Bloody fucking rain. Of course it had to fall now of all times, heavy enough to guarantee I won’t have a dry or warm inch on me anywhere. The chill is already settling. To boot, I’m running upwind: the heavy raindrops blind me almost completely, I see nothing but a barrage of water. This godawful city too. Barely any light in this stretch of wretched slum to navigate by, random garbage strewn all over the horribly uneven, muddy ground. Were I anybody else, I’d already be sprawled face down on the water with a broken leg or two. Even through the rain, I can smell the rot here, and the people living in it. And what’s up with these fucking clowns, what do they think they’re doing chasing me in this kind of weather, in the middle of the night? I knew they were stupid, but this is something else entirely. They can’t even catch me when it’s bright and sunny, what are they hoping to accomplish? Anybody else in this city would have been left alone by now, for fuck’s sake. Many have, actually. I’ve offered bribes and everything else you’re supposed to do, what’s the deal?
It’s all shit. I hope this city burns to ash, that everyone in it gets taken by the kasha to burn in hell, that the ground where it stood gets salted, cursed and nothing grows on it ever again. I hate it all.
Hop, hop. The idiots chasing me are already losing ground, and we’ve barely gotten started. Over puddles and holes, over cat-sized scurrying rats. Around the corner into a one-man-wide alley, over a fence, out again, around another corner. I stumble over a beggar trying to take shelter and leave him sprawled on the water. Tough luck, buddy. I avoid climbing to the roofs: this part of the city is too poor for it. I’m more liable to step through a shoddy roof and break my neck than make a clean escape. It’s not too long before the already barely audible clinking and yelling behind me fades completely, drowned out by the deafening white noise of rain. I slow to a jog, turning through a few more alleys just to be sure. What’s wrong with these guys? It’s been what, 5 years? They still haven’t learned that they have no chance of catching me? I scowl, even though nobody is there to see it.
The storm doesn’t let up. A violent shiver tears through me and I shake like a wet dog. Growl like one, too, since the chattering of my teeth doesn’t let me curse properly. I need a fire. A fire and a stiff drink.
The wall of warm air that welcomes me when open the door is just about the best thing I’ve felt in a month. Good god, being caught in a storm sucks. This place is one of my favourites: surprisingly tasty (if greasy) food and drink for an alley bar. Terribly lit, barely furnished and the people are only friendly if you’ve been a regular for years — although they become outright protective if, say, you’ve been playing the generous, rich drunk and buying everyone drinks every once in a while. Perfect for my purposes. It’s empty at this late time of night: Three regulars I recognize raise their eyes to me from their dimly-lit game of dice. One of them, a wiry tall fellow with a patchy beard, takes the opportunity to swipe a few coins off the table without being noticed. Good man. We share a nod. Other than these chumps, there’s only the old Cook and two people I don’t recognize, off in a corner table. They stop chatting when I come in, but frankly I’m too cold to care.
“Get me a bucket, a towel and a hot drink, I don’t care what kind.” I hear my own scratchy voice demand of the Cook, a 150kg dark bearded mountain of fat and muscle with beady eyes. Barely speaks, but as long as he’s master here barfight costs are kept to a minimum, under the threat of something scarier than your regular old brawl bruises. I hop over the counter. “And I’m using your fire.” The Cook nods ponderously. As I walk past him, he wordlessly slips a piece of paper into my backpack. Work stuff, eh? It never ends.
I stoke the dim cookfire, sitting close enough to the flame to roast. I take off my pack and dress, then set about wringing it out and warming myself. Heavens, that’s bliss after a freezing soak. I sigh contentedly and take a sip of what the Cook brought me. Some alcohol or other that I don’t care to identify; it burns lip and tongue and throat as it goes, and that’s what matters.
I clean myself best I can. Thank the gods it’s empty tonight, because otherwise I’d have to deal with half a dozen drunken assholes who think whistling at me is the most hilarious joke they’ve ever made. Of course, even without them, the human city is in no short supply of assholes.
“I DIDN’T KNOW THIS WAS ALSO A WHOREHOUSE!”
One of the two idiots on the corner stands up, clearly having drunk twice his fair share. A common drunkard, if I had to judge.
“I wouldn’t expect any better from youkai scum,” he drawls drunkenly. His companion, less drunk and considerably wiser than him, beats a hasty retreat, storm be damned. “but you’d better be cheap, with tits like that.” Lurching, he laughs loudly at his own joke.
The Cook sniffs solemnly and one of the regulars lets out a muffled giggle. Ah, hell. I just wanted to bask in the warmth of the fire in peace, for a few minutes at least.
[ ] Deal with him. [ ] Let him dig his own grave a little deeper. This should be amusing. [ ] Let the Cook deal with this shit. I’m not leaving this spot until I’m nice and seared.
Write-ins are generally accepted unless specifically vetoed.
I urge you to vote, comment and speculate. It makes me happy. Comments may also be used to steer the story, even if they're not explicitly in the vote.
There are a few big deviations from canon in this story, but the most important one is that the scale of Gensokyo is multiplied a few times, especially the human village. It becomes a human city, instead. The other stuff I will keep a surprise for now.
My second story was better than my first, and I hope to continue that trend with this. Thank you for reading so far and I hope you'll continue to do so.
I take a long scalding sip of whatever this is while I consider my options. I could just break some of his teeth myself, but that’d mean I’d have to get up from my comfy, toasty spot. On the other hand, letting other people do this kind of thing for you is undesirable for several reasons. No matter how insignificant, having strangers settle your debts for you sets a very dangerous precedent. Besides, relying on other people like this just doesn’t sit right for me in general. It's just better to do it yourself, you know what I mean?
But I decide to let the Cook do it, anyhow. It’s just one random drunk human, and there’s barely anyone around to see it. After looking through my pack, I loudly put down a whole fistful of shiny coins on the counter. It’s good to be rich. The great boulder of a man looks at me sleepily. He doesn't even react to that, which is impressive as far as my experience of human barkeeps goes. Another two coins clink down. “Extra, if you make sure not to be gentle.”
I take a second and probably final look at the drunk, while my temporary mook navigates his way past the wooden tables to him. Sunken eyes, flushed cheeks, yellowed eyes — he holds on to his chair, barely standing. I’m not even sure this wretch understands what’s about to happen. I almost feel sorry for him.
Haha, I lied. I feel nothing but contempt.
The Cook draws closer to him. The drunk draws a knife from a pocket in a movement that might be called swift, if you also happened to be drunk and middle aged. Before he has time to even try to do anything with the blade, however, it’s slapped out of his hands with a speed and ease that would seem very out of place coming from the great bar owner, if you didn't know him. Before he can even reel, a palm upwards embeds the man’s former nose bones deep inside his skull. He holds on to his face — as if that'd help — and falls. And just like that, the fight is over, if you could ever consider this a fight at all. Out in one hit, pathetic.
That’s that, then. I didn’t even have to get up from my comfy little spot. I idly thumb my horns as the Cook waddles back to his spot behind the counter after tossing the man out, as if nothing happened. Maybe I should pay these guys too, so they don’t tell about this to anyone…? No, I don’t think that’ll be necessary. Instead, I direct my attention back to the Cook. “Anyone I’d care about come by today? Mokou, maybe?”
The library lady,” he sniffs, in that guttural voice. “Looking for you.”
I raise an eyebrow. “She came in here?” Brave little thing. This is no place for a 20 year old human girlie.
He nods again, and that’s the extent of his communication.
While I’m not doing a whole lot other than enjoying the heat of the fire, I dig through my backpack and pull out the message I got passed earlier.
Fox letters, familiar stuff. One of mine. As expected, it’s nothing more than a location, a time and a date. Tomorrow afternoon, in fact — at least I didn’t miss it. I don’t feel like walking around any more today; it’s been a real shitty day. Not out of the ordinary, but shitty all the same: I’ve had a storm, guards running after me and a drunkard insulting me.
“I’ll have a room, then.” He nods. I pay no mind to the remaining three stooges as I collect my (still wet) clothes and walk up the steps to the second-story inn part of the bar. I pick a random door: a dirty room, a hard mattress, this place has everything I’d expect. It must be some kind of compensation for the food and drink being a little too good. It’s got a real big glass mirror however, and this is expensive stuff. I don’t quite understand what kind of priorities the owner had in his mind, but I’ve certainly been to worse inns. It's hardly anything to complain about.
I’m pretty tired, though, so it'd take all the energy I have to gently lay down on the bed rather than throw myself down like an animal. I do throw myself down either way, though. Why not?
Oh gods, why am I up this early? I shield my eyes from the offensive sunlight. It hurts like hell. Can’t it be night again? I close the shoddy woolen curtains, but it doesn’t do much good. This is what I get for not sleeping underground somewhere.
I’ve got three hours or so until my scheduled time.
[ ] This place has an actual bath room — make proper use of it, a rain shower doesn’t count. I can chill out in my room for the time I have left. [ ] Since I’m up earlier than usual, I might as well go down to Kosuzu’s, since she was looking for me. It’s close by, anyhow. [ ] Since I’m up earlier than usual, I might as well go down to Banki’s stand. It’s good breakfast. [ ] Blow off work stuff and go down to Rinnosuke’s. It’s been a while.
I've decided not to artificially lengthen updates. In the past, I've always tried to keep at least above 800 words, but I'm just going to go with whatever comes out, from now on. Should help with speed.
I roll around on the hard bed for a long time, trying in vain to escape from the sun’s treacherous grip, but end up yielding in the end. Like always. After the arduous process of getting up, I unusually stop in front of the great wall-mounted mirror, taking a passing look at my own scrawny body. I was just thinking about yesterday and a thought struck me — I realized that I wasn’t supposed to go mostly nude in front of a bunch of old men. If I cared about that sort of thing. Fortunately everybody else was on the same page as me. I run a finger over my visible pairs of ribs, counting them: one, two, four, many. Still kind of dirty too, even after that shower from yesterday. I’ll need a proper bath soon.
I trace upwards then, easing up on my scowl for a better look. I think at the nobles I deal with: their standards for a beautiful women are very unlike me. While their faces are rounded, mine is sharp, pointed. Where their hair is absurdly long, dark and lustrous; mine is messy, dry, shoulder-length and colourful. Their eyes are a perfect black while mine are a dull red, and so on. I don’t mind it so much, although being attractive would be its own kind of advantage. Temptresses have gone incredibly far with nothing but their bodies, I hear. But it’s not me. I won’t have any disgusting bar-dwellers bothering me.
I put on my usual outfit – someone picked it out for me long ago, I don’t even remember very well. It could be better, but it’s sufficient: simple enough to be easy to put in and feels nice to move around in, too. A mostly white short dress with an arrow pattern all around the skirt. I just throw it on, fasten a sash around my waist and I’m done. I also sometimes tie a choker around my neck when I feel like it, but today isn’t one of those days. It’s just a visit to Kosuzu, then meeting with the same people as always.
Nobody’s around here this time of the morning, which makes for a very eerie inn. Listening to the noise of the people outside, I take a simple breakfast of bread, awful beer and some ham then go out into the bustle of the city proper.
And yep, it still smells much the same as when I last left it. I almost miss that rain: it masked all of… this. This is why I prefer the night, or one of the reasons. No unwashed masses to clog up the air with their disgusting human smells. There’s much yelling, crying of wares, pickpocketing, shoving, all of those delightfully human pastimes. In the light, the buildings all fare much worse. This isn’t the worst part of the city, but still it’s generally moldy and disgusting. The remaining mud from yesterday has been treaded on so thoroughly that it’s turned into a slosh that covers everything, and I don’t want to know what kinds of liquids have been added to it by all these people. And the people are, well, people. Old, dirty, young, working, playing, men, women, hurrying, plodding, skipping, and so on. Beggars sitting around in the shade, children trying to slingshot cats, the din of the crowd, someone screaming for their life every once in a while. It’s all very familiar and very unpleasant.
I hurry off to Kosuzu’s store, in a better part of town. Should be less crowded there. As I pass, the crowd has a way of parting for me — it’s not new or surprising. I’ve gathered some renown by being the only youkai to openly live in the human city. Not that I’m the only youkai here, just the only one that isn’t a gigantic pussy. Everyone else is shapeshifting, disguising themselves or doing gods-know-what. Cowards. I hear a few whispers of “youkai”, but it’s just the usual deal. I hiss at them to amuse myself at how everyone backs off immediately like scared animals.
In time the crowd thins out, becoming significantly less smelly, more colorfully clothed, fatter. The street widens and becomes paved, street peddlers are replaced with glittering carriages, filthy buildings with expansive states and well-maintained stores and so on. The stares become more pointed, too. There’ll always be the rich and the poor, what can ya do? I’d happily help with a revolution if the opportunity presented itself, but these people are far too content with their lot in life. Perhaps they’re cowards too. I don’t pretend to understand humans.
Suzunaan… There it is, the banner in nice calligraphy. The store is well put together, if unremarkable. I walk into it and take a deep breath of dust and book — correction, it’s unremarkable, except for the faint but very distinct tingle of magic you get the whole time you’re here. I can tell, being what I am. It’s… not unlike an itch on the inside, like a tendril somewhere in you has connected to somewhere else. No wonder the girl became a complete loonie, being stuck in this place all day. But not right now. If the little twintailed tot was around, I’d know. It's empty.
What I do hear is people heading this way, from the outside. Were they following me? No, I don’t think so. It sounds like only one person. It could be Kosuzu, but it could also be someone I don’t want to deal with. I know Reimu and Marisa count among her clientele, and if I can’t tell someone to fuck off without threat of significant retaliation, I prefer not meet them at all.
[ ] Hide. [ ] Out through the back. [ ] Stick around.
Grinning, I bite my lip. I’ve just been hit with a great idea. A great, cruel idea. Before the visitor arrives, I rush over to Kosuzu’s desk and take her spare key from under a drawers’ false bottom. She thinks nobody knows about it, silly girl. Moving quickly, I hide behind the door and listen for the footsteps. They’re annoyingly muffled: some kind of spell, possibly. Kosuzu dabbles in lots of different fields when it’s for the sake of her reading or her books. It’s only one person coming, that much I can tell now. Closer, closer…
I hear them step through the doorway, right next to me. Now. SLAM!
I feel the impact and hear the accompanying girlish yelp. Success. They say a prank is only good if it breaks at least one bone, you know. Well, mostly I say it. I turn the key. Kehehe, chew on that.
“Oww,” I hear the pained moan from outside. The door handle turns uselessly. “Kosuzu? Was that you?” Oh, I recognize that voice. Not Kosuzu, but one of my regular customers. I can deal with her later. Ignoring the cries of ‘Hellooo?’ from outside, I instead turn back for a better look at Suzunaan itself.
It’s unremarkable, yes, only looking slightly more alike to someone’s overstocked personal study than a proper library. Her ink-stained, perpetually scroll- and book-covered desk is smack in the centre of the room, surrounded by bookshelves on all sides and lit by the scattered light of the near midday sun shining through the windows. She takes good care of the place: it’s not as dusty as you might expect of a library. She even uses some charm to make the whole store smell of… chestnuts, I think. It ain’t bad, especially coming off the streets. Other than the pervasive itchy presence of magic, the only unusual part is the hidden-away section of youkai books. The crown jewel, she says. Buncha junk, I say, and dangerous junk at that. Not that I care, it’s her neck. Pretty nice pad. I’d crash here. Maybe I will sometime.
I go past all the bookshelves straight to her desk. I don’t think she’ll have anything worth looking through, but as long as I’m waiting here, let’s have a look. As usual, most of it is gibberish only she can understand. Gibberish, gibberish, is this tengu language? Some boring biography in the middle of being copied over. Oh, a letter from her parents. They moved over to the new city, I remember, and left her the library — but I doubt there’s anything in this one that’d interest me.
...Oh? I spot something different from usual, buried under all the other papers. Gold-trimmed, wax-sealed, with beautiful calligraphy. Invitation to a formal ball, it says. How did this end up on the desk of a commoner, I wonder? Are we thinking of moving up in the world, now? I’ll have to dissuade her from that. These supposed high class people are worth less than the cities’ cockroaches. Hearing voices near the door, I quickly but carefully put everything back where it was.
“What do you mean, it closed by itself?” The door unlocks from the outside and in they come. First the librarian herself in her long checkered dress, red hair bound up in a ponytail streaming behind her. A single golden bell hangs on a necklace, jingling softly with every step. Hell, I’d forgotten how quickly humans grow and change. She’s still a dumb little girl, but I’ll be damned if she doesn’t look a woman grown. In height, in voice, in looks, in poise: this might be the reason she has some party invitation lying on her desk, now that I think about it. These oh-so-”noble” men seem to forget all about their disdain of the lowborn when a tasty morsel of a commoner young lady like Kosuzu comes along. Bloody wolves.
“I mean just what I said. It shut right on my face as soon as I stepped in,” the second girl huffs. “I was lucky it didn’t break my nose.” I hold back a giggle. She follows behind Kosuzu with tiny hurried steps in her heavy layered kimono, an enormous white flower adorning her hair. Court stuff. The child of Miare, or so they say. Big deal. This one is a little too prim and proper for my tastes, even if she seems more interested in city management and inane politics than writing down boring old Gensokyo history like she’s supposed to. Hey, it’s more cash for me. The Hieda are just about the richest, so I can fleece from her the most.
“I wonder if I need another priest to visit, it’s been a while. Could just have been the build-up again.” Kosuzu sits at her desk.
“I thought only the books moved around, and at random. Are you telling me the door just happened to close right on my face and lock itself? By coincidence?” Akyuu crosses her arms, frowning.
Kosuzu eyes the lock — empty, of course, since I put the key back — and sighs. “Look, these things just happen in here, okay? If it happens again, I’ll look into it.”
Akyuu is unappeased. Her frown deepens. “You’re not messing with some fishy magic again, are you? I’ve told you to leave that stuff well enough alone.”
“No, mom,” Kosuzu mocks.
Hm-hm. That’s right, these two are friends. I’d forgotten. In any case, it looks Akyuu is just around for a social call. Gods, they’re making tea. It’s gonna be a while.
[ ] Sneak out a window. [ ] Show yourself, crash their tea party. It’s not like you’re a stranger to them. [ ] Listen in and wait for Akyuu to leave.
Not so sure about the logic on that write-in, but I let it slide since it's no biggie.
...have you never seen a locked door before? It's common sence to lock your door to prevent someone from following you into your house. Also, what kinda door needs a key to be locked from the INSIDE? I mean, i'll let it slide since it's no biggie, but that still pretty weird bro
Hah, I wonder what kind of face they’ll make at this. I crawl over to the window, carefully apply some pressure to it, slooowly opening it and…
I look back just in time to see a flash of understanding light up Akyuu’s eyes as she spots me, followed by the slightest annoyed twitch of the eyelids. In the next moment it’s gone and her powdered face is serene and natural as a Buddha statue, excluding the rapidly bruising forehead. She’s good at what she does, I can’t deny that.
Kosuzu, for her part, immediately stands up and puts her hands on her hips, like a mum scolding the kids for not coming back home for lunch the third they’re called. Even her necklace jingles angrily. “Seija Kijin! Just what do you think you’re doing?” She knits her eyebrows. “Don’t you know you could’ve seriously hurt someone? Drawn blood, even?” It wouldn’t have been the first time, sweetie. “Apologize!” she says, with an air of finality.
I could just play dumb, but with these two, that’ll only annoy them. They aren’t idiots. With Kosuzu especially, I have to give her a few victories, or she turns more annoyingly nagging than usual. Even then, I can still spare some needling for her. “Blood washes right off, if you’re quick enough about it. She’s fine, you can hardly see where it hit.” A plain lie that comes with a winning grin. The large red patch on Akyuu’s delicate forehead would likely turn into a huge bump soon enough.
“Seija.” ‘This is your last warning,’ her eyes tell me, so I go along with it. My grin fizzles into a simple sly smile, I apologize and bow to Akyuu, deep and slow enough that someone who doesn’t know me could mistake for a truly respectful bow. Sarcasm notwithstanding, Kosuzu let it go at that with a hmph. Not missing a beat, Akyuu rises and bows as well, her face a perfect mask.
“I understand. I’m well aware of Seija’s particular disposition.” She even gives me a small smile, but it’s plain to see that it’s of a diplomatic sort, no longer free and friendly like she’d been with Kosuzu. That seems enough to mollify the librarian, however.
“O-oh,” she hesitates for a second. “Well, that’s good.” Then she smiles again, brightly as ever. “Tea?”
Tea is a generally dull affair. I didn’t care much for most of what the two girls talk about, but watching them is pasttime enough for me. I mean, for crying out loud, they talked about poetry at some point. Poetry! I don’t get much – or any – chance to see Akyuu outside strict business, so it’s at least fascinating to see her actually enjoy conversation with someone, show emotion and whatnot. Clearly keeps her guard up around me, but it’s nothing that'll kill me.
Kosuzu, on the other hand, can always infallibly be counted upon to be Kosuzu. “...And I wouldn’t have so much trouble if someone didn’t take so damn long to find every time.” Kosuzu looks pointedly at me, setting her teacup down.
I smile sideways at her. “Hey, everyone’s gotta be good at something. I just happened to be born good at hiding.” Another lie. Sneaking about was a pain in the ass to learn, and as I just demonstrated, not always reliable.
Akyuu nods sagely, also sneaking a nearly imperceptible smile. “Annoyingly so. But perhaps it’s for the best.”
“For the best? How's that?” Kosuzu crosses her arms and huffs again. “Do you know how thin my stream of books is even without one of my suppliers pulling disappearing acts?”
“Suppliers?” I have to laugh at that. “I just agreed to get you some stuff when I happen to go down to Kourin. D’ya think I work for you?”
Kosuzu pouts exaggeratedly. “You could, you know, I could use some help around h-- “
Akyuu exhales sharply, interrupting her. “Kosuzu, please. Have you met the Youkai at all? You’d have a better chance of hiring a wild boar.” I grin. ‘The Youkai’. A nickname for me that has somehow caught on. It’s only fitting. I may not hate this alternate Akyuu.
“Still,” Kosuzu continues, faking hurt. “You told me you’d do it occasionally.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I answer, waving her off. “Been busy, that’s all.”
“No you haven’t, liar,” she fires back, strangely cheerfully. And she’s right. “Do it before the week is out and I’ll think about not docking your pay by half.”
Another laugh bursts out of me. As if I cared for her piddling pay. Being in a good mood, I let it pass with a vague ‘if the stars align,’ and that's the end of it.
Altogether, it’s not a terrible time to spend while I wait for the appointed time. I closely watch the hands on Suzunaan’s great wall-mounted clock move. Still got enough time left here to talk.
[ ] Ask after Reimu and Shinmyoumaru. [ ] Ask after Keine. [ ] Ask after Rinnosuke. [ ] Ask after Mokou. [ ] Ask after Hina.
Please note that not all characters represented in vote choices are guaranteed to appear in the story. Unless they're chosen? Oh, and one option only.
I rest my head on my hands, drawing a raised eyebrow from Akyuu. Something about etiquette, if I were to bet. Thankfully I’m not ‘polite company’, so I don’t have to care — and if I trust my judgment, which I do — neither does she. “Either of you heard anything of Hina lately?”
Akyuu glances at me curiously, and I get the distinct feeling that if she had glasses she’d be peering at me over them, or perhaps she’d pause to thumb the bridge before speaking. Just a hunch. “The Curse Goddess? That’s sudden, why do you ask?”
Before a single breath forms in my lungs I have an acid answer ready for her, a colourful variation on the tried-and-true ‘mind your own fucking business’. But I fight to bite it back — literally bite my tongue to keep it from spilling out freely like any other of my many casual insults. I may be me, but even I’m not so willful as to squander an opportunity for free information, even if it costs me a moment of good fun at the expense of others. Kosuzu inadvertently saves me the trouble of coming up with a lie, bless her little head.
“Hina?” she puts a finger to her lips, thinking, and searches with her eyes for a moment, as if expecting an answer to be written on her walls. A quirk of our librarian. “She lives all the way near the mountain, how would we have any news about her?”
“She doesn’t always stay there,” I answer, sounding less interested than I felt. “Sometimes she wanders.”
Akyuu gives me another dubious look, but lets it go. “Yes, last I heard, she was actually nearby our own city gates…” The shadow of a pained expression flits over her. “Helping out travelers.” She offers the information freely, but that much any halfwit within twenty leagues of the city already knows: it’s hard to miss bright green and red Hina among peasants and poor people on the road. The thing is, she doesn’t leave her turf for no reason, and this I know to be fact rather than rumor, because I heard from her own mouth. If she’s crossed all of Gensokyo to be here, it can’t be a good omen. It doesn’t seem like Akyuu is willing to say more than that on the matter. Nothing of what I actually wanted to know.
But Akyuu’s pained expression I can understand completely. Most humans have the same kind of reaction to Hina’s work, if they’ve seen it. Some prefer to forget they ever saw it, some stand in awe, some shun her not entirely without reason. It’s… I don’t know precisely what to call it. It’s grisly, impressive, painful and incredibly cool to watch. One of those things you have to see to understand. The fact all Akyuu gives us is a reserved wince is testament to her self-control. I should go meet her again sometime. She’s around, it’d be a waste not to.
The light of curiosity burns bright in Kosuzu as she looks between Akyuu and me in that intense way that is hers. “I’ve never seen her do it. Her…” she gesticulates aimlessly. “Curse thing. What she does.” She fixes Akyuu with a stare. She sips impassively at her tea, making a point to let her eyes drift closed.
She relents surprisingly quickly. “Fine,” Akyuu says, putting her teacup down. “I’ll take you there sometime.” She opens her eyes and looks meaningfully at Kosuzu, then quickly at me. I couldn’t quite tell what that meaning is, but it was there.
Kosuzu’s eyes twinkle. “How does it–” A raised hand stops her in her tracks. I’m surprised it only takes that: in my experience, it takes a little more to make the girl calm once she gets started. “I’m not telling, You’ll get to see it firsthand soon enough.”
I think I don’t have any further business here. Before they can start discussing where and when to meet I get up without a word. Kosuzu plays the part of a gracious host, rising as well. “Already leaving?”
I answer with a hum and a nod. “By the way, you should get some coffee. All this tea tastes like warm water and nothing else.” A corner of Akyuu’s mouth turns downward sharply and I grin. “It’s pretentious,” I add, and the corner turns into a whole frown that goes as quickly as it came. I knew that’d get her. This is expensive stuff, and this is how rich people are about their tea. I mean what I said. Most tea tastes like hot nothing to me.
“Eugh.” Kosuzu twists her face into a scowl. “Drinking coffee is like licking dirt. Not even clean dirt.” I laugh. “You’ll get my books, right? Soon?”
I make a noncommittal noise. “If I feel like it.”
Kosuzu starts saying something hotly, but I turn and leave before I can hear any of it.
That sucked. I didn’t get any information or even some Kosuzu to myself. On the other hand, I got to see an Akyuu that was very unlike the usual: whenever she meets with me she’s more business-like, either hardly showing any emotion or being a predictably haughty noble type. Interesting, I just figured she was boring like the rest of them. Something to look into later, I suppose.
I wave to a pair of guards as I pass through the central city gates outside the nice part of the city. One of them flips me the bird, but neither make a move to try and catch me. Clever boys, if only all of them were like this. Soon as I’m out I duck into a side street, well away from the overwhelming bustle of the main roads. It doesn’t take long for me to find the door I’m looking for, hidden away in an alley barely wide enough for two men to walk abreast, fairly dark even when the sun is high.
The inside of the house itself is dusty and bare. Empty too, this time of day. I think it used to be a tavern, since the first floor is nothing but one big room with a counter on it. A handful of grimy bedrolls lie to the side. Two figures are waiting for me inside: First, a bruised dark-haired boy, perhaps 11 years old if my guess is right. His great innocent black eyes widen when he spots me and he pulls at his ragged shirt nervously, looking at my horns.
The second is one I know well. A small blonde girl, barefooted and clad in a simple dress not unlike mine. She’s bony, lanky even for her short height and remarkably clean for a street urchin. Her face is even thinner than the rest of her, and her sharp nose and eyes make her seem like she’s perpetually looking at someone that truly disgusts her. She’s more intimidating than any child her size has any right to be. I’ve no idea what her birth name is, but I call her Knives, because by the time she first came to me, she’d already killed a man, possibly more. I’ll leave you to guess at the how of it. She’s also a (very) young fox youkai disguised as a human, and not the only one I know of.
She looks into my eyes for a split second before bowing deeply. The boy beside her starts and awkwardly bows too, fidgeting. I click my tongue and that alone is enough to nearly make the poor boy jump clean out of his skin. “I told you not to bow to me like that. I’m not royalty.”
She ignores me. Brat. “I found this one crying in an alley. Says he was robbed and beaten.” Her voice is matter-of-fact.
“No kidding.” Him and half of everyone living in the outer city. I walk closer to the boy, and it’s all he can do not to shrink.
“He’s 13.” I raise my eyebrows. Underfed, I bet. “Says he lived out in the farmlands with his grandmother and sister, until a week ago a robber came and killed them. He had nobody else, so he gathered what he had and came to the city.”
“How sad,” I say flatly, running a finger along a recent cut on the boy’s shoulder. He flinches more than is necessary. “You wanna take him in, then?”
“He’s quick on his feet, miss. Only problem is he's also slow in the head.”
‘Miss?’ I scowl. “Fine, but if you wanna keep him, you’ll have to name, train him, feed him yourself and not beat him up so much. And stitch him up, will you?” She nods. Knives is a sadist. Good kid, but mean.
“That aside,” I turn back to her. “What else do you have for me today? You didn’t just call me for this, did you?”
She bows again. Really, these kids and their worship of me can get creepy sometimes. “just the usual, a couple of clients and new inf–”
The boy cuts her off, his voice is as innocent as his eyes. Retribution is swift: without stopping to think for a second, she slaps him hard, boxing one of his ears. Kid nearly falls over. “I told you not to speak” Her voice is so cold even I almost shiver. I fear what’ll happen when this one has another hundred years or so under her belt.
“Oh, just let him talk.”
He thanks me, still holding his ear. “U-um… I don’t know exactly what I just joined… Who are you?”
I raise an eyebrow at Knives. “You brought him all the way here and didn’t even tell him what you were getting him into? I should slap you instead.”
She has the grace to look embarrassed and colour slightly, even though she doesn't bother to apologize.
“Very well, I’ll explain our... group. To put it in simple terms we provide security, food, friends, a decent warm roof over your head and the skills you need to survive in the city…” I notice how intensely he’s been staring my horns and get an idea. “And I guarantee never to eat you,” I say in complete sincerity. All the colour drains from his face, amusingly, and I have to hold back a chuckle. “In return, you do me a few favours every once in a while. Nothing big, usually nothing strictly illegal. It’s something like a city guild.” I smile at the end of my explanation. Juuust a tad too wide, to show my teeth. My sharp youkai fangs. Don’t blame me, it’s not my fault this kid is cute when he’s terrified. “Any questions?”
He can’t even muster enough courage to ask me what kinds of favours I'll have him do.
Before long I have everything I need today settled. Besides the new kid I got time and location on two meetings this next week and the usual new information. About average, really. Knives and ‘Puppy’, as she magnanimously named the new arrival, are sitting on the counter and not saying much, eating what little we still had stocked here: sailor biscuits hard enough to pound nails with, stale beer and bruised apples. Damn, someone needs to go shopping again.
I still have a few hours left until night, an opportunity to talk to decent law-abiding folk. What shall I do?
[ ] Hunt down Hina right now. Been a while since I’ve seen her. [ ] Take the trip to Rinnosuke’s and loot some cool stuff. [ ] There’s entertainment to be had right here. Follow these two. [ ] Find Mokou and try to get some free food off her.
I usually try for 2 updates a week minimum, but had some creative difficulties this week. I might still be able to get one out until wednesday.
I walk back out into the streets, sparing the kids only a slight nod by way of goodbye. Knives should be more than well-equipped enough to handle a charge by now, I just hope she doesn’t give him too many bruises. I’ll check up on him later, I suppose.
It’s still busy outside, people going about their business this close to sundown. Most people shy away from me, avoiding my eyes and hurriedly stepping away from my path. Bastards, they don’t know how good they have it. It wasn’t too long ago — before the village expanded beyond its walls — that all of them would have been cowering behind their doors at this time, afraid of sounds in the night and youkai attacks. Thanks to the latest red-white, they don’t have to worry about a thing: deadly attacks by human-like youkai such as myself have stopped completely; the only people who have to worry at all are those in the most remote homes and farms, and even then the only real attacks are by easy to ward off, unintelligent beast-like youkai. I don’t even hurt anyone unprovoked, how much kinder do they want me to be? So ungrateful.
I head east, orienting myself by the stocky wooden mid-city walls, made of upright logs and crewed by a handful of watchmen. The orderly, well-guarded part of the city now located inside used to be the whole human village; that was before it quickly grew outwards, expanding under Reimu’s peaceful rule. The further from the walled center, the cheaper the land. Out here, there’s much less order. People built wherever they could and, without regulation, it grew chaotically, generating winding dirt roads, labyrinthine alleys, hiding places where roofs meet, unintentional courtyards, all sorts of odd passageways that can benefit one who knows how to use them. It's a great playground. I feel an urge to move through the roof pathways, but it's not night yet, so I hold back and march defiantly through the streets instead.
Mokou lives far away from the center, almost inside the bamboo forest itself. She sets up her cart in the outskirts of the city, where buildings are far apart and the noise never goes beyond a reasonable din, even at peak hours. Nice and peaceful, although the worried looks thrown my way are more frequent and obvious here than usual — I don’t often come around these parts. At least nobody yells for help, so that’s good enough for me.
Her cart is as easy to spot as ever: it’s always the biggest gathering of people in this section of the city, and that’s only partially because of the food.
It’s her. She’s… attractive, in both senses of the word. Even though she quips incessantly and always makes an effort to appear bored, she still seems to draw people and attention, just by being herself. It might not be on purpose if her constant annoyance is any indication, but she can hardly help being noticed. Even her hair alone is more than enough to make her stand out in a crowd — a mess of bright, silvery and admittedly beautiful hair flows down all the way to her knees, adorned by ribbons. Free handhold in a street fight, but damn if it doesn’t look good, waving and catching the light whenever she laughs or walks, or, hell, moves at all. She always has a lean to her, or a slight slouch like she doesn’t care, moving with a deliberate grace like a... prowling cat, or something. She wears simple dark trousers with suspenders and a men’s worn button-up shirt, always with a couple of buttons undone — I suspect partially to attract some extra customers. Even the rowdiest-looking customers come up to her respectfully like she was an authority and seem oddly satisfied even when she blows them off or pointedly ignores their attempts at chatting.
I hate her. She’s smug, obnoxious, has too smart of a mouth, smells of smoke and lives like a hobo in the woods. And that’s why I’m here. That and the damn good skewers.
I hop up and sit on her cart as innocently as I can manage, which still earns me a sideways glare from where she’s leaning beside me, on the other side of the grill. She instantly slaps away my hand away from where I was trying to sneak a free skewer.
“Bad dog,” is all she says, not even turning to face me.
“Come on, I’m not even trying to take your famous chicken, just ordinary meat,” I say, grinning. “You probably make these out of stray cats anyhow.”
“Yeah,” she says flatly, briefly turning her eyes to me. Red, like my own. “Tastiest cats in town. Look, can you leave? You’re scaring my customers away.” It’s true, people who looked like they were going to come over just a moment ago are now hesitating, eyeing me warily. I wink at one and in response he suddenly remembers an urgent errand somewhere else. Never gets old.
“What, because of me? I’m a harmless little thing half their size.” A second attempt at stealing gets slapped away with a scowl. Stings. “Cowards like that don’t deserve your food anyhow. It’s too good for them.”
“Coward money is still worth the same. Also, not wanting to come near you isn’t cowardice, it’s common sense.” She sighs, then finally gives up on getting any customers while I’m around, turning fully to me. I widen my grin and pull my legs up, sitting cross-legged on top of her cart. “You can pipe down,” she says sounding suddenly weary, then passes me one of the skewers, resigned. “Yes, I’m very scared of your spooky youkai grin. What do you want this time? Got some new scam planned?”
“Scam?” I feign a hurt voice. “I don’t do scams, I run a respectable business. Besides, can’t I just come and see a friend sometimes?”
Mokou snorts, giving me a sly smile. “Sure, all thieves I’ve met are reputable gentlemen, and you’re a model friend.”
“Stealing isn’t business for me, it’s just a hobby.” I take a bite of the meat. Gods above, I remember now that this is half the reason I come here. I close my eyes and moan in a most improper manner. I barely have to exaggerate my reaction, the food is that heavenly. The meat is grilled just enough to give it that juicy texture that gushes out deliciousness when you sink your teeth into it. So damn good. Mokou says nothing, but I can tell she’s pleased by my reaction. She’s strangely attached to this little job of hers.
There’s a long pause as I take my time eating; there’s no sense rushing a kingly meal like this. Before long, Mokou breaks the silence.
“Say, what’s your deal with Rinnosuke?”
I swallow the last piece of meat before answering. “Rinnosuke? I go see him sometimes, that’s it. Why?
She looks at me curiously. “Is that so? I went to Kourindou yesterday and he made a point of complaining about you.”
I wave a hand dismissively. “That guy is always complaining about someone. Although… now that I think about it, I haven’t been there in over a week. Why would he be complaining about me now?”
Mokou shrugs, but I realize the answer to my own question immediately. He misses me, of course. Why else would he even be thinking of me this long after I last met him? Adorable. “You sure it’s a good idea to be messing about with him? Marisa might just show up to murder you.”
I can’t help but laugh scornfully at that. I've had half of Gensokyo hunting me, what’s a single ordinary witch? “Not my fault if she can’t protect her investments.”
And speaking of showing up to murder someone, I spot in the distance a pair of uniformed city guards moving towards the cart, eyes locked on me. Ah hell, and I still wanted something to drink. I just got here! That makes two times in as many days. Give me a break.
[ ] Violence is the solution. [ ] Leave ‘em in the dust. [ ] Bribe them. It’s why I keep money around.
Bloody hell, writing has been hard lately. I scrapped two full updates before this one and I'm still not satisfied with it.
Here they come, shoving aside innocent, honest customers to get to and bother another innocent, honest customer for no good reason at all! Brutes. They’re close enough that I can see the dull glow of Mokou’s already lit lanterns reflecting off their uncovered chainmail sleeves. I don’t know why they wear it, I can count in one hand the amount of criminals vicious enough to warrant heavy full body armour. Surely having the whole guard wear the stuff is overkill. Must be a heritage from the times of youkai hunting. At least they’re not quite dumb enough to carry around spears or huge curved swords around like those tengu assholes. Nothing more than short swords for the humans.
“Aw, you’re kidding me,” I hiss out, annoyed. Mokou looks up from her drink and notices them too, then raises an eyebrow at me.
“You still haven’t dealt with that?”
I growl loudly — I think it’s a growl, anyway. Whatever it is, it’s enough to send most every customer still remaining in earshot scampering. “Do you have to ask the exact same thing every time I come by? If it was that easy–”
“I’ve told you that your scary youkai route doesn’t work impress me,” she cuts me off, boredom seeping into her voice. “And it is that easy. Can’t you just beat them up?”
I wish I could, actually. I do get into fights occasionally, but it’s something best avoided: as it turns out, humans break shockingly easily. A full one in every three fights I’m in end with someone horribly maimed rather than just beat-up, and it seems to happen no matter how easy I go on them. It’s also very obnoxious to limit yourself in a brawl — no slamming anybody on the floor or against the walls, their soft little heads can lose their screws permanently; no real grappling, their limbs break like rotten dry sticks; no headbutting, a nose bone can go into the brain and then that’s it. All I can do is throw punches like a drunkard. Not that I give a shit about the health of humans who deserve a good beating, but my position in the city is precarious enough without word getting around that I’m permanently injuring or killing people. This goes double for the guard: I can ill afford to piss them off much more than my current quota. The retribution for, say, a guard with a skull cracked like an egg isn’t something I’m anxious to deal with. So I answer her question with an answer. “Would you?”
“Sure,” she says, not hesitating for a moment. “Knock some heads about, why not?” She turns to look at the approaching guards with a predatory grin that unnerves even me before it vanishes without a trace, morphing into her trademark bored look a split second later. “What are they going to do, kill me? Exile me?”
I’d forgotten, Mokou is more like this. Doesn’t really care about immediate consequences, or long term consequences. Or any consequences in general. But I do. More accurately, I have to care, and those armoured gentlemen are drawing ever closer as we chat. They aren’t running outright yet and their blades remain undrawn, so at least they’re courteous. For that, I won’t throw anything at them before I leave.
Mokou sniffs as if in acknowledgment. “Already?”
“Not much of a choice, yeah?
Before I can clearly see the guards’ faces, I snatch the bottle that holds the rest of Mokou’s drink, hop over the cart and run. Old habits die hard, see. She doesn’t even bother yelling after me, but the guards start on a token chase, not looking enthusiastic about it. They barely jog, the lazy dogs. Interrupt my plans for the night and then don’t even have the common courtesy to work for it.”
I slow to a walk once they’re out of sight — it doesn’t even take five minutes of running. I take a sip of what turns out to be water with a little wine sprinkled in it. Pink dirtwater at best. Mokou knows me too well, I think. It’s fully night now, darker still than I’m used to due to the lack of street lamps this far out. Empty too, with maybe a half-dozen shapes milling around in the dark or carrying their own lamps, likely workers returning home or husbands going off to do what they shouldn’t. It feels kind of shady, but that’s only the darkness speaking: it’s all loose dirt and grass here, with the trees gradually thickening to the north into what eventually becomes the massive, impenetrable magic forest.
The whole atmosphere of the place puts me in an unusually pensive, peaceful mood. It’s the chilly evening breeze, the bright half-moon high in the sky. The fact that the cities ’colourful’ odours are replaced by the grassy smells of nature, the loud raucous laughter that would have come from open tavern doors being replaced by the ever-present crickets. It’s all very… meditative, you know? I toss the bottle, take off my shoes to feel the cool grass under my feet. Then I walk.
I walk, walk aimlesly and eventually arrive at nowhere — an especially dingy nowhere, sitting comfortably to the side of a never-used, mostly useless stretch of mysteriously treeless land that cuts straight through the magic forest, headed all the way north. It’s completely overgrown with waist-high wild grass and peppered with colourful giant mushrooms, sure, but you could still conceivably call it a road, in a pinch. People can walk through it, after all, even if they end up with their clothes overloaded with burrs and their legs in a sorry state if they’re not wearing pants. ... I scratch my thigh, grinding my teeth. I might have brushed against a nettle or five in the way.
Either way, the nowhere is in fact a building: a low, wide one that gives off the impression that it was built by someone in a great hurry then left to grow mold for a few years, with nobody bothering to fix it up. The dim paper lamp hanging outside has a small tear in it that will never be fixed and the board with ‘Kourindou’ proudly written on it is cracked.
Nobody in their right minds would ever come here, which of course means it has a dedicated consumer base in Gensokyo, me included. I didn’t intend to come this way tonight, but since I somehow ended up here, I might as well go in. Could do with some rest after that long walk.
There’s no light coming from the inside, so I’m careful to be silent when I open the door just a sliver, enough to slide through. Like a… thief. Heh. The constant shrill call of the crickets(and a few stranger ones) fades away as I slink inside.
What little illumination the night sky would provide indoors isn’t there. Shelves upon shelves cover up the windows almost completely , loaded with ‘merchandise’ that stands as much of a chance of being sold as I do of becoming miss Gensokyo. But I was mistaken, there is a light source inside. A single thin candle at Rinnosuke’s counter/writing desk, all the way at the back of the shop, obscured by mountains of junk. It’s faint and flickering, but it’s there. On soft feet, I stalk over until I can see my target: our dear shopkeeper slumped over, sound asleep and completely defenseless. You’d think he’d have learned to sleep light by now, keeping the kind of company he does.
I crouch by him for a close look; I don’t get this kind of chance often.
He has fine features, like a noble straight off a storybook. Slightly underfed, if I had to say it. Thin nose, bright eyes, extraordinarily delicate skin and silver hair. Like a girl, in a sense. I’d tease him on this point more often, but he also stands a full two heads taller than me and almost always wears these odd robes that make him look twice his width. Right now, he has his body hunched awkwardly for his head to rest on the counter. His distinctive, fragile-looking spectacles are hanging off one ear and he’s drooling obliviously on an open book. So peaceful. Maybe the walk has made me something more than contemplative, because I end up sitting there for a few moments, just watching the rhythm of his chest. Up and down. Up and down, barely making any sound.
He’d been reading in his sleepwear, just a light, loose silken shirt and shorts. White, shows off how thin he is.
Oh, Rinnosuke. I let out a small sigh.
I shake my head. Then I realize that this total fucking idiot has fallen asleep right next to a naked flame, a book and a wooden counter. How does he even dress in the mornings without strangling himself? I sigh more emphatically.
He mumbles in his sleep.
[ ] Wake him up and yell at him. [ ] A practical demonstration will be more effective. [ ] Just play an innocent prank, as punishment.
I stare at his oblivious sleeping expression for a few more rare quiet moments. His cheek is smushed against an old Gensokyoan leatherbound book, folding some pages under him. He’ll hate that. He’ll rant and be angry at himself for ruining whatever rare book this was. They’re all rare, always. One of his feet is tucked under him as he sits, making for the least comfortable sleeping position I’ve ever seen, and I’ve slept on a set of stairs once. Even so, it’s sound sleep, and it feels good just to watch. For a second I’m sorry annoyed that I have to wake him up — not because I don’t want to disturb him or any such nonsense, but because it was my moment here, mine alone and nobody else’s. The thing is, Kourindou is curiously frequented by many if not all the powerful players in the insane (and, in my opinion, meaningless) power play stage of Gensokyo, for a tiny junk store near the ass end of nowhere. Finding Rinnosuke alone, free and in this defenseless of a state is an unusual chance.
Chance? Chance for what? Why do I have to wake him up, anyway?
I swat the flitting thoughts away. Thinking about these things yields nothing. I do the mental equivalent of a dog — or a bitch, perhaps — shaking off water from its fur and change gears entirely.
So, how do I fuck with Rinnosuke tonight? Most often, all I have to do to get him all flustered is some light flirting. He's a blusher, all I have to do to get him red as a beet is imply something or other. I'd do it more often, but his tolerance is low and he'll end up kicking me out if I overdo it. I swear has to be either the most innocent prude in a 300 mile radius or a virgin. If I were a betting woman, I’d go with the latter. But that doesn’t seem appropriate right now, so I decide to go with a straight-forward approach. Something simple. I loom over him in the darkness, imagining how ominous I must look, grinning over a sleeping Rinnosuke in a dark room. All I’d need to complete the ensemble is a long dagger.
I consider, then gingerly remove his glasses, move the candle away, then slap him.
It’s a slap to be proud of: power from the hips, perfectly though the shoulders, hand cupped veeery slightly, just enough to make it crack worse than any whip. Even going downwards into his head, this would’ve been textbook if there were such a thing as a textbook on slapping. Stings my hand, but I still have to hide a self-satisfied smile as Rinnosuke sputters awake, eyes wide. Before he can gets his wits in order I adopt my best Keine posture, hands on hips, and start talking.
“What were you thinking?!” I boom, slamming the counter. Then I remember my voice doesn’t lend itself to booming. Oh well, it wakes him right up, which was the point. Good enough. I can see the red hand print forming even in the dim light. He looks at me, startled. “You have a lamp, why are you trying to burn your house down? Then you whine that I break your ‘wares’.” I slap the counter again, but by then he's started to get his bearings.
“Oh,” he says absentmindedly, rubbing his cheek. “It’s just you.”
I very nearly slap him again then, raising my arm without even realizing it. With some surprise I notice that I actually am angry at his carelessness. It’s very unlikely he’d die even if there had been a fire, but for some reason the idea of him going off and endangering himself just like makes me well and truly mad. It’s not a clear feeling, but… how dare he try to go and die without my leave? I reach over and grab him by the collar, pulling him closer.. My voice drops to a hiss. “You could’ve fucking died! What then?”
“I… What?” He looks at me strangely, taken off guard. “And you care?”
“Of course I don’t,” I say, not missing a beat, “but you don’t get to die without permission.” It sounds like a lame lie even to me, even though it’s the truth. Probably.
I think he buys it. “O-oh. Alright, then.” Or maybe not. He’s still looking at me dubiously. “Are you okay?”
Crap, I got too worked up. This little visit has gone Rinnosuke’s way in record time. I mutter some curses out of habit, let him go and take a few deep breaths, forcing myself to calm down.
He smiles. “If you’re that concerned for me, I’ll make an effort. It’s not like I have many opportunities to be in danger, living in this place.” Bastard. I glare at him. “But did you have to hit me so hard?”
“Have you met me?” I ask, inwardly thanking him for changing the subject. That’s done, then. I hop up and sit on his counter, as I usually do.
“Point taken.” He puts his glasses back on, still palming his cheek. Maybe I did go a tad overboard, but Rinnosuke is a good sport. “So, what did you come bother me about today?”
“Hey, screw you. Can’t a girl just come in for a friendly visit?”
“Yes, and they often do, but you’re not one of the friendly ones.”
I chuckle at that. “Rinnosuke, when you’re around, I’m at my most friendly.” He looks embarrassed, looking down. Success. I can't see it in this light, but ten bucks says he he blushed just now. “Everyone else gets a whole lot more cursing and insulting. Anyway,” I reach over and snap his book closed, even though he was showing no sign he’d go back to it. “I swear, I just walked and walked and found myself here.”
He raises an eyebrow. “It’s a three hour walk from the village.”
I shrug. “I like walking.”
Rinnosuke seems fairly tired, having just woken up. Unfortunately for him, I don’t intend to just leave again after walking all the way here. At least not so soon.
[ ] Stay the night. Wink wink. [ ] Stick around until he starts nodding off, then back to the city.
I miiight take a 1 month or so break after this update. Tough times ahead, friends.
A grin creeps onto my face, but I can’t just tell him I’m staying. That’ll spoil all the fun, not to mention the possibility that he’ll just make me leave right away. Better to watch as he gradually realizes I don’t intend to leave at all.
“What?” He asks, blinking. Poor innocent soul. “Did I say something funny?”
“No, I’m just laughing at you.” I keep my grin on. Unfortunately, this particular exchange has happened enough times that he isn’t too bothered by my comment. Instead, all he does is purse his lips. “I see.” He stands up, collecting his candle from beside me, then sighs. “If you don’t have any business here, I suppose you’ll want some tea before you leave at least, yes?” I begin a scowl and he promptly corrects himself. “Coffee. I’m sorry, I forget you take coffee.”
“Everyone does.” He’s too polite to just make me leave with no real pretext, I know. Perfect for me to take advantage of. I hop off the counter and follow him through the door behind it into Rinnosuke’s ‘home’ proper. I say home, but it’s more like a set of storage rooms he happens to live in. It’s not that much different from the store: boxes, shelves, all that. Perhaps more boxes than the store — wooden, cardboard, metal, all unlabeled. He lights a proper lantern and the shadows created by all the clutter deepen. It’d be sinister if I didn’t know the place. The only spot with enough space for even two people to stand abreast is where he entertains guests: a bit of room cleared around a table for two, surrounded menacingly by four chairs, as if they were daring that many people to sit there. The clutter encroaches as well, and I have the feeling Rinnosuke has to regularly move stuff from here. Off to a side is a fat black stove with its matching iron teapot and a sink that dispenses hot water as if by magic. I’m inclined to believe the kappa are involved; the water comes out near boiling half the time. I learned that the hard way. The inner part of Kourindou smells faintly of sawdust for some ungodly reason and looks perpetually in need of a good dusting. But then again, so does nearly everywhere else I visit. It’s no reason to complain. There are quite a few more rooms than this: the building is way bigger than it appears from the outside.
Rinnosuke busies himself hanging the lantern, stoking the stove and making coffee while I sit lazily and watch.
He starts filtering it unhurriedly when I remember something important. “Rinnosuke!” I widen my eyes at him. “Your coffee sucks, doesn’t it?”
He starts saying something, exasperated, but I cut him off. “Last time I told you it tasted like sewage, and it did. Couldn’t you have reminded me?”
He puts down the pot heavily with a clank and sighs. “Look, do you want the damn, coffee or not?”
By way of responding, I hold out my cup and he obediently pours, frowning at me over his glasses. I sip and nod to myself. Yep, it’s terrible. Rinnosuke wipes his hands like a practiced bartender, the gesture singularly unfitting on him, what with the glasses, hair, eyes, bearing and everything else. It’s something I can only picture people who are fat, bearded, mostly toothless or all three doing. It’s a commoner thing. He takes a seat across from me, looking grateful for the momentary silence. Which naturally means I can’t let it last. I blurt out the first topic that comes to my head. “Tell me, does Akyuu come by here much?”
He doesn’t miss a beat, the bastard. “I’m not going to sell anyone out to you. Gods only know what kind of scheme you’re cooking up.”
I’m struck by the sudden and intense urge to douse Rinnosuke with the scalding coffee, but manage to hold it off merely by gripping my cup hard. “I’m not asking for her safe combination or anything. And if I’m ever dumb enough to try and get serious information from you of all people you can go ahead and poison me. At that point, I’ll be too dumb to live.”
That gets him. He makes a face like he just swallowed a whole lemon. “What’s that supposed to mean?”I take a long sip for effect, looking at Rinnosuke’s narrowed eyes over the rim of my cup. “Please. Every cackling hen in Gensokyo comes back here to gossip eventually, and you babble to them all,” I say, letting the slightest smile slip. “Involving you in anything is tantamount to shouting from the rooftops. Everyone knows it.”
“I don’t babble!” he says defensively, slightly louder than necessary. Very telling, that.
“Uh-huh,” I mock, “I’m sure your lips are sealed, especially since most of your customers just happen to be beautiful women.”
“Th–wha...” Ah-ha. Jackpot. “What does that have to do with anything!?
I give him a knowing smile. “Well, I don’t do the seductress thing, personally, but anyone with a half pound of tits to shake can get a man like you to do or say anything they like. Am I wrong?” Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. Rinnosuke is no leery shopkeeper — not entirely — but he’s incredibly vulnerable to a whine and a pout. That’s not to say an inch or two of extra cleavage hurts matters. He’s still a man. ...Or so I’ve heard. True or not, the accusation alone is enough to get him out of sorts, speechless. I have to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. Teasing this guy is really too much fun.
“Yes,” he finally manages, reddening. “You’re wrong.”
“Oh, really? So you won’t mind at all if I do this?” I slowly cross my legs, laughing when his eyes are pulled to them with all the inevitability of death. They flit there for but a half-second, but it’s enough to embarrass him. Then they go up, to the sides, down to his feet and just about anywhere but back to my legs. Cute. He barely has the time to scowl at me before I move on. “Or this?” I reach over and place my hand over one of his. He doesn’t dare pull away, or perhaps he just can’t.
Now, I may be lacking the usual amount of body fat that human men seem to favour, but I’m still confident in my body. My muscles are nice, tight, and in all the right places. Feeling a sharp, numbing thrill run up my spine, I quickly vault over the tiny table with all the agility street living has lent me.
With a jump, I forcefully settle onto Rinnosuke’s lap, realizing immediately that I’m well and truly over the line here. It might be months before he agrees to let me in here again. Not only that, but it’s already too late to go back. So, nothing to do here but go full steam ahead. I clamp my arms behind his back, enjoying the warmth of his chest and his closeness as I crawl up him and tickle his ear with my lips. My voice may not be made for booming, but whispering is a different matter. I was made to whisper. “Pleeeease,” I breathe. “Won’t you tell me what Akyuu has been up to? I’ll make it worth your while…” I don’t even give a shit about that, but I’ve already gone this far now. I’m sure I’ll regret this, but...
I close my teeth lightly around his ear before he can answer, while he’s still frozen in place. Then, still nibbling, I smile triumphantly when I feel him shiver beneath me. Just to be sure, I grind into his lap — taking the opportunity to press all of myself onto him. I feel all of him on me, though all these rough clothes are enough of an annoying barrier that I just want them all to vanish. Right now, preferably. Still, my chest is molded to his and I lock him into place with my legs, his lips deliciously close to my own neck. I inhale his smell as deep as I can. Oh gods, I— I’m getting into it too. This is going poorly. I should be in control. A voice in my head tells me that I'm going way too hungrily at it, but I pointedly ignore it.
Now that I’m sure he won’t see it, I allow myself to flush a violent red up to my ears, feeling hot all over. Not thinking too clearly, I drag my sharp teeth down up from his ears over his neck more or less on instinct, leaving a dainty set of red trails all the way down. His breath is hitting me too, and I can’t pretend it isn’t doing anything. “Please,” I moan, not so sure what I’m pleading for anymore. I plant a wet kiss on his collarbone while one of my hands almost unconsciously snakes under his shirt and down to his waist. I shake with satisfaction as another, stronger shiver goes through him — or was it me? Both of us? I don’t know.
I hear a girlish yelp (strangely) come from my own mouth when I feel a hand come to rest on one of my thighs. His hand. Well, not rest. More like grab like it was his only lifeline. “Stop… Seija, stop.”
Stop. Stop, he says, when we’re chest to chest, he has a death grip on my thigh, his nose buried in my hair and a mysterious hard thing resting uncomfortably against my butt. It’s so ridiculous I let out a laugh. Still, it helps me get a handle on myself, and I draw myself away from him just enough to look deep into his golden eyes.
As it turns out, eye contact doesn’t help in this kind of a situation.
We’re about to do something truly unfortunate when I hear the heavy wooden door behind me slam open. Of course.
“Rinnosuke! I came for… Oh.” A woman’s voice. I don’t look away from him. “Oh dear.” And now it’s tinged with the worst kind of interest. Odds are ten to one I’m about to be blackmailed. “Isn’t this an interesting couple? Stealing a march on the ordinary witch, are we?”
[ ] Rinnosuke's home, Rinnosuke's rules. Wait for him to decide on something. [ ] Turn around, greet as if nothing were out of place at all. [ ] Tell whoever this is to go fuck themselves somewhere else, they’re interrupting something.
1.Writing this update, I ended up wondering about a very deep and important question. Is this gay? 2.I guess the break will come when it comes. I'll tell you guys when. 3.No, I'm afraid we can't that hard on the first vote, but hopefully this'll be good enough for now.
Things going to shit? Code Red, all readings normal in Seija land then, right? At least, we shouldn't ACT like it, meaning we should.
Also, to answer your first question...
... No, no it isn't. Feminine sexuality is something to be explored, as most of us, either through experience or the internet, have a pretty good hang of sexuality from HIS side. Something like this is pretty nice to see, man. Keep it up wherever you feel it appropriate, writefag!
Instead of turning to see the new arrival, I watch Rinnosuke’s face drain of colour until he’s an impressive shade of pure white. My own… inflamed passions also cool to near nothing in record time, and I suddenly realize how astoundingly stupid what I’ve just done is. Stupider than I thought possible for me, roaring-drunk-farmer-at-the-end-of-a-long-days’-work stupid. He'll will ban me for months for this, as he’s done before over even minor pranks. A pinch, a suggestion… once, I stole a kiss. I remember it more clearly than I’d like; I interrupted a sentence midway and had my way for long seconds while he stood there frozen, just like today. Tasted of honey and orange. Breakfast. Then, after he realized what had happened, I wasn’t let back in for two months. Today, I let it run away from me entirely. And for what? Lust, really? A simple lack of self control, avoided with a single moment of cool thought. The worst. Sure, I wouldn’t have stopped if I paused to think either, and sure, everything I did to him just now barely registers on the scale, but he won’t see it that way. He’ll react the same as if I’d outright held him down and raped him, the prudish dumbass.
I scowl fiercely and Rinnosuke somehow blanches further, looking at me. Then, as it’s bound to do, my anger radiates, seeking other targets than myself and finding them readily.
This giant oaf right in front of me, for example. How dare he be the only halfway acceptable man in a thousand mile radius? I can go without, sure, but not easily if he’s within shouting distance and unplucked by anybody else. He could just be done with it if he had the guts to knock boots with that ridiculous blond hussy living in the forest and put a ring on her. I wouldn’t bother even looking twice his way. But no, let’s play tempt the Amanojaku instead and watch her dance, then complain when she does. Not only me, now that I think about it. Indecisive jackass. I hear light steps, then someone sitting across from us. And then there’s this bitch, with her precisely awful timing. Couldn’t have arrived 15 minutes later, could she? Rinnosuke looks at her, still not uttering a word. But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t care about being seen, and I don’t care if he cares. I’m already in trouble with him now, and our visitor has already seen what there is to see. In fact, the moment is gone and I don’t think my situation could get much worse, but I’m sticking with it out of nothing but stubbornness now. Instead of disentangling myself from my prey, I tighten my hold and, with the hand that’s still under his shirt, run my fingernails not entirely gently across his back. He straightens further in his chair.
I shift in Rinnosuke's lap to face our silent visitor, and in doing so realize that he’s not so spooked as he would have me believe, if you take my meaning. My dress is short enough that I can tell. Good news, I think, but nevermind that right now. I’m unable to keep all the surprise off my expression as I see her, although I do turn it into an appropriate evil eye soon enough. I don’t know who I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this.
The first thing I notice is, of course, her eyes. It’d be odd if I didn’t, with how attentively and intensely I’m being stared at. The reflection of the lantern fire on her small round glasses isn’t enough to obscure their sharpness. Seeing those amused eyes gives me the irritating impression that this is a person who’s smarter than me and knows it. Not a feeling I relish. She has a chubby, face, barely missing ‘motherly’ or ‘friendly’ by seeming just a pinch too glad to see people being uncomfortable. She rests her elbows on the table, leaning halfway over it towards us and supporting her head on her hands. Her hair is plain, messy, brown, shorter than mine. More notable are her clothes, far from what I’d have imagined she’d wear — it’s all eminently practical, not overly tight, easy to move in stuff. Fine cloth, brown and light colours, that sort of thing. Her form-fitting trousers have the legs tucked into a pair of intimidating long black boots, shiny in the light. Boots made for stomping. A simple vest and button shirt also tucked in securely complete the look, both also tight to her not-so-slender frame. She’s not fat, but it’s… like a matron’s frame, but on a much younger and stronger body. Not lacking in flesh, is what I mean. Still game for a fat joke, if you were very unwise and anxious to make an enemy you cannot keep. Curiously, I can see a simple leather scabbard hanging from her belt, as if for a long knife, although I haven’t heard of her being a fighter. Finally, her calling cards — the triangle ears resting immobile on her head and the immensely voluminous tail of fluffy, perfect fur, curving gently around the back of her chair, at rest.
“Mamizou,” I greet coldly, looking into her twinkling eyes. I’d curse and tell her to get out right away, but antagonizing this one too much is not a good idea, not even if you have a great reason for it. I’ve never even met her and I know that much. Other than that, though, I know precious little about her. She’s a tanuki, obviously, and she’s some kind of leader to them, and… that’s it. She hasn’t done anything to interfere with me or mine until now, so I’ve left her well enough alone.
She smirks at Rinnosuke then at me, her eyes flicking to my horns once. “Seija,” she says, as if she knew me personally. I did the same, so fair enough. “I’ve wanted to have a chat with you for a while. You don’t make yourself easy to find, do you? Oh, and Rinnosuke.” She grins brilliantly at him while he winces and turns his eyes from hers, embarrassed. Her tail waves lazily behind her. “Good to see you looking… lively.”
She looks amused at the whole situation — a girl after my own heart, in a sense. If only she found some other time to do this. Rinnosuke breathes in like he’s about to say something, but the right twitch of the hips silences him well enough. Really, I’m doing this boy a favour. He badly needs some endurance training in these matters.
“I’d love to chat with you,” I say, cranking up the sarcasm way past what’s necessary. I actually am interested in talking to her at some point, but it came out by itself. Some habits are hard to break. Regardless, I press on. “But I’m a little busy at the moment.” I glower at her and slip one of the shoulders off Rinnosuke’s robe-thing. At that, he finally recovers enough to try and push me off his lap, but too gently. He should know better than that. No, you’re not getting rid of me that easily.
She raises her palms in a mock placating gesture, still wearing that smirk that’s starting to really grate on my patience. “Relax, I’m not gonna take him away from you. I came strictly on simple business.” Mamizou takes my cup of coffee, drinks a careless sip, scrunches her face and puts it down like she’s holding a venomous snake. Has nobody but me got good taste?
At this point, Rinnosuke finally manages some words. “Mamizou, this isn’t wh–”
“Don’t insult us both, Rinnosuke.” Few words, more like. Her smirk grows dangerous. “I’ve got two eyes, same as you. What I don’t have right now is time to discuss it, so I’ll come by and have a talk later, how about it?” She licks her lips. “No need to answer, it’s not really a question. He winces once again. Not feeling very courageous today, are we? “I’ll leave your money out on the counter. And you, don’t bully the poor thing so much. ” she says, looking at me meaningfully. “You have a couple of rough weeks ahead of you, and I can help if you’ll let me. We’ll meet again.” I furrow my brows. That’s an ominous statement if I’ve ever heard one. I’d try to ask what she means, but I get the feeling I’m not going to get much out of her until she wants to.
“I thought you said I was hard to find?” I have to crane my neck uncomfortably to face her. I hope I don’t have to have many more conversations while sitting sideways on someone’s lap.
“Not THAT hard. I haven’t really tried,” she says. Right, we’ll see about that.
Then she says some quick goodbyes without waiting for an answer and leaves, just like that. Took up a few minutes at most, she didn’t even have anything important to do here other than ruin my plans for the night. Man, took the wind from my sails completely, I’m not even in the mood anymore. I hop off Rinnosuke before he can push me off himself, leaving him with some complimentary nail marks on his back. Marking my territory. If I get going quickly, I can be gone before he can realize he’s supposed to be angry at me. As I scurry through the heavy door back to the shop part, he calls after me, but not mad. I’ve seen him mad: he’s not one to shout or gesture angrily, break things or any of that, instead it’s more like he’s deeply disappointed in you. It’s just under his voice and just past his eyes, sadness mixed with the kind of anger, in my experience, that promises violence far better than any angry bellow could. I can’t see this man hitting anyone, of course, but I’ve never stuck around to taunt him further than that. Who knows what the hell half-youkai can do, after all? He sighs deeply, deeper than usual, and this is a man who sighs a lot. “Seija,” he says, exhaustion creeping into his tone. Not angry, at least, but I’m not sure I like this any better. “We should… talk.”
I stare into his eyes for a moment, holding the door open, pretending to consider. Pained eyes, if I’m any judge. “Yeah we should.”
“Oh!” He seems surprised at my answer, and I suppose I’d be too. Sits up straight. “Then–”
“We’ll talk.” I smile. Very honest, open smile, I swear. “Just not today. See ya.” I slam the door behind me.
After getting the books I owe Kosuzu from the dark store — a pain in the ass to find some them in no light — I walk off into the cricket-filled night again. Rinnosuke didn’t leave his hole to bother me, and that’s just fine by me
Walking the miles back home with this stack of heavy books is gonna be a real nightmare, but at least I remembered to bind ‘em together. Always forget it. If I knew I was headed here I’d have gotten a horse. Ah well. I balance the stack on my head with one hand like a washerwoman with her basket and set off towards the city again. I should have some nighttime left by the time I get there.
… Rinnosuke is…
Not worth thinking about right now, that’s what he is. Bloody coward. I spit on the ground emphatically, then again because nobody is around to see it.
[ ] Some unwinding will do me good right about now. Night on the town, eh? [ ] Check in with the rest of my cuties personally. I’ve left them alone for too long.
[X] Check in with the rest of my cuties personally. I’ve left them alone for too long.
Seijouskue, 2015. Never forget. Best Pairing, Rinnosuke best waifu.
Seriously, though, any vote with 'cuties' in can only improve our dear Seija's mood. Though it pains me to pass up the night on the town vote (Get us sum booze, get laid!/Go do more of the thing that we do that makes guards hate us!), my sympathy gland is kicking into HIGH GEAR, as getting walked in on is a terrible event.
My foul mood doesn’t let me enjoy my walk back to the city, even though it’s close to a perfect Youkai’s night. Dark, not much of a moon, cold and ominous wind, the works. I even feel a pang of the old instincts, telling me to drop everything and go off to hunt, kill, trick humans, whatever evil act I can think of — and I can think of more than a few evil acts. The thoughts quickly spread through my mind but just as quickly dissipate like morning mist. This is the way it’s gone, with my instincts getting weaker and weaker over the past several years. Curious, that. I think I’m just getting older, you can’t behave like an animal all your life, right? Plenty of others go through the same thing. Be that as it may, I’m still fully youkai, and for that I whisper a prayer of thanks to the gods. Even this little journey alone would’ve been rough on a poor fragile human, with the grass whipping at my legs, the darkness, the long miles, the heavy baggage and the cold evening wind. I like that last one, though. The goosebumps feel good.
Still, I fume lightly all the way back to the city, kicking and stepping hard as I walk, as if that’d help dispel anger. It doesn’t. I’m not just mad at being cockblocked — though that helps — but I realize I haven’t had what I crave for too long. No, not that, I mean that other thing. I think back to that drunk at the bar. He was boring and I didn’t get to deal with him directly. Mokou was just Mokou, no chance to play with her. Kosuzu didn’t do much and neither did Akyuu, even when I knocked her in the head. Even Rinnosuke didn’t get mad at me, and I did my best there.
Not one of them has taken my bait for what, a full week? No fighting, no bickering, no nothing. I must fix this. Time to call on my very own punching bags. If I can’t get anyone angry, maybe some good-natured bullying will help me out. I crack my neck left, right, and head for the cemetery.
The cemetery is a big blot of green and grey right outside the inner city walls, built long, long before the expansion. Since it had nothing around it at the time, it grew and grew over the years into an unmanageable size like a cancer at one side of the wall, being contained only when people started building outside the walls and people finally (and hesitantly) built around the cemetery, containing its advance by force. With the growth of the outer city and the creation of new, better cemeteries — the one near the buddhist temple especially — this one fell into gradual disrepair as the richer families living in the inner city with people buried here exhumed ashes and corpses or simply abandoned their family members, unwilling to wade through such poverty to see their former loved ones. Employees quit and quit until all that was left was one rheumatic old man who can’t even keep the grass around his shed trimmed, much less take care of the whole place. The general abandonment is obvious to anyone who cares to look: the entire graveyard is in the process of transforming into a small grave-studded forest, with overgrowth taking over paths, open spaces, graves, anything that dares get in the way of nature. Clean graves or ones with offerings are rarely seen. The effect is just what you’d expect — it’s spooky as hell. Dark, uninviting at the best of times, especially for such a crowd as Gensokyoans. It’s deserted even in the brightest of days, the yawning iron gates and grave thicket beyond making people crowd the other side of the street as they pass near one of the limits. Rumors say the spirits from abandoned mortal remains linger here, lurking, waiting for someone fool enough to draw near that they can drag you into their graves and keep them company… forever.
I shiver as I step into the dark cemetery, then smile. Spreading that story and others like it has been one of my smarter moves.
Anyhow, history aside, the important part is that a few richer families were kind enough to build tombs, underground stone crypt. Not being one to waste a gift, I and mine remodeled things some, as soon as I caught wind of it. Pickaxes, shovels, and furniture were brought in, corpses were carted out and dumped, and before long we had a cozy little underground evil lair in what is now pretty much the heart of the city, all interconnected underground like a human anthill. I also have a number of ‘abandoned’ houses and hideouts throughout the city, but those are more like outposts. This is the center. It’s where I… “work”? No, that’s not right. I don’t live here either. I don’t even show up every day. In any case, it’s an important place.
I stalk my way through a path that’s so overgrown it’s almost invisible, still taking care. The cemetery is mostly safe, but sometimes other crooks use it as a shortcut or rendezvous point. Reaching a small stone mausoleum, I fish a heavy iron key from one of the many hidden pockets on my dress and open the gate silently. I make a point to keep the hinges well oiled here: you never know who’s out there in the bushes, listening. After a long set of stairs down and a shorter tunnel, I emerge out into one of our repurposed vaulted crypts. This time of night, most of my boys and girls are in deep sleep, breathing peacefully in blankets and futons scattered across the room around statues and busts. The only ones awake are two of the older human boys, playing cards and drinking on a sarcophagus-turned-table. These are my capital in this city. My protectees, students, my children. I do love them, in my way. Our arrangement is simple: I provide protection when necessary, shelter and the skills they need to feed themselves. That means sneaking, moving with a crowd, cutting purses, picking pockets, sleight of hand, plus a few odds and ends besides. In exchange they give me a generously small portion of everything they steal, which even makes for decent extra income. Of course, that’s not even near the most important task they perform for me. You see, it turns out that information is far, far more valuable than baubles to pawn off or loose change, as long as you know who wants to buy it, and so I also train little spies. Taking advantage of the social invisibility afforded by looking like a street urchin, I set them out onto the city to track carriages, follow and eavesdrop, steal and copy letters and account books, even sneak into noble manors as servants. From merchants to the blue-blooded, they all come to me to know everything their friends and rivals are up to, or even just for juicy gossip if they’re rich enough. It’s a good business.
It’s not hard to control a group like this, I don’t even have to keep that close an eye on them, just instill a healthy amount of fear, make them believe you’re omniscient while not being so cruel that they start plotting how to murder you. Other than that, they mostly govern themselves. I only interfere in serious cases. Broken bones, rape, that sorta thing, or if they’re being targeted by someone from outside our group.
I look over my sleeping minions, satisfied. All reasonably well fed by their own hand. They’re good kids. I take a deep breath. “WAKE THE FUCK UP!”
I grin as they all jolt upwards like scared rabbits and rush to crowd around me, as is the custom. Out of the corner of my eye, I see an impatient Knives physically hauling the yawning new arrival over. “Not a single one of you woke up when I walked into the room, did you know? I could’ve stolen all your shit and nobody would’ve noticed,” I say, letting some of my previous anger leak into the words for effect. Bullshit, of course. I was all the way at the doorway and being silent. “What happened to sleeping light? I ought to beat you all.” All of them are wise enough not to look me in the eye. Scanning them, I note that my two remaining youkai are here as well, the tiny, silent, silent Wriggle, wearing that stupid paperboy that I’ve never seen her not wear, and the smiling Kogasa, who always seems to be having too much fun stealing. I pause to think what test to give them as punishment, as well as which of the youkai to follow around.
I finish a last scan of my ragged underlings, satisfied nobody became diseased, maimed, or a corpse in my absence. Nobody present, anyway. They might be sensing my mood, from the way they’re intent on studying their feet. No worries, I have enough love to spare for all of you.
Let’s see. A test that will keep most of em busy for a while and that will fail most of them. Something simple, if possible.
“Listen, lemmings. Tonight, you’re all going to steal jewelry for me,” I come straight out with it, not being one for much drama. The quicker ones in the group — my three favourites included — seem to grasp the issue immediately, their eyes widening while everyone else is still shuffling and trying to blink the sleep away. “Real jewelry. You have until sun up.” … A few seconds pass. Nobody seems to grasp that orientation time is over, all of ‘em standing around like tools, so I have to get them moving with a sudden stomp and an emphatic “Go! Shoo, shoo!”
All too aware of the kind of punishment waiting if they fail, they all scatter to collect their stuff and leave as soon as possible. The task I gave them seems simple enough on the surface, but it’s not easy at this unholy hour. During the day, they can just lift stuff off people on the street; bump and cut, as usual. Right now, however, finding jewelry means burglary, a messy, difficult business. Not to mention, they can’t just break into any random house and expect to find gold, at least not in this part of town. You’d have to cross the wall into the more heavily policed, richer district. Or, I suppose you could beat up someone bringing back their own loot and take it. Or trade. In fact, the more I think about it, the better of a test it seems. Damn, I must be some kind of genius teacher, subconsciously. Too bad I don’t actually care about the results this time around. Stealing is a blast and all, but it’s not what pays the bills. Well, not my bills, and that’s what’s important.
I follow Kogasa as she gathers her few possessions from her corner of the crypt. It’s not a good idea to have more things than you can carry around here. A few tired-looking kids approach her for a word, not an uncommon occurrence. She smiles warmly and talks to them, giving out advice. Even starts mussing up a girl’s hair, so I’m forced to shoot her a glare so she’ll hurry up. The others are already dispersing when we emerge out from the stairs into the refreshing night air again. She finally turns to face me with an easy smile. Kogasa has the same slight build as me and the same kind of unruly short hair around her shoulders, but that’s about as far as our similarities go. To begin with, her entire demeanour is obnoxiously cheery, from the way her steps are permanently light to the friendly glint in her mismatched eyes. I give my thanks she’s an exception to the rule. She’s clothed normally enough tonight, simple trousers and shirt in muted colours, slightly dirty so that in the daylight she’ll look like any other apprentice busying on an errand.
I know better, of course. This one, along with knives, is just below me in the hierarchy, putting them above everyone else. Oddly enough, she seems to keep herself at the top mostly by being generally friendly and likable, providing the tiny humans with a glimpse of the kind of warmth rarely found in our circumstances. She gives food out, comforts, helps with first-aid, and is generally a saint. Every so often one of the smaller kids will accidentally call her ‘mom’, she’s that kind of person. The other part of her strategy is the thick, heavy black quarterstaff she keeps on hand at all times, taller than she is — quarterstaff being short for “big stick you hit people with,” as we all know. She doesn’t get to use it often nowadays, but early on, one wretched soul did try to take advantage of her kindness, once. When we found him whimpering in an empty grave, he had every square inch of his skin bruised and was far more disturbed than a simple beating would warrant. Idiot. It was days before anyone coaxed a coherent response out of him, and asking what happened only made him go into fetal position and shut down again. Still does, actually.
I don’t hold it against her; you need a certain level of ruthlessness to survive here, and because of what she did, nobody ever tried to pull a fast one on her again. One surgical strike of cruelty, expertly delivered so as to make sure nobody else has to go through it unless they’re really damn stupid. Commendable.
She bows her head minutely with a “miss,” blessedly light as she ever is on the weird reverence to me the others seem to think is appropriate. Kogasa treats me more like an equal. I let her lead me among the graves towards the outside. “Sooo,” she half-whispers, conscious of being too loud near our hideout. “Is there any point to this assignment? Need some cash in a hurry?” She adds that last part with a grin.
I look around to make sure nobody else is within earshot before answering. Wouldn’t do to be too buddy-buddy in sight of the others. “Nah, just stress relief.”
“Great. I assume you’re tagging along to make things harder for me.” I admit I’ve done it out of boredom more often than not.
“Only if you don’t fuck it up by yourself first,” I say, fully knowing she won’t. Kogasa is more than a fair hand at this sort of work. Her main hobby, far as I can tell, is sneaking up on people and startling the soul clean outta them.
She shrugs. “A bit challenge doesn’t hurt, I suppose.”
“How are you gonna go about it?
“I’m a good and honest girl,” she says as we step through the cemetery gates. This close to the wall, lamp posts are still maintained so we have some modicum of light we don’t need. “So I’ll do it the good and honest way: stealing from people who don’t need it. I’d never bully or extort one of my cute juniors.” Strange to hear those words delivered without a hint of sarcasm, but Kogasa says it as innocently as if she were a child.
These streets aren’t populated by much other than drunkards returning home, sleeping beggars and scurrying rats, and that’s just as well. Nobody around to see us. She takes a familiar route up a roof and over the wall. It’s not a very formidable fortification, having never been meant to actually hold up against anything significant. These days it’s just a demarcation, barely eclipsing the common 1 story buildings on either side. Makes it a cinch to climb over. Sometimes there are guards walking around the narrow walkway on top of it, but most times there’s nothing.
The roads on the other side are all cobblestone and mortar rather than dirt and it’s better lit, although there are more than enough shadows left for villains like us to skulk around in. We have to hide from a couple teams of guards, but it’s no trouble: they’re evidently not expecting to actually have to do their jobs, chatting and blinding themselves by carrying their own light, postures relaxed.
“So, where are you going?”
Kogasa looks over her shoulder at me. “I know a store. A seamstress with her own place, likes bling more than she should.”
A store — she wants the easy option, then. The inner city is where all the really rich live, sure, but it’s not only them. Skilled workers and all sorts of people with cash to spare have installed themselves here, albeit in less flashy and more practical homes, traditionally working their trade off the same building they live in. Carpenters, artisans, apothecaries, salesmen… there’s even a whole bank somewhere in here. Does Gensokyo really need a bank? In any case, a single reasonably-sized home would be much easier to rob than the manors of the wealthy, where you could easily stumble on a servant out for a night walk, or guards, or something like that.
Easy mode won’t do for us. A grin spreads across my face. “I think I have a better idea.”
“First, this isn’t an idea, and second, your idea sucks.” Kogasa shifts nervously, crouched in front of me.
“Relax. Even if they find us, what are they gonna do, kill us?”
“What would stop them?” she whispers back, petulantly. “I just don’t like going in blind, that’s all.”
“Thankfully what you like doesn’t come into it. Now move.”
She huffs but keeps quiet otherwise, hiding amongst the bushes with me. I love how all these humans with more time and money than they need build huge, meticulous, easy-to-hide-in gardens around their homes. Very generous of them. This one even has a pond with a bridge and one of those toc-toc deer scarer thingamajigs. Bet it's very zen in the sunset.
“Well? What now?”
I shrug. “You’re the one leading.”
“What? But you were the one to… Oh, nevermind.” She tsks and walks on, footsteps totally silent as I’d expect. By a stroke of good luck, the mansion is totally asleep — the whole time we’re searching for the master bedroom, all we hear is crickets, wind and the soft sounds of sleep from within many of the rooms. Large family, perhaps? Kogasa guesses correctly and goes straight for the largest room she can find. It’s all very disappointingly uneventful, with the loot right there on top of a cabinet and our victims blissfully asleep like a couple of babies
I only get my chance for a bit of fun when we’re heading back outside, Kogasa having taken a single silver ring from a big box full of pearls and gems and whatnot.
We hear the footfalls simultaneously, just when we’re about to turn into the outside corridor they’re coming from. The muffled pitter-patter of bare feet on wood. A woman’s walk. Kogasa freezes right in front of me, only meters from someone who could alert the whole house to us in a flash. We could get away even then, but it might involve running. I don’t feel like running. I look to the dark shape of Kogasa’s staff, which, to no surprise on my end, hasn’t been any kind of impediment at all, even in these circumstances. It’s like an extension of her arm. I bet a good crack across the jaw could knock someone out cold, easy. Or send pieces of skull and jawbone right up into their brain, considering the thickness of the wood and the youkai strength behind it.
[ ] Perfect. Give Kogasa a push, see how she deals. [ ] Freeze. Maybe she won’t look our way as she passes.
I plant my feet and give Kogasa a nice solid shove, getting a cute gasp of surprise in return. Rather than hesitating like I expected, however, she takes off as if she was just waiting for an excuse to go for it. By the time I peek out of the corner, she’s already gotten the poor human servant girl who was heading our way in a death grip. Not a proper hold like they teach in the dojos, mind, but she has enough strength to clamp the girl’s mouth closed and hold her arms into place, even holding her in this awkward position from behind. Her staff lies on the ground.
Then she giggles. What?
Kogasa turns to me, showing more and pointier teeth than anyone should in a single grin — seriously, I’ve seen that sort of grin, and it’s more often than not the precursor to the spilling of blood, and lots of it. For a moment I think that she’s about to take the snack so freely offered to her, but she tries to fight the grin down instead. Our victim chooses this moment to realize her legs are free and starts making an unholy racket by struggling. Or, more likely, feeble thumping of feet on wood that sounds like an unholy racket to us, considering the situation.
“Help me out,” Kogasa whispers.
“Nah.” Ah, it feels good saying that. I could hold the legs, but what’s the fun in that? She shoots me a wicked glare — which loses much of its effect, what with her still trying in vain to fight down a manic smile. I consider bolting and leaving her here like this, but I wanna see what she does to get out of this. It’s not as simple a situation as it might seem: knocking the servant girl out would be ideal, but doing that isn’t the easiest thing. She could try the ol' choking, but that’d take a full minute of loud struggling that we don’t have. She doesn’t have the leverage for a solid jaw punch in her position either, and there’s no other magic button to knock a human unconscious that I’m aware of.
Kogasa, if nothing else, is as prompt with her trump card as I hoped. The dark shape of her staff rises up silently, one end of it still firmly on the ground. Then it… blurs? Transforms? Something weird I don’t quite understand happens, and it’s suddenly not a staff anymore, but a huge, closed paper umbrella. Or, wait, it was always an umbrella, wasn’t it? I’m pretty sure I always knew that. Ugh. I feel a flash of pain in my head and blink the confusion away. Some kind of mind-bending illusion crap, then. I didn’t know karakasa could do that, but it explains why she never leaves this thing behind, and how she’s so good with it.
The umbrella — Kogasa, technically — half opens, taking up the entire width of the corridor and then some, scraping the walls more loudly than I'd like. I can’t see its, uh, face, but the girl’s eyes go from merely terrified into full-blown screaming panic mode. The sort that happens when they approach certainty of imminent violent death. It’s a strangely universal look, I’ve noticed. She starts to struggle harder, then stops completely when the dark shape of the kasa’s tongue winds around her legs twice, locking them suddenly and utterly in place. They don’t even tremble: steel manacles wouldn’t be as secure. I watch as Kogasa leans over the completely helpless human and whispers a few words into her ears, no longer trying to hide her hideously predatory expression. Well, at least someone is enjoying this. Whatever she says turns out to be effective, because the girl’s eyes roll back and she goes totally limp in a few seconds. Kogasa giggles again, then whispers. "That's handy."
The whole thing takes 10, 15 seconds, but with the amount of noise we made, someone will be coming to check up on us soon enough, I have no doubt.
“Gee, thanks for your help,” she says, but she sounds far too happy to mean her sarcasm. The umbrella turns smoothly in the air to ‘face’ me, eerily silent and still holding on to our prisoner’s legs with its tongue. I note that it’s mouth and eye look totally organic emerging from the dull paper, making it look way creepier than it has any right to. They even glisten like the real thing, and I wonder for a second if it’s gonna start drooling on the floor with its tongue lolling out like that. The eye rolls in its socket and peers at me curiously. ...Actually, it might be kind of cute, too. Cute and creepy.
“You’re welcome. Now what?”
Again she works quickly, stretching her arms out towards the umbrella, pulling a length of rope from… seemingly nowhere and tying the girl’s legs and arms together behind their back. I think we could just leave and leave her passed out on the floor, but Kogasa’s already leading, so I might as well let her see it through. She’s almost done tying her up when she speaks up. “Quick, give me your panties.”
“What?” Did I hear that right?
“Come ooon, we have no time!” She looks pleadingly at me. The human stirs slightly; I gather a swooning spell doesn’t last that long. Oh well. I shrug and slip it off, thinking vaguely that I should’ve worn a longer dress today. She takes it, balls it up and unceremoniously stuffs it into the insensate girl’s mouth, then ties it in place with another piece of rope. She plops her down on the floor and sets off again, wisely deciding not to stick around to see if anyone's waking up. I follow, feeling rather breezy.
We’re through the garden and nearly at the manor walls by the time we hear a shout from inside the house. Not quite a clean escape, but good enough. Kogasa sniggers when we’re safely outside, and I get the uncomfortable sensation that it’s directed at me. In fact, now that I stop to think about it… “Wait, you carry a bunch of rope around but not a single piece of cloth?”
The umbrella waves its tongue at me, managing to look distinctly amused. Kogasa laughs again, louder and richer this time. Well, now I feel stupid. Those were a nice pair too, with some lace since I was going to Kourin’s. I mark her down for some revenge later, but let it go for now with nothing more than a punch to the shoulder and some run-of-the-mill cursing.
“Sooo,” she begins after we’re past the city wall again and free of the guard patrols. She twirls her umbrella and I can swear the thing tracks me with its eye as it goes around. “You don’t seem very surprised.”
“Surprised? By what?”
“Ya know, this thing,” she says, motioning the umbrella around. “I’m not human.”
“Of course I know.” I scowl. “Do you take me for an idiot?”
“Whaaat?” She pouts. “I thought I was pretty good at hiding it. How’d you know?”
“I just do. About the others too.”
I sigh. I forget I’m dealing with whelps sometimes. Of course they wouldn’t be able to tell youkai from human at a glance, or even know such a thing is possible; they’re a handful of decades old at best. It’s not like we have a magical sixth sense, but you can learn to generally tell from a certain way someone moves, carries themselves, things like that. It’s similar to the way you can tell if a certain human is, say, a soldier or a nobleman from the way they walk alone. I suppose you could learn to disguise it, but I don’t know who’d bother to do such a thing.
“Is it Knives? She’s kinda fishy. Oh!” Kogasa interrupts herself. “Then you must know about everyone else too. They told me you wouldn’t be aware of us, but I knew you would.” She puffs up with misplaced pride. “There’s already over a hundred of us living here!”
Living here? As in, with the humans? That’s a lot of youkai, although perhaps not so many for the size of the city. I’d seen a few of them around, but I never thought it’d be a concerted effort. I never thought about the subject at all, actually. What would a sane, healthy individual want to live among humans for? Very strange. I just thought it was me and a feel other oddballs. “Right?” Kogasa makes a smug face, mistaking my mild surprise for awe. “And we’re planning something big soon. You’ll see.”
[ ] Something big? [ ] “We”? [ ] How come I haven’t heard of these other youkai? [ ]
Kogasa sure is being inordinately cheeky tonight. Cheekier than she ought to, for her own good. I always give her a good amount of leeway when there’s nobody else around, but this is a bit much. I’ll have to do something about that. But not right now.
“Yeah? You’ve got some kind of amazing plan?” I pour on the sarcasm, for luck. She misses it completely, or pretends to.
“Something like that,” she says, smirking along with her umbrella(?) as she twirls it again. A flash and a stab of anger spreads through me. When I ask a question, I want a prompt fucking answer. You’re not even near the level where you get to play the clever trickster with me. It takes a couple of seconds to properly push down my exasperation as I take a deep breath. Not yet, not yet.
Kogasa, meanwhile, is utterly clueless, practically skipping her way home. I don’t know what’s got her so happy, but it’s pissing me off. The tongue on her umbrella waggles disconcertingly at me — although I also get a sudden urge to pet it, despite my mood. It has the puppy eyes. Well, puppy eye. If you can manage to ignore how unearthly huge it is. I wonder if she can control what it does. I don’t know how karakasa work.
I give her a pointed stare when it becomes clear she’s not planning to say anything more. She pouts childishly, but I’m on to her game. She’s a slippery one. “Aww, come on! It’s a surprise. Besides, I don’t even know for sure, myself. They don’t think I’m trustworthy, can you believe that?”
She huffs at me, then continues. “I’m fine with not knowing, anyway. Isn’t it more fun that way? I know whatever we’re doing is supposed to be good for everyone, so just let it be a surprise.”
“I hate surprises.”
Kogasa lets out an offended gasp at that statement, so I make a point to punctuate it with a grin in her direction.
We slowly make our way over the walls and back to the imposing cemetery gate. I take my time walking, so I can enjoy the lazily waking city: the first sleepy-eyed humans poking their heads outside, the lamplighters shambling about and snuffing out the few streetlights we have around here, the early workers already setting up, all before the sky is even that deep blue pre-dawn colour. I do hate this whole city, but nights like this can be nice, when there’s nobody around to constantly shoot me looks of distrust. Even the relative dilapidation of this part of town doesn’t take much of the charm away.
The streets go from empty to deserted as we near our destination. Before long, we’re over the gate and back in the friendly territory of the cemetery. This place is nice too, in its own way. Just sucks that you can’t walk around without ending up full of burrs and scratches.
I glance back at her umbrella, which still has its gaze fixed on me, even as Kogasa uses it as a walking stick. Bloody thing. “Aren’t you gonna hide that again?”
“I already have.” Infuriatingly, she winks at me and that’s enough to put me close to my limit. I’ve had enough. I get a single pulse of something like a headache, my shoulders tense and my fists clench. I pierce her with a death glare. I’ve cowed even Marisa with nothing but this look, and I fully mean to brag. Her disgustingly smug little smirk withers gratifyingly quickly and she lowers her head.
“You’re really pushing it tonight, Kogasa.”
“I-I’m sorry,” she stutters out, eyes on the ground. “It’s just been a while since I gave anyone a good scare. I get giddy.”
From back at the mansion? Hm. I see. With emphasis, I say nothing. She looks even more nervous, fidgeting with her hands.
“My friend is, um, cloaked. You already know what he really is, so it won’t work on you anymore. An… acquaintance of mine at the buddhist temple helped me out.” Ugh. The less I hear about that place and the people in it, the better. “I’m really sorry. It won’t happen again.” I ‘hmph’ in what might be taken as an acceptance of apology — if you didn’t know me at all. Kogasa, wisely, doesn’t relax at all, following close behind me with small steps. Good, I’d be disappointed if she didn’t show at least that much sense.
We reach the mausoleum entrance still in total darkness to find another pair of my students just going inside. Wriggle together with a human. They both give me a little bow, and I see Wiggle’s eyes quickly darting to the chastened Kogasa and back to me, a question in her eyes. I feel a pang of regret that I didn’t go with her instead: she’s much quieter and less annoying. “What are you looking at? Come on, open the door.”
They promptly do, using their own large key, and I lead the way down. We’re the first ones to return, so I start setting up for when the rest show up. The ones that fail, that is. Some fire is involved, but nothing they can’t handle. After I’m done I sit for a short nest, eyeing the heavy stack of books I brought back from Rinnosuke’s. I’m gonna have to take those to Kosuzu. While I’m contemplating that and how I might mess with her, Wriggle shuffles closer to me and does another little bow. I roll my eyes. “What?”
“We found this.”
Holding it strangely reverently in both hands, she hands over a colourful piece of paper that I recognize a moment later as the same fancy invitation I found at Suzunaan. Lots of tasteless gold colours, just as I’d expect. I see, so it’s really happening. Interesting. If Kosuzu really is involved, I’ll have to investigate. Going by the date on the invitation, I have 13 days until the ball. Pretty short notice, considering the kind of human involved. Still, plenty of time.
[ ] Do it today, after I’m done here. Maybe bullying Kosuzu will help improve my mood. [ ] Screw work, screw life, blow everything off today. I’ve just spent an entire night walking up and down, ya know? [ ] Go see Hina. She’s supposed to have ominous forebodings for me, isn’t she? [ ] Stay here for a while longer. It’s comfier than you might expect underground, once you fix it up.
That was hard to write. Can you get writing-rusty in less than 2 months? I'll try to get back into a 2 update/week minimum rhythm.
I’ll check on Hina once I’m done here. It’ll be good seeing someone more miserable than me for once. And no, these little half-people don’t count since I’m the one making them miserable. I watch from my deliberately intimidating seat atop the stone sarcophagus we use for a table. It’s amusing how obvious it is who completed the assignment and who roundly failed, from the way most of the humans come in shuffling their feet and sneaking worried looks at me. I’m pleased to see nobody had the bright idea of running away. Knives shoots me a blank stare as she walks in, her new pet following on her footsteps like a baby duck.
I do get creative with punishment occasionally, but today isn’t one of those days. As they come in, I hop off and go fetch the surprise I left simmering in our ‘kitchen’ tomb. Their eyes are drawn to the great smoking pot as soon as I pop back in; the ones who failed visibly filled with dread. Even some of the others don’t look too happy. There was trading of stolen jewelry for favours and debts here, I have no doubt, but many prefer to deal with me than another of these little cutthroats. At least I’m straightforward.
What I have planned for today is an old standby: a truly wretched concoction I cobbled together containing fish oil, the worst home-brewed liquor I can find, flour to thicken, the spiciest pepper Gensokyo has to offer and whatever else I can get my hands on that seems most repulsive. Heat it all up and have them drink it at proper tongue-burning temperature. Leaves them unable to taste much of anything other than pain for the following few days.
I line them up and have Knives collect the loot — I trust her enough to let her handle money, for now. The empty-handed ones get a healthy serving of half a mug of this god-awful drink, served personally by yours truly. There’s the usual whining and sniffling and mocking as most of them have to run outside and throw up right away. It’s annoying busywork, but it all has to be done.
I do get some fun out of it when Kogasa panics, searching for her stolen ring. That’s a good laugh, especially when I flash the gleaming silver on my hand at her and comprehension slowly dawns on her. That was worth it. She makes a face when I pour a double dose for her but doesn’t complain; she knows she got off easy. On a whim, I decide to keep the ring. I don’t wear much jewelry, but I like this one. Nice and simple.
After all that mess, it’s time for some food. They do have the means to feed themselves without me consistently if need be, but you always need a carrot to go with the stick. I open our thrice-locked food cabinet (the one I personally refill) and get all the good stuff for a hearty breakfast out — even the delicious (and expensive) sugared dried fruit I’ve been saving. Not that locks are much of an impediment for students of mine, but if they can steal food without me or anybody else noticing, I’d say they deserve it. And if you don’t get to enjoy the food because of a burned tongue or a queasy stomach, well, that’s your own fault, isn’t it? Being able to taste it or not, not a single one of them is keen on wasting freely given food, and even the ones who looked the worst off drinking the brew stuff themselves on meat and bread. Everyone who’s deserving has a good time. To my satisfaction, Kogasa sulks off early on — she doesn’t have a strong stomach, I gather.
This is their time, not mine, so I sit at a corner and fade into the background, letting them do their thing, same as always. There’s something deeply relaxing about sitting in the middle of the purely human chaos of a mess hall. I imagine this is what those old humans that sit to feed birds feel: an odd sort of peace that comes from detachment. Like spectating from above. Everyone is as comfortable with each other as they’re going to get, so they squabble, pinch, argue and do whatever else it is small humans do. They go so far as to laugh, strangely enough. Even the new kid is getting along reasonably well, by which I mean he hasn’t had his nose broken just yet.
Other than handing out actual assignments to three or four of them, I’m content to sit, snack, and wait until everyone disperses. A human girl with a scarred cheek is the last out, flashing me a shy smile by way of goodbye after she stuffs her pockets full of the few breadcrumbs nobody else took. Poor girl must have nobody else, if she's smiling at me. After she’s gone I quickly clean up the place, change, then stretch and sigh the tiredness away.
The sky is already bright.
Aaaand I’m being followed. What a pain. It’s someone who knows what they’re doing, too — even though I’m already way out near the emptier farmlands, they still haven’t made themselves obvious. Not good enough to trick me completely, of course, but it’s testament to their skill that I can’t tell where they are immediately. My senses have been screaming at me I’m being tailed almost from the moment I left the cemetery.
Actually, it might not be a total pain. It’s interesting. How long has it been since someone’s tried this with me?
[ ] Lead them around on a merry chase, see what happens. [ ] Lure them in somewhere and 'confront'. [ ] Lose them. [ ] Ignore. I’m just going to see Hina, anyway.
Kind of a 'sorry, but we have to get through this part' update. I enjoyed writing it, though.
We aren’t so far outside the city that alleyways are completely absent. Alleyways being, of course, the traditional location to conduct this sort of business in — granted, it’s not as fitting this bright and early in the day as it would be in a foggy night, but it serves just as well to funnel someone who’s tailing you. I’m fairly obvious about it, veering suddenly and suspicious into a narrow street. A sort of warning, because I’m feeling charitable this morning. Thankfully there’s an obvious hiding spot: I have to scare off a hissing cat when I crouch behind a discarded torn mattress. Not as dark as I’d like for an ambush, but there’s not much I can do about that. It’s also filthy, but that’s a given.
As soon as I’m settled I hear someone walk by. My someone, judging by how quickly the light patter of hurried footsteps is approaching. I think to myself that a better person might calmly step out of hiding and confront them peacefully. I smile in anticipation: my way is definitely infinitely more fun. I wait until they’re as close as they’re going to get and pounce. I nearly take out my claws and go for the throat by instinct, but catch myself at the last moment, instead tackling my surprisingly small stalker with all my weight. Smaller than me, even. I bowl over… her? Very easily. She only has time to squeak and grab on to me, before we hit the floor in a tangled mess.
As we fall, I feel a sting on my ribs, then an awful burning streak blossoms on my chest in a way that’s unfortunately familiar. We struggle silently for a moment, but I easily gain the upper hand, being heavier and already on top. I straddle and immobilize her without much trouble. While she tries fruitlessly to, uh, wriggle away, I grimace, glancing at the two new bloody gashes I’m sporting. “You’ve ruined a perfectly good dress.”
Not entirely surprisingly, it’s Wriggle below me, still looking distinctly shaken from being jumped. Thin black blades poke out from somewhere in her hand, dripping at the tips. She sees me looking and they retract in a flash, disappearing completely under her skin. I can’t say I’m surprised because, come on, a youkai trying that hard to seem like a weak, unremarkable child human has got to be plotting something. At least the other two make it known they are obviously superior to the humans as is proper, while Wriggle hides like this.
Her eyes dart around. “W–wait,” she says, mistaking my frown for anger. “You just startled me! It was a reflex, I wasn’t trying to kill you or anything!”
I believe her, but I don’t let her know it. I keep holding her in place and give her a look over. Aside from sorta losing her composure, she doesn’t seem changed much. Same incredible waifishness, unremarkable boys’ clothes. She was squeaky when she talked just now, that was different. And one more important thing... “I was ju–”
“Yeah, yeah. Shut up for a second,” I interrupt her. There’s a detail off here. “You hat fell off.”
Her eyes widen. Her antennae — two long, segmented, spindly back chitin things half as thick as my pinky finger atop her head — suddenly go berserk, twisting, wagging and twitching uncontrollably. She starts struggling to free herself again, panicking momentarily before relenting and trying to return to her cool facade again. Her antennae continue to twitch nervously, so it kind of loses its effect.
“What do you want?” she asks, no longer so squeaky.
“Something to bandage this would be nice, for starters.” I stare at the bloody, neatly cut lines on my dress. I’d forgotten how much claw wounds hurt — and these are fairly clean and shallow, as these things go.
Wriggle almost glares at me, but remembers her position before she does, physically and otherwise, and instead simply shakes her head in the negative.
“Failing that, you could tell me why you were following me.” When she doesn’t immediately answer me I smile. A nice, innocent smile. “Pretty please?”
Sweat begins to bead on her forehead and her breath catches, but she continues to stare straight into my eyes and keeps her mouth defiantly shut. Oh my, how valiant and courageous.
“You won’t tell me?”
She pauses. “I won’t,” she says, her voice not even breaking. Wow, she’s really sticking to it. This one might not just be your average coward. I search her face, then look her in the eye for long seconds, watching the pupils widen, practically seeing the thoughts go through her head. She flexes her fingers and lightly tests my grip, pretending to fidget. Her antennae continue to twitch, but she never once breaks eye contact.
This is interesting.
“I’m going to let you go now. You’re not going to run away, understand?”
She nods haltingly, confused. It’s understandable: I act way different around the kids than I do normally, and Wriggle hasn’t exactly sought me out alone before this. I get off her and she darts for her hat, replacing it and re-hiding her antennae. She backs away from me slowly like I’m a wild youkai, even though she’s the one who just viciously clawed me.
I consider my options. She was following me, sure, but that by itself is not that big a deal; it’s a fact that lots of people have me tracked, they’re just more subtle about it than this. But she’s never done this before, so something has clearly changed. Should I be extra careful?
[ ] Tell her to get out of my sight. Permanently. [ ] Press harder. I can get her to speak, one way or another. [ ] Someone employing this little twerp can’t be a big threat. Let her off with a warning. [ ] Closer observation is clearly required. She’s coming along, like it or not.
I've failed my self-imposed limit. To make it up to you, I'll update a minimum of three times this week as long as you guys vote quickly enough. Let's say 4 votes and I'll write, three if four voters don't seem forthcoming. I think I can get at least three.
This update might have more mistakes than usual, I was kinda distracted writing it.
Wriggle backs all the way to the wall, looking for an escape route as she goes. She’s almost subtle about it. “Can’t be something that bad if you’re still here and not running away or trying to kill me. Right?” She purses her lips. Yep, not a natural actress, if I’m any judge.
I’ve already tried intimidating her — I’m better at it with my eyes than words. I could just straight up threaten or kick it out of her, but what’s the fun in that? I don’t know anything about her, so blackmail is also out. She did seem desperate to hide that she’s a youkai, but somehow I don’t see that particular approach working. I eye the small girl predatorily while I think, just to watch her squirm.
Okay, then. Let’s go fishing. I shrug. “It’s fine if you don’t want to say it,” I tell her, letting the words hang. Wriggle looks wary, for good reason.
“Of course,” I say, smiling. Man, I love how easy bullshitting comes to me. It’s one of my finest qualities, if I do say so myself. Granted, Wriggle doesn’t seem like the most difficult target, but even so. “You don’t think I’m completely unaware of what’s going on, do you?”
She shifts her feet, glancing at me. From wary to nervous. Good, I’m headed the right way. Now, the crucial moment. “You didn’t think I’d know about Kogasa?” Wriggle winces, clenching her teeth. Jackpot. I pile it on. “No wonder she isn’t trusted with more information. She’s not very subtle.”
A lucky guess, but an informed one. I’m told there’s a group of youkai ‘planning something big’ soon that I’m somehow involved in and another youkai close to me starts acting different the same day. It’s just too much of a coincidence. I wouldn’t be surprised if Knives were in on it too. “I don’t know everything, it’s true,” I say, taking a step towards her. “But it’s not like you’d be blowing the lid on the whole thing. No-one’s going to find out you said anything… and if they did, I protect what’s mine. You know that, don’t you?” Keep it vague. I take a few more steps, until I’m looking down at her. I’m not tall enough to tower over her, exactly, but it seems to do the trick well enough. She finally sighs, relenting.
And her constructed ‘quiet’ persona disappears in an angry puff. She cocks her hips and huffs — huffs! I raise an eyebrow. “Fine! You’ll find out anyway, and I don’t even get paid for this. It’s just not worth it.” She places a hand on her hip, looking peeved off. Fortunately for her, not at me. Okay, maybe there’s some talent for acting there. I wasn’t expecting that. “Look, I don’t know any details either, okay? They’re keeping the actual process hush-hush, other than the obvious fact that we’re going public soon. I was just told to watch you.” I nod sagely. It never hurts to look like you know exactly what’s going on.
“So, obviously you’re important — all we have to do is make sure you don’t disappear or get murdered for a couple weeks.”
I frown. Being important for something I’m not even aware of doesn’t bodes well; it means there’s big happenings going on that I don’t know a thing about. I can’t even ask Wriggle about it, since she thinks I already know what’s going on. She’d just clam up. Ah, goddamnit. Wriggle continues, sighing. “I even told them Kogasa was too flighty to be trusted, but nooo, I’m ‘just a bug youkai’ and can’t handle simple observation duty by myself.” She finishes, stomping her feet. A cute gesture for someone barely 4 feet tall.
Right about now is when I’d reveal I’ve just duper her out of information, but I actually barely got anything, all told. I could still just force everything out of her, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s actively plotting against me, and I don’t want to drive Wriggle away completely. She’s interesting and shows some promise. She’s done grumbling by now, and looks up at me sullenly, having apparently recovered some of her composure. I suppose maybe it’s not just acting: she might actually be something like the silent girl from the graveyard, most of the time. “May I go now? I’ll just make something up for my report.”
“No, you’re staying.” I grin and swiftly manoeuvre to her side, grabbing her firmly by the waist. So skinny. Before she can protest, I’m pulling her along with me, forcing her to walk. “Why don’t you come with? I’m just going to visit a friend. No secret business, nothing to hide.” She tries to pull away from me, once, then gives me a weird look when I don’t let go. I smile, all friendly–like. “We’re friends now, right?”
“Er.” She fidgets in my arm, while still letting herself be led along. “It’s okay, you don’t really have to—”
“I wasn’t asking, dear. Come on.”
It’s not that long of a walk to where Hina is hiding out. She’s not very good at staying hidden: the world has a way of making her obvious wherever she may go. Still, it’s too bad I don’t get much of a chance to prod the Wriggle in the way. I’m not great at getting all buddy-buddy with anyone, so in such a short time all I can do is have some fun making her uncomfortable. It’s not too easy to get a reaction out of her, which makes it all the sweeter when I do. She’s cute, in a boyish way. I could have some fun with her. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I swing that way most of the time, but cute is cute.
Hina’s hiding in a large-ish copse surrounding a natural pool, a ways off from any farms or anything. As we leave the remnants of civilization near the horizon, Wriggle seems to finally realize we’re near the ass-end of nowhere and turns to me. “Wait, who are we actually visiting?”
Her eyes grow a tiny bit wider. “Hina? that Hina?” I nod. “I thought she lived in the other side of Gensokyo.”
“You’re friends? With Hina?”
I smirk. Knowing gods pays dividends sometimes.
Figures. “Why not? She’s nice enough once you get to know her.”
She nods slowly, but says nothing else. I know what she’s thinking, but she’s just not willing to argue with me.
We cross the last of idyllic pasture before we arrive at the small forest. Signs of the misfortune goddess are obvious right away, if you know where to look. More dead leaves littering the ground, more lichen, more fungus, a chillier air than the time of year warrants. It’s subtle, but it’s there. The copse is well covered, letting little sunlight in, but the trees aren’t dense enough and there’s not enough low vegetation to make walking a bother. Makes it all very dream-like, with sunspots raining down. Hina picks her battlefields well.
“Is this normal?” Wriggle asks, eyeing the long red ribbons hanging from the branches. Some are low enough to brush us, although Wriggle makes it a point to dodge them like they’re deadly.
“It’s part of her process.”
In time we reach the limpid pool at the center, where the concentration of fluttering ribbons is highest. It looks like a deserted festival. It’s fittingly eerie, but her presence doesn’t actually cause death and misfortune, not in the way people think. The lake is still full of life; dragonflies, croaking frogs, and even a pair of waterfowl. Floating peacefully are about a dozen of Hina’s hastily-made nagashi-bina dolls in their straw rafts. I’m not sure what the point is if they’re not actually floating downstream, but you never know with Hina.
“Doesn’t look like she’s around.” Wriggle doesn’t sound shaken… although she is. I hear the unspoken “Let’s leave now, please,” clear as day.
I shake my head. Hina doesn’t stray for long, and I don’t want to waste the time it took getting here. In the meantime, however…
[ ] There’s a lake right here, crystal clear and perfect for a bath. [ ] Look for Hina rather than wait. She’s always close by. [ ] Take the time and talk to Wriggle some.
I look around the small forest, looking for any sign of the goddess herself. Do I have to do this every time? I wish she could just check into a hotel like a normal person — but then again, if she could do that she wouldn’t be the Hina I know. I call out her name once, just to let her know I’m around in case she doesn’t already. I see Wriggle twitch out of the corner of my eye when I do. Still jumpy. She’s returned to her former self, mostly. Experimentally, I slap my thigh, heeling her like a dog, and she scurries to my side wordlessly. I sigh internally. No dignity at all. You’re a youkai, for crying out loud. I’ll have to teach her eventually.
We have to look for this bloody goddess now. We make a relaxed circuit of the corpse, more strolling than searching, really. It’s a very scenic spot and I take the opportunity to relax. Although to be honest, I don’t feel like playing hide-and-seek right now. I stretch lazily when we get back to our starting point near the pool. The gashes on my ribs remind me suddenly and vividly that they’re there and I wince from the spark of pain. I check my ruined dress — a huge patch around the gash is the still vivid red of drying blood. I didn’t even bandage it. I wet a finger by licking it and clean away what’s caked around the scratches to get a better look, and I have to say I’m seriously impressed. The cuts are so clean they could’ve been made with a scalpel. No skin scraped away or anything you’d expect from a normal claw wound. These should heal easily.
...Oh. I have an idea.
“Wriggle, fetch me a couple of those ribbons.”
She frowns, but does as she told after only a moment of hesitation. She unties a couple from the lowest branches and brings them over, holding them as far away from herself as she can.
“HINA,” I call out again, “I’m using your ribbons!”
The response is as prompt as I’d expected. I’ve only just started fastening the red frilly things around my chest when she drops to the ground like a bolt of lightning, scattering dead and newly-dead leaves a mile around. She’s as graceful as I’ve come to expect, landing with flawless poise, her unreasonably long, unbound hair and skirts billowing dramatically around her. Wriggle lets out a funny little gasp, then quickly angles herself so I’m between Hina and her. Smart girl.
The goddess drags her feet over to me, her long red skirts spreading across the uneven floor behind her flawlessly like a wedding dress. Doesn’t get caught, folded or dirty. Gods are really something else. If Hina exuded abject divinity any harder than this, I don’t think I could stand her. You know, like those other horrible cackling hens from Youkai Mountain. Instead, she’s Hina.
Aside from natural elegance and the world bending to smooth her passage, and that’s a considerable aside, she’s not exactly the average image of a goddess. Gaunt, with a stick-like impression about her even though if you really have a close look, she has a perfectly average build. Shadows seem to readily find places to nest on her body, making her seem blurry and vague even under the midday sun. Her eyes are dark and half lidded with heavy bags, and her striking hair flows down all the way to her thighs, freed from their ribbons for today. Damn it, but she looks frustratingly good.
She doesn’t bother greeting me. “Don’t you know those can be dangerous if they’re full?” she asks, glancing at my fancy new bandage. Her voice is low and quiet, just a skip away from seductive. I don’t know why she bothers warning me, she couldn’t sound less concerned if she tried. “Walking around with open wounds is more dangerous. I’ve proven I can deal with your crap by now.”
She half-frowns and crosses her arms, which is as good as a win for me. “Just this once. Who’s your friend.?”
“Oh, this?” I nudge Wriggle with my foot rather hard.“ My new slave. What do you think of her?” Wriggle doesn’t even raise her eyes. I shake my head. This girl is in serious need of guidance. Hina pointedly ignores me, opting to curtsy politely towards her instead.
“Pleased to meet you. I’m called Hina Kagiyama. You may have heard of me as a goddess of curse and misfortune.” She makes a visible effort to put up a smile, but doesn’t completely succeed. “I’m sorry about your choice of companion.” Wriggle seems surprised she’s been noticed at all, but introduces herself passably, only backing away from Hina imperceptibly. “Putting that aside,” she turns to me, immediately going back to ignoring Wriggle. “What are you doing here?
“Hey, come on, How come this nobody gets a curtsy and I don’t?”
“You’re bothersome and rude,” She states with no inflection. “And you don’t want one. You only show up to make my life difficult or ask for favours.”
“Those are called worship and prayer, respectively. Answering those is what every other God in Gensokyo has to do.”
“I don’t know,” she says, sounding bored. “I don’t think they routinely get their holy artifacts stolen, for one thing.”
“Holy artifacts? Pfff, please.” I finger the ribbon. “I know you can make these out of nothing for no effort.”
“Which doesn’t make them any less holy. Take one of those again and I’m afraid I’ll have to find you and get them back.”
I laugh loudly, adjusting my new bandages. “Ooh, how scary. What you gonna do, wrap me in frilly cloth? Whip me?”
A smile passes her eyes, but not any other part of her expression. Creepy bitch. “I wonder about that.”
There’s a pause. Wriggle fidgets uncomfortably behind me.
Hina breaks the silence. “Sorry, I don’t have any tea here. All I have are a couple of rocks by the lake we can sit on.”
“Couldn’t you get a backpack or something? Sheesh.”
We settle down on some boulders by the water to chat like proper ladies. I do intend to get to the point and talk shop eventually, but it’d be a waste to get straight to it. I took the time to come all the way here, so we might as well shoot the shit for a bit before then.
Talk about… [ ] Youkai Mountain [ ] My business [ ] Prospects with Rinnosuke [ ] Promising ‘disciples’
Hina sits on her rock as if it were a perfect throne, all ladylike and straight-backed. I lie down on the leaves instead; way comfier. “So,” she begins, looking down at me. “Has your affair progressed at all since we last spoke?” The unspoken emphasis couldn’t be made more obvious if she air-quoted it. I scowl at her.
“Can it, I’m not in the mood to be mocked right now.”
Mocked?” She eyes me cooly, and for a split second I feel like a complete child. “I see your paranoid streak is still healthy, if nothing else. I was just asking normally.”
Hmph. Right. “It hasn’t gone well. He’s still being a stubborn, indecisive coward.”
Hina doesn’t answer right away, instead tracing one of the frilly ribbons hanging off her dress with a finger and studying me. It’s unnerving, her eyes look so tired and distant. Like she’s looking through me at something else entirely. “I assume you haven’t followed my advice from last time.”
...Advice? I think back to our last meeting, but come up with a total blank. No, wait, we did speak of this same subject, but I can’t remember any advice at all. But then again, I wasn’t in much of a listening state of mind, if I recall correctly. Not that I’ll admit that. “He’s a man. How hard could it be? All you have to do is flash them some flesh.”
“Mmhm.” She puts a hand to her cheek. “And how has that worked out for you so far?”
Fuck. She may have a point. I even made a serious move on him the other day and it only seemed to worsen the situation. I stay sulkily quiet while Hina waits for my answer, then sighs. “You didn’t even try it.” It’s not a question. “Incorrigible. Still, you seem less… ranty today, so I’ll try it again. Listen to what I tell you this time.”
Not that easily, I won’t. “Wait a minute. How would you know anything about that? You’re a goddess of curses of all things.”
She pauses, surprised by the question. Or so I think: it can be hard to tell with Hina. “Mortals falling in love with us is a common occurrence. Very common.”
Huh. Wow. Somehow I didn’t expect that.
“Less so with me, for obvious reasons. Still, rest assured I’m more experienced than you. You’re still just throwing himself at Rinnosuke with no thought.” I hate that she can tell that even though I haven’t said a thing about it. “Men, human or otherwise, do tend to be simple when it comes to these matters, but there are exceptions. What you’ve been doing clearly isn’t working, so it’s time to try a subtler approach.”
I also hate her tone. I remember now, she told me the same schtick in the same authoritative tone before, like she could tell me what to do. So I utterly ignored everything she said. I tsk, but she doesn’t react at all, continuing to spout her oh-so-wise council. “Learn why he’s so reticent, say, then do something about that. Just be less direct.”
I know the why of it. It’s that human, but I can’t do anything about her. I wish I could tell Hina what I think about her ‘advice’, but I’m not that reckless. I think she picks it up from my expression, because she shakes her head. “Suit yourself. You’re the one who’s in… infatuated.”
I burst out laughing. ‘Infatuated,’ really? I might’ve made a mistake coming here, Hina is obviously a pair of screws short of a full set. She nonchalantly cracks her neck while I’m laughing, so I stop in a hurry. Just in case.
“If you’re not, then there must be some other reason you’ve been hounding this poor sod for a year.”
“I don’t have an–”
“But anyway,” she runs me over, somehow cleanly interrupting me without raising her voice at all. “Aside from that, it’s up to you. But you didn’t come here to talk about your love life, did you?”
I fume. Sure, just change the subject so I can’t respond. Bitch. I snap at Wriggle, who was busy desperately trying to look like she wasn’t eavesdropping. She gets shooed away easily.
I sit up and glare at Hina, who now has her eyes closed. “What’s the deal?”
“Deal? There’s no deal,” she says serenely, dragging a now bare foot slowly across the surface of the water. “I’m just here to do my job, as I always have.”
“Bullshit. It takes a near apocalypse to drag you out of that mountain. What gives?”
She keeps quiet, and for a moment all I can hear is her breathing and soft forest sounds. “I don’t know.” Wow, that’s real useful.
“Don’t look at me like that, I can’t see the future any more than you can,” she says, not having opened her eyes yet. “I feel the flow of misfortune, I follow, and I try to balance it. Something… big is going to happen here, and I’m just getting prepared to do what I can to help it along.” She motions to the hanging ribbons, which are apparently not just for decoration.
I’m still not convinced. “What, like an incident? Reimu is the one who deals with that stuff. She’ll find whoever’s ‘gathering misfortune’ or whatever it is they’re doing and beat them up.”
She’s shaking her head before I even finish my sentence. “Nobody is ‘gathering misfortune’. Only I could do that, theoretically. It gathers by itself where there is pain, stress, misery, worry. That kind of emotion.”
“There’s no more misery in the Village than usual.”
“No,” Hina agrees. “But there will be.”
“Ooh, how spooky.” She frowns minutely at my flippancy. “If that’s all you have to say then I’ve wasted my precious time coming here.”
She ignores that. “The timeframe a month to three weeks from now, if rates hold, centered exactly on the village.” ‘if rates hold’? I sniff. What is she, an outsider? That’s more useful, I suppose. “Cool. Anything else?”
“Avoid Reimu. I’ve warned her already, and she seemed ready to enter incident-solving mode right away.”
“Lovely. Why would you even do that?”
“I’ve been giving the same warning to anyone who cares to come and worship. It’s part of my duty.” Meaning nearly no-one. Good to know. “There’s one more thing. You…” She uncharacteristically trails off, staring at me. I know not to interrupt because of the look in her eye, but it starts getting awkward by the ten second mark. Weirdo. Finally she blinks like she’s coming off a trance. “No, nevermind. But keep those ribbons on you for a while.”
Nice, free blessing. I love free stuff. “Cheers.”
She nods pleasantly. “Try to avoid trouble if you can, Seija. Please.” The note of genuine concern in her voice takes me off guard completely. That has no business being there.
“Are you my mom now? I can take care of myself.”
She says no more and gets up, pretty much dismissing me. The concern is already gone. How come she can do that? “Please come again before I have to head back to the mountain. I’ll find some way to get us tea here.”
“Get coffee instead. I’ll collect my servant and go.”
Wriggle almost makes it the whole way back before curiosity inevitably overwhelms her. “What were you talking about?” she blurts out.
I try to get a good look at her, but she’s keeping her head lowered. She follows close behind with quick, small steps. Hm. I should decide what to do with this one for now.
File 146373212157.jpg - (51.27KB, 607x850, but with bigger antennae.jpg) [iqdb]
I cross my arms and look down at the nervous little bug youkai. She’s not too obvious about it: no outright fidgeting or anything, but I can tell. It’s in the eyes. She’s got the hat on again to hide her antennae - and I still have no clue why. I’m proud of my horns, stubby as they are. Hiding them would just seem disgraceful, especially if it was to pretend to be a human. The thought alone makes me gag.
She’s not dumb. She’s fast on her feet, wasn’t totally incompetent when it came to tailing me... what is really needed here more than anything is some coaching on her attitude. It’s just not right for a youkai to be this meek. Kogasa and Knives might be major pains in the ass, but they have the right idea, all things considered.
Alright, yeah. She need guidance. Someone like this reflects poorly on all youkai, and that can’t be allowed. I consider the waifish tomboy, who’s currently busy growing more and more agitated every moment. She’s about to open her mouth to say something undoubtedly stupid, but I shut her up with a look. I search for reasons not to do what I’m about to do, but my mind is already made up and I know it.
“Wriggle. How long have you lived?”
She stares at me, raising a puzzled eyebrow, but answers dutifully.“I’m not sure. I remember Reimu’s mother, and her mother’s mother, and the previous one before that. That’s it, I think.”
“Did you have a family?” Strange as it may seem, some do. They invariably turn out to be strange and incredibly annoying, like those winged bastards from the mountain and their furry pets. Wriggle shakes her head. “Lucky you. Follow.”
We’re going through the outer streets in the bustling part of the morning, with the villagers up and about as animatedly as they always are, doing whatever it is humans do. Shoveling dirt, perhaps. She obeys, sticking close to me even as she clearly suffers under the villagers’ stares. She’s not used to being noticed, but endures admirably for a few minutes before cracking.
“Seija,” she half-whispers, “Where are we going?”
I ignore that. “You’ve just been chosen for special tutoring,” I announce, taking the time to face her and smile. “Meaning, you’re with me now. Don’t leave my sight unless I say you can.” Her eyes widen. “Here’s your first lesson.” I snatch that awful dirty-looking hat out of her head, amusingly causing her antennae to go berserk for a few seconds, swiveling and twitching frenziedly. She lunges for it on reflex, but I easily keep it out of her reach. Ah, bullying the little ones is always so satisfying. “Don’t be such a coward. Look around. Nobody cares, and even if they did, they’re just people. What are they gonna do about it?”
Actually, at least a handful of people give us wary looks because of the commotion Wriggle is creating, and one goes scuttling off in a panic, but by and large the street is far too busy for us to get any attention. No more stares than I get when I’m about by myself, at least. Still, it’s enough to send her into a half-panic, looking around and at me frantically. She doesn’t say anything, so I keep going. “See? It’s just fine. No reason to hide.” She realizes trying to grab the hat back is doing nothing but drawing more attention, so she reluctantly settles down beside me again. Not without a lot of looking around nervously and futilely trying to cover her head with her hands, however.
“This isn’t safe! It’s called the human village for a reason, you know?!”
“Pfft. Yeah, so? I’ve been around for years and I’m just fine.”
Her antennae lower sulkily. “Well, you’re Seija. Not everyone can give Reimu and half of Gensokyo the runaround indefinitely.”
I grin. Damn, but that feels good to hear. “Exactly. I’m gonna teach you to be more like me. Won’t that be grand?”
She puts on an annoyed face and ponders for a second. “Fine,” she finally surrenders, “but will you at least give me my hat back?”
“It wasn’t a request. And no,” I say, and tear it in half.
Late because it turns out reading your own story is near torture plus I ended up rethinking a few things I had planned previously. I’d love to have written the update to the end but breaking my deadline this hard makes me feel guilty enough as it is, so I just wrote what I could for now. In addition, please excuse any inconsistencies (unless they’re really major, in which case tell me). It’s been a while.
Cheers. Rest of the update + choice by next Saturday tops.
I walk deliberately slowly through the increasingly populated streets, enjoying Wriggle's reactions the whole time. She admirably manages to maintain a non-plussed expression, but her newly freed antennae, suffering from sudden sensory overload, betray how she feels. They continue to go absolutely berserk: twitching, swiveling, bobbing, turning, stretching and generally making themselves a real fun spectacle to watch. Unfortunately for her, all the movement draws more and more eyes our way. People start moving aside and far away from us, and the whole street gets real subdued and whispery around us in a way I'm familiar with.
Ah, well. Looks like my fu- uh, Wriggle's important lesson has to be cut short. As entertaining as flustering a pet is, we don't want to be the center of attention for too long. These bumpkins are nothing to worry about by themselves, but it could turn ugly if we linger. We're both well practiced in the art of vanishing, so it's no trouble disappearing down an empty alley once I decide I've had enough. Wriggle wisely doesn't open her mouth to complain. We head away from the 'main' streets, walking unhurriedly. At least I am. I don't have a set schedule, so for today I can drag Wriggle around for as long as I like, and that's exactly what I intend to do.
She might even actually learn something.
Let's see, is there anything for me to do? Oh, I should deliver those books. If they stay in the hideout for too long, they'll wind up mysteriously vanishing even if they have no value whatsoever. That's how it works down there.
We take a fairly roundabout route, but Wriggle keeps quiet, sneaking sideways glances at me every so often. I suppose I'm a distant ideal to most of these kids, and suddenly being with me for an extended period is overwhelming. I am pretty incredible, after all.
We get to the graveyard and hop the walls easily, taking care not to be seen. I keep my eyes open for any idiot kids not being as careful as they should be when leaving and entering this place. It can't truly be kept 100% secret with so many people coming and going, but I've impressed on them the importance of trying. Painfully. Took a lot of work to build the whole burrow and we had to desecrate a lot of graves. If it all went to waste we might actually get ghosts bugging us; I hate ghosts.
As soon as we unlock the tomb gate and walk through, I sense something is out of place. Off. Wriggle also looks around suspiciously, antennae perking up. Fuck, if someone has killed any of my humans there's gonna be hell to pay. I'll set fire to some buildings again, just like old times.
It turns out to be worse than that. Half of MY property are sitting in a neat circle, laughing and smiling, totally captivated. That fat weasel Mamizou is in the center, telling a story or something. This won't do. Those are mine. I don't even hate her as much as some other people; I'd even have been happy to talk to her alone. But my property is precious, fragile, and image is everything when it comes to them. Please, please, please don't make me have to kick your ass. I'll really do it.
I raise my voice. "What the fuck?"
"Oh!" She turns and flashes me one of her oily smiles, fixing her glasses. "Seija! I wanted to talk to you, remember?"
The kids look back and forth between me and her nervously, sensing my mood. Kogasa is sitting cross-legged on a stone slab, an annoying twinkle in her eye. I can't read Wriggle; she has a decent poker face.
[ ] Kick her out. [ ] Hear her out, at least. Alone. [ ] Fine. Let's be 'civil', but be prepared for drastic measures if she steps outta line.
I shoot Mamizou a hateful glare, which everyone seems to take as normal. This annoying fat hag knows exactly what she's doing. It might not seem like a big deal from the outside, but humans are intensely hierarchical little bastards, and keeping them in line is a tricky business at the best of times; a business I'm honestly not that proficient at. Since they're all so far below me and there's no competition, it's usually enough just to be myself, but if someone like Mamizou even shows their face it all has the potential to turn into a horrible clusterfuck game of power and I could lose control of my cute underlings. Some people enjoy that kind of thing, I suppose.
Of course, she knows all of this, which makes even showing up here and buddying up to them an opening blow of sorts. I groan. I see enough of this crap from working with those uppity humans.
The urge to solve this problem in the most primal, natural and violent manner possible is strong, but I hold myself back. I don't even know exactly how strong she is, and a loss of any kind here would spell doom for my little enterprise. Besides, she could... be an ally? Sort of? I mentally dry-heave at the idea.
"Are you quite done trying to stare me dead? Honestly now. I might end up thinking you dislike me or something." A lone giggle rings out from somewhere among the kids. It dies gratifyingly quickly when I look in their general direction, but the fact that it happened at all is a poor indication already. Not all of mine are here, but she gathered a decent crowd for daytime. Ah well, I'll deal with it. I soften my expression to the sound of a few relieved sighs. I'll let that slip: it's understandable that nobody wants two youkai fighting in an enclosed space while they're nearby.
I look back at the annoyance and put my hands to my hips. "Well? I'm not throwing a tea party for you like they all like to do. Talk then get out."
It takes effort to keep the surprise and bafflement off my expression when she promptly wipes that obnoxious smirk off her face, dusts herself off and bows crisply to me. A low, proper bow, at that.
"Of course. I'm sorry." I see a few eyebrows go up, Kogasa's and Wriggle's notably amongst them. "I didn't mean to offend you. I'm here to offer my friendship today."
... No sign of sarcasm. This is the most suspicious thing I've witnessed all year. I look over her, searching for any sign of deception, and come up with nothing. But then again, she is a tanuki. Didn't even bother hiding her giant fluffy tail from the humans, so everybody knows what we're dealing with here.
She goes on. "I hope you didn't mind my indiscretion yesterday, I was there by chance and it was just too juicy to ignore." I did mind. You ruined my chance. "I brought a gift as an apology." With a suitable amount of flourish, she produces... a clinking bag of coins.
"Money? Really? You want to bribe me?"
"Bribe?! Of course not!" She smiles pleasantly, if you consider piranhas pleasant. Maybe that's just me, though. "Just a no-string-attached present, to get us off on the right foot. I actually wanted to get something nice and personalized for you, but I was afraid you might just pawn it off right away for money, whatever it happened to be."
"I wouldn't do that," I lie flatly. She's got me there. Nonetheless, I cautiously take the pouch from her hands. Weighty. Weighty and extremely fishy. There's got to be something at play here. But I can't be fucked figuring it out right now. "You don't expect me to take free money from you of all people, do you?"
She smiles at me. "You have it now, and I won't take it back. If you want to toss it into the river, feel free, but I'm swearing to you right now that it's nothing more than a gesture of good will."
I take a long hard look at her. The round glasses, the round, ironically innocent face, the slowly curling tail. I barely know anything about her. ... Eh. What's the worst that could happen? "Fine." I undo the purse string and hold the whole thing upside down, sending the precious contents clattering all over the floor, rolling behind graves and everything. Seems like a pretty sum. There's a second of stunned silence, then I announce: "Free money to whoever can get it." Unsurprisingly, the floor is picked clean in under ten seconds, in a blur of small scuttling feet and bodies. There's little noise as they quickly divvy up all the loot between themselves. Mamizou looks on, mildly bemused. Damn, that didn't put her off balance.
"That works. Nice troupe you've gathered here."
"Thank you, I agree." I rest my hand between Wriggle's antennae possessively. They twitch. "If you're all done giving us money, go away."
She bows yet again, still smiling. "Of course."
That's it? She's gonna walk in here, throw money around, make me look good, then leave? I don't believe it for a second. Something is seriously off here.
[ ] Well, we'll get to it when we get to it. [ ] Oh no you don't. You're not getting out of here without an explanation. [ ] Take a walk with Mamizou. Maybe she'll be more talkative without an audience.
Let's try to bump up the speed to one update a week, shall we? Any slower than that is absolutely unacceptable.
"Wriggle, heel." She perks up, taking a step closer to me. "The rest of you... do what you like, I don't care," I say to the rest of my curious minions. "Be here tonight, though."
They stare, wondering, as I leave the room. Not too used to me not being the dominating presence in the room, I think. Thankfully Mamizou decides not to do the whole "vanish as soon as you're out of sight" trick this time. Good, it's so clichéed. We catch up with the leisurely strolling tanuki still inside the graveyard. I block her path, of course. "Well?" I put my hands on my hips, staring up at her. "What's your game?"
She smiles again and adjusts her glasses. This woman's refusal to react correctly really throws me off. "You really are a distrustful one. I know you have good reasons, but can't you just relax?" As a matter of fact, I know all this posturing of mine is pretty much pointless and am just doing it to needle her. I have no leverage, my tricks aren't a good fit for her, there's nothing I can reasonably do to get her to give me free information. Mamizou, as far as I can gather, is a higher caliber negotiator than that. Oh well. I suppose there's no point being stubborn at this particular juncture. Exactly as she planned, I bet. I pivot and fall in beside her. Wriggle follows behind us, head lowered. "But I have to say, I'm surprised. You're more protective than I was expecting."
"You'd better not be thinking of stealing my property."
She laughs, turning to glance at Wriggle. "It's tempting, I'll admit."
I ignore that. "You're going to go ahead and do your thing regardless of anything I do or say, aren't you?"
"Now you're getting it."
Bah. I click my tongue. "Fine. I'll accept your peace offering..." I let the words hand dramatically for a second. "For now."
She stops to bow to me again, looking sincerely content. "I'm glad."
"Bring us some food next time. Sweets are good."
She just smiles in response.
Mamizou places the shot glass down gently, instead of slamming it as she should. I do it extra loudly this time, to show her how it’s done. Wriggle jumps slightly on her seat beside us
What? She said she’s paying, I certainly wasn’t about to refuse free food and booze. I pour more for both of us, ignoring the glances from the rest of the bar: I always do draw attention when I’m out and about like this, but being accompanied by a beautiful lady certainly doesn’t make the problem any better. She's used her tanuki voodoo to 'disguise' herself as a striking, long-haired, slender, tail-less beauty. I mean, you could just lose some weight instead of using magic.
We’re in my most frequent haunting ground, Cook’s bar. He looks as nervous as an expressionless mountain giant could ever look, looking meaningfully my way every once in a while. He doesn’t like me conducting business here. Well, this isn’t business.
“The hell are you smiling about?”. She twirls her shot glass around, grinning, while I pour myself some more.
“Just thinking you have nice taste in bars.”
I chuckle, looking around at my chosen playground. The dubious greasy meat on the fire that nonetheless smells and looks delicious; the scored, stained counter; the poor, uneven lighting; the bearded, rough patrons. They’re fine, for humans. I probably get less hateful looks here than anywhere else in the city, but I still get the odd drunkard thinking he’s a big shot. People who have had experiences with common wild youkai and think we’re all the same crap, if I had to guess.
“This hole? Right. The drinks are all it has going for it.” I throw back another one in one movement and Mamizou matches me, less emphatically. I didn’t even see her pour it.
She takes the bottle to look it over, but there are no labels other than a hand-written number in shoddy brushwork. “This is pretty good, for a... place like this. Tasty, but has a body to it.” she says, nodding at the owner.
“It is. Wriggle, you drink too.” She starts again, robotically taking the third cup from me and bringing it to her lips without really thinking. She winces, makes a face like a child drinking for the first time and nearly coughs her lungs out onto the table. I frown. “For fuck’s sake. Do I have to teach you how to drink, too? And take off that hat, for crying out loud.”
I snatch her hastily patched up hat and toss it, freeing her proud antennae. Or at least, they should be. Instead she puts them straight down, trying to hide them in her hair. I frown; everything this girl does convinces me further that she’s in need of guidance. I‘m sure the filthy drunkards around us react in some way to the sudden reveal of a second youkai, but I don‘t care enough to pay attention. “Alright, this is your first lesson. Keep up with us.”
Another 3 shots. We all drink. This is the only good kind of socializing. Mamizou looks down at Wriggle with sympathy clear in her eyes. “Don’t be too rough on her. She’s very young, you know? Not used to this kind of environment or company.”
“That’s too bad, because I only know how to be rough. If little humans can handle it, so can this one.” Wriggle just keeps looking down at the table. “And anyway, I’m not forcing her to stay around. I’m not gonna bother to chase a brat around if she just decides to run. I picked her out specifically because I see potential.”
“Oh?” Mamizou’s grin grows slightly. “That’s high praise, coming from you.”
That comment annoys me and I’m not sure why. “How would you know? We’ve barely met.”
“I happen not to be blind, deaf or dumb,” she says, handing us more shots. I nod: That’s a fair enough point. We drink again: Wriggle reluctantly, Mamizou appreciatively, and I just drink, with no adverb. We started good half hour, in the early evening, but still she shows no sign at all of any drunkenness or hesitation. I barely have a buzz going.
The tanuki seems to divine what I’m thinking and narrows her eyes, practically challenging me. ‘Drinking match?’ she’s saying.
[ ] Getting her drunk could help. I can outdrink this old lady any time. [ ] ....Fuck it, let’s just get SMASHED. [ ] No thanks, that’s asking for trouble
[ ] Force Wriggle into drinking. [ ] Nah, I don’t want a kid puking on me.
I may be very late, but at least this time I have an excellent excuse: I'm moving to the other side of the world, in yurop, in only a month's time. Time and mental space to think about 2hus has been scarce.
I take a moment to measure Mamizou, or at least the human disguise she favours. It annoys me. Even as a human, she maintains that smarmy look about her, like she knows more than you ever could. Like Yukari the few times I met her, or Reimu on a good day. Fine, I can play that game. I may be small and not a real oni, but I can still outdrink an old lady. I won a round at a Tengu table once, this should be nothing.
Wriggle looks questioningly between us and the rest of the patrons, who are ‘furtively’ paying as much attention to us as you’d figure. A table with two obvious youkai and a long-haired beauty on it isn’t an everyday sight in a shoddy bar like this, even if said shoddy bar happens to be one of my preferred haunting spots. Mamizou doesn’t seem to pay it any mind, which means I can’t either.
“Fine, whatever.” I slap the table hard, making Wriggle jump. “Drink, don’t drink, I don’t care. But I’ll warn you: It’s your loss. Drinking is an essential skill in Gensokyo – I’m just trying to look out for you,” I say. Only half of that statement was a shameless lie. “But in return you have to be our serving girl for the night. Now pour, wench.” Unfortunately, I don’t have the angle to slap her ass for the punchline, but that’s okay. She looks miffed enough without further help.
Mamizou unexpectedly butts in, backing me up. “It’s true, you know? Proper drinking and decent tolerance are essential lubricants for all sorts of business if you want to be anyone in Gensokyo. Negotiations, diplomacy, information gathering… For example,” she says, languidly running one finger along the rim of her cup. “Convincing an uncooperative girl to give you a chance.” She shoots me a pointed glance.
“Oh. Oh?” I make a show of thinking for a few second, then feign surprise. “Oh! I don’t swing that way.” I swig, and she follows.
“Funny,” she deadpans after delicately, carefully putting her cup down. Then one of those supremely annoying smirks spreads across her expression like a bad rash, and she looks directly into my eyes. “Seija.” Pause. “Are you sexually frustrated?”
An unfortunate nearby drunk gets showered with my spit-take. “What the fuck?”
Wriggle bursts out giggling and Mamizou is unable to hold back a wide grin. “You know, this, the thing with the shopkeep… You’re quite backed up, aren’t you?”
“I don’t see how that’s any of your goddamn business.” That’s a weak retort and we all know it. This oversized skunk caught me unprepared. Wriggle takes an obnoxious amount of time to get her giggling fit under control. Little brat. We don’t stop drinking, though. To my relief Mamizou eases off the subject readily and the night drags on in a way anyone who has spent any time in a bar is familiar with, with frankly more drinking than talking. There are a whole bunch of people listening in on us, of course, but I don’t care much for the opinion of random humans, and none of us get drunk enough to start babbling about sensitive topics. For the most part, it’s a good night of one of the most traditional past times there are for human or youkai: getting smashed.
So smashed we get. I set the pace and Mamizou keeps up, with Wriggle supplying us with bottle after bottle and watching us with an intense expression, for whatever reason. Perhaps she’s taking the drinking advice seriously. On a whim, I reach over and muss up her short hair, a clear sign I’m approaching dangerous blood alcohol levels. She doesn’t recoil, only twitching her antennae when I run my hand around them and looking curiously up at me. Good kid. Cute kid.
Ugh. I instantly regret thinking that. At least I’m not the only one feeling it. Mamizou looks slightly worse for the wear now, talking more and making less sense, as well as wobbling on her seat. Neither of us is ready to fold just yet. Her eyes are undulled by the copious amounts of bootleg coursing her system. She’s been babbling about something, but I’m not paying much attention.
“I don’t think you realize,” she’s saying, looking amused, “just how big of a deal this girl is.”
Huh? “The hell are you talking about? Wriggle?” I look at the apprehensive girl and all I can see is my cute, teasable underling, nervous under our combined gaze. “I don’t see much of anything big about her.”
Mamizou frowns. “For someone so clever, you’re pretty clueless.”
“Fuck you.” No, I’m not witty when I’m drunk. So sue me.
“You wish”, she quips, slurring but not missing a beat. We drink. “You’re not stupid. You know there’s a good reason you’re the only one openly living as a youkai in the city.” She hesitates there, fixing her glasses. “So far.”
“Yeah. And?” She opens her mouth to say something, but gives up. Good. I’m not keen on this subject.
“Okay, you want to talk about something else instead?” She grows a grin like a beartrap. “We can get back to a previous topic. Want some tips on your Rinnosuke situation?”
“Shut up.” I’m still kind of sore about that, damn it. What’s wrong with that guy? I feel the alcohol pressing on my thoughts, because there’s no other conceivable reason I’d want to think about that.
“I could give you some tips, you looked like you need them. Didn’t you see the look on the guy’s face? It was like he was being attacked by a mangy hyena or something.” She wobbles on her chair.
I moan inwardly and drink. How do I get her to stop talking?
“It shouldn’t be that hard, the guy is sitting there in a cabin alone, in his prime, no women in a several mile radius. Probably cranks it five to eight times a day, ballpark.” She chugs, spilling a good fifth of her cup on herself. I follow suit, or try to. I’m not certain if I succeed. “Or Marisa might take care of it for him. She does visit often.”
She laughs. This was such a bad idea. I’m never getting this drunk again. Some of the regulars are enjoying our impromptu comedy act, laughing along. They’re lucky I probably won’t remember them. Nobody is hunting for trouble, though, so that’s something. Wait, what am I thinking about? Is Mamizou still going on about something?
“…d hate to hang you out to dry. I’ll try to keep an eye for you, but I can’t promise anything. Especially when you like making it hard for me.” She drinks, and I think she’s forgotten we were having a drinking contest. “By the way, I win. You can barely even talk. I’ll be claiming my prize later.”
Shit. Did we even agree on a bet? And are tanuki supposed to be psychic? “Not true. I’m fine.”
“Don’t give up. It’d be good for you,” she switches gears suddenly., getting up and patting herself down with surprising ease. What now? She looks at me with something like pity.
“You know, with Rinnosuke.” Oh no. Not this again. “I’m sure you’d ignore any advice I give you, so just don’t give up.”
She’s halfway to the door by the time I can focus on her. Well. Damn. … She probably cheated somehow. That’s how their kind rolls.
“Wriggle.” She swivels my way promptly. “Help me up. It’s okay, I’m not the puking type,” I lie. She obediently drags me up, and then… I’m not sure. The night goes on, for a while.
I wake up without opening my eyes. They feel glued shut.
[ ] Silk. Perfume and incense. Too many pillows. [ ] Old dust. Ash? Tea. [ ] A bed. Eyes on me. Magic. More magic. Scratchy frills.
Proofreading is for gays. Also, I'm busier now that I'm studying again, but also settled into my new country. I will attempt to pick up the pace.
I’m very out of place. The sensation slams into me suddenly and overwhelmingly. Everything feels off.
My skin feels silky and clean and I’m nearly buried in what can be described as a small mountain of fluffy cushions. The overly sweet scents of soap, incense and perfume handily drown out anything else. As a matter of fact, I smell like expensive perfume. What the hell? In another second I realize I’m dressed in a fine linen robe rather than my own dress. I try to think back if I changed at any point last night, but all that comes to me are a few images of cheering Wriggle on as she chugged on a bottle. Oops. But hey, I don’t think I forced her, so I absolve myself of guilt. Not that I wouldn’t appreciate all of those high-class amenities under other circumstances, but unexpectedly waking up in such a situation sets off all sorts of alarms in my head.
I force myself to calm down. We’re not in chains or in a dungeon, so surely it can’t be that bad. Thinking about it some more, what likely happened is some slow-witted noble found me as drunk as a skunk and thought they might be able to get some free brownie points. Fair enough.
I take stock. It’s a standard-issue bigger-than-necessary guest room, the kind with the large double futon for couples. Wriggle is happily snoozing away on top of the cushions, hugging one of them and looking strangely contented. The whole place is pristine clean and there’s an expensive tea set besides the bed, but other than that there’s not much special about it. Thankfully there’s no servant looming around over us in the room, either. These people are partial to that, I’ve noticed the few times I’ve been invited over as a ‘guest’. I made sure nobody would want to repeat that mistake again.
Except for this one person, apparently. I think I know who it might be.
Feeling more relaxed now, I toss myself back down onto the pillows with some relish. Wriggle doesn’t even stir. Yeah. Maybe I should get a nicer pad for me too, since I’m not doing that much with my money anyway. It’d probably get burned down within a few months, but that’d be a few months of nice living. Anyway, a few minutes of resting on these nice fluffy pillows won’t kill me. Hopefully. It’s nice.
I tilt my head to look at Wriggle, who’s right next to me, breathing softly and steadily. Maybe I should start to actually mentor her and teach her useful stuff soon. That was the initial goal, ostensibly. I hope she’s tough enough to stick it out, you could make a real youkai out of her. Should be a fun project, plus it might even turn out to be useful. It’s not exactly my style, but making people rely on you and creating debts can be very, very effective. I've seen it.
Her antennae are mostly immobile while she sleeps, dangling along the sides of her short, messy hair. I won’t let her cover them up again, they ought to be a mark of pride. Besides, they look cute. I finger my own horns absent-mindedly. She’s so young, basically a child. Not doing too badly, considering. Early life can be rough for her type. Hey, wait a minute, did they change her into sleeping clothes too? I didn’t give anyone permission to undress my girl.
I stare, my mind wandering. Unconsciously, my hand moves down to my lip.
…That is rather fine linen, isn’t it? And thin. I stare some more.
I realize what I'm thinking about and shake my head violently. Okay, fine. Maybe Mamizou was more correct than I’d like – and I really don’t play on that team, by the way. I don’t even understand what’s going on with that, it’s anything but normal for me or most youkai, really. These kinds of feelings, I mean. Why am I thinking about this, even? It’s bloody shameful, it’s bad form and it doesn’t even make any sense at all. Now, let’s stop thinking about the subject, full stop. Right now.
Like, about Rinnosuke. There's no reason to make anything of Rinnosuke. I’m not going to think about him at all, or even go back there anytime soon. There's no reason to think of his bright half-lidded golden eyes in yellow glasses. Or Marisa, living within walking distance of his cozy forest cabin. Or his messy hair.
Or how she might sneak in at night while he’s asleep. You know, under the covers.
Wait, I’m doing it again.
Nevermind. I bolt upright, clench my teeth. Nevermind. Nevermind. Fuck it.
On impulse, I kick Wriggle in the ribs, then regret it immediately. Wasn’t too hard, at least. She half gets up.
“Ow! Huh?” I supress the strangest sudden reflex to apologize. I’m really messing with my own mind. Gotta clear out my head.
“Get up. We’ve got stuff to do,” I lie. It’s the best I can come up with RIGHT AWAY.
“Mmm…” she topples over back onto the pillows, thankfully.
There’s a slow pair of knocks on the door, rescuing me from my own idiot self. I need someone to screw with without consequences, get me back into my groove.
“You’re late.” The door slowly slides open, revealing the small, traditionally kimono-clad little girl I was expecting, in seiza besides the frame. How quaint. “Akyuu,” I say by way of greeting.
She gets up and bows without a word, then enters silently. “Any particular reason for the dramatic entrance?”
She closes the door behind her and turns to me. Neutral approach, it seems. “You are a guest. It’s only proper.”
I laugh. Wriggle stirs beside me. “You pick up many of your guests off the street while they’re pissed?”
“Only the fun ones.” A faint smile crosses her lips. “Shall we have some tea?”
Akyuu. I take a moment to stare at her. Impeccably dressed, perfect hair with a perfect flower adornment, perfect everything: the kind of look that’s only achieved with 3 servants tending to you all day long. Not quite as much as the pompous moon prick from the bamboo forest, but close enough. An old spider’s mind in a little girl’s body. I thought at first she was supposed to just be a historian, but she’s been involved heavily in the nonsense politics of this place for as long as I’ve been here, which would make her active since she was 5 or so. That must have been a funny sight to see. Not that she has much competition here: the city is large and well populated, but the type of human that passes for aristocracy here are 90% fat, dumb, useless, or some combination thereof. I see more serious backstabbing between the fishmongers at the market.
She hasn’t bothered talking to me much at all before this. She’d act through intermediaries.
Now. What has changed? Why are you meeting me directly in a room with nobody else around, little princess? Surely she must know I could kill her in the second it takes to run over to her. Not that I have any reason to, but it’s the principle of the matter, you see.
[ ] Play along for now. Sure, I’m just a guest. What do you wish to talk about, honoured host? [ ] Fuck with her a bit. She can’t be expecting me to play nice, right? [ ] Wait, this is a valuable teaching opportunity. Wake Wriggle up; it’ll also annoy Akyuu, which makes it a win-win. [ ] Yeah, nah. I’ve got better stuff to do.
I’m glad she’s here, in a way. Akyuu is a good distraction, from… uh, nevermind. She sits formally before me, bowing again. I don’t see the point myself, so I just get comfortable: not a hard feat in this giant mountain of rich-people extra-soft pillows and covers and whatnot. I want to throw a fastball her way and just ask what the hell she wants from me, but I decide, on a whim, to play along. Just this once. “Sure. Tea. Why not?”
“No. I hate tea.”
She blinks at that, but nothing more. I was hoping for more of a reaction. “Then, some chocolate, perhaps…?”
“I said I’d take the tea, didn’t I?”
“But you just… no, nevermind.”
I smile. Nobles are always such easy targets. “Nevermind what?”
Akyuu grimaces, an unfitting, ugly expression for her. “Okay. Shut up for a second.” My smile widens. Perhaps something new is afoot here. She covers her eyes with her hands and shakes her head, like she’s restarting. This is good, my usual mark doesn’t have the courage to try and strike back. A conversation with someone just taking all your insults may be funny occasionally, but it gets old quickly if it’s all you get. After a brief few seconds, a renewed, less dull Akyuu emerges, rubbing her eyes. She’s still in the formal seiza, but somehow seems looser, more comfortable, more normal. I approve. “That was my mistake. You know the ilk I deal with.”
She harrumphs to herself. “I’ll get right to the point then. What is that?” She motions with her head to the peacefully sleeping Wriggle. Her antennae twitch when her name is mentioned and she squeezes a pillow, but that’s all. Too much alcohol for an uninitiated one, I think.
Instinct tells me this is a more important question than it seems, but it’s immaterial. Ask a vague question, get a vague answer. “It’s mine,” I state flatly, taking special care to keep my expression neutral now. I see the wheels turning in her head for one, two seconds: the painstakingly sculptured eyebrows scrunching up the tiniest bit. I slowly get up into a proper sitting position and cross my legs. Hey, I can’t help it. I get protective about what’s mine. “Why do you care?”
“I don’t, really. I just thought… something that wasn’t correct, clearly. Anyhow,” she moves on energetically, not waiting for a response. “I had you both cleansed as well as your clothes. It was… necessary.” She wrinkles her nose. I have no doubt it was. “You’re welcome to take home what you’re wearing, if you like. Consider it a gift.”
She looks strangely smug as she says this. Hm. “You don’t think I give a rats ass you or your servants saw me piss drunk and naked, do you? Or that you’re giving me free stuff?”
“Ah.” Her eyes widen for a split second. Bullseye, or perhaps bullshit. “Right. I keep forgetting you’re not the usual fare.”
“Yes, very good!” I snap my fingers, startling her. “Feeding my ego will work much better.”
She looks up at me all wide-eyed, only it seems more genuine this time. Only for a split second, but still, I think I finally have her legitimately speechless. Score one for me. I giggle. I’m so good at this. “Whatever you want from me, you’re on the right path.” I grin at her. “Don’t you worry, I’ll return the favour. Eventually. Somehow.”
“Yes. Of course.” She regains some of her haughtiness. “You’d better.” Quick recovery on her part. I like the spirit. Yeah, I think I like this Akyuu. I feel a compulsion to get up and pet her like she was one of my own little brats, but that would be a bad idea in all sorts of ways. “As a matter of fact, you can do something for me right away.” Fuck. It couldn’t be all good, of course. “Just a second.”
A servant skitters in without any apparent sign from her, head bowed low, and with a couple of whispered words runs off again. “I hope you appreciate what I’m about to do. It’s a great honour for you.” It was a request, now it’s suddenly a magnanimous gift. Not a full minute after being embarrassed she looks as smug as it’s possible for a tiny little girl like her to. Just incredible. “You’re cordially invited to the ball in two weeks, as well as anyone you’d like to invite along. It’s not a huge event by itself, but you’d be the first youkai to be openly invited. And that’s significant.”
What. Seriously? Me? At an actual ball? A fancy part full of clueless stuffy idiots? With free reign? Is Akyuu mad?
The servant chooses this moment to return with the written invitation. I remember now: this was the same one that I saw on Kosuzu’s desk. Gold leaf and everything. Akyuu hands it out to me with an expectant look.
[ ] Take [ ] No take
Please note this vote is about the attitude towards Akyuu, not going or not going.
To sum it up, I just kind of lost track of the narrative and momentum. I went too long without updating too many times in a row and lost whatever planning I had. I still like the core idea of the story and Seija, but I kind of feel like I went astray here - put in too many characters that probably wouldn't have a payoff, etc. I think I could still make something out of this start, but it'll end up just as bumbling as my other two stories. I think it's better to quit here and try again.
Maybe I'm just not cut out for writing, both my other stories just fizzled out in a similar way. They feel like they were dropped, even though they got to their planned ending. All I want from a story I make at this point is an ending that feels like an ending and is moderately satisfying, even if everything else about it sucks. Welp. If at third you don't succeed, try, try again. Right?
>>193285 Dude, that fucking sucks. Your story made me actually like Seija, and your characterisation of Mamizou was better than any other I've seen. I mean, not to insult other writers, but this was one of maybe two active stories that I enjoyed. The site is going to be missing something special with this gone.
Can we at least get an /at/ short? Seija deserves to get what she wants at least once -- without an interruption.
Don't sell yourself short, either. I liked Kiss Me, ending and all. I think it's a writer thing; I know my readers like my godawful stories way more than I do. The retards. You're better at this than you think you are.
And I sure hope you decide to write more Seija sometime in the future, because I'd bet money I'm not the only one that needs more of that shit. Even if it is just a short here and there.