuse me, you're in the way," someone said from behind me.

"That's a... that's..." I mumbled.

The person behind me made a fed-up grunt and pushed past me. A waitress appeared in front of me.

"Is anything the matter?"

"No, well, I--"

"Then could you get out of the doorway, please?" she asked with a strained smile.

"Yeah," I said. I stepped to the side, leaned towards the waitress and whispered, "Is that a kitsune?"

"Yes," she said. Judging by her tone, I may as well have asked if she breathed air.

"She is."

"Yes."

"A kitsune."

"Yes. Did you come here to order anything?"

Ignoring the waitress, I walked closer to the kitsune. As far as I was concerned, that was the only thing to notice here.

She looked up at me halfway through slurping up some noodle-shaped tofu. "I don't usually come to such seedy places for lunch, honestly, but the food here is very good," she said between gulps. Only when she saw my slack-jawed stare did she realize that I didn't recognize her, nor did she recognize me.

"You're a kitsune," I said.

"Yes," she said, with the same tone as the waitress. "Please watch your step, my tails are sensitive."

I looked down. Her tails were all swishing gently, like grass in a breeze.

"Staring is rude," she said, then made a gesture for me to sit down. It was so subtle I wondered if I had just imagined it, so I just stood there for a second, continuing to look like a slack-jawed goof. She tapped the ground again, and I took a seat next to her.

"You're obviously new here, so here's a quick primer," she said in a rapid, monotone whisper. "Youkai that you see inside the village won't attack you. Outside the village, it's anyone's guess. Don't ask to touch a youkai's ears. Don't ask to touch a youkai's tails. Just because they aren't aggressive doesn't mean they're polite or honest, so watch out for getting swindled. Follow those rules and don't stick out and you'll get along just fine. Also, don't take this personally."

The kitsune took another bite of food.

"Don't take what personally?" I asked.

She flicked her wrist in my direction. The waitress put a hand on my shoulder.

"So sorry, but Miss Yakumo is an honored guest," she said as she tugged me towards the door. I rushed to my feet before she started dragging me across the floor.

"No offense taken," I mumbled back as I was shown the door, forced to walk past the line of customers.

I wasn't sure if I should be angry at them for kicking me out, angry at myself for acting like an idiot, or just confused. I kept walking until everyone who might've seen that little incident was out of sight, then I sat down and placed the almanac between my knees again.

Right as I opened it just a sliver, something small fell out. I snatched it before it rolled away. It was a coin, a worn brown-black copper color like the ones Kasen had given me. I laid the book on the floor and opened it up. There were five more small coins sitting on the page I had stopped at. There was no way they were there before. The only thing I could think of was that the kitsune snuck or magic-ed them in, but why would she do that? Were kitsune good luck to humans, or was that something else? Wasn't there something you were supposed to give them if you saw them, or some chant, or--

Oh, duh. Why was I asking myself those questions when I had an almanac about Gensokyo right in my lap? Stowing the coins in my pocket, I flipped back to the table of contents, secretly hoping for more money.

Nothing. Oh, well.

[ ] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
-- [ ] The Capital
-- [ ] Hamlets and Provinces
-- [ ] The Great River
-- [ ] The Outskirts

[ ] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [ ] Economics
-- [ ] Government
-- [ ] Notable Persons
-- [ ] Our Shared View

[ ] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [ ] Administration and Government
-- [ ] Farming the Blessed Lands
-- [ ] Artisans and Crafters
-- [ ] Merchantry

[ ] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [ ] Organized Defenses Against Invasion
-- [ ] The Everyman's Duty for Protection
-- [ ] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection
-- [ ] Spellcard Duels

[ ] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [ ] The Tengu
-- [ ] The Kappa
-- [ ] Common Spirits
-- [ ] Trade With The Mountain
No. 182713
[x] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [x] Notable Persons

I don't see any section on Kitsunes, so maybe she'll be in here.
No. 182714
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [ ] Common Spirits

Man not many people can seem kind while having you kicked out.
No. 182717
[x] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [x] Notable Persons
No. 182718
[x] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [x] Notable Persons
No. 182721
[x] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [x] Notable Persons
No. 182722
[x] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [x] Economics

Come for the worldbuilding, stay for the WORLDBUILDING
No. 182730
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
--[X] Common Spirits

We'd better get ourselves a little more acquainted with the local fauna if there are real, live kitsune running around!
No. 182731
Closing votes. Our hero will be learning who's who:

[x] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [x] Notable Persons
No. 182736
[x] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [x] Notable Persons

"Notable Persons." Sounds like it could be as useful as it is vague. It was certainly long. I wound up flipping through pages and pages of treasurers, councilmen, magistrates and landlords, each with their own family tree. I was ready to give up when I saw a name I recognized: Reimu Hakurei.

Maiden of the Hakurei Shrine. Unknown lineage.

There is perhaps no more important figure in Gensokyo. Her service to the Hakurei Shrine is what keeps the Great Hakurei Boundary intact and separates Gensokyo from the Outside World. Because of this, despite its location far from the village, the Hakurei Shrine is a safe place for travellers and newcomers. She is also responsible for the drafting of spell card rules, and a prominent incident-solver within Gensokyo.

Outsiders reading this book will most likely have come into contact with her, as most are taken to her shrine after being discovered. Many Outside World objects find their way to her shrine as well.

Though she is slow to anger, one would do well not to trifle with her. Despite appearing as a normal human to those who are not spiritually inclined, the Hakurei family possesses great magical strength. She can invoke the power of the gods, and even the mightiest spirits of Gensokyo have been soundly defeated by her.


Yikes. She just looked like a drunk twenty-something to me. I wondered if she was one of those people who are so powerful they just do whatever they want, because who's going to tell them off?

As I kept reading, I had no idea what I should believe and what I shouldn't. Had I not just run into a kitsune, I'd write off all the talk of 'magic' as more folklore, from back when folklore was closer to fact. But judging by this book, everyone and their sister could flip mountains and throw fireballs. Even the schoolteacher had magic powers. I was starting to get skeptical when I finally found what I was looking for: the only kitsune listed in the entire chapter.

Ran Yakumo. Nine-tailed kitsune.

Shikigami of Yukari Yakumo. Much more visible than her master, one can occasionally find Ran at the Human Village, sampling tofu. As fitting for a nine-tailed kitsune, she possesses an otherworldly intellect, capable of performing complex calculations in an instant. Her intelligence has been likened to a "PC" by other outsiders.

Neither approachable nor aggressive, she is safe to be around as long as one treats her with the politeness and respect they would show to a superior. If they are involved with Yukari Yakumo's schemes, however, their safety cannot be guaranteed.


Oh, dear. I kept reading, despite getting nothing but vague and unsettling warnings, and found that there was no article for anyone named 'Kasen'. Maybe she's just a nobody.

I closed the book and tucked it under my arm. I was still hungry, but now I could do something about it. Now that the crowds had died down, I went looking for something to eat.

After a few minutes, I made accidental eye contact with an anpan peddler. I could see his expression change as he decided I would be his next customer.

"Anpan, sir? Still fresh and warm!"

I could do far worse. I remembered some random tidbit about how anpan was invented by a samurai who lost his job, so if it had made its way here, then this must have been during the Meiji restoration.

I showed him my money. "Is this enough?"

"That'll get you three with a little left over. You new here?" he said.

"Yeah. And two, please."

"Coming right up. Don't see a lot of outsiders around here." He stuffed the food in a brown paper bag which seemed a little too modern.

"Really?"

"Yeah. Lot of 'em don't make it."

"Don't make it?"

"Oh, don't mind me. Just thinking out loud, aheh. Anyway, those two big coins and the small one'll be exact change."

"Is there something I should know?"

Hey, you made it to the village, so you're safe. Enjoy!"

I stared right at him for a moment, then handed him the money before he took it out of my hand. I turned around, trying to decide if I should worry more, and if I should worry about how much I need to worry, and almost bumped right into Kasen.

"Hi. Seems like you're doing well," she said. There was a half-eaten taiyaki in her hand.

"Yeah, let's go with that." I rubbed my face.

"It looks like you got something for yourself, so that's a good sign. Think positive, right?"

"I suppose. Mind if I eat while we talk? I'm starving."

"Go ahead."

I started eating while Kasen talked.

"I was thinking I'd show you around, get you a little familiar with your surroundings."

"Thanks, that's nice of you. I didn't see your name in the book, by the way."

She shrugged. "It's mostly concerned with government stuff, as you probably saw. I've read it. There's no reason to list every ascetic and hermit, anyway."

"I suppose, yeah. I guess you seem like someone who belongs in there."

Kasen smiled and blushed slightly. "Thank you."

I hadn't meant it that way, but I wasn't going to correct her. I followed her, taking bites of food as she talked.

"The schoolteacher, Keine Kamishirasawa, is very friendly to humans. I wouldn't recommend staying at her place or anything, but it's good to know who she is. There's a Buddhist temple as well, which you can go to if you're down on your luck."

I wiped my mouth. "Where should I do about getting a job?"

"The administrative center can always give you a day's work in exchange for some warm meals. It's hard work, but it's honest work. I wouldn't worry too much about it, though. Once you've gotten used to being here, you can always look around for more regular work. It's a tight-knit community here but we still aren't going to let an outsider starve on the streets. What did you do in the Outside World?"

I glanced away. "Boiler repairman."

"Did you make pots and grills?"

"Not like that. It's, uh, it's an Outside World thing."

"Oh." She gave me a sympathetic frown. "Well, you're young and you've made it this far, so I'm sure you'll do alright for yourself. Where do you want to go?"

[ ] School.
[ ] Buddhist temple.
[ ] Administrative center.
No. 182741
[X] Buddhist temple.

Might as well go see where we are likely to be staying if we can't float.
No. 182742
[X] Buddhist temple.
No. 182743
[X] Administrative center.
No. 182744
[X] Administrative center.
No. 182745
>>182744
Disregard this, voted twice by accident.
No. 182755
[x] School.

Teach me, Miss Keine, etc.
No. 182756
[X] Buddhist temple.
No. 182759
[X] Buddhist temple

Are there any boilers in Gensokyo?
No. 182769
[X] Administrative Center

Get a job, ya' lazy bum!
No. 182774
[X] School.

Its not what you know, its who you know.
No. 182777
Closing votes. I can't come up with anything witty to say about it, so:

[X] Buddhist temple.
No. 182783
[X] Buddhist temple.

"The temple sounds good."

I wasn't especially religious. The last time I went to a temple was for a school field trip. Still, it sounded like a good backup in case things went wrong.

"It's, uh, Byakuren Hijiri who runs the Myouren temple, right?"

"You've done your research. It's a little out-of-the-way, it's a short walk from outside the northeastern gate of the village."

"Outside the village?"

"Don't worry, the guards keep things pretty safe on the path."

She had saved me before, so I was willing to trust her. I finished off my lunch as we passed one of the fancier-looking parts of town. The houses were noticeably bigger, and there were shops for high-end things like flowers and jewellery. It's kind of funny, how some things weren't that different here.

A tall, lanky man came walking up to me as we passed. "Pardon me, sir. I don't wish to impose, but that clothing of yours..."

I looked down at my work clothes: a blue button-up shirt with my name, 'Iwao Oose,' written on it, and a matching pair of blue slacks. It already felt like it was days ago when I was heading to my contract.

"Again, I don't wish to be a bother, but Outside World clothing is quite a valuable item, you see. Would you be willing to part with those?"

It looked like my clothes might just barely fit him. Before I could consider it, Kasen butted in.

"I'm very sorry, but we're pressed for time. We'll get back to you later."

"No rush, no rush." The man smiled, looking satisfied with himself. We kept walking.

"Outside World stuff is valuable, huh?" I pinched my sleeve, now with a new respect for my plain clothes. "How much do you think this could get me?"

"Not at much as you'd think. You'd have to buy replacement clothes, unless you wanted to run around naked."

"Well..."

"No."

We passed through the gates leaving the Human Village. Signposts pointed in all different directions down to well-worn paths to some of the other villages, along with a newer sign labeled "Myouren temple."

"But yes, Outside World things have some value. That can actually be a helpful tip for you. If you ever find yourself around dangerous youkai, you can distract them and buy some time by showing them a trinket or telling them something interesting. I've heard an Outside World sport called 'soccer' is popular with youkai nowadays."

"Tidbits like 'brown rice is cheaper than white rice in the Outside World'?"

Kasen stopped and shot me a glare. "Where would you even get such a silly idea?"

I shrugged. "Sorry."

She seemed a little upset by my brazen, unapologetic lie, and she didn't say anything else until we reached the Myouren temple.

"Here we are."

"Whoa, this place is big."

Situated on top of a small, flat hill, the temple had a row of white stone steps leading up to it, with short terraced walls running around the temple leaving plenty of room for a courtyard, garden, and graveyard. It looked more like a castle than the humble temple I was expecting.

Incidentally, the only time I saw a castle was on a field trip too.

A woman came running down the steps to greet us. An oversized kasa, one of those conical straw hats, covered her eyes and the top of her long brown hair. Her jade rosary bounced, along with her large breasts, as she ran down the steps.

"Ooh, visitors. What a delightful pleasure!" she said with an exaggerated girlish lilt.

"What," I said. Kasen scowled.

"I just loo-oove getting visitors. Won't you stay the night, honey?" She grabbed my hand and pulled me close. "You can stay in my room, heeheehee."

"Are you... are you Byakuren?" I asked.

"Oho, you know me?" she purred.

Kasen slapped the hat off of her. The first thing I noticed was that the top of her hair was purple, but then I noticed the large green leaf on top of her head. A tanuki's disguise.

'Byakuren' grumbled and let go of me and there was a sudden burst of smoke. I reeled back, and when the dust cleared, Byakuren was replaced with a short, slender woman in dull brown clothing. Her round raccoon ears twitched, and a large tail stuck out behind her.

"You're such a killjoy," she grumbled. Her voice was now deeper and rough around the edges.

"Slandering the name of a monk hardly sounds like fun to me," Kasen replied.

"See? Total killjoy," the tanuki said to me.

"I'm just here to see Byakuren." I backed away and raised my hands.

"Oh? Well then." There was another puff of smoke, and the tanuki changed back into Byakuren.

"I'm right here, dear..."

"Get out of here," Kasen growled and pushed the other woman aside.

"Fine, ugh." She stomped away from us, not bothering to change back.

That settled it. Not only did everyone here have magic powers, they were also stir-crazy.

"That's Mamizou. She came here a few years back and she's been stirring up trouble ever since. You don't have to worry about her, though. The worst she'll do is embarrass you."

A tiny girl with mouse ears and messy silver hair that covered her eyes stepped out from behind the temple doors. I was starting to feel like a giant around all these tiny people.

"Mamizou?" she said. Sharp mousey teeth poked out from under her lips.

"Yes," Kasen sighed.

"Third time this week. New guy?"

"Yes," I said.

"Here to see Byakuren?"

"I guess. I'm mostly just figuring out... everything."

"I know this fellow who could help you with figuring out everything. His name's Siddhartha, you see..."

Kasen and I were silent.

"Alright, I'll get her as soon as she's done reading. You can come in and take a seat."

She turned around and left. Her whip-like mouse tail stuck out behind her as she left, and I understood why Ran warned me about ears and tails. The more I saw, the more I wanted to touch.

The main room looked pretty comfortable, and not too different from what I remembered from my field trip. Cushions and mats were stacked in neat piles, and a wood carving of the Buddha himself took up one of the walls.

"I'll wait outside for now," Kasen said. "Come see me when you're done."

I nodded.

"I mean, I have to go see Mamizou and tell her to stop." She glanced behind herself.

"Alright." Did she think I was suspicious of her?

With time to kill yet again, I took out my book. I was making good progress on it, and the more I saw of Gensokyo the more I wanted to learn and figure out what the hell was going on in this place.

[ ] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
-- [ ] The Capital
-- [ ] Hamlets and Provinces
-- [ ] The Great River
-- [ ] The Outskirts

[ ] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [ ] Economics
-- [ ] Government
-- [ ] Notable Persons
-- [ ] Our Shared View

[ ] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [ ] Administration and Government
-- [ ] Farming the Blessed Lands
-- [ ] Artisans and Crafters
-- [ ] Merchantry

[ ] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [ ] Organized Defenses Against Invasion
-- [ ] The Everyman's Duty for Protection
-- [ ] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection
-- [ ] Spellcard Duels

[ ] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [ ] The Tengu
-- [ ] The Kappa
-- [ ] Common Spirits
-- [ ] Trade With The Mountain
No. 182786
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [X] Common Spirits

I mean, it's only proper, considering the setting.
No. 182787
[x] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [x] Common Spirits

Sounds interesting.
No. 182788
[x] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [x] Common Spirits
No. 182790
[x] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [x] Common Spirits
No. 182798
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [X] Common Spirits

Why not?
No. 182800
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [X] Common Spirits

Ya, ok.
No. 182801
Closing votes. Looks like we know what we want!

[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [X] Common Spirits
No. 182806
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [X] Common Spirits

I took out a cushion, got comfy, and opened the almanac, specifically to the later bits about youkai. After dozens and dozens of pages about how to keep them away from you, or kick their butts if you have to, the book suddenly changed tone as it passed to the next chapter.

Make no mistake that Gensokyo is still a dangerous place for humanity. To start with, youkai outnumber us greatly. No matter how many neutral and friendly youkai exist, they are the exception rather than the rule. They are by nature self-centered and capricious, and human life itself is trivial to them. In short, to be in the company of a youkai is to put oneself at risk.

Having said that, Gensokyo has changed as time has passed, and youkai that have proven to get along with humans have grown more numerous. They can now be found in the village daily, and some have even made positive contributions to our human lifestyle. The numbers are noticeable enough that it would be remiss to not mention them.


There were long sections devoted to the kappa and tengu, who seemed to have developed civilizations of their own on and around the Youkai Mountain. Past all that was a grab-bag of other youkai.

Animal youkai:

Perhaps the most numerous category of youkai after kappa and tengu, these youkai resemble animals to varying degrees.

As a brief aside, it is recommended to obtain a youkai's explicit consent before attempting to touch any youkai's wings, tails, or ears. Pets are domestic animals; youkai are not. Ignore this warning at your own peril.


Stop tempting me!

The vast majority are feral or animalistic in nature, though all can understand human speech. They possess a degree of physical strength higher than any human, and some can even practice sorcery. They share a connection with animals of their species, and often lead packs of them in the wild. So beware -- hunting too many rabbits may invite visits from a rabbit youkai.

Friendly beast youkai are in general viewed as benign oddities, often running one-man operations such as food carts and vendors just outside a village. A good rule of thumb is, if a youkai is doing their business within shouting distance of the nearest guard post, they can be treated as friendly. Ask the locals for some names before heading out, as friendly beast youkai are few enough that they immediately become the subject of gossip. While certain beast youkai may not attack you, we cannot make any guarantees for their fair trade practices. Also, do note that even the friendliest of beast youkai often have a low grasp of human social graces. They are still animals at heart, after all.

Take care if you visit a tavern or inn during the night. Youkai of all kinds are more active at night, and they have a fondness for human-made alcohol. If, for whatever reason, you are compelled to drink in the night, look for the tavern with the strongest-looking bouncers.


Interesting.

Fairies:

Most fairies resemble humans with insect-like wings on their back. They can vary in size from a finger's length to that of a child of ten to twelve. They are natural phenomena given life, and are the only truly immortal creatures native to Gensokyo. No matter how grievously they are injured, they will be born again the next day good as new. They are numerous and active at all times of the day, so dealing with them is inevitable. Ask a local if they are giving you trouble.

Simple and childlike by nature, there is nothing they love more than playing pranks on helpless humans. Their pranks are usually harmless and annoying, such as hiding your tools, putting dirt on your food when you aren't looking, and tickling the back of your neck so you think there's someone behind you. Because death means little to them, they may pull pranks that turn out to be disastrous, such as tripping you down the stairs.

They are cowardly by nature, and will make all attempts to avoid being spotted. If you believe fairies are after you--


I let out a snort. I couldn't believe I just read a sentence starting with "If believe fairies are after you" and it didn't look like insane rambling.

If you believe fairies are after you, try to look strong and intimidating. You can also shout scary-sounding things like "If any fairies try to trick me, I'll poke their eyeballs out, fry them, and eat them!" If you cannot make it sound convincing, though, they will likely go after you with greater enthusiasm. Despite not fearing death, fairies are easily scared by threats of pain or violence. Curious creatures indeed.

If fairies show themselves to you, they are likely trying to bully you into giving them treats or favors. Giving them sweets can be a temporarily solution, but they will likely be back soon asking for more. Try giving them nasty-tasting snacks and they will learn their lesson. Though a fairie's magic may be threatening, due to their physical weakness they can easily be fought off with a swift kick.

As for cooperation, it goes without saying that this is impossible. Fairies who attempt to cooperate with each other will often end up bickering and fighting. They are a reminder to all parents in Gensokyo of how their children may end up if they are raised poorly. Remember: Mencius's mother moved three times.


...who?

Miscellaneous youk--

"What'cha doin'?

An upside-down face came down in front of my book, staring back at me with blue-and-red eyes. I reeled back and let out a gurgle, only to bump into a pair of legs.

I rolled away with another yelp and got up onto my hands and knees. A woman was in front of me, dressed in blue with short blue hair to match. She held a purple umbrella in one hand, long enough that the tip was on the ground in her loose grip.

"W-What are you doing?" I stammered.

She held up her umbrella and turned it around, revealing a large red eye and a sinister grin painted on the umbrella paper. No, not painted. That was a real mouth. A slobbering tongue slipped out and went to my chin. It made a long, wet lick up my face, so wide it covered my whole head for a moment.

"Eeeheehee, don't you know about... scaaaary youkai, outsider? Booga-booga-bleeeh!" The girl stuck out her tongue and waggled it, mimicking her umbrella.

The almanac didn't cover this. From what I've read so far, the almanac definitely did not cover this. I gotta think fast before I become her lunch.

[ ] Distract her!
[ ] Bribe her!
[ ] Fight her!
[ ] Beg for mercy!
No. 182807
Sage-King's History Korner

I'm an East Asian history dork, so I've snuck in a few historical and cultural references solely for my own amusement.

-"The Four Occupations"

Originally a Chinese concept, the idea spread throughout its sphere of influence. It ranked occupations in four broad categories: at the top were the scholarly gentry, or in Japan's case, the Samurai class. Second were the farmers. In Japan especially, where arable land is at a premium, being able to grow stuff well was a really important skill, and land taxes made up the bulk of Japanese and Chinese government income. Third were the artisans and crafters, and at the bottom of the ladder were merchants, who were seen as working stiffs at best and necessary parasites at worst, since they profited off the labor of another. Despite their lowly status, merchants were what you might call middle-class in the Edo era, and the large numbers of people with disposable income needing to eat outside the home led to a huge refinement of Japanese cuisine, as restaurants competed with one another to attract more merchants. S'true!

-"Seven Superb Recipes"

Taken from the Tofu Hyakuchin (100 Tofu Delicacies), a massively popular book first published in 1782. Each recipe was ranked, and only seven recipes received the title of "superb."

-"Mencius's mother moved three times."

A famous Confucian saying. Mencius (actual name Meng Tzu*) was a Confucian teacher and philosopher who lived about two centuries after Confucius himself. Mencius's father died at an early age, and the story goes that Mencius's mother first moved next to a graveyard, and when little Mencius went to play, he would pretend he was giving funeral rites and grieving the dead. His mother saw that this was no way for a child to grow up, so she moved next to a market. Little Mencius played as a vendor, pretending to bargain for prices and announce his wares. Still not satisfied, Mencius's mother moved next to a school. Then Mencius began to play as a student, acting politely and soaking up knowledge, and Mencius's mother knew that this was the right place to live.

*'Tzu' means 'master' in Mandarin. That's why there are so many familiar Chinese names that end with it: Lao Tzu, Sun Tzu, etc.
No. 182808
[X] Beg for mercy!

If only we had been quicker about reading through the book.
No. 182809
[x] Beg for mercy!

JESUS CHRIST HOW HORRIFYING.
No. 182812
[x] Beg for mercy!
No. 182813
[X] Beg for mercy!
No. 182816
[X] Beg for mercy!
No. 182820
[x] Bribe her!

Surely, we have some kind of shinies from the outside on us, right?
No. 182824
Closing votes. We ain't too proud to beg.

[X] Beg for mercy!
No. 182829
Hey all. Update is briefly delayed 'til early morning tomorrow. Rough day at work and not enough sleep. Thanks in advance for your patience, and I'll be doing a double-update tomorrow to make up for it!
No. 182835
[x] Beg for mercy!

If there was one thing I'd learned from my school years, it was that getting down on my hands and knees and pleading for mercy solved a lot of things. Humiliating, yes, but I'd rather have been a coward than dead.

I got down and lowered my head until I was kowtowing. "Don't eat me!" I snivelled.

I held that position, and a long moment passed with me staring at the ground. When I finally dared to lift my head back up, I saw the woman staring back at me, her face right next to mine.

"Bueeeh!" She made a grotesque face, sending me reeling back again. I scrambled backwards on the floor, but I hit my head on a pillar.

The woman laughed to herself as she skipped over, waving her umbrella at me. "This is great! You're fantastic!" The umbrella gave me another sloppy lick across my face, leaving me trembling in fear.

"Please, don't-- mmmf!"

"Keeps squirming," she said, shaking her umbrella as it licked me like an evil puppy.

I didn't dare say anything for fear of getting more umbrella-spit in my mouth, so I laid there, helpless, my head still throbbing, getting a literal licking from her. After a minute that felt more like an hour, she gave an annoyed groan and the umbrella's tongue retreated back into its mouth.

I opened my eyes to see her looking down at me. "You're making this too easy," she said.

"I-I'm sorry?"

She frowned, her face turning into a childish pout, like I just said I didn't want to play tag with her. "Couldn't you at least try to fight back?" she whined.

"If... If you want me to?"

"Kogasa," a third voice said.

Byakuren -- the real Byakuren, I assumed -- stepped out from behind a paper door. "We talked about this, didn't we?"

"M-M-Maybe," the blue-haired girl said. In just a fraction of a second, she'd gone from terrifying to nervous and fidgety.

"Do you have anything to say to him?" Byakuren crossed her arms.

Kogasa hung her head. "I'm sorry I made you think I was going to eat you."

I started to say something, but all that came out was a confused gurgle. She knelt down and got close to me. I let out another yelp before realizing she was hugging me. She quickly broke off the hug and slinked out of the room, still hanging her head.

"Sorry about her," Byakuren said with a sigh, shaking her head. "Kogasa's a bit of a troublemaker, but she doesn't really have anywhere else to go."

Finally coming to my senses, I sat upright. "What is even happening?"

"You're from the Outside World, aren't you? It will take some time to adjust, but you'll find your place here."

"Everything wants to eat me," I said.

"Ahh, I understand." She pulled out a cushion and took a seat in front of me.

"You understand? That people -- youkai, whatever -- are trying to honest-to-god trying to eat me alive?"

"Please, calm down," Byakuren said. Her voice was so level and calm it actually did manage to make me stop yelling.

"I'm sure everyone's made it sound like you can't so much as leave the village without youkai leaping out of the trees after you." Unbelievably, a smile crept up on her face. "However, do you know what keeps youkai alive?"

"Meat?"

"Faith. Youkai only live so long as they're believed in. That's why they left the Outside World. It probably doesn't seem like it yet, but as you spend more time here you'll see that all the talk of youkai eating people is more like a beautiful play that we're all involved in. You may fear youkai, but in their own way, humans are fearsome in the eyes of youkai. Without humans, youkai would not exist."

"But why are you guys going through the trouble to keep them alive in the first place?"

She glared at me. Oh, right. Buddhist monk.

"Keep an open mind and be accepting. You'll see that youkai contribute to the world in their own way. I'm sure you'll come to find, as so many others have, that the world is not as scary as it seems."

I rubbed my face again. It was tempting to believe her, but I knew I shouldn't believe her just because she was saying what I wanted to be true.

"Do you know the Lotus Sutra?" she asked.

I scratched my neck. "I mean, I know of it."

"Its words hold extraordinary power. If you find yourself lost or troubled, then do come to us for guidance. Any of my disciples will be able to help."

Nice try, saleswoman.

"Hijiri!" someone called from inside the temple. I heard footsteps racing towards us.

A woman yanked open the door behind Byakuren. All she had on was a towel, and her hair -- orange with black stripes, a pretty stylish look -- was sopping wet and clinging to her face. She let out a short shriek when she saw me and slammed the door shut.

"Oh, dear." Byakuren stood up. "Shou, what's wrong?"

"The water's ice-cold!" Shou shouted from behind the door.

"Didn't I tell you the water heater's not working?" Byakuren called back.

Water heater, eh?

My main job was fixing boilers, which were hardly the same thing. A lot of people got that confused somehow. A water heater is what you'd use to heat water for your house, while a boiler is a big industrial box that heats all the water for an apartment complex.

Still, how complicated could some 19th-century stove be? It'd been a bit since I'd done anything besides a plain-jane boiler, so maybe now was the chance to get some real work done.

[ ] Help them for no charge. A favor owed couldn't hurt.
[ ] Help them out, but not for free.
[ ] Let the subject pass. I'm ready to leave anyway.
[ ] Change the subject and ask to see more of the temple.
No. 182836
Oh, hey, updates.

[ ] Help them for no charge. A favor owed couldn't hurt.

Might as well start building up good will where we can.
No. 182837
[x] Help them for no charge. A favor owed couldn't hurt.
No. 182838
[X] Help them out, but not for free.

We still need a source of income, what we've got so far won't last us long.
No. 182839
[x] Help them for no charge. A favor owed couldn't hurt.

Hopefully it's not a magic water heater or something.
No. 182840
[x] Help them for no charge. A favor owed couldn't hurt

>>182839

In addition to not being magic, I hope the water heater is an inanimate object. As opposed to an individual charged with heating the water, who has decided to stop working for whatever reason.
No. 182842
Closing votes. We're earning some Buddhist brownie points:

[x] Help them for no charge. A favor owed couldn't hurt.
No. 182843
[x] Help them for no charge. A favor owed couldn't hurt.

I cleared my throat. "You know, I repair boilers for a living. Or, well, I used to."

"Oh, that's quite alright. I'm sure you've got things to do and places to be," Byakuren said.

"No, no, I insist. I owe you that much."

"You don't owe us a thing, really," she insisted, reminding me of my grandmother.

"Let him fix the freaking heater," Shou shouted through the door.

"Oh, my. Well then, I suppose I'll show you the way. Thank you so much."

She stood up and went to the door. "Shou, we're coming in. Make yourself decent," she called.

Shou ran off right as Byakuren slid the door open, her footsteps thumping up the stairs. We headed down a narrow hallway leading towards the back, stepping outside and then back into another building, stopping right in front of a cobweb-covered trapdoor.

Byakuren gestured at the trapdoor. "It's here in the basement. The kappa set it up for us, so I'm afraid I don't know the first thing about how it works."

I wasn't very excited to head into a dark basement. Then again, I'd met all the monsters here already. At least, I hoped.

A dusty smell rose up from the trapdoor as I pried it open. Both of us climbed down into the dark, dingy space that served as a basement. I patted my pockets. Yup, my good old pocket flashlight was still on me. I clicked it on and quickly found what we were looking for.

Holy moly. I was expecting some rattly old stove, but this thing was bigger and more modern than half the boilers I saw in refurbished buildings. Shaped like a big barrel, it took up half of the room. It seemed like a waste to only have it powering a bathtub and a couple sinks. Looking at it closer, though, it seemed kind of cobbled-together.

"The kappa said it would take firewood and scraps," Byakuren chimed in.

I glanced back over my shoulder. "The kappa."

"Yes."

"They said they made an industrial boiler that takes firewood."

"They had to modify it," she said with an apologetic smile.

Not content with drowning people, it sounded like Gensokyo's kappa have taken to playing fast-and-loose with machines that can reach six hundred degrees Celsius. The sad part was, I couldn't even call it my worst job.

Giving it a good examination, it looked like the power source was some small rubber-coated tube sticking out of the ground. They were at least sensible enough to include a cap to put over it when it was unplugged, which it was. While I didn't have a full toolkit with me, I had some screwdrivers and stuff still stowed away in my toolbelt, which would hopefully be enough to do the job.

"How long ago did you unplug it?" I asked as I took out the tools.

Byakuren put her finger to her lips, thinking for a moment. "Hmmm, about two days ago. It shut itself off, actually. It made a loud beep that scared us silly."

I waved my hand a couple inches away from the boiler. Good, no heat coming off. Word of advice, if you touch a live boiler, you won't have a hand to pull back.

Satisfied with that, I unscrewed the door. "I'll be honest, I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to see when I open this, so I could use any prayers you have to offer."

Byakuren gasped and put a hand over her mouth. "Please, no, you don't have to risk it."

"Sorry, that was just, um, a joke." I felt bad for making her worry, even if I was only half-joking. She looked more confused than worried. Humor must've been different back then too.

I gripped the door and tugged on it. As soon as it swung open, soot poured out onto the floor.

"Whoa! I think I found the problem." I reached into what I was guessing was the fuel tank and scooped out a fistful of ash and soot. "Do you have a trash bin, or something?"

"I'll be right back." Byakuren bounced up the stairs. There was a whooshing sound, and she returned three seconds later with a large wooden bucket. I put it under the pipe and scooped out lump after lump. Once it was halfway clean, I stuck my flashlight in for a look-see.

"You're shi-- I mean, you're kidding me."

"What is it?" she asked.

I half-stood up for a second to adjust my shirt. "Nothing's wrong, I'm just a little amazed."

I couldn't be sure of anything, but it looked like the entire fuel tank was an improvised bellows: small fans circulated air to give the fire as much oxygen as possible, and as the wood and scraps burned down, the air would circulate the ash out of the exhaust pipe. At least, that was the plan. One of the pipes must've gotten clogged up and the whole thing fizzled out. It was the boiler equivalent of cobbling a life raft together out of twigs and leaves. Leaning to get a better look, I saw what might be the problem.

I pulled my head out and turned over to Byakuren. "It looks like the clog is somewhere in that pipe, but I can't reach it. Not sure what I could use to get at it," I thought aloud.

"Could it be blown out?" Byakuren asked.

"Yeah, if you had some kind of air hose and you put a seal over it, maybe."

"Let me try."

She knelt in front of the hole, took a deep breath, pressed her face against it, and blew. The whole boiler rattled and there was a loud clunk, followed by a distant 'phut' sound as the culprit flew out of the exhaust pipe.

Byakuren stood up and blinked, her face now covered in black soot. "I think that worked."

"How in the...?"

She shrugged. "Magic."

"Well, then." I shrugged back and started sealing up the boiler. "Toss in some fuel and give it a few hours and you'll have warm water again."

"Thank you so much." Byakuren smiled, then coughed as a bit of soot fell into her mouth. "Let me get some soap after I fill this up."

The water may not have been warm, but I was still glad to get the chance to clean up. It was also pretty satisfying to hear the familiar hum of a job well done.

"It's getting late," Byakuren said once her face was clean. "Would you like to spend the night in the guest room?"

My favor was paying off already. "Thanks, that'd be great. Could I join you for dinner?"

"Ah, sorry. My disciples are youkai, so we don't really eat very often."

"Um. Wait, are you a youkai?"

Byakuren tensed slightly. "Yes, I am. But before you respond, ask yourself: Have I done anything to make you be afraid of me?"

"No," I admitted.

"Then if you're willing to trust us, I can provide some rice crackers and a room for the night."

"Alright." I accepted. Not like I had any better plans.

"Hey," called a voice from above. "It's getting late, so I was thinking I'd head back."

I nearly jumped when Kasen's head peeked down through the trapdoor. Byakuren gave a friendly wave.

"Hey, hang on," I said. "How will I get back to the village?"

"You'll be fine. I can swing by tomorrow morning if you're worried."

"Were you listening to us?" I asked.

Kasen tried to hide her grin. "See you tomorrow," she called back before disappearing. Perfect.

Byakuren smiled. "Shall I take you to the guest room?"

I heaved out a sigh. "The umbrella girl won't show up, will she?"

Ten minutes later, I was munching on some rice crackers and watching the sun go down. I had one last chance to take advantage of the daylight, so I took out my book.

[ ] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
-- [ ] The Capital
-- [ ] Hamlets and Provinces
-- [ ] The Great River
-- [ ] The Outskirts

[ ] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [ ] Economics
-- [ ] Government
-- [ ] Notable Persons
-- [ ] Our Shared View

[ ] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [ ] Administration and Government
-- [ ] Farming the Blessed Lands
-- [ ] Artisans and Crafters
-- [ ] Merchantry

[ ] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [ ] Organized Defenses Against Invasion
-- [ ] The Everyman's Duty for Protection
-- [ ] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection
-- [ ] Spellcard Duels

[ ] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [ ] The Tengu
-- [ ] The Kappa
-- [ ] Common Spirits
-- [ ] Trade With The Mountain
No. 182844
[X] The Kappa

Seems like a fitting time to look. Wouldn't you want to check on this section after hearing such a crazy thing?
No. 182845
[x] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [x] Artisans and Crafters
Might as well see if there are any jobs that fit our description.
No. 182846
[x] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [x] Artisans and Crafters

Yeah why not, we need to come up with some form of income beyond random odd jobs.
No. 182847
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
--[X] The Kappa

First thing is always first. Understand the locals and know your allies, or you might get more than you payed for...
No. 182848
[ ] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [ ] Spellcard Duels

What even is this???
No. 182849
[x] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [x] Artisans and Crafters
No. 182850
[x] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [x] Artisans and Crafters
No. 182851
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
--[X] The Kappa

How can we not?
No. 182852
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [X] The Kappa

Better yet, why don't we see if there's any opportunities with these guys? I think outsider knowledge would be more useful for the stuff the kappa mess around with, rather than what's in the village.
No. 182853
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [X] The Kappa

This guy would get along with them. Hopefully.
No. 182854
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
--[X] The Kappa
No. 182855
Closing votes. Let's read about some mad scientists:

[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
--[X] The Kappa
No. 182857
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [X] The Kappa

With everything that just happened, the answer was obvious: I had to learn more about the kappa.

Physically, the kappa are short creatures, dressed almost uniformly in hardy clothing with many pockets, and their most striking physical features -- the hardy shell on their back and the plate on their head -- are usually covered and rarely shown to humans. In fact, kappa are rarely seen by humans at all. If spotted by one, they will rush to the nearest source of water, where they can hold their breath for hours and swim faster than any fish.

And yet, Byakuren didn't have any trouble with them. Do people here have some innate ability to tell humans and youkai apart?

Because of this, their lifestyle is largely a mystery, but we can say the following with a degree of confidence:

They live on the lower parts of Youkai Mountain, along its river, though recently small numbers have migrated away from their former habitat. Because of their skittish nature, kappa-induced drowning has become a rarity to the point where one could call it a non-issue. The rare humans who have met with the kappa have said that they are pleasant enough, if patronizing and smug, and the humans return feeling as though the kappa couldn't wait for them to leave.

The kappa's self-importance stems from their advanced technology that they have developed on the mountain. Every so often, a new gadget will make its way to the village, and everyone will be at a loss as to its purpose and function. If you ever find such a device, Outside World reader, your input would be greatly appreciated.

Human interest in kappa technology was piqued by a recent account from one village native:

"They had seaweed growing in a pond, right? But not like normal. There was so much seaweed growing, and so tall it looked more like a paddy in the springtime. And they had these big machines that were all like, vrrr-vrr-kchunk-vrr-breooow, and it cut up all the seaweed like, bam! Just like that!"

As the demand for seaweed outpaces our current production, several merchants and administrators have wondered if some form of a trade deal may be struck. Others fear that a sudden influx would put local producers out of business. Some others have claimed that the eyewitness is likely making it all up or had bad dreams from eating pickled onions before bed.


That was much less enlightening than I had hoped. I put the book in an empty pocket of my toolbelt and unbuckled it. I slipped into bed and wondered how long this set of clothes would stay clean. Maybe I should wear them as much as possible, then hock them to the tall guy in the village and buy fresh new clothes.

Sleep took a while to come. Sleeping somewhere new is never easy, and sleeping somewhere that had man-eating creatures -- I'm not ruling that possibility out just because Byakuren said so -- is nearly impossible. When it finally did come, it was as solid and heavy as a brick, and I didn't wake up until I felt someone jabbing a finger into my face.

"Check's in the mail," I blurted out, sleepily flailing my arms.

"You okay?"

It took me a minute to place the voice. Shou, wasn't it? The woman who needed hot water. I blinked my eyes open and saw that it was her, hovering over my face, poking me.

"Whew! You were sleeping so heavily I was worried that something had happened. You did great work, by the way. This morning's water was as warm as ever."

"Fanks." I sat up and rubbed my eyes.

"I got you something as a thank-you." She set down the tray she was carrying in her other hand: a little bowl of rice, some miso soup, and oh joy, natto.

Oh well, I was so hungry that even natto sounded appetizing. "Thank you, that's great." I ran my fingers through my hair, still trying to wake up.

"I'll let you eat in peace. Come on down when you're done, you can just leave the dishes here." She smiled, looking proud of herself, and left.

Eating it made me wish for a doughnut and coffee, but I couldn't complain about free food. I could complain about being homesick, though. Halfway through breakfast, I set my chopsticks down and sat in bed. I wasn't exactly sad, just... feeling lost. Nobody had said a word about going home yesterday, and I had the feeling it wasn't an option. I felt like my life up to this point had been erased.

Was it all bad, though? I took a bite of natto -- yech -- and tallied up my life.

Did I like my job? Well, I liked fixing things. It feels good to take your own two hands and make stuff work. I sure didn't like the pitying looks I got from people who worked in an office. I didn't like having to take the jobs at crazy hours whenever I needed a little extra money. It was a living. It was okay.

My family? They were alright. I supposed I should feel terrible about leaving them behind, and I felt awful that they'd have to hear the news that I disappeared. Does time pass in here like normal? I assumed it did. That would certainly suck for them, but there wasn't a thing I could do about it. It made me think about all those little news stories that normally pass through my brain. So-and-so fell into a river while fishing. Such-and-such was hit by a truck. For all the rest of the world knew, I was just another one of those people.

I picked through the last of my breakfast with a sigh. The Lotus Sutra probably had something poetic to say about my situation, but at the moment I didn't care. Mom, Dad, if you can somehow hear me, I'm sorry for leaving you. You raised me well.

Even if I was just a boiler repairman.

Feeling a little misty-eyed, I set the tray down and went looking for something to distract me.

I saw a big pink cloud with a face floating next to a female monk, which did a good job of that. As soon as we made eye contact, he, or it, looked away.

"Don't mind him," the monk said. "I'm Ichirin Kumoi, and he's Unzan."

"Um, a pleasure to meet you," I said.

"Are you the guest that Hijiri was talking about last night?"

Hijiri? Oh, that was Byakuren's last name. I hope she didn't mind me talking to her all casually yesterday.

"Yeah."

"Thank you very much for fixing the heater," she said with a nod.

"No problem. Thank you for your hospitality. This is a nice temple." I kept glancing at the floating cloud-head. How could I not?

"He's very shy, so please don't stare," Ichirin whispered to me.

"S-Sorry."

"Don't worry about it. Have a good day," she said, and went on her way. The cloud floated after her.

Well, that was weird. I half-remembered the layout of the building, so I headed for the entrance room and found Byakuren sitting there by herself, reading something.

"Will you be on your way?" she said.

"Yeah. I mean, I'm not in a hurry to leave or anything. I'm just, well, busy in a way.

"I understand. Miss Ibaraki showed up just a few minutes ago, she's waiting for you outside."

"Alright. It was a pleasure to meet you, Miss Hijiri."

"And you as well. Take care." Byakuren had a beautiful smile. Not in a sexy way, it was just really peaceful to look at, like a statue.

Shou popped out from one of the doors and waved. "Bye, Outsider. Take care."

"You too. Maybe I'll see you all later." I kind of hoped that I did. They took a liking to me very quickly.

Right now, though, it was time to leave. I found Kasen sitting on the stone steps right outside the door.

"I appreciate the help, I really do, but it's a little creepy how you showed up just in time."

"Oh, did I? Call it a coincidence. Stranger things have happened in Gensokyo." Kasen flashed a mysterious smile.

"Seriously, though. I'm really grateful for the help, I swear, but why are you taking such an interest in me?"

Kasen rubbed her chin. "I suppose it's just what I ought to do when I'm not attending to my hermitly duties. If I dropped you in the village without so much as a 'good luck,' that wouldn't be much better than leaving you to those youkai."

It seemed like a leap of logic, but it was a good enough explanation for now.

"If you're willing to keep helping, I've got no shortage of questions."

"Fire away."

[ ] Tell me more about magic.
[ ] Tell me more about getting a job.
[ ] Tell me more about the people around here.
[ ] Tell me more about you.
No. 182858
[x] Tell me more about magic.

C'mon, who wouldn't want to know about magic.
No. 182859
[X] Tell me more about magic.

We know where to get a job of a sort, so it's not pressing to ask that just yet. However, hearing about magic could be quite useful, in a land such as this.
No. 182861
[x] Tell me more about you.
This is rather suspicious. How did she where we were? WHAT DOES SHE KNOW?
No. 182862
[X] Tell me more about magic.
No. 182863
[x] Tell me more about magic.
No. 182864
[X] Tell me more about magic.

Battle-mage boiler-spell imminent. Apply falling boiler danmaku directly on the forehead of youkai.
No. 182865
[x] Tell me more about you.

Totally not an oni.
No. 182866
>>182864
Steam burns are no joke.
No. 182868
[X] Tell me more about magic.

I swear to god, if there isn't at least one 'my blood boils'-related obligatory boss pre-fight banter before he uses a spellcard, I will be disappoint.
No. 182869
Closing votes. I put on my robe, etc:

[X] Tell me more about magic.
No. 182878
[X] Tell me more about magic.

"Tell me more about magic. It seems like you guys got it pretty well under control. Think I could learn to use it?"

"I hate to break it to you, but that's not likely," Kasen said with a smirk. "Er, well, let me back up."

Stroking her chin for a second, she walked over to the door before looking back at me. "Come to think of it, this could take some explaining. Mind if we walk? I'd rather not lounge around here."

"Sure." I yawned loudly. "Hey, as long as I'm mooching off of you, want to go to a tea house? I could use something to wake me up."

Kasen raised an eyebrow, her mouth twisting into a screwed-up smile. "We could hardly hold a conversation there."

"In a tea house? I thought that's what everyone does -- talking and stuff."

Kasen cleared her throat, trying to hide the sound of her giggling. "I don't know if this is some miscommunication but," she leaned in and whispered, "tea houses aren't exactly for tea here."

Oh?

Ohhhhh. Like inviting someone for 'coffee'.

I shook my head, feeling my face get hot. "No, no, no, I didn't mean it like that at all!"

Seeing how embarrassed I was getting, Kasen laughed even harder, not even trying to hide it anymore. I pushed her out of the door before anybody asked any questions.

"Look, let's just drop the subject. We can walk wherever," I grumbled.

"Alright. So, magic." Kasen started walking. "At its simplest, magic is exerting one's will upon the universe. Physical efforts, by and large, are attempts to play along with the universe. We put ore in a kiln and hope it melts properly. We plant crops and hope the rain will let it grow. But if, say, I want to summon a raijuu..."

With a flourish, Kasen stretched out her bandage-covered arm. The ground in front of us trembled slightly. Something orange-and-red burst up from the ground, moving so fast it looked like a ball. It whizzed back and forth, then came to a stop in front of us. It was shaped like some small furry creature made half out of flickering orange fire and half out of crackling blue lightning. Its bright white eyes blinked. It nodded politely at Kasen, making sounds like far-off thunder and a crackling fire when it spoke.

"She says 'Good morning.'"

"Er, good morning," I replied.

Kasen said something back to it, not sounding like thunder and fire but not really sounding like anything else either. The raijuu said something back, then burrowed back into the ground.

Kasen turned to me, flashing a big smile. "As you can see, magic is a lot more effective."

"I'll say."

"Of course," she continued, "it took centuries for me to reach that point. It might seem obvious, but magic doesn't work by the rules that one would expect. Take, for instance, this." She held her hand up flat. A red ball, about the size of a softball, appeared above her palm, floating and glowing.

"This is magical energy. Looking at it, you might assume that this would be its strongest form. It's simple, efficient, and there's no wasted space. However..."

She waved her hand. The ball transformed into the shape of a hawk, with red lines detailing its body. "When it's like this, it resonates with me. I can communicate with animals, and even call them to my aid. So when I use magic like this, when I make it more beautiful and make it unique to me, it is stronger."

She glanced left and right, then made a fist with her hand. Perching it on her hand like an actual hawk, she thrust her creation forward. The hawk flew straight from her fist and hit the ground with a burst of fire, burning a patch of grass.

"That was awesome!" I shouted. "Do more!"

"Something like this?" Beaming with pride, Kasen raised her fist and punched the air. Red half-transparent snakes appeared from her arm and leapt forward, biting at the air.

"Seriously, that's amazing."

"And fortunately very difficult. Such abilities are only granted to those dedicated and wise enough to make good use of them. Not to mention it's also regulated. If any magician were to go around using their powers to rob stores, they'd be in big trouble. No matter how strong I or any other hermit or magician might seem, I'm a pushover compared to the gods."

"How do you actually learn how to use it? Is there any sort of... I don't know, like a study guide or something?"

Kasen chuckled. "Not quite. Magic is unknowable by its very nature. However, it is based in certain fundamental truths and powers, and there are several different schools of thought that people have used to learn magic. Some learn it through their religious studies, like the folks at the Myouren Temple. Others study it as one would study chemistry or mathematics, and others gain their powers through ritual and worship. It's not all fireballs and fighting, either. People use it for all sorts of helpful things: Making the soil more fertile, making their business grow, and so on."

"Really? That kind of makes it sound like a lot of people can use it."

"Few can wield magic like a tool, but anyone can take advantage of the magic around them. The farmers can't control the fields themselves, but they treat the gods kindly when the visit, and they're rewarded for it. The specifics are much too complicated to explain in a single conversation."

"What would be the very first step?" I asked. Sure, I knew that I'd never have the patience for centuries of studying, but the idea of becoming a fireball-chucking wizard was too tempting to ignore.

Kasen thought. "Normally, I wouldn't bother humoring that question, but this might be good advice for you. Work on becoming attuned with Gensokyo. With diligent effort and a bit of luck, you should be able to get a sense of the magic flowing through the air. Do that and you'll be able to sense when a youkai's around, which can be handy for obvious reasons."

"How on earth do I do that?"

"That's why magic is hard," she said with a shrug. "Save that thought for later, though. You've obviously got more pressing concerns."

We reached the crossroads, with one way leading to the Human Village and the other way leading to the farming town I read about earlier.

"Want to go back to the Human Village or check out one of the other places?"

I scratched my chin in thought.

"Oh, before I forget, do you know who 'Mencius' is?" I asked.

Kasen waved a hand. "Hah, Yasumi likes to show off her knowledge. He's an old Confucian scholar. Can I ask you something in return?"

"Sure."

"What's a 'JoJo'? Some other outsiders kept talking about it."

"Long story. That might be more complicated than explaining magic."

[ ] You mentioned checking out the school before, right?
[ ] Is there any kind of town center in the village?
[ ] How about those farming villages?
[ ] Should I try my luck with the lumberjacks?
No. 182898
[x] You mentioned checking out the school before, right?
No. 182900
[x] You mentioned checking out the school before, right?

Miss Keine!
No. 182901
[x] You mentioned checking out the school before, right?

Info, and Keine. Can't get much better.
No. 182902
[x] You mentioned checking out the school before, right?

>We put ore in a kiln and hope it melts properly. We plant crops and hope the rain will let it grow.
>The farmers can't control the fields themselves, but they treat the gods kindly when the visit, and they're rewarded for it

It seems like no one here actually learns how to do their job. They just make an attempt to do it, and then hope the gods will fix their mistakes.

It's a wonder a school could even exist in such a place! We gotta check this shit out.
No. 182907
[X] Is there any kind of town center in the village?
No. 182917
Closing votes for a nice trip to Keine's!

[x] You mentioned checking out the school before, right?
No. 182920
Ask her to teach crop rotation and the 3 field system. Start a green revolution!
No. 182924
[x] You mentioned checking out the school before, right?

"Keine Kamishirasawa, yeah." Kasen grinned. "She's a fairly big figure in the village, but she's got her head on straight, and she's always willing to meet new people. She can be a little intense at first, but that's just an act for the students. She's a big ol' softie on the inside."

"Is all that stuff from the book about her being a 'were-hakutaku' true?" I asked, still not sure what that even meant.

Kasen snickered for a second but quickly reverted back to a straight face. "Don't bring that up around her. It's a sensitive subject."

"Is it just a rumor?"

"No, it's true, and everyone knows it, but she still treats it like it's her big secret." She half-shrugged.

We passed by a small fenced-off pasture with "Three" written above it. Horses were milling around eating grass, and someone with heavy-looking armor gave me a don't-start-anything look as we passed. We probably looked like a couple troublemakers, a woman with a bandaged arm and a man with his crazy foreign Outside World clothes.

"The school is out by the Hieda estate. Yasumi probably didn't talk too much about it, because it's funded by the Hiedas, and they aren't on the best terms," Kasen said.

"The Hiedas are rival nobles, I'm guessing?" I vaguely remembered the name from one of the 'Notable Persons' list.

"They publish the 'Gensokyo Chronicle', which is -- amongst other things -- a list of youkai and advice for dealing with them. When the Yasumis first started publishing their almanac, there was a pretty nasty dispute over possible plagiarism, and ever since then the Hiedas and Yasumis have been very terse with one another."

"Ah."

The first I saw of the estate was a clay wall, short enough to see over but tall enough to keep people out. "Hieda Estate" was written in large flowing letters on a sign above the gate. There were large patches of flowers and stone gardens, which must have been the way people showed off their wealth before yachts. 'Oh, all this land? I don't need it, we can put some rocks there. Yes, I know the houses are wall-to-wall everywhere else. I said put some stones there, lackey.'

The house itself didn't look particularly grand, aside from its size. It stretched off in slightly odd shapes, with some small rooms sticking out and a long porch running all the way around it. Another show of wealth, I figured. 'Who needs a second floor when you've got land and riches!'

We passed by the house, though I wanted to go in and take a look. The buildings around it were like a small suburb. None of them were as big as the Hieda estate, but there weren't any of the shabbier multi-story buildings I saw mingled within the village.

The school was simply labelled "Kamishirasawa History School", and a modest house was attached to its side with a vegetable garden in front. People sure didn't have long commutes here. All the doors were open, so I could see someone hunched over a stack of paper just inside the house.

"I think the school's closed for the harvest, so Keine likely isn't busy. I'm going to take off for now," Kasen said.

"Again?"

She gave a half-smirk. "I can't stay with you forever."

With that, she stepped away and floated into the air. She was out of sight before I could even holler something after her. I felt as though I should've seen that coming.

I approached the house until I could make out the figure sitting inside. It was a woman with silver hair in a blue dress, tall and broad, the only person I'd seen so far who didn't make me feel like a giant. She looked up from her papers as I approached. As I got closer, I noticed an odd, boxy hat on top of her head. It looked a little like a building or maybe a lunchbox. Whatever it was, I had no idea how it stayed on her head.

"Are you the new outsider?" she asked once I reached her porch.

"Yeah. My name's Iwao Oose." I bowed. "You've heard about me?"

"Gossip travels fast, and new people make good gossip. As you can guess, I'm Keine Kamishirasawa. Please come in." She took a sip of tea and waved me in.

The house was as modest on the inside as it was on the outside. There were stacks of books and scrolls, as one would expect, and a few niceties cramped into the small living room. I grabbed an unoccupied cushion and had a seat where there was open space.

"How has your time in Gensokyo been?" she asked, glancing back and forth between me and her papers.

"About as well as getting unstuck in time can go, I suppose."

"It's just been a day or so, right? It's only natural to still be confused. Did you come here for anything?"

I scratched my cheek. "I came here with Miss Ibaraki, but she just took off before I came in."

Keine sat for a moment, suddenly quiet, taking another sip of tea.

"Is there something wrong?" I asked.

"No, just thinking." She sat her tea down, propping her chin on her hand. "I've helped a few outsiders before, and I want to make sure you get good advice."

"It seems like everyone here has a different story for me." I forced out a chuckle.

"It's not just you. Everyone feels the same way. Gensokyo is changing."

"Change means opportunity, right?" Ugh, if I had a 10-yen coin for every time a boss told me that.

Keine wasn't amused. In fact, she looked very serious. "Be careful who you trust. I don't want to be too dramatic, but you're likely to run into lots of different people who want you to take their side, and the best choice right now is to just keep your head down and stay neutral. There's a trade outpost to the north of Susonomura, that's a good place to learn more about anything you want without appearing to take a side. It looks like you're doing some learning on your own, though." She looked down at the book sticking out of my toolbelt.

"Oh, yeah. I've been going through this."

"It's a good start, but like you said, everyone's got a different story for you. Want to look over it together?"

I glanced around. "I wouldn't mind it, but are you sure you're okay with it?"

"I don't mind the company. With the school closed, it can get too quiet around here sometimes."

"But we're basically strangers, I mean..." I kept glancing around.

Keine rolled her eyes. "It's only weird if you get weird ideas in that outsider head of yours."

True.

[ ] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
-- [ ] The Capital
-- [ ] Hamlets and Provinces
-- [ ] The Great River
-- [ ] The Outskirts

[ ] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [ ] Economics
-- [ ] Government
-- [ ] Notable Persons
-- [ ] Our Shared View

[ ] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [ ] Administration and Government
-- [ ] Farming the Blessed Lands
-- [ ] Artisans and Crafters
-- [ ] Merchantry

[ ] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [ ] Organized Defenses Against Invasion
-- [ ] The Everyman's Duty for Protection
-- [ ] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection
-- [ ] Spellcard Duels

[ ] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [ ] The Tengu
-- [ ] The Kappa
-- [ ] Common Spirits
-- [ ] Trade With The Mountain
No. 182925
Hey all! From now on, updates are going to come in the early afternoon instead of late night. The story's starting to develop now, and it's probably better to proof things after sleeping than in the middle of the night.
No. 182926
[x] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [x] Economics
Capitalism, ho!
No. 182927
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [X] The Tengu

I reckon we ought to get her opinion on one of the youkai races.
No. 182929
[x] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [x] Trade With The Mountain

Tell me more!
No. 182930
[x] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [x] Economics
No. 182932
[x] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [x] Economics

Money! Capitalism, ho!
No. 182938
Closing votes. Gotta get the cash, gotta get the dough.

[x] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [x] Economics
No. 182959
Damn you, snow. Between shoveling twice and historical research, the update is briefly delayed. Thank you for your patience. Please stay on the line to speak to an operator.
No. 182966
Throw down ice melt and you'll only need to shovel once.

Make sure not to cheap out on it like a lot of people do
No. 182988
[x] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [x] Economics

Frankly, I was a little tired of hearing differing opinions on whether or not all the monsters were going to eat me. Everyone so far agreed that I would be safe in one of the human settlements, so I decided to focus on that.

When discussing commerce, outsiders often ask about 'job creators', 'corporations', and other concepts that are foreign to Gensokyo's way of life. They also speak of 'factories', where Outside World magic assembles products. Unfortunately, humanity in Gensokyo has yet to master such arcane matters, though we continue to develop. As it stands, most of these outsiders come here with little knowledge in skills relevant in the Gensokyo of the present, making it difficult for them to adjust.

These people were obsessed with farming. It made sense, though. Without tractors and combine harvesters, I reckoned farming would take a whole lot of raw manpower.

To make things clearer to the outsider, let us look at a sample population: a growing neighborhood in Susonomura. All settlements have some initial trait such as fertile soil or mineral deposits which bring people there. The hilly terrain here is suitable for the cultivation of tea leaves. The average resident in the hills spends most of his or her hours caring for the bushes for the eventual harvest. Once the leaves are matured and picked, they will be steamed, rolled, dried and trimmed. The tea will go from raw leaves to the ready-to-purchase commodity all under the direction of one landlord, or 'vertical integration', as outsiders have called it.

Wherever farmers gather, other professions will also spring up. Carpenters, weavers, potters, tailors, coopers, thatchers and blacksmiths have no shortage of work, and are one of the few professions where an outsider with relevant knowledge could find work independently. Outsiders with a mind for selling and buying might have luck with the general stores, pawn shops, food stands, and inns that are common sights in the various hamlets.

For speciality work for goods such as hanafuda cards, screen doors, shamisens, and other niceties, the work is often done by a few established families. Their line of work is passed down from generation to generation, and it is rare for someone outside one of these families to break into the business. Such production is mostly localized to the Human Village, where all necessary materials can be obtained and merchants arrive daily to spread the finished goods throughout the settlements.

It's important to note that few unlanded people have a single income source. It's very common for those same farmers who tend the tea bushes to haul goods or perform other labor for merchants and artisans part of the day. Even landowners, mostly of small acreage, will find income through a side-trade such as smithing, raising livestock, or making clothes, and few craftsman families have a house without some amount of vegetables growing nearby.


That was actually useful and kind of interesting for once, though it didn't paint a very optimistic picture for me. For any of the decent jobs I'd need to know somebody or already have years of experience. Some things weren't that different after all, a fact I didn't know whether to smile or scowl about.

Coming to the end of the section, I closed the book. "Anything to add?" I asked Keine.

She shrugged her shoulders. "Not really. Most of it is common sense here. No offense."

"None taken."

Stretching her arms, Keine stood up and went back to her desk, a stack of papers still waiting for her. "Do you have any plans?" she asked.

I sucked my teeth. "Well, I was lucky enough to find a little work already. I'm a boiler repairman, and I took at look at that temple. I don't know if those are exactly common around here, though."

"They're not," she said with a short laugh. "Although, depending on how things go with the kappa, who knows? All their gizmos are already fashionable with the adventurous and wealthy."

"How hard is it to get into one of the busy professions?"

"You'd have to find someone willing to take you as an apprentice. They'd have to trust you first, and I'm not sure how eager they'd be to take in someone who's still the subject of gossip."

I sighed. "I could always do hard labor, I guess. I'm not above digging ditches."

"Nothing wrong with that." Keine harrumphed and flicked her brush across one of the papers.

I took a look over her shoulder at the paper. Yikes, you wouldn't think a kid could mess up a three-stroke kanji that badly.

"I can read and write pretty well, think I could get any work with that?" I asked.

Keine furrowed her brow and took a deep breath. "I don't know. I'm a teacher, not a job... placing... person."

I backed away. I had stretched her patience to its limit.

"Sorry," Keine mumbled, still not looking up from her papers.

"It's alright. You've been pretty nice to a total stranger, after all. I'll just get out of your hair."

"Wait."

"Hm?" I stopped, halfway out the door already.

"Please don't think I'm averse to helping." Keine looked up at me, her mouth twisted in embarrassment.

"It's fine. I should be going out and trying to solve this myself, anyway."

"If you're sure. You can come back if you need more help." She bit her lip. "Just... take it easy with the questions I can't answer."

"Alright, actually..."

[ ] Any good boiler-leads?
[ ] Where's a shortage of reading, writing and 'rithmetic?
[ ] Know any people who need an apprentice?
[ ] What hard labor will be the least hard?
No. 182989
[x] Any good boiler-leads?
While being a tutor/teacher would be nice as it would keep us employed and possibly on a Keine route, I don't see how a primarily agricultural society would care about literacy all that much.
No. 182996
[x] Any good boiler-leads?

Stick with what you know and all that.
No. 182997
Why can't the character leave Gensokyo again? Or is this a take on the world where there's no way out? I'd figure the books would cover it.
No. 183001
[x] Where's a shortage of reading, writing and 'rithmetic?

Keine? Keine.
No. 183002
[x] Where's a shortage of reading, writing and 'rithmetic?

TA and or scribe work gogogo
No. 183003
[X] Where's a shortage of reading, writing and 'rithmetic?

Knowledge is power, after all.
No. 183004
[X] Any good boiler-leads?
No. 183005
[x] What hard labor will be the least hard?

As much as I think it would be better to get a job involving reading/writing, she literally just said that didn't know anything about that. She also said that boilers are rare, so we'll probably have to do some hard labor for awhile at least. Might as well get some information about it.
No. 183014
Flipped a coin to break the tie, and the unbiased currency declared our winner:

[X] Where's a shortage of reading, writing and 'rithmetic?
No. 183019
>>183014
I demand rigorous scientific proof that the weight in that coin was perfectly evenly distributed, or else I dispute your claim of the coin being unbiased.

I'm kidding, of course. I will be waiting warmly for the update. I've been thoroughly enjoying your story.
No. 183029
[x] Where's a shortage of reading, writing and 'rithmetic?

"Are reading and writing good skills to have here?" I asked. I didn't want to come right out and ask 'So, are you all a bunch of illiterate hicks?'

"Everyone knows their kana and the most basic of kanji. If you can't read and write it's too easy to get swindled. Granted, it happens anyway, but there you have it," Keine said, pausing for one last sip of tea.

"Still, from what I've seen, most outsiders know a lot more than the average person, which is definitely useful. You'll have to work your way up the ladder like anyone else, though."

I scratched my chin and frowned. Somehow I knew there wouldn't be any shortcuts, but it was hard news to hear.

Picking up on my worries, Keine smiled and waved her hand. "Luckily, you fell through at a good time -- it's summer, so it's easy to pick up some work carting to keep your head above water."

She turned back to her desk and quickly wrote out something on a slip of paper. It was a set of directions to somewhere not far off. "A nearby merchant's office," Keine explained.

"Thank you very much. I'll be on my way, then." I bowed to her.

"Take care, and good luck." She nodded back at me with an unspoken 'You'll need it.'

Outside of a few crowded blocks, the Human Village was much less organized than the book made it sound. It was more like a cramped patchwork of neighborhoods, knitted together with farm fields. Short fences criss-crossed everywhere, with higher walls only around the more bustling commercial areas and the occasional estate. I went to the block of houses past a field full of budding green-and-white cotton plants, and from there, the merchant office wasn't too hard to find. The market stands and lined-up carts gave a pretty clear hint.

Right in the door was a man sitting behind a counter, poring over some documents, a stout, sturdy-looking guy with a long, well-groomed moustache. He looked up at me, and I got the feeling he knew exactly why I was here before I said a word.

"Hello, sir." I bowed. I didn't know exactly how powerful he was, so I figured I'd play it safe.

"Hello," he said, tipping his head in response. "What brings you to my office?"

"I'm looking for a job, sir." Ugh, painful flashbacks to starting out with no leads.

"Can you read?"

I had to hold in a laugh. His face was completely serious as he asked me whether or not I was literate. As if the clothes didn't give it away.

"Yessir," I said, keeping a straight face.

He took the piece of paper he was holding, turned it around, and slid it across the table towards me. "What does this say?"

My eyes jumped around as I tried to read it left-to-right, then realized it wasn't written Western-style.

"Shipment to... Amaden, to the northeast in Susonomura. Produce: fifty eggplants, twenty heads of cabbage, and fifty cucumbers. Goods: two barrels of pickling bran, two barrels of salt, one of sugar lumps, and five of soy sauce."

The merchant nodded slightly. "That's right. Think you can do it?"

"Can I read more, you mean?"

"No, can you take that shipment up there?" He leaned forward and folded his hands in his lap.

"I-- er, sure." That was so easy that I was a little dumbfounded for a second.

"Excellent." He stood up, both the chair and his back creaking slightly, and pointed off behind him. "The warehouse is through that door. You'll get a list of local suppliers and directions to them along with the cargo. Oh, and before I forget..."

He bent down to open up one of the drawers on his desk, fishing out a beat-up slip of paper. "The roads are new and the patrols aren't completely set up, but with this charm the youkai shouldn't trouble you much."

I looked down at the charm as I took it. The lettering on it was half worn off. "Much."

"Much," he repeated.

My eyes flicked between the charm and the merchant for a second. This beat-up old thing didn't look like it could scare much, even if it was magically charmed. If meeting youkai was a reality where I was headed, like he seemed to be implying, then I wasn't being sent off with much protection.

He looked back at me, a certain gleam in his eye. "Get a good deal on the order and you could walk away with a nice cut of the profits."

"Right," I said, trying not to show my unhappiness. The charm stuck to my clothes like it had a static charge, so I moved it to my side where it wouldn't get in the way.

'Those who do not work, do not eat', or something like that.

With the preliminaries out of the way, the merchant waved me on out to the warehouse. The warehouse itself was like a closed-off market, with goods stacked in high piles on tables and in boxes, crammed in every available inch. The smell of produce was overwhelming, so strong it actually became unappetizing.

"The order?" A man with curly stubble took my paper. He looked it over.

"Right, so you can get the produce from me, then the barrelled goods from the guy over that-a-way," he jabbed a thumb in said guy's direction. "After that, go to Mrs Chiri. She'll give you a little pocket money for the trade fees and a night or two at the inn."

I raised my eyebrows. "Quite a system."

He grinned. "Yep. Oh, and be nice to Mrs Chiri. She's the boss's wife, after all."

I followed stubble-guy's instructions. It probably took about an hour, all told. The stocky guy who loaded the barrels was very particular about where they should go to avoid crushing other produce or spilling. Mrs Chiri, who looked a good deal younger than her middle-aged husband, gave me an assortment of small change and a few paper bills, another modern convenience I was surprised to see. Along with that came a list of names, directions, and numbers.

"Here are the latest market prices," she said with a voice that was a little too sweet for the workplace. "We sell to wholesalers, so you should aim for about eighty percent of these prices. Good luck!"

Looking down the list, there were a whole lot of middlemen listed for such a tiny agricultural area. I wondered if they used the term 'value added'.

"Thank you very much, ma'am," I said with a bow, and stowed the papers in my pocket.

Ready as I'd ever be, I grabbed the handles of the cart and heaved forward, only to get jerked backwards a bit when the cart rolled back. "Hurk. This thing is heavier than it looks."

"That's why farming does your body good." One of the other cart-boys thumped a hand against his lower back. "All that bending over gives you strong muscles."

"Thanks for the advice," I grumbled, hunching down and leaning forward.

I just had to get it started, and then I could let momentum do the rest of the work for me. With a little more heaving and straining, I got it moving. It seemed weightless as a gentle downhill slope carried it for me.

My next problem was the other people. I was digging my heels in the ground as often as I was pushing forward, trying not to plow over anyone. Barrel-guy knew what he was talking about, though. By the time I got to the gate to the outside, the produce was jostled but otherwise fine.

"Ten yen per cart," the guard said on reflex.

"I'm just heading out, I came from the..."

"All merchant carts leaving need to pay a ten-yen fee to the village."

I knew better than to argue it. I looked through the change Mrs Chiri had given me. Some of them I could read, but mixed in were what looked like re-stamped Chinese coins, half-rusted old coins that looked to be several dynasties old, and one coin of... what is that, Vietnamese? After a little searching I found two recognizable five-yen coins and forked them over.

"Safe travels," he said, and waved for the gate to be raised.

On the open roads, I could build up some speed without having to worry about bystanders. The 'roads' were just stamped-down dirt, but as I walked, the wheels of the cart nestled into the shallow tracks where other carts had made a path. How about that. Now the cart moved much more smoothly. Feeling proud of my accidental discovery, I kept up a good pace, taking short steps so it didn't run into my ankles.

Hauling a cart turned out to be a rather peaceful job. I was so used to hearing car horns and loud machinery that being out in such green, grassy land felt like a vacation, even though my arms were already getting a little sore. I took advantage of the time to grab the charm attached to my side. Kasen said I should learn to recognize magic, and now I had nothing better to do. I pinched it between my thumb and finger and focused on how it felt. The paper was still smooth, but stiff and fragile. I ran my thumb over the writing. For a fraction of a second, I felt a jolt, like my thumb was exposed to cold and heat at the same time. It was gone before I even jerked my thumb away.

Well, that's something. I stuck it back to my side and kept walking.

Even though I was out of the village proper, there were still plenty of people around me. In an hour or two of walking I counted a rest stop, three pubs, a general store, a group of fellow carters gambling, and lots of old ladies growing onions wherever there was a patch of flat ground.

The land after the twenty-third old lady started looking a bit more wild. There weren't many fields and houses around anymore, or much of anything else. Around that time, my arms twinged hard enough that I almost dropped the handles. I pulled off the trail a little ways and set the cart down to hopefully cool down for a minute.

I caught my breath, wiped my face, and wished that I was smart enough to buy some food before heading out. Or at any of the places I passed by. Oops. I paused just long enough to massage my tired arms and get some feeling back into my legs. I was in a whole different dimension and still on someone else's clock.

As soon as I got going down the road again, I felt a rush of wind by my ear. My pants slipped and dropped down to my ankles. I tried to slam on the brakes, but I ended up flopping onto my stomach. I scrambled to get my pants back on before anyone saw my briefs.

That was weird. My belt was still on tight. Had I lost some weight already? I straightened myself and hitched my pants up a few more centimeters. Maybe that would do.

It didn't. Five minutes later the exact same thing happened, including the falling on my face. I felt another rush of wind. No, not quite wind. More like the sound of someone giggling.

I gasped in realization as I pulled my pants up.

Faeries!

[ ] Shout!
[ ] Shadow-box!
[ ] Wave the seal at them!
[ ] Protect the sugar!
No. 183030
Had a schedule change at work, which is why updates have been all over the place these past few days. Don't they know they're interrupting my Touhous!?

The new schedule is now set though, so I should hopefully return to steady evening updates, probably around midnight EST. Happy voting!
No. 183032
[x] Protect the sugar!
Merchandise always comes first. Plus we already fucked with the talisman, so we don't know if it will do us any good.
No. 183033
[X] Protect the sugar!
No. 183035
[x] Shadow-box!

Eye of the tiger
No. 183037
[X] Protect the sugar!

Gotta get paid.
No. 183041
[x] Protect the sugar!
No. 183042
[X] Shadow-box!
No. 183046
>>183033
Changing my vote to

[X] Shadow-box!
No. 183047
[X] Shadow-box!

Keel zem all!
No. 183048
[X] Protect the sugar!

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=EPycvfZGAL4
No. 183052
Another tie. Curse you, democracy. The Zimbabwe 50-cent coin called it for:

[x] Shadow-box!
No. 183054
[x] Shadow-box!

The fairies had to be around me somewhere. I put up my dukes and did my best imitation of a boxing pose. They were obviously moving too fast for me to catch, or maybe they were invisible. Maybe I could catch them with a stray punch anyway. I jabbed at the air and felt a rush of wind past my shoulder. They were taunting me now.

"Hwa!" I grunted and punched to the side.

I didn't hit anything, but a split second later I felt something fly into my outstretched fist. I was nearly knocked over as my fist flew back.

I turned around to see the fairy. She wasn't even three feet tall. A pair of glass-like wings buzzed behind her back as she sat massaging her strawberry-blonde hair where my fist had hit her. She looked like an old Dutch doll.

"Owww," she mewed.

Even if they were troublemaking spirits, I still felt bad for punching what looked like a nine-year-old.

Two more fairies stopped in their tracks, suddenly slow enough to see. One had short chestnut hair and a plain green dress, the other had dirty-blonde hair down to her waist and a poofy blue-and-white dress.

"Quick, he's distracted," the chestnut-haired one hollered and pointed to the cart.

They were fast, but the were also weak. The two of them were already to the sugar barrel before I had even turned my head. One was trying to pry the lid off, and the other was trying and failing to lift the whole thing.

The dirty-blonde one dug her fingernails into the lid. "Just get some handfuls!" she snapped.

"No, we gotta get the whole thing," the other grunted as she wrestled with the barrel as big as her.

"Hands off the merch, unless you can pay for it." I pointed at the fairies, giving them a stern glare.

Right as I took my attention off her, the strawberry-blonde one pantsed me again.

"Fucking," I growled, gripping the cart to keep myself from falling over.

Satisfied that they got the last laugh, the three little pranksters flew away from me. Running on adrenaline, I picked up a pebble and heaved it at them as they flew. I heard a soft 'thunk', and the strawberry-blonde one dipped in the air. Her scream of "Dammit, ow!" echoed through the air along with the other two giggling.

As far as I was concerned, that counted as a victory. I pulled up my pants for what was hopefully the last time. I leaned against the cart, catching my breath, and saw another carter stopped by the side of the road.

"fairies are bad this time of year," he said, trying to hide his snickers.

"I think I did alright, considering this is my second day here."

"Sure, yeah," he said, insincere enough to bug me but not enough to call him out on. "Anyway, good luck." He picked up his cart and moved past me, his pots and pans rattling as he walked.

Time passed slowly after that. It was a while before I stopped flinching every time I heard leaves rustle or a twig snap. My twitchy alertness helped to fight off the boredom, and soon the roads became wider, and I started seeing buildings and farms again. My stomach let out a tremendous growl as I saw fields full of ripe beans and trees full of peaches.

One of the fields was so close I could almost reach out and snag an onion for myself. I dawdled, hungrily eyeing the produce even as a farmer stood ten meters away from me.

He turned to me. "Hey, boy," he called.

"Hm?" I took a step away.

"Rain's comin' soon. What're you doin' still on the road?" He pointed up. Dark grey clouds were forming overhead.

I couldn't think of a good reply.

"Hell, I'm not suspicious of you. You don't look like the stealing type." He set down his rake and walked towards me. I could see him in better detail now: parchment skin with darker patches on his cheeks and arms. His chest looked slightly sunken, and his hair was beginning to form a widow's peak. "You aren't, are you?"

I backed away further, holding up my hands. "No, no."

"Then come on in. Got some beets that're gonna go bad if nobody eats them."

"Really?" I couldn't even try to hide my excitement.

"Sure. I can't stand by and watch some poor carter try to walk through the mud all night."

Yeah, yeah. Everyone gets their turn to laugh at the funny guy who doesn't know how Gensokyo works. Not like I could complain if the guy was giving me a meal and a place to stay.

"My name's Gon Sasahara. I got two rules," he said as he led me to the entryway. "Hands off the crops, hands off the wife."

"No problem." I huffed and puffed, more tired than I realized, even wobbling a little as I pried my shoes off.

"Wife's name is Sayaka," he said as I parked my merchandise. "I have two sons. Gounosuke's the older one and Shigeo's the older one. My daughter's name is Chikuri." Gon looked happy to have someone else to talk to.

"My name's Iwao. Iwao Oose."

"A pleasure, Iwao."

The place was humble -- it was a farmhouse, after all -- but it did have tatami and everything. It looked like Gon was probably richer than a typical tea-picker.

"Evening, honey," he called as he led me inside. "I brought a stray with me."

"Oh, hello there." His wife, Sayaka, had a bundle of straw in her teeth and a half-finished basket in her lap. "What brings you here?"

For the first time since I came here, I had a sudden good feeling. I didn't quite feel like I belonged, but I felt like I knew what the game was and I could fit in.

"I am a humble merchant. Your husband graciously invited me in before the rain came." I gave a short bow, playing up the role I had taken upon myself.

"No need to be so formal," Gon harrumphed, giving me the feeling I had played it up too much.

He led me to the kitchen. There was a single table at shin-height, surrounded by mats. The table was covered with plates of veggies and other very healthy-looking and not very tasty-looking ingredients.

A young girl, not much older-looking than the fairies, came into the kitchen. She had a dull brown yukata, with her hair done up in a tangled topknot above her head.

"Are you from the Outside World?" she asked breathlessly, staring at me.

"Please, Chikuri, don't bother our guest," Gon said with a lighthearted chuckle.

"It's fine. I don't mind telling stories," I said.

"Just don't give her any strange ideas."

The rest of the Sasahara family joined the table one-by-one while I indulged Chikuri's curiosity.

"Are there still four seasons in the Outside World?" she asked right as I dug into the beet and shiso leaf salad.

"Of course." I quickly swallowed a mouthful, having a sip of soup to wash it down. "But we have big machines that can heat up houses in the winter and cool them down in the summer."

"Wow, that must me nice." She pondered the mystery of air conditioners.

"How many youkai did you fight?" the younger son joined in.

"In the Outside World, there are hordes of these youkai known as 'cars.' They're these big, colorful beasts with wheels for legs. Humans can ride them, and they can travel faster than any horse, but they're a little dull. Every day, cars travel back and forth by the hundreds, and if you're not careful they can kill you."

I could've given an honest answer, but the kids were enjoying this so much I couldn't disappoint them.

"Kill you?" the younger son -- Shigeo, I remembered -- repeated.

"Yes. Even though they're fast, they weigh as much as a small boulder, and they can squash you flat like it was nothing."

"Sounds dangerous," Sayaka said, setting down plates of cold noodles with grilled eggplant slices. Chikuri stared open-mouthed, and the two sons looked impressed at the outsiders' courage.

"Oh, it is. But we get used to it, and it's worth it. In a car, you could cross all of Gensokyo in just a few hours," I said, taking a bite. Mmm, it was better than it looked.

I dazzled them with more descriptions of cars, telephones, and vending machines through the rest of dinner, right up until we were chasing the last few grains of brown rice in our bowls.

"Alright, let's get you off to bed." Sayaka patted her daughter on the shoulders.

"But I wanna hear more stories," she whined.

"Now, now. You're too old to pout like that."

Still frowning, she got up and followed her mother out of the kitchen.

"That was wild. Thanks for the stories," Gounosuke said as he cleaned up.

"Cars sound awesome," Shigeo said as he shadowed his older brother.

"Yeah," his brother called back.

Once everything was cleaned and set aside, Gon led me to a small guest room on the other side of the house.

"You've been so kind to me, please, let me repay you." I reached for my change pouch.

Gon waved a hand, dismissing the thought. "That's all right. The stories you gave us are payment enough."

"I insist, you've been too kind."

"I won't take a single yen. You get yourself a good night's sleep now, alright?"

Well, that was enough insisting. I managed to cut down on my travel expenses, so hooray for me.

As I rested my sore muscles in the guest room and took out my book, I wondered if this was too good to be true. I tried to remember any old ghost stories about a kindly family who takes in travellers.

Nope, couldn't think of anything. Maybe Gensokyo just has some polite folks.

Remembering that I should try and sense magic, I had two thoughts. The first was that I had left the charm sticking to my side this whole time. Where was it when I needed help with those fairies, huh? My second thought was that I could try and sense any evil spooky magic here to see if I was in danger.

I sat up and forced my legs into the cross-legged position. With my back straight, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I plucked the charm off of my side and held it in my hand, thinking about the tingle I got earlier. I rubbed my thumb over the letters. Whoa, yep, there was the hot-and-cold feeling again. Since I was expecting it, I could feel the sensation linger for a few seconds.

I set the charm on the floor but kept the feeling in my memory. I took a slow breath, trying to feel anything in the air around me.

Nothing again. The charm didn't do anything when I put it on the floor for all that that meant. It seemed that was all I'd be able to figure out for now. Blind luck and the kindness of strangers had got me this far, so maybe the gods were on my side.

With that happy idea in my head, I started my new nightly routine: Reading another chapter of the Almanac.

[ ] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
-- [ ] The Capital
-- [ ] Hamlets and Provinces
-- [ ] The Great River
-- [ ] The Outskirts

[ ] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
-- [ ] Economics
-- [ ] Government
-- [ ] Notable Persons
-- [ ] Our Shared View

[ ] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [ ] Administration and Government
-- [ ] Farming the Blessed Lands
-- [ ] Artisans and Crafters
-- [ ] Merchantry

[ ] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [ ] Organized Defenses Against Invasion
-- [ ] The Everyman's Duty for Protection
-- [ ] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection
-- [ ] Spellcard Duels

[ ] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [ ] The Tengu
-- [ ] The Kappa
-- [ ] Common Spirits
-- [ ] Trade With The Mountain
No. 183056
[x] Farming the Blessed Lands

Seems appropriate.
No. 183058
[x] Farming the Blessed Lands
No. 183060
[X] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [X] Farming the Blessed Lands
No. 183062
[X] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [X] Farming the Blessed Lands

Sayaka the Puella Magi?
No. 183063
[x] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [x] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection

Nice of the boss to leave us with a worthless seal on a trek through youkai country.
No. 183065
>>183052
Did you just seriously let a choice win, not due to one last person voting and breaking the tie, but due to a coin flip? Like literally random chance?
No. 183066
[x] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [x] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection

Also we need to learn about magic and stuff to gauge how effective the protection we may receive will be.
No. 183067
[x] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [x] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection
No. 183068
[x] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [x] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection

Probably ought to learn how to use the only means of defense we have.
No. 183070
>>183065
Well, he couldn't exactly wait around all night for somebody else to vote, so...
No. 183071
>>183065
There's absolutely nothing wrong with flipping a coin. I mean, the fact that there's a tie in the first place means opinion is divided about 50/50. Calling for one more vote can take a awhile, and if a writer's going for daily updates then they can't always afford that wait.
No. 183072
>>183070
Could have atleast ASKED for a tie-breaker vote before opting to flip a coin.
No. 183073
>>183072
This place moves at a snail's pace half the time, so it could be a long while between asking and actually getting a tie-breaker vote. Cut him a break.
No. 183074
[x] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [x] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection

Kill zem all. Take their hats. Sell for Refined Metal. Wear your favorite hat while killing more. Profit.
No. 183076
Closing votes! It's always important to use protection.

[x] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [x] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection
No. 183077
[x] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [x] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection

Right. Two days in and I was already encountering fairies and stuff. I needed to learn how to not-die.

Humanity has not sat back and accepted the propagation of youkai. Gensokyo was originally settled by the strongest and bravest of warriors, and though we might not look it, we all come from their hardy stock. Together, we have devised a number of means to protect ourselves in our day-to-day lives.

The first line of defense are the magical protections that apply to all humans of the village. They could be thought of as magical infrastructure, in a sense.

A contract written and enforced by the Scarlet estate prevents youkai from eating any natural-born Gensokyoan human. When asked how it works, Remilia Scarlet's explanation was only "It works by fate." Despite the Scarlet family's cryptic nature, the contract seems to have been a success, and there have been no confirmed eating of humans by feral youkai in the last decade. It is unknown if the contract applies to outsiders who choose to remain in Gensokyo.


Hang on, 'choose to'? Was there something I was missing? Something very important? I read on to try to find out more.

Nowadays, the Hakurei Shrine does not serve its historic role as a mediator and record-keeper. Those roles have been taken by authorities within the village, leaving the Hakurei lineage able to devote itself full-time to the extermination of youkai and protection of the village.

Though the Hakurei Shrine is the only large shrine to be found near the Human Village, smaller shrines to Inari, the Seven Lucky Gods, and other popular deities can be found elsewhere. Though small, they nonetheless contribute to our spiritual energy and keep the eyes of the gods upon us.

Sometimes, the eyes of the gods are not enough. This is where charms, seals, and talismans can help. Originally, their manufacture and distribution was handled solely by the Hakurei lineage, but others have been industrious and talented enough to make a living through making and selling charms, and such protections are now much easier for all to obtain. With no quality control, take care not to be tricked into buying any bogus products.


I may not know a lot about Gensokyo, but I was passably fluent in manager-speak, and it sounded to me like these were a lot of excuses for the Hakurei line getting lazy.

There are a wide variety of charms and seals for any variety of situation, ranging from common seals sold at inns and stores to massive charms to protect village chiefs and warriors.

I flipped through the list, which included drawings of all the various enchantments. After some searching, I found one that looked like mine.

Rotten Meat Seal: This common seal is worn on the body or on the clothes. The bearer will taste like rotten, poisoned meat if any youkai attempts to eat them. A common and easily-obtained means of defense, it can be found for a good price at many stores. If so inclined, you can make your own by taking a sheet of enchanted paper and burying it with a recently deceased corpse for a few weeks.

Oh. That explains the beat-up look. I was now much less eager to keep touching that seal.

I read more until my eyelids began to feel heavy. Now a little wiser, I crawled into bed just as the sun was going down and had a night of dreamless sleep.

I was snapped awake by a loud knocking at the door. It was still pitch black outside.

"Don't let the sun catch you in bed," Gon's voice called through the wall.

"Mormbling," I slurred.

By the time I forced myself out of bed and into the kitchen, I saw a breakfast much like what Shou had given me: plain rice, miso soup, and -- of course -- natto.

"Eat up, it's good for you," Gon said, pointing to the dish of snotty soybeans in front of me.

It was the quietest breakfast I'd ever had. Everyone seemed too focused on their own business. No wonder the family looked well off. They looked like the picturesque image of a hard-working rural family.

Feeling like the odd one out for obvious reasons, I finished my breakfast first. "I should be going. Thank you again for your kindness," I said, slipping my shoes on.

"Take care. Stay safe," Gon said with a smile.

My cart was exactly where I had left it, and a quick count showed that everything was in order. The produce had weathered the night well, still looking fresh as ever. With a grunt and a heave, I went back on my way. A full belly and a night's sleep did wonders for my pace. Off in the distance, I could see the tea-growing village I read about earlier stretching off across the hills to my left.

After some travel, I was close enough to see the occasional signpost and crossroads as I walked. Crude graffiti and doodles covered some of the signs. Probably fairies at work, since I saw what looked awfully close to a drawing of me with stink lines and a little speech bubble saying "ops, i farted". Another signpost had directions that had been crossed out and replaced with the wrong ones so many times that another signpost was nailed right next to it.

This way: Amaden ->
no, it's this way <-
Wrong again, this way ^


Dear fairies,
We are tired of your nonsense. We have very sharp eyes, and we are watching.
Sincerely, the White Wolf Tengu Guard.

P.S. Amaden is this way, two hours' travel. ->


The fairies had learned their lesson after that, and the other signposts were clear. I could just barely hear the sounds of activity off in the distance. The trees started to thin, though they weren't particularly thick to begin with, and I saw chopped-down stumps sticking out of the ground. A white-tailed deer was shuffling around the trees, sticking its nose against the ground.

I stopped and smiled. Most of the deer I saw before were roadkill, so it was nice to see one happily where it belonged. It paused as I watched it and looked right up at me with its round, glassy dark eyes.

"Hi there," I said with a wave.

Its head immediately snapped up straight, its mouth hanging open, showing teeth that were a lot sharper and more crooked than a deer's teeth should be. "Human meat!" it hissed.

You've got to be kidding me.

[ ] I'm an outsider, so I don't even believe in youkai!
[ ] Joke's on you, I'm enchanted!
[ ] Offer eggplants in exchange for my life!
No. 183078
[x] Joke's on you, I'm enchanted!

We can't just go giving away our cargo, can we?
No. 183079
[X] Joke's on you, I'm enchanted!
No. 183080
[x] Joke's on you, I'm enchanted!

Gotta get paid.
No. 183081
[x] Joke's on you, I'm enchanted!
No. 183082
[x] I'm an outsider, so I don't even believe in youkai!

Jumanji!
No. 183083
[x] I'm an outsider, so I don't even believe in youkai!
[x] Even if I did, the joke's on you, I'm enchanted!
No. 183084
[X] Joke's on you, I'm enchanted!
-[X]Plus, people will start wondering what happened to that cart full of goods if I don't reach my destination, get my drift?
No. 183090
[X] Joke's on you, I'm enchanted!
-[X]Plus, people will start wondering what happened to that cart full of goods if I don't reach my destination, get my drift?

Show off yer guns. *none* Well, then at least the charm. *sigh*
No. 183095
Closing votes. Our hero has something up his sleeve!

[X] Joke's on you, I'm enchanted!
No. 183096
Oh, I forgot to mention this earlier. Updates are postponed on account of Turkeyween, but after that things shall go as normal.
No. 183097
[x] Joke's on you, I'm behind 9000 enchantments.
Even if it is too late.
No. 183109
[X] Joke's on you, I'm enchanted!

The talking deer lumbered towards me, drooling and slobbering. I felt a moment of relief when I remembered my charm, but then I feared that the deer wouldn't know I tasted like rotten flesh until after he took a big bite out of me.

"Nice try, but you're out of luck. Take a look at this."

I raised my arm, showing the seal hidden under my armpit. The deer snorted and kept walking towards me, its head held low and mouth wide open.

"I'll taste like rotten meat. It'll be awful, and you'll probably throw up."

"Whatever," it said.

Okay, plan B. It was going to bite me somewhere, so where was the least-awful place to take it? I didn't want to lose a hand or a foot for sure. Definitely not the crotch. There was only one other option I could think of.

I turned around and presented my butt, closing my eyes and gritting my teeth. It'd be painful, but at least I’d leave with all my digits intact.

Just as I steeled myself for the incoming bite, there was a sudden gust of wind so strong it knocked me onto my stomach. There was a swoosh, then a chop, followed by a yelp. I rolled onto my back, blinking hard until I could see.

A white wolf tengu stood between me and the deer. His skin, loose shirt, and tangled hair were all a ghostly pale color, and his pants were sharp black with spots of flame-like crimson. He was holding a curved spear out in front of him, overlapping his shield. I had to admit, he looked really damn cool.

Once I took my eyes off of him, I saw the deer hunched over on its forelegs, with a deep bloody gash along his belly. A tangle of entrails hung out from it, pink and glistening, still pulsing despite being ripped half-open. The deer shook its head, and its guts moved back up into its body by themselves. The cut closed itself like a zipper with a nasty 'schlup' sound, leaving behind a thick scar that was immediately covered by a new coating of fur.

"Begone, beast!" The tengu banged his spear against his shield, making a loud clatter.

The deer shook its head again, then turned away. It didn't even bother running. Instead, it just meandered off as though it had lost interest, poking around in the grass again as it moved along.

"You're safe now, human," said the tengu.

He puffed up his chest and helped me up to my feet. His clothing was so loose it took me a second to realize he actually looked scrawny.

"Oh, jeez. Thank you." I shook his hand. His ears stood half-up as he gave me a confused look, but he still looked pleased with himself.

"Are you headed to Amaden?" he asked. I nodded. "I can offer to escort you. It's perfectly fine if you'd rather go by yourself, of course."

"After that, I'll take any help I can get," I said, grabbing my cart.

"Oh, don't worry. There was never any danger. A tengu's eyes could spot a dragonfly on a leaf from seven-hundred ri away! We take pride in keeping the land safe," the tengu said as we started walking.

"Then how did that youkai get so close to me?"

He jerked his head upwards and his ears laid flat, suddenly haughty. "Like I said, there was never any danger," he sputtered.

"No danger? Really?" I knew it might not be the best time to pick a fight, but this guy -- this tengu -- seemed like he needed to get taken down a peg.

"No human here would lose any sleep over a petty little feral youkai like that one. A tengu wouldn't even blink.” He waved at my clothes. “You're just acting like a baby because you're an outsider."

I bit my tongue. There was no use in arguing with someone as stuck-up as him. Soon as I got some money, I was buying new clothes so people stop calling me ‘outsider’.

The rest of the walk passed in an uncomfortable silence and lack of eye contact until I mercifully saw Amaden come into view.

The walls around the place were the biggest and yet the weakest-looking I'd seen so far. Each part looked like it was built by someone else: Upright raft-like logs of wood in one part, wooden stakes and concrete in the next, and sheets of prefabricated metal in another. As we got closer, I saw all sorts of odd things closing the gaps between segments. There were rusty old pipes serving as joints, nailed-up old road signs, and a hunk of plastic that definitely came from a refrigerator somewhere.

Another white wolf tengu floated down in front of us. He was bulkier than the first one, with floppy dog-like ears with just a bit of black hair around the edges. The small fez perched on top of his head seemed to defy gravity as he moved through the air, and the sword at his side clinked loudly in its sheathe.

"Well, looks like you brought him here safely, Soutarou," he said with an obvious edge.

My ‘hero’ bristled. "Yes, sir."

The larger tengu crossed his arms. "I got a good view of the whole thing from the watchtower."

Soutarou bristled harder. "Yes, I managed to protect him from--"

"Do trainees usually wait that long before interfering?"

Soutarou mumbled something too quiet to hear.

"What was that?" his superior said.

"No, sir."

"Were you, by any chance, asleep at your post?"

"No, sir."

"Were you not paying attention to the roads?"

"No, sir."

"Then why did you wait until the youkai was just a few meters away from him?"

Soutarou mumbled again.

"Speak up now!" his superior barked.

"I wanted to be the hero and look cool," Soutaru blurted out, then hung his head in shame.

"And you wonder why you have so many disciplinary infractions!" his superior bellowed. "You value your own ego more than the lessons of your superiors! Furthermore..."

A small crowd had already started gathering to watch Soutarou receive his drubbing-down. Just as the older tengu seemed to be running out of steam, he started back up again, now shouting about 'the konnyaku incident' that Soutarou started some time ago.

"Um… can I, um, go?" I whispered to him.

"Hm? Yeah, sure." He waved for me to go inside before turning back to his underling to continue with his tirade. "Do you even realize how..."

Inside Amaden, I realized it must have been the trading post that Keine mentioned back when I saw her. Though it was still mostly humans, I saw tengu milling about, including some with black wings. There were some others who I assumed were kappa based on their appearance, but I thought the almanac said most kappa scoot away as soon as humans are around. There was even a gaggle of fairies in line to buy candied cherries from a sweet old kappa(?) lady. Looking closer, one of the fairies was the strawberry-blonde one I hit with a pebble. She even had the goose egg on her forehead to prove it.

Speaking of buying things, I had business of my own. Bugging mythical species with my questions could wait until I'd sold as many perishables as I can. I fished through my pockets and dug out the list of documents that came with the job. A list of buyers and their locations was wedged next to the details of the order.

I had gotten up early enough that it was barely late morning now. Plenty of time to make a sale or two. Where would I head first?

[ ] The grocery store supplier
[ ] The restaurant supplier
[ ] The 'procurement specialist'
No. 183110
[x] The grocery store supplier

The restaurant likely has fixed prices for its menu, so it'll be harder to talk their price up. On the other hand, the grocery store can adjust prices freely. The procurement specialist sounds like they're a middleman, which means they need to turn a profit by selling to someone else who likely also needs to turn a profit, so they'll probably try to lowball us the hardest so they can do that.

[x] If you manage to sell everything, see if you can find that fairy again.

...This is mainly just an impulse. If we make friends with her, she might be less likely to prank us on deliveries; otherwise, we can try to threaten her into leaving us alone. Just approaching her again will show that we have the balls to fight back, at least.
But mainly I just want a fairy traveling companion, as unlikely as it is to ever work out.
No. 183111
[x] The 'procurement specialist'
[x] If you manage to sell everything, see if you can find that fairy again.

Iwao's got info and Outside World smarts. There's no reason he can't drive a hard bargain. Besides, the title 'procurement specialist' sounds shady, and we've only observed the surface of Gensokyan society thus far.

Also, fairy travel companion yes.
No. 183113
[x] The grocery store supplier
[x] If you manage to sell everything, see if you can find that fairy again.
No. 183114
[x] The 'procurement specialist'
[x] If you manage to sell everything, see if you can find that fairy again.
No. 183119
[x] The 'procurement specialist'
[x] If you manage to sell everything, see if you can find that fairy again.

A fairy's better than having no magic. It'll be like a companion in Skyrim.
No. 183122
[x] The 'procurement specialist'
[x] If you manage to sell everything, see if you can find that fairy again.
No. 183124
Closing votes. How much is that fairy in the window?

[x] The 'procurement specialist'
[x] If you manage to sell everything, see if you can find that fairy again.
No. 183132
[x] The 'procurement specialist'
[x] If you manage to sell everything, see if you can find that fairy again.

I took another glance at the trio of fairies. The strawberry-blonde one nursed the lump on her forehead as she nibbled at her candied cherries. I still felt kind of bad for that. I made a mental note to look for her after the business was done. Sure, it was a bad idea according to the almanac, but I was starting to doubt some of its info anyway.

Back to business, I picked up the handles and hauled the cart off down the street. It was easy enough to find some places that looked like merchant buildings, but none of them stood out. Most of them looked a little worn down, and there were lots of signs saying vague things like "licensed storefront" and "shipment services". I half-expected to see one that just said "a building".

The streets were wide enough that I had plenty of room to wander around with my cart. And wander I did for about twenty minutes, passing the same buildings several times but never getting quite brave enough to walk inside any of them. After a prolonged odd look from two old men squatting on the side of the street playing shogi, I swallowed my pride and asked them for directions.

"Pardon me, I don't mean to be a bother but do you know where Yagi's warehouse is?" 'Yagi' was the name listed for the 'procurement specialist', but it didn't say much besides that. From the sound of it, I guessed it would be the easiest place to unload lots of stuff at once. Some call it lazy, I call it efficient.

The two old men chuckled, privy to some shared joke. "That-a-way,” one of them said, waving off behind me. “The one with the green decals in front, says 'deals in all goods'."

I gave a slight bow. "Thank you."

“No problem. Have fun now.” One of them muttered something I couldn’t catch, and then they both started snickering. Whatever, I was used to snickers at my odd appearance.

I circled back about a block-and-a-half, remembering a building matching the old man’s description that caught my eye. It didn’t take too long to find since it was easily the most colorful façade on the otherwise dingy row of buildings.

It didn't look entirely legitimate, but neither did anything else here. I had that sinking feeling of having caught onto something too late, which I had been having a lot lately. It reminded me of when I was just a few months out of high school and I nearly got suckered into a sales company that rhymed with "Zamway".

I shook my head. No, I was getting ahead of myself. There wasn’t any use worrying about things that hadn't happened yet. Still, I parked my cart in the dead-end alley next to it just in case before heading inside.

The inside room -- I wondered what they called it. Waiting room? Front desk? -- looked normal enough, with a few chairs and a dour-looking man hunched over some papers at his desk. It did, however, feature a woman who looked to be in her late teens sitting on the desk next to him, swinging her feet. She was so scrawny she left plenty of space for the man's clerical work. Her brightly-colored kimono didn't take up much room either, stopping dangerously close to her thighs. Her dark brown, curly hair was tied up in ponytails on either side of her head, bouncing slightly with each swing of her feet. She looked young enough to be the man's daughter, but I wasn't making assumptions.

I knocked on the doorframe. “Excuse me,” I called out. "Um, are you open for business?"

"Yeah," the man grunted. The girl waved at me.

"Are you Yagi? I'm Iwao Oose. I'm here to sell some stuff." I let myself in and handed him the duplicate copy of my shipment.

"Yeah, one sec." He looked it over. "Need to check with the boss about it."

He took the form and left through the door behind him, and I had a feeling I wouldn't be seeing that copy again. My eyes drifted back towards the girl on the desk during the silence.

"Hi," she squeaked.

"Um, hello. Do you work here?" I asked.

"You could say that," she said with a secretive smile. "How's the business going?"

"Alright, I guess. Maybe I shouldn't be admitting this but I'm new to a lot of this."

"Don't worry, just do what comes naturally." Her eyes looked sleepy and heavy, in contrast to her energetic grin.

I wasn't sure how to interpret that, so I settled for an awkward "thanks."

"What're you going to do with your down-time?" Her foot-swinging slowed down.

"Not sure. I was thinking I'd leave as soon as possible, to be honest."

She leaned in. Her kimono loosened, forming a deep V on her collar and down her chest. I got the feeling that it wasn't an accident, and I was torn between excitement and wanting to abort. "Aw, c'mon. Every sale deserves a celebration."

I scratched my neck. "What did you have in mind?"

"Hitsuji, the boss wants to see you." Yagi came back out from behind the door, saving me from the increasingly awkward conversation.

"Alright." The girl hopped down from the desk and tottered through the door.

"You didn't get any ideas, did you?" the man said once Hitsuji had left.

"Hm? No, I mean, no."

"The boss has taken a liking to her, so you'll have to wait your turn." He gave me a difficult-to-place look.

My face felt really hot. "O-Oh, is she..."

"You didn't know?" he blurted out, chuckling.

"N-No." It was obvious when I thought about it, but I was hoping she had instantly fallen for my manly charm.

"Anyway, with regards to the order." He produced a stack of bills and placed them on the table. "Four thousand yen for the whole deal."

All the walking had given me plenty of time to think, and I had already tallied up the total market value of all the stuff in the cart. Doing long division with no paper can really keep the mind occupied. The number he had given me was solid, but it was short of what I was aiming for.

I cleared my throat, quickly calming down. "Er, yes, it's a good starting price, but..."

I let the statement hang, waiting for him to respond.

"Take it or leave it," he said.

The air in the room suddenly felt cold. Yagi’s eyes were locked on me, his brow slightly furrowed. His stare was hard enough to make my stomach clench.

On the one hand, these guys looked shady and had a prostitute hanging out in the main room. On the other hand, four thousand wasn't bad for buying everything at once. If I was going to leave, I'd have to start all over again, and those cucumbers weren't getting any fresher. I could try haggling again. Maybe he wanted me to play tough, or maybe he was hoping I'd be wimpy and let him keep his cred.

[ ] Take it.
[ ] Leave it.
[ ] Try haggling again -- talk big.
[ ] Try haggling again -- talk small.
No. 183133
[x] Try haggling again -- talk small.

This is our first time dealing with them. Trying to push too hard might result in him shooting us down and make 4000 yen the final offer. On the other hand, if we end up doing this often, it would be good to have an idea for how he responds to haggling. Remember that, like I said, they probably make most of their money from reselling to other merchants as sort of a wholesale setup, which means that they need to be more shrewd about their bottom lines than a direct merchant would, since he'll be pressured on both ends.
No. 183134
[X] Try haggling again -- talk big.
No. 183135
[x] Try haggling again -- talk small.
No. 183137
[x] Try haggling again -- talk small.
No. 183138
[x] Try haggling again -- talk small.
No. 183139
[x] Leave it.

Taking our ball and going home.
No. 183148
[X] Try haggling again -- talk small.

At least you aren't selling hats in some trade_plaza.
No. 183157
Closing votes. Let's give it one more shot.

[x] Try haggling again -- talk small.
No. 183173
[x] Try haggling again -- talk small.

I didn't have much experience in haggling. It's not like you can argue over the price of chips at a 7-11. I had a scant few seconds to think of anything before the window closed, and I couldn't think of many options. Playing hardball was out of the question. I couldn't stand up to that hard stare Yagi had. It reminded me of a high school bully, and I was familiar with bullies.

"Look, if you're not happy with it, you can always..." Yagi mumbled, his patience wearing thin.

I cleared my throat. Then, I cleared it again, dragging it out to give myself a few extra seconds of time. You can't go through a bully, so you have to go around them.

I took a deep breath and prepared to swallow my pride. "Actually," I said in the softest tone I could muster, "I have to wonder how good that price might be. For both of us, I mean." I channeled my native Kyoto pride. I had no idea if the stereotypes were still alive in Gensokyo, but everyone back in the Outside World thought we were effete and soft-spoken, but I knew better. We were once Heian-kyo, capital of Japan -- surely strong enough to get through a simple trade.

Yagi's brow wrinkled for a moment, though it was hard to say if it was because I was putting the accent on too thick or if he wasn't about to discuss the price any further.

"I'm not sure I follow," he said, scratching his cheek.

"Well, these goods came through youkai territory to get here. I don't mean to overcharge, but a good impression now means more business with other villages later." I put on my most friendly smile for the extra push.

"Might we not go, say, around 4700?" It was a hair over the expected value, giving me a little room to go low.

Yagi cracked a thin smile, then fanned out five hundred-yen bills. "Alright. Boss says I'm not supposed to do this, but I can give a little extra, just because I like that accent of yours."

Success. Haggling over the rest of the difference would just be petty, so I nodded to show I was taking his offer.

"And hey," he said, folding the bills back up and adding them to the stack. "Hitsuji was givin' you the eye earlier. She'll be in-house tomorrow."

My mouth had already formed a "Really?" before I caught myself. Nice try, but I'm keeping this profit for myself.

"That's, uh, thanks for letting me know."

"Sure." Yagi grinned. "Did you put the wagon in the alley?"

I nodded.

"Good, that's where it's supposed to go." He pushed the money towards me.

"Thank you for your business."

"Thank you too," he said, his face back to its stony expression.

I took the stack of bills and flipped through it, doing a quick count to make sure it matched. I stuffed it into an empty pocket in my toolbelt and stood up.

Pockets were handy. I briefly imagined myself gathering a fortune and stuffing all my pockets with charms and magical weapons, becoming a Gensokyoan Batman.

Yagi's attention went back to his papers, so I stood up and let myself out. I was almost at the door when I doubled back and turned around.

"Sorry to ask, but am I supposed to take the cart after you're done?"

Yagi looked up. "Hm? Oh, nah. Everyone here moves enough that we don't care too much about whose cart is whose."

I left through the door and felt something small hit me on the head. I looked up, but there wasn't anything obvious overhead. I ran my fingers through my hair, looking for something, when another little bead hit me in the back of the head.

I turned around and saw nothing. Nothing except for the two old men playing shogi on the sidewalk and cackling to themselves as I flailed around.

A third something hit me right above the forehead. It bounced off of my head and landed in front of me. It was a cherry pit.

I looked up. The strawberry-blonde fairy was hiding on a rooftop, lying on her belly with her head peeking out over the roof like a sniper. "Hey, hey!" I called to her.

She stuck her tongue out and blew a raspberry.

"I wanted to apologize," I called up.

She gave me an odd look. Cautiously, she stood up and slowly floated down, her wings fluttering rapidly like a fly's.

"I didn't mean to hit you in the head like that," I said, gesturing to the lump on her forehead that was already half-healed.

She raised a suspicious eyebrow. "Really?"

"Yeah."

"What are you getting at?" Her arms shifted behind her back.

"I feel bad for hitting you. Really."

"Oh." Her face fell.

"What's wrong?"

"Well, now I'll feel bad for doing this."

She spat the last cherry right on my cheek. The two old men fell over from laughing.

"Hey! That could've hit my eye!" I wiped my face.

"Wait! Before you hit me, I had something else," she said.

"If it's another cherry pit, I swear--"

"It's not," she -- I decided to nickname her 'Fuku', since her pink-blonde hair made me think of strawberry daifuku -- took her hand out from behind her back and showed three hen's eggs. "I was going to hit you with these, but since you apologized so nicely, how about we have them for lunch?"

She gave me a smile that was far too adorable to refuse, and her wings buzzed behind her back.

"I suppose, if you promise me you won't hit me with them," I said.

"Promise."

She led me through the streets, going so fast it was difficult to keep up. We ran outside the village walls, getting confused looks from the tengu guards, to a little nearby valley.

There was a small pile of rubbish inside the valley, a collection of beat-up pans and dull tools that Fuku had scavenged. She scampered around, picking up twigs and sticks as I watched.

"Do you like boiled eggs?" she said as she stacked the wood into a small pile.

"Yeah," I said. I had bought my share of eggs when I first lived alone.

She bopped the sticks with her fist and they burst into a healthy campfire. Right, I noted to myself, fairies were stronger than I thought. She took a grill with several holes in it and a dented canteen and propped them both up over the fire, singing to herself about eggs.

After everything was set, it only took a minute for her to harrumph in boredom after staring at the fire. She set her eyes on me, then grabbed at my tool belt.

"Ooh, what's this?" She grabbed the almanac sticking out of the large side-pocket and flipped through the pages.

"Hey, careful with that. I have to return it."

She shoved the book at my chest, already done with it, and grabbed a pair of pliers sitting in another pocket.

"Heehee, it's like a duck bill." She squeezed them, making quack-quack sounds.

Her new toy kept her busy and too distracted to pay any attention to me. I'd just have to wait until lunch to talk to her and get my pliers back. Without much chance for a conversation, I decided to take a few minutes and get some reading in while I waited for the water to boil.


[ ] Chapter 1: Gensokyo From Above
-- [ ] The Capital
-- [ ] Hamlets and Provinces
-- [ ] The Great River
-- [ ] The Outskirts

[ ] Chapter 2: Gensokyo From The Ground
[s]-- [ ] Economics

-- [ ] Government
-- [ ] Notable Persons
-- [ ] Our Shared View

[ ] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [ ] Administration and Government
-- [ ] Farming the Blessed Lands
-- [ ] Artisans and Crafters
-- [ ] Merchantry

[ ] Chapter 4: Defense Against Youkai
-- [ ] Organized Defenses Against Invasion
-- [ ] The Everyman's Duty for Protection
-- [ ] Shrines, Seals, and Magical Protection
-- [ ] Spellcard Duels

[ ] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [ ] The Tengu
-- [ ] The Kappa
-- [ ] Common Spirits
-- [ ] Trade With The Mountain
No. 183174
[x] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [x] Artisans and Crafters
Ye Olden Oriental Boiler Repairman
No. 183175
A note that it may be pertinent to take the money out of the tool belt now before the fairy finds it after you've been reading, since she's already going through it looking for neat things.
No. 183179
[x] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
[x] Merchantry

We might want to read about the job we're actually doing.
No. 183181
[X] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [X] Merchantry
[X] Hide the money while she isn't looking.
No. 183182
[X] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [X] Merchantry
[X] Hide the money while she isn't looking.
No. 183186
[X] Chapter 3: The Four Occupations
-- [X] Merchantry
[X] Hide the money while she isn't looking.
No. 183188
[x] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [x] The Tengu
[X] Hide the money while she isn't looking.

Tengu, tho
No. 183195
[x] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [x] The Tengu
[X] Hide the money while she isn't looking.

This trading post is lousy with Tengu. Better learn more about them.
No. 183196
[x] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [x] The Tengu
No. 183197
[x] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [x] The Tengu
[X] Hide the money while she isn't looking.

Since we're in a place thick with tengu, we'd best learn how they tick.
No. 183201
[x] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [x] The Tengu
[X] Hide the money while she isn't looking.

Perhaps we'll have an army of companions soon?
No. 183203
[X] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [X] The Tengu
[X] Hide the money while she isn't looking.

Companions would be nice, indeed.
No. 183204
Closing votes! You guys are bringing your A-game to this tread.

[x] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [x] The Tengu
[X] Hide the money while she isn't looking.
No. 183214
[x] Chapter 5: A New Era: Cooperation with Youkai
-- [x] The Tengu
[X] Hide the money while she isn't looking.

Fuku floated away, still playing with the pliers.

"If you don't bring those back, I'm going to eat all your eggs," I called after her.

"Don't worry so much, gosh." She stopped to roll her eyes at me before promptly leaving.

With her out of view, I took a moment to hide my money. The stack of bills was thin enough that I could fit it in my shoe. My new boss might not be happy about it, but smelly money was still money.

I kicked back, leaning on a tree nearby to relax while I waited for lunch. The toasty smell of a small summer campfire made me smile. I loved camping with my grandpa while he was still with us. He was an old, old, old-school guy, and he loved the wilderness. He used to take me to the local campground and hunt for wild leeks and greens and cook rice over a fire.

I considered trying some foraging of my own but decided to take advantage of the quiet and read up on these tengu I've been running into.

The Tengu

'Tengu' refers to several varieties of youkai: crow tengu, human-like creatures with large black wings; white wolf tengu, creatures with snow-white ears and tails*, and 'daitengu', the powerful administrators who can only be found in their large, secretive society on the upper levels of the Youkai Mountain. Unlike the crow and white wolf tengu, daitengu are never seen by human eyes. In fact, they are rarely seen by other tengu. Thus, we will only focus on the two most well-known to humans.

The white wolf tengu function as the police and military for tengu society, most commonly spotted at small posts and villages situated near the base of the mountain. Should you ever try to continue up the mountain, they will most assuredly be there to drive you off. As protecting the mountain is their birthright, all wolf tengu spend several decades under military education. The last decade of this is when they are separated for their families and prepared to enter the guard. During this time, those from the lower-classes are said to be undergo very harsh training, living in what is essentially enforced poverty in cramped barracks. In stark contrast, those from more esteemed families attend an academy where they are brought up on a curriculum of philosophy and military strategy. The exact distinction between these two groups is unclear to us as humans, but it seems as though distinctions of clans run strong amongst the wolf tengu.

Crow tengu, with their large black wings and great speed, traditionally function as spies and scouts. As the most numerous of the tengu, though, they also fill out numerous civilian roles as (amongst others) journalists, writers, and printers. Tengu society is fond of news, and a great number of newspapers and magazines have wide circulation in the Youkai Mountain, a scant few even reaching as far as the Human Village. On the whole, they are more outgoing than their wolf brethren, always fond of good company and good banter. The average crow tengu absolutely adores gossip, and if you are rude to any one of them, you may find yourself the subject of nasty rumors instead of a jailing or beating.

As a group, the tengu are perhaps the most approachable and friendly of the youkai family, but they are by no means polite. They tend to be boastful, and look down upon humans for their short lifespan and dulled senses. Luckily, they will not attack unless provoked, considering it unsportsmanlike to fight an inferior. In fact, being around tengu is a good guarantee of safety. The white wolf tengu especially would consider it a great stain upon their honor if even a lowly human were to be harmed within their sight.

Keep out of trouble as much as possible around tengu. Their bureaucracy is something feared by the even the tengu themselves, a labyrinth of departments with their own arcane regulations, rumored to employ tens of thousands of clerks. If apprehended on the mountain, days can easily pass as you try to obtain permission to leave, though your treatment in captivity may not be entirely terrible. Additionally, exercise careful judgment in dealing with the wolf tengu. They are a prideful bunch, with many ways of being slighted. The biggest insult to them is to be compared to a domesticated dog, as some humans and crow tengu are prone to do amongst themselves. For the sake of one's health, it is something that should absolutely be avoided. No god of any sort will be able to help the fool who insults a wolf tengu this way.

*The earlier warning about not touching a youkai's ears or tail without permission applies doubly to wolf tengu. Their ears are extremely sensitive, a fact which they attribute to their highly-attuned hearing. Touching a wolf tengu's ears without permission would be taken as an act of violence.


B-But I wanna touch 'em!

A sudden shriek off in the distance made me almost drop my book. Birds cawed and flew off. A few seconds later, Fuku came barrelling back towards me, a little blonde blur of motion. She screeched to a halt in mid-air in front of me, pliers in hand.

"These things pinch people reeeeal good," she cackled.

“Alright, now give those ba-- ow!" She gave me a pinch on my arm as I tried to snatch them from her.

"Gotcha!" A white wolf tengu ran towards us so quickly it was as though he had just teleported over. He grabbed Fuku by the collar and lifted her up.

"Pinch my butt, will you, you little...!" he growled.

"Take it easy, man." Another white wolf tengu appeared right after, laughing to himself. "Getting mad over a fairy."

"I'm innocent! I'm a pliers fairy, that's why I have these!" Fuku pleaded, waving her limbs.

"Pliers fairy, my ass," the angry tengu growled again.

"Nankotsu, stop. You're just embarrassing yourself now," his friend said, a little concern mixed into his laughter now.

Nankotsu paused, then grunted and tossed the fairy with one hand. Fuku went flying into the air, doing cartwheels for several seconds until she caught her balance. She floated back down in a dizzy corkscrew, trying not to fall.

The calmer tengu smacked his lips. "Shit. You need some lunch, or something. That ain't healthy."

"Ugh, whatever." Nankotsu rubbed his forehead and sighed. The two of them walked off.

Fuku wobbled in place, still dizzy. Her eyes lit up when she saw the campfire, all her worry vanishing. "The eggs are boiling!"

"Oh, yeah." I put my book away. I was already learning how to be a bystander to weird things here.

Nobody ever thought mild-mannered Iwao would spring into action. Little did they know his toolbelt would one day be modified with dozens of magic charms, throwing knives, and smoke bombs.

As soon as I could afford any of those, anyway.

Fuku plucked the eggs out of the canteen and onto a cracked clay plate. With her tiny size and broken-down equipment, she looked like a scruffy Dickensian orphan. She started gobbling down her eggs. As we ate, she didn't say much. The thought occurred that the fairy lifestyle doesn't leave many opportunities for small talk. While she was distracted, I took the opportunity to sneak the pliers back from her.

She finished well before me, and took out a strip of cloth while I was taking my last bite.

"I need to blindfold you when I take you out."

"What? Why?" I said through a mouthful of yolk.

"Because this place is a secret."

"But--"

"Seeeeecret!" She lunged towards me and tied the cloth around my face.

As soon as it was tied, she grabbed my wrist and tugged for me to walk forward. "You're going to lead me deeper into the forest, aren't you?" I groaned.

"N-no," she said. She turned around and led me in the opposite direction.

After a few minutes of walking, I could hear the sound of civilization again. As soon as we started getting close to the hustle and bustle, I heard a very concerned female voice saying "Sir?"

"Er, gotta go!" Fuku said and flew away.

I lifted the blindfold up to see a wolf tengu staring at me through a pair of thick horn-rimmed glasses. She had a vest on over her white shirt with a thick red stripe across it, and her tokin hat had the characters "Police Force" printed on it.

"That fairy…" she started to say. Her ears fell flat for a second as she tried to decide which question she wanted to ask first, but she quickly gave up and left it at that.

I shrugged. "She didn't want her secrets revealed."

She opened her mouth as if she was going to say something else, but settled for a simple "Keep your nose clean, alright?" and nodded before walking back to her post.

It looked like late afternoon. Heading out now wouldn't mean much progress before I had to stop. With my money still hidden safely under my sock, perhaps I could do a little window shopping, then spend the night here.

[ ] Look for clothes.
[ ] Look for charms and magic things.
[ ] Look for kappa gadgets.
[ ] Look for a tea house. Bad Iwao!
No. 183217
[x] Look for kappa gadgets.
Desperately want our boiler skills to be relevant.
No. 183218
[x] Look for kappa gadgets.

As for Fuku, I consider this mission accomplished, at least for now.
No. 183219
[x] Look for a tea house.
[x] And then look for clothes.

Naughty Iwao
No. 183222
[X] Look for kappa gadgets.
No. 183223
[x] Look for kappa gadgets.

Eh, screw new clothes. Keep our old ones.
No. 183231
[x] Look for a tea house.
[x] And then look for clothes.

You're a very bad Iwao, yes. Spending that money on... tea?
No. 183235
[x] Look for kappa gadgets.
No. 183239
Closing votes. Go go gadget:

[x] Look for kappa gadgets.
No. 183244
[x] Look for kappa gadgets.

The main market streets were so jam-packed that I had to shove my way through crowds of youkai and human faces to get in. The biggest part of the action was lines of makeshift stores, efficient little stands propped up under tarps, pushing an odd mix of plain and extraordinary items. Shirts and brooms were stacked next to protective talismans, cure-all nostrums, and self-playing shamisen. Though there were signs indicating prices on things, it looked like most people in here were haggling.

Nothing seemed like a particularly great purchase, so I strolled past the main clump of human and tengu stalls. As I got further along, loud music and lights shining bright enough to make me squint caught my attention. I nudged my way toward all the activity and found myself standing in front of a ring of stalls manned by kappa.

They were big, sleek monsters compared to the chintzy wooden things everybody else had set up. There were even flashy banners hanging up declaring that ‘You get more than you pay for with so-and-so!’ Several squat, slightly pudgy kappa were out front giving demonstrations of their technological time-saving devices.

"Self-cleaning, self-ejecting shoes!" A kappa with green hair and half-moon glasses shouted, standing in front of a single tatami. "When you walk inside, they wipe away any bad smells and take themselves off of your feet!" She stepped up onto the tatami. As she walked, the shoes shot off of her feet with a puff of steam, landing squarely on the mat. The crowd oohed appreciatively.

"And for those who subscribe to our monthly Kappa Biofuel Electricity Service, we have a new device for the home. This automatic rice washer and cooker!"

Another kappa with short black hair pulled out a large bowl, a mixture of glass, plastic and metal with several tiny arms inside it. A cord stuck out from the back, connected to some hidden energy source. She poured rice in one tube on the bowl and water in another. The tiny hands came alive and massaged the rice, turning the water white and starchy.

Come on, even I'm not so lazy I need something else to wash my rice for me. I looked over the other things available as the kappa continued hollering and hawking. There was a small device with a screen and buttons.

"Is… Is that a cell phone?" I asked.

"It's a KappaTech Long-Distance Communicator," the saleswoman announced. "With it you can call your friends, family, and even your ancestors. So long as they're part of our nominal monthly subscription..."

The rest of the sales spiel turned into a mishmash of sounds through the background music. I obviously couldn't call back home with this. I was never big into cell phones anyway. I checked out some more of the fantasy-land equivalent of Yodobashi. The kappa's constant near-shrieking started to wear on my nerves and give me a headache. I had just about ready to force my way back out when something caught my eye.

"Interested in a little self-defence, eh?" A boyish kappa with a round face but a distinctly middle-aged haircut homed in on me. "You can't go wrong with a Net Launcher. They're even legal, to the best of my knowledge." The kappa picked up the device I was eyeing. It looked like a cartoon ray gun, small enough to comfortably fit in a hand, with a tightly-packed mesh net inside it. "Just aim, fire, and-- Oh, there's a fairy."

"I found you!" Fuku hollered.

Oh, dear. It looked like making friends with a fairy brought its own set of troubles.

"These devices cost more than your life, hands off!" the kappa yelled, raised the gun, and fired. The net tumbled out with a sad little 'foomf' and landed on the ground in front of her, still tangled up like a ball of yarn.

She clicked her tongue, her lip curling in annoyance. "The Anti-Youkai Net-Gun has a backup feature, thankfully," she said. Raising her arm, she chucked the gun at the fairy.

"Bwah!" Fuku dodged the toss and flew down to me, grabbing onto my shoulders. "We're under attack! Retreat!”

I raised a foot, not sure where I was going or even why I needed to flee. She was just strong enough that when I stepped forward she lifted me half an inch or so off of the ground, then dipped down from the weight. We retreated in that hobbled zig-zag pattern through the masses, elbowing through without a word. I wasn’t even sure if that saleswoman was still following, but I wasn’t going to stop and find out.

After a couple of minutes of running and shoving, I was already winded. We managed to make it out of the market street and back into the row of merchant offices. Once we were half-way down, I stopped to huff and pant for a moment.

"Oh, that's right." Fuku stopped, still holding my shoulders. "There was something I had to tell you."

"What?" I said, feeling all the passers-by staring at us.

I heard familiar dry snickering and looked around. Oh, boy. Those two old men were still playing shogi on the sidewalk.

"Well? What is it?"

Fuku lowered her arms and stared into space. "I forgot."

Yeah, yuck it up, old man. Maybe you'll get an aneurysm if you laugh hard enough.

"Alright, if you remember it later, come back and tell me." I reached behind me and tried to push her off of me, but she grabbed harder onto my back.

"No," she said.

"Why not?" I pleaded. The two old men weren't the only ones laughing now.

She latched her legs onto my waist like a backpack. "Because."

I wasn't willing to chuck the fairy onto the ground, and even if I was it probably wouldn't be smart to make an enemy. I had to get away from the prying eyes of the streets, but where to go?

[ ] Head for the closest inn.
[ ] Head outside the village, then find the closest rest stop.
[ ] Any other travel options?
No. 183250
[x] Head for the closest inn.

Taking a girl to a hotel on the first date? How bold!

Let's leave in the morning so we can make as much distance back before nightfall as we can.
No. 183251
[X] Head for the closest inn.
No. 183252
[x] Head for the closest inn.
No. 183260
[x] Any other travel options?

Mystery option!
No. 183261
[X] Head for the closest inn.

Boldness has its perks.
No. 183269
Closing votes.


[ ] Head for the closest inn.
No. 183276
[x] Head for the closest inn.

An inn, I thought to myself as I half-crashed, half-pushed my way through the crowd. Inns mean privacy. Inns mean discretion. Inns mean being able to talk things out.

I managed to break out of the crowd and duck into a narrow alleyway, following it down until I wound up somewhere I hadn't seen. The place wasn't very busy, and I quickly found out why: gambling rooms, bars, 'tea houses' and other unsavory businesses competed for attention on empty streets with that unsettling saccharine glow of red-light districts during the daytime.

"Ooh, seedy," Fuku whispered.

A small group of white wolf tengu police were already gathered, smoking and reading magazines, waiting for the inevitable fistfights and drug deals. It was nice to know there was some security here. None of them seemed surprised to see a fairy latched onto a human wandering through the streets. I wasn't sure if that should reassure me or make me feel worse.

Wedged in between a hanafuda place and a sake stand was an inn that looked clean enough to stand out. I rushed inside, eager to get away from the prying eyes of the public.

I was greeted with a fresh set of stares from a mixed crowd of tengu, humans, and kappa eating and lounging around the dining-room-slash-entrance. Quite a few of them were couples, slightly dumpy men with dolled-up women.

Oh, fuck me. Did I just wander into a 19th-century love hotel?

The guy at the desk, an older crow tengu with patchy hair and prominent jowls, smiled at us. It was a little too wide, and I wondered if he was forcing it, but then I saw his eyes flicker over to Fuku's head on my shoulder.

"Ah, youth," he said, as if thinking out-loud.

I pulled closer to the desk, trying to hide my face any way I could. "A room for one-and-a-half, please," I muttered under my breath.

"Oh, starting this early?" The twinkle in his eye was making my skin crawl.

Fuku shifted on my back. I turned my head and saw her making a fist and sticking her thumb between her fingers.

"No! I'm not—we're not… I just need to settle an issue with her."

"Sure you do."

Fuku made a ring with her hand and stuck a finger through it. The old crow’s grin widened uncomfortably. Dammit, I'm not some sort of fairyphile.

"Don't worry, don't worry. What happens at the post stays at the post." His bushy eyebrows waggled like caterpillars as he fished out a key. "That'll be 75 yen for the room."

"Yeah, yeah." I handed him a bill and nearly clawed the change and key out of his open hand. Maybe tossing Fuku off of me wasn't such a bad idea.

I hurried up to the room, away from all the curious diners, and wrenched her off of me. She burst into peals of laughter.

"You should've seen your face!" she said, hunching over and slapping her knees as she guffawed. "You were blushing so hard you almost turned purple."

"I'm glad you had fun."

"I did. Do you want to have fun too?" She raised an eyebrow.

"No! I don't even know you. And I'm not into fairies." She didn't exactly look like a child, more like a slender adult taken and shrunk to half her size, but she was still small enough that the physical issues... Stop it, Iwao. Don’t even think about going down that road!

She jumped back and flopped onto the bed. "You are way too easy to tease."

"Look, it's not like I'm gonna boot you out. I don't exactly have a house to boot you out of. But could you kinda keep your distance from me until other people stop looking at me like some kind of weirdo outcast?"

"Why don't you try fitting in?"

I thought it was a snarky remark from her, but she looked genuinely curious as she sat up on the edge of the bed.

"Because I want to get home, back to the Outside World," I said.

Fuku rolled her eyes. "Then why do you care what people here think? You should be throwing pies in people's faces and stuff."

"What? That's crazy. You're crazy."

"That's my job." She grinned. Somehow I’d missed noticing the gap between her front teeth.

"Besides, if I'm going to get back home, that'll probably take a favor from some powerful people, and if I start pissing them off they won't help me." I rubbed my neck and sighed, tilting my head back and looking up at the ceiling. "Though, to be honest... Something about this place has got my interest. I never totally felt like I belonged in the Outside World.”

I scoffed at my own words. “Look at me, I'm calling it the 'Outside World' after being here two days. Maybe if I got my parents' blessing... Argh, I'm talking nonsense again. Yeah, that'd go over great. 'Mom, Dad, I'm going to live in some crazy historical-re-enactment-land where deer try to eat m—‘”

I stopped myself. Fuku wasn’t saying much anymore.

“I’m just rambling, aren’t I?" I looked down.

Fuku had fallen fast asleep on the bed. I was upset for a split-second, but she was too adorable to stay angry at. Even if she slept like a drunk, with her mouth wide open and her arms splayed like she passed out.

She was sleeping in the only bed in the room, though. I could almost hear the old man cackling "Only bed you'll need, hyeh hyeh!" Thankfully, she didn't even stir when I picked her up. She was really light, ten kilos at most, I'd guess.

Carefully, I laid her on the floor. She curled up and lazily flapped her wings, like a puppy waving its feet while it slept.

I took the sheet off of the bed and draped it over her. I was fully aware that my kind, gullible habits would get me in trouble someday, if they hadn't already, but I didn't care. It was summer, and I could sleep without sheets tonight.

The sun was just beginning to go down. All the run-ins and strange creatures had kept me on full alert the whole day, but now that there was just the sound of cicadas and muffled talking from other rooms, my lack of sleep caught up to me and I passed out in the bed.

Oh baby, that was a good sleep. I smacked my lips and tasted the film of too much sleep and not enough showering. It reminded me of when I first became old enough to drink. That was a crazy year.

Fuku was nowhere to be seen. I straightened out my clothes, checked for all the important things -- tools still in the belt, money still in the shoes -- and headed for the main hall. My empty stomach led me right towards the smell of food. All I'd eaten yesterday was a single egg and breakfast with what's-his-name, Gon. No wonder I was hungry.

The old crow tengu was ready with his creepy smile when I came back out into the front. "Have a good night?"

"Yes. I slept," I said and plunked the key down on the table.

"I bet you did." His grin widened. "Take a seat, and we'll have you some breakfast in no time."

A pair of crow tengu women glanced over at me from another table. "Hey, outsider, you're pretty cute,” one of them said. “Oh, wait, sorry. I forgot you were taken." Her friend covered her mouth to hide her giggles.

I tried not to give them the enjoyment of watching me squirm, but I felt my face turn red. A crow tengu came out from the kitchen and brought me--

Really?

More goddamn natto. If this kept up I might actually get used to the taste and stop hating it, and then I'd have one less thing to complain about. I was on the third bite when someone came bursting into the inn. I almost choked on my food when I saw who it was.

Kasen strode right in front of me, giving me a very hard frown. Fuku was dangling from one hand, a newspaper from the other.

"I leave you alone for one day--" she slapped the paper down in front of me, "--and this is what you get up to?"

“Hi," Fuku added with a cheerful wave.

Feeling my guts twisting already, I looked down at the paper. Oh, dear.

Oh, dear.

On the front page was a black-and-white picture of me, blindfolded, with Fuku leading me by the wrist. The headline screamed "HUMAN TAKEN CAPTIVE BY FAIRY! DOMESTICATION, ENSLAVEMENT, OR WORSE?"

I looked away, wincing in actual pain from the embarrassment. Then, slowly, like watching a train crash, I turned back to the paper.

This outsider, believed to be named Iwao, arrived in Gensokyo just a few days ago, but he has already found himself in a most peculiar position. He was spotted being led through the Amaden trading post by the unidentified fairy pictured here. It is unclear what circumstances surround this sordid event. However, interviews in the streets offer some theories:

"Maybe he got tricked into some kind of contract?" -- Tengu patrolwoman

"Yeah, I saw it. That fairy played him like a fiddle." -- Shogi aficionado

"I'm ninety-nine percent sure he had an erection at the time." -- Kappa storefront manager


"I did not. Have. An erection," I hissed, letting out miniature sighs with each word.

"That's not important.” Kasen shoved Fuku at me. She seemed all too happy to be used like a piece of incriminating evidence. “What's important is, why did you let her drag you around blindfolded?"

"She had a secret hideout."

"Seeeeeecret," Fuku echoed.

Kasen massaged her temples, letting out a long, weary groan. "Iwao, please. I'm trying to help you."

"Want me to egg those tengu?" Fuku said.

"Well--"

"No. Now, I'm not saying you can't make friends with fairies..."

Fuku waved her arms at Kasen. "Yes, you are."

Kasen shook the fairy. "One more peep from you and I'll... I'll..."

"Peep." Fuku put on the most shit-eatingest grin I've ever seen. "Peep peep."

Kasen rapped her on the top of the head. It was hard enough to make a dense thunk, like dropping a melon on the floor.

"Ow." Fuku pouted and shut her mouth.

Satisfied, Kasen turned back to me. "Now, as I was saying. If, for whatever reason, you want to keep cavorting around with fairies, I'm not going to stop you. Even if I think it's ridiculous. If you want to keep it up, you have to ask yourself: are you willing to do it if you know the consequences?"

"Heehee,” Fuku laughed, “you think it's his decision. Who's the faster one here, hmm?"

[ ] Even if it's at my expense, this is kind of hilarious. In a cosmic sense.
[ ] Could Fuku be talked into staying away when I'm around people?
[ ] What happens if the gossip gets real bad?
[ ] That old crow tengu still has that creepy grin aaaaaaahhh
No. 183278
[ ] What happens if the gossip gets real bad?
[ ] Could Fuku be talked into staying away when I'm around people?
No. 183279
[X] That old crow tengu still has that creepy grin aaaaaaahhh
No. 183282
[X] Even if it's at my expense, this is kind of hilarious. In a cosmic sense.
What are they going to do ? Call the cops ?
No. 183289
[x] Did it ever occur to you that maybe the reason why fairies constantly pester humans with pranks is because they're lonely?
No. 183290
[X] Even if it's at my expense, this is kind of hilarious. In a cosmic sense.
I'll probably bet that a particular Aya Shameimaru is responsible.
No. 183293
[x] That old crow tengu still has that creepy grin aaaaaaahhh

I'm imagining Washizu Iwao running an inn.
No. 183294
[X] Could Fuku be talked into staying away when I'm around people?
[X] What happens if the gossip gets real bad?
Kasen's just jealous we have a new female companion.
No. 183298
[X] Even if it's at my expense, this is kind of hilarious. In a cosmic sense.
No. 183299
[x] That old crow tengu still has that creepy grin aaaaaaahhh
No. 183301
[x] Even if it's at my expense, this is kind of hilarious. In a cosmic sense.

Fairy time~
No. 183302
[X] Even if it's at my expense, this is kind of hilarious. In a cosmic sense.
[X] What happens if the gossip gets real bad?
No. 183304
Closing votes!

[X] Even if it's at my expense, this is kind of hilarious. In a cosmic sense.

With a dollop of [X] What happens if the gossip gets real bad?
No. 183305
[X] Could Fuku be talked into staying away when I'm around people?
[X] What happens if the gossip gets real bad?
No. 183309
[X] Even if it's at my expense, this is kind of hilarious. In a cosmic sense.

I let out a chuckle. It grew into a short fit of laughter, stopping just before I looked too much like a madman.

"What's so funny?" Kasen asked, looking annoyed.

I propped myself upon the table, holding my head in my hands. "It seems like the harder I try to stay out of trouble, the more crazy things I run into.” I shook my head. “Here I was with contacts and a job, and a semi-legit one, just a few days after coming here. Next thing I know, well..."

I looked up at Fuku and waved my hand. She put her hands on her hips and grinned ear-to-ear. "I helped!”

"Maybe I should try it the other way around. If I lean into the crazy, maybe it'll get out of the way." I shot up out of my seat and raised my fist high in the air. "That's it. I'll embrace the crazy until it flinches first!"

Kasen let go of Fuku, then grabbed the paper off the table and shoved it in my face. I mewled and sat back down, lowering my head like I was about to get detention.

"That idea is, quite fittingly, crazy," Kasen said.

Free from Kasen’s grip, Fuku fluttered over, eyes practically sparkling. "I think it's great," she gushed.

"Of course you do." Kasen crossed her arms.

I meekly raised my head back up. "Um, by the way, how fast is that news going to spread?"

"If you're lucky, it won't,” Kasen replied. “Outside of the mountain, tengu newspapers are a curiosity at most, and they certainly aren't considered a reliable news source. That photo, though..." She sucked her teeth.

It was pretty incriminating. My face was half-covered, but my clothes and size were enough of a giveaway. Even if they weren't, Fuku was probably all too eager to share her experiences.

"How many are there? Could we buy 'em all up and burn them?"

"That'd make an even better headline,” Kasen said with a scowl.

Oof, good point. 'ESCAPED FAIRY CAPTIVE BURNS EVIDENCE OF SORDID ENTRAPMENT!'

"Anyway, the longer you linger, the more dirt people are going to gather. We -- more importantly, you -- should head out as soon as possible."

I groaned. As much as I hated to admit it, she was right. My public image was already ruined around here. Another glance at the giggling crow tengu girls confirmed that. The crazy isn't kind to people who go in halfway.

"And you," Kasen pointed at Fuku, "can go back to the forest."

Fuku made a move to latch back onto me, but Kasen was already waiting to intercept. There wasn’t any chance for her to turn around before Kasen snatched her out of the air, hoisting her up by the collar.

She held the fairy up face-to-face, frowning hard. "I said, ‘You're going back to the forest.’"

"Shitbutts," Fuku harrumphed.

My appetite had officially left me, so I pushed everything away and stood up. Without a word, I shambled over to the front desk, leaving the key with the old crow tengu, whose grin had shrunk considerably.

I walked to the front door and stopped. “Let’s go,” I said quietly.

“Let’s,” Kasen said.

She followed me out the door, Fuku in tow. The red-light district was empty save for a few passed-out drunks, and it smelled like bad decisions. Even as I planned to embrace whatever came my way, the sinking feeling of being caught in a goof dragged me down.

I stepped back as a black blur swooped down in front of me, a crow tengu appearing in a cloud of dust. Her face -- almond-colored with a round, globe-like forehead -- invaded my personal space, close enough that I could see the sheen on her stiff, wire-like black hair. Her half-moon glasses reflected the morning sun.

"A third party, I see," she said, her eyes darting to Kasen then back to me. She flipped open a small notepad and started scribbling.

"You reporter?" I mumbled in surprise.

"I write for the Mountain Sentinel. I'm--"

Kasen raised her hands. "I'm not affiliated with him. I mean, I am in a way, but I'm not affiliated with whatever fairy-cult nonsense you've dreamt up."

"I see." The crow tengu leaned back, still writing.

There was a sudden blur of motion, too fast for me to see. I jerked back in surprise as Kasen's arm whipped out in front of me. Her bandaged arm was gripping the tengu's camera, ruining her chance at a group shot.

"Damn." She tsked and pried Kasen’s hand off her camera. "Alright, I get it. I won't include you in the pictures, if you'll ever so kindly step aside..."

"No interviews. No photos," Kasen said coldly. Fuku opened her mouth, but Kasen gave her a death glare before she could say anything.

"What are you, his agent or something?" The tengu swapped her camera for her notepad, writing so fast that a few wisps of smoke came from the paper. "Is he perhaps a person of some importance?"

"You'd love that, wouldn't you?" Kasen spat.

Either I was leaning back on crazy or it was leaning back on me. Two women were all but fighting over me because one of them wanted an interview. Yes, leaning into the crazy seemed rewarding already. It was only a matter of time until I found some mystical weapon destined for me...

The crow tengu got uncomfortably close to me again, bringing me back to reality. Her arm moved in a blur, and I felt something slip into my pocket. "Here's my card,” she whispered in my ear. “Give me a visit when you've ditched the chaperone."

Right as my heart started racing from her touch, she vanished. I raised a trembling hand to my cheek, the feeling of touch still lingering on it.

Kasen thumped me on the other cheek. "Snap out of it. Thoughts like those will give you no end of trouble."

I shook my head. "She just surprised me. I haven't seen that many crow tengu."

"I’d suggest keeping it that way."

I shifted my feet and felt the lump of bills in my shoe again. "Oh, crap. That's right, I have to take my earnings back to the boss."

Kasen stared at Fuku for a second. The fairy tilted her head, looking over at me and back to her. Kasen let out a sigh, dropping her to the ground. Apparently, the trouble of a tengu reporter outweighed the trouble of a fairy.

"That's as good as any reason to leave here,” Kasen said. “Hop on, I'll take you there."

Kasen turned around and hunched over. I had to force down another troublemaking thought as I grabbed her around the waist. Fuku grabbed onto me quickly before she took off. I heard the snap of a camera as Kasen floated up into the air.

Damn.

I gripped her harder as we started to fly. I didn't like to fly in airplanes. Flying with just my arm strength keeping me from falling was a whole new level of scary. I looked down. We were a good few meters off the ground, high enough to break something. The houses and fields rushing by below made me feel like I was going to hurl. I clenched my eyes shut and held on for dear life.

A few merciful seconds later, we skidded to a halt.

"We're here. You can let go now.”

I opened my eyes and scrambled off of Kasen, my knees wobbling a little as I touched solid ground. Good thing I didn't wet myself. "That was fast."

"I don't know how you humans put up with walking everywhere," she said with a dry chuckle.

She had landed us right in front of the gate. The right direction and everything. Probably a result of her snooping, as usual.

"Twenty-yen fee to bring a fairy into the gates," the guard said to me as we turned to face the walls.

Kasen waggled her finger at the guard. "Nice try, but fairies aren't allowed inside Human Village settlements. Please, don't debase yourself to extorting money from the naive."

"Alright, alright,” he grunted. “The fairy’s still gotta stay out here, though."

Fuku detached from me and flew to the wall, crossed her arms, and leaned against it with a pout. "You're going to get such an egging," she said to the guard.

"I'd like to see you try," he said back.

Fuku blew a raspberry at him.

I scooted past the walls and towards the merchant offices. Looking back, Kasen hadn't followed. She was probably staying back to give the guards an earful. Poor bastards.

Once the office was in sight, I took the money out of my shoe discreetly and took a sniff. My body odor had intensified from a few days without showering, but it was still good, moist legal tender.

I headed into the office. The boss was sitting right up front, greeting me with a careful smile. "Back so soon?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. I sold the whole lot." I was about to pass him the stack of bills when I had a thought. "By the way, if you don’t mind me asking, what's the average rate for carters?"

"Less than you're about to make,” he answered. “With the distance and dangers, we provide a nice incentive.” He pointed at the charm still stuck to my clothes. “Speaking of which, I’ll need that back as well."

I handed him the earnings, the spare walking-around money, and the charm. His nose wrinkled slightly as he counted the bills up. I couldn't tell if he was dissatisfied with the price or the odor.

"That's about what I'd expect from a first job. Good work." He counted up some change and passed me my share. 715 yen. Ten percent would have been four hundred fifty, so that was a little over fifteen percent, plus a few dud coins and a coupon for the local bathhouse. Not bad.

After I pocketed my earnings, I turned to leave, but the boss put his hand on my shoulder. "Want some more work? I can always use an honest trader. Especially one that doesn't come back with petty change and sob stories about gambling and booze."

I scratched my chin, which was getting a little bit of stubble already. The promise of regular money was alluring, but I had a lot on my plate. Also, I could look around for regular money that didn't involve walking through youkai-infested forests.

"Can I get back to you on that?"

"You're always welcome." His expression softened. I really had made a good impression on him.

"Thank you." I bowed to him and left.

Standing back in the streets, I stretched my arms, cracking my shoulders and back. A quick whiff of my own stink reminded me of what I needed to do next.

First priority, bath. Second priority was more complicated. The long-term goal was getting home. Getting home meant figuring things out, which meant spending time and using money. I was alright with that part for now, though I wasn't sure how far seven hundred yen went. It was probably a couple of days at least. That tidbit about outsiders who 'choose to' stay had stuck in my mind. Once my immediate needs were taken care of, I'd have to ask someone about that.

Someone like...

[ ] Kasen.
[ ] Keine.
[ ] Reimu, if I can find her.
[ ] Kinu, if I can find her. Or him. Did the book ever say?
No. 183310
[X] Keine.

Do we even know what Reimu looks like? Sure, she sticks out like a sore thumb, but still. I would half expect us to run into Marisa, who then lies about being Reimu. Not to mention that, if we end up heading to the Hakurei shrine, the path would probably be unsafe, with no tengu to help us.
No. 183311
[x] Kasen.
There are a multitude of reasons for this choice. We're most acquainted with her. We ought to find out more about our mysterious guide. She'll probably know a fair amount about our ability to get out of Gensokyo without going directly to one of the more well known figures in the area. But most importantly, We always could use more Kasen. .
No. 183312
A quick note before I forget. I'm seeing a movie tomorrow, so the closing of the votes will be a little late and the update will be on the shorter side. I also wanted to thank you guys for bringing your A game with the voting. It's a pleasure to see you analyze your choices and come up with stuff I didn't think of, it's a sign that you enjoy my story and that makes me feel warm and fuzzy.
No. 183314
[X] Keine.

We've just been bothering Kasen not ten minutes ago.
No. 183316
[X] Keine.

Maybe get better job, too.
No. 183320
[x] Kinu, if I can find her. Or him. Did the book ever say?

"I-I'M YOUR B-BIGGEST FAN!"
No. 183325
[X] Keine

the obvious choice.
No. 183337
[x] Kasen.
No. 183338
[x] Kasen.
No. 183339
>>183338

I might have samefagged... ignore this vote.
No. 183341
[ ] Kasen.
Kooler than Keine
No. 183344
Closing votes! Gensokyo's favorite teacher by default:

[X] Keine
No. 183347
Pretend I said 'slightly delayed update' instead of 'short update.' I'd rather pack in more delicious worldbuilding with a slight delay than force out an update and pass over important details like "what did people make soap out of without readily accessible animal fat" or "what are the sociopolitical implications of fairies?"
No. 183390
[x] Keine.

Come to think of it, Keine was the kind of person who’d know. Sure, I didn’t make the best first impression, but she did say I could ask her anything -- or almost anything. She tried her best to be nice anyway, so I was sure she’d help me out.

With my mind made up, I set off for the bathhouse. I asked somebody where to find it and was steered up the street, past all the houses. A slight uphill walk later, I was staring right at the place. It was larger than I expected, made of logs to give it a sturdy appearance, not too quaint but not too modern either.

I noticed a bulletin board on the way in that was caked with fliers, announcements, and more worryingly, newspapers. I flipped through them, looking to see if anything from the Mountain Sentinel was up there, except there weren’t any names to be seen. Most of the articles were just clippings, usually with commentary written over them, like "Do the tengu really believe this?" and "Still on their high horses, I see.”

It didn’t look like I was at much risk for now, so I kept on walking into the bathhouse. The first thing I noticed was that the reception was manned by a kid. Literally a kid. He was still short enough that, if wasn’t standing on something back there, he could barely keep his head visible over the counter. An old lady was sitting in a chair behind him, napping away.

“I can do Gran’s job just fine, thanks,” the kid said.

My eyes snapped back to the pint-sized attendant. He stared back at me, eyes half-open, making a very disinterested face. I gave a nervous laugh and pulled my coupon out of my pocket, flattening it out on the counter.

"Just for one?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said, scratching my neck. Using coupons always made me feel awkward, even with my part-timer lifestyle making them necessary to survive.

"Right, that'll cover entry.”

"Thanks."

The boy fetched a set of towels from a shelf behind him, getting up on his tiptoes to reach, and laid them out on the counter. I was about to grab them when he put his hand out.

"Soap and towels aren’t covered, however," he said.

I fought a sigh. "How much?"

"Depends. Good stuff or okay stuff?" He grabbed a couple of things from the shelves, holding up a small gold-colored bar with green flecks in one hand, and a little cup of what looked like graying pesto in the other.

"Good stuff. Please.” No way I was going to come out smelling like whatever that paste was supposed to be. “Actually, give me two. I'll need it."

He smirked. "Twelve yen for the set, then. Bath’s back behind me."

I paid the kid and stepped through the curtain in back. Right off the bat, I noticed a couple of things that were different from regular modern-day baths. For one, there was only one changing area. I looked around to see men, women, and children standing around by the cubby holes, all stripping down. I followed suit and quickly covered up with a towel.

Back behind the changing area, the baths were in clear view, no wall or divider or anything. I could see the walls around the baths decorated in the same ocean and mountain motif that I saw back in the Outside World, except here it looked fitting and not kind of hokey.

There was also a sitting area close by with two naked and rather hairy men playing Othello. I tried very hard to avoid any eye contact, but I glanced back out of reflex when one of them made a particularly good move and the other one grunted.

They looked like those shogi players from Amaden minus thirty years. They had to be related. There was no way they couldn’t be with a resemblance that uncanny. Did they have something out for me? Trying not to dwell on it, I hurried on to the baths before I ran into some teenagers playing mancala or something.

As I pulled up to the washing area, I noticed that there weren't any faucets, just stacks of small buckets and a basin to scoop water from. There weren’t any stools either. Everybody was either kneeling or squatting as they washed, dumping water all over themselves to rinse off. Definitely old-school, I thought.

I fetched a bucket, filled it up, and found a spot to hunker down. Before I started scrubbing, I took a quick sniff of my soap. It had an herby smell, like cilantro. I shrugged and got to lathering. There were worse things to smell like. A splash of cold water later and I was clean, not to mention ready to get warmed back up.

The baths themselves were jammed with bodies and the constant dull roar of friendly chatter. Putting my towel back around my waist, I approached the end of the bath that wasn’t as crowded. Some people respectfully glanced away when I dropped my towel, but the rest of them didn't even flinch. One of them chuckled. I felt like my dick was going to shoot back into my body from embarrassment, hiding in my large intestine until the coast was clear.

I forced myself to put a toe in the water. It was boiling hot at first, but as I inched my way in it became comfortable.

"You're a new face here," a middle-aged woman sitting across from me said.

I scooted back a little. "I, uh… I'm new here."

"Oh, I didn't mean anything bad by it, just that it's always interesting to see a new face." She waved an arm, splashing some water, and smiled.

"Well, I’m actually an outsider."

Several of them responded with a collective 'ahh' of interest. Without my trademark work clothes, they had no way to tell at first. It felt good to be the one to reveal it, like dropping an interesting story at a party.

"Have you met Gon, by any chance?" an older man with a healthy beard spoke up.

"Actually, I have. He was really nice. Even let me get out of the rain for a night."

"He could tell." The old man nodded sagely to himself. "He used to be an outsider himself."

The rest of the bath moved in closer to add their own color to the conversation.

"Awful nice man."

"Strange he lives out by his own like that."

"Such a sweetheart of a daughter, though. Have you seen her?"

"It was back, oh, decades ago," the old man continued over them. "I can't even remember when it was. He lost his father in the war with... with... Man-choo-ree-ya."

I struggled to remember when that was. Sometime around World War II? A little before that? A memory of my history teacher pelting me with an eraser and telling me to stop daydreaming made me shudder.

"With so much of his family gone, the farm fell on hard times, and he became a drifter."

More color from the crowd.

"Ahh, seems to always happen in the Outside World."

"Really? I never knew that about him."

"Such a sad story."

The old man made a phlegm-ey cough and continued. "Said he was too scared to kill himself, so he just wandered off the farm one day. I still remember that shine in his eye when he came here. He said it was like being reincarnated, like he got a second chance at life. Works harder than anyone I know, yet he still finds the time to dote on his children and his wife.”

People nodded amongst themselves.

“It almost feels inappropriate to call him an outsider now. Heck, he’s one of us now.” The old man smiled proudly. “I lent him some money to get started when he first came here, and every year after that he gives my family a basket of fine fruit as a thank-you."

With a happy sigh, his story ended there, and he leaned back. I wasn’t sure what to say to that, but Gon did seem like a decent guy when I met him, so I wasn’t going to doubt anybody on that.

"How you doing? Making a living here?" one of the others asked, a nondescript guy about my age.

"Yeah, so far. Just got back from some carting too."

"Sucks, don't it?" someone else said with a chuckle.

I leaned back in the warm water and wiggled my toes. "Nothing wrong with grunt work."

They peppered me with questions for a few minutes, then once their curiosity was satisfied, they went back to chatting about the usual neighbor stuff. I must've spent a good hour lying back over the edge of the bath and feeling nice and clean. I was glad to be somewhere still recognizably Japan. A good bath was a luxury I just couldn’t survive without.

"Been to Kourindou yet?" another one of the younger guys suddenly asked. Several people snickered.

I sat up, opening my eyes. "I haven't even heard of it."

"It's a place run by some guy, a half-youkai. It's out in the forest, so it doesn't get much business. Sells Outside World stuff that falls through the border."

Somebody else joined in. "Doesn't that sound fishy? Store in the middle of nowhere, run by a half-youkai?"

"Pssh, he isn't eating anyone, if that's what you mean,” the first guy said. “People've gone in and left it alive all the time. He's just bad at running a store."

The other guy waved his hand dismissively. "Man, I wouldn’t be surprised if that youkai monk keeps him fed.”

"Now you're just making up ghost stories."

"Just because he's a half-youkai doesn't mean he eats people. Keine isn't out there gobbling folks up, right?" an older man butted in.

"Hakutaku bite. That's way different than being born that way."

"Yeah, but what was she doing hanging around a hakutaku?"

"I'm still not convinced a 'Hakutaku' is a real thing. I bet she made it up."

"Please, Keine's a good woman. No need to slander her."

An opportunity for questions! I'd have to act fast before the subject changed.

[ ] 2-3 questions of your choice.
No. 183397
>It had an herby smell, like cilantro
In other words, it smells like soap.

I can't think of any questions in particular right now, so I'll wait until someone else votes.
No. 183400
Okay, I'll break the seal since no one else has:

[x] Anybody know if she's single?
[x] What's all this about a 'were-hakutaku' anyway? (I'm assuming the almanac didn't go into particular detail here.)
[x] She seemed kind of cranky when I talked to her. Is that normal for her?
No. 183403
[x] What's all this about a 'were-hakutaku' anyway? (I'm assuming the almanac didn't go into particular detail here.)
[x] She seemed kind of cranky when I talked to her. Is that normal for her?

and I'm adding:

[X] This "outside world trinket" shop seems interesting. Maybe they could give you some more precise directions.
No. 183405
[x] What's all this about a 'were-hakutaku' anyway? (I'm assuming the almanac didn't go into particular detail here.)
[x] She seemed kind of cranky when I talked to her. Is that normal for her?
[X] This "outside world trinket" shop seems interesting. Maybe they could give you some more precise directions.
No. 183406
[x] What's all this about a 'were-hakutaku' anyway? (I'm assuming the almanac didn't go into particular detail here.)
[x] She seemed kind of cranky when I talked to her. Is that normal for her?
[X] This "outside world trinket" shop seems interesting. Maybe they could give you some more precise directions.


Sounds good to me.
No. 183409
[x] What's all this about a 'were-hakutaku' anyway? (I'm assuming the almanac didn't go into particular detail here.)
[x] She seemed kind of cranky when I talked to her. Is that normal for her?
[X] This "outside world trinket" shop seems interesting. Maybe they could give you some more precise directions.
No. 183410
[x] What's all this about a 'were-hakutaku' anyway? (I'm assuming the almanac didn't go into particular detail here.)
[x] She seemed kind of cranky when I talked to her. Is that normal for her?
[X] This "outside world trinket" shop seems interesting. Maybe they could give you some more precise directions.

See if there's any good stuff at Kourindou.
No. 183411
At some point, we should ask someone how to get back through the barrier again. Probably not now.
No. 183412
Closing votes! Time for more polite naked chatting.

[x] What's all this about a 'were-hakutaku' anyway? (I'm assuming the almanac didn't go into particular detail here.)
[x] She seemed kind of cranky when I talked to her. Is that normal for her?
[X] This "outside world trinket" shop seems interesting. Maybe they could give you some more precise directions.
No. 183413
[x] What's all this about a 'were-hakutaku' anyway? (I'm assuming the almanac didn't go into particular detail here.)
[x] She seemed kind of cranky when I talked to her. Is that normal for her?
[X] This "outside world trinket" shop seems interesting. Maybe they could give you some more precise directions.
[x] wich 2hu wud u fug?